10 Movies I Changed My Mind About

I hated Pulp Fiction the first time I saw it.  The first Tarantino movie I’d ever seen was Kill Bill: Vol. 1, which is a decidedly gorier and altogether more accessible movie for an eighth grader (technically I wasn’t legally “mature enough” for either by the MPAA’s standards), although I was the only one in my grade who seemed to enjoy it.  When I watched Pulp Fiction for a second (and a third and a fourth ad infinitum) viewing, it gripped me like few other movies had before or since.  To this day it is still one of my all-time favorites.

Movies, especially great ones, often change from viewing to viewing, not because they are different but because we are.  Though we now live in an age of Rotten Tomato blurbs and aggregated consensus, a critic’s most valued possession is still their written voice.  With every review now posted quickly and then archived online, conversation on most movies usually peaks quickly when they are first released, and then dissipates just as fast.  The only time afforded to looking back is the annual “Best of the Year” cluster fuck.

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CLASSICS: Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (screenplay)
Starring: John Travola, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis

It’s hard to weigh the merit of a movie like Pulp Fiction.  Quentin Tarantino’s bloody chat-fest had a sudden and immediate impact on the landscape of American film, yet it’s still young in the eyes of the art form.  It is a classic like all those old movies you associate with that word (some of which it references), yet it’s filled to the brim with sleaze.

Pulp Fiction forges its story of fragments of other movies, most of which wouldn’t have made it past the cutting room floor.  There are heated exchanges about fast food in Europe, riffs on the sexual nature of foot massages and lengthy discussions on what a television pilot is.  All of those happen in the first scene that hit men Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules have together.

After a similarly chatty opener where two lovebirds decide to rob a diner, these two hit men banter back and forth.  Much has been made of the highly stylized dialogue, so much so that these types of conversations have earned this director his own label: “Tarantinoesque.”

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CLASSICS: Blow Out

Blow Out
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma (screenplay)
Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, and Dennis Franz

It’s sad that Blow Out, perhaps the finest film I’ve seen from the 1980s if not certainly one of the top five, is a forgotten relic of that decade.  Director Brian De Palma is known more for 1983’s Scarface, which looks like child’s play compared to this masterpiece.  John Travolta is known for fading into obscurity until Pulp Fiction, yet in this film he gives his greatest performance.

In a decade where the political propaganda of Top Gun and the teen angst of John Hughes’ films are the lasting impressions of American cinema, it’s easy to see how a film like Blow Out that uses a dominant color palette of red, white and blue in a story of political corruption and murder, would fade away.  Thanks to those people at The Criterion Collection, it has resurfaced and been redistributed for the generation that missed it so they can get swept up in its mastery.

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Our (Belated) List of Favorite Movie Directors

1. Martin Scorsese- It may seem unimaginable that nearly three years ago director Martin Scorsese had yet to hold an Academy Award in his hands, but it is the disappointing truth. The once would-be Catholic priest entered the film making world with hits like Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets which put him at the forefront of New Hollywood with his violent, audience-specific films. Though Francis Ford Coppola felt he was unfit to helm The Godfather: Part III, Scorsese quickly overshadowed Coppola to become an icon of his own, creating films filled with themes related to violence, machismo, Italian-American identity, immigration, Catholicism and New York City. Five decades of classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, Scorsese set a style of quick editing, rock and roll soundtrack and frequent collaboration with actors and editors who claim Scorsese to be a living encyclopedia of film history. The film that did it for us: Though he’s created modern epics including a personal favorite, Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s talents are most apparent in Taxi Driver, a film with some of the most carefully constructed technical detail and powerful themes of isolation, violence, sex and how they are related and lead to destruction.

2. Stanley Kubrick– One of the unprecedented visual artists in all of cinema, it’s hard to not love movies when Stanley Kubrick makes them.  His gift for telling a compelling story is aided by those infamous distant shots, able to encompass the idiocy in The War Room (Dr. Strangelove) or gravity-defying in the great beyond (2001: A Space Odyssey).  He never told the same story twice, but each film carries with it his distinct visual flair,  helping him to create some of the most fully realized worlds the movies have ever seen.  Kubrick is one of the biggest influences on American cinema not only because of his artistic genius, though.  His ruthless dedication to his vision of the material led to feuds with his actors and the writers of the source material (both on The Shining.)  Perfectionism is costly, but with it he created many things that are, in fact, perfect.  The film that did it for us: There’s never been a more beautifully filmed comedy than Dr. Strangelove, and there are few as horrific.

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