50. GoodFellas (A)
51. Spartacus (A+)
52. The Deer Hunter (B+)
The film that made Michael Cimino the visionary auteur of a new generation, right before the film that bankrupted a major studio and severely restricted directorial control over all movies.
I had a hard time assigning a grade to this one: B+ or A- would both fit. The characters are all well-drawn and well-acted, and there are a lot of good scenes (which, particularly the nature ones, are quite well-photographed). But it would have been pretty easy to edit this movie down from 3 hours without losing anything; any number of scenes dwell on trivialities in a way that seems like real life, but this isn't real life, it's a movie. It also feels to me like Cimino's extreme naturalism in filming is at odds with a story that becomes progressively more allegorical and less character-based the longer it goes on. The Vietnam scenes are almost entirely about allegories (the recurrences of Russian Roulette, for instance, which could at first have just been an isolated case of sadistic POW-torture, but then there are whole underground rings dedicated to it, so it's obviously not intended as that), and Christopher Walken's character, in particular, becomes way less believable as a person than as an allegory for America. Likewise, you've got the French dude who's obviously representing France itself, and Vietnam isn't really Vietnam so much as an allegory for all war (becoming literally an orange hellscape in the final visit).
All the same, I admired quite a lot about the movie, and could have given it an A- for its strengths, notwithstanding the flaws. In particular, I'd single out the aforementioned Christopher Walken: Walken has become culturally ubiquitous, but this is one of the few major roles of his I've seen where it felt like he was doing a real performance rather than a routine (Catch Me If You Can
being the other major example).
But those roles show that he's a great actor, and, as enjoyable as his persona is, it'd be nice to see him stretch himself more.
53. Reservoir Dogs (A)
I've been working backward through Tarantino's catalogue since I saw Inglourious Basterds
in 2009 (though I skipped over Jackie Brown
, though I get the sense a lot of people do that). You can tell this was a minimally-budgeted effort, but it never feels like it's missing anything, which is the sign of a good hand. Tarantino rolls out a lot of what would become his standard narrative devices for the first time, and they all function quite effectively. I actually thought there was a much stronger sense of character identification than I had while watching Pulp Fiction
- the final moments with Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth have believable dramatic weight to them.