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    my personal canon, part IV

    Whoops, looking at my friend Darren's own list of 100 films reminded me that when I blitzed past Germany yesterday, I somehow skipped Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire (1987), which is totally essential. Wenders' Paris, Texas (1984) is great, too, but Wings of Desire is the one for this list by a comfortable margin, pretty much the key film from re-unified Germany.

    But what I really wanted to talk about today was animation. We have two anime films on the list, but no Western animation. Disney, of course, is the giant force of Western animation, and I'm going to pick Fantasia (1940, multiple directors) as the quintessential Disney film: it nicely encapsulates both the cloying, cutesy Disney (in the "Pastoral" sequence) as well as the terrifying, sadistic Disney (in the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence). Plus, Fantasia has Mickey Mouse in it (as well as some beautiful non-representational sequences, only thirty years after Kandinsky starts pioneering abstraction in painting.)

    The late 80s / early 90s had a powerful run of Disney films, too, mostly (I'd argue) based on the revitalizing power of the Alan Menken / Howard Ashman musical collaboration: of their pieces together (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin), I'd pick Trousdale + Wise's Beauty and the Beast (1991), at least partially because it also represents Disney's first experimental dip into computer animation.

    Speaking of, I'd have to include John Lasseter's Toy Story (1995), the first feature-length computer animation movie (of which there have been many, many, many since). Although my favorite Pixar film is Brad Bird's The Incredibles (2004), Toy Story holds up on the strength of its visual design and its smart script (both Joss Whedon and Joel Coen are credited on the screenplay).

    I'd like for stop-motion to get a nod as well, but picking one is a challenge: I'm personally supremely fond of the Wallace and Gromit shorts, preferring them ultimately over the perfectly likeable Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), but I'm trying to avoid putting shorts on this list where possible. There's an arty axis to stop-motion as well: some of the films by the Brothers Quay or Jan Svankmajer are also quite awesome, but none of them feel quite "canonical" in the way I'm looking for. And I'm finding myself balking at including the overrated Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Maybe old-school is the way we need to go on this one: something where Willis O'Brien is involved—The Lost World from 1925, or King Kong from 1933. Kong is probably the one that's more culturally significant (and it makes a good counterpoint to Godzilla, already on the list), although if I do The Lost World I can also throw on Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993), and we can do a little "dinosaur" axis. I'll figure this one out in a bit: cast your vote in the comments section.

    Has anybody out there seen Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), the oldest surviving feature-length animated film? (It's on the cover of the current issue of Cabinet.)

    I'm also going to include Robert Zemeckis' Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), which not only remains a pretty amazing technical feat but also functions as a fascinating meta-commentary on both cartoons and Hollywood, while also creating a kind of alternate history of LA (Roger Rabbit is intriguingly analyzed along these lines in Thom Andersens' fascinating documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, which I wrote about here).

    While dealing with childrens' theatre and animation, this would probably also be a good place to give over a slot to a puppet-oriented film, and I'd like the slot to go to another movie that functions as a Hollywood commentary, namely James Frawley's The Muppet Movie (1979). In addition to being the origin myth of some of the 20th century's most enduring characters, it's also a great example of the genres of both the musical and the road movie.

    (Other road movies I'd include on this list: Terence Malick's benignly nihilistic Badlands (1973) and Ridley Scott's quasi-feminist Thelma & Louise (1991). As for other musicals... let me get back to that question.)

    I can't bear for too long to see Orson Welles' only representation on this list be his brief cameo in The Muppet Movie, so let's quickly mention Citizen Kane (1941) and his fine noir Touch of Evil (1958). (I'm not wild about the representation of Mexicans in Touch of Evil, but a canon of representative films should include some examples of weird Hollywood racism, I think.)

    While we're in noir territory, I'd like to include Billy Wilder's great Double Indemnity (1944), and then move along into neo-noir territory with Roman Polanski's staggering Chinatown (1974) and Ridley Scott's SF noir, Blade Runner (1982) (I resisted this one when I was doing the SF list, because it's starting to date a bit in a few respects, but there's enough good in the movie that I think it fits well here).

    I'd like to close out the noir selections with David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. (2001), which is not a noir or a neo-noir so much as it is a kind of post-noir: it has a number of noir conventions in it, but the intervening narrative has all come unhinged, so that the elements float in free suspension, and other, weirder elements begin seeping into the interstitial spaces...

    (Just as a PS here, I shouldn't let the discussion of noir go by without mentioning Rian Johnson's Brick (2005), which transplants noir conventions to the setting of a Californian high school. I can't argue that it's canonical, but it's well worth your time.)

    Forty left to go. A few big films still obviously missing, a few genres still left unrepresented. We'll get to some of them next time...

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    Tuesday, April 10, 2007
    12:38 PM


    the muppet movie also has what i consider the best pun/sight gag combo in recorded history. fozzy is driving the jalopy with kermit navigating when this exchange zips right by:

    kermit: bear left
    fozzy: right frog

    its perfect in every way.

    (probably only chinatown is a finer film).
    Nicely pointed out. This is a good example of the way(s) in which both The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie are constantly paying homage to vaudeville / situating themselves within a vaudeville tradition: another reason why the Movie fits nicely on this list, I think.
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