SOUP-FROM-THE-CANNES FILM FESTIVAL
by John M. Floyd
I love movies. Movies, like books, have always been one of my obsessions. For the past eight weeks, though, my film addiction has had a chance to flourish: my wife has been away and assisting her elderly parents in Oklahoma, and I’ve been left at home to my own devices, the two most important of which are our microwave oven and our DVD player. I mean, I would prefer that she be here at home, but since she’s not, is it my fault that there are great movies out there that I’ve not yet seen, and a Netflix envelope in my mailbox almost every day, and a video store only a mile away? Besides, older rentals are 99 cents apiece at Blockbuster, and on Sundays and Wednesdays they’re two for the price of one. Jeez Louise.
Just for the record, I select movies the same way most folks do: from publicity in the media, from friends’ recommendations, from online info, etc. Sometimes I’ll find an old favorite I want to watch again, or pick a new one just because of its title, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Shanghai Noon or Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Or Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, which was one I should’ve left on the shelf.
Now and then I’ll choose a movie after viewing its trailer, or what we used to call its “preview.” That happened to me the other day — I was piddling around on YouTube and found the trailer for a film called Cadillac Ranch. Here’s what the narrator (one of those dead-serious, Sam-Elliott-voiced announcers) said about the three lead characters in the movie: “This is Frances. She doesn’t have any sense of humor. This is CJ. She doesn’t have any sense of shame. And this is Mary Catherine. She doesn’t have any sense at all.”
I liked that. I plugged the movie into my Netflix queue and watched it two nights later, after heating a can of Campbell’s soup and a Teriyaki Chicken TV dinner (such is the extent of my culinary skills). And, thankfully, it turned out to be a good story. That doesn’t always happen. I have discovered that maybe one out of every ten or twelve films, regardless of how the choice was made, live up to my expectations.
Anyhow, in case it matters, the following is a list of some pretty-good-to-very-good crime/suspense movies that I either discovered or rewatched during my recent period of temporary bachelorhood. I’ve “ranked” them such that the ones I consider the best are at the top of the list, but I enjoyed them all. (I mercifully did not include the dozens of rentals that made me want to throw up my frozen dinner du jour and run screaming through the neighborhood.)
Blood Simple (1984) — The Coen Brothers’ first film, and possibly my favorite.
The Lookout (2007) — Good premise, great acting by everybody involved.
The Hurt Locker (2008) — War is crime, right? Intense, edge-of-your-seat scenes.
Two Days in the Valley (1996) — Many different plotlines converge at the end.
House of Sand and Fog (2003) — Fine performances by Kingsley and Connelly.
Staten Island (2009) — Violent and dark, but a satisfying and unexpected ending.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) — Non-linear plot, well done.
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) — The Coens plus Billy Bob; enough said.
Hard Eight (1996) — A tough, emotional movie about good luck and bad.
The Trouble with Harry (1955) — An extremely unHitchlike Hitch film.
Unknown (2006) — A brilliant premise, one I’d never seen before.
21 (2008) — Enjoyable mostly because of Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne.
Suicide Kings (1997) — Dark comedy; Christopher Walken is outstanding.
Cadillac Ranch (1996) — Lighthearted, quirky, a lot of fun.
Sherlock Holmes (2009) — Interesting but a little disappointing. Great music.
Lord of War (2005) — I haven’t completely made up my mind, about this one.
Mission Impossible III (2006) — The title says it all: impossible. Fun, though.
The Informant! (2009) — Unusual movie, unusual role for Matt Damon
Public Enemies (2009) — So-so. I thought Depp made a pretty good Dillinger.
Limbo (1999) — Short on crime, long on angst. Left me in . . . well, you know.
Run, Lola, Run (1998) — And boy does she run. Not bad, but sort of tiring.
Smokin’ Aces (2006) — Action-packed and entertaining, but not much else.
The good thing about a personal at-home film fest is that you can (1) indulge while your feet are elevated to the level of your head, (2) slurp a homemade chocolate sundae at the same time, and (3) take restroom breaks without missing the best scenes. The bad thing is that you can’t hear or enjoy the reactions of the rest of the audience, since, well, you’re the only audience. (Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing; my fellow moviegoers tend to laugh too loudly during parts that aren’t really funny and chat with each other during the shootouts.)
A final note. I’m sure you’re thinking, at this point, that all I do is watch movies. Actually, during my period of isolation I’ve read two novels, written three short stories and sold two more, taught fourteen writing classes, traveled to two book signings, been to the supermarket at least twenty times, and mowed a total of four acres of bermuda grass. And yes, I know, any serious writer should read more than two novels in two months — but what can I say? Too many movies, too little time.
Especially at two for 99 cents.