Monday, October 18, 2010

Fall Flicks

Long ago, I did a post on Essential Summer Movies, well this time I have a list of fall films. Autumn is when I gear up (i.e., buy up a ton of used books) for winter reading season and since it's such a busy time of year, my impatient mind demands more movies than it does novels so I grab a blanket, warm up cider, and curl up with Daisy to watch a good movie.

Disclaimer: many of these films are not for the faint of heart—I'm not proud of my penchant for scary movies, but these are relatively tame compared to the vast majority of scary movies—these picks are plucked perimeter of the horror genre but be aware that they will make you jump.

1) Diabolique (or Les Diaboliques)—1954
My first choice comes from The Criterion Collection and was acknowledged as influencing Hitchcock's Psycho. This classic thriller is not as overacted as some of its 1950's constituents and more than most foreign films, this French piece has real "je na se qua" that soon makes you forget you're reading subtitles.

2) The Ghost and Mrs. Muir—1947
In terms of scares, this movie is positively child's play but I love it because it's a sweet little love story set by the sea and done in all the cheesiness and predictability as one could hope. However, Gene Tierney is absolutely gorgeous and would be as coveted an actress today as she was then for her flawless beauty and ease on camera. Probably not one for the boys, but if you loved old romances as a little girl, try it out.

3) The Haunting—1963
Director Martin Scorsese placed The Haunting first on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time and for good reason. This film pioneered some scare tactics no one had seen before which I will not enumerate so as not to spoil them.

"You doin' okeey there, Marge?"
"Yep, I just think I'm goin-a barf!"

The Coen Brothers added "based on a true story" at the beginning of the film despite the fact that the crimes detailed in the film are a very loose adaptation of two, unrelated Minnesota crimes (neither of which involved a certain piece of heavy machinery). Why a film taking place in North Dakota that comprises over 75 uses of the f-word and has a body count of seven works I don't know. It just does.

5) When Harry Met Sally—1989
A break from scary films, this makes the list because any script written by Nora Ephron is exquisite—it's autumnal and one of the best romantic films of all time. Fun fact: in the museum scene, Harry ad libs, "But, I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie." Sally laughs and looks to her right where Rob Reiner silently prompts her to go with it.

6) The Village—2004
In my humble opinion, this is last good movie M. Night Shyamalan did. I know many were disappointed by the explanation of the monsters but I thought that there was enough psychological depth to make it work. There's something that really works about Shyamalan's idyllic, homey setting being disrupted by unpredictable monsters; this dystopia piece just works. Fun fact: the movie was rated PG-13 when it came out into theaters only after Shyamalan agreed to omit a single sound effect that had taken the film to an R-rating right before release (wouldn't you love to know what the sound was?).

7) School Ties—1992
Not a scary movie either, this one's for the girls starring Matt Damon, Brandon Fraiser, Ben Affleck, and Chris O'Donnell. 'Nough said.

8) El Orfanato—2007
Guillermo del Toro is a genius and this thriller proves it. There are so many little details and elements this Spanish director includes that reward the observant viewer. It's kind of scary, not going to lie, but it's not over-the-top frightening and unlike so many other scary movies, this one actually has a plot. The thing I love about Spanish films is that you're guaranteed to see something you've never seen before on screen.

9) The Birds—1963
First, Tippi Hedren, one of Hitchock's famous icy blond leads, is absolutely stunning. I love the scenes she's in opposite Suzanne Pleshette, a feisty, warm-blooded brunette, as they make a perfect foil. Maybe that's why Hitchcock used the famous split-focus technique to capture both beauties in the scene where Mitch is on the phone with Melanie and Annie's character listens in. Tell me what you think about the musical score of the film when you finish it, I'd like to hear your thoughts (veterans to the film know what I'm talking about).

10) Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?—1962
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, only two of the most powerhouse women ever to grace the silver screen star in this thriller about the two reclusive sisters. The very best part of this movie? Crawford and Davis hated each other with a passion that made their onscreen tension so fabulous. For example, during production, Bette Davis had a Coca-Cola machine installed on the set to anger Joan Crawford, whose late husband had been CEO of rival Pepsi-Cola and who herself was on the board of directors of that company. During the kicking scene, Bette Davis kicked Joan Crawford in the head, and the resulting wound required stitches. In retaliation, Crawford put weights in her pockets so that when Davis had to drag Crawford's near-lifeless body, she strained her back.

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