The Greatest Films Ever Made: The Top Thirty (#11-20)

Welcome back to my can’t-miss list of the greatest films ever made. Once again the criteria is basic, almost instinctual: a) The immediate impact of the film and b) The compulsive need to see the film again and again. In other words, these films are not only entertaining but will leave a lifelong imprint on your brain. And so the next ten of the greatest films ever made..

11. Adaptation (Spike Jonze, US, 2002)

Indelible line: “What if the writer is trying to create a story where nothing happens?” (Charlie)

Lasting impression: Kaufmann breaks every screenwriting rule to create an incomparable script

12. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, US, 2006)

Indelible line: “Why a fox? Why not a horse, or a beetle, or a bald eagle? Who am I?”

Lasting impression: Kylie’s eyes and lots of frantic digging

13. 2001 (Stanley Kubrick, UK/US, 1968)

Indelible line: “I’m sorry, Dave. I am afraid I can’t do that.” (HAL 9000)

Lasting impression: Silence, punctuated by breathing, in space

14. Cast Away (Robert Zemeckis, US, 2001)

Indelible line: “I don’t know why!” (Chuck Noland)

Lasting impression: Waves washing up on the beach, denoting prison

15. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, US, 2002)

Indelible line: “That’s that.” (Dean Trumball)

Lasting impression: The arrival of the harmonium and unexplained car crash

16. The Celebration (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark, 1998)

Indelible line: “He raped us. Had sex with the little ones.” (Christian)

Lasting impression: Christian refusing to stop making his speech

17. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, US, 1976)

Indelible line: “1,100 men went in the water. 316 men came out. Sharks took the rest.” (Quint)

Lasting impression: A wide shot of the open ocean and then the music

18. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, Italy, 1946)

Indelible line: “Why should I kill myself worrying when I’ll end up just as dead?” (Antonio)

Lasting impression: The lone bicycle on an empty street

19. The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1986)

Indelible line: “Don’t worry. There’s no such thing as death.” (Alexander)

Lasting impression: The tiny house and then the big house burned to the ground

20. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, US, 1967)

Indelible line: “I can see in the dark, you know. I’ve been here quite a while.” (Mr. Robinson)

Lasting impression: The saddest of happy endings

The Greatest Films Ever Made: The Top Thirty (#21-30)

Looking for a film to watch? Welcome to my can’t-miss list of the greatest films ever made. Rather than employ a convoluted set of criteria, citing genres, eras, directors, etc, I use two basic guiding principles: a) The immediate impact of the film and b) The compulsive need to see the film again and again. In other words, these films are not only entertaining but will leave a lifelong imprint on your brain. Without further ado, here are films #21-30…

21. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, US, 1976)

Indelible line: “How you got to teach a course in anything is amazing!” (Marshall McLuhan)

Lasting impression: A marvelous array of one-liners and gags

22. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, US, 1973)

Indelible line: “Yeah, let’s talk business, Mike. First of all, you’re done.” (Moe Greene)

Lasting impression: Anti-heroes bathed in golden light

23. Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov, Macedonia, 2019)

Indelible line: “I’m not dying. I’m just making your life misery.” (Hatidže’s mother)

Lasting impression: Isolation and silence

24. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, US, 1989)

Indelible line: “The story of life is this: static.” (Radio Raheem)

Lasting impression: The heat of an intense summer day

25. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, US, 1995)

Indelible line: “You had the last philistine. This one’s mine.” (Benmont Tench)

Lasting impression: The nearest truth to the Wild West ever offered

26. Being There (Hal Ashby, US, 1979)

Indelible line: “Life is a state of mind.” (President Bobby)

Lasting impression: A fable for the digital world

27. Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, US, 1993)

Indelible line: “Now me and my loser friends are gonna buy some Aerosmith tickets.” (Pink)

Lasting impression: It’s remarkable how accepted and cool bullying can be

28. Elephant (Gus Van Sant, US, 2003)

Indelible line: “Fuck, anyway, Mr. Luce. Whatever.” (Eric)

Lasting impression: Mundane life punctuated by brief and shocking violence

29. Gilda (Charles Vidor, US, 1946)

Indelible line: “Gilda, are you decent?” (Ballin) “Me?” (Gilda)

Lasting impression: Rita Hayworth, the epitome of soft focus and key lighting

30. Short Cuts (Robert Altman, US, 1993)

Indelible line: “Marian, you’re not wearing any pants!” (Dr. Wyman)

Lasting impression: Everyone’s life is an utter mess

Pandemic Accomplishments: Week 18

I can now walk on my two new knees. There’s a long way to go, but rehab is in full swing and I’ve been able to get up the two flights of stairs to the roof.

I read John Elder Robinson’s Look Me in the Eye, an autobiography of someone living with Asperger’s Syndrome when there was such diagnosis. I knew I was some kind of misfit, but it was becoming apparent that some of the grown-ups who smiled sweetly and told me how terrible and fucked up I was were complete fuck-ups themselves.

I gained momentum on the writing front, mostly with these blogs, and plan to re-work Baller and Wave That Flag next week. Part three of The Cx Trilogy, Mina, awaits.

I reached Level 1208 of Fishdom, which means that I got through Level 1193, a level where bonus bombs, lightning and dynamite basically offer no help at all. 30+ attempts and I was finally moving on.

The Five Basics of Novel Writing

Basic #1 You need something gnawing at you, some sort of singular understanding of the key to existence or just a character in panda jammies.

The first book which I wrote was inspired by the image of a group of prostitutes being driven across the country in a tractor trailer. Don’t ask why, but that was the idea that came into my head late at night in a Parisian apartment. It developed into my first novel The Sacred Whore.

My second book was based on the impossible idea of a landowner refusing to mine a rich deposit of gold to keep his land pristine, which evolved into Manitou Island.

My latest work, a speculative trilogy about a generational journey to another planet, was borne out of an image of a serval by a watering hole.

Photo credit: Micheal Nichols, National Geographic

This image was the impetus for four books and some fifteen years of writing.

One thing to be careful of in your inspiration mode is the issue of the moment. Avoid delving into a topic that has recently impacted you. In other words, you need at least a couple more years before writing your Covid-19 piece.

Basic #2 Manage your work as it comes out of you, bit by bit. You need to write what needs to be written, which could be anything from a full outline to a character description or snippets of dialogue. Whatever it is, build out from there.

The key to this step is patience. You have to wait for the moment and/or characters to reveal themselves. I came to understand this when writing The Sacred Whore, I was stuck in the middle of the book and realized I had way too many characters (something like 20) and decided to eliminate half of them. The funny thing was that one of the characters I tried to eliminate – Chantal Deschampes – immediately wanted back in the story. It wasn’t my idea. It was hers. That’s when I knew I had something.

Basic #3 When you’re stuck, go back to the beginning and go through it again. Get the momentum you need to continue and just plow ahead. You have to face the simple fact that a lot of what you have already written is junk and will eventually be deleted.

It’s like being stuck in the snow or mud in your car. You’ve got to go back, dig out the rear wheels, clean the path, and get a little space to move ahead. You have to do this again and again, so much so that your first page gets rewritten a hundred times, which can be a good thing. Or not. But don’t worry about that now.

Basic #4 Leave the work alone for a long period of time, at least half a year. If not more. Let it ruminate. Your eyes need to be new. Let go of everything you held tight and see if it still works without you wishing it along.

This is probably the area that I personally need to work on the most. I can be impatient and move ahead when I should be waiting. I have only recently learned to enlist the work of a professional editor. Hopefully that helps me turn the corner at long last.

Basic #5 It’s time to share, to submit to agents, to attend conferences and workshops, to do that over and over again. You need a tanker load of luck with this. I’ve had the equivalent of a toy tugboat. I’ve tried for many years now and have even had a few decent conversations and follow-up emails. But then it ends.

Leaving me with the pictures of sunsets and goody bags of pens and paper. And so I take the hint and start all over again.

Woody Allen, Existentialist

I never bought into the whole religious thing. I thought it was all a big hustle. Didn’t ever think there was a God; didn’t think he conveniently favor the Jews if there was one. What were my sins? Kissing Barbara Westlake when I should have been hanging up my coat? God, there’s much worse. The Germans putting us in ovens. First attend to that. (32-3)

I envy people who derive solace from the belief that the work they created will live on and be much discussed and somehow make him “immortal”. All the people standing over Shakespeare’s grave and singing his praises means a big goose egg to the Bard. A day will come when all of Shakespeare’s play, for all their brilliant plots and iambic pentameter, will be gone with every atom in the universe. After all, we are all an accident of physics, not the work of intelligent design but, if anything, the work of a crass bungler. (73-4)

Excerpted from Woody’s Allen’s autobiography Apropos of Nothing.

Young Chronicles VI: Prince Edward Island to Montreal

June 1974

We drove right to the border of Nova Scotia and Dad said, “Let’s go to Nova Scotia.” So we did. It was cool.

We came to Hartland which has the longest covered bridge in the world. So we went into the covered bridge. It was neat-o.

We had to go across the Saint Lawrence River. Montreal is on an island. Well, instead, of going on a bridge over the river, we went under it via highway.

After we watched the election – which Stanfield lost and Trudeau won (Boo! Boo! Boo!) – we changed the channel and watched The Lucy Show and Dick Van Dyke.

This morning I woke up and somebody was knocking at the door. So mom got out of bed and opened the door. It was dad with the dog in his hands. Then he said, “She was sleeping on my stomach.” So we took her and mom went to the other room with dad.

Haunted by Her Pandemic Laugh

One thing that will haunt me from the pandemic is the sound of my therapist’s laugh on-line. It is the most awkward thing, blurting, loud and constant.

It was odd because I had hardly noticed it when we met in person. And yet it was a monstrosity over the computer, so much so that I eventually stopped showing up for my sessions. I paid her, but I just couldn’t listen to that fucking laugh any more.

Writing Tips from Great Writers

Writing advice is everywhere. The question is finding what works best for your craft. First, there is advice on the physical practice:

Jose Saramago: I do require a certain amount of written work per day, which usually corresponds to two pages. Two pages per day adds up to almost eight hundred per year.

Raymond Carver: Get in, get out. Don’t linger. Go on.

Ernest Hemingway: Always stop for the day while you still know what will happen next.

Writing Tips from Great Writers

And then there is advice on what you are writing.

Toni Morrison: Don’t record and editorialize on some event that you’ve already lived through.

Kurt Vonnegut: Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Ian Fleming: Make sure that you don’t like your protagonist too much – or at all.

Writing Tips from Great Writers

Finally, there is the broader advice, how to understand exactly what you are doing.

Joan Didion: Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else’s dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.

Alice Munro: There should be a point where you say, the way you would with a child, this isn’t mine anymore.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I think honest feedback is very important. But it’s also hard to find. Other writers can be useful, also they can not, because they’re doing the same thing, and sometimes they want you to become like them.

Writing Tips from Great Writers

Pandemic Accomplishments: Week 15

It seems like everyone has decided to go outside now that summer has arrived. Not me. This is because of three things:

First, I got both of my knees replaced.

Second, I have reached level 1038 of Fishdom and am in current pursuit of the stripey, starry fish.

Finally, there is still a pandemic going on.

Sounds from a Hospital Room

A machine starts up and then stops. There is a long pause, and then it is there again, gaining power for a moment, stopping again. It continues over and over, unable to reach the critical point, like a fly dying on the window sill, buzzing to life, only to end up on its back, eventually dead. But this fly never stops. A technician checks on it. All seems in working order.

There is the air conditioner too, quietly rattling, surging, like waves coming into each other, briefly chaotic and then together, then spreading out. It is a normal sound, like the talk down the halls and laughter, wheels of a passing gurney, buckets opened, doors closed, indistinct clicks and things dropped. 

And then there are the two notes of another machine, a higher note followed by another an octave below. More is to come. But it never does. There are just these two notes and then silence, the air conditioner, the dying machine, and everything else. Food service is on the way.

The notes again, higher and an octave below, but the concert never starts. The technician edges back into my room. “Lunch?” “Just not hungry. Thank you.”