Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Movies- My Top 10

I figure the best way to start is to give everyone advance warning of my eccentric tastes. Best way to let you know where I'm comin' from. So, here goes with my Top 10 favorite movies- not the 10 best, in my opinion, just the ones that appeal to me the most. (The division's tricky- I don't think quality is entirely objective, but it's not totally subjective either, and quality mingles with taste in ways that get us into philosophy and that's a whole new essay subject.) So, this is what pushes my buttons, in no particular order.

1. Dawn of the Dead (1978, Written and Directed by George A. Romero.) Okay, despite the "no order" thing, this one may be at the top. The greatest horror movie of all time, one that pushed the boundaries of the genre- it's scary, in places, but it's also funny, exciting, sad, and dramatic, a real epic. It works as a commentary on the false security of consumer society, but doesn't let its characters become ciphers. It's slickly and beautifully put together, with editing like a comic book, and the middle-American mall setting lends the whole thing a sense of realism that helps counter the fact that the zombies are mostly just guys with blue-grey facepaint.

2. Brazil (1985, Written by Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown and Tom Stoppard, Directed by Terry Gilliam.) A classic of whatever genre it falls into- I'm going to say "science fiction", in that it follows the form of the dark future story, but it's not so much the future as it is an alternate present (for 1985 at least.) This one gets better the more crap that life puts you through- it magnifies all the frustration, awkwardness and embarrassments that people go through in a blazingly cathartic way. Also gorgeous to look at in a perverse way, and filled with increasingly quotable dialogue.

3. Videodrome (1983, Written and Directed by David Cronenberg.) Freaky as Hell, and I'm one of those people for whom this is generally a good thing. Brings up the issue of television/video (notably violent and sexual material) and its effect on reality, but in a way that dodges the usual ideological baggage and instead looks at just how mutable reality is. What its actual position on any of this is depends quite a bit on how much of the experience the protagonist is hallucinating; it's basically a drug narrative with television as the drug. Great performances, a memorable score and some genuinely unforgettable imagery.

4. Ed Wood (1994, Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski, Directed by Tim Burton.) The story of Edward D. Wood, Jr. has always held some resonance with me- he's the guy who went after his dream and ultimately failed, and I think any hopeful artist in any media has to wonder "could that be me?" This is a decidedly empathetic take on the much-derided legend, arguing that even if Wood was utterly talentless, his vision was worth fighting for. Filmed in an odd style that manages to evoke both Wood's films and CITIZEN KANE, the movie is extremely touching in its celebration of moviemaking and the creative spirit.

5. The Dark Crystal (1982, Written by Jim Henson and David Odell, Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz.) One of the most influential movies of my childhood, a classic "hero's journey" story set in an utterly original fantasy world. Visually astonishing, with a unique atmosphere (you'll find atmosphere is important to me in reviews to come.) I'm convinced this film is what hooked me on science fiction and fantasy.

6. The Neverending Story (1983, Written by Wolfgang Petersen and Herman Wiegel, Directed by Wolfgang Petersen.) Then again, maybe it was this one. I'll concede to the purists that this adaptation of Michael Ende's novel quite literally ignores the last half of said book, but it's a fantastic film in its own right, a nice plea for the value of fantasy and imagination couched in a surprisingly dark and intense story. Tami Stronach's performance as the Childlike Empress never fails to move me to tears.

7. Citizen Kane (1941, Written by Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, Directed by Orson Welles.) Yeah, I kinda had to. I honestly do think this is at least the best movie I've ever seen, and it's definitely a movie lover's movie. Welles was clearly enjoying playing with all the tricks of the medium, tinkering with space and time and doing whatever worked in order to tell the story. And despite this, the story is strong and complex, with only one significant plot hole (which isn't so significant that it can't be waved off.) To top it off, it changes tempo and mood just often enough that there's a little something for everyone, but overall comes across as a wonderfully sad, majestic elegy for a great tragic hero. You go see this now.

8. The Avengers (1998, Written by Don Macpherson, Directed by Jeremiah Chechik.) Officially the only time this and the above film will appear sequentially on the same list. Remember the "eccentric taste" thing? Yeah. I don't consider this a great movie, but it has a whimsical, phantasmagoric feel unlike any action/spy film I've ever seen, and though Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman lack the chemistry of Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, they're appealing in their own more understated way. The movie captures what to me was the main appeal of the TV series, the intense strangeness and the feel that anything could happen at any time. It's an authentic and at times quite imaginative fantasy. I've become particularly enamored of it simply because just about everyone else seems to hate it passionately- it could use a little more love.

9. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989, Written by Shinichiro Kobayashi and Kazuki Omori, Directed by Kazuki Omori.) I'm a big fan of the Godzilla series as a whole, and I'm singling out this one as the official list representative. This was the first entry I saw from the 80s-90s "Heisei Series", which went mostly unreleased in America for a long time, and the more "modern" look and feel of it hugely impressed me. (They're still using guys in monster suits, of course, but they're good suits.) Slower than some entries, but it looks great and has a real Hollywood-epic approach, plus a moving subplot about a mad scientist's attempt to preserve what he believes is the spirit of his long-dead daughter.

10. Dune (1984, Written and Directed by David Lynch.) My pick for the most underrated film of all time- a powerful and majestic adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic novel, and almost as impressive a work of sci-fi visual art as Kubrick's 2001. Lynch's distinct style is more muted here than it is in, say, BLUE VELVET, but it's definitely there and it makes what could have been a conventional epic unexpectedly moving and hypnotic. Kenneth McMillan's eccentric portrayal of the Baron Harkonnen is one of the best villain turns I've ever seen in the movies.

And there you have it. These obviously aren't the only movies I love or like or am passionate about, and I'll get in-depth on some of these later on. But now we're off and running.

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