Saturday, September 6, 2008

Uncle Ick's Top 10 Favorite Films

(For any film nuts out there, I beg you to consider the title of this list literally. In other words, do not think I am claiming any special kind of knowledge in the art of film making or that I am saying these are the top 10 best films of all time. I'm not. I believe there definitely are films on this list that any film critic or student would have to agree are - at the very least - deserving of great praise, but I'm not going to pretend that I have enough knowledge of the art of crafting movies or have even seen enough movies to make a top 10 best films of all time list. These are the ones I like. 'Cuz I like 'em. So don't get all up in my grill and shit. Um. Yo.)

10. Big Trouble in Little China Directed by John Carpenter

There are very few stupid things I like because they're stupid. I'm not a fan of B movies, not even usually the more self-aware B movies like this one that know how silly they are and so lampoon themselves while reveling in their idiocy. But I've always liked Big Trouble ever since it came out when I was a kid. I think when I first saw it, I was somewhat aware of the self-parody aspect of it, but honestly I was more jazzed by all the guns and swords and karate and dudes shooting lighting bolts. Especially the lightning bolts. I don't know what it is. If there's a dude or a chick who shoots lightning bolts, I'm there.

9. Raising Arizona Directed by Joel Coen

Gather around, children, and I shall regale you with tales of wonder so fantastic you could hardly believe them. Tales of dragons and princesses. Of battles won and love lost. Of gods and goddesses, of demons and devils, and of all the unfortunate souls that lay in-between. But the most fantastic of all my tales, that will make you laugh to think it could possibly be true, is of a distant past when Nicolas Cage didn't think he was John Wayne, and so made movies worth a flying shit.

8. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Directed by Ang Lee

The funny thing is, I hated this flick the first time I saw it. I never saw it in the theater. Instead, after hearing that its director would also be directing Hulk, I bought the DVD to see if I could get a clue about the worth of the guy who would be bringing my favorite green-skinned goliath to the screen.

I remember describing it to people as "a generic kung-fu flick an hour and a half longer than it needed to be." The truth? I don't like admitting this at all, but I think that what irked me about Crouching Tiger when I first saw it was the message of female empowerment, because at the time I had some serious anger issues regarding women. I'm not proud of it, but there it is.

My mind has since changed. In fact, when I used to play World of Warcraft, there was a zone of the game - a large, dense jungle - called Stranglethorn Vale that I always loved going to, and the only reason I liked going there (as any WoW player will tell you, STV is a BITCH of a zone to navigate, and there are some who avoid it completely) is that the music for that particular zone (each zone in WoW has different music) was very evocative of the lovely, sad musical score of Crouching Tiger.

7. Se7en Directed by David Fincher

There's a lot to like about Se7en, but I think what I love most is Morgan Freeman's character.

Freeman is a marvelous actor, but I've always been bothered by his presence. Or, more to the point, how his presence is used. There's this larger-than-life thing about most of his characters. His films almost always have at least one of what I call the "Morgan Moment" - the moment when everyone has to shut up because Morgan has something Important to say. Lean On Me is pretty much nothing but a neverending series of Morgan Moments. I mean, Christ, he even had those Morgan Moments in Robin Hood.

And the result is a whole bunch of characters that just don't seem very fallible, at least in regards to morality and wisdom. But that isn't the case in Se7en. His character is like a Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammett noir detective whose been cursed to stay in the world too long. He is utterly depressed and cynical, only able to endure his existence by filling his life with monotonous rituals. The scene right after Brad Pitt's character schools him in the bar - when he says, in response to Freeman's cynical speeches about humanity's darkness, something along the lines of "You say you're leaving because of all these things, but really I think you say all these things because you're leaving" - when Freeman returns to his apartment and spins a switchblade into a dartboard over and over, is one the most quietly dark and disturbing moments of any of Freeman's characters. With the possible exception of his character in Unforgiven, he's never been more fallible or more human.

6. The Silence of the Lambs Directed by Jonathan Demme

It's unfortunate that Hollywood felt the need to mar the memory of this great film with its Lucas-like compulsion to spit out sequels and prequels that could never hope to be as good as the original.

Jodie Foster is wonderful in this film, there's no denying it, just like there's no denying Hopkins is the best reason to watch it. The Lecter of Lambs is one of the greatest villains on film. I don't think I need to say anymore. You all know it.

5. The Dark Knight Directed by Christopher Nolan

I don't think I can write anything that I didn't already write here. This is the best super-hero film. I doubt that will change any time soon.

4. This is Spinal Tap Directed by Rob Reiner

As a teenager I hung out with a lot of musicians. Spinal Tap is probably the best thing they introduced me to. It just never gets, no matter how many times I watch it, not funny. I'll always laugh at Christopher Guest's claims about his amps' superior worth and I'll always laugh at Billy Crystal's cameo when he angrily tells his fellow mime-waiter "Mime is Money!" I'll always laugh when Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer try and pathetically fail at an impromptu, acapella version of "Heartbreak Hotel" at Elvis Presley's grave, or when Rob Reiner reads the band the infamous two-word review.

3. The Lord of the Rings Directed by Peter Jackson

(for the purposes of this list, I'm counting all three films as one, and I'd argue they are in a sense)

As a fan of the books since the third grade, I never thought anyone could pull it off. Never. Certainly not the guy who made his bones with a movie about space zombies invading New Zealand.

And I don't complain about the differences between the films and the books. In fact, I'm glad the differences were there. Why? Well, not only would a word-for-word adaptation of The Lord of the Rings be something like 80 hours long, but because of all the differences - especially because of all the things that are in the books that were left out of the films - if you've never read the books before but love the films, there are still a lot of treasures left in the books for you to explore.

I have a few gripes. I didn't like that they never even tried to make it a surprise that Boromir would fall to the power of the Ring. You pretty much know it's going to happen as soon as he shows up, particularly because of the casting. Sean Bean's built his career playing characters who are either traitors, heroes completely inadequate relative to the tasks at hand, or both. There were a few things here and there that Jackson handled with more blatant magic that I always pictured as being handled more subtly. For example when Gandalf breaks Saruman's debilitating hold on King Theoden, while reading the books I never pictured Theoden literally growing younger, but simply standing taller and straighter - seeming more youthful because of his mindset and physical presence. I didn't like that Denethor was treated as a 2-dimensional madman. I always saw him as a very tragic figure. They never even mention that it was one of the Palanthir that magically drove him insane. I mean, as much as Boromir was made to seem like a jerk at the Council of Elrond when he complained that the rest of the world was kept safe by the blood of his people, he wasn't wrong. Being the only thing standing between an idyllic fantasy world and its destruction at the hands of armies of demonic bastards would be enough to stress anyone out, even without a magical glowy thing helping drive you apeshit. And when Gandalf bonks Denethor upside the head because he was yelling for everyone to run, that was just stupid. Really. I mean, come on. Was that the day Will Farrell visited the set or something?

But at the end of the day, Jackson & co. made something astonishing, and differences from the source material be damned, they were true to the souls of the books, and that's what's important.

2. Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worry and Love the Bomb) Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Best. Satire. Ever.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Directed by Michel Gondry

I don't usually seek out love stories, or like them. To be completely, unfortunately honest - I don't feel much like writing about this. Mainly for the same reason that I haven't been able to force myself to watch it since, well, if you read this blog regularly or know me in real life, then you know since when.

It's beautiful and funny and sweet. It will make you cry.

Oh, and after getting used to seeing Elijah Wood as a pure, cute little hobbit, seeing him play a sick little jerk who steals ladies underwear is awesome.

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