Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Scott Mazak Top 10 Movie Picks

1.  The Birth of a Nation, 1915.  Why?  Frankly, I don't care much for any specific Griffith film, but taken as a whole - best exemplified by this masterwork of cinematic experimentation - they stand as a kind of Rosetta Stone for the visual language of cinema we still use today.  The messages contained within that framework are always debatable, of course.
2.  Greed, 1924.  Why?  Epic and visually hypnotic, this film at times approaches pure poetry - the pinnacle of the form, in my opinion.  My favorite from Von Stroheim is Foolish Wives, but Greed - especially the ending - is quite fun to experience.
3.  City Lights, 1931.  Why?  This is pretty fun to watch.  It is also pure cinema as it should be - with each image building upon the last and propelling us into the next one, culminating in the prime moment of any film - the last image.  And in this case, it's pure visual poetry.
4.  Citizen Kane, 1941.  Why?  Frankly, in some ways, The Third Man is as much fun to watch visually as this, but Kane's story, themes and characters are more engrossing.  Still, the visual inventiveness in both is exhilarating at times.
5.  Psycho, 1960.  Why?  This is Hitchcock's best technical film by far.  Is it the most fun to watch?  Probably not, but for the pure visual/aural power of cinema, this is a filmmaker operating at his peak - the mise en scene, the sound and the camerawork in general all lead to continuous moments of pure cinematic power.  It's perhaps not so advisable to watch this slightly campy film as a horror film - this is film art, so study it with a microscope.
6.  Five Easy Pieces, 1970.  Why?  This is one of the great examples of the character study - a type of film I wish more filmmakers would make these days.  There were a number of these mildly unassuming yet dense portraits crafted during the 1960s and 1970s all over the world, but this one is uniquely American and a curious barometer of the psychological tone of a nation adrift.  Some of the images are absolutely sublime, and Nicholson's performance is possibly his best from his heyday, except for maybe The Passenger or Chinatown.
7.  The Exorcist, 1973.  Why?  Sure, the second half of this film might be a bit hysterical and silly, but the first half is so powerful, I like it anyway.  This is a very intense ride to take, and visually, it contains moments of pure poetry.  Many of the 1970s "pop culture blockbuster-establishing" films - like Jaws, Saturday Night Fever, A Clockwork Orange - could claim similar accolades.  However, this one reaches such visually poetic heights, I personally prefer it overall - even with the overblown second half.  It represents Friedkin hitting his stride as a filmmaker and an artist.
8.  Chinatown, 1973.  Why?  This is just damn fun to watch.  Polanski at his peak.  Nicholson at his peak.  Towne at his peak.  This represents a pinnacle of new Hollywood filmmaking merging with the old.  Visually, every frame is packed with info and gorgeous to look at - it may even approach the poetic at times.  At any rate, it's very fun to watch, dense and thoroughly engrossing.  A similarly dense and gorgeous film, The Godfather, is just as powerful in some ways - but Chinatown is a little tighter for my tastes.
9.  Annie Hall, 1977.  Why?  I think Manhattan is Allen's best film, but Annie Hall is very accessible, has one of the great characters in cinema history fully developed for the first time and is as visually inventive as anything he has done.  The writing is superior - the scene constructions, the dialogue and the measured way he paces the action all evince an artist hitting his peak, not just an entertainer.  Does this guy approach the master of all masters - Bunuel?  Almost!  Plus, he writes his own stuff and then acts it out!
10.  Raging Bull, 1980.  Why?  Clearly the pinnacle of Scorsese's work, this is a visual and thematic steamroller.  A truly American cultural artifact and work of art at the same time, this is what filmmaking is all about - many of the images and passages in the film approach the poetic.  It's a great character study, possibly matched only by Taxi Driver in his - and De Niro's - oeuvre.  However, it's a much more coherent and mature film (De Niro's Johnny Boy in Mean Streets is pretty amazing, too, by the way), so I find it a little more satisfying.

George Lucas's Blockbusting book feature film writer Scott Mazak is a San Francisco based writer and lecturer.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Mazak is the most outstanding writer in this book. I predict he will go on to write further and be a blockbuster talent in his own right.

Chuck Coulter said...

As a long-time reader of Scott Mazak's fiction -- chiefly I am thinking of "American Brat," a kind of nuanced gran guignol about American over-indulgence featuring a tiny tot who can not hold his doo-doo in, and "American Girl," the tale of a naughty manx named Nellie Go-gal, a ruddy critique of the feminist movement -- I am disapointed and excited by the inclusion of Fragola fan fav "Birth of a Nation," which excaserbated my then nascent liberalism which has since flown the coop in favor of nasensual conerva-wa-wa.