Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Staff Picks (Part Ten)

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 Ten--Numbers 91 thru 100)

You can find the rest of this list in its entirety here. Gaze upon it, so lovely. And one last time for the cheap seats, the only order these films appear in, is alphabetical... Final sprint! Let's go! This is it!

91. Trekkies

The title says it all. This documentary is about Star Trek fans, the really passionate ones, the Trekkies. The people in this documentary love Star Trek. It's their thing. They love the shit out of it and they don't mind sharing that love. And while yes, there are a few sequences that are manipulated or played up a bit, for the most part everyone who appears in this film is real and sincere. Sure, some of them may be odd. They may be over-the-top, they may even be a bit ridiculous and a little out-of-touch with the rest of the world, but they have that sincerity in spades.  And that's why I like this film, because it never seems false or mean-spirited. That's Trekkies 2. Don't watch Trekkies 2. Trekkies 2 is bullshit, it's nothing but ironic Star Trek theme bands and hipster wadjob douchebags all posing and bullshit, so fuck those dickholes, they're false. The sincerity is what's important here, that's what makes this film sweet and interesting, that's what makes it more than just a 90 minute freak show, and instead, says something about people and our common search for connection and friendship and acceptance. The sincerity is what makes it good, so when you're laughing, you're not laughing at Gabriel's prissy mannerisms or The Commander's strange intensity, you're just sharing their love. The sincerity is makes it cool. And funny. Often really funny.

92. Trollhunter

Another pretty self-explanatory title... Trollhunter is also another example of a well-done POV film, this time from Norway, telling the story of a group of students who, while investigating an odd public servant, discover a secret they never expected to find.  Now, normally I'd say that a group of students unknowingly biting off more than they can chew is exactly why most POV films don't work at all, that there would come a point--most likely the very first time they are chased by an angry troll straight out of a Hans Christian Anderson story--where they would drop the camera and run screaming as fast as they can. That's a major hurdle for most POV films and this one manages to cleverly sidestep the issue, mostly by having the kids run like hell, but occasionally by having one of them get eaten. I like that. Even more than those clever sidesteps, it is the classic fairy-tale design of the trolls themselves that makes the continued filming seem plausible. Seeing the trolls for the first time, they seem so otherworldly and magical and yet at the same time so shockingly familiar somehow, and just like the kids, you're instantly enthralled with them. You understand why they would want to see more. I really enjoyed this weird little POV horror/fairy-tale mash-up. I loved the very classic rules and the way the Trollhunter dealt with the creatures. All good stuff. You may not have heard of this one due to foreign films often not getting the best distribution, but if you run across it, give it a chance. It's a good film and it looks great.

93. True Grit (2010)

Charlie Portis' book is one of my favorites. It's an amazing voice. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it. I didn't expect that at all. Loved it. However, I do not enjoy the original version of the film. Well, John Wayne was great, sure, but the rest of the film--even for the time period--is the worst kind of studio hokum. Now, I've already mentioned on this list how much I enjoy the Coen Brothers' films, so when they announced their intent to remake this as their next project, and how they fully intended to skew more closely to the book this time, I was super excited and the result did not disappoint. It looked great. It sounded great. The cast was fantastic. Bridges as the grizzled old Marshall, Damon as the cocky young Texas Ranger, and Brolin as the hapless criminal Tom Chaney, they're great, but you expect them to be, right? The real surprise was the strength of the performance by previously unknown actress Hailee Steinfeld. She plays the headstrong Mattie Ross, the young voice that drives the whole story, and she was great... of course, she has pretty much disappeared since then, but oh well, at least she was great here. It's not my favorite western, I'd probably call it my third, but it's still definitely worth the watch.

94. The Venture Brothers

The Venture Brothers is one of the best shows ever. The. Best. I usually laugh so hard, it hurts. It's so ridiculous and so smart and so geeky and so self-aware, but it's not just geek reference jokes, it's surprisingly creative and often super cool too. It skewers super-hero adventure, but at the same time, it's often home to some bad-ass super-hero adventure of its own. The backstory goes a little like this: Rusty Venture used to be a boy adventurer. His Dad was world famous super-scientist adventurer Dr. Jonas Venture. His father and his father's friends were heroes. They've gone to space, to the bottom of the ocean and other dimensions. They've ridden dinosaurs, they've fought monsters, spies, ninjas, and even super villains, the whole nine yards. Decades later, Rusty is now known as Dr. Venture, but he is not the super scientist his now-deceased father was. What he is, is a pompous moron and a poser, not to mention broke and kind of a jerk. He and his sons, Hank and Dean, the titular Venture Brothers, still get in adventures, but mostly on accident and often despite Rusty's attempts to avoid them. Brock Sampson is their bodyguard, he's a bad-ass, a Swedish murder machine built for two things: killing and wooing the ladies. Well... he was their bodyguard, but now he's joined OSI, a kind of G.I. Joe meets SHIELD organization, run by an insane version of Hunter S Thompson. I forgot to that mention Hank and Dean are clones. They've been killed dozens and dozens of times, due to their dangerous lifestyle--and because they're kind of dumb--but when they die, Dr. Venture just grows two more, so they've been stuck repeating 15 over and over a long time now. But then the Monarch--Dr. Venture's butterfly-themed arch nemesis--destroyed the clone banks, so that's over, and the boys now have their drivers' licenses. Also, the Monarch's girlfriend is named Dr. Girlfriend. She looks like Jackie O and sounds like somebody who might be named Saul. She's a lot more competent villain-wise than the Monarch is. The only thing the Monarch loves more than trying to kill Dr. Venture, is Dr. Girlfriend and she loves him. FYI, David Bowie is the head of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, the main bad guys. The show is kinda nuts. It's basically like Johnny Quest, but with more failure and really sarcastic. I know what you're thinking, you're thinking: "Hmm... maybe this isn't for me..." WRONG! It's the best thing ever; it's for everybody.

95. Waking Sleeping Beauty

Hey now, here is an interesting documentary. This movie chronicles the fall and rebirth of Disney's animation studio. After the failures of films like the Black Cauldron and the Great Mouse Detective, the loss of some major behind-the-scenes players, and unexpected competition from other studios, the Mouse House was on the verge of shutting down their animation studio. Unbelievable, right? It's hard to imagine, Disney without animation, but it almost happened. But then new talent and a new direction somehow grabbed magic out of thin air and changed everything. This is a documentary about how The Little Mermaid saved Disney animation. It's a fascinating inside look at a studio in turmoil and how a pure artistic vision saved it from sinking.

96. The Warriors

A true midnight classic. A 1970s B movie like no other. The story goes like this: The Gramercy Riffs are the biggest, baddest gang in all of NYC. Cryus is their leader and he declares a massive midnight summit in the Bronx, inviting all of the New York gangs to attend by sending nine unarmed members. The Warriors of Coney Island are just one of the many gangs that respond. At the big summit, Cyrus proposes a permanent truce, a move that would allow the gangs to control the city, "Can you dig it?" But then Luthor, the crazy little rat-bastard leader of the Rogues, shoots down Cyrus just because he likes to do stuff like that, and in the resulting chaos, he frames the Warriors. The Riffs put a hit out on the Warriors, who must now travel all the way back across a dark and dirty 1970s craphole New York City that is practically post-apocalyptic, with hundreds of vicious gangs standing between them and the safety of their home turf. Unarmed, out-numbered and on their own, it's a total blast.

97. The Wicksboro Incident

The final POV film appearing on this list. This film has three reasons to stand out, as far as I see things. 1. It's a great idea. An old man contacts a young film maker with a crazy story about secret Cold War experiments, aliens among us, and how the entire town of Wicksboro, Texas was wiped off the map. Is the old man telling the truth or is he just a lonely old drunk? Are people following them? Are helicopters tracking them? Who is chasing them across the desert? It goes crazy quick. There's lots of tension and a really smart use of an obvious micro-budget. 2. It makes sense. I've talked about this before. There's always a point in POV films where the situation gets so dangerous, it no longer makes sense for the characters to keep filming, and it often doesn't make sense for the characters to even be filming in the first place. Well, in this film, the two young men are filmmakers and journalists on the trail of a story. Now, granted they end up biting off way more than they can chew and stuff gets really dangerous, but when it reaches that point? They acknowledge it in a very clever way. So, tip of a hat to them for realizing the style's limitations. And finally 3. They have one of the best shot-in-the-head affects I've ever seen in a extremely low budget film. Really well done. Totally sudden. It looked completely real, a true "Oh shit!" moment. Not gory, but shocking. So, in a nutshell, if you're looking for a great example of a cheaply done, but really well-made film, here's your answer.

98. The Wild Bunch

What can I say about the Wild Bunch? It's a classic that shattered the Hollywood myth of the Western. A film directed by the legendary Sam Peckinpah, its violence and nudity and lack of heroes changed cinema. It's not only one of my favorite films, it's my absolute favorite western. The story of a group of old outlaws still trying for one last score in a world that's changing, they're eventually forced into a corner by betrayal, bad luck, and circumstance, and with nothing left but the guy riding next to them, they choose to make their last stand. It's such a great film. There's a melancholic romance that permeates the whole thing, a feeling of a dying Age, the tattered end of the wild, wild west. The time when these men rode the world and lived by the gun is ending. Civilization is catching up, squeezing them out. They're getting old, their ending more and more obviously inevitable--an idea so masterfully illustrated the moment when Pike falls off his horse--so when they decide to make their famous last stand (in a scene considered unbelievably shockingly violent for the time), it doesn't feel like a defeat, the choice feels like victory.

99. Young Frankenstein

Mel Brooks' best. An amazingly talented cast. One of the funniest films of all time. I don't have much to say about it. I'm sure you've heard of it, I know you have. And if you haven't seen it, you must. This is one of the mandatory ones. You have to watch it. The story of a man desperate to escape the long shadow cast by his family name, but ultimately unable to deny his destiny, it's a movie that taught us all one thing... It could be worse. It could be raining.

100. Zodiac

The last spot on the list belongs to David Fincher's masterpiece, the pretty much historically accurate tale of the time in the late 60s and early 70s when a serial killer who called himself "Zodiac" terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area. Killing several people--often couples out on Lover's Lanes--and taunting police through the newspapers, while using complex ciphers, he was never caught. The case remains unsolved to this day. Fincher spins a riveting story, following the people who followed the crimes--the detectives and reporters and average civilians--detailing their lives and how the investigation impacted them, even suggesting an answer to the question: "Who was Zodiac? I loved this movie.  I'm a big fan of Fincher in general, but this film in particular is my favorite of his. It's atmospheric as hell, nothing but fog and slow-boiling tension and great performances. Of course, it completely tanked at the box office. Not that surprising, I guess, it's not a flashy film, after all, there's a lot characters and a lot of talking, and due to actual history, it can't have a traditionally satisfying ending. Add to that how many people think the film is too long and you have a recipe for a Box Office Bomb. Not that Receipts were ever any indication of film quality (Cough-Avatar-Cough), but y'know... it ends up affecting careers and the future of other good movies. Sad, really, but none of that changes the fact that Zodiac is a great film. The good news is, regardless of all that the Director's Cut exists and that's where it's really at, my friends. Seek it out.

Oh? What's that...?

Holy crap on a stick, that's it! Das ist alles for huete! The Staff Picks List is finished. Finito. Done-ski. Wooo! Was it good for you? Do you feel that there were films missing? Let me know what you think. Otherwise, it's be swell, but now the swelling has gone done, so until next time...

Later Gators,

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