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The Film Fan Perspective’s 20 Favorites

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The Film Fan Perspective’s 20 Favorite Films

In “celebration” of the fact that my blog still exists after two years, I’d like to share with the readers the movies that are closest to my heart and mind.  You may already be aware of them, but the idea was to guess as many as possible.

So, without further ado, here are my twenty favorite films, in countdown order:

 

20. High Fidelity-  “What came first, the music or the misery?”  Exactly.  With all of his odd takes on society and politics lately, it might be hard to remember when John Cusack was the stand in for all of us neurotic, fast-talking, hopeless romantic white guys.  The film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity is the high point of Cusack’s career.  The actor’s inherent neuroses fit the character of Rob Gordon, as we both loathe and love him for being so talented yet so indecisive.  His desperate need to not grow up and his need to cling to the ‘fantasy’ speaks to all the males that just haven’t figured it out yet.  Oh, and Jack Black is an absolute force of nature here as a record store employee that just keeps showing up.  Let’s not forget the graceful and gorgeous Iben Hjejle, and the outstanding soundtrack.  It gave me a new angle on music, which led to what my current tastes are.  It’s amazing how I loved the movie at first for being so crisp and funny, but now I love it for understanding it.  Every guy should meet a Charlie, but end up with a Laura.

19. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan- Those unfamiliar with ‘Star Trek’ lore may not understand the carnal hatred that exists between Captain James T. Kirk and the nefarious Khan, but it matters not for this sci-fi classic.  It works on so many levels, from the hell-bent rage of Khan to the overarching themes of birth, re-birth, and death that you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy this, the best of the ‘Trek’ films.

18. The Lion King-  As I navigated my pre-teen and early teen years, I wrote off Disney.  In my eyes, everything was princesses accompanied by radio-friendly adult contemporary tunes.  Then I took a chance and saw The Lion King while I was chasing after a girl (surprise!).  It was transformative, for not only would I never see Disney with a jaded eye again, I kept looking for that next Lion King, that next masterpiece.  It’s both a darker and more beautiful film than Disney had ever attempted, and every single scene is near brilliance.  That soundtrack- not just the well-crafted Elton John pieces, but the Hans Zimmer score as well, just brilliant.  It’s just the best thing that Disney has done before, and may ever do, save for Finding Nemo.

17. Alien- It may not be the original “original” sci-fi horror movie, but nonetheless it’s the modern standard for the genre, and the benchmark of female heroine characters.  Ridley Scott and crew created a claustrophobic, organic/metallic spaceship, and brilliantly made the choice to hire gothic artist H.R. Giger to design the xenomorph and its’ interiors.  Many have imitated, nothing has duplicated, even in its’ own saga.

16. Once- It would be impossible to limit my love of this film to a cell on a spreadsheet.  Once is full of wonderful singer/songwriter music, unspoken passions, unspoken loves, missed opportunities, and incredible “moments in time” that seem to last forever, but are limited to 2 hours.  The final scene is both touching and heartbreaking in a way that no other film has given me, and the soundtrack is pure, original magic.

15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail- Monty Python’s magnum opus of farce is still the funniest film I’ve ever seen.  From catapulted livestock to enchanters named “Tim”, how can one not find this supremely hilarious?  Admittedly, humor can be a tricky subject, and some may not find this brand of English witticism to their liking.  Me?  I think it’s the best comedy ever made.

14. Finding Nemo-  Pixar’s best film, in this guy’s opinion, is director Andrew Stanton’s masterpiece.  Funny, for sure, but sublimely touching, Nemo is also the most beautiful animated film I’ve seen.  Maybe it’s the color of the fish, the interesting way water works with animation, maybe the brilliant Thomas Newman score, I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s that I feel exactly like Marlin in the way I see my own son.  Wow, I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking of this movie.

13. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial- This film has meant different things to me at different points in my life.  At age 3, it was complete wonderment at the sight of aliens, rousing music, and funny moments.  As a teen, I was ambivalent and couldn’t find a copy to watch.  As an adult, I was bummed about the special edition changes, but rejoiced when the original edition became available, and enjoyed it with my child.  It’s a nostalgic, touching film about how children’s innocence occasionally triumphs over adult paranoia.

12. The Dark Knight- There is no doubt that this is the penultimate superhero film.  It’s hard to even consider this a superhero film- it’s more of a crime thriller with a moral center.  With perhaps the most bravura performance in recent memory, Heath Ledger cemented the Joker as one of entertainment’s best villains, and the chaotic nature of the film’s events make this just as much of an experience as a movie.

11. Shakespeare In Love- Despite the clamor to strip this film of its’ Best Picture Oscar, it really is an amazing film, stooped in romance, whimsy, and as Gwyneth Paltrow’s character calls it, a ‘stolen summer’.  It may not be an accurate account of Shakespeare’s life, but who cares.  It’s the most enjoyable romantic drama I’ve ever seen, topping even the material that it apparently inspired, “Romeo & Juliet”.

10. Contact- No film to this date has better encapsulated the hope, spirit, and arrogance of the human race as it relates to space travel and the universe than this film.  Based on Carl Sagan’s novel about first contact, Foster plays my favorite role of hers as Ellie Arroway, a stubborn yet determined astrophysicist.  I watch it every July 11th to celebrate the film’s release.

9. Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope- Although not my favorite, it’s the best film of the saga, and one could argue that modern cinema exists in the fashion that it does because of this film.  It’s constructed so well, and so delightful in every way that we forget George Lucas created it.  It may just be the most popular film of all-time as well.  There’s nothing I could say that would be revelatory.  Everyone already knows Star Wars.

8. Poltergeist- To me, this is the penultimate ‘scary’ movie.  Steven Spielberg’s brilliant mind is all over this project, even if he isn’t credited as director.  The touches of nostalgia, the subtle commentary on suburbia, post-Vietnam paranoia, and Reaganomics, and the graceful way Beatrice Straight explains the possibilities of an afterlife are the hallmarks of this classic.  I watch it every year in October now, and it seems to get better every time.

7. Field of Dreams- Don’t mistake this as being simply a ‘sports’ or ‘baseball’ movie.  While it certainly is both of those, it’s more of a father and son movie, and learning to accept and love who your parents are after you learn they’re real people, and not superheroes.  The fact that the film’s main set piece is still available to visit and play on certainly helps to play up the aura of the film.

6. Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi- Not the best of the saga, but always my favorite.  The nostalgia oozing out of this film always brings out the best in cinema for me, despite its’ obvious flaws.  This film may be the most important to me on this list, simply for the awe factor involved with this being the first real blockbuster saga I experienced.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey- THE quintessential science-fiction film for me.  It holds more sway when taking in the entire story, including the subsequent sequel film and novels.  Groundbreaking for its’ time, but perhaps no longer as relevant due to the lack of wide interest in the space program, it is interestingly the most spiritual story I know.

4. Aliens- Not only does this deliver on thrills and science fiction goodness, but Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is perhaps most enjoyable female role I’ve ever watched.  This is a classic as a sci-fi film, a special effects showcase, a well-honed script, and a blockbuster.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark- A throwback film to a time when movie serials existed, Spielberg’s adventure masterpiece deftly weaves heroism with archaeology, and manages to make history exciting.  Harrison Ford has never really been better, and Karen Allen’s spitfire of a sidekick/love interest is still one of my favorites.

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King- No other film that I’ve watched has combined so many varying emotions into one and pulled it off with flying colors.  It’s an astonishing accomplishment that pushes all of my emotional and technical “film buttons”.  Hard to defend as one of my ultimate favorites, and I just recently unseated it- but I still love it, and the whole series.

1. Cloud Atlas- It took me over eleven years to find a new favorite film, and dare I say that I didn’t even realize it until recently.  From the film’s extra-long final trailer to the end of my first viewing, I was moved to tears by this sci-fi fable.  The tag line of ‘everything is connected’ is far too simple a phrase to explain the emotional impact this had on me.  Sometimes, we ‘put’ things onto a film based on what we want to get from it.  Sometimes, the film not only fulfills what we want, but seems to explain that the filmmakers believe it too.  The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer took a beautiful premise and gave it the respect it deserved, resulting in an honest experience that doesn’t pull punches.  It is a brave film, occasionally gory and violent, moving to abstract and odd, then tender and graceful.  This story blends everything I love about film, and the potential it has to take the fantastic to a higher level of entertainment.  It may be pretentious, but maybe I’m pretentious.  Or maybe I just fill in the gaps well.  Whatever the case is, this is my favorite film.

*honorable mention: Groundhog Day, Casablanca, Seven, L.A. Confidential, Garden State, Ghostbusters, Batman (1989), Pulp Fiction, Fargo.

 

 

Film Review- ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (***1/2)

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"These online RPG things are getting a little equipment-heavy, don't you think?"
“These online RPG things are getting a little equipment-heavy, don’t you think?”

 

“Edge of Tomorrow”  ***1/2 (out of 5)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, & John-Henry Butterworth (screenplay), based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Directed by: Doug Liman

 

 **POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD**

Gamers around the world, rejoice.  The gaming culture has so permeated pop culture that a summer tent pole is calling itself a ‘science fiction’ film to mask what it actually is- a video game masquerading as a movie.  Never before have I seen anything that so closely parallels the video game experience like “Edge of Tomorrow”.  Even the poster, with the appropriate tagline of “Live. Die. Repeat” perfectly encapsulates the maddeningly disposable experience and challenge of completing a video game.  Does that mean the film is maddeningly disposable and challenging ?  Not necessarily- this is a very self-aware, fun film, with major action set pieces that have been wonderfully constructed.  Just don’t fool yourself into thinking this film is in any way a science fiction milestone, or a bastion of ‘new’ material.  It is what it is, and by that measure, accomplishes everything it sets out to be.

Tom Cruise stars as Major Tom Cruise (not a typo), a man with a pretend title for the United Defense Force (or something futuristic), as he has no interest in being a part of the ‘battle’ he is promoting.  His character is the familiar used car salesman behind the scenes of war, convincing the wealthy to write checks or buy war bonds, but never holding a rifle.  In a twist of fate, the general of the United Defense Force, Hamish from “Braveheart” (Brendan Gleeson), wants him to actually be a part of the battle against a race of nasty fluorescent alien octopi.  After all, he needs every able-bodied person he can find.  His strategy is like many military leaders before him- with great quantity comes great victory.  We know better as a trained film audience- the front lines are the sacrificial lambs, for which Tom Cruise is designated.

We also know as an audience that you can’t send Tom Cruise to the front lines, but General Hamish has not seen his movies.  Therefore, he sends Tom Cruise into battle, under the charge of Master Sergeant Bill Paxton and a rag-tag bunch of misfits.  He’s cursed at, made fun of, all of the things you wouldn’t expect to happen to Tom Cruise.  He is completely unfit for battle, but they throw him out there anyway, and he’s promptly annihilated by the enemy (more on them later).  The twist?  Despite his apparent death, he wakes up in the same spot, handcuffed and brought to attention by Master Sergeant Bill Paxton.

Have we seen this film before?  Certainly- it’s basically the same trick used by “Groundhog Day”, and it’s wonderful.  “Edge of Tomorrow” replaces Puxatawney, PA with the sandy beaches of France, and the sounds of Sonny & Cher with the barking of a drill sergeant.  Understand that this is not on purpose- this isn’t literally a re-envisioning of the Bill Murray classic, it just plays similarly.  I understood the idea of making Bill Murray’s character replay the same day over and over, but here, I’m confused.  The alien enemy (straight out of a ‘Metroid’ game), has ‘fused’ with Tom Cruise’s mind as a result of their “goo” mixing with his “goo”, causing him to repeat back to the same moment in front of the drill sergeant.

Why that particular moment?  We’re supposed to accept this without explanation or reason, but I’m neither sold on the logic, nor do I appreciate the lack of science behind the logic.  If they’re able to repeat a certain period of time, how much?  What are their limits?  Why do they have limits?  Why not just repeat the entire war?  These are questions a science fiction film would explore to create a further understanding, but this is not a science fiction film.

Again, that’s ok- for as I stated earlier, “Edge of Tomorrow” is simply a great deal of fun.  Tom Cruise even allows his Tom Cruise character to be out-Tom Cruise’d by Emily Blunt, who stars opposite him as ‘war hero’ Rita Vrataski.  Yes, Emily Blunt is an action figure here, conveniently sharing the same name as Andie MacDowell’s character in “Groundhog Day”.  She’s also in the same boat as Tom Cruise, having experienced something similar to his ‘repeat’ ability once before, and thus was able to turn the tide of a different battle.  Now she’s the symbol for victory, and Tom Cruise must convince her of what he’s experiencing every day so they might together find a loophole and defeat the alien octopus queen lotus (that’s the best way I can describe the ‘boss level’ creature).

Blunt, while hard to buy as a ‘leader’ in the traditional sense, certainly adds a level of sophistication to the role, which is basically written as a live action Lara Croft-type (I don’t know my video games as well as some of you, so fill in the blank, please).  As you can imagine, Tom Cruise begins to fancy Rita Vrataski as time passes, and makes decisions based on keeping her from harm.  It’s a sweet, if unnecessary sidebar to the film’s kinetic sensibility.

The hook for me in overcoming the story’s laissez-faire science is watching Tom Cruise deconstructed to the point where he becomes….US.  In a literal sense, he needs to die, over and over again, to memorize a battle, specific movements, and improve to perfection as a soldier the exact way we as gamers would play as his character.  Remember the lost days learning the ins and outs of up/up/down/down/left/right/left/right/b/a/start- and envision a film where Tom Cruise does this in a literal sense.  Tom Cruise becomes a walking, talking strategy guide.  Someone smarter than I (not difficult to do) should reference something philosophical and ‘meta’ in regards to this film.  It’s brilliant in that sense perhaps without intending to be.

Tom Cruise continues to make interesting, if not bold film choices.  From 2011’s vibrant franchise reinvention with “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” to the immensely enjoyable “Jack Reacher” and now with “Edge of Tomorrow”, he deserves credit for not allowing a specific perception of him to define his career.  Tom Cruise played Tom Cruise in video game.  Fantastic.  What’s next, a period romance?  I wouldn’t be surprised, nor would I anticipate failure.