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.
Chappie ***1/2 (out of 5)
Starring: Sharlto Copley (voice), Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, and Sigourney Weaver
Written by: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
The furor and my personal excitement surrounding the announcement of another Alien film may have had me biased towards director Neill Blomkamp’s latest film Chappie. I admit that I fawn over his gritty, real-time visual style, and his big ideas. I also don’t shy away from his too-obvious social commentary, either. That being said, I was still prepared for an incomplete experience- after all, he had four years to bring us his District 9 follow-up in Elysium, and that offered little in the way of enjoyment, other than the idea. Chappie, is a slightly more developed film, on both the ideas and execution front. Even Hans Zimmer’s Blade Runner-esque score works. Sure, it is something of a mess at times, has some unnecessary gore and two characters that cinema and the world can do without; but I liked the mess, especially as it plays as an earnest mess.
Chappie (the robot) is an incredibly likable character, and never ventures into silly “Johnny 5” territory. His naiveté, eagerness to please, and hyperactive behavior embody an endearing and fascinating look at what a manufactured intelligence might actually do, how quickly it would develop, and what lengths it would go to understand itself and humanity. Chappie is almost literally thrown into the fire with humanity, and in the process gets a crash course in understanding us. That the robot can even function with the chaos surrounding it is remarkable, and Blomkamp frames his experience well. Also boosting the character is Chappie’s design- his chassis is conducive to allowing for fluidity with the CGI, as well. Not once did I doubt that Chappie was a tangible, real being. Even the designs of the computer programs used to upload firmware, etc, are believable and grounded, unlike most tech films. The science and the science-fiction behind the A.I. ideas in Chappie are is better than anything films like Transcendence, and dare I say even Terminator 2, have to offer, which I suppose is more a commentary on how poor Transcendence is than the quality of Chappie. The film gives us (maybe a bit too obviously) clear examples of how humans can be so inventive and yet so destructive. I’ve come to the conclusion that Blomkamp may actually prefer robots and aliens to humans, or simply enjoys using them as a tool for self-reflection. In his dealings with supposed lesser beings, we see how his filmmaking is possibly a reflection of his own upbringing, and his way of covering social injustices or opinions. Is it overdone and a bit ham-handed? Possibly. If you’re looking for that, you’ll find it.
Sharlto Copley (Elysium, District 9) is Chappie. The best of him as an actor comes through as he only voices the role, and the worst of him is left out. Hugh Jackman is actually pretty great as a frustrated, foolish, lonely man with a mullet. He’s the embodiment of every middle-aged conservative that believes their patriotism should automatically result in fortune and glory, or that the sword is always mightier than the pen. You know the type. Dev Patel brings a believability to the role, even if he’s not all that charismatic. On the other hand, Die Antwoord (Ninja and Visser), for all the odd, shrieking rapping talents they may have, took far too much of the spotlight. We get it, Neill, you like their music, but they needed to tone it down- or go away. I vote for going away. Are they an embodiment of post-Apartheid South Africa, and that’s why Blomkamp chose them? Are they perfect match for him? He may have started down the road of possibly casting them, then figured it worked for whatever image of urban Johannesburg he wanted. Weaver, as she has been for some time, is lost here, constantly moving her head oddly about, but never grinding her teeth. It pains me to say that I long for the scenery chewing of Ellen Ripley, or even the demanding of respect as the first lady in Dave. Now we get the random and ill-conceived Avatar role, or lacking the leadership she should exude here.
It’s no mistake the film invokes the term ‘black sheep’; this film knows it is different, or an “acquired taste” if you will. Look beyond that to find the heart of it, and may just see it. As I see it, Chappie is simply the red-headed stepchild of Blade Runner. Obviously, I liked Chappie, and the glimpses of creativity we see from Blomkamp are such a wonderful breath of fresh air. I’m just a blogger, though. Most professional critics have lined up to swat at this film like a proverbial pinata. They want to hate this film, and from what I’ve read, many of them have. Many have resorted to lazy puns in describing the film, such as “Chappie is a scrap heap of regrettable storytelling”*, or in multiple places ‘crappy Chappie‘. Sigh. In one breath, they’ll praise the aforementioned Blade Runner because it’s artsy, and in the next breath they’ll decry this, the more direct film. I saw through the noise, and understood Blomkamp’s intention. Am I giving him the benefit of the doubt because I want him to be good? Sure, but as my review for Elysium stated, I have no issue blasting him, either. I liked Chappie in spite of what I’d like to change about it.
The sum of Chappie opinions show a clear critic/audience divide, and I think it warrants further examination. Chappie is the best “fan film” you’ll ever see- made by a geek with an excellent eye and a nice budget. I’m a geek, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I gathered that Blomkamp isn’t a master filmmaker, but there are certain parts of this film that spoke to the unrealized, undeveloped, yet creative young geek in me. Critics, on the other hand, lack the wherewithal to see this, and they refuse to respect geek material and/or culture. It’s why superhero films and comics are sometimes loved, but usually loathed, and have blanket opinions on the quality, or even an acceptance of their existence, thrown on them. If The Dark Knight comes along, then of course it’s a sheer miracle that it is good. It’s a superhero, or simply a geek film, not just a film. I’ll take a stand here and say that bias prevented others from enjoying the majority of Chappie– but it won’t prevent me from recommending it.
*Fanboy Nation, 3/6/15
I’ve had this blog going since June 2013, and it’s been pretty standard fare thus far- movie reviews, trailer reviews, and a bit of news discussion. What I’d like to present are more ‘feature’ stories, like this one. It seems appropriate to do something special for this blog to commemorate the Halloween season. Thus, I put a list together of my top/favorite 5 best and my 5 worst/most hated horror/monster movies, in countdown form. Keep in mind, I haven’t seen the entire library of the genre (especially foreign horror cinema), but compared to the general population, definitely more than average. My criteria? Scary doesn’t necessarily mean gory, and scariest doesn’t necessarily mean best. I simply have ranked by the least to most effective at scaring me. Enjoy, and please feel free to give me your feedback- in the form of a comment here, on Facebook, or Twitter (@FFPerspective), OR feel free to visit the “I Hate Critics” podcast website (ihatecritics.net), where this blog and other movie goodness awaits. After all, we did just complete a special podcast commemorating the holiday and scary movies in general.
The 5 Worst
5. The Hills Have Eyes (2006): Pardon my language, but this film is such a depraved piece of absolute shit that I barely made it through my one and only viewing. Call it torture porn, horror, slasher, whatever floats your boat- it still is the single most unnecessary piece of garbage I’ve ever watched. That doesn’t make it the worst, for I believe it may have done what it intended to do (make the viewer feel bad about the world), and thus it must somehow retain some level of artistic merit to someone out there. I mean, they kill off a baby, but somehow director Alexandre Aja thinks that by holding the death off-camera that he deserves credit for withholding. No, it’s just as awful. And unnecessary.
4. The Entire Friday the 13th series: The first film, in which the actual ‘slasher’ turns out to be Jason’s mother anyways, is considered a ‘classic’ by some. I don’t quite understand why, for all we get with these are cheap Halloween knockoffs- teens do stupid ‘teen’ things, and basically pass the time messing around with each other and drinking until it’s their turn to be stabbed by a lumbering guy in a hockey mask. The sequels bring more of the same, just in a different setting- including SPACE (Jason X). Apparently, Freddy vs. Jason is interesting, but I lost the capacity to care after Jason ‘took’ Manhattan.
3. Evil Dead 1&2: I don’t quite understand the passion for these films, despite my attempts to hear everyone’s opinion. Is it hype that led to my disappointment? Possibly. Is it the fact that neither of these are scary whatsoever, and bordered on being a complete waste of my time? Certainly. Director Sam Raimi gets far too much credit for these films; simply making something presentable out of a minuscule budget does not automatically indicate genius, only creativity out of desperation. Let’s not forget that “2” is basically an exact remake of the first, and that Bruce Campbell’s “Ash” character is simply a spoof. Perhaps if I’d been introduced to these as pure comedies I may have tempered by expectations; however, all I heard was how ‘awesome’ (direct quote) these films were. It’s either completely over my head or they are that bad. Now, the 2013 remake? That I enjoyed. Because it was a horror movie. That was horrific.
2. Event Horizon: I hate this film in general, but mostly for the ‘gut punch of trickery’ that forever amateur director Paul W.S. Anderson delivers about halfway through this travesty. The pseudo-science and concerned faces on the likes of Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne were acceptable enough, and the film’s space/sci-fi sheen brought about enough trust until THAT MOMENT. If you’ve seen this, you know what I’m talking about. Why a writer would take an audience to the ends of the universe, fold space, and then give up by calling the destination ‘Hell’ is beyond me. My guess? Laziness, or the lack of conviction to come up with an alternate conclusion. It’s a waste of a solid premise, and for that alone, I hate this film.
1. The Blair Witch Project: Some call this found footage pioneer a horror classic, citing the buildup of tension and the frantic last few minutes as a blueprint for the ‘scary’ movie. I focus on the constant arguments amongst three people who don’t know each other, the shakiness of the hand-held camera, the parlor-trick ‘scares’ in the woods, and the utter lack of a Blair Witch. I get it, that’s supposed to open up possibilities for what actually taunts these three people, but after putting up with the sad sacks for 75 minutes, I wanted something, anything, to pay me back in scares for the time I invested. I’m still waiting.
*Dishonorable mention to: the entire Hellraiser series, Rosemary’s Baby, The Ring (2002), The Omen (1975), The Human Centipede 1&2, Fright Night (1985), Exorcist II: The Heretic, and The Happening.
The 5 Best
5. Poltergeist/The Exorcist– It is impossible to leave The Exorcist off this list, but also impossible to bump my favorite ‘scary’ film in Poltergeist. We’ll call it a draw. As for The Exorcist, I can honestly say that nothing prepared me for this movie. I wasn’t even fully aware of what ‘demonic possession’ meant at the time. Imagine my surprise when I saw this for the first time at 19 in a friend’s dorm room. I wouldn’t call it scary, per se, but shocking for sure. From the beginning of the film, with the excavation of an apparently dark relic, to the ghastly abuse the demon inflicts on Linda Blair’s Regan character, The Exorcist is not only very effective as a horror film, it succeeds on such a grand level for being so low-key and forthright in its’ presentation, as well as the undertones of losing faith and God in general.
Poltergeist is an entirely different ballgame. It’s scary and oozes nostalgia (thanks, Spielberg). I saw it at age 5, and everything that bothered me then is in this film. Scary-looking tree in the backyard? Check. Creepy toy that you’re 100% positive will attack you? Check. Looking under the bed for monsters? Check. Lightning and thunder? Check. A sibling going missing? Check. Your child going missing? Check. A predator chasing your child? Check. House sucked into a void? Check. Disappearing into your closet? Check. Real-life tragedies surrounding the franchise? Check. You get the idea that Poltergeist touches on some of our most primal fears as both adults and children, and somehow comes off as even slightly believable. I feel that’s because Spielberg (as well as brilliant composer Jerry Goldsmith) has his name all over this classic, and he knows how to create characters and give them a full life we identify with in two short hours. It has meant different things to me at different times, evolving into one of my all-time favorites.
4. Alien– I have multiple thoughts on this movie, and it warrants a full-scale review at some point. For the purposes of this list, I’ll just say that no film before it OR after it has captured the same visceral reaction from me. In fact, this was my intro to the genre, at roughly 8 years old. My parents built this movie up so much that I had a knot in my stomach, and that feeling didn’t relent until sometime after the film ended. I literally cowered as Kane writhed about the table, and held my throbbing chest as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley tears through the Nostromo on her way to the shuttle. Ridley Scott’s first major movie is still perhaps his best- a moody, claustrophobic, organic, and quite frankly, awesome film that stands the test of time, which also gave rise to the modern female hero, spawning countless imitators, including several entries in the same franchise. This made such an impact that a simple scene that takes place in the derelict ship grew in legend, spawning an entire movie 33 years later- 2012’s Prometheus and likely its’ sequel.
3. The Mist– Despite his occasional bout with being difficult to work with (reportedly), Frank Darabont is truly a savant when it comes to bringing Stephen King’s work to screen. The Mist is no different- simple, yet terrifying. The contrast between simple, God-fearing townspeople and the nightmarish creatures they encounter is the hallmark of this story, which combines the supernatural with an all-too-realistic portrayal of a situation where humans get frightened and turn on each other. The monsters are there, sure, but more frightening is how the paranoia, spearheaded by Marcia Gay Harden’s Bible-filth spewer, spreads like a disease. The ending, lauded by some and decried by others, is simply a gut-punch to me, sucking the joy out of life. The Mist, like few other films, creates an impending sense of dread that never relents. For a film that primarily takes place in a supermarket, it seems larger in scope, a clear illustration of its’ brilliance.
2. The Descent– This small little flick didn’t register for me until I saw it on the shelf for rent. The DVD artwork sold me- a woman emerging from what appeared to be a literal blood bath as if being born. I went home, watched it unfold, and found my subconscious cowering in a dark corner along with the rest of the film’s motley crew. If you’ve ever gone spelunking, you may understand that feeling of claustrophobia. If you’ve ever had a dream, you may understand that feeling of monsters lurking in corners. If you’ve ever had a fear of heights, you may understand that light-headed feeling that overcomes you like a wave of fear. Combine all of these things, including endless chasms and cannibalism, and you have a general idea of The Descent. I love that this film doesn’t relent, and at least bothers to take itself seriously.
1. The Thing’ (1982)– John Carpenter’s Magnum Opus is the quintessential horror film for me, even if it’s a remake. A group of ‘manly men’ alone in Antarctica are systematically hunted by a being that can imitate them. So they’re isolated, in harsh conditions, and inside of a sterile, hostile environment. What could go wrong? There are innovative (for the time) effects in this film, combined with the crankiness of Kurt Russell, Keith David, and ol’ Mr. Beetus himself, Wilford Brimley. There are incredibly frightening ‘boo’ moments, especially involving petri dishes. There are gross-out moments, including a man’s detached head sprouting spindly legs and walking away. There are hard to watch moments, including the ‘moistening’ and subsequent imitation of sled dogs. The impressive, understated score of Ennio Morricone gives the entire film a sinister nature, one which the 2011 prequel couldn’t quite match, despite its’ best efforts. The ending is also brilliant in that it doesn’t give in to the audience with a tidy resolution. It’s basically hopeless, which is the general, gut-churning feeling this film gives. Carpenter might be more famous for Halloween, but his best is The Thing.
*Honorable mention to: Jaws, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Psycho (1960), The Shining, The Conjuring, Halloween (1978), Nosferatu (1922), and Scream.
So. What’s your favorite scary movie?
The Film Fan Perspective