Over the next few weeks we’re going to be bringing you The CHUD.com Essential Films Collection – the films that would be in our dream Chewer DVD Box Set. These are 50 movies that we think every Chewer should see and love. This is by no means the definitive list of movies that make one a Chewer, but it’s a good start. It’s also in no order – the first films that we list are just as essential as the last ones. And it’s a list that will leave off the obvious as much as possible – you don’t need us to tell you to see Lawrence of Arabia or Seven Samurai.
So fire up your Netflix or your Amazon accounts – every day we’ll be bringing you two movies that are worth seeing, and probably worth owning as well. Chew on, Chewers.
Glengarry Glen Ross (Buy the DVD)
Why it’s Essential:Come on. You just knew this 800-pound gorilla amongst remarkably zaftig apes had to make the cut. My first exposure to the film was the most obvious one: I used to do reviews and articles for a small, regional mag, and I was seated with the sales staff as they hammered their leads, watched commission prospects shrinks, and chanted Blake’s catchphrases A. Always. B. Be. C. Closing. – And AIDA. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. ad infinitum with the fervor of “Two men enter, one man leaves or Spaaaaaaah-tanz’tonight-we dine-in Hell!!It’s understandable. The movie runs with the obvious charge of Baldwin’s monologue upfront, and if you didn’t care one whit about the rest of the film, it could probably sustain you for much of the running time. But no one ever quotes the main characters as fervently, and David Mamet supplies them with dialogue that can be just as arch, but is more layered.I’ve found myself repeating a plaudit as I do these Essentials about how great the ensemble cast is in my film for the day. And now, I kind of wish I would’ve tapped into a smidgen of literary wit and chosen something else, because those films melt away like Linus Roache in The Chronicles of Riddick in the face of the goddamn powerful ass heat you get in spades here. Is it obvious due to relatively undisputed greatness? Maybe. But “obvious” and “essential” can co-exist, and while we can debate the applicability of the former description, this defines the latter. No fucking shit.
Why it’s Essential: Too obvious to list? Possibly. But criminal to omit, too, since Lebowski is precisely the sort of film we’ve always loved. It just happens to be the one that crossed over and is loved by everyone else, too. Loosely (really, really, really loosely) based on Raymond Chandler’s (and Robert Altman’s) The Long Goodbye, with a real life L.A. personality sitting in for Philip Marlowe, the film does what we always want from a comedy: it dispenses with plot and morals and goes for the jokes.
And the jokes are as thick as the use of the word ‘fuck’, not to mention ambitious as hell. In one of many subplots, you’ve got a Kraftwerk gag that becomes the best fake porn ever committed to film (I still use ‘Karl Hungus’ to fill out web forms) which then leads into a riff on a Dali dream sequence. Brilliant. Furthermore, because the Coen Brothers were already on their fifth collaboration with Roger Deakins, it’s also an uncommonly amazing film to look at. What other movie marries Busby Berkley, Wagner and bowling? The effects and dream sequences are as indelible as the routine jokes. Not that most of the gags are even routine; it’s takes rare form to lampoon community theatre with barbs this loving.
I’ll also argue that the Coen’s zen for casting was at its height for this movie. Jack Kehler will never be anyone but Marty, and Mark Pellegrino will always be a stoner dumbass. Even actors who turn it on more often than not have a hard time topping these characters: Jeff Bridges, John Tuturro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Steve Buscemi…Christ, everyone in Lewbowski could have quit the business in 1998 after the premiere and gone home with no regrets. It’s probably easy for an actor to create a performance for the ages when working with a script that instantly draws every character in two lines or less, but still, everyone is in rare form.
What locks a spot on the list for Lebowski isn’t even the jokes or the casting. It’s that underneath the irreverence is…more irreverance, of a truly technical sort. Behind this film are two accomplished filmmakers messing with the comedy formula on a very deep level. Nearly every major line and concept in the film is looped and recontextualized more than once. That’s not something just anyone can do — you can’t just repeat a joke and have the laughs deepen and resonate through repetition. With this project, the Coen Brothers reveal how thoroughly they understand film comedy, and they make it look so damn easy.
I was tempted at first to override Lebowski with Miller’s Crossing, for which I have a vast and abiding love. But I realized that Lebowski goes a lot farther in both intent and execution. Miller’s Crossing is the Coens jumping off from a classic (Hammet’s The Glass Key) to tweak and refine the crime film. But Lebowski just nukes the entire notion of a film comedy and starts from scratch. The Coen Brothers built a fully functional alternate universe in this movie. It’s something they’re uncommonly good at doing; the difference is that this world is the one I’d want to live in.