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Instant Classics: Criterion on Netflix #151-175

Welcome back to my ongoing and ultimately futile effort to review every single Criterion Collection film before they are retconned off of Netflix Instant Watch. After last week’s frankly lackluster reviews of some truly spectacular films, I have decided to put the boot to my own ass and try to write this column with the passion and insight that I know I am capable of. Apologies to anyone who’s first encounter with this site was my last piece. I think you’ll find this one to be far more entertaining and, just maybe, somewhat enlightening.

-151. Traffic (Steven Soderburgh, 2000) [Unavailable]

I haven’t seen this film since it came out, but if memory serves, it was just a boilerplate drugs ‘n’ guns story with some semi-innovative cinematography from a director who had already made the best films of his career. Remember when the War on Drugs was America’s biggest threat? I’m reasonably willing to bet that, in the wake of 9/11, two (three?) actual wars and the horrifying explosion of drug-related violence in Mexico, this film comes across today as an unbearably outdated and quaint cautionary tale to a world that hadn’t seen anything yet.

-152. George Washington (David Gordon Green, 2000) [Unavailable]

This is one of those movies that I’ve been hearing people rave about for years but never bothered looking into. Wish I could say otherwise, but there it is.

-153. General Idi Amin Dada (Barbet Schroeder, 1974)

In 1974, documentarian Barbet Schroeder secured unparalleled access to one of the most enigmatic dictators of the 20th century: Ugandan President Idi Amin. The resulting film is an unabashed look at what happens when an honest-to-god madman walks the halls of power. The film follows Amin, who clearly saw the project as propaganda piece, through a plethora of staged meet-and-greets, military inspections and candid conversations with the dictator his early life, Israel and the responsibilities of ruling a once-prosperous African nation.

Whatever Amin’s intentions for the film may have been, the camera’s unblinking eye captured many moments where the usually charming and urbane General would talk himself off-message and briefly pull back the curtain on his delusional worldview and unhinged emotional status. Amin is so charming that, were it not for Schroeder’s constant off-camera reminders that the man was responsible for genocide-level slayings of his own people, he could have easily managed to come off as merely a somewhat backward, but ultimately harmless, man-child playing at being President. The fact that we live in a political climate that often finds itself dominated by the whichever candidate is the most congenial rather than the one who is the most capable, makes this film a powerful shot across the bow of the modern voting public.

-154. The Horse’s Mouth (Ronald Neame, 1958) [Unavailable]

Haven’t heard of it before but: a dark, British comedy written by and starring a young Alec Guinness? Sign me up.
Side Note: Available online at Criterion.com

-155. Tokyo Olympiad ( Kon Ichikawa, 1965) [Unavailable]

While this film is supposed to feature some really groundbreaking cinematography, I just can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the prospect of watching a nearly 3 hour long film about the 1964 Olympics. Hell, I don’t even spend that much time watching the Olympics when they’re happening live on TV.

-156. Hearts and Minds (Peter Davis, 1974)

Pieced together from various interviews with military brass, discharged soldiers and Vietnamese civilians, newsreel presidential addresses and on-the-ground camera work, Hearts and Minds is THE documentary on the Vietnam War. Released in 1974, less than a year before the war would end, the film pulled all the disparate feelings towards the conflict that had been building up in the American consciousness for two decades and laid everything out in a vicious and visceral knockout punch aimed squarely at anyone who might still be on the fence. In fact, the movie was so controversial, that it’s original release was impeded and litigated against until all it received was a one week run in Los Angeles. And the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

While the film does use interviews with people on both sides of the famously divisive war’s opinion gulf, it’s impossible to ignore it’s underlying message when you see a sobbing relative of a dead Vietnamese soldier throwing herself onto his coffin while then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. William Westmoreland intones, “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.” Utterly unflinching in it’s depiction of one of our worst military disasters, Hearts and Minds blazed the trail and set the example that would later make documentaries like No End in Sight and Restrepo shining examples of how patriotism and unthinking compliance with a government’s agenda are not the same thing.

-157. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001) [Unavailable]

Wait, it’s been TEN YEARS since this film came out?! I am so old right now…

-158. The Importance of Being Earnest (Anthony Asquith, 1952)

Based on Oscar Wilde’s most popular work, the film recounts the efforts of Jack Worthing (Michael Redgrave) to secure the hand of young Gwendolyn (Joan Greenwood) in marriage. Problem is, she is under the impression that his name is really Earnest, which is the only name that will do for her prospective husband. The confusion stems from the fact that Jack lives two lives, one as Jack when in London and one as Earnest when he is at his country manor taking care of his young ward, Cecily (Dorothy Tutin). He tells Cecily that Earnest is his screw-up brother who he must constantly bail out of trouble, in order to avoid the constant pressure of being her legal guardian. Further complicating matters is Jack’s ne’er-do-well friend, Algernon (Michael Denison) who, upon hearing of Cecily’s wit and beauty, shows up at Jack’s manor in the guise of Earnest in the hopes of wooing the girl.

Witty and wry humor abound in this pointed critique of Victorian culture, which was so predominant at the time Wilde wrote it. While I’m not a huge fan of Victorian romances, this one comes off at a rather breezy clip and is over before any of the characters get too huffy and overbearing. Watch it with your mom. You know you forgot to call her, anyways.

-159. Red Beard (Akira Kurosawa, 1965) [Unavailable]

Bwah-huh? A Kurosawa flick that’s not available for streaming? It’s like I’m doing penance for that single, solitary Bergman film I got to stream last week.

-160. A Nous la Liberte (Rene Clair, 1931) [Unavailable]

As early French comedies are not my cinematic forte, I have no comment with which to, er, comment.

-161. Under the Roofs of Paris (Rene Clair, 1930) [Unavailable]

Same statement as the above film, only swap “comedy” for “ romance” and multiply the sentiment by a damn sight.

-162. Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsey, 1999)

Set in the public housing projects of Glasgow, Scotland during the infamous garbage strike of 1973, Ratcatcher follows 12-year-old James as he grows up in some of the worst living conditions in the Western World. Living with his alcoholic father (Tommy Flanagan), beleaguered mother and two sisters, James must wrestle with his guilt after the inadvertent drowning of his friend as well as his burgeoning adolescence. Despite being a tough little kid, his hopes for the future seem on the verge of being swallowed the the ever-deepening morass of crime, filth and poverty that surrounds his daily life.

This film has the distinction of being one of the few English language films I’ve ever seen that I’m glad featured subtitles. Most of the characters, many of whom were portrayed by non-actors, sport Glaswegian accents that are so thick a slang-heavy, that even my Anglophile ears could hardly pick out what was being said. Luckily, Ramsey decided to eschew an overabundance of dialog in favor of long, haunting shots of the rust-and-concrete hell that she sends her characters to. Though much of it is filmed outdoors, the camera sticks close to it’s subjects, be they human or merely man-made, and enhances the sickening feeling of being a rat trapped in maze with no exits.

-163. Hopscotch (Ronald Neame, 1980)

The late, great Walter Matthau plays Walter Kendig, the CIA’s most talented field agent, who’s waging an ever-warming Cold War. After Kendig lets his KGB counterpart off the hook, he is called back to Washington and informed that he is being busted down to desk duty for the rest of his career. He becomes infuriated by his demotion and flees to his lover (Glenda Jackson) in Austria, where he proceeds to write his “memoirs” of all the CIA, KGB and (especially) former boss, Myerson’s (Ned Beatty) dirty secrets for the enjoyment of the reading public. Anxious to avoid his impending embarrassment, Myerson charges Kendig’s former protege, Cutter (Sam Waterson) to find and eliminate Kendig before his book goes to press.

Sounds like some good, old-fashioned 80’s cloak and dagger stuff, right? Wrong! This film is a manic and somewhat screwball comedy that pokes good-natured fun at the Cold War paranoia that had been rapidly slackening for the previous decade. Matthau is his typical, schlubby self as he leads his incompetent adversaries on a merry chase across the globe. A true product of the post-Nixon era, which gave birth to both the scathing documentary and wry political comedy genres in America. While lots of lightweight fun, I’m not entirely sure what it’s doing in the Collection.

-164. Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)

Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is a psychologist set to evaluate the conditions on a space station that is orbiting the distant ocean planet of Solaris. While scientists have been studying the planet for many years, the research close to the surface has proven hazardous and so the sprawling space station now only supports a three man crew. Upon arrival, Kris discovers that one of the scientists is dead and the other two are evasive and uncooperative. While walking through the empty halls of the half deserted station, Kris begins to suspect that they are not the only people on board. Sure enough, his suspicions are confirmed when he wakes up one morning to the sight of his wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), who has been dead for ten years.

Based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem, this film is a beautiful and quiet at space itself. While the film’s set design and contemplative manner owe an undeniable debt to Stanley Kubrick’s take on 2001, it stands on it’s own two feet as a meditation of the complexities of human interaction, emotion and, most importantly, communication. Tarkovsy was a master of narrative tone, which he proved here beyond a shadow of a doubt. Where a lesser director would have opted for sudden musical cues and bombastic set pieces to drive their point home, Tarkovsy uses a nearly inaudible aria, the tinkling of wind chimes or even just a shift in film coloration to enchant, provoke and unnerve at the slightest whim.

(Side Note: The 2002 remake is garbage. Don’t take my word for it, though. When speaking about the original film, Salman Rushdie said that it “needs to be seen as widely as possible before it’s transformed by Steven Soderbergh and James Cameron into what they ludicrously threaten will be ‘2001 meets Last Tango in Paris in space’. What, sex in space with floating butter? Tarkovsky must be turning over in his grave.” Moral: You just don’t piss off a man who’s had a jihad called down on his head.)

-165. Man Bites Dog (Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzei and Benoit Poelvoorde, 1992)

This mockumentary about two Belgian documentarians following around an urbane and charismatic serial killer, stars the film’s co-directors acting under their real names. Remy and Andre are the filmmakers who have taken it upon themselves to uncover the psyche of a madman, played by Benoit. As they are shown the tools of the trade, as well as it’s “occupational hazards” by an eager-to-please Benoit, the line between the subject and the observers becomes increasingly blurred and soon the documentarians begin to take a supporting role in their own film and Benoit’s rapidly increasing body count.

Originally released under the more provocative title of C’est Arrive Pres de Chez Vous (“It Happened in Your Neighborhood“) this is one of the all-time blackest of black comedies. The genius of the film lies in it’s portrayal of Benoit: he is intelligent, artistic and kind toward those he considers to be his friends and family, but turns into a cavalier and unfeeling murderer at the drop of a hat. In this, his character is not so far removed from the real life madness that is on display in General Idi Amin Dada. Even though Benoit is the central character, it is the film crew’s actions that provide the movie’s most devastating sucker punch. While at first unsettled by what they see, soon become fascinated with Benoit’s macabre profession, much in the same way we see the modern explosion of interest in reality shows and videos of all stripes. In never turning the camera off when the possibility of a good shot presents itself, Man Bites Dog dares to confront filmmakers, producers and especially the viewers with the notion that, by their continued production and consumption of this horrible parade of the worst aspects of humanity, they themselves become complicit in the perpetuation of that which they claim to abhor. Well recommended for anyone who likes their social commentary with teeth.

-166. Down By Law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986) [Tragically Unavailable]

My absolute favorite films from one of my all-time favorite directors starring one of my unquestionably favorite musicians. See this movie by any means necessary.

[admin. note: In a fit of unseen synchronicity, IOC recently ran a Great Scenes post from Down By Law here]

-167. The Complete Monterey Pop Festival (Various, 1967) [Unavailable]

You know, it really irks me that Criterion gave individual spine numbers to box sets and then continued on numbering the films contained in said box set. How is the obsessive-compulsive in me supposed to arrange that on my shelf in numerical spine order? Apparently it irked IMDB too, because they don’t have a listing for it.

-168. Monterey Pop (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) [Unavailable]

See above. Or below for that matter.

-169. Jimi Plays Monterey & Shake! Otis at Monterey (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) [Unavailable]

Companion pieces to the hippie music documentary in the entry above, that is bundled together in the box set featured in the entry above that. Marks the point in history when Monterey first became associated with insufferable douchebags.

-170. Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932) [Unavailable]

Remember what I said earlier about French comedies and romances from the 30’s? Let’s bundle American romantic comedies from the 30’s in with them.

-171. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963) [Unavailable]

Was really looking forward to reviewing this. Never fear! It’s made it’s way to the top of my DVD queue and will be getting a full treatment in the near future.

-172. Pepe Le Moko (Julien Duvivier, 1937) [Unavailable]

Remember what I said about French comedies and romances from the 30’s? I am the exact opposite with French gangster films of that same era, or any era, really. This film cut the path that the likes of Bob le Flambeur and Le Samourai would later tread to stunning effect.

-173. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1943)

A sprawling, comedic effort from The Archers, this film follows the military career of Gen. Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey) through the Boer War and First and Second World Wars. Candy starts and unlikely friendship with a German army officer (Anton Walbrook) and has various romantic inclinations toward three different women, all played by Deborah Kerr, over the course of his life as he watches the world and it’s notion of how to fight warfare, leave him in the pages of forgotten history.

What. A. Slog. Right from the start it’s all zany musical cues, scenery-chewing line delivery and “Pip Pip Cherrio I Dare Say Wot Wot” to the point where I found it hard to believe that this film was made by actual Brits. Everyone in it is such an over-the-top caricature that it felt like I was spending three hours (yeah, never getting that time back) inside the brain of some hick from Arkansas who had been asked to describe forty years of British military actions without having ever met an Englishman and only a rudimentary grasp European history. While it was considered highly subversive and critical of the military establishment when it was released as well as having helped pioneer the Technicolor era, I found literally every other aspect of this film to be unbearably grating. And yet? No less a cinematic luminary that David Mamet claims it as his favorite film! What the hell is going on?! Perhaps one day I will finally realize why all these incredibly talented directors, for whom I have so much respect, are so enamored with what I consider to be some of Powell and Pressburger’s most unwatchable films. Wether or not I do, one thing is for certain, that enlightenment won’t come from watching this film again.

-174. Band of Outsiders (Jean-Luc Goddard, 1964) [Unavailable]

Portrait of a Netflix: loves Kurosawa and Michael Powell; hates Bergman, Goddard and Hitchcock. What an asshole.

-175. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, 1998)

Based on the semi-autobiographical, cult classic book by the inventor of Gonzo journalism himself, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. The story, such as it is, follows Raul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his lawyer Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) as they take a trip to Las Vegas where they are to report on a motorcycle race. Due to the inclusion of “two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine…a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls” the assignment takes a very forgone and brain-melting detour into the depths of the American psyche in the early 70’s.

The film, like the book, is howlingly funny mainly due to the fact that Gilliam allows Thompson’s original, razor-sharp prose to dominate the film. Depp and Del Toro share a magically abusive on-screen chemistry that brings the two characters (which are in fact hyper-embellished stand-in’s for Thompson and his friend, Oscar Zeta Acosta) to sweaty, wild-eyed life. Adding to this is Gilliam’s notorious, madman directorial style which produced wildfire-caliber sparks when played against Thompson’s narcotic agitprop. The camera zooms through hellish hallucinations and even-more hellish realities to leave the viewer dumped out at the end of the film with the same exhausted feeling you get when you spend a day riding rollercoasters at an amusement park.

Fun fact: I have seen this film more times than any other film ever made. When I was 18 and fresh out of my parents house, I embraced the drug culture with open, eager arms. This film became something of a mantra for me and my roommates who would rush home from work nearly every day for months on end to absorb every scrap of it’s twisted, cynical and yet, strangely hopeful account of two men searching for truth, justice and the American Way with the aid of a laundry list of illicit substances. I found this film at a time when I was in the process of rejecting the suburban, Christian fundaments of my upbringing and searching for something, anything at all, to latch on to. At first the film seemed to be a simple, amoral glorification of all things drug-induced. Upon further repeated viewings, however, I began to feel the full impact of Thompson’s words. The drugs, while taking somewhat of a top billing in the film, were simply the fuel for his quest, not the destination. It’s not a celebration of getting fucked up, but rather a eulogy for the decency, honesty and, incredibly enough, morality that Thompson perceived as lacking in the post-hippie-Watergate-Vietnam hellscape that was his understanding of America at that time. Further delving into Thompson’s serious journalistic efforts, in fact, was one of the strongest of my motivations to become a writer. While I have since outgrown both my druggy phase and this film’s somewhat juvenile world-view, the best I can sum up my continued love for it is by paraphrasing the Good Doctor himself: I wouldn’t recommend films that glorify sex, drugs or insanity to everyone, but they’ve always worked for me.

Well that was an interesting little block. I like how the whole thing was bookended by such polar opposites as Traffic and Fear and Loathing. While I do hope for less whackadoo British comedies in the future, any week I get to re-watch three films that are in my all time top 50 (Solaris, Man Bites Dog, Fear and Loathing) is a good week in my book.

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May 16, 2011   2 Comments

SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 15 (of 15)

Here it is! Finally, we have arrived at the top ten – and nothing will ever be the same again. Namely I will never take on a mega-post which takes months to complete. I mean, what was I thinking? 150 greatest soundtracks!? Wouldn’t 50 have been enough? Sheesh. Anyway, enjoy the creme de la creme- and drop me a line telling me what you would have changed!

10.) The Nuclear Observatory of Mr. Nanof (1985) – Piero Milesi

This rarely seen film directed by Paolo Rosa doesn’t even have an IMDB page, but the subject matter seems timely in lieu of the Oscar buzz around Bansky’s magnificent documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Rosa’s film documents an enormous piece of graffiti outside a mental hospital, engraved by mental patient Oreste Fernando Nannetti, who refers to himself as NANOF11, an “Astronautic Mineral Engineer of the Mental System.” Piero Milesi’s music is minimalistic, with lush electronic sounds repeating themselves in an almost fugue-like manner. But rather than becoming monotonous, the end result is melodic, meditative and beautiful, with synthesized themes unfurling in sublime variations on a theme. Released on the legendary Cuneiform label in 1992, this is a highly recommended score for fans of Philip Glass and Brian Eno. Check out track 2, “Tom Thumb”:

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and track 4, “Scene of the Madmen”:

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and track 7, “Graffiti”:

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09.) The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – David Shire

Joseph Sargent directs the original starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, not to be confused with the 2009 remake starring John Travolta and Denzel Washington. The story of a hijacked subway train is a classic of gritty 70’s cinema, aided by an incredible soundtrack which fuses crazy percussion, lush bass, and a full brass orchestra complete with blaring tubas to create a suspenseful backdrop. Shire also scored The Conversation, Return to Oz, and Short Circuit. Check out the awesome main title:

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and track 4, “Blue and Green Talk”:

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and track 10, “Mini-Manhunt”:

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08.) The Assassination of Jesse James (2007) – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

Andrew Dominik directs from his own adaptation of Ron Hansen’s novel in a movie which stars Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck and Sam Shepard. It’s the tale of Robert Ford, a 19 yr. old who’s idolized Jesse James since childhood, but who upon meeting him and joining his gang grows resentful of the man, ultimately betraying him for fame and fortune. Warren Ellis of the instrumental post-rock band Dirty Three and Nick Cave of the Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party had collaborated on the fine soundtrack for The Proposition in 2005 and went on to score The Road in 2009 but this moody score with its rumbling piano, chiming bells and sad violins is the best of the bunch. Check out track 1, “Rather Lovely Thing”:

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and track 2, “Moving On”:

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and track 3, “Song For Jesse”:

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07.) Kafka (1991) – Cliff Martinez

Steven Soderbergh‘s underrated quasi-biopic stars Jeremy Irons, Theresa Russell, Ian Holm, Sir Alec Guinness and Joel Grey, and borrows heavily from The Castle and The Trial to tell the story of Kafka, a lowly insurance worker who finds himself entering into an underworld of conspiracies and terrorism when a co-worker is murdered, which ultimately brings him face to face with a shadowy organization that controls society. It’s a very enjoyable film along the lines of John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa and David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, but with a style and feel all it’s own, thanks in large part to Cliff Martinez’s use of the Cimbalom, a Hungarian zither-like instrument which evokes a unique, dreamlike atmosphere. Martinez has worked on several of Soderbergh’s films (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, King of the Hill, The Underneath, Traffic, Solaris), but this soundtrack is his best. Check out track 1, “Eddie’s Dead / Main Title”:

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and track 6, “Goodnight Mr. Bizzlebek”:

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and track 15, “Son Of Balloon”:

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06.) Amelie (2001) – Yann Tiersen

Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s crowd pleasing love story for the ADD generation stars Audrey Tautou as the titular character, a wide eyed girl who lives in a fantasy world ruled by love, and La Haine director Mathieu Kassovitz as the clumsy good-natured boy she ultimately falls for – after first dedicating herself to bringing the love of others to fruition. She’s basically an elf from the Brother Grimm’s The Elves and the Cobbler, only instead of shoes she delivers fulfillment to those lucky enough to know her. It’s beautifully shot, chock-full of colorful ideas, and populated by fantastic actors with memorable faces, but it’s also overly dependent on narration, hindered by flimsy characterization, and so sweet it’s downright cloying. Whatever your take on the movie, one thing’s for sure – it’s got a magnificent soundtrack, full of swelling accordions and harpsichords and punctuated by toy pianos, all courtesy of Yann Tiersen, who also gave us the superb soundtrack to Good Bye Lenin! Here’s track 4, “Comptine Dun Autre Ete La”:

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and track 5, “La Noyee”:

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and track 16, “La Redecouverte”:

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05.) Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Carter Burwell

Joel & Ethan Coen’s masterpiece stars Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Jon Polito and John Turturro and perfectly captures the essence of pre-WWII gangster movies while building on the inherent themes of morality and loyalty and ratcheting the entire genre up a couple of notches. Byrne’s Tom Regan is the anti-hero to end all anti-heroes, who plays two rival gangs against one another and drives the twists (or dames) as crazy as he does the gangland bosses. The central question – whether or not he has a heart – is in the mind of every character he encounters, who all want something from him and will stop at nothing to get it. The characters are multidimensional, the humor jet-black, and the moments of violence are shocking, erupting out of human frailty, anger, jealousy and betrayal. It all adds up to an “intimate” epic, heightened by the soundtrack, which features a lilting, almost fragile clarinet swept along by strings like a hat carried on the wind – which is one of the central images, as memorable as any single image in any movie. Burwell also scored Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, Gods and Monsters, Being John Malkovich, and recently Where the Wild Things Are, A Serious Man, and the as-of-yet unreleased No Country for Old Men. Here is the opening track:

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and track 3, “A Man and His Hat”:

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and track 11, “Nightmare In The Trophy Room”:

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04.) Mental Cruelty [Seelische Grausamkeit] (1961) – George Gruntz

Hannes Schmidhauser directs this movie which I have not seen, but which I have listened to repeatedly since acquiring the CD. Led by Swiss pianist George Gruntz, it features Kenny “Clook” Clarke’s incredible drumming and Barney Wilen’s cool tenor saxophone. Sometimes pensive, sometimes light and breezy, it’s full of tangos, waltzes, and rock n’ roll, all held together by a melodic motif woven into each short track (only 4 of the 18 tracks are over 3 minutes long). It’s an amazing jazz score that ranks alongside the works of Mingus, Davis, Coltrane and Ellington- which is saying something. Amazingly, only 100 LPs were printed at the time of its initial release (which fetched upwards of $1000 on ebay), but thanks to Atavistic’s Unheard Music Series it was reissued in 2003, giving Gruntz – who also composed the unreleased soundtrack to the film Steppenwolf – some long overdue exposure. Check out the main theme:

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and track 10, “Romance II”:

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and track 13, “Latin Stroll On Theme”:

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and track 15, “Spanish Castles”:

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03.) Invitation to a Suicide (2004) – John Zorn

Written & Directed by Loren Marsh, this dark comedy tells the tale of a young man living in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint (also known as Little Poland) who gets in trouble with the mob and is given a day to raise $10,000 or have his father killed, who in a fit of ingenuity decides to sell tickets to his own suicide to save his father’s life. The incredibly talented Zorn is one of the leading figures in modern jazz, emerging out of the 1980’s downtown scene which fused punk to free-jazz, and he’s always been heavily influenced by film – just check out 1986’s The Big Gundown, which re-imagines Ennio Morricone in an aggressive, up-tempo style complete with trademark freakout alto saxophone. Since 1990 Zorn’s been releasing soundtracks composed for indie and underground movies on Tzadik, his own private label, making him one of the most prolific composers in film. This score is one of his finest, full of bass harmonicas, dueling accordions, classical guitars, cellos, vibraphones and the occasional moog. Other soundtracks of note in his Filmworks series are volume XIV: Hiding and Seeking, Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse and Filmworks X: In the Mirror of Maya Deren. Here’s track 1, “Invitation to a Suicide”:

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and track 4, “East Greenpoint Rundown”:

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and track 16, “Final Retribution”:

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and track 17, “Aftermath”:

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02.) Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) – Bob Dylan

Sam Peckinpah directs from Rudy Wurlitzer’s script (don’t forget to read Quake!), in a film starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson that tells of the the death of the Old West and the emergence of the New West, one ruled by cattle ranchers and businessmen. It’s the story of Pat Garrett, an ex-outlaw who has become sheriff and is charged with assembling a posse to kill his old friend Billy the Kid, public enemy number one where the authorities are concerned. Firmly couched in the gray area between law and outlaw, morality and criminality, loyalty and betrayal, freedom and death, it’s a showcase for the talents of Bob Dylan (both off-screen and on). His magnificent soundtrack lends the proceedings a palpable sense of profound abandonment, as if the world were moving on and burying poor Billy in the past he helped make legendary. Full of guitar, wordless choruses that “ooh” and “aah,” and some fantastic original songs with goose-bump inducing lyrics: “There’s guns across the river ’bout to pound you / There’s a lawman on your trail like to surround you / Bounty hunters are dancing all around you / Billy they don’t like you to be so free.” That’s target=”_blank”>Pancho and Lefty quality imagery! All in all it’s a masterpiece of mood, highlighted by Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, a song which despite having been covered by everyone from Eric Clapton (decent) to Guns N’ Roses (meh) to Babyface (huh?) to Avril Lavigne (ugh) still retains it’s ability to mesmerize, and an album that proves Dylan’s storytelling genius extended far beyond pop music, and could turn a minor film in Peckinpah’s oeuvre into a must-see. Here’s track 5, “River Theme”:

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and track 7, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”:

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and track 9, “Billy 4″:

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and – drumroll please – the number one soundtrack of all time is:

01.) La Planete Sauvage [Fantastic Planet] (1973) – Alain Gorageur

René Laloux‘s animated classic won the special jury prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and was distributed in the U.S. by legendary producer Roger Corman. It’s the tale of the Draags, giant blue aliens who view their tiny, human Oms as slave-like pets. When a domesticated Om escapes with the tools to educate the wild forest-dwelling Oms, war and revolution threaten to destroy Draag society. Populated with bizarre mating rituals, alien plant life and strange psychedelic landscapes, watching The Fantastic Planet is a consciousness-expanding experience, not unlike the one you get listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz. Essentially a morality tale of our Human inclination to view the “other” as inferior and threatening, it’s required viewing for people interested in out-there cinema, intelligent science fiction, or hallucinogenics in general. Composer Alain Goraguer was a jazz musician who arranged and produced for Serge Gainsbourg and France Gall before turning to film (The Dead Times, The Snails, Paris Secret), but none of his other works presage this eerie, one-of-a-kind album. With Fanstastic Planet he fuses bass-heavy blaxploitation-worthy beats with a prog-rock array of mellotrons, synthesizers, clavinets and wah-wah pedals to create something too funky to be Avant-Garde yet too complex and oftentimes cacophonous to be anything else. It’s an aural masterpiece which can still be felt in the work of bands like Portishead and Air and hip-hop visionaries J Dilla, MF Doom and Madlib. It’s hypnotic, psychedelic, electronic, angelic, and it’s number one on my list – so that’s saying something too I guess. I hope you enjoy it – here’s track 2, “Deshominisation I”:

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and track 4, “Le Bracelet”:

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and track 12, “Conseil Des Draags”:

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and track 15, “Mira Et Ten”:

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Click to see part 1 (OST’s #141-150) , part 2 (131-140),  part 3 (121-130), part 4 (111-120), part 5 (101-110), part 6 (91-100), part 7 (81-90), part 8 (71-80), part 9 (61-70), part 10 (51-60), part 11 (41-50), part 12 (31-40), part 13 (21-30), part 14 (11-20) and part 15 (1-10).

And don’t forget to comment! I want to hear about soundtracks I may have missed, and get your thoughts on the ones I got wrong! And don’t forget to tune in for the honorable mentions – scores which just barely missed the mark.

November 30, 2010   4 Comments

SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 14 (of 15)

Almost done! We’re into classic territory now, as we head towards the top 20 soundtracks of all time. Enjoy – and don’t forget to comment!

20.) Paris, Texas (1984) – Ry Cooder

Wim Wenders directs the classic existential love story, starring Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski and Dean Stockwell and adapted by L.M. Kit Carson from Sam Shepard’s play. The story of a man who wanders out of the desert with no recollection of who he is is a meditation on how our lives affect the lives of others – especially our loved ones. The soundtrack is awesome, by prolific guitarist and producer Ry Cooder, who has played with everyone from Captain Beefheart to Taj Mahal and who not long ago introduced the world to the Buena Vista Social Club. His soundtracks include The Long Riders, Johnny Handsome and even Trespass. This time out he uses some incredibly poignant slide guitar to create a Brian Eno-like soundscape. Here’s track 1, “Paris Texas”:

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and track 2, “Brothers”:

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and track 4, “Cancion Mixteca”:

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19.) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) – Joe Hisaishi

Master storyteller Hayao Miyazaki has taken us to some amazing worlds over the years, none more magnificent than this future where man’s destructive nature has fundamentally altered the Earth, creating forests whose toxic spores and giant insects have forced mankind into hiding. But in the Valley of Wind there lives a princess named Nausicaä who’s empathy for all living things might be our only salvation – if she can survive the wars of man which threaten her kingdom. One of the spiritual heirs to Avatar (along with Miyazaki’s later Princess Mononoke), this is a wonderfully hypnotic visual feast of a film, aided largely by Hisaishi’s score, filled with eerie electronics and sweeping romanticism. Beside creating most of the Ghibli scores, including My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, Hisaishi has also scored several “Beat” Takeshi Kitano films (Kikujiro, Brother, Fireworks) – now that’s what you call a diverse body of work.

Here’s an excerpt from track 1:

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and track 2:

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and track 5, “Kushana No Shinryaku”:

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18.) Punch-Drunk Love (2002) – Jon Brion

Paul Thomas Anderson directs this romantic comedy about awkwardness starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman, wherein a down on his luck small-business owner gets a harmonium and embarks on a romantic journey with a mysterious woman. Brion also did Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Magnolia, and I ♥ Huckabees. This soundtrack, thanks to quirky compositions and glitchy electronics, outclasses the others and makes the cut. Here’s track 2, “Tabla”:

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and track 3, “Punch Drunk Melody”:

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and track 7, “Punchy Tack Piano”:

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and track 8, “He Needs Me,” a song featuring the vocals of actress Shelley Duvall, ported over from Harry Nilsson’s Popeye and given new life:

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17.) Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) – Krzysztof Komeda

Roman Polanski‘s vampire comedy hearkens back to a simpler time, when vampire movies were few and far between, and a good deal of them were actually watchable. Starring Polanski, Jack MacGowran, Alfie Bass and Polanski’s future wife (and future Manson victim) Sharon Tate, it’s the story of a zany professor searching a remote Transylvanian village for vampires. Komeda, an iconic figure in Polish Jazz, has composed works ranging from Classical to the Avant Garde, and his soundtracks for Polanski’s Cul de Sac and Rosemary’s Baby are also noteworthy, though this is the score that features his most impressive work. Check out the main title:

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and track 2, “Sarah In Bath”:

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and track 10, “To The Cellar”:

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and track 11, “Skiing”:

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16.) Walker (1987) – Joe Strummer

One of the truly sad stories in cinema is the blacklisting of gifted director Alex Cox by Hollywood. The man’s a genius – Repo Man, Sid & Nancy and Highway Patrolman alone corroborate this. And this film, about rogue general William Walker and his mercenary coup d’etat in Nicaragua in the middle of the 19th century is way ahead of its time, thanks to a great script by Rudy Wurlitzer (go read his novel, Quake) and Cox’s directorial vision. Starring Ed Harris, Richard Masur, Peter Boyle, and Marlee Matlin, it’s an aggressively subversive film, littered with anachronisms (modern cars, helicopters, magazines and coca cola bottles) which takes on capitalism with a spirit of Punk anarchism that’s fun to watch. It’s no wonder Joe Strummer, front man of The Clash, was enlisted to compose the score (he also appears as Faucet, and starred in Cox’s Straight to Hell). This soundtrack rocks, and for more on Strummer (who died in 2002) watch the documentary The Future Is Unwritten. Here’s track 1, “Filibustero”:

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and track 8, “The Unknown Immortal”:

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and track 10 – my favorite – “The Brooding Side of Madness”:

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and track 12, “Smash Everything”:

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15.) Kamikaze 1989 (1982) – Edgar Froese

Wolf Gremm directs German New Wave auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder in this surreal sci-fi film which exists somewhere between Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim and Jared Drake’s recent Visioneers, which tells the tale of a futuristic “Combine” which controls TV and News outlets in the near future. When a bomb threat is made on the Combine, it’s up to super-cop Jansen (Fassbinder) – an overweight, out of shape, wretched excuse for a super-cop – to investigate. With four days to solve the mystery, Jansen looks to the combine’s enemy, Krysmopompas, and becomes embroiled in an absurd mystery that revolves around the Combine’s mysterious 31st floor – hidden somewhere within their Tower’s 30 floors. Froese was a member of electronica trailblazers Tangerine Dream, who made fine soundtracks to Firestarter, Thief, Near Dark and Miracle Mile – but this solo effort is unquestionably superior – so don’t bother questioning it, just seek out the hard to find soundtrack and listen repeatedly. Here’s track 1, “Videophonic”:

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and track 7, the awesome “Blue Panther”:

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and track 11, “Tower Block”:

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14.) Taxi Driver (1976) – Bernard Herrmann

Martin Scorsese directs Paul Schrader‘s classic character study of Travis Bickle, an unhinged insomniac cab driver who calls himself “God’s lonely man” and obsesses over innocence and sin. It features bold direction by a young Scorsese, one of the screen’s finest performances by Robert De Niro and fine acting by all assembled: Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle (again) and Albert Brooks. It also features an incredible score by Bernard Herrmann, who’s given us some of the most memorable film music of all time: Citizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Vertigo, Psycho, Fahrenheit 451 and Sisters, to name but a few. If there were a Mount Rushmore of film composers he’d be up there – and here he’s given us one of his finest works, combining the feel of late night jazz with neurotic military vamps to create a portrait of unpredictable schizophrenia. Case in point, track 1, the main title”

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and track 15, “I Work the Whole City”:

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and track 16, “Betsy in a White Dress”:

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13.) Superfly (1972) – Curtis Mayfield

Gordon Parks Jr., son of Shaft director Gordon Parks, gives us the other seminal blaxploitation film, starring Ron O’Neal, Carl Lee and Sheila Frazier. This time out our protagonist is a big pimpin’ cocaine dealer who has a change of heart and decides to make one last score before running off to start a new life – but of course the Mob has other plans for him. Funk and Soul legend Curtis Mayfield began his career as a member of The Impressions before branching out in the 1970’s with hit after hit and classic album after classic album. This album belongs in every audiophile and cinephile’s collection. In fact it’s nearly perfect – my only complaint is the line, “the oppressed seem to have suffered the most in every continent, coast to coast” at the beginning of No Thing On Me (Cocaine Song). I always cringe at the logic expressed in that line – of course the oppressed suffer – it’s what makes them oppressed. That’s like saying “the malnourished have always been the least well fed, throughout history.” Aside from that, this is a flawless outing. Here’s track 2, “Pusherman”:

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and track 6, “Eddie You Should Know Better”:

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and track 9, “Superfly”:

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12.) The Great Silence [Il Grande Silenzio] (1968) – Ennio Morricone

Admit it. You were wondering when I’d get to Morricone. Well, here he is – providing the score to Sergio Corbucci‘s unique Western, set in the snow and starring Jean-Louis Trintignant as a mute gunslinger named Silence who’s hired to exact revenge on a cruel villain named Loco, played by the one and only Klaus Kinski. Hyper-stylistic, filled with flashbacks, violence, and a bleak ending, it’s a memorable film – and a memorable soundtrack. One of the other faces on that aforementioned Mount Rushmore, Morricone’s body of work is vast, consistently outstanding, and daunting to sift through, with highlights being Navajo Joe, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, The Big Gundown, The Battle of Algiers, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Peur sur la ville [Fear Over the City], Autostop Rosso Sangue [Hitch Hike], The Mission, The Untouchables and Cinema Paradiso. You can really take your pick and find a winner. I did, and it’s The Great Silence. Here’s track 1, “Il Grande Silenzio Restless”:

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and track 2, “Passaggi Nel Tempo”:

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and track 4, “Barbara E Tagliente”:

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11.) La Ragazza Fuori Strada [Cross Country Girl] (1973) – Piero Umiliani

Luigi Scattini directs this Italian melodrama about an Italian journalist who falls in love with a beautiful black girl, and brings her home to his provincial hometown where she faces racism, hypocrisy, derision and cruelty by his family and friends. The soundtrack by Piero Umiliani is definitely the highlight – Umiliani was a jazz musician who played with Gato Barbieri for a time and also gave us the wonderful soundtracks for Il Corpo and Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso [Sweden, Heaven and Hell] – for which he created the famous Mah nà, mah nà song – seen here on target=”_blank”>The Muppet Show. Here’s the opening track, “Volto Di Donna”:

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and track 3, the beautiful “Nostalgia”:

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and track 10, “Cantata Per Maryam”:

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and track 13, “La Prima Uscita”:

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Click to see part 1 (OST’s #141-150) , part 2 (131-140),  part 3 (121-130), part 4 (111-120), part 5 (101-110), part 6 (91-100), part 7 (81-90), part 8 (71-80), part 9 (61-70), part 10 (51-60), part 11 (41-50), part 12 (31-40), part 13 (21-30), part 14 (11-20) and part 15 (1-10).

And tune in next week, as we bring you the finale – the créme de la créme, the thrilling, fantastic, glorious conclusion of our countdown!

November 22, 2010   4 Comments

SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 13 (of 15)

30.) Touch of Evil (1958) – Henry Mancini

Orson Welles directs and stars as the bigoted Hank Quinlan in this visually stunning crime film with style to burn. Charlton Heston is horribly miscast as a Mexican narcotics officer (do they still have those?) and Janet Leigh as his newlywed wife, who become embroiled in the drug trade when an American is killed in a bomb blast at the border. There’s a memorable opening tracking shot, incredible cinematography, and a fantastic sleazy sounding jazz score by Henry Mancini, the man who brought you The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Experiment in Terror, Charade, and The Party – all fine outings, but this is his best, perfectly capturing the mood of a 1950′s border town. Here’s the main title:

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and track 9, “The Boss”:

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and track 19, “The Chase”:

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29.) Drag Me to Hell (2009) – Christopher Young

Sam Raimi returns to Evil Dead II form with this roller coaster ride of a movie, starring Alison Lohman and Justin Long in the tale of vengeful spirits haunting a well-meaning naïf. From the opening smash-cut title card (punctuated with an intense musical stinger) to the shocking finale, it’s a perfect example of visceral thrills, with plenty of twists and turns, sublimely fun comic relief, and some fantastic music, courtesy of Christopher Young, who also scored Haunted Summer and Hellraiser. Here’s track 1, “Drag Me to Hell”:

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and track 11, “Brick Dogs Ala Carte”:

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and track 13, “Auto Da Fe”:

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28.) Beautiful Kate (2009) – Tex Perkins and Murray Patterson

Actress Rachel Ward takes the director’s chair, personally adapting the script from Newton Thornburg‘s novel in this sentimental drama about a writer who returns to his remote family home to say goodbye to his dying father, and finds himself haunted by memories which awaken long-buried secrets from the family’s past – revolving around his beautiful twin sister. I haven’t seen it, but the score by Perkins and Patterson is haunting and fantastic and make me want to. Here’s the beautiful main theme:

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and track 2, “Wilpena Pound.”:

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and track 17, “This Little Bird”:

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27.) Cannabis [French Intrigue] (1970) – Serge Gainsbourg

Pierre Koralnik directs the infamously debonair (and deviant) Serge Gainsbourg as a killer working for the Mafia who goes into hiding when an attempt is made on his life and takes refuge at a stranger’s apartment (played by real-life lover Jane Birkin). It’s what you would expect from an art-film-gangster-movie-starring-non-actors-who-are-real-life-lovers. It’s like watching Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci but with less acting talent. The music is out of this world, though. Check out track 1, “Cannabis instrumental”:

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and track 11, “Derniere Blessure”:

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and track 13, “Cannabis bis”:

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26.) Requiem for a Dream (2000) – Clint Mansell

Darren Aronofsky‘s notoriously invasive drug opus is based on Hubert Selby Jr.‘s novel and stars Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly in a visually stunning yet emotionally disturbing (and often shocking) movie about four friends whose lives are destroyed by heroin use. The emotionally charged soundtrack by Clint Mansell (who also did Moon) is absolutely riveting. Here’s the opening track, “Summer/ Summer Overture”:

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and track 4, “Summer/ Party”:

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and track 26, “Winter/ Southern Hospitality”:

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and track 27, “Winter/ Fear”:

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25.) Solamente Nero [The Bloodstained Shadow] (1978) – Stelvio Cipriani

Antonio Bido directs this formulaic giallo set in Venice, where a rash of murders – all tied to the unsolved strangulation of a young girl years before – baffles detectives. Though there are better movies by Argento and Martino, it’s a nice competent exercise in suspense and horror, backed by Stelvio Cipriani’s (who also did Bay of Blood and Twitch of the Death Nerve) moody score. Here are the opening titles:

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and track 3, “Incubi Ricorrenti 3″:

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and track 6, “Incubi Ricorrenti 6″:

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24.) The Connection (1962) – Freddie Redd

Another movie about heroin addicts! Shirley Clarke‘s film adaptation of Jack Gelber‘s play tells the tale of 8 addicts waiting for their “connection” in a New York apartment who have agreed to let a budding filmmaker film them if he pays for their fix. Things get truly interesting afterward, when the men talk the filmmaker into trying heroin – with disastrous results. Redd was a soulful jazz pianist whose work for the Blue Note label is definitely worth seeking out, and this soundtrack also features alto saxophonist Jackie McLean – whose wailing solos come from a place of experience – read about him in the seminal Four Lives in the Bebop Business. Here’s the opening track, “Who Killed Cock Robin”:

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and track 5, “Theme For Sister Salvation”:

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23.) Sitting Target (1972) – Stanley Myers

Douglas Hickox directs Oliver Reed and Jill St. John in this crime thriller about a vicious convict who busts out of prison to hunt down his wife when he discovers she is pregnant by another man. Stanley Myers’ incredible score perfectly complements the emotionless London in which the story takes place. Here’s the main theme:

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and track 6, “Laundry Park”:

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and track 12, “Squealing Pig”:

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and track 13, “Split Down The Middle”:

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22.) Chi Sei [Beyond the Door] (1974) – Franco Micalizzi

Ovidio G. Assonitis & Robert Barrett direct this unapologetic Exorcist knockoff – complete with similar makeup effects, creepy demonic voice and requisite head spinning scene – about a pregnant woman carrying Satan spawn in modern day San Francisco. The soundtrack is incredibly weird and groovy, courtesy of the man who brought you the Diabolica and Karate Amazones soundtracks. Check out the spooky opening track, complete with eerie narration, “Bargain with the Devil”:

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and track 3, “Dimitry’s Theme”:

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and track 7, “Bargain with the Devil orchestral version”:

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21.) Shaft (1971) - Isaac Hayes

Gordon Parks directs Richard Roundtree in the granddaddy of all blaxploitation flix, the one that cemented the genre’s earning potential and led to dozens of imitators. The film’s crossover success had tons to do with the charisma and attitude of its titular character, but was helped in large part by Isaac Hayes’ score. Shaft was so huge in fact that it made Hayes himself a superstar, and led to a starring role in Truck Turner (which he also scored). Check out the instantly recognizable “Theme from Shaft”:

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and track 2, the groovy “Bumpy’s Lament”:

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and track 3, “Walk From Regio’s”:

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Click to see part 1 (OST’s #141-150) , part 2 (131-140),  part 3 (121-130), part 4 (111-120), part 5 (101-110), part 6 (91-100), part 7 (81-90), part 8 (71-80), part 9 (61-70), part 10 (51-60), part 11 (41-50), part 12 (31-40), part 13 (21-30), part 14 (11-20) and part 15 (1-10).

And tune in next week, as we inch even closer to the thrilling, fantastic conclusion of our countdown!

November 15, 2010   No Comments

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