Monday, September 18, 2017

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time - 16 through 20

So, after many, many months, and a myriad of trials and tribulations, not to mention quite a bit of laziness and personal distractions, it's finally done, my favorite films list. It's a definitive list too. At least for now. You know what? It's probably good for the next few months. Definitely. Maybe.  At least the next few days. Maybe not. You never know.

The point is... it's finally done.

This is the fourth and final installment of a list that is meant to be a companion piece to the Staff Picks list I posted a few years ago. Why, you ask? Why not? Also, if you're brand new to all of this, and you're wondering where the first three installments are, they're here and here and here.

A quick reminder of the rules:
1. The list is twenty films long.
2. This is a list of "Favorites," not "Best"
3. There's no Repeat Directors.

Last, but not least... there is no order to this list, not even alphabetical.

Let's do this...

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time
Numbers Sixteen through Twenty

Writer/Director Jeremy Saulnier is the real deal, man. He's a name to pay attention to in the future.

Blue Ruin is a tale of long-simmering revenge, the continuing cycle of violence, and the brutal toll it takes on the people involved.

That's vague, I know. It's not a synopsis that really ropes you in, I'm sure. You'll have to trust me when I say that there's a hell of a lot more going on in the film, but you're just going to have to sit down and watch it for yourself in order to find out. In a nutshell, it's an incredible movie. It is somehow both shockingly realistic and yet shockingly over-the-top. It is a film of pure tension. It vibrates with old anger and pain. Macon Blair is an actor I was not familiar with at all, but he turns in a star making performance as Dwight, a man whose life has been destroyed by a brutal crime, and is now set on bloody revenge.

And it is super bloody. Super bloody and super tense. It's a tough watch because of this, and because Dwight is so unlikely. That's a big part of what I like about the film. The tension is so incredible, so constant, so present, and part of the reason for that is because each scene, each moment Dwight survives is such a relief, and frankly kind of a surprise, because--and this is what I love--Dwight is not some big macho guy. This isn't an action movie. Dwight is small and slight. He's wet-eyed and nervous. He stammers. He's a very regular and relatable guy, a regular and relatable guy who is determined to murder the people he ruined his life.

Which he somehow does, through a roller-coaster mix of luck, guts, careful though, and pure determination. It's fantastic.

But here's the thing about this film, as tense as it, as violent as it is, as shocking and bloody as it is, as crazy and awesome as it is, there's an undeniable sadness to it all. This is a movie about a single mistake that ripples out and destroys multiple lives, and how that misery then just keeps on rolling, blowing up more lives, and leaving more and more bloody wreckage in its wake.

It's a film about the consequences of being unable to forgive, and it's an incredible watch.

The Wild Bunch is my favorite Western.

As the era of the old West dies, an aging group of outlaws try for one last big score.

In 1969, the Wild Bunch revolutionized cinema. From the way it was filmed and edited, to the way it was written, to its choice of characters, to its myth deconstruction, to its portrayals of the traditional cowboy movie violence. People loved it and hated it for this, and movies have never been the same.

There's a savage nobility at the heart of The Wild Bunch that really appeals to me. These characters try to live by a code of loyalty and brotherhood, and they are both constantly failing it, and constantly trying to live up to it. They are men out of time, decaying relics from a gone world, bad men for sure, but also sad men, broken down old knights with no more dragons to slay, and I love that. They have all lived too long, surviving not only their lifestyles, but their very world, and it's this longevity that ultimately kills them. Their shrinking world ends up shoving them back, back, back, finally back into a corner with no other options. So, when Pike and the others find themselves at a place where the last betrayal of their code and themselves is just too much too bear, and they walk out to make it right... that's a hell of a moment, a hell of a final moment. And it's so earned too. That moment, and the resulting gunfight, is this movie simultaneously lending credence to, and putting the final nail in the coffin of, the Myth of the Old West.

One extra little thing that I kind of loved about the movie is how Peckinpah intended the violence to horrify the audience. He intended it to be too much, to be too intense, to purge everyone watching it of their desire to witness such acts, but instead it seemingly did the opposite, it tapped into a vein that has yet to be satiated.

Later, he had to admit that he had been wrong in thinking it would've ever gone any other way.

Don't act like you don't agree with this choice...

Deep in a Central American jungle, a team of commandos find themselves hunted by an extraterrestrial warrior.

Predator is a fantastic action film, one of the all time greats. It's great, because it has a formula. Y'see, Predator films work best when the story starts out as something else, something you're familiar with, and then takes a sudden left turn when the alien hunter shows up. Whether it's Danny Glover as that familiar loose cannon cop who's getting too old for this shit, or it's the classic blue and gray suited Batman on the rooftops of Gotham, the formula works incredibly well when the Predator crashes someone else's story. Whenever the formula is ignored, and the film is too much about the Predator as a character, it's terrible.

This film starts out as a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film.

And this is Schwarzenegger at the top of his game. In the film, Arnold and his team of ultimate bad asses--men whose military specialties are reflected in their weapons and outfits much like G.I. Joe characters--must travel deep into enemy territory, cut off from any support, so they can rescue some American hostages from some evil Russians.

We know this story.

We've seen Arnold do this kind of shit before. It's his bread and butter. He can do it in his sleep. And the film delivers on that promise. He and about five or six other guys wade into a camp full of heavily armed men and proceed to wipe them out like it's nothing. In minutes too. Arnie and the boys are full-on walking murder machines. They're a god damn bullet hurricane-tornado landing with both feet smack dab in the middle of a cannon fodder trailer park. They rain down one-liners and sprays of lead in equal measure. They are Might and Right personified. Unstoppable. Some of them don't even have time to bleed even.

So when the Predator shows up, the last thing you expect to see is these guys taken down one by one. But they do, and that's why the film works so well, because the Predator is not just hunting Dutch and his team, it's hunting Arnold, it's hunting our cinema icons and genre archetypes. It plays against your expectations on a level you weren't expecting. It's the similar to what GRRM does in the Songs of Ice and Fire books, it's why Ned Stark's death shocked the shit out of us all so much.

That's a brilliant story tool. It's rarely used effectively, so I love it when it is.

One of the other things I love about the film isn't necessarily true, it's my own bit of fan-fic, so I apologize in advance, but, at the end of the film, as Arnold and the Rebel Woman they had captured are riding off in the helicopter, you think they're safe, right... but if you think about it, these two just had contact with a vicious and highly advanced alien species and survived. Not to mention, the woman--Anya maybe? I think--is a member of the Russian backed local rebel forces who are working in the area against the U.S. and its interests.

Basically what I'm saying is, once that helicopter landed, I doubt either one of those characters ever saw daylight again. (Sad trombone)

Heathers is a film that would never get made today.

Veronica Sawyer is a member of the most powerful clique in school, but once in, she becomes disillusioned with the demands of popularity. When a prank against her best frenemy goes wrong with deadly consequences, she and her boyfriend J.D. decide to cut a murderous swath through the student body in a... perhaps misguided... attempt to make their high school a better place.

Yes, there's some new Netflix version of this coming or something, but we all know it won't be the same. All of the edges will be filed down. Besides, no Winona Ryder? No Christian Slater? Who cares? Why bother? Fuck that shit.

Anyway, Heathers was a unicorn of teen movies back in the day. It's smart, it's funny, it's brutally honest and insanely quotable, and best of all, it's completely controversial. Parents hated it. Pretty much every part of it. It's mean, there's tons of sex and swearing, and honestly, it really does kind of glamorize murdering your classmates, which people tend to frown upon.

It's everything that is supposed to be bad for young impressionable minds.

That's what makes Heathers so great. Darkly funny, cynical, and subversive, it's not afraid to spit in the eye of the safe teen movie. It's not afraid to illustrate the everyday horrors of high school, and to smirkingly present the darkest and bloodiest of options as an answer. It's not afraid to say that a teenagers life can be shit, it can be life or death, even over the stupid shit like being popular, and half-ass platitudes won't help. So, yes, it's crazy and mean and over the top, but it's also honest. Which is really why it wouldn't be made today. That, and the child murders...

Also, the film taught me the proper use of the word "myriad."

Repo Man was my first weird movie.

After being fired from his job, Los Angeles punk rocker Otto lands a gig helping a drug-addled and philosophizing Repo man named Bud steal back the cars of people behind on their payments. At first, Otto is reluctant, but he grows to love the job, hurtling through the weird and wild underworld of 80’s Los Angeles. But after learning of a Chevy Malibu that has been given a $20,000 price tag, Otto finds himself caught between Conspiracy Theory Weirdos, Insane Government Agents, former punk rocker friends, and rival Repo Men, all of whom are vying for the car and its trunk stuffed with dead aliens.

As a kid, probably 11 or 12, I would sometimes spent summers with my aunt. She lived in a concrete bunker of a downtown loft--it had once been used in the Billy Idol "Cradle of Love" video... It was a fun time, but occasionally there was things she had to do that didn't involve kids, and since I wasn't at my own home, I didn't really have my books or my toys, and since I was in a different city, I had no idea when my shows were on, and since we were downtown L.A. before gentrification, I couldn't play outside, so sometimes, I'd get a little bored. That's nobody's fault, it's just reality as a kid.

And the only movie she had was a Betamax copy of Repo Man.

Literally the only movie. It was 1985-ish maybe, but imagine that: A VCR and ONE movie. We were like cave people back then. Anyway, I don't think I liked it the first time I watched it. Maybe kind of? I don't know. I do know I barely understood it. But still... I thought about it a lot afterward. I half remembered it. I would find myself saying "Dukie-wukie bwoke his widdle hand" with almost no context, but in the exact same voice as Archie. The film stuck with me, is what I'm saying. It was strange and it had this fuck you attitude and felt kind of dangerous, like it was something a 12 year old probably shouldn't be watching (which was probably true...). It was a cool and unknown thing. My friends hadn't even heard of it. It was my first brush with the pleasure of uncovering some gem all on my own, of experiencing something a lot of people didn't even know about. It was basically the start of my interest in film, and why I would seek out different movies. Years later, when I was finally able to rewatch it, I jumped at the chance.

And it was still... really fucking weird.

But I loved it. Years pass, and it's still this crazy little weird punk rock film about Aliens Conspiracies and the daily grind of Repo Men that somehow seems like one of the most L.A. films ever made. It's ridiculously quotable. It's a true blue blood and guts, made on the fly, DIY film that doesn't feel cheap and talentless. It's still funny. It's still fringe. And, like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, this movie is still a bit of a secret handshake film, the type of thing where when you meet someone who likes it, you know you're with your people.

Plus, sadly, Harry Dean Stanton died recently, ending an era, and he was incredible in this film (and many others), so seems as good a place to stop as any...

And that's it. That's the list. It took way too much time and way too much effort, and who knows, sometime in the next two weeks, it might even shift around and change, so what's the point?

I guess I just love movies,

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time - 11 through 15

All right, so if you were here... uh... I guess it was a few weeks ago now... then you should know what's happening here. In a nutshell, this is the third installment of my Top Twenty Favorite Films of All Time list. These are films I love, films I think are great, and films that I would re-watch at anytime. Your mileage may vary, but I'm sure you'll understand when I say that I don't consider that to be a primary concern. Also, just fyi, this is meant to be a sort of companion piece to my Staff Picks list that I posted awhile back. And finally, if you're wondering where the first and second installments of this list are, you can find them here and here.

Before we dive back in, a quick reminder of the (admittedly arbitrary) rules:
1. The list is twenty films long because that was what was decided.
2. This is a list of "Favorites," not "Best"
3. There's no Repeat Directors.

And one last thing, there is no order to this list, not even alphabetical.

Let's do this...

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time
Numbers Eleven through Fifteen

It seems like everyone has a favorite Tarantino movie, and for some reason, it always seems to be Inglourious Basterds.

I don't get that. I don't get it at all.

Jackie Brown is the film that straddles the line between the Crime Tarantino Era and the Homage Tarantino Era. It's his Rubber Soul. Adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch--the only Tarantino film based on someone else's work--it's the story of Jackie Brown, an aging stewardess caught between a murderous L.A. gun-runner she smuggles for, and the cops that are squeezing her in order to arrest him. Once arrested, Jackie doesn't have many options, so she sets her eye on a big bag of cash, and a bold idea on how to escape the clutches of both sides. But to pull it off, she needs to enlist the help of an aging bail bondsman, a man named Max Cherry, who has been feeling stuck in a rut lately, and finds himself feeling more than a little sweet on Jackie. It's Tarantino's homage to 1970's blaxploitation films.

And it is still his most mature work.

Like most young men, Tarantino grabbed firmly ahold of my young mind with Reservoir Dogs and True Romance and Pulp Fiction, even with Natural Born Killers, although not as much with that one as the others. For awhile there, he was like the Catcher in the Rye of Cinema, young writers and film-makers trying to find their voice at the time, like I was myself, quickly began to mimic his quirks and cadences, and his settings and situations. On one hand, his work was inspiring. On the other, it was still mimicry, so that love was also a bit limiting. So when Jackie Brown came out, many of us were very excited to see it, but ended up walking out a little disappointed. It felt like a jarring change in tone and style. It wasn't anywhere as quirky or quotable as his previous works. It definitely wasn't as violent. Tarantino was ready to evolve, but we were not, at least I wasn't.

But the film stuck with me. I had to let it stew before I could see it again, before I could realize what a great film it really was. Jackie Brown is a film that taught me about expectations versus reality. It was a film that challenged my reactions due to the film in my head versus the film on screen. Jackie Brown was one of the films that taught me to approach a piece of art on its own terms.

Plus, it's got one the best openings ever.

Young Frankenstein is peak Mel Brooks.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced Fronk-EN-Steen) is a brilliant man of science who is trying to live down his famous grandfather's dark reputation. However, when he inherits the family castle and must travel to Transylvania to inspect the property, he discovers that he and his grandfather have much more in common than he would like to admit.

Written by the incredible Gene Wilder, this film is Brooks' smartest, ballsiest, and all-around funniest film. It is the definition of a classic. The cast is a murderer's row of comedic legends. The sets are not only fantastic, but some of them are from the original 1931 film. It's ridiculously quotable. It's a series of iconic moments. It's really, really funny, and best of all, it's not yet another film that, looking back, has turned out to be hugely racist and homophobic, which is such a welcome relief. Young Frankenstein is basically the film every single high concept/Will Ferrell/modern day Rat Pack comedy film wants to be, but can't even come close.

The film is just funny, man. It's just funny.

George Romero is the third and final George in my Three Georges.

Dawn of the Dead is the story of a world that is slowly but surely being consumed by a ravenous plague of newly reanimated dead. Zombies are killing everyone they can catch. Everyone they kill gets up and kills. The world is falling apart. Four people steal a helicopter and end up sheltering in "one of those new indoor shopping centers," and try to build a new life, but in this terrible new world, they soon discover that the walking Dead isn't their only enemy, the living are too.

Personally, I prefer the Director's Cut.

I was already a sucker for a good Post-Apocalyptic setting before I saw this film, but I was instantly in love with the way the film starts with a quickly collapsing society. Choosing to have the crisis already well underway, going between the brutal police raid on a building full of people refusing to evacuate (all while highlighting the racism and classism of the situation), and a TV news center as it descends into chaos is just fantastic. The way the characters survive on the run, and the thought and ingenuity they display as they first take and then later fortify their Mall, are some of my favorite sequences. I am such a fan of that type of thing. In fact, this film is largely responsible for my response to a lot of other disaster/bad situation/survival horror films I see now. In a nutshell: I'd rather watch smart character make good decisions and yet still die, then watch stupid characters do stupid things which lead to their deaths...

Yes, this film is so old that Malls are a novel concept. Yes, the soundtrack is ridiculous. Yes, it's not all that scary, especially with the badly made-up blue-faced zombies. And yes, while I'm generally a fan of the whole famed "zombies as consumers" metaphor, I'm not all that sold on the idea of it being A. something that happened on purpose, or B. that the metaphor is all that much deeper than what I already put in quotes above. Yes, this is all true, but it's in spite of all those things that I love this movie. Honestly, it's because of those things.

It's also why I want to live in a mall, and why I'm obsessed with fort-building.

Dawn of the Dead is one of those films that is now responsible for an entire genre. Everything popular about zombies today can basically be traced back to this film. It's inventive and original. It's big and it's goofy, but it's also clever and funny, with well-written characters and iconic moments, and it's DIY as fuck and that's awesome. 

Also, just fyi, I unabashedly love the 2004 Zach Snyder/James Gunn reimagined version too. When I mention the 1978 version, I'm also including the 2004 version. The first ten minutes and the opening credits alone are one of the greatest zombie film ever made.

Pee Wee's Big Adventure is the story of a one man on an epic quest, determined to right the most foul of wrongs. It's a cross country odyssey of a man hunting his heart's very desire. A myriad of obstacles will stand in his path, and our hero will rely not just on himself, but on a few friends he meets along the way. By the end of this journey, he will have learned a little bit about himself... and the Alamo.

I've found that there's two types of people in this world: People who are surprised that I would include this film o my list of all time favorites, and people that completely understand.

Pity the former...

For a lot of comedies from the 80s, I'd understand the skepticism. A lot of old pop culture is better left in the past. It's not just that they're too often too much a product of their time, their jokes worn out and cliche at best, and severely racist and misogynistic at worst, they're also just... low quality. Badly acted. Dumb. A lot of comedies from the 80s, when you revisit them, you can't help but wonder why the hell you ever actually liked the thing in the first place. Comedies especially seem vulnerable to this. Even if they were well made, they often don't age well.

I mean... Is Wayne's World even funny anymore? I doubt it.

Pee Wee's Big Adventure is. That's the good news. Like Ghostbusters and Back to the Future, everything about this film still works. Totally. Completely. It's still sharp. It's still funny. Francis. Amazing Larry. Dottie. Mickey. Simone's big but. Large Marge. The bike chase. The movie of Pee Wee's life. The whole thing still works. It's beautifully sincere, wonderfully sweet, happily surreal and still absolutely hilarious. This film is an artifact from a time long ago when Tim Burton and Danny Elfman still seemed odd, and yet audacious and daring at the same time. It's signature work from everyone involved, so much so, you almost don't recognize some from who they are now.

Bottom line? It still seems fresh. Decades later, it's still fun. That's why it's great.

Also, because of this...

It was hard to choose a favorite John Carpenter film. I knew there was going to be one. There had to be. Carpenter has made a slew of great films. Assault on Precinct 13. Halloween. They Live. Escape from New York. Big Trouble in Little China.

The Thing.

Actually, it wasn't that hard of a choice.

As an Antarctic Research Facility prepares for a massive storm, they encounter an ancient and decidedly hostile alien life form that kills and replaces any life-form it has contact with. It quickly becomes clear that the members of the facility have been left with two choices: Kill everyone else in the facility because they might be a murderous alien, or kill everyone else in the facility because they might be a murderous alien.

If only those god damn Swedes had managed to shoot that dog...

The Thing was pretty poorly received, both critically and at the box office, back when it was first released in 1982. Ebert hated it. It got bad reviews all over. I blame the fuzzy family friendly warmth of E.T., a film that had been released only a couple of weeks before. I guess people just weren't prepared to fall from those sweet Reese's Pieces heights, down into a dark pit of blood and guts and terror and paranoia.

Luckily those times have passed.

Now rightfully regarded as a horror/sci-fi classic, The Thing is a film of hard choices and dark consequences. It's not afraid to be mean and to yank the rug out from under you. There's so much to love, the subtle characterizations, the slow burn pacing punctuated with sudden geysers of gore. It's all so well done. I love how the Antarctic setting is so isolated, how Outpost 3 is just this tiny speck in a bright white wide open space, and yet the characters are so trapped and how because of that, they are quickly consumed by this animal-like panic.

But my favorite part is the whole alien aspect.

I like horror films, sure, but I'm not a nut for them, so the addition of a hostile life form from outer space really pushes my buttons. This turns the film into something I'm interested in. A Threshold Scenario? Yeah, I'm interested in a situation where a world-ending extraterrestrial threat has arrived and has to be contained or the world is screwed. That's a good struggle. I love when the victims in a horror film have agency and fight back. Even when all hope is lost, I love when they turn and fight. Rage! Rage against the dying of the light! I love that. So that, and the mixture of classic monster horror and sci-fi really worked for me.

Plus, y'know... Kurt Russel, right?

And that's it...

I promise the last section will be posted much more quickly than this last one was,

Friday, August 18, 2017

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time - Six through Ten

Welcome back!

I know, I know... I said I was going to put these things up once a day. Well... I got ahead of myself, and Trump is terrible, right, so shit happens. Or didn't happen. Whichever point of view you prefer. Anyway, the point is... this is my Top Twenty Favorite Films of all time list.

I like lists. They appeal to me, lists like my Staff Picks list. Remember that? That was fun. Anyway, this list in particular has been a long time coming. Mostly because it wasn't a very easy thing to put together. It started out at over a hundred titles. Getting it down to fifty was pretty difficult. Getting it down to twenty-five was even harder. Then, right at the cusp of completion, my laptop died. This was sometime around the New Year. As a result, my hair's breath away from being nearly-done Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time list was lost. And when I started it up again, it was even harder to reconstruct the thing. Although, I did start out with only sixty titles the second time...

tldr...? It's done. Finally.

For those of you who weren't here for the first installment, (that's kind of weird) but just fyi, when making this list, I decided to follow these (admittedly arbitrary) rules:

1. The list is twenty films long.
2. This is a list of "Favorites," not "Best"
3. There's no Repeat Directors.

I've also broken the list up into four groups of five titles, and while I still intend to post one section a day, I wouldn't advise you holding your breath over that one. Also, a couple of quick reminders: These are films I love, films that I think are great, and films that I would re-watch anytime. Your mileage may vary. Also, there is no order to this list, not even alphabetical.

Let's do this...

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time
Numbers Six through Ten

The Wizard of Oz is almost 80 years old.

It doesn't feel like, does it? I mean, it's obviously an older movie, but as you sit down nearly every single year to watch it on TV, does it seem dated? Do the seams show around the special effects? Are the songs any less catchy? Compare that with a movie like Sixteen Candles? That thing is barely watchable. What about the TV show Friends? That things a cringe-fest? How does the CGI look in films made fifteen years ago? I'll tell you how it looks... it looks like shit.

The Wizard of Oz, on the other hand, still looks amazing.

Dorothy Gale is swept away from Kansas by a tornado to the magical Land of Oz, and while trying to get back home, she makes a few friends, kills a few witches, and dances the shit out of those ruby slippers. It might be one of the most perfect films ever made. Everyone knows the story. Everyone has seen the film (and probably a half dozen different versions and spin-offs of it too). Simply put, there is no other example of such a well-loved film that has stood the test of time for so long. The moment when she opens that black and white door onto the riotous blast of colors that is Oz, it is pure movie magic. It dazzles you every time.

And in 1940, at the 12th Academy Awards, it only won two Oscars. One for Best Original Music Score, and one for Best Original Song, of course. Guess which one. It lost Best Picture to Gone With The Wind, just in case you've ever wondered if the Oscars were always racist and shitty...

Some people really hate Attack the Block.

I am shocked by this. As near as I can figure, the reason is because the kids are unrepentant criminals at the start of the movie. When the film opens, they mug one of the other main characters, and they don't feel bad about it. Then they discover an alien, and they stomp it to death.

People get really mad about this.

Now, let's just be honest here, most of the reason for this anger is rooted in racism. Plain and simple. And that's... whatever. Fuck those assholes. But there are definitely other people who hate the film, due to the characters' casual criminality, because they just can't stand the idea of having main characters/heroes that aren't 100% pure noble and good, so they push back angrily against any story that veers away from this. If you won't allow characters to be flawed, to make mistakes, to learn and grow, then what are you even looking for in stories? The flaws are what defines them. It's rooted in the whole "I have to like a character in order to enjoy a story" idea, which is just ludicrous to me. I don't understand these people. Especially because the kids in this film are super likable. One of them is John Boyega, for god's sake! People love him!

I don't get it.

This is a film about redemption, and taking responsibility for your actions. In big fucking capital letters, too. That's why they mug one of the other characters. That's why they stomp the alien to death. The entire story is about standing up and dealing with the fall out of those choices. This is what I love about the film. There's no apology for their actions, there's only the accepting of responsibility, and ultimately, a Hero's Redemption. That's fantastic.

Plus, how awesome does this look?

I'll answer for you: It looks super awesome.

This is my Spielberg film. Lucas only counts as the writer. I don't care if you think that's a loophole to my one film per Director rule, because it's my list, and like I said: The Rules are Arbitrary.

When making a list like this, Steven Spielberg is the type of name who has stacks and stacks of genre-defining, pop culture-defining, films to choose from. Stacks of them. And I picked this one. I picked this film, and I'll be honest... It was easy. Super easy. In fact, this was one of the first films I wrote down. Because of this film, I wore a fedora as a kid... while wearing shorts. Because of this film, I owned a bullwhip as a kid... which is just hands-down dangerous. Because of this film, I majored in Anthropology... for awhile anyway. The fact that I didn't want to be an Anthropologist (not enough Nazi fighting) has got to say something.

What I'm saying is, I think it's fair to say the film had an impact on me.

Anthropologist, pulp adventure, and, how should we say it... obtainer of rare antiquities, Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones is hired by the U.S. Government to find the the fabled Ark of the Covenant before evil French Anthropologist, Dr. Rene Belloq, and the Nazis manage to locate it. It's a thrilling throw-back to the days of globe-trotting daring-do and sudden escapes. It's a two-fisted adventure with one of the best heroic scores of all time.

I honestly don't quite know how to quantify my love for this film...

How about this: Not even Crystal Skull could lessen my love of Raiders.

Now, some people claim the major flaw in the film is that if Indiana Jones had done nothing, if he had not gotten involved at all, the film would've ended up the same way: with the Nazis opening the Ark and melting. To that I say: Nuh-uh. Because afterwards the Nazis would still have the Ark, because Dr. Jones wouldn't have been there to box it up and ship to America, so in your face, jerks.

The Cornetto Trilogy includes three of my all time favorite movies. 

I love each one. Unfortunately, this list only allows one entry from a Director. It's maybe the worst thing a person could do to another person making a list... But here we are, and we just have to play with the hand we're dealt, so even though only one film is listed, know that it actually includes all three. That's just fyi. Is this me kind of breaking my own rules yet again, all before the halfway point?

Shut up.

Okay, so even if this slot unofficially includes all three films, deciding on which one to feature was a pretty difficult decision. I eventually settled on The World's End. This choice might surprise some people who know me. If asked, of the three films in the Cornetto Trilogy: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End, which one would Jon pick, I think most people would go with the one with the zombies. That's a fair guess too. It is a great zombie film...

But I choose The World's End. I choose it because it's about who you are, and who you used to be. It's about growing up, and it's about how you can never go home again. It's this last bit that has really resonated with me lately. It's no secret that I think Trump is a festering boil on the shit-splattered ass of humanity, but he's kind of an expected awful. We knew he'd be shit, and he is shit. It's like he's keeping the worst campaign promise. Either way, the point is, you can deal, because it was kind of expected. What ended up being worse is the betrayal. Friends you used to know. People you thought you knew. Folks you respected. They all voted for him, and upon doing so, they turned their backs on me and mine. The fact that they might not have been aware they were doing this only makes it worse. It's a feeling like being cast adrift. And so, much like the movie, you realize you can never truly go home again, both literally and figuratively, because the place is overrun with aliens who want to take over the world, and you are no longer the person you used to be, and that's not a bad thing. 

That's not the only reason I love this film, of course, but right now, it's definitely a big one, especially considering where the film ends...

Like all of the Cornetto films, the script is incredibly tight and the wit is razor sharp. It's surprisingly complex, and it's surprisingly funny in both loud and quiet ways. The action is fantastic. The scifi ideas are on point. It's just a good time all around film that isn't afraid to turn suddenly and punch you in the guts. If you're not already aware, Edgar Wright is a fantastic film-maker. He's someone you should definitely pay attention to.

This seems like too easy a pick, right?

A token classic. The go-to name when it comes to famous old movies. "Here's looking at you, kid." It's so "known," right? It's the type of easy to name choice that dilettantes and smug old film-heads both like to trot out, thinking they're showing off. It's a Turner Movie Classic. 

In a word: No thanks, Grandpa.

As World War 2 envelops Europe, Rick runs a nightclub in Casablanca, and generally tries to stay out of the world's way. Ilsa, an old flame, shows up one day and asks Rick for help. Her husband, Victor Laszlo, is wanted by the Nazis, and she needs Rick’s help to escape the country. Rick finds that the world always finds you eventually, and a man has to make a choice where he stands.

It is classic, right? The kind of romantic setting that has launched a thousand stories. 

But when I was a younger man, I wasn't interested. Not because of the setting or the subject necessarily, but because of the age. It was made in 1942. That is ancient when you're in your early 20s. Also, it was black and white, and like I pointed out above, it was so "known", the type of film both dilettantes and smug old film-heads name-check. I assumed it would be grainy and tinny, that it would be hard to see and hear, and even harder to watch, because it was probably out-dated and naive to a fault. I assumed it was sound-stage sterile, y'know? That's what I assumed. So, it was a long time before I sat down to actually watch it.

And, I was shocked, shocked to find that there's a reason we still love this movie after 75 years.

I discovered that some things really do deserve their reputation, and that common doesn't automatically mean bad. I discovered that films can be sweet and simple and straight forward, all while also being surprisingly complex and sophisticated. I realized there are moments in a 75 year old film that can still hit as powerfully today, as it did then. I mean, try not to tear up as the French out-sing those smug Nazi bastards. In such an easy and earnest way, Casablanca showed me a truth so simple, it's hard to believe now that I ever needed to be taught it. Casablanca taught me about the power of cinema. Plus, this exchange between Rick and Nazi Officer is particularly great, especially after recent events:

Yeah, screw you, Nazi.

And there we go, people. That's six through ten. What do you think? Swing back early next week, as I intend to be more prepared to post the last couple a little more quickly.

Until then,

Monday, August 14, 2017

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time - One through Five

Awhile back, it was probably over a year or so ago now, Edgar Wright posted a list of his Favorite 1000 Movies. It was a good list, and insightful as to the origins of his style and interests, but it was also a 1000 movies long. Now, Edgar Wright can put up any kind of Favorite Movies list that he wants to. It's a list of his favorite movies, it can be as long or as short as he wants, and as inclusive or exclusive as he wants. Really, it's kind of cool that he can even list a 1000 movies in the first place. But for me, if I'm being honest, at 1000 movies long, it's really seems like less of a list of favorite movies, and more of just a list of movies.

So, this all made me wonder... What are my favorite movies?

So I decided to do my own list. Why? Because I like to do stuff like my old Staff Picks list.

But this is a little different. This isn't the easiest type of list to decide, y'know. It's a big project. There's a lot of considerations. Is this a "Best" artistically list? "Best" technically? Or is it more of a "Favorite" as in just pure personal enjoyment? Is it a combination of the two? How many should go on this list? The smaller the list, the harder it is to decide, but the smaller the list is, the less fully representative of my personal taste it becomes. Is it fair to have one or two Directors or Writers hog multiple spots, or is it just me being honest about my choices?

In the end, I decided on these (personal, but admittedly arbitrary) rules:

1. The list is twenty films long.
2. This is a list of "Favorites," not "Best"
3. There's no Repeat Directors.

It wasn't easy. I've been working on this list for awhile now. Getting the list down to 50 was difficult. Getting it down to 25 was even harder. Then, my laptop died sometime around the New Year, and as a result, the hairs' breath away nearly-done list was lost. It was even harder to reconstruct it. However, this turned out to be a good thing in the end, I think, because the new version of the list is better, much more accurate. It's amazing the films you can forget about, when you're trying to put something like this together.

Long story short? The list is finally done.

I've broken this up into four groups of five, and I'll try to post one a day, maybe concurrently, maybe not. We shall see. Before we begin... a few quick reminders: This is a list of "favorites," not "best." These are films I love, films that I think are great, and would re-watch anytime, but not ones that I'm going to bother qualifying as the best in all categories, or anything like that. Your mileage may vary. But for me, this list is it. The End. The Final Word.

For now...

This list is always open to change, of course. You never know when something astounding will drop out of nowhere. That kind of thing is always welcome. However, I honestly don't expect that to happen too often, too much, or too quickly. How often does one of your favorite films ever appear? Also, anything you think was left off the list is probably just you being mistaken. And finally, there is no order to this list, not even alphabetical.

Let's do this...

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time
Numbers One through Five

First up is my favorite Coen Brothers film. This wasn't an easy choice. They make a lot of great films that I love, but the deciding factor was that this film is also adapted from my favorite Cormac McCarthy novel, so... there you go. No Country for Old Men is the story of a man in over his head, trying to survive with a bag of stolen drug money, the monstrous hitman dogging his heels, and the aging sheriff who is desperately trying to save him, but may not be equal to the task. 

This is just an all-around great film. 

It grabs you from the start. It's funny. It's sad. It's scary. It's shocking. It's a believable world populated believable characters, even at their most crazy. Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin are fantastic. It is a violent film, a super tense film, and frankly riveting. It's an astoundingly good adaptation. It's beautifully shot. But best of all, it's a jarring film. That's what I love most about it. People are often unprepared for the ending, and I love that the film purposely fucks with its audience, that it purposely subverts expectations and doesn't allow the closure people crave. That's ballsy and fantastic. A lot of people don't understand this at all, revealing that they don't even really understand what the movie is actually about, and that's another thing I love. The film makes you work to understand what it's about, and yet, at the same time, it's also hiding the key to understanding the film in the film's title. Another ballsy move.

I love that.

My favorite George Miller was also not an easy choice.

Fury Road is amazing, it's true, but I ultimately decided to go with the classic. I just can't deny the Road Warrior's place in my life. It's imprinted on my brain. It's fundamental to what I like. George Miller is one of the Three Georges (Lucas, Miller, and Romero), a trio of visionary creators who shaped my interests at a very early age, and that influence still affects me to this day.

And the Road Warrior is the reason why George Miller is one of the Three Georges.

So, I choose the story of a lone drifter in a post-apocalyptic world who happens upon a small community besieged by wasteland marauders, and decides to help. It's a classic, easily understandable story straight out of Joseph Campbell. He could be a lone gunslinger, or a lone knight, any era, any setting. It's a timeless story, and that's a big part of why I love it. Another reason is the visuals, that pale yellow desert with a single string of gray asphalt bisecting it has been on my mind my whole life, as has the man in black standing in the middle of it.

It's pure iconic cinema.

Another reason I love this film is that it's so aggressively made. The star doesn't say a word for the first 20-some minutes. Who would ever allow that today? Obviously this film was before CGI, but that aside, there's such a balls out, charging forward, fuck you let's shoot this fucking thing attitude to it. You used to be able to see crew members crouched down among the mayhem. Stuntmen were seriously hurt in moments that are still on film. The back-end of the movie is one huge chase with actual cars actually smashing into each other. It has a gyro-copter zooming around over ahead. The coordination alone makes it's a masterpiece of big set-pieces. It's DIY, get your hands dirty film-making the likes of which you'll probably never truly see again.

All by itself, the Road Warrior created an entire genre. George Miller rules, people.

And here we have my favorite film of the second George of my previously mentioned Three George's, the least surprising George, George Lucas. You all know him, I'm sure. The man, the myth, the legend. We love him, and hate him, right?

Such is the life of an aging Star wars fan, I guess.

My feelings toward George now are a bit more complicated then they used to be, and my love for the Star Wars franchise in general has definitely cooled over the past decade or two, but there's just no denying that at one time in my life, he blew my fucking mind wide open.

I know some people like to make the argument that Empire couldn't exist without Star Wars, so therefore Star Wars is the better film, but I don't hold to that. The middle chapter in the story of a far, far away galaxy, and it's struggle between good and evil, and father and son, a long time ago, was an easy pick for this list for me, honestly.

First of all, let's just be honest here, all these years later, it's plain to see that Empire is simply a better film, let's just get that out of the way from the start, but mostly I picked this film because the ending wrecked me. As a kid, it was the first time I had ever seen anything like it. The good guys didn't just lose, they were beaten terribly. The Rebellion was scattered. Luke got his hand cut off. We didn't even know what happened to Han at the time. Lando was wearing Han's clothes! Shit was crazy, people... shit was crazy! As a kid, I couldn't believe it. I was dead shocked. Completely dumbfounded. It was the first film to completely yank the rug out from under me. And that's after experiencing one of the most surprising, shocking, and iconic moments in cinema.

The whole film was a punch to the gut.

And yet... it was also amazing. For a film that is basically just the heroes getting kicked back and forth across the galaxy, it was wall to wall excitement and adventure. Empire taught me that not only can the heroes lose, but it can be an amazing experience at the same time.

It was a movie experience I have never fully replicated, and probably never will.

4. Children of Men

I wasn't prepared for Children of Men.

I didn't know anything about it. I didn't know it was on the way. I'd somehow missed all of the trailers, so all the sudden, I'm reading these rave reviews about a film that sounded right up my alley (mostly thanks to Road Warrior's intro to the idea of a Post-Apocalypse), and I look... It's already in theatres?

I went that night.

Children of Men is very loosely based off the P.D. James story of the same name. It's about a plausible-future with no more babies, no more pregnancies, and we're all tearing ourselves apart as the world slowly dies out. And then out of nowhere, one young woman is pregnant, and one man has to help smuggle her to safety.

Everyone who went with me thought it was too depressing, too dark. My wife didn't like it at all. She thought it was too sad. I was astounded. It was sad and grim and dark, yes, but I loved every frame. And in the end, I found it to be incredibly hopeful. It's a movie all about how one person can make a difference. It's about sacrifice for what matters.

I loved it.

It's a beautifully shot film. That is just undeniable. This film has multiple sequences that are simply incredible. Simply incredible. The attack on the car? The escape from the farm? Entering the Refugee Camp? The Riot at the Refugee Camp? Again and again, this film is incredibly shot, incredibly choreographed, incredibly complex, incredibly acted. On top of that, there's a scathing, unflinching social commentary, one that, while set in England, is still undeniably focused straight at America at the same time, and is unfortunately now more and more relevant with every passing day.

For me, the true triumph is the emotional reaction the film ignites within you. The horror, the terror, the anger, the sense of hopelessness is all so keenly felt throughout, it's no wonder people feel depressed afterward, but honestly, there are few moments in cinema more richly earned, more powerful, then Clive Owen and Clare-Hope Ashitey walking that baby out of the middle of a pitched gun battle in the refugee camp.

It will make you weep.

5. The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford

The title tells you what the film is about, right?

Robert Ford loves and idolizes Jesse James, always has, and he wants nothing more to be part of the James gang, but that love slowly poisons him, and turns to simmering resentment. This film is about that famous murder, how it determined his legacy, and how it ultimately sealed his fate. It's slow and methodical and brilliant, brimming with incredible performances. It's touching and sad and beautiful, and at nearly three hours, it has my highest possible recommendation.

Really, it's worth the effort.

Some people call this film "The film lover's film," and it very well could be. I've long thought of this film as a kind of "secret password" movie, because the movie takes patience, so when you meet someone who loves it, it's like you're both in the same club. There's been a lot of really good articles written about this film, Here are two of my favorites, one by Film Crit Hulk and one by Siddhant Adlakha, back when Birth.Movies.Death was called Badass Digest.

I mentioned the emotions that Children of Men sparks in you, well, with The Assassination of Jesse James, it's all about the emotion rolling off the actors. Brad Pitt is a charming, but menacing Jesse James, the magnetic center of attention in every scene, seemingly pulsing with a barely restrained danger. He's like a stalking wolf, it's an electric performance, but he takes a back seat to Casey Affleck and Sam Rockwell. As the brothers Robert and Charley Ford, their descent in despair is incredible to watch. The Roadshow sequence, as they re-enact the murder of Jesse for audiences around the country, as Charley becomes consumed with alcohol and self-loathing will peg you to your seat. We all know Same Rockwell is great, but here... he's incredible. And as despicable as Robert Ford is, nothing will make you feel a more sudden well of pity for him than the moment in the bar toward the end of the film when he sadly and angrily corrects the details of a popular song about his cowardly deed. He is a man who got what he wanted, and destroyed it as it destroyed him. You almost feel relief for the guy when he's finally gunned down. In the end, it's a sad story about wasted lives that ultimately shows us the end of an era of myth in a young america.

Andrew Dominik is the real deal.

And that's the first five of my Twenty Favorite Movies of all Time. Hopefully, I'll finish the next installment in enough time to post it tomorrow...

Wish me luck,

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ingrid Goes West

Today's film is called INGRID GOES WEST.

I love it. It looks so dark and funny and mean, but in an enjoyable way, not in the kill-all-poor-people-and-people-of-color-GOP way, and sometimes a nice dark comedy can really hit the spot. Plus, it's being distributed by NEON, which is connected to Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse, which is who brought us all the fantastic film Colossal, so I'm definitely in.

Speaking of fantastic, Aubrey Plaza was always fantastic in Parks and Rec, which was filled with fantastic people, but after that was done, she kind of floundered a bit. Dirty Grandpa? Barf. Mike and Dave Needs Wedding Dates? More barf. Granted, she was also in Legend of Korra, which was fucking awesome, but still... The To Do List? That's a real low low, people. Her career was definitely in danger of skidding out.

But then she was in Legion...

She was phenomenal.

She was mercurial and unhinged, just a constant powerhouse presence on screen. She was an incredibly believable monster, brimming with mirth and menace. It was a great performance. It was the type of performance that buys my interest for future projects.So, here she is in Ingrid Goes West, and I am paying attention.

You should too. 

Here's the synopsis: Following the death of her mother and a series of self-inflicted setbacks, young Ingrid Thorburn escapes a humdrum existence by moving out West to befriend her Instagram obsession, a Los Angeles socialite named Taylor Sloane. After a quick bond is forged between these unlikeliest of buddies, the facade begins to crack in both women's lives -- with comically malicious results.

Comically malicious? Sounds great. Let's watch!

First the teaser trailer. It's Red Band as Fuck, so heads up...

The teaser is fantastic, but the full trailer gives a better idea of the plot...

I'm so in. Like I said above, there's tons of elements I like that are involved. The cast is fantastic. I love a good dark comedy. And as an added bonus, it looks like it's going to be a scathing social critique, so... yeah... Love it.

INGRID GOES WEST opens August 27th.

Your Internet BFF,

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lucky Logan

Today's film is called Logan Lucky.

That's Logan Lucky, got it? Logan. Lucky. It's not Lucky Logan, like how I keep calling it, no matter how hard I try, even though I'm actually interested in the movie and really want to see it.

Say it with me... Logan Lucky.

Even though it was written by suspected fictitious person, Rebecca Blunt, which is most likely a pseudonym for who knows who (Psst...Steven Soderbergh), Logan Lucky is a Steven Soderbergh film through and through. This is apparent the moment you watch the trailer. Quickly paced with fast cuts, lots of wit and style, and packed wall to wall with names like Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank, and Daniel Craig, plus more, it's a really appealing film to me.

It's even more appealing for Soderbergh, I'm sure, who came out of a self-proclaimed "retirement" not just to make this film, but to give a big old middle finger to the Studio System by keeping the marketing and distribution of the movie in-house. It's a daunting prospect, one the Studios are most likely hoping fails miserably, but if it succeeds, it could open up entire new worlds of possibilities to independent filmmakers. 

The Studios are probably shitting their pants right now. 

This type of stuff is, of course, a secondary concern to whether or not the film is actually good, but it's something to be aware of, I guess. We shall see...

Here's the synopsis: The Logans are a hardscrabble family from the hills of West Virginia, and their clan has been famous for its bad luck for nearly 90 years. But the conniving Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) decides its time to turn the family's luck around, and with a little help from his friends, the Redneck Robbers, he plans to steal $14 million from the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Oh, boy, it's a heist film.

I love a good heist film. Done right, they're one of my favorite genres. I love the sequence of getting the band back together. I love the style and the cool. I love the tension. I love the twists and turns and the inevitable sudden double-crosses. I love when it all goes bad, and the guns come out. And I really love when it turns out that that was the plan all along. In many ways, heist films hit the same buttons for me as Men on a Mission films do. The disparate team of hard-case individuals that have all been brought together for a dangerous job always brings with them a nice amount of inter-personal conflict and good old fashioned spiky-edged personality clashes, and all of this just adds to the tension as they are pushed toward a single all-or-nothing goal. It's a great formula for drama.

I'm always down for a good heist film.

By the way, if you haven't seen of the films in this little collage I posted here, you should rectify that immediately. These are all great films.

Anyway, let's check out the trailer...

I like it. I like it a lot.

It looks like the backwoods cousin of Ocean's 11. Plus, ripping off those dirty sons of bitches at NASCAR is always good, if you ask me. No offense. Daniel Craig was a surprising hoot too, and I'm all in any time for Channing Tatum and Adam Driver. Those guys are great. Hands down, this looks like a plain old good time at the movies. I can't wait.

LOGAN LUCKY opens August 18th.

Feeling lucky,