Monday, May 4, 2015

The Top 100: Casablanca

Today's Top 100 rewatch is actually the #1 movie on my Flickchart: Casablanca. I've named it as my favorite movie for a long time now, probably since middle school, and, truth be told, I'm wondering if it's time for it to give up its title. Don't get me wrong, it's still a fantastic film, but last time I watched it, it just didn't connect to me quite as strongly or as emotionally as some of the other movies in my top 20. But we'll give it a chance today to prove it belongs in the #1 slot.

Often listed in critics' "best films of all time" lists, Casablanca is a 1942 romantic war drama about a cynic named Rick (Humphrey Bogart) who runs a night club in unoccupied French Morocco, one of the last stops on the road for World War II refugees escaping to America. One night, a woman from his past (Ingrid Bergman) appears in his club and everything changes.

As before, I'll live-blog my movie thoughts as I watch (plenty of spoilers here!) and I'll write up a more complete review later.

  • This opening music makes it seem much more like a swashbuckling adventure than it is.
  • Love the shot of everybody mournfully looking at the departing plane. This movie is really lovely to look at.
  • There's a fantastic contrast in this opening scene at Rick's. Such cheerful music but everybody in there is miserable and desperate. What great atmosphere.
  • I like Bogart in a lot of films, but I think he's REALLY good here. Lots of nuance.
  • When black and white movies make use of shadow, it's just gorgeous.
  • This dialogue is really excellent. It's no surprise it gets quoted all the time.
  • "As Time Goes By" is one of my favorite songs from a movie.
  • Captain Renault is always fascinating. His casual charming flippancy makes him an interesting quasi-antagonist because he understands a lot more than his demeanor leads you to believe.
  • "She's coming back, I know she's coming back." What a quietly heartbreaking line.
  • The innocence and naivete of Rick and Ilsa's relationship in Paris is really interesting to me this time around.
  • Ilsa's last speech to Rick before he leaves Paris is lovely and sad.
  • "And what if you track down these men and kill them, what if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can't kill that fast."
  • I like that Victor is given some depth of character and is not just the hero archetype.
  • The scene with the young Bulgarian girl and Rick is a beautiful one. So compelling.
  • Rick's constant fight between cynicism and his deeper sense of morality is wonderful to watch play out.
  • Yay, the "La Marseillaise" scene. This is one of my favorite scenes of all time in any movie.
  • I think one of the things that makes this dialogue so fascinating is the constant forced diplomacy, where people very carefully avoid making threats or promises, but the most innocent lines convey much more ominous purposes.
  • Victor is really a very good guy. His interaction with Ilsa where he gives her an opening to talk about Rick makes me feel so bad for him, knowing she doesn't love him the same way.
  • "One woman has hurt you, and you take out your revenge on the rest of the world."
  • "Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win."
  • The foggy visuals in the whole airport scene are truly beautiful.
  • What a wonderful ending.

As you can see, the movie still holds up. In fact, it is one of those that improves upon multiple viewings because the plot's pretty complicated, and once you have a good grasp on the plot, you can really admire the music and the cinematography and the acting and the writing and the depth of the whole shebang. Even if this doesn't end up staying in my #1 spot, there's no doubt it's really impressive. It might actually be a perfect movie.

So if I think it's a perfect movie, why would it possibly drop from #1 on Flickchart? Well, because as much as there is to admire and love about this movie, I don't feel that deep an emotional connection to it. The final scene is stirring, and the abovementioned "La Marseillaise" scene is an incredibly powerful few minutes of cinema, but overall I find myself drawn to it more on an analytical level than on an emotional one. That doesn't mean it isn't amazing, it doesn't even mean it's not deserving of my #1 spot, but it might mean that if I had to choose a single movie to represent me and my tastes or to be the movie I love most for the rest of my life... it might not be this one.

Of course, my feelings could change as I rank, when I'm forced to compare it to other movies I also love. So let me give it a shot and see where this ends up. Good luck, Casablanca.

vs. Where the Wild Things Are (2009) - Not even a tiny bit of a contest here. (As I suspect will be the case for most of my top 100 movies and the first match-up they encounter.) Casablanca steamrolls right over the creepy monsters from this movie.

vs. Argo (2012) - Argo was one of my favorite Best Picture nominees from a fairly weak year, but it's pretty fluffy, if fun, and doesn't seriously measure up to Casablanca.

vs. American Splendor (2003) - I remember thinking American Splendor was interesting but not stunning, so Casablanca wins again.

vs. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) - As much as I enjoy Last Crusade, it's not going to win here. It's just not as meaningful.

vs. The Lion King (1994) - So far, Casablanca has held onto its #1 spot, and... it will continue to do so against Lion King. The movie looks great and has amazing music, but I can't in good conscience let Casablanca lose to an animated movie that gets so many of its jokes out of anachronistic pop culture references, which is a trend I hate.

vs. The Odd Couple (1968) - OK, this is a much tougher call. I think this is Neil Simon's best script, and Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon knock it out of the park. That being said, Casablanca's still going to take it. The Odd Couple is light, fluffy fun, but, again, there's meaning to Casablanca, and I can't discount that.

vs. Into the Woods (1991) - This is a movie that is almost certainly higher than it should be, as it's sitting in my top 20 and should probably be much lower. Casablanca wins.

vs. The Truman Show (1998) - OK. This is where things get difficult. This is the first one I think Casablanca might actually lose. Now, I might be overestimating how much I love The Truman Show (and if it jumps further down when I rewatch it as part of this challenge, I'll reevaluate Casablanca as well), but from all the times I've watched it, I remember it being just... amazing. Both artistically intriguing and emotionally satisfying. And if Casablanca lost to it, it'd still be in my top 10. So... I think... I think I'm going to do it. Here goes. I think Truman Show is going to win this round.

vs. Hairspray (2007) - This is another incredibly tough call. Hairspray is light and silly but every second of it makes me happy, and it's one of my go-to "I'm having a crappy day and need to feel better" movies. So even though it'll knock Casablanca out of my top 10... I think I may need to go for it. Here goes.

vs. Mary Poppins (1964) - Though I dearly love Mary Poppins, it's not quite as consistent as Casablanca is throughout. After two losses in a row, Casablanca wins.

vs. Memento (2000) - A really excellent movie, but I'd have to see it again (as I will in the next four years) to be certain that it's as good as Casablanca. Casablanca wins.

Well, that settles it, guys. Casablanca moved from #1 down to #14 -- not that significant a shift, but it feels significant to me, because it hasn't been anywhere but #1 in a loooooot of years. It feels weird to suddenly see it in the middle of the chart.

With that accomplished, let's look ahead to my next rewatch. According to my randomizer, I'll be watching #22: The Sixth Sense. After two romances, this'll be a slightly different choice. I'll be writing about that on May 18th, so if you want to rewatch that along with me and share your own thoughts, you're more than welcome to do so!

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