October 24, 2007

10 Standout opening title sequences

Opening title sequences. Most movies have 'em, but very few are memorable. In the early days of film and continuing up through about the 1960s or so, it was always the same format - diagonal lines of credits with an overture. Often it's just text thrown haphazardly and almost begrudgingly over the beginning of the movie, but in some cases the filmmakers actually elevated the creation of title sequences to the art form it deserves to be. After all, it's part of the movie, so shouldn't it be as good as the rest?

I have to acknowledge how incomplete this list is from the start. I couldn't make this a "top" list because most movies have opening titles, so right off the bat I am forgetting dozens, nay, hundreds of excellent candidates. It's not like making a list of say, dinner table scenes. So rather than try to make a definitive list, these are just examples that stuck out in my mind and are worth checking out.

1. Napoleon Dynamite. I don't care what you ultimately thought of this movie. When you saw the credits spelled out endearingly on or with lunches, school supplies and chapstick to the sweet sounds of "We are Gonna Be Friends" by the White Stripes, you thought it was pretty awesome.

2. The Graduate. A good title sequence sets the tone of the film, and The Graduate is an amazing example. Simon and Garfunkel accompany Dustin Hoffman's seemingly endless journey down the moving sidewalk in the airport... into his future!

3. Catch Me If You Can. The movie is basically acted out here in the span of a few minutes by little retro animated figures. Fun!

4. Amelie. This whole film is pretty dreamlike, and the titles set that up by showing a young Amelie playing and making silly faces with some surreal effects. Really beautiful. (Titles are a little bit into the clip.)

5. Sweet Charity. This is one of my favorite "day in the life" type of sequences. It shows Charity skipping around New York City, going about her morning in her cheerful Shirley MacLaine fashion, occasionally using a colorized freeze frame to freeze her in a goofy pose and slap some credits on. Really captures the essence of the character. (Clip not available - boo.)

6. A Hard Day's Night. I included this as more of a fan favorite, because if you pay attention, you'll notice that the actual credits here are pretty sparse. It's more of just an opening sequence, but oh well. Endlessly imitated and parodied, there is still a sense of silly fun in the John, Paul, George and Ringo's attempts to escape their maniacal female fan base. See also the opening credits of the first Austin Powers, which is a loving homage to this. Speaking of Austin Powers...

7. Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Austin frolicks about naked, while words or objects obscure his junk. Then there's a synchronized swimming sequence. Two things: first, this means that people actually sat around and thought of ways to obscure Mike Myers' junk, and second, I feel that as a cast or crew member, it would be an honor to have my name obscuring Mike Myer's junk.

8. The Women. This bitchy classic even has bitchy credits: each elegant star is introduced with her name accompanied by a clip of her smiling, and then an image of the animal she most resembles. The cunning one is a fox, the fat one is a cow. Ouch! (Clip not available - perfect excuse to watch the whole fabulous flick!)

9. Spider-Man 2. In the first Spider-Man, the credits were spelled out into a spiderweb, accompanied by Danny Elfman's kickass score. The second film's opening keeps the web motif, but cleverly adds clips to sort of recap what happened in the first one, and also mixes in comic-style illustrations. Engaging, energetic, and gets you totally pumped.

10. Anatomy of a Murder. Ah, Saul Bass. This whole list could have been just Saul Bass work, but I decided to have just on entry from him. If you don't know who he is, learn! My pick for my favorite Bass sequence is this Otto Preminger classic with Jimmy Stewart. He took a simple motif - a fragmented body - and whizzed it around the screen to a Duke Ellington score. So simple, yet visually arresting and snappy.

What are your favorites?

October 4, 2007

The cinematic guide to insulting, putting down, and generally pwning others

One of the reasons that movies are so awesome is because people always have the perfect quip or comeback at the right moment. This, of course, never happens in real life, where ideas for a witty retort come to you somewhere between minutes and years later. However, if you study my handy guide, you will never be left defenseless again! Note to lit nerds: there are no Shakespeare (movie) insults here, cuz that's a whole other barrel of monkeys and they already have t-shirts listing all the best ones and stuff.

Situation: Your girl is stone-cold cheating on you.
Use the approach of: Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde) in Darling (1965)
Procedure: Remain cool and nonchalant. Go out on the town with her. When she suggests taking a cab home, veto her suggestion casually but firmly. When she asks why, you're ready with this zinger. "You're a whore, baby, that's all, and I don't take whores in taxis."

Situation: Old business partners that were hostile to you suddenly want you back now that you have power and/or valuable resources.
Use the approach of: Charles Tatum (Kirk Douglas) in Ace in the Hole (1951)
Procedure: In Charles' case, he had the exclusive rights to news coverage of a major event. His old employers tried to bribe him back, but he wasn't biting. They may try to appeal to your level and say, "We're all in the same boat." To this, you coolly reply: "I'm in the boat. You're in the water. Now let's see how you can swim."

Situation: Someone is pointing a gun at you, and all you have to defend yourself is your wit.
Use the approach of: Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) in The Big Sleep (1946)
Procedure: Laugh it off, and say: "My, my, my! Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains! You know, you're the second guy I've met today that seems to think a gat in the hand means the world by the tail." And they won't shoot you, because you are ridiculously cool.

Situation: You're not interested in the advances of a suitor.
Use the approach of: Lady Lou (Mae West) in She Done Him Wrong (1933)
Procedure: If a fresh fella tries attempts to, or asks if, he can hold your hand, brush him off with, "It ain't heavy, I can hold it."

Situation: Someone is having difficulty recognizing that you are better than them.
Use the approach of: Blake (Alec Baldwin) in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Procedure: Strut into the room and don't take shit from nobody. Don't even bother to introduce yourself. If someone asks, "What's your name?" you reply: "Fuck you. That’s my name. You know why, mister? ‘Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, I drove an eighty thousand dollar BMW. That’s my name."

Situation: You're dealing with an abrasive personality.
Use the approach of: Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt) in As Good as it Gets (1997)
Procedure: Say up front, "Try not to ruin everything by being you."

Situation: You're dealing with an abrasive personality, part II.
Use the approach of: Oliver (Ryan Philippe) in Igby Goes Down (2002)
Procedure: Declare, "I think if Gandhi had to spend a prolonged amount of time with you, he'd end up beating the shit out of you, too."

Situation: You are surrounded by incompetence.
Use the approach of: Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) in The Departed (2006)
Procedure: If anyone questions your credentials, simply respond: "I'm the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy."

Situation: Someone is boring you to death with their uninteresting babble, and you need to shut them up quick.
Use the approach of: Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler) in Dinner at Eight (1933)
Procedure: Cut them off abruptly with a scathingly sarcastic "How EXTRAORDINARY! We must talk of the Civil War someday, you and I."

Situation: You feel compelled to put down an obnoxious group of pseudo-intellectual pricks.
Use the approach of: Isaac Davis (Woody Allen) in Manhattan (1979)
Procedure: Mutter, "They probably sit around on the floor with wine and cheese, and mispronounce 'allegorical' and 'didacticism.'"

Situation: Your marriage has, um, seen better days.
Use the approach of: George (Richard Burton) in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Procedure: Whenever your significant other starts to irritate you, say, "(Their name), in my mind you're buried in cement right up to the neck. No, up to the nose, it's much quieter."

Situation: Someone unattractive is trying to elicit a compliment about a new outfit.
Use the approach of: Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) in Liar Liar (1997)
Procedure: This technique is only recommended for very advanced insulters - even in the movie, Fletcher only blurted this out because he was under a truth curse for 24 hours. Perhaps it is only justifiable if this person has done something mean to you. In any event, when they ask "Do you like my new (shirt, necklace, etc.)?", respond with, "Whatever takes the focus off your head!"

Situation: You want to write a totally scathing review of a band.
Use the approach of: An anonymous writer in This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Procedure: Write, "What day did the Lord create (name of band), and couldn't he have rested on that day too?"
Situation: Your friend is ragging on you for something you're interested in.
Use the approach of: Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) in Garden State (2004)
Procedure: Casually snap back, "Don't tease me about my hobbies. I don't tease you about being an asshole."

Situation: You need to put a bitch in her place.
Use the approach of: Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) in Gone with the Wind (1939)
Procedure: The line that shook the world: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Especially effective for use in the 1930s, when this one line contained the same volume of profanity as the entirety of a Quentin Tarantino movie.