Monday, July 8, 2013

Staff Picks (Part Nine)

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 Nine--Numbers 81 thru 90)

You can find the rest of this list here. It's quite a thing. And I think it goes without saying but, the only order these films appear in is alphabetical... Let's Rock!

81. Red Dawn

To me, nothing more succinctly sums up what the 1980s were like then this movie here. I've talked about it before. Red Dawn posits a world many at the time assumed was always only a half-second from becoming reality, a world where the Domino Theory was proven to be true and America ends up paying a heavy price for that reality. The movie opens on a small Rocky Mountain town that wakes up to a bunch of dirty low-down Communist invaders parachuting down onto the local football field... THE FOOTBALL FIELD!! Is nothing sacred, Communists? The town is quickly overrun and stuck far behind enemy lines... in their own country! Oh, the humanity! All seems lost until a Resistance forms in the mountains, created from the sheer guts and steely-eyed determination of a rag-tag group of true red-blooded American teens. Who are those teens? They're a who's-who of Teen Movie Star Heart-throbs. The whole thing is like the Breakfast Club meets First Blood Part Two, so 80s, so ridiculous, so cold war paranoid, so over the top violent. I love it. It's a national treasure. PLUS... Harry Dean Stanton.

82. Repo Man

I first saw this film way back in 1985. It was the only movie my Aunt had on tape (Betamax!) and daytime TV at the time was wall-to-wall soap operas. I don't know why she had this film in particular, but when you're trapped in an air-tight concrete bunker in the middle of warehouse-ville Los Angeles with nowhere to go and no cable, you take what you can get. I didn't understand it all, partly because I was young and partly because it's a weird film, but I still loved it. It was so cool. I watched it multiple times. It's all about Otto. Otto is an aimless punk rocker in L.A., nothing to do and nowhere to be. His friends are all assholes. His parents are barely there. He ends up quitting his crappy job at a grocery store in spectacular fashion and falls into a new line of work as a Repo Man, stealing cars back from people who have stopped paying for them. After that, things get a bit weird, or maybe more normal for L.A. in the 80s, as our low-rent heroes, a group of UFO nuts, a punk rock stick-up gang, some Men in Black, and a couple of rival Repo men collide in a race to find a 1964 Chevy Malibu with a posted reward of $20,000, money that could make dreams come true. It also has a couple of dead Aliens in the trunk. It's such a weird and great film. So much fun. And so, so quotable. Plus, once again... the great Harry Dean Stanton.

83. River’s Edge

This film has a ton of stars--Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Dennis Hopper--it's super cool, well-written, filled with great performances, it's so quotable, and yet for some reason, it's often forgotten. It's about a bunch of burn-out kids the day after one of their group has killed another. Accident? Or is he crazy? Some want to stand by the alive friend, help him and hide the body, others want to mourn their dead friend and report the killing to the police. They're conflicted, straining their friendship, torn between what's right and the bonds of loyalty. It's at one point a teen comedy--although a dark one--and at another, a strangely realistic and frighteningly familiar portrait of American teenage malaise. It is a surprisingly great film. Plus, the Crazy-off going on between Dennis Hopper and Crispin Glover is truly something special. But here's the best part...  Remember Tim, the super-creepy and douchey kid in the film? Tim? He's the worst, just the worst. I could never stand that kid. Anyway, years ago, he was making this really terrible movie once, when I was working Locations in L.A., and I totally screwed up one of his shoots... Ha! Take that, you creepy little liver-lipped weird-o! Revenge!

84. Romper Stomper

Another early Russel Crowe film, another crazy-ass Australian movie. This one is about a tight-knit group of Neo-Nazi skinheads living their lives, causing trouble, and just generally being assholes, and how it all ends up falling apart. Crowe is fantastic, you watch this and completely understand why it is he became a huge movie star. He is magnetic as Hando, the charismatic leader, a guy loses his shit the day his girlfriend and his best friend fall in love. It's kind of a skinhead Camelot. Kind of, a little. It's also one of those movies where you find yourself rooting for the bad guys, despite the fact that they're horrible people. You won't want to love this film, but you just can't help it, it's really good. And Crowe isn't the only reason why either. It's a tough and visceral film, truly hardcore. The big fight between the skinheads and the pissed-off Vietnamese family? It's amazing. A running battle. It has to be seen, it's totally worth the viewing. This is a shocking and brutal film, but a great one too. Give it a shot.

85. Scott Pilgrim vs The World

This film is directed by Edgar Wright. He directed Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And the film is based off an indie comic of the same name. I love all that shit. Love. Love. Love. So I am admittedly perhaps somewhat predetermined towards liking this film. Sue me. What do ya' want? Anyway, the story of Scott Pilgrim is a classic one. Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl fall in Love. Boy must defeat the Girl's Seven Evil Exs in super-kung-fu combat. A tale as old as time. It's hyper-kinetic, ultra-stylized, and pop-punk and video game infused, it is a super funny super good time. Now, the film was made before the comic series was finished, so the ending in the film is different from the ending in the book. It's also very obvious the film was originally leaning towards a different ending (and girl) which would have made more sense and fit a little more neatly into the film's story, but... shit happens sometimes. I blame Burbank test audiences, which are filled up with the recently lobotomized, the aggressively stupid, and low-born mouth-breathers, a group Hollywood gives way too much of a voice to. But that ship has sailed, so not a perfect film, and fans of the book may complain that certain characters and storylines were short-shrifted, but it's still lots of fun and has a great cast. Also, the inclusion of the comic book-like sound effects is a bonus. In a word: Awesome.

86. Shaun of the Dead

A romantic comedy with zombies? Something for everyone. You haven't seen this film? How is that even possible? Were you in jail? On Mars? You know what it is, I bet it's because you think you know what this film is. I bet you think it's like the Walking Dead TV show (which we strenuously disapprove of and consider to be shitty TV, see here, here, and here), or maybe you assume it's more in-line with the actually good zombie films that were mentioned previously on this very list, films that a little more classically horror-orientated. Well, buddy, I'm here to tell you: You are wrong. Super wrong. Like Flat-Earth wrong. Just like Hot Fuzz is a both a parody and good example of Buddy-Cop Comedy-Action films, Shaun of the Dead is a parody of the zombie genre... and also a great zombie film. Shaun is in a dead-end job, stuck in the same rut, hanging out with the same friends and drinking in the same bar night after night while life passes him by, but it's only when long-time girlfriend Liz dumps him does he realize this. Unfortunately, that same night there's a zombie outbreak and the shit kind of hits the fan... Now, not only does Shaun need to win Liz back, he also needs to survive a zombie apocalypse. Like all the stuff Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg do, this film is exceedingly clever, really funny, and--as it should be--is filled with gory zombie action. Honestly, I don't know how we can stay friends if you're going to keep on refusing to see this film.

87. Spaced

Speaking of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost (and adding the hilarious Jessica Hynes), up next we have the BBC series that started them off. Spaced is about Tim and Daisy, a pair of twenty-somethings that share a flat, their friends, the weird landlady, and all the crazy things that happen in their lives. It's oddball, funny, and totally geeky. I waited for years before I was finally able to see this show in America and it didn't disappoint. Now, I don't know if you could claim it has any great insight or anything, it's an English Sit-com after all, but it is really funny and clever and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Try it out, especially if you like British comedy.

 88. Super Troopers

I think a lot of people avoid this film--a forever favorite of mine--assuming that it's just some Police Academy type of movie instead of a super-sarcastic laugh riot about some Highway Patrolmen--a bunch of cads and cut-ups--who stumble onto a big drug-smuggling ring. Of course, the whole drug smuggling thing isn't really a main focus of the film, it's more a nod to the necessity of a main plot, the real reason to watch this film is because it's one of the funniest things ever. I was living with five other Ne'er-do-wells when this came out and I think we watched it a million times. It is much loved. Even today, just one line can set off an avalanche of quotes, whole scenes can be reenacted on the fly. Broken Lizard is the name of the comedy team behind this film and they are drop-dead hilarious. They went on to do other films that were nowhere near as funny as this one, but I mean... how could they be, since this is one of the funniest movies ever. Plus, as an added bonus: Brian Cox, people. Brian Cox.

89. Thin Red Line

After several comedies, we have suddenly swerved back into serious film territory. I'll give you a second to adjust... Okay, so, famous movie Director Terrance Malick is supposedly a crazy man, legend claims that he retreated from Hollywood years ago, moved up into the mountains, and then spent years chasing off visitors with a shotgun. That's probably mostly bullshit. Anyway, this was his first film back after twenty years away and it is amazing. An intense and engrossing film experience, it's maybe my most favorite war film. Malick's eye is incredible. Lacking the somewhat manipulative shock-violence of the spate of Vietnam-ear films that swept theatres 20-some years ago, he captures the wonder of nature and the horror of war both with the same brutal intensity and stunning beauty. The film is the fictional re-telling of the Battle of Mount Austen on Guadalcanal during WWII, following several different characters--many of whom, admittedly, look too much alike. Seriously, sometimes it's really hard to tell a few of those guys apart, especially when they're all pale brunettes dressed in nothing but green. Otherwise, you will probably recognize just about everyone else in the film though, since it seems like every well-known working actor alive appears at one point or another. Several big names were even cut completely out of the film, that's how crammed full it is. Apparently the first cut was five hours long. Slow and contemplative and suddenly filled with blistering violence, the fact that this film so easily balances the spectacle of modern movies with the unflinching honesty of 70s cinema is a testament to Malick's supreme talent. I'm a big fan.

90. Time Bandits

If you're looking for the craziest, the most fun and imaginative fantasy films made, then your list should start and stop with Terry Gilliam. I've mentioned him a time or two already. Of all his films I've mentioned though, this one in particular is my favorite. Time Bandits is about a lonely boy named Kevin. One night, his bedroom becomes a forest where knights in armor ride. Things get weirder when Kevin finds himself in his pajamas and on the run with a group of little people. Once employed by the Supreme Being to patch holes in the fabric of the universe, they have instead stolen the Being's Map to Everything with the intent of plundering the riches of history. Now, chased though time and space, they meet Napolean and Robin Hood and Agememnon, they see giants, fight minotaurs, escape death traps, and end up using legions of history's warriors to face down and defeat Evil. I told you it was crazy and imaginative. It's also the epitome of classic fantasy adventure. Made in a time before CGI basically ruined movies, this film is suffused with magic and wonder. It's incredible, too weird, as if poured directly from Gilliam's head. It blew my mind as a kid and still holds up today. Plus, it has the most insane ending ever. It will leave you stunned and confused as the credits roll. Check it out, it's really good.

And there we go. Part Nine is done! That's nine out of ten! You all know what that means, don't you? It means there's only one more section left in the Staff Picks list, kids, just ten more movies. What will they be?

Stay tuned,

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