Monday, January 5, 2009

Ten Best American Talkies

Stanley Fish has seen fit to list the top ten American films of all time, a gesture that's destined to make him wildly popular. By and large, the ten films listed seem best suited for reminding Professor Fish of his green days spent nibbling popcorn and spitting off the theater balcony -- that's what garbage like Star Wars does for me, so I know whereof I speak -- but I was delighted to see one of my own favorites listed:

Groundhog Day (1993), directed by Harold Ramis. Another Pygmalion story, but this time the material the sculptor works on is himself. Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a jaded, dyspeptic, arrogant, cynical and obnoxious TV weatherman who on Feb. 2 finds himself covering the emergence of the groundhog in Puxatawney, Pa. When he wakes up the next morning, he finds that it is not the next morning, but Groundhog Day all over again and all over again and all over again. (His own spring will be late.)

His responses to being trapped eternally in the same day include disbelief, despair, excess and hedonism before he settles down to make the best of the situation, which, it turns out, means making the best of himself — a self-help project that takes forever, but forever is what he has. (It is as if he were at once the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future and the object of their tutelary attention.). By bits and pieces, fits and starts, he makes himself into the most popular fellow in town and wins the love of his producer, the beautiful Rita (a perfectly cast Andie MacDowell). The miracle is that as the movie becomes more serious, it becomes funnier. The comedy and the philosophy (how shall one live?) do not sit side by side, but inhabit each other in a unity that is incredibly satisfying. This is a “feel-good” movie in at least two senses of the word “good.”
I'm not sure that any perfect act of casting results in placing Andie MacDowell in a film, but with that cavil aside, I agree.

I went to Groundhog Day expecting a screwball comedy featuring Bill Murray only to get that and an unexpectedly deep viewing experience. It leaves countless possibilities to the viewer's imagination: how far, for example, did Phil Connor take the attempts at murder, theft, and suicide? Did he do anything truly depraved, like inveigling himself into local politics? Did he ever try traveling out of town, and if so, to where?

He mastered French and the piano over the course of his repeating days, so clearly he had a great deal of time with which to work. It follows that after he finally broke out of the loop, he was hundreds -- thousands? -- of years old. What next?

Contrary to almost every other movie I've ever sat through, I wanted it to keep going.

That said, I am glad they never made a sequel.


Ian McCullough said...

You might check out Replay by Ken Grimwood. It's the best science fiction take on this particular form of time travel I've seen (although the "Groundog's Day" Stargate SG-1 episode was pretty good).

Dale said...

Thanks Ian!