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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.

 

 

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Film Review- ‘Under The Skin’ (****1/2)

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Ironically, Scarlett had to play an 'alien' to better represent a 'black widow'.
Ironically, Scarlett had to play an ‘alien’ to better represent a ‘black widow’.

 

“Under The Skin”  ****1/2 (out of 5)

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Jeremy McWilliams, Scott Dymond, Michael Moreland, Lynsey Taylor-Mackay, Dougie McConnell

Written by: Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer (screenplay), Michel Faber (novel)

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

**POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD**

Some films, regardless of their quality, just haunt you- not in the traditional sense, but rather in the way that it lingers in your mind.  Maybe it’s a stunning visual, a rousing piece of music, a bravura performance, or even the moment in your life that the film finds you, but something latches on and doesn’t let go.  All of those examples apply to director Jonathan Glazer’s “Under The Skin”, which defies categorization, for it lacks a traditional narrative.  It is neither a science fiction nor a horror film- in fact, one might be hard pressed to even label it as a ‘film’ that one goes to ‘see’.  Instead, it is more of an experience, or a feeling- a nearly two-hour dream sequence, equal parts nightmare and erotica, with an extra-terrestrial predator (I guess?) as the central figure.  Despite the occasional lull, “Under The Skin” is a sinister symphony of a film, wholly unique and engrossing.

The opening scene, is, well…something, for I can only provide an interpretation of what it entails.  We are taken through a portal of sorts, as if enveloped by the imagery on-screen, as we hear a human female voice sounding out words that she most certainly has never spoken before.  The camera moves out to reveal an eye, coupled with a familiar face, faded out to a familiar body.  We know this figure to be Scarlett Johansson, but oddly enough there appears to be two of her.  One is prone and immobile on the floor, while the other studies from above.  What has happened here?  The simplest explanation is that the steely figure above (the film calls her “Laura”) has ‘copied’ the stunned figure below, and will now go forward with ‘her’ purpose.

That purpose appears to be the systemic seduction of hapless young males for nefarious reasons.  The chilly, damp villages and countrysides of Scotland become the perfect setting for this monster, who uses what she has gathered of human sexuality to lure men to her.  Interestingly enough, “Laura” doesn’t just want any testosterone-crazed fool; instead, she wants those that are relatively unattached, men who won’t necessary be ‘missed’.  This story recognizes the traits of an effective predator, and together with Johansson’s brilliant portrayal as a cool hunter and a warm soul, creates “Laura” as such. She gives her would-be victims just enough to be not only convinced of her intentions, but also the confidence to feel safe in doing so.  In other words, she lets these men basically do the work for her- and the unnerving ritual begins.

“Laura” picks up these men in her white van (imagine that) and drives to a dark, seemingly abandoned location (of course), and lures them inside.  What awaits them is something I cannot completely give away- not due to a desire to maintain the film’s secrets, but rather because I cannot fully explain it.  The setting is a mind-bending, alluring, wholly alien trap- a reflective, opaque nightmare of a hot tub.  The victims, all systematically stripping down to their birthday suits, are drawn in with the idea that “Laura” will, of course, have sex with them.  These poor guys are in over their heads, literally, as they sink into a state of suspended animation (I think).  What comes after is something I’ll leave for you to experience; suffice to say, I am not easily shaken, but the fates of these victims are depicted in a way that, quite simply, unhinged the airtight doors to my psyche.  Bravo, filmmakers, you managed to break through my fear defenses.

One particular would-be victim, a gentleman with a facial disfigurement, seems to affect “Laura”, to the point where she lures him to the trap, but cannot complete the deed.  At this point, the film seems to want to play with the idea of the ‘human experience’, and shows “Laura” viewing herself in a mirror (ok, not herself, but her borrowed human skin).  From that moment, she attempts some basic human activities, and oddly enough, it appears to send her reeling.  Advanced she may be as an extra-terrestrial, but she cannot process the sensations.  What does this mean?  Does the film want to reaffirm humanity as a unique, viable species despite our shortcomings (walking into danger for sex, violence, etc)?  Perhaps her reactions are simply the filmmakers need to explore how an alien might feel.  I cannot be sure, but I like the result.

The science fiction sap in me kept wanting to ask more questions.  Why are these aliens doing this?  What is that opaque nightmare composed of?  How do these creatures solve the problem of our atmosphere?  Who is the motorcycle man who appears to direct “Laura” through some sort of empathic connection?  This film is smarter than that, and in the process shows off some science fiction skills; by alluding to, but never directly answering, the solutions to these questions, we’re left to ponder them in our minds, a surefire way to keep a film in your mind.

It is entirely possible that those of you reading this may see the film and come away with entirely different feelings than I.  Some may see this for what I do- a jarring ball of creepy.  Others may fall asleep, or come away from it desperately wanting to accost me for recommending it.  Others may walk out of the theater (I counted multiple departures in the theater I was at).  It’s that kind of film, or experience, if you will.  No matter which side of the aisle you find yourself on, one thing is for certain- it will stick with you, for better or worse.  There is enough unnerving and beautiful imagery, jolting arcs in the score with a sinister undertone, and genuinely tense moments that lead me to declare that Glazer and crew have managed to successfully and intelligently create something that can do what few films can claim- have an effect on an audience long after they’ve viewed it.  I’d even venture a guess that the filmmakers, even Scarlett Johansson, would be more interested in hearing how their film made you feel as opposed to your final opinion.  Myself?  I can’t imagine forgetting this one. It made me feel…icky…in a good way.