The Set of 400: #1 – My Favorite Combination Russian Phrasebook and Bible

Today! Because you can’t fight in here, this is the war room –

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick (x7)

Starring Peter Sellers (x5), George C. Scott (x3), Sterling Hayden (x3), Slim Pickens (x3), Keenan Wynn (x2), Peter Bull (x2), James Earl Jones (x8), Shane Rimmer (x3), Tracy Reed

Folks, you may have never expected us to reach the end of this journey – God knows, I didn’t – but nonetheless, here we are! 400 posts, 265,000 words, and a lot more praise for Teen Wolf than the average person could muster, and we’ve finally come to the grand conclusion! My favorite movie of all-time, at least 70% of the time, Stanley Kubrick’s darkly comedic apocalyptic global thermonuclear satire, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Featuring a triple performance from the unparalleled Peter Sellers and an unhinged, over-the-top turn from George C. Scott as war monger Buck Turgidson (the role that kicked off my long affection for Scott’s work), Strangelove shares a fair number of similarities with my other favorite movie, yesterday’s Duck Soup, as they both poke fun at international politics, jingoistic armed conflict negotiation, and gloriously inflated government egos. The difference, obviously, is that the fate of the entire world is at stake in Strangelove, due to one rogue lunatic, where nuclear weapons were still some years away when Duck Soup went before the cameras in 1933.

And this is not even the rogue lunatic in question

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The Set of 400: #2 – My Favorite Doghouse Tattoo

Today! Because you’re fighting for this woman’s honor, which is probably more than she ever did –

Duck Soup (1933)

Directed by Leo McCarey

Starring Groucho Marx (x8), Harpo Marx (x8), Chico Marx (x8), Zeppo Marx (x5), Margaret Dumont (x5), Louis Calhern (x2), Raquel Torres, Edgar Kennedy (x3)

There have only been a handful of movies I’ve ever serious proclaimed were my favorite of all-time, at any given point in my life. Sure, for purely comic purposes, I will often lean over to the wife in a movie theater and declare that whatever nonsense we’re watching is my favorite movie ever, usually after Captain America punches someone through a building, but the actual list is much smaller. Prior to ’89, I don’t recall informing of my parents over the morning’s Cheerios that, like, I Am Curious Yellow was now my favorite film – I just wasn’t ranking stuff back then, too busy mastering all the walking and talking that life requires. But, summer ’89, Batman got to the top of the list first, followed without break (I think) by Hook in ’91, Batman Returns in ’92, and then came the cinematic awakening when I put away childish things (shoutout, First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians!) and Unforgiven scaled the film mountain. Given this rapid adjustment of preferences, you’d think that the title would’ve changed hands many times in the subsequent years, but basically since then, only one of two movies has been #1 in my personal catalog. Tomorrow’s film most often has been named my favorite, but in any given month, Duck Soup could supplant it, so interchangeable is my love for these movies. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #3 – My Favorite Nazi Monkey

Today! Because we have top men looking into it –

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x13)

Starring Harrison Ford (x9), Karen Allen (x5), Paul Freeman (x2), Denholm Elliott (x3), John Rhys-Davies (x5), Ronald Lacey (x2), Alfred Molina (x5), Wolf Kahler, William Hootkins (x3), Fred Sorenson, Pat Roach (x2), Anthony Higgins, Vic Tablian, Eddie Tagoe

Many, many films from my childhood fought their way onto this list – some decent and still relatively high in my estimation, some Howard the Duck – but none wind up above the utterly perfect first Indiana Jones adventure. I haven’t the slightest idea the first time I watched this movie, and can’t even realistically guess how many times I’ve seen it, but despite the decades wearing on and all the changes in film and my personal preferences, the greatness of this movie has never abated. Even my reasons for liking it haven’t changed all that much. Figure, The Muppet Movie still finds a high rank due mostly to my enduring love of the brand – as a kid, I think it was a lot more the silliness and the songs. Jaws I don’t think I saw uncut until well down the road, so it’s kind of a different movie for me as an adult. But Raiders is the same slam-bang, non-stop action thrill ride its always been, and it totally still holds up.

As I think I mentioned back in Temple of Doom, for a period of time growing up I thought this was the second film in the series, as the concept of a prequel was beyond me and the establishing dates to open these films set them up in this order. I guess the logic was…they didn’t want us to wonder why Indy and Marion weren’t still together? Why they didn’t mention the Ark of the Covenant while battling possessed children and eating monkey brains? It seems like a concept overthought, really, because Temple doesn’t give us any added insight to Indy that informs something in Raiders, like most prequels do. I guess it was so we might like Willie better. Couldn’t Kingdom of the Crystal Skull have both Karen Allen and Kate Capshaw return? That might’ve been more interesting than the bizarre mess they hurled at us instead. Geriatric love triangles! At least they could’ve returned Short Round.

I would totally watch this re-teaming in Indiana Jones and the Valley of the Drunken Mummy or whatever

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The Set of 400: #4 – My Favorite $5 Milkshake

Today! Because personality goes a long way –

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino (x6)

Starring John Travolta (x3), Samuel L. Jackson (x13), Uma Thurman (x2), Bruce Willis (x6), Christopher Walken (x4), Harvey Keitel (x5), Eric Stoltz, Tim Roth (x2), Amanda Plummer (x2), Ving Rhames (x4), Frank Whaley (x3), Steve Buscemi (x5), Roseanna Arquette, Maria de Medeiros, Phil LaMarr, Angela Jones, Quentin Tarantino (x3), Julia Sweeney (x2), Kathy Griffin (x2), Paul Calderon (x2), Bronagh Gallagher, Peter Greene, Duane Whitaker

As I’ve stated numerous times, I didn’t really discover good movies existed until roughly 1992. Up until that point, what Leonard Maltin said was about the only barometer I had – we didn’t have Twitter reactions or Rotten Tomatoes, Cinemascore or IMDB rankings, Metacritic or the late, great Epinions. It was The Scranton Times movie reviews – culled from other newspapers, largely, as I recall, and Siskel & Ebert at the Movies, when I could remember to catch it. But come 1992, it appears my parents gave up on restricting us from R rated films, and by early 1993 I had subscribed to the magazine love of my life – Entertainment Weekly. No joke! It wasn’t the glossy, People-esque nonsense that appears on newsstands today! Or maybe it was, and I just wasn’t discerning. But these events coupled together quickly advanced movie appreciation for young Joey Joe Joseph. And the pinnacle of this was the glorious 1994 movie calendar – one of the best years in film history, featuring the most transformative film of the generation, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

Anyone who lived through the era and doesn’t agree with the above statement is not to be trusted. Disregard their opinions at your leisure.

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The Set of 400: #5 – My Favorite Sadly Temporary Side Effect

Today! Because it’s not often you see a guy that green have the blues that bad –

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Directed by James Frawley

Starring Jim Henson (x3), Frank Oz (x10), Dave Goelz (x7), Richard Hunt (x3), Jerry Nelson (x6), Charles Durning (x4), Austin Pendleton (x2), Orson Welles (x5), Cloris Leachman (x6), Dom DeLuise (x8), Steve Martin (x7), Richard Pryor, Bob Hope, Milton Berle (x3), Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Elliott Gould (x5), James Coburn (x4), Carol Kane (x6), Madeline Kahn (x9), Mel Brooks (x6), Telly Savalas, Paul Williams (x3), Bruce Kirby (x2), Caroll Spinney (x2), Scott Walker

The gold standard of Muppet productions. The zenith of the entire franchise. The culmination of nearly 25 years of Mr. the Frog’s place in the cultural landscape, beginning way back with Sam & Friends in 1955. After this, and the subsequent completion of The Muppet Show’s dynamite five year run, the felt gang would achieve superstardom few puppets have entertained before or since. A groundbreaking, world-altering comedy/musical motion picture unduplicated in success or popularity through the entire course of human history. The Muppet Movie is the greatest thing ever produced by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Kermit, for one, is stunned by this adulation

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The Set of 400: #6 – My Favorite Magic Trick

Today! Because sometimes you turn to a man you don’t fully understand –

The Dark Knight (2008)

Directed by Christopher Nolan (x4)

Starring Christian Bale (x2), Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman (x5), Michael Caine (x7), Morgan Freeman (x5), Eric Roberts, Melinda McGraw, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Jai White, Tiny Lister (x3), William Fichter, Cillian Murphy (x3), David Dastmalchian, Ron Dean (x2), Chin Han, Nestor Carbonell (x2), Monique Gabriela Curnen, Keith Kupferer

If you had told me after Batman Begins that the Christopher Nolan films would eclipse the Burton ones in my personal evaluation, I would’ve said you’d gone goofy (because that’s an actual phrase I’m likely to use, rest assured). But this quickly became my prime example of the first movie in a series functioning more as a prequel than an original film. To even classify The Dark Knight as a sequel would mean to ascribe more qualities and value to Begins than it deserves. I know some people love it, and it’s fine, I guess, but only once The Dark Knight burst into existence. Otherwise, it’s just sort of sepia douchebaggery and table setting and Katie Holmes.

Meh

But the stars also aligned just right for Dark Knight in a lot of personal respects, too. As I’ve frequently mentioned, I moved to Chicago in June of 2008, and we’d just begun our first box office pool (I had Iron Man, which opened to kick off May), so movies were very much at the forefront of everything that year. It didn’t hurt that it was an extraordinarily big summer for films – what with Indiana Jones 4, the beginning of the MCU, Wall-E, Tropic Thunder, The Incredible Hulk, and the first Joker feature in nearly thirty years (plus, er, Speed Racer). But above all else – The Dark Knight is the most Chicago of movies, with virtually every outdoor scene filmed here in the big town. While they avoid showing the full skyline, or the Wrigley building, it’s so obviously Chicago as to be impossible to hide. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #7 – My Favorite Bad Hat, Harry

Today! Because after all, Amity means friendship –

Jaws (1975)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x12)

Starring Roy Scheider (x2), Richard Dreyfuss (x3), Robert Shaw (x2), Murray Hamilton (x4), Lorraine Gary (x3), Susan Backlinie (x2), Carl Gottlieb (x4), Jeffrey Kramer (x3), Lee Fierro, Peter Benchley

What can I say? Some of my favorite movies are everyone’s favorite movies. I’m not above such a thing. My go-to 4th of July movie forever, Jaws was another household staple growing up, which seems a bit off as an adult, given its generally terrifying plot, but as a kid it was more a bunch of fun shouting and running on the beach. Plus, as mentioned way back in #353 Jaws 2, we used to watch both movies together pretty often – to the point that some details from one bleed into the other – and the sequel is decidedly kid friendly, even with the higher body count and more visibly menacing shark. All of those cool, wise-cracking teens!

Sure, they aren’t distinct characters, but they are having so much teenage fun before they start getting eaten!

I more like to believe that the original movie is so great it actually transcends age barriers and in-depth understanding. While watching it as an adult is a complete cinematic experience, with tremendous performances and incredible tension, the more childlike manner of viewing a film works too. Take Jaws apart and reassemble it in any order and it still delivers pretty solidly. The driving narrative almost doesn’t matter. One scene you’ve got Quint scratching a chalkboard and dealing with the stuffy town leaders, then you’ve got the shark eating him, then Hooper joking that all the guys on that overloaded boat are gonna die, then Brody making faces with his kid, then that girl gets pulled under by the unseen monster to open the film – any order, all the scenes are entertaining. Yes, even Mrs. Kintner losing her shit all over Brody.

Hooper seems weirdly surprised by her reaction

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The Set of 400: #8 – My Favorite School Bus Graveyard

Today! Because there’s gonna be nothing left in our graves except Clorox bottles and plastic fly swatters with red dots on ’em –

 

Nashville (1975)

Directed by Robert Altman (x5)

Starring Lily Tomlin (x3), Ned Beatty (x6), Michael Murphy (x7), Henry Gibson (x6), Keenan Wynn, Barbara Harris (x2), Shelley Duvall (x5), Keith Carradine, Ronee Blakley, Geraldine Chaplin (x2), Scott Glenn (x4), Jeff Goldblum (x7), Gwen Welles, Karen Black (x3), David Arkin (x3), Allan F. Nichols (x3), Cristina Raines, Bert Remsen (x4), Allen Garfield (x2), Robert DoQui, Barbara Baxley, Timothy Brown (x2), David Hayward, Dave Peel, Merle Kilgore, Elliott Gould (x4), Julie Christie

The last movie appearing on this list that isn’t my favorite of that given year (tune back in tomorrow for Fav ’75!), Nashville is something that has taken the better part of two decades to grow on me. The first time I saw any bit of it was in college – I was taking some half-assed screenwriting course at Keystone, and they would show illustrative clips along with the written pages, and the scene we watched was Sueleen Gay’s disastrous appearance singing at the gentleman’s club. While it might not make a ton of sense in a screenwriting class on the surface, figure, like most Altmans of the time the movie is improv heavy, so Joan Tewkesbury’s script was more filled with character beats and guideposts than concrete dialogue and heavily plotted scenes. Sueleen’s public singing debut, however, is relatively light on dialogue and heavy on doom, so it’s actually not a bad moment to highlight!

“I Never Get Enough”

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The Set of 400: #9 – My Favorite Excessive Display of Notes

Today, because I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint –

 

Amadeus (1984)

Directed by Milos Forman (x2)

Starring F. Murray Abraham (x5), Tom Hulce (x3), Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones (x6), Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebersole (x2), Kenny Baker (x6), Cynthia Nixon, Vincent Schiavelli (x6), Charles Kay

We didn’t sit around the television watching a lot of 18th century Viennese epics as children, but perhaps because of when it was made and how often WPIX was willing to air this four hour (with commercials) biopic, a lifelong love affair sprung up with Amadeus. I mean, it’s basically a perfect movie – the leanest 160 minute film you’ll ever see – full of marvelous performances and dazzling set decoration, and even if you aren’t a particularly big fan of classical music, the combination of filmmaking expertise on display and riveting soundtrack make for an always engrossing audience experience. But for a kid? How and why did this movie catch?

I think having such a basic conflict is easy to understand at any age. Mozart – loads of raw talent, kind of an immature asshole. Salieri – marginally achieved skills through hard work, bitter at the very existence of Mozart, in a position to screw him up. Even years before you get into serious schooling and/or the workplace and you encounter people who basically fit either of these categories, the concept resonates – jealousy, yearning for acceptance/friendship, speaking backwards as a way of impressing potential romantic partners. A lot of basic human desire is evident out there! Plus, vibrant settings and fun costumery and terrific location shoots and the make-up! Again, it’s a perfect movie. I’ve used this description periodically on this list, but there’s always like one weird thing even in the best of movies to kind of rankle you, right?

Ahem

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The Set of 400: #10 – My Favorite Waste of Cocaine

Today! Because Max is a good name for you, Max –

Annie Hall (1977)

Director: Woody Allen (x12)

Starring: Woody Allen (x9), Diane Keaton (x6), Tony Roberts (x3), Paul Simon, Carol Kane (x5), Shelley Duvall (x4), Christopher Walken (x3), Colleen Dewhurst, Janet Margolin (x2), Marshall McLuhan, John Glover (x5), Truman Capote (x2), Jeff Goldblum (x6), Johnny Haymer, Beverly D’Angelo (x2), Tracey Walter (x4), Sigourney Weaver (x8), Hy Anzell

The twelfth and final Woody Allen film on this list, Annie Hall has experienced the most precipitous fall of any movie on this continually updated countdown in recent years. Sure, it is still clinging to a spot in the top ten, almost out of sheer memory for how much and how long I’ve enjoyed it, but as I’ve mentioned many times on this list, my relationship with Woody has changed dramatically in recent years, and this beloved classic is taking the biggest hits.

You may wonder how that can be, considering it’s still in 10th – well, for the longest time, this was a top four movie of mine, maybe three on occasion. If the wife and I could be said to “have a movie” – like normal couples have songs or, I don’t know, pizza toppings – our movie for over a decade was definitely Annie Hall. It was something we could both agree on, and became a sort of de facto Valentine’s Day thing to watch. This extended to a lesser degree to other Allen films of the era – Manhattan most notably – and being that I was already a big fan of the director, I could bring up his movies as something to watch without worry. We were working on watching them all at one point, working backwards from the present, when this new round of allegations really took hold and the wife checked out for good.

Our standard pizza toppings are half pepperoni/half green peppers, incidentally

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The Set of 400: #11 – My Favorite Breakdancing Wizard

Today! Because I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve –

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Directed by Peter Jackson (x5)

Starring Elijah Wood (x6), Ian McKellen (x7), Sean Astin (x4), Hugo Weaving (x5), Cate Blanchett (x6), Viggo Mortensen (x3), Liv Tyler (x3), Ian Holm (x5), Christopher Lee (x6), Orlando Bloom (x3), John Rhys-Davies (x4), Billy Boyd (x3), Dominic Monaghan (x3), Sean Bean (x2), Andy Serkis (x6), Marton Csokas (x3), Bret McKenzie (x3), Sarah McLeod (x2)

I was no Lord of the Rings snob going into these films. I had read The Hobbit in middle school, I want to say, and had an awareness that these other books existed, but I never sought them out to read until that first amazing trailer for Fellowship appeared around Christmas 2000. After that, though, I was quickly all in – I read one book a year as the films were released, just to keep it fresh, and like the rest of the world was generally blown away by the movies as they unfolded. I don’t think this is much of a stretch, but it has to be said – Fellowship of the Ring is the greatest fantasy film of all time, and a nearly perfect movie. The other LOTR films are great, too, and made this list, and carried over so strong that even the first Hobbit film holds a special place for me, but they all kinda pale in comparison to that first incredible film.

I said nearly perfect

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The Set of 400: #12 – My Favorite Artist With a Thompson

Today! Because, hell, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word. I’m talkin’ about ethics –

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (x6)

Starring Gabriel Byrne (x2), Albert Finney (x5), John Turturro (x5), Marcia Gay Harden, J. E. Freeman (x3), Jon Polito (x2), Steve Buscemi (x4), Mike Starr (x3), Al Mancini, Tom Toner, Michael Jeter (x4), Mario Todisco, Richard Woods, Michael Badalucco (x4), Sam Raimi, Frances McDormand (x4)

My favorite Coen brothers movie, their earliest effort on this list, with one of the best screenplays ever written, Miller’s Crossing is a gangster movie, unquestionably, but it is really so much more. Its twisty plot of continually shifting loyalties and multi-directional romances can be a bit bewildering at first, as the whole thing is given a very light touch and seems the breeziest of crime chronicles. It adopts a comical old-timey vernacular right from the jump, and showcases character quirks and extremes so rapidly and immediately that you might suspect you’re in for a decidedly light-hearted movie. At first.

Back when the main topic of the film appears to be Ethics

But quickly the story drills down into the group’s complex, internecine strife and we’re off to the races. It’s a film I saw too young to fully comprehend, to be sure, to the point that it literally took decades of sporadic rewatching for me to pick up on everything. Not that it’s all that complicated, but to a ten-year-old it seemed just a lot of hokey turns of phrase, over-the-top shouting, and operatic violence – entertaining, but not necessarily in depth. Thanks for the early primer, early ’90s HBO! Like many of the top, top films on my list, Miller’s Crossing is something I can rewatch endlessly, but it is the rare one that fits the old saw often floated about great works of art – every time I see it I find something new.

Are we all actually Tom’s hat??

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The Set of 400: #13 – My Favorite Duck of Death

Today! Because we all got it comin’, kid –

Unforgiven (1992)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Clint Eastwood (x2), Morgan Freeman (x4), Gene Hackman (x6), Richard Harris (x2), Jaimz Woolvett, Saul Rubinek (x2), Frances Fisher (x2), Anna Levine, Anthony James (x2), Rob Campbell, David Mucci, Beverley Elliott, Cherrilene Cardinal

Featuring one of the great, unsung musical scores of all time, Clint Eastwood’s last western was revered and honored in its day for virtually everything else connected to the film. I’ve never been a huge Eastwood guy – sure, some of his later movies, basically from this point forward, I enjoyed – #335 In the Line of Fire being the only other list film for him, but A Perfect World, Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, American Sniper – all solid. I could never really get into his spaghetti westerns, as acclaimed as they are, and opted more for his wacky Dirty Harry films or more aged cowboy flicks like Pale Rider or The Outlaw Josey Wales. So I guess all of this led me to Unforgiven – not just my favorite western, but squarely in the conversation for my choice as the best western ever made.

The 18th and final film from one of my most formative years of movie watching, Unforgiven‘s place as that year’s Best Picture almost certainly helped it hang in my memory all these years. I had that year’s Oscars on tape, and watched it a weird amount – Billy Crystal hosted and did some typically great bits, including songs dedicated to all the top nominees, including Unforgiven to the tune of “Unforgettable,” which I still remember all the words to:

“Unforgiven – that’s what you are/
You killed everyone,’cause you’re the star/
You directed and produced with ease/
Long way from singing “I Talk to the Trees”/
Let me not be the last to say/
Tonight may make your day”

The king!

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The Set of 400: #14 – My Favorite Punctuality Pin

Today! Because I saved Latin – what did you ever do?

Rushmore (1998)

Directed by Wes Anderson (x5)

Starring: Jason Schwartzman (x6), Bill Murray (x14), Olivia Williams, Brian Cox (x8), Luke Wilson (x5), Seymour Cassel (x4), Kumar Pallana (x3), Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka (x2), Connie Nielsen, Andrew Wilson (x4), Stephen McCole

On the high end of this list, historically, I go back and forth between my favorite Wes Anderson movie and my favorite Bill Murray movie. Anderson flip flops between Rushmore and Tenenbaums, while Murray as you may have noticed has like five films out of the last fifteen, so there is a constant rotation. But more often than not, it works out that Rushmore is the top film for both, as it is here.

As mentioned in probably all the previous four Anderson movie posts, his style would get solidified in the years immediately after Tenenbaums, even though most of the elements that would define his films were introduced there. Rushmore functions as more of the raw version of this concept – the heightened reality of his world isn’t as much on display, even though things are pretty aggressively off-kilter at Rushmore Academy. The likable asshole main characters here are probably just a smidge more likable than, say, Royal Tenenbaum or Steve Zissou or Gustave H, as at least Max Fischer and Herman Blume are driven and twisted by love, and who can’t relate to that?

Smooth use of Latin!

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The Set of 400: #15 – My Favorite Deformed Popsicle

Today! Because you should come and get one in the yarbles, if you’ve got any yarbles –

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick (x6)

Starring Malcolm McDowell (x2), Aubrey Morris (x3), Patrick Magee, Warren Clarke (x2), Philip Stone (x3), David Prowse (x4), Adrienne Corri, James Marcus, Miriam Karlin, Michael Bates, Carl Duering, Clive Francis, Godfrey Quigley, Sheila Raynor, Michael Tarn, Richard Connaught

Man, you get a pretty warped view of the world when you’re exposed to A Clockwork Orange relatively young, I can tell you that. It holds an odd place as one of the pivotal movies of my life, and not in a completely good way. It didn’t inspire me to a life of crime or a completely amoral outlook on how to behave in society, but it did damage some very early relationships of mine, and I was completely unapologetic about it, because hey, A Clockwork Orange is art! I better explain –

How or why I knew what A Clockwork Orange was is a mystery – I read a lot of books about movies and Leonard Maltin’s Home Video guide and Oscar history and whatnot, so probably there? – but I got a copy of the Anthony Burgess book sometime around 1993, at the King of Prussia Mall in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The book is pretty lurid, but not exactly the X rated mayhem that they filmed. The movie also lops off the last chapter of the story, to pretty solid effect.

One version or another of this book was always within arm’s reach growing up

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