Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Staff Picks (Part Eight)

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 Eight--Numbers 71 thru 80)

You can find the rest of this list here. Nothing else is quite like it. And if you're curious, the only order these films appear in is alphabetical... After you!

71. No Country for Old Men

I love Cormac McCarthy's work and I love the Coen Brothers's films. They're giants, people! Giants of Literature and Cinema--the occasional low ebb output aside--but otherwise: Giants! And when brought together they're incredible. No Country for Old Men in particular is one of my favorite books and since it turned out to be one of the best adaptations ever, it's also one of my favorite movies. Javier Bardem is simply iconic in the role of the merciless and relentless killer Anton Chigurh. Iconic. Unforgettable. The man just oozes menace. The story of a small town Texas Sheriff who stumbles into the fall-out of a drug deal gone bad, and the subsequent blood-soaked chase for a suitcase full of money, ultimately finding himself unequal to the task, is riveting. Tense. Shocking. Beautifully shot. Impressively cast. Fantastic performances. This is a brilliant film.

72. Of Dolls and Murder

This documentary is just one of those films, the type that deals with a subject you never even knew existed and then turns out to be completely fascinating. It's the story of Frances Glessner Lee, who revolutionized crime scene investigations in the 30s and 40s with her diorama recreations of murders. It is an investigative tool that is apparently still used to this day to train Homicide Detectives, despite technological advances. The camera explores Lee's incredible, intricately crafted dioramas while John Waters narrates, which is a total bonus, telling the various stories of murder and investigation behind each one and it is fascinating. This was an accidental find for me and I'm really glad I gave it a shot.

73. Oldboy

I've discovered that I love Korean films. They're generally not as ridiculously bat-shit crazy as your average Australian film, but they're daring. The thing that struck me about Korean cinema right from the start (or at least from the moment I first started to notice), was the effort. They try. Their films are often incredibly ambitious, always shooting for the moon when it comes to subject matter or genre or effects or ability... and just as often falling a little bit short of being something really good. This is why I don't generally recommend them, because, yeah, they're often not that great... but they try! Know what I mean? They're usually: Almost, but not quite. But only by a little bit, and with each successive film that gap seems less and less. I'm expecting great things one day. But for now, Oldboy is one of the pinnacles of Korean cinema. Fantastic and dark and crazy, it's the story of a man who is locked in a strangely anonymous hotel room/jail cell for 15 years, never knowing the reason why. He goes a bit crazy... Then he is suddenly released and finds himself caught in web of conspiracy and violence and on a quest for revenge. I take back my previous statement, it is way crazier than most Australian films. Way crazier. If for no other reason, you have to see the hallway fight; it's incredible.

74. Overnight

Here we go! Oh man, you couldn't write a more perfect Hollywood parable than this film. This is a documentary all about Troy Duffy. He is a Boston bartender and aspiring musician and screenwriter who wrote and directed The Boondock Saints. It follows Duffy's meteoric rise and incredible fall as a Post-Reservoir Dogs Hollywood inexplicably loses their minds for his script, practically knife-fighting in the street for the rights. Harvey Weinstein even buys the guy a bar! It's insane. I'd recommend you watch the film before watching the documentary, but fair warning: It's fucking terrible. Terrible. So bad. Juvenile. Amateurish. Dumb. Ugly. Awful. So when I recommend that you watch Boondocks Saints, it is only for context, NOT because it has any value as a film, because it doesn't. It's terrible. There are people out there who really like it, but don't listen to them. They are wrong. They are the Mullet of the Film-head world and to them all I can say is: "Bad! No! Bad! No! No! No!" possibly while hitting them on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. But anyway, Duffy is handed this lightning strike lucky break pay-day, getting his dream of directing his own screenplay granted, and then he's such an incredible, unbearable asshole to everyone around him, such a ridiculously undeserved prima donna bitch, that he burns every single bridge, pretty much sinking his deal and the possibility of any future work. It is unbelievable to watch and after seeing it, it's hard to say that it wasn't totally undeserved either. It's a story Hollywood couldn't write any better, and yet is solely responsible for it's creation.

75. Party Down

Party Down only lasted for two seasons, one of those shows that was too good to live. It was too funny, too cutting, too great, and people didn't watch it. A true travesty. Packed with a fantastic cast, it's about the lives of a group of struggling actors and writers in Hollywood who supplement their sadly almost non-existent careers with working as waiters for a catering service. Each episode is set at a different party and features a whole bunch of new funny. There's so many good episodes, but I think Steve Guttenberg's might be my favorite... and that is something I never expected to say. Super funny. Highly recommended.

76. Perfume

This an odd little movie. It's about a guy who is born beneath a reeking fish stall in a filthy market in Post-Revolutionary France and is blessed with a super-powered nose. It's about the same man when he accidentally kills the first woman he loves because of her intoxicating scent. But once she's dead, the scent is gone. And because he's obsessed with the smell, this--somewhat naturally--leads him on a quest to re-create it, so he trains to become the greatest Perfumer in the world. Along the way, he also becomes a serial killer, targeting beautifully-smelling women in order to distill their essence into a Love Perfume the likes of which the world has never smelled before. It's a Horror-Comedy. Sounds weird, I know, but it's good. Really. And creepy too, admittedly. To this day, I can take a long sniff of my wife's shoulder and she'll screech, so I try to do that whenever I can.

77. Please Vote for Me

This is pretty much the cutest documentary ever. It's about an experiment in democracy for a 3rd grade class in China and the three students, and the friends and family that support them, running for class president. There's a lot of fits and tears and doting parents and vicious classroom politics and it's all super-cute and really funny. Plus, I don't know if it's a translation thing or what, but at one point it's agreed upon by the majority of the class that a certain candidate is unfit for office due to the fact that they are a well-known "slow eater". A devastating charge and a candidacy is pretty much sunk because of it, which is probably the most revealing thing about the entire documentary and the democratic process itself...

78. Primer

I've talked about the film Primer and it's writer/director Shane Carruth on this site before. Here's the proof. Succinctly, but for the click-lazy, it's a twisting low-budget mind-bender of a time-travel flick. It's the type of film where you have to hold on and pay attention or you will get thrown and never catch up. It's about two men who create a time machine in their garage and how they try to be responsible with it at first, but how it all spirals out of control. The narrative can be a little dense, but it's a great movie, the type that really makes me excited to see more from Carruth. This one might not be for everybody, but if you're patient, check it out. It's a great example of how CGI and lots of money can be crutches and how sometimes all you really need to make a good film is ingenuity and a smart script.

79. Rear Window

Pretty much all of Alfred Hitchcock's films are so well-known that including them on this list would just be too obvious, right? They're so iconic that they're a part of the fabric of our world, the imagery so familiar that you already know his films, even if you haven't seen them. So why include one on this list? What am I telling you that you don't already know, right? All true. However, I love Rear Window so much that I couldn't resist. It's just so damn good. It could be Hitchcock's best. If you haven't seen it, you need to, it's one of the mandatory ones. Starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly and Raymond Burr, it's about a photographer, stuck in a wheelchair because of a broken leg, who spends his days spying on his neighbors from the back window of his apartment. Then one day he thinks he sees a murder...

80. Rec

Another POV film that doesn't suck. I love two things about this film. 1. It's really scary. 2. It makes sense. You see, as I mentioned before, most of the time POV films are really dumb, mostly because they make no sense. And that's usually due to the fact there is no way someone would keep filming with some random-ass camcorder that they just got when monsters are attacking. They would mostly just run and die. Another common reason POV films are terrible (besides them just being terrible) is because the person running the camera often has no reason to be running a camera in the first place. "Hey, we're gonna go exploring in this spooky old abandoned house! Jim, you film the whole thing!" "Okay, that makes total sense, because I'm just some schmoo bartender who otherwise never works with cameras!" I hate that. It bugs me. It ruins the film. It might be a reason to start out filming, but it's not a reason to KEEP filming once the shit hits the fan. Which is why Rec is better than your average POV film... well one of the reasons, it's also really scary and fun. This is the story of a young news-reporter and her cameraman doing a fluff piece on some firemen one night when a strange call leads them to an apartment building. Things go badly there, very quickly, as the inhabitants are all infected with a virulent rabies-like disease. To make matters even worse, the government then quarantines the whole building. Nobody in. Nobody out. Suddenly, what started out as fluff piece turns to a real news scoop and eventually becomes a chronicle of their attempts to survive. It's a simple reason to drive the characters' desire to film, but it makes sense and that's important. Either way, it's a way better reason than having some random douchebag do the filming because they just happened to be filming a birthday party on the night Godzilla attacks. Anyway, you should watch Rec, you'll shit your pants. Also, it's a Spanish film, so if you're scared of subtitles, look out.

And that's it! Put Part Eight to bed, kids, because it is done! Holey Moley! And that means there's only two parts left. Incredible! So stay tuned, because they'll be up sooner than you think...

Eecha wawa!

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