This week is a hard one. For today’s entry in the Top 6 Words series, the word is “Is.” Like the word “that,” which was featured a few weeks ago, this is a tough one, because as common a word as “is” is, it’s not so common in movie titles. And when it shows up, it doesn’t exactly jump out at you.
I’m sure I missed some good candidates for this list, so by all means, post a comment with your own favorites. My list after the jump.
I thought of three likely candidates for this list that I haven’t yet seen: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, and the 1937 and 1954 versions of A Star Is Born. All three are severe enough omissions that I considered seeking them out before posting this. But I did manage to come up with six worthy titles, so I might as well use them.
6. The World Is Not Enough (1999)
The first time through the Pierce Brosnan Bond films, I figured the best was either Tomorrow Never Dies or Die Another Day. The former felt like the best integration of action and story; the latter, a gleefully over-the-top celebration with surprising grit between set pieces. But after watching them over again a couple of years ago, The World Is Not Enough was the one that bubbled to the top, perhaps because it does the most to explore Bond’s character. The best part of the film is Sophie Marceau, a wonderful actress playing a genuinely interesting woman with an intriguing story arc.
5. Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Italian comedian Roberto Benigni made this amazingly touching fable about a Jewish father and his young son, sent to a concentration camp during World War II. It is a fable and not a meditation of the horrors of the holocaust. It’s about how everyone has gifts, no matter how seemingly useless, that others can learn from and benefit from. Benigni plays a character whose gift is one of comedy. But how could that help him teach his son how to survive and cope with the horrors of Nazi oppression?
This is one of the most bittersweet films I have ever seen. Benigni’s use of his comic gifts are creative and often funny, but we know well the truth of things and what terrible distress he keeps inside.
4. A Murder Is Announced (1985)
This is the Joan Hickson version of the Agatha Christie story. Of all the Miss Marples of the screen, Hickson was the closest to the original character. Most movie adaptations felt they had to spice Miss Marple up a bit by making her remarkable in some way. But the whole point, and the key to her effectiveness as a character, was that she wasn’t remarkable, except perhaps for possessing an unusual understanding of human nature.
A Murder Is Announced is one of the best of the twelve Miss Marple films Hickson made between 1984 and 1992, though also the hardest to follow. If you stay on top of the complicated tangle of interrelationships, this should be highly rewarding to whodunnit fans.
3. Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)
We talk a lot about creative ancestry on All Movie Talk. Here is one for those of you who enjoy the “disappearing person” thriller, most recently seen in Flightplan (2005) and, with an unusual supernatural twist, The Forgotten (2004). The progenitor was probably The Lady Vanishes (1938), and another good one is Dangerous Crossing (1953).
Bunny Lake Is Missing is Otto Preminger’s take on the story. Unlike most of these others, which sets the action in an isolated location, this takes place in London. Okay, so a little girl can disappear in a big city any number of ways, but how can the desperate mother account for all the people who swear they never saw her? Preminger, who even directed straight dramas with all the energy of suspense thrillers, is in his element here. This film is creepy, haunting, and a whole lot of fun.
2. The Devil Is a Woman (1935)
Director Josef Von Sternberg made eight films with Marlene Dietrich, many of which are regarded as masterpieces of cinema. This, their last collaboration, isn’t quite there, but it’s a great film nonetheless. Like the others, it’s great at capturing the confusion and conflict of the human heart and how strong and fragile it can be at the same time. The story is about the obsession two men have with a woman who probably lacks the ability to love them back. The older man advises the younger against her, but this is one of those things that can’t be learned except by experience.
1. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Rob Reiner’s cult-favorite mockumentary of a fictional rock group (who went on to tour as a real rock group, so how fictional are they really?) was such a smash that star and co-writer Christopher Guest went on to build a career out of making his own. Spinal Tap, lovingly lambasting the whole hair band movement, remains the best of the mockumentary genre.
It’s also quite fitting that it should appear in a Top 6 list, as its “goes to eleven” sequence is why we do Top 6 lists instead of Top 5 lists in the first place.