Sunday, July 20, 2008

Favorite Opening Sequences...

I just felt compelled to talk about some really great opening sequences from films. This top ten list would probably not even be my absolute "favorite" if I really sat down and thought about it, but they're really good anyway. Some of them come from films that I only feel so-so about.

10. Junebug (2005)
When I saw this film for the first time back in '05, it was after it had reached hype hysteria of epic proportions (hey, has anyone seen The Dark Knight or better yet, read my review of it?). Once you get some distance from the film, it definitely improves on subsequent viewings. You may still have trouble convincing me of this film's brilliance, but it boasts some wonderful performances and a great opening sequence. Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) meets George (Alessandro Nivola) in a an art gallery. A look, a few words and as the credits role, they make love playfully in the empty gallery (could you help yourself if you were either of them?) The wonderful sequence ends with a breathless Madeleine asking George "Where do you come from?" And with a smile (God, that smile) he replies "Pfaftown, North Carolina." So little is said, yet it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Plus, aren't you already booking your ticket to Pfaftown?

9. Carrie (1976)
"You eat shit, Carrie!" Such strong hateful words that tell you everything you need to know about what you're in for here. From a gym class volleyball game, to a panning shot of locker room naughtiness. And then there's the score...I've seen Carrie more times than I can count and I still can't figure out if the soap-operish flute music is the smartest score or the most misplaced score I've ever heard. But as we see Carrie, bathing majestically in the shower, there's that critical shot of blood running down her legs that turns the scene on its ear. And of course leads us to one of the most immortal phrases in cinema history..."Plug it up!"

8. Gummo (1997)
Like Junebug, I'm not sure how I feel about Gummo. It's definitely jarring and I've had to re-watch it several times just to try to form some opinion of it. At the very least, it's fascinating (like the squirrely little director, Mr. Harmony Korine himself). Its opening credits are some of the most haunting I've ever seen. That female crooner, singing about her rooster going "cock-a-doodle-do" over the image of that creepy kid with his rabbit ears...always gets me.

7. The Shining (1980)
Okay, confession time. I'm a big Kubrick-phile, so right away I'm biased. I had to pick which of his films would make this list, and obviously, it had to be The Shining with its panoramic shot of a mountain road over a lake with some of the best horror-movie music ever composed. If you're somehow stumped as to how Kubrick got that shot, there's a big giveaway if you pay attention to some tell-tale shadows in the frame.

6. The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
I don't often cry at the movies. It's happened only a few times. Silkwood (how can you not?) and The Sweet Hereafter are two examples. This movie still gets to me. Upon first observation, it would probably seem like there's not a lot going on in this opening sequence. It's just a panning overhead shot of a couple sleeping in bed with their child. But it's actually one of the most powerful, important images in the film as it gets right to the heart of the film's themes--Our need as a society to protect our children, and the ultimate failure and desolation that is felt when that need is not met (for whatever reason). That, combined with Mychael Danna's lovely score (seriously, he might just be the most underrated composer working in film today) make this one for the books.

5. Boogie Nights (1997)
I'm a huge PT Anderson fan. Ultimately, even though it's still very fresh in my mind, I think that There Will Be Blood will be the masterpiece he's remembered for. But of all of his films, I enjoy the opening for Boogie Nights the most. It beats the vast open silence of There Will Be Blood's opening and the overly philosophical musings of Magnolia's opening. I love the tracking shot through Maurice's club, played beautifully against The Emotions' "Best of My Love." It's busy, but it's profound. We meet the eclectic cast of characters, including the lovely Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), Roller Girl (Heather Graham), porn-king Jack Horner and our hero Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg). One of the most important themes of this film is getting swept up, in one way or another, and no opening sequence sweeps you into the action better than this one.

4. The Graduate (1967)
Having just graduated from college, I don't feel as adrift as Benjamin Braddock, but I surely identify with the malaise brought on by the constant questioning from those around you..."So, what now?" The opening sequence, set to Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" (which bookends the film, no pun intended) has our antihero drifting aimlessly on moving sidewalks through an airport. Is it the most subtle metaphor in American cinema? Probably not. But it's still poignant anyway.

3. Blue Velvet (1986)
I have no problem with bizarre. I don't even explicitly have a problem with bizarreness for its own sake. But David Lynch definitely pushes it, which stops me from worshiping at his altar. But I definitely love the first scene of blue velvet, which showcases fucked up, overly-clean suburban Lumberton and the creepy critters that dwell beneath--quite literally, actually. Again, not the most subtle of images. But remember, it was 1986--before suburban satire had been done to death.

2. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The Royal Tenenbaums is truly the dysfunctional family done up right. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of narration. But in this case, Wes Anderson made the decision to explain most of the history of the fucked up Tenenbaums in a short five minute opening sequence. Like all Wes Anderson films, it's beautifully art-directed (seriously, why no Oscar noms for art direction for his films?) and well-acted by the child performers. And it's played nicely against a string version of the Beatles' "Hey Jude." Awesome.

1. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Up your wake! Up your wake! Up your wake! No film announces its intentions clearer or louder than Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, which opens to the loud bombastic sound of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," while Rosie Perez dances forcefully. I love, love, love this opening sequence.

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