6/11/2010

Top 6 Words: Fire

Posted in Top 6 Words at 5:00 am by Sam

“FIRE!” is the word for this entry in the Top 6 Words series. My favorite movies with the word “FIRE!” in the title follow the jump, but try thinking up some “FIRE!” titles on your own before peeking. Chime in with your own list in the comments section.

Deduct one point from your score for each of your titles that use “fire” as part of a compound word. Mrs. Doubtfire, Grave of the Fireflies, Firecreek, Firefox, Firewall, Backfire, and Crossfire are ineligible. By the way, notice how all the one-word titles in that list are generic and forgettable? Some of them are even good movies, but it just goes to show you: “fire” may be a dramatic word and all, but it’s just too common to be the solitary basis of a title. Contrast with most of the titles in my Top 6 list, which use other distinctive words to form more memorable titles.

Not making the cut: The Day the Earth Caught Fire, City On Fire, and last but not least Fire Maidens From Outer Space, a terrible movie but a great MST3K episode. I was tempted to pick The Fire Ship, one of the best episodes of the Horatio Hornblower TV movie series, but we’ve talked about that on the podcast before, and I have a guilty pleasure I need to confess.

6. Fire and Ice (1983)

Namely, Fire and Ice. This is a Ralph Bakshi animated film, the only one of Bakshi’s I like. Actually, it’s the only one I can remotely stomach. Fire and Ice uses rotoscoping to achieve a weird realism with simplistic drawings. The story is some swords and sorcery mishmash about a power hungry sorcerer who sends a flood of ice to consume lands that don’t acknowledge him as their overlord. The daughter of the goodguy king gets kidnapped, but the hero, the sole survivor of a village consumed by the ice, sets out to save her.

Dialogue is the only thing not done well, but there is very little of it. The film is mostly wall-to-wall action scenes: fights, chases, and magic-induced natural disasters, all set to a pretty rousing musical score.

5. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark deserved the Best Picture Oscar that Chariots of Fire won, but the Academy chose the more prestigious film. They could have done worse. Chariots of Fire is an elegant character piece, if a little slow moving and heavy handed, about two runners — one a Scottish Christian, the other an English Jew — who gear up for and compete in the 1924 Olympics. Their faith is what defines and drives them. The film has a certain class and grace that makes it unique.

4. Ball of Fire (1941)

On the tail end of screwball comedy’s golden era came this witty gem about nine professors who seclude themselves away from the world at large so they can write an encyclopedia. Years into the project, a man off the street stops in to converse with them; hearing his colorful verbiage, the English professor (Gary Cooper) suddenly realizes his article on slang is horribly out of date. So he sets out into the world to research the subject anew. In the process, he bumps into Barbara Stanwyck, which would throw anybody for a loop.

This film is a blast, for several reasons, including the colorful supporting characters and warmth of personality. But foremost is the fun it has with language. Every line of dialogue was written with the utmost care, suiting the character who speaks it and radiant in its own right. Equally as delightful as Barbara Stanwyck’s unending indulgence in slang is Cooper’s rigid (oblivious) abstinence of it. (An elderly woman’s ankles, for example, are hilariously described as “singularly uninspiring underpinnings.”)

The external plot, concerning gangsters, is a bit of a cliche, and some plot points rely too much on wild chance — but these are somewhat minor quibbles, because that’s not what the film is about. The film is about its characters, which, save the gangsters, are involving and charismatic. Because the film features so much forties slang, however, it is fairly dated. Though the strength of the characters overcomes this, those unfamiliar with past times may be put off by the rapid fire dialogue. Their loss.

3. Courage Under Fire (1996)

Denzel Washington turns in an admirable performance in this war film about a man, riddled with guilt after killing a friend in battle by mistake, investigating the story of a woman who was killed in combat. Conflicts in the stories of the survivors who were there set Washington wondering.

This is an amazing work, in more ways than one. Besides an interesting character portrait of Washington’s role, it’s an intriguing mystery as well. One of the unsavory characters is a little too movie-like to be convincing, but many of the others look like they were taken directly from real life. As a result, the film is an extraordinarily moving experience.

2. In the Line of Fire (1993)

Clint Eastwood plays an aging secret service agent in this exciting suspense film. Ingeniously — and before Forrest Gump wowed audiences with it the following year — old footage of Eastwood is edited into stock footage of John F. Kennedy and various later Presidential rallies. It’s not done as a gratuitous effect; rather, it establishes Eastwood’s character’s important backstory, his failure to save Kennedy from assassination.

This is an unusual thriller in that, while it delivers all the requisite chases and suspense, the most memorable scenes are the quiet character moments. I remember how tense and exciting it was, but the dominant images in my head are of Eastwood’s romance with Rene Russo, a romance that actually feels genuine and grown-up and not just a stockpile of familiar cliches. I also remember John Malkovich’s creepily menacing psychopath. Malkovich was an unknown to me when I saw this in 1993, but this movie made me pay attention.

1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

This is the fourth in the Harry Potter series and the second best, almost as good as the previous installment but head and shoulders above the others. Arguably, it has the best action sequences in the series, which is surprising given that director Mike Newell had never really done action before. The real accomplishment, however, is the way the film does justice to the source material, a book nearly as long as the previous three combined. It moves fast and drops subplots, yes, but it does justice to what’s on the screen, telling the story with the gravity and emotion it requires, which is more than can be said about the Harry Potter movies made since.

2 Comments »

  1. joem18b (231) said,

    June 11, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    My list:

    6. Iluminados por el fuego (2005) (aka Blessed by Fire) - Worthy Argentinian film about the war in the Falklands (Maldives). Message: war is hell; don’t go if you can avoid it.

    5. Hidalgo (2004) (aka Ocean of Fire) - “Ocean of Fire” is the name of the horse race, and of the movie in some quadrants. Didn’t get a lot of critical love, but it worked for me… unless I’m just conflating it with Bite the Bullet from 30 years earlier.

    4. La guerre du feu (1981) (aka Quest for Fire) - I’m with Ebert on this one. Goofy caveman movie or moving prehistorical drama? Somewhat goofy, especially with Ron Perlman and Rae Dawn Chong in it, but in the end, worthy.

    3. Zatôichi abare-himatsuri (1970) (aka Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival) - Seems like Zatôichi has made a movie for every list. I actually can’t remember which I’ve seen and which I haven’t, but I’m giving this one the benefit of the doubt, since I like them all.

    2. Horí, má panenko (1967) (aka The Firemen’s Ball or Like a House on Fire) - A mystery aka. Milos Forman’s New Wave (Czech version) classic. Back in the day, the only way to see a foreign film was to go to the art house. This one was a favorite there.

    1. Streets of Fire (1984) - Top of the list for me, no question. This Walter Hill film with Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan (perfect), Willem Dafoe, and many more, struck me just right when I saw it. Worthy of the director who made The Warriors (1979).

    Some honorable and not-so-honorable mentions:

    Man on Fire (2004) - First time I saw this one, I was put off by it. Then I kept hearing it mentioned with approval on movie podcasts, so I finally watched it again. Not so bad the second time; at least, it didn’t actively annoy me. 7.7 IMDB, for what that’s worth. There are also a number of other men on fire, including Scott Glenn and Bing Crosby.

    Great Balls of Fire! (1989) - There is a great movie to be made about Jerry Lee Lewis. This isn’t it.

    Firefly - It’s a TV series, not a movie, and it’s got a fly in the title, but one of my granddaughters is named specifically after a character in the series, so it’s automatically on my list.

    Fire, Fire; Fire on Fire; A Fire Set on Fire - Must all be mentioned because “Fire” appears not once but twice in their titles.

    Sennenbi (2004) (aka The Thousand Year Fire) - A rare 10.0 IMDB film. Available for viewing online.

    Reign of Fire (2002)- Must be mentioned because it’s got real dragons and even more excitingly, Matthew McConaughey tatted up and shaven-headed and furrow-browed.

    Fire - There are at least 30 movies titled “Fire.” At least one of them has got to be good, right?

  2. ThePhan (128) said,

    June 11, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    I’ve seen five, all of which were mentioned either in the post or the comments: Chariots of Fire, Courage Under Fire, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, In the Line of Fire, and Man on Fire. I wasn’t crazy about any of them but I enjoyed them all pretty well.

    Side note… As I was looking through my list of movies I’ve seen, I discovered Fireproof wasn’t on there. I was on my way to add it when I remembered why it was missing - I fell asleep halfway through it and woke up 10 minutes from the end, so I can’t technically say I’ve seen it. And, really, I don’t think I’m going to be able to make myself go back and rewatch it anytime soon. So it may just have to stay off my list indefinitely.

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