#33 One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

“I’m not just talking about my wife, I’m talking about my LIFE, I can’t seem to get that through to you. I’m not just talking about one person, I’m talking about everybody. I’m talking about form. I’m talking about content. I’m talking about interrelationships. I’m talking about God, the devil, Hell, Heaven. Do you understand… FINALLY”

Milos Foreman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest takes every opportunity to unnerve, and alienate the viewer.

The film tells the story of McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a con who pretends to be crazy in an attempt to get out of working for the remainder of the prison sentence he is serving for statutory rape.

Unfortunately for McMurphy, he is sent to a mental institution that is the home of the particularly vindictive nurse Ratchet (Louise Fletcher).

McMurphy’s antics are harmless enough initially.  Antics such as cheating in basketball games and attempting to stage a coup of the mental institution’s meetings are brushed off by the staff.  But, as tensions begin to grow between McMurphy and nurse Ratchet, small acts of defiance become simply not enough.

McMurphy, quickly escalates his escapades to include grand theft auto (and grand theft boat), knowing that his time at the institution is coming to a close.

Operating under the faulty assumption that when his jail sentence was over, he would be released from his new padded wall home.  Unfortunately for him, this is not the case.  He can be held as long as the medical professionals feel he is a danger to society.

The realization of this eventually drives McMurphy to a level of recklessness that nearly tears apart his mental fabric.

Right from the opening credits this film makes the viewers skin crawl.  The score, which could best be described as two cats fighting over a violin will make you squirm.

This is further continued by the film’s brilliant cinematography.  Haskell Wexler, the film’s cinematographer, does an amazing job of keeping a tight and narrow focus on his subjects, almost paralleling the tunnel vision of the asylum’s patients.  Unrelentingly this device makes the viewer feel as uncomfortable as Jack Nicholson’s snarky smile does.

Nicholson’s performance, as are all the performances, is spot on.  His character is not a likable one, but he is sympathetic.  You don’t want to cheer for him, but you don’t want to see him fail either.  This is a testament, obviously to the film’s direction, but also to Nicholson’s performance.

This film really is quite the achievement.  Every aspect of it is executed with expert precision, and most importantly, it is entertaining.


#21 Chinatown

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”                                                                                                                                                                   Walsh

Roman Polanski’s noir mystery thriller, Chinatown, outreaches its grasp. Polanski is a visionary, visually at least, but the story, as well as its progression, just come up short.

When private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by a woman to catch her husband in the act of adultery, he thinks it will be just another routine case. However, when Jake finds out that the woman who hired him is an imposter, and that the man he was hired to photograph is dead, he finds himself involved in a murder case that involves incest, and corruption.

While on this murder case Jake discovers something shocking about the city’s water supply. It seems that the water supply for the city is being withheld, and outsourced. This stands to make some very dangerous men, very rich. Jake unfortunately stumbles upon this plan and is, in turn, pursued by these men.

Along the way he picks up the woman who he had originally thought had hired him, the recently widowed Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), and a pseudo romance ensues.

Polanski achieved exactly what he attempted to with this film, and from that perspective I guess it is a success. But successfully achieving a goal is not a particularly great accomplishment by itself.

The film tells its story eloquently enough, but the story it is telling is not really all that important. Nothing about this film left an impacting imprint on me, and if it were simply a dose of escapism that would be fine, but that was not what this film was. It was never able to fully engage me as a viewer, and I was never able to care about any of the characters (even one that was that was a victim of incest).

I don’t know what to say. Whenever I write anything bad about any film on this list I get negative feedback. The truth of the matter is that every film on this list is a good film. There are 1,500 artists, film industry execs, and critics that are willing to back that up. Fortunately this is my blog, and my opinion is the only one that really matters. This is a critique of opinion, not artistic merit, and Chinatown receives a negative critique.