Monday, June 17, 2013

Staff Picks (Part Four)

Filmzilla has closed and with it, all the good times...

Somehow we'll soldier on... In lieu of the daily in-person experience you could have had in what is now a much lamented and by-gone era, I've decided to chronicle my Staff Picks wall for you as a sort of guide to some real good movies, or maybe just as a list of movies I happen to like a lot, or maybe you could say that this is really an ultimate (but not quite 100% complete) My Favorite Movies list, or... as the length of the list would coincidentally have it, you could simply call it:

Jon's Hot 100
(Part Four--Numbers 31 thru 40)

You can find Parts One and Two and Three of this list here, go on... you know you want to go look. Go ahead. We'll wait. Part Four will still be here when you get back. Just remember, the only order these films appear in is alphabetical... Onward!

31. Dark City

Dark City is a total 90s movie. It should go in a time-capsule. I mean, the Crow might as well have a cameo with the cast of In Living Color and Danny Elfman should do the soundtrack, that's how 90's it is. None of that happens, of course, but it should... Anyway, this movie is the story of a city where it's always night, but no one seems to notice. And a man who wakes up to find out that he might be a serial killer, only he's pretty sure that isn't his life at all. His quest to clear his name leads to some... dark secrets (Do you see what I did there?), not to mention: a creepy mad scientist, some creepier aliens, and admittedly, one of the best Telekinetic battles put on film so far. But do you want to know the really funny part about this film? The part I didn't expect? When I put it on the Staff Picks Wall, it rented constantly. Constantly! It would come in, usually after being kept late, and the next day? Gone again. It was crazy. Who would have thought? The people love it. The people love it.

32. Darkon

This movie is about a bunch of LARPers, or Live Action Role Players, and how they escape the troubles of their lives in a massive game of pretend. You may have seen these people in your local parks, grown-ups running around in home-made chain-mail and plate armor or painted up like a Dark Elf, all hitting each other with big Nerf Swords and Nerf Axes and Nerf arrows and the occasional Nerf Ballista. Did you watch that video? How awesome is that thing? It's pretty damn awesome. And that's the thing about this particular documentary, as crazy and weird and funny and maybe at times a little sad as these people are, they love this thing they do, unapologetically, and that's kind of cool. Plus, they either make everything themselves or they customize the hell out of, which is really respectable. So what if they get together and play a massive and complex game of pretend right out in public, so what? ...Okay, that's a bit weird. And sure, some of them get a bit too into it, but whatever. Anyway, this is the story of a small rebellious nation that dares to stand up to a nation of conquerors and how they gamble everything... for freedom. It's also about a bunch of fat guys hitting each other with Nerf Sticks. Seriously though, you'll watch this and you'll want to play, promise.

33. Dawn of the Dead (1978 and 2004)

George Romero's Dawn of the Dead is so old they have to explain in the movie what "one of those new indoor shopping malls" is and the blue face make-up of the zombies is a bit... what can you do? But as a young kid, George Romero--and this film in particular--had a marked and permanent affect on my brain and the future direction of my imagination. He's one of the 3 Georges after all (Lucas, Miller, and Romero), so none of the very obvious age of this film bothers me. In fact, I love this tale of four disparate people who steal a news copter in order to escape a city that is slowly tearing itself apart during a zombie apocalypse, take cover in a mall, and then must defend it not just from the undead, but from the living too. It's so great. A true classic And yes, there's some social commentary going on, plus a pretty on-point "zombies as consumers" joke, but let's be real here for a second, people... it's not that deep and it was mostly on accident, all right? Let's just admit it. It's okay. I mean, really, anyone who beats that particular drum too hard is either not that familiar with the genre or is trying to elevate it due their own geek-self-loathing issues. Just ignore them. They are dumb and can't help themselves.
I only mention this because you'll most likely hear from those wadjobs whenever the 2004 version of the film comes up. Once again, just ignore those knobs, the same goes for the "zombies don't run" crowd. Whenever they start up with their dumb shit, just tell them to shut up. Or throw something in their mouth mid-rant, something small like a jelly bean so that they'll choke momentarily.
But I digress...
The 2004 version is great. It was the first really good "zombie apocalypse" film out in years, pretty much since the original. The opening 10 minutes of the film is maybe THE BEST zombie film ever made. I'm serious. It's so good and has the perfect opening credits song. Perfect. And before we get too far, let's just clear something up right now: It is NOT a re-make. It is a re-imagining. The only similarity? A disparate group of survivors take shelter in a mall during a zombie apocalypse. That's it. Otherwise, it's its own beast and it's a ton of fun. More action film than horror, the effects are great, the pace is quick, and the zombies are a-swarming. The only problem I have with the 2004 version is their escape plan at the end. What a terrible idea. Seriously. Otherwise, these two are my favorite zombie movies ever.

34. Dead Man

Jim Jarmusch is an artitst. There's no two ways about it. His films are fantastic. I would actually recommend any of them, but the point of this list is "good", accessible, and entertaining, so I choose this film. Perhaps a little obvious to those in-the-know, being that many might consider it his most mainstream film, even though I'd argue Coffee and Cigarettes made a bigger splash, but whatever, the film stars Johnny Depp, so point conceded, I guess. Dead Man is about man shedding the modern world to embrace an older one. It is also about a young man named William Blake headed West on the Railroad to the town of Machine for a job that no longer exists. Despondent, by the next morning he is mortally wounded and on the run for murdering a man. A wandering Native American named Nobody (the amazing Gary Farmer) mistakes him for the Poet William Blake and decides to escort him to the land of the dead. With a group of vicious bounty hunters on his trail, Blake and Nobody shoot their way across the wilderness, so that Blake can begin his final journey. Beautiful and funny and bad-ass, this is definitely a film worth seeing.

35. The Dead

Another zombie film! It's not all that surprising, I guess, considering we are deep in the "Ds" at the moment. This is a newer film, I don't think it ever hit theatres, which is too bad, because it's a good gory and scary road-trip of a zombie film. Set in Africa, the film follows two men: one, an American mercenary trying to get off the continent after a zombie outbreak, and the other, an African soldier trying to find his son. The two have to cross desert and jungle and the chaos of refugees and hordes of zombies, it's a pretty desperate journey. A darker film with surprising good effects and a mostly local cast, it's not going to re-define the genre or anything, but it's fun.

36. Dear Zachary

This is the saddest movie ever made. I am not kidding. So sad. You will cry. I don't really want to tell you too much about it, because half of it is watching this unbelievable story unfold, but in a nutshell, it's about a guy whose friend is killed by an ex-girlfriend and how he sets out to make a movie about that friend, something he can eventually share with his friend's at-the-time unborn son, an unborn son the woman who killed the man is pregnant with, and all the things that happen after that. It is crazy and really shockingly terrible, but... it actually ends with a little hope. It not only ends with hope, but it shows how incredible and wonderful people can be, even in the worst of situations. If you watch this film, and you should, know that you will cry, but you'll feel good about it in the end. Great film.

37. Detention

I've talked about this film before on this blog. It's weird, but I love it. Part teen comedy. Part parody of a teen comedy. Part Slasher flick, but not really. Part twisty Time-Travel thriller. "How hard is it to be popular in 1992?" Includes a Space Bear. Self-aware, really, really funny, but odd-ball as hell, this film maybe more than any others on this list may not be for everyone. However, if you watch it... and you should... and you discover how much you love it, know that I love you too. You are not alone. Also, I can't stress enough how incredible the 19 years in detention scene is, really. So great.

38. District 9

I like Neill Blomkamp's stuff. I like the subjects he goes after. I like the genre tropes and general aesthetics that he uses. I like the type of stories he tells. Imaginative and dedicated, he was able to parlay a handful of interesting sci-fi short films into a chance to make the Halo movie, and when that fell apart, he went back home to South Africa, got some money together and made his first feature film. District 9 belongs on a list of "one of those films", like The Avengers or Iron man or Dark Knight Rises in a way, a genre film that makes a big splash with the mainstream audience, all of whom leave the theatre afterwards all shocked and saying: "Huh, those type of films can be pretty cool." Yeah... no shit, man. Ya'see, District 9 is full of allegory, and as a result, it plays a little broad, sure, but what can you do? It's about something, and not just alien races, big firefights, and super awesome Mech battlesuits either, although that kind of stuff figures in heavily. It's a throwback to the big idea type of sci-fi, the social commentary type of sci-fi and it walks that line so well. Gory, explosive, awesome, cool, and fun. District 9 is the type of sci-fi film that snobs can feel okay to name-drop and yet, at the same time, it's also the type of sci-fi you can watch and just enjoy. Something for everybody... even aliens.

39. Dog Soldiers

Here's another example of a film I think most people have no idea even exists, let alone have ever watched. Neil Marshall wasn't really known in the states when this came out and while he went on to make films like the Descent, Doomsday, and Centurion, he still hasn't really splashed here at all, so this, his first (and best) film often gets forgotten. So what's it about? Well, a group of British soldiers are in the Scottish Highlands on some training maneuvers and they end up getting hunted by a pack of werewolves. They have to hole up in a seemingly abandoned farmhouse and fight them off over the course of one long night. Mayhem ensues. The tag-line at the top of the poster is true, it's basically Aliens meets Predator with Werewolves and you're either salivating with anticipation at the thought of seeing that right now, or not and this film is simply not for you.

40. Dredd

I'm a comics geek, this is known, but I'm ready to make an admission here... I hate Judge Dredd. I think it's stupid and ugly and boring and dumb. I think its supposed "oh-so-dark satire" is a big stupid fart. I hate it. I totally hate it. I'd take the most valuable issue of Judge Dredd ever and I would pee on it if I could, it bugs me so much. Dredd may have been created well before the awful "grim and gritty" phase of comics in the 90s, but it still perfectly represents everything that was wrong with that era. I hate it and all the stupid crap that comes with it. In short: I don't approve. And so.... keeping in mind however you happen to feel about the Judge Dredd comic, I really liked this movie. Dredd is a stylish, good-looking, and streamlined version of the well-known British comic, minus its famous "satire"... thank God. Instead of heavy-handed commentary, it's just a drug bust gone bad for a pair of cops in a terrible dystopian future. Dredd, the grizzled veteran, is putting Anderson, the dow-eyed young rookie, through her final test. They enter a massive tower-block slum to bust some criminals and, well... Shit meet Fan. This is nothing but a straight forward sci-fi action movie, no winking, the cliches kept at a minimum, and a pretty tight bottle-script that moves fairly quickly, the type of flick that isn't made very often anymore, not competently at least. Karl Urban continues to be great and mostly unsung to the world at large, and he keeps the helmet on. Also, weirdly, Olivia Thirlby is it, how did that happen? Anyway, I had fun with it, check it out.

And with that... Part Four is done, kids. Stick a fork in it. What titles will the future installments contain? Stay tuned.

Yours in cinema,

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