Breakin’ It Down 2: Pantenelectric Boogaloo

b2.jpgI’m a movie fan. I really like Star Wars. I even made a feeble attempt to break it down in a previous post. For the most part, though, I am your average summer blockbuster lemming. I go to movies and get wowed by the special effects (“Whoaaaa…them’s la-ZERS!”). Who cares about a plot when they’re blowing s**t up, I say.

I have a friend, though, who is much more intelligent about movies than I am. Pantene loves movies. Loves talking about them, thinking about them, repeating famous lines. I think she even enjoys watching them a little bit.

And I really like Pantene’s criteria for what makes an all-time favorite movie. Her take on it is accessible but not shallow. And it’s for movie watchers, not movie makers or industry types. So I asked her to jot it down and email it to me so I can post it here.

raffle.jpgAnd as to why she’s named after a shampoo: I’m very vague on the the details, but what I heard is that it involves a yellow dress, a raffle ticket, and a wild night at a strip club in White River Junction, Vermont. Perhaps they should make a movie out of that.

Below is Pantene’s take on what makes an all-time classic movie.

Pantene on All-Time Classic Movies


There are several elements a movie must have to make it Great; “The Best of the Best”. Can you guess what the following have in common?

The List:

  • The Unforgiven
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • The Godfather, Part I
  • The Godfather, Part II
  • The English Patient
  • Schindler’s List

A Good Script.
Strong, believable, unpredictable dialogue. I hate it when the writers insult my intelligence.

An Epic-Like Story.
I want to feel completely invested in the whole shebang: the people, the location, the story, the struggle. I also want a little complex “moral imperative”; a little gray.

Good Characters.
ro.jpg When evil is sooooo evil and good is sticky sweet, I get bored. Again, with “insulting my intelligence”. I don’t want cookie-cutter characters. Give me dimension, flaws, humility, honesty, “un-categorizable” people if you will. Let me digress a little here: Take a good look at “The Hunt for Red October” again. Not a phenomenal film, but a great action flick nonetheless. You’ll see that there’s no evil senator, no bad-ass general, etc. It’s a battle of wits so to speak. They forgot about this kind of subtlety when they made “Patriot Games”. Oooo, it’s a mean, volatile, greasy-haired bad Columbian drug lord. Gee, do you think he’s the bad guy?

Good Actors.
gf2.jpg That is each and every actor is spot-on no matter the size of their role. They don’t have to scream and yell to make themselves believable. Once again, subtlety is key. That’s why Pacino is so goddamn good in Parts I & II (closing the door in Diane Keaton’s face, twice.) and soooooooo shitty in Part III. Parts I & II were made before Al started screaming all his lines. He should take a page from the Ralph Fiennes book on How to Act. How can we forget the German Commandant Amon Goeth (Schindler’s List)? “Whatcha doing with that rifle, Amon? Um…Amon, why don’t you put the gun down and finish your coffee? Um, you’re not really going to shoot… OH MY GOD!! YOU BASTARD!!” With one swift yet apathetic act Ralph Fiennes’ character was able to epitomize the evil of the Third Reich. More noteworthy performances: The interaction between Gene Hackman and Sir Richard Harris’ characters in The Unforgiven…I suggest watching the jail scene again.

Need I say more?

Movies that come very very very close-but-no-cigar to meeting ALL these needed elements, that is, movies that I feel still kick-ass but are not going to be included with the above mentioned are listed here in no particular order:


  • The Searchers
  • Dances with Wolves
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • Lord of the Rings, Two Towers
  • Gone with the Wind (how can you not?)
  • Mississippi Burning
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • Pulp Fiction

ij.jpgAnd of course there are movies that are great indies (Lost In Translation, Magnolia), great comedies (When Harry Met Sally), great action adventures (Raiders of the Lost Ark), great love stories, (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) great thrillers (Sixth Sense) and great guilty pleasures (Ocean’s Eleven, Showgirls).

Check out AFI’s Top 100 Films. I agree with 95% of their list (That’s ’cause I’ve seen only 95 of the movies listed.) To pull a few of my personal favs:

Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, & Rear Window. I could go on and on and on…To Kill A Mockingbird, The Graduate, The Big Sleep, Alice, Dead Poets Society, Sound of Music, All The President’s Men, Cry Freedom, Stalag 17, Walk the Line, Fish Called Wanda…..

How’s that Jack?


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43 Comments so far
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I agree with your “Good Character” part (as well as the other parts). Complex characters are what make a good movie. Not everthing is black and white, there is no truth with a capital “T”, even when it comes to people.

However, there is a limit. I hated, hated, hated, hated Crash for many reasons, but one big one was because every character was too complex. Their complexity was so contrived, that it made them less interesting.

So while complexity is great, filmmakers can’t force it. Crash forced it and subsequently pissed me off and made my head hurt.

I too am in agreement about the character thing. Real people are a mixture of everything so shouldn’t characters be as well? Nothing like the “bad guy” who shows compassion when you least expect it, for example.

Script means a lot to me as well. There have been times when I have sat in movies and been able to correctly guess the next line. I hate that. Surprise me.

I also agree with Pantene’s list. They are all movies I have seen several times and that I know that I will watch several more times. The great thing is that each viewing is like watching something new in a way because I notice a nuance previously missed with each viewing.

That is a great list. I’d add the surprise ending to the list. I don’t mean that every ending should be a surprise, but that the whole second half of the film shouldn’t be totally predictable.

I might just be thinking this because I’ve been watching too much soccer, where the same thing applies…but without much character development, as far as I’ve seen.

Good list. I really dig on Pantene now. When’s she going to set up a film appreciation blog?

However, I must point out one flaw… the Colombian druglords were in Clear and Present Danger. It was the Irish Republican Army in Patriot Games

What, no Dirty Dancing?

I totally love and appreciate your insight to “Crash”. I was so unimpressed and irritated with the movie as well. My reaction as the credits rolled went something like this “There goes two hours of my life I won’t get back!” Your explanation of “too complex = contrived” is so dead-on. The movie could be renamed “Race Relations for Dummies Who Have Spent Their Whole Life In A Coma as written by People Who Too Have Spent Their Whole Life In A Coma”. I should start a blog about the crappiness of this film a.k.a “Bad Robert Altman knock-off.”

Last weekend I was feeling a little under the weather (too much booze on Friday night) so on Saturday I decided to finish watching the entire first season of “24”. Now I admit the plot of “24” is cool and yes, yes, Kiefer is a stud but the dialogue is seriously LAME! I was talking along with all the actors through most of the episodes. What a bummer. And with a total of 24 hours of bad dialogue I didn’t know which was worse: the show or my hangover. But the bummer of “24” was twofold. One was the predictable writing and the second was the unpredictable writing –and I don’t mean in a good, cool, refreshing way. I don’t want to feel like the characters are in need of schizophrenia medication. For example Senator Palmer’s “Lady Macbeth” wife was controlling one second, supportive the next, evasive, demanding, angry, sad, happy and that was just in hour #3…No wonder her son needed therapy. She had more personalities in one scene that Sally Field did in Sybil. And maybe a lot of that can be attributed to bad acting or directing. But I feel a lot had to do with the script. And yes, I will rent season 2… Lack of expectations is the great seasoning of any bad entertainment.

“Surprise Endings” are great…and addicting. I’ll see anything M. Night Shyamalan directs just for the endings. (I’m also a Lost junkie) My husband wanted me to include “Good Length” as one of the elements. I recall sitting through “Match Point” really wanting to like it but rather saying to myself, didn’t we just watch this scene; can’t we go now? It’s so unfortunate when moviegoers are subjected to the film-version of a director’s Adonis Complex. Thanks Spielberg for A.I. and Woody Allen for Match Point. But, The Godfather I & II were long…and still good. Guess there’s a lot to be said of a director who knows when and when not to cut.

Pantene here. Thanks for the correction on C&PD as well as PG! I totally forgot about the angry Irish! Those two movies blended together for me. I tuned out and just started concentrating on Harrison; it’s a mild consolation.

Nobody puts Baby in a corner! Dirty Dancing is in it’s own special close-to-my-heart category.

For what it’s worth some of my fave’s are:

American Splendor
Requiem for a Dream
Best in Show
Kill Bill II
Stand By Me

Thanks for reminding me about American Splendor! That’s a great flick. If you liked “Best in Show”, can I assume you saw “Waiting for Guffman”? What fabulous irony…

OMG! I was thinking about doing a blog post all themed around “Waiting for Guffman.” When I used to hang out in this bar in North Beach, I knew I had found my home the night that all of the bar staff and regulars started talking about that movie. And “Best in Show”? Love the part about the dog toy and the part about outfits.

I agree with so much of what you write, Pantene! I also love a movie that makes you look at reality a little differently or twists the world a different way – like Memento, Adaptation…

Thank you for conjuring up such happy memories of the satisfaction I had when watching both Memento & Adaptation. I agree, I really like it when reality is tweaked in such a smart way… “Being John Malcovich” anyone? Or, can I offer anyone some “Royal Tenenbaums”? What was so fantastic about “The Royal Tenenbaums” is that it succeeded in making the extraordinary seem ordinary and surprisingly it was this that made the film so wonderful in my opinion. I had no trouble believing and loving the characters and their unusual world. (I have a thing for the brothers Wilson, anyway.) Great performances from all, too. Uh, oh. Am I getting too cerebral? Somebody stop me! Or give me a cocktail!

I am a movie addict. LOOOOVE them. And I agree with you & Pantene 100%.

Jess R,
“I told you, I’m your guardian angel!” I didn’t watch AFI’s 100 Years 100 Cheers, but saw the list. Glad there’s another fan out there.

Coincides a lot with my list. Except for the epic story part I too have the same criteria.

Pantine – American Splendor is just fantastic. And yes I have seen, and enjoy all of the Christopher Guest movies. Best in Show is just my favourite of the lot.

Can’t wait for ‘For Your Consideration’ to come out.

I thought I was the only one who referred to any Sequel as “(insert name of original movie) 2, Electric Boogaloo”!

Godfather 3 is in every way inferior to Godfathers 1 & 2. Who could forget “Uh… Dad?” THUD.

Best of the movies I’ve seen recently – Everything Is Illuminated.

Oh, and P.S. – STOOL BOOM always cracks me up.

Schindler’s List is one of my fave films. I was gobsmacked when I saw it-brutally horrific part of history. Think Pantene’s lists are right on the mark.
No Debbie Does Dallas though!

/bark bark bark

no akira kurasawa? grrrrrr
how about unforgiven? the revenge scene at the end is glorious.

godfather: love the hits on the dons of competing families while michael is in the baptismal mass for his godson. nice francis!

to kill a mockingbird. perfect cinema.

enjoyed it the list.


Frankly I am disappointed at lack of John Candy and Chevy Chase movies in your roundup. You mention Fletch earlier in the week and he shoulda been flagged again. Twice!!

good discussion, so many factors into what makes a move good at the time and over time. i’m big on the visual richness of a film as well as something that conveys the complexity and wonderful-fuckupedness that is living. for me, a film with rich characters, that you love in triumph and make you nauseous in their flaw, is on my list. oh! oh! and car racing movies are stupendous, tokyo drift anyone? 😉

To Pantene’s list I would like to add


starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine

For surprise, out of left field, endings, you should watch the original OCEAN’S ELEVEN, starring the entire “Rat Pack”.

Pantene: I would love to sit in a coffee shop with you into the wee hours of the night, drinking coffee and talking “movies”. Love your assessments. (if you hadn’t added When Harry Met Sally, though, coffee would be OUT!)
Great post :)

I’m surprised ‘Amazon women on the moon’ wasn’t mentioned. Don ‘no soul’ simmons was a fantastic character.
good choices otherwise :)

Crusin Mom wants to meet you in a coffee shop to do a fake orgasm reprise…you can see that coming can’t ya Pantene?

And to Mads: Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Old Oak Tree…

I agree with Pantene but, ho hum. Give me a blockbuster, end-of-the-world type of flick now and then too just to mix things up. Surprisingly, against gender type, I love ’em and Hubby doesn’t.

Russell Allen: Okay, you got me there…I’ll have what she’s having.

As a staunch Adam Sandler fan, i think i should pass on what constitutes a good movie.

I’ll be leaving now.

Pantene’s right in her outline but I have to disagree with her top 6 list… reason is I can’ watch those movies over and over again. They might be great movies but…I don’t know…can I call them bad ‘entertainers’??? Hell, I can watch Transporter-2 a good 5 times even though it insults a 3rd graders intelligence!

Steph is probably trying to say the same thing.

Pantene? Shont? Arpi? Azure?

LOL that is just too kewl.

Can I come hang out in your world for a few days?

is arpi still single by any chance?

Schindler’s List

What an absolutely, unbelievabely moving…movie.

Love the Shawshank Redemption.

Alas, Steal Magnolias is also one of my favorites.

I like grey characters in interesting situations. Heat is one of my favorite movies for that reason.

Also, sometimes a movie can be so visually appealling that it’s lack of dpeth can be overlooked, like the action films of Sam Peckinpah or Walter Hill (Long Riders is one of my all-time favorite westerns).

But, it always comes back to story for me. Rocky, Scarface, Last of the Mohicans, Dog Day Afternoon, To Live and Die in L.A., etc.

Steph + Reflextion,
You bring up excellent points… We need to start of list of “The Greats: Repeatably Watchable Flicks”. I still remain resolute on my top six; I honestly believe they are superior on multiple levels and stand above the rest. However, you are right: there’s something to be said for pure entertainment. The pure entertainment value cannot be overlooked or underestimated. As I said earlier, there are the action greats, the comedy greats, the romance greats…

Let me add a few more to my list of favs (all of which I feel are awesome films worthy of being watched over and over again without the possibility of going totally insane.):

The Abyss
Alien (the first one)
The Matrix
Wedding Crashers
Star Wars episodes 4-6 (sith fight scenes in episode 1 are worthy of mention)
Shanhigh Noon
Die Hard 1 (shoot-the-glass…)
Steel Magnolias (hey, give me a break, I AM a chick)
No Way Out
Blade Runner
Sabrina (the original)
Shall We Dance (1997 Japanese version)
Guys and Dolls (with Frank + Marlon)

This list doesn’t begin to cover everything (foreign films + indies), but it is Sunday and there’s beer out there to be drunk and a Nascar race to watch. Gotta run.

Have all the great ones been mentioned? I’m not sure and couldn’t read all the comments because I’d think “OH! What about ________?” and then by the time I got here I can’t come up with a single one.

Hold on a sec. Let me scan the family movie wall…. (listen to some soothing music for a moment, please)

Say Anything
Auntie Mame
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The Ladykillers (Alec Guiness version)
A Time to Kill
The Usual Suspects
Do The Right Thing
The Breakfast Club
My Man Godfrey
White Oleander
Strangers on a Train
(I just noticed the Hitchcock section)
Whale Rider

Too many more to count but I wanted to add my 98 cents short of a dollar.

I’ll go with that list. Michael Corleone is my idol. I’m a sicko.

Nice job, Pantene. I agree. I think the standards ought be a little higher. Okay, sometimes a lot.

Is it bad that I’m not a huge movie fan. I just enjoy them for the moment, and that’s all there is to it?

I don’t know. While I’ve had a certain appreciation for the obvious classics I’ve seen, I still vote for the underdog every time. Some Kind of Wonderful, That Thing You Do, For Keeps, Stepfather…the cheesier, the better my friend. The cheesier the better.:)

Wait a minute, where the hell is Sixteen Candles on that list? Just kidding…kind of.

@ Pantene

The Matrix
Wedding Crashers
Star Wars episodes 4-6
Shanhigh Noon
Die Hard 1
Shall We Dance (1997 Japanese version)

Now you’re talkin!
Sharing some thoughts-
At one point of time I would go out and see any moview irrespective of the cast, director or storyline….however good the movie was I just could not stand horribly heavy stuff with an intense depressing plot or storyline (like Requim for a Dream or Finding Neverland). Now I just want to be entertained and have a good time….in fact I detest watching such fimls because they are either tragedies or they just get me depressed…however good it scores on the criteria you have listes….I guess I’m no longer a ‘purist’, like you seem to be.

The Bicycle Thief.

Star Wars Is Cool of course.

all of them.

Return of the Jedi is reprehensible.
Only two-thirds of Gladiator is actually watchable.
The Abyss looks nice but is shite.

The rest of the watchable list is definitely watchable

Great list.
I wouldn’t say I have a fav movie but a number of movies which have touched me in ways I can’t explain.

Shindler’s List
La Vie est Belle
Dancer in the Dark
The English Patient
Chandi Bar

The list is of course not exhaustible but these are the top.

Pantene is a very…. uncommon name :-)


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