Well, it has been a little over two years, but I have made it to 200 posts.
Now, normally this is considered a huge milestone for anyone to cross. I am not quite sure how to feel about it. I know that I have barely made a pin prick into many of the top bloggers. My traffic is not exactly something to discuss….I joke that this blog is “loved by dozens” and I think I am giving myself too much credit.
But still, I have stuck with it. It is guess that means it is time to indulge myself. Plus many people have asked me what I consider to be a “good movie” due to my irregular complaints of Hollywood and my irregular praise of indie films and classic films. The truth is, each film should be judged according to its own merits. No one genre is truly better than any other. What matters is how each film is approached. Some films are created only to make money for the studios. There is nothing inherently wrong with this – it plays, it makes money, it is forgotten. The problem is when people over exaggerate (or not praise) a film’s qualities. They claim that a blockbuster is some life changing experience and find an actual good film to be boring. Would the average audience be able to sit through Tokyo Story? No, but the praise the mundane Lost in Translation.
What people should focus on are the films that reflect on their own lives the most. Any pick of “personal favorite” will be inherently autobiographical. That is what I am trying to do. I do not claim for a second that these films are necessarily the greatest or the most vital for films. I do not wish to inflate their reputation. When I say “favorite” I merely wish to say that these films are what inspired me to do what I do. They helped me realize the power that certain films have over people – hopefully power each person can discover a certain film that holds the same status for themselves.
Hmm…maybe I am going to exaggerate a little bit.
This post will only cover my list from #20 to #11. The top ten are in a separate post, which I hope to complete later this week.
Here they are, in descending order
20) Robocop (dir Paul Verhoeven 1987) – There, now no one can accuse me of not knowing how to have fun. This is simply one of the most fun movies ever created – to the point where the joke was ultimately on the audiences as much as the characters. The film is, on its surface, a comic book style action movie about a man seeking to avenge his own death. Dig deeper and you will find a very carefully crafted satire against Reagan’s America and attacks against the audiences themselves. How many films had the audiences watched featuring indestructible representations of the male body and how many times had they forgotten about the fantasy involved? Robocop was funny for showing exactly what a John Rambo had to be like in order truly exist – and how anything resembling a human would have to reject it to stay human. This film ultimately showed me what a good Hollywood film could do – entertain on the surface but ultimately challenge the audience.
19) Modern Times (dir Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
OK, back to the art films.
Actually, I wonder if you can call Charlie Chaplin an arty filmmaker. Like Shakespeare before him, he was writing for a mass audience. Only later, after professors got a hold of him, did Chaplin gain the status he enjoys today; required viewing for buffs but torture for modern audiences.
This is a shame; Chaplin deserves much more respect. Modern Times proves it. Chaplin showed he was still the master of the physical comedy he had started his career with, but also wanted to show the world what was slowly happening to millions of people. I believe it was Norman Mailer who sad that an artist’s job is to (and I am paraphrasing) “show the world where the clock has stopped.” Chaplin did that, but surprisingly we are right back at it again. I wonder how the film would play today to people who have lost their jobs in the past two years. It will likely still appeal to everyone; Chaplin, despite his extreme leftist leanings, plays no favorites here. Unions are no more than answer than the factory bosses. So what is the solution? According to the oft covered song he wrote for the film: “Smile, you’ll get by.”
Words to live by.
18) Blue Velvet (dir David Lynch, 1986)
This is, truly, where David Lynch’s incredible film career began.
He made three major films before this. One was a short film that somehow extended itself to a run time of two hours, one was a critically acclaimed but actually poorly made biopic, and the other was Dune with a half-naked Sting. Then, Lynch figured out what he wanted to say; our world and our ability to interact with each other is merely a facade. With one, single step, we can all turn into sadistic monsters.
Not quite an original idea (Locke and Hobbes spouted off that idea centuries ago) but Lynch finds a way to make it seem like a fresh insight. Maybe it’s because Frank Booth is unapologetically sadistic; most people are too afraid to let their villains be evil, afraid that their audiences will be repulsed. Lynch through that notion out the window and, as a result, created a far more memorable film. It also makes the character of Frank more interesting. We know he is evil, but we also know that he is human. Something had to make him this way.
No one considers the alternative; it is something that makes us behave in any respectable manner. Frank is just all of us, many our delusions. No wonder certain people were repulsed by it. But then, doesn’t that only make the film better? Even if people dislike it, they are forced to examine themselves in understanding why.
17) 24 Hour Party People (dir Michael Winterbottom, 2002)
Yes, I know that I did not include this in my “best of the decade list” because I recognize the film is not perfect. Yet it is still a perfect fit for my favorites list, simply because of the infectious energy it possesses and its salute to the greatest record label in history.
I am not sure if too many people in the U.S. are familiar with Factory Records. It was a record label started in Manchester to capitalize on the emerging punk and new wave scenes. Some of the bands (Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays, Durutti Column) became big hit makers, but ultimately the label was destroyed by Tony Wilson’s ambition and his impractical business sense. Thus, the film is more about hubris than about the typical self-destruction of rock. Tony Wilson is not lamenting on his mistakes in the film; he is celebrating his accomplishments and knows, even if he made mistakes, that he will be remembered. Such an attitude is something that any artist needs to remember. It will be impossible to always succeed; sometimes you need to fail in order to learn. The film is stylized and glamorous, but never feels like the words of a braggart. If anything, Tony Wilson comes across as quite humble, admitting his faults while still celebrating his accomplishments. The ending, in which Wilson has an opportunity to talk to God, is perfect.
I should also say this has the greatest soundtrack in history.
16) Gimme Shelter (dir Maysles Bros and Charlotte Zewrin, 1970)
Many people still exaggerate the 1960s. I am glad that documentaries like this exist to remind us all of the reality of that turbulent decade. The fact of the matter is, as Baby Boomers age, they try to explain their youthful escapades with fondness – even though those escapades often came to blows and cost lives. Many will say that the Hell’s Angels overreacted in this film. That is not the case – the young man they killed was pointing a gun at the stage. You can see it in the film. The Hell’s Angels may have stopped someone’s death – but that does not mean they can justify their actions. What should have been another celebration of the hippie lifestyle turned into a disaster – one that people have tried to hide. It is quite depressing when the rock bands are the voice of reason.
The feel and tone of the film is excellent, with several shots of the audience and rock bands on the same plane. The camera never tilts up at the bands and down at the audience; everyone is supposedly in it together. Not even Mick Jagger is immune. His first line of the film “everyone is ready, are you ready?” is answered succinctly during the run time. People may have been at one point; they all simply forgot what they were ready for.
15) The Third Man (dir Carol Reed, 1946)
After World War II, the world was in shambles, trying to catch its breath. Many historians do not even mention this fragile time, except as a backdrop to the emerging Cold War. But it is not something that can be overlooked. The Third Man shows us why.
There are many documentaries and educational programs, I am sure, that go in greater detail about the reconstruction of Europe. But they are missing the point. The Third Man FEELS the more accurate than any documentary possibly could. The characters are all confused and despondent, trying their best to forget. In some cases, people used these fragile nations to make a quick buck (I do not care to speculate how many Harry Limes actually existed) but most people were eager to ignore it until Stalin became involved.
Is that what the film is about? The increasing Soviet influence on Europe, with Harry Lime acting as Stalin, poisoning the population for his own gain? I think that is a valid interpretation. Lime starts the film as a mysterious influence. The characters (and audiences) think he is dead, and Holly Martins is seeking to find his murderer. It should go without saying that he finds Lime and uncovers his plan. What also happens is that he believes Lime’s reasoning. No violence, no forcefulness – Lime merely explains himself and Hollis seeks to believe it. These are some of the best moments ever put to celluloid and show how quickly humanity can be corrupted. The film is also a marvelously paced noir, but it is those scenes that make it special.
14) Akira (dir Katshurio Otomo, 1988)
Many who know me personally know about my dislike of Disney. I am not going to deny that they have made some good films in the past. But they have also stagnated American animation to the point where it is viewed as nothing more than a children’s medium, something that cannot ever be used to tell a complex story.
Thankfully, that mentality is slowly coming to an end. And it took Akira for us to get there.
Akira is not the most complex story animation has ever told. It is violent, gory, and quite over the top. In other words, it is the exact opposite of the usual Disney fair. Of course, that is not the only reason to praise Akira. It is also a smart science fiction film and one of the most literal representations of adolescent angst I have seen. Alex DeLarge and his droogs have nothing on Kaneda and Tetsuo’s motorcycle gang. Tetsuo’s transformation is what every single teen undergoes ever day. They frequently imagine revenge scenarios and gaining the ability to, not only be noticed, but to be what defines the purpose of the universe. Akira does what all animation should do – express visually what cannot be expressed in any other way.
13) Alien (dir Ridley Scott, 1979)
This is, probably, the last great horror film ever made.
Most people assume that it is some sort of science fiction spectacle when they see it, mostly because the sequel has become more popular. Yet this is not true. The film utilizes the sort of horror spectacle that used to be everywhere. The set up is simple – like an old ghost story, the crew of the Nostromo opens up an ancient evil that slowly terrorizes and destroys them. They should have just left it alone – that would have been the sensible thing to do. But no, they are motivated by greed (several of the characters want a cut of the profit of whatever is found on the alien ship) and sheer curiosity. Today, most horror films utilize gore (to their credit, some of these films actually are effective) and the sort of psychological drive that they have borrowed from Japanese films (which is neither scary nor Japanese in origin). What Alien does is make you scared of the things that go bump in the night. The film has surprisingly little gore (with the exception of the celebrated chestburster scene) and little onscreen violence. The most frightening parts are the moments where what happens is slowly built up. The creature is not even fully revealed until the final scene. Before that moment, we see a few glimpses of it – and our imaginations run wild. After Alien horror filmmakers decided that everything needed to be shown and that suspense was an unnecessary luxury.
Look at me, waxing nostalgic. But it’s true – there will never be another film like Alien again – one that terrifies us so utterly, so fully, that we have decided to stay on our planet.
12) The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (dir Sergio Leone, 1966)
When I was younger, I did not much care for westerns. Then I saw this film. How is that for an endorsement?
The film redefines what an epic can and should be. It spares no expense in recreating the Civil War era, but it is not merely about the spectacle. No it is ultimately about man and his ability to understand turbulent times in his wife. Each man really does want wealth from this scenario – even those who labeled morally superior (Blondie, in this case) are no more immune to the temptations the world has created for him. The film is actually full of religious allegory (does the title not sound like the trinity?) that many will miss. Also,the shoot out at the end manages to be among the most suspenseful ever created – and only one bullet is fired. It is possible to write an entire dissertation breaking down each scene – they are all so full of information that multiple viewings are not recommended – they are vital.
So that is The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. A film that not only introduces the potential for an underwhelming genre, but also shows audiences how quickly they can change from good to ugly.
11) Monty Python’s Life of Brian (dir Terry Jones, 1979)
I knew I had to include Monty Python whenever I started this list. And this is their best film; it made the choice rather obvious.
Monty Python has always been about surrealist humor trying to invade the local population. This was the ultimate version of such a mentality ( I mean ultimate in the literal sense – I cannot think of a film that has even tried to do what Life of Brian did) that so wishes to destroy every single thing organized religion holds dear. However, this is not a condemnation of the philosophy itself. As Terry Jones succinctly put it “there is nothing funny about what Jesus said. What IS funny is how we have had millenia of war because people cannot quite decide how he said it.” I could not agree more. There is nothing wrong with religion – until human perception becomes involved. Monty Python, which has pushed human perception to the absolute limit, decided that maybe it was prudent to show people what happened if they did not challenge themselves. At first, people resisted. But, as time has gone on, the film has been more accepted. Of course, in the U.S., Holy Grail is still more popular. Maybe it just needs more time.
And that is part one of my all time favorite films. Part Two will be posted shortly.