Upon Second Viewing: Jon’s Top 5

Since Bryan posted earlier today on the irrelevance of seeing a movie a second time, I feel obligated to defend my stance on “the second view” — that it matters, just as much if not more so than the first viewing of a film. To me, watching a movie another time — usually at home, as opposed the first theatrical viewing — is absolutely intregral to my overall opinion of the film at hand. We’ve all walked out of a movie theatre completely overwhelmed, confused or speechless at something we’ve just seen; in those cases, as well as the cases where we think we’ve seen all there is to see from a film, a second viewing is necessary to elucidate details that might alter our impression of the film. It’s a second chance for the director, for the actors, even for the writers.

The reason for this, at least according to me, is that no one truly goes into a first filmic viewing without something in the back of his mind. (And I’m talking about Oscar-worthy pics here, not Tyler Perry movies-du-jour.) When I went into There Will Be Blood, for example, I was so enthused by the critical hype of Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance that I ignored much of the brilliant directing, cinematography and plot just to focus on the nuances of his performance. Similarly, when I saw both No Country and Atonement, I had read so much about their endings that I spent the better part of two hours anxiously awaiting a finale — when it would come, where it would come, why it would come, and so on. It’s much easier to appreciate a film, I’ve learned, when you know from the getgo exactly where you’re going.

Looking back on November through January, the only film of the Oscar 5 that I had no expectations going into was Juno. For that reason, it didn’t budge in the second version of my year-end Top 5 — which I’m about to reveal after the jump. But first, to remind folks where I had the films after just one viewing, here is my original Top 5 from exactly one month ago:

(1) No Country for Old Men
(2) Michael Clayton
(3) Juno
(4) Away From Her
(5) Eastern Promises

That my new list incorporates each one of the Oscar 5 is somewhat of a minor miracle: by now, I’ve seen a slue of good-to-great films from 2007, including Gone Baby Gone, Into the Wild, The Assassination of Jesse James and even La Vie en Rose. To be fair, I’ve also rewatched Away From Her and Eastern Promises: as for the former, it fell off my year-end list just like Julie Christie fell off the Academy’s Best Actress radar, though I still stand by it as a phenomenal piece of art; as for the latter, including Eastern Promises in my original Top 5 was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. (And I paid $9.50 to see Semi-Pro.)

So click below for my new Top 5 — unless, of course, you haven’t seen the films.

1. There Will Be Blood (originally unranked)
The conclusion of this movie — a 158 minute boxing match between faith and fortune — is the scene of the year. In it, we see what happens when the face of God gets greedy and the face of greed plays God. But what I realized up until then was just how funny and heartfelt this movie is, despite its main character being the exact antithesis and humor and heart. P.T. Anderson’s direction is the best of the year — so intricate that he allows blood, paint and oil alike to splatter onto the perfectly-placed camera at different points during the movie — and Johnny Greenwood’s score sounds like insects buzzing over the scene of the kill. Now that I’ve seen it again, what I love about this movie is that you can give it one million compliments before even mentioning Daniel Day-Lewis, and then one million more based on his performance alone. Who knows whether he’ll act again — but if he doesn’t, TWBB is a fitting finale.

2. Atonement (originally unranked)
Although I won’t concede Bryan’s contention that this film is the “best unrequited love story of the decade” (that title goes to Brokeback Mountain), I will admit that its score, direction and cinematography are near pitch-perfect for its subject matter. The way Joe Wright films much of the opening in reverse is a perfect metaphor for Briony Tallis’ youthful error in judgment: she assumes a lot based on seeing one scene, just as the audience is exposed to one filmic scene before its backstory. The main musical motif, accurately described by Bryan as one of the most memorable parts of the film, is hauntingly pulsating — so emphatic that you notice it just as much when it’s there (as in the film’s opening) as when it’s missing (like during James McAvoy’s lengthy postwar promenade across a European beach). And if the apartment scene between Briony, Cecilia and Robbie is Briony’s own work of fiction, then the finale at Cecilia and Robbie’s dream home is a scene from Heaven.

3. Juno (originally #3)
As I mentioned, this film changed little for me between first and second viewing. That’s what stalls it in third position. Juno is far from perfect: it’s overwritten, underdirected, and devoid of that tear-jerker scene I needed to make it resonate. (Juno’s side-of-the-road breakdown is a nice try, but it falls far short of the mark.) But since hating on Juno became an all-too-popular Oscar season sport, I’ll leave you with what’s so great about this film: it’s impossible not to like. You can’t withhold your laughter; you can’t side with Jason Bateman; and you can try, but it’s damn hard not to hum along to the indie anthem duet that closes the film. There’s a reason that this is the most profitable Oscar nominee since Titanic, and it sure ain’t a superhero.

4. Michael Clayton (originally #2)
Okay, I’ll admit that I went a little crazy when I saw this film a couple month ago. So instead of complimenting it here, or taking back some of my compliments from before, I’ll just say this: in a year like 2007, including as straightforward a film as Michael Clayton in any year-end Top 5 is compliment enough.

5. No Country for Old Men (originally #1)
When I sat down to watch this movie a second time, I expected everything to fall into place. Instead, I felt even more confused. It seems like the film is counterbalanced by two extreme forces: on one hand there’s Anton Chigurh, who will kill for almost any reason, from a coin flip to the keeping of a promise; on the other there’s Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who’s so disgusted at the idea of killing another human being that he’d rather do his job without a gun in his holster. When the two meet, nothing happens. Bell doesn’t kill Chigurh; Chigurh doesn’t kill Bell. And the Coens don’t tell us why. They don’t explain why right and wrong have the right to exist but not to intersect. Instead, they take us on a wild goose chase — all the way to Mexico and back — and don’t give us a reason why we should even care where the money ends up. I can’t continue to stand by a film that’s so content to leave us careless. Shocked and surprised, maybe. But sympathetic? Not a chance.

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One Response to Upon Second Viewing: Jon’s Top 5

  1. Brett says:

    My thoughts on your “No Country” post:
    What the Coen’s do show us, and what becomes very apparent in the film is that good is very, very afraid of evil. Tom Lee Jones is brave enough to walk into the hotel crime scene, but he is not brave enough to walk into the closet, he only stands in its doorway.
    “The crime you’re about to see, I don’t even know how to describe it.”
    “I’ve seen the things he’s seen, and they sure have made an impression on me.”
    These quotes showcase Jones’ fear, and with this comes ones of the movies main points, and it’s title. The movie is about how we percieve things as we grow older. Tommy Lee Jones is old, he has seen violence and bloodshed that our minds cannot concieve, and yet, the more of it he sees, the more it softens him over time. The closer and closer he grows to death with his age, he is more aware that it is an ever-present force, capable of taking us at any moment. And because of this and the lack of a what does it all mean? epiphany in his life, he is too scared to walk into the closet and as a result Josh Brolin’s wife is killed–something that is much more important than where the money ends up.

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