Friday, June 20, 2008

Kevin's Top 25 Movies: Intro and Another 25

So Troy and I have decided to simultaneously post our 25 favorite films (later we will do albums) where each day we will post five entries. The formula was simple: don't repeat directors. Now, some movies may just look plain odd sitting next to each other, but isn't that how it usually is when we play favorites? We can't really justify a certain film about say, a cyborg cop, being placed next to the greatest film noir ever made (hint: it's Touch of Evil), but when we stop and explain each films merits and why they are our favorite and how they hold up on their own, and not against other great films, then I have no problem with Paul Verhoeven and Orson Welles sharing space together. Some movies may make you scratch your head, others will make sense, but keep in mind that for me, favorites and 'the best' are something different.

It was extremely hard for me to whittle down this list to a mere 25 films; I think I achieved what I wanted to with the list by picking movies that shed some insight into the kinds of films I enjoy now and the kinds of films that enchanted, inspired, and hypnotized me into the avid film-goer I am today. Also...films that just make me laugh for all the right reasons, which means that they are usually films that weren't intended to be funny or had their tongue so firmly placed within their cheek that when the film was released, most people missed the joke. You'll see what I mean when a certain Mike Nichols film pops up.

To see the distinction I have made between 'the best' and 'my favorite' click here. And as is the case with most lists like this there are inevitably films that are hard to cut, so in keeping with the tradition of copping out, here are the 25 supplemental films (call them all 25a) to my definitive list of my 25 favorite films, all in numerical order (because I am better than Troy) with comments on random films. So sit back and relax (sorry for the length of this post, the others won't be this long, we are only doing five movies per day) grab some popcorn, or if you're Brandon or Kyle, some form of sour candy, get a pen and some paper. DVD recommendations abound within:

50. Wolf (1994, Mike Nichols) -- Talk about your bizarre films. Mike Nichols makes a movie with Jack Nicholson and James Spader as werewolves. Uh yeah. However, the film works strictly as a pretty funny allegory for the world of publishing. Worth checking out just for the hilariously awful fight scenes at the end.

49. Leaving Las Vegas (1995, Mike Figgis) -- One of the most heartbreaking films you will likely see. Nicolas Cage's performance is amazing and the score the pain of both his character and Sera, the prostitute played by Elisabeth Shue. A film that his emotionally devastating, but has the amazing ability to actually be quite redeeming by the end.

48. The Awful Truth (1937, Leo McCarey) -- If I could go back in time and be one person, I would most definitely be Cary Grant. He was one suave dude, and real funny to boot. This is one of his best screwball comedies, only to be outdone, in my opinion, by a film that will appear later on in the list.

47. The Wedding March (1928, Eric Von Stroiheim) -- one of the great forgotten silent classics from a master who couldn't figure out who to work within the system. Which is a shame, because Von Stroheim was a rare genius who could manipulate the audience with the power of the pantomime.

46. A Decade Under the Influence (2003, Ted Demme)
45. Nightmare City (1980, Umberto Lenzi)
44. Dirty Harry (1971, Don Siegel)

43. Nosfertau: Phantom Der Nacht (1979, Werner Herzog) -- I acutally prefer this version to the original, with it's extremely long establishing shots, eerie silences, strange goings-on in the counts castle, and one creepy bizarre performance from Herr Kinski. What's so great about Herzong's retelling of the classic vampire story, is that it can work with the sound off too, and be just as eerie as Murnau's silent classic.

42. Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski) -- "Are you alone?" Those three words are at the heart of one of the best film noir's ever made. J.J. Gittes is a lonely character surrounded by a mystery he has no business being involved in. The drought is the perfect metaphor for the morally devoid characters that inhabit Gittes' world. One of Nicholson's best performances. I never get tired of watching this movie.

41. The Rock (1994, Michael Bay) -- yes you read that right...a Michael Bay film is on here. I still watch this movie at an unhealthy rate. Thanks to Encore Action I can pretty much count on catching at least some of it once every day. This is probably the last action movie that has a lot of the charm and lunacy of 1980's action films. It just never gets old. And seriously, any movie with Tony Todd and Michael Biehn sharing screen time with Sean Connery and Ed Harris is gold in my book. Gold I tells ya!

40. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999, Anthony Minghella) -- One of the best films of the 90's and the closest thing to Hitchcock since the great master left us with his last great film, Frenzy. Matt Damon and Jude Law have never quite topped themselves, and sadly, neither did Anthony Minghella who passed away earlier this year. He was at his pinnacle here, filming in beautiful locations with beautiful actors, until all of that beauty is shattered by one swing of an oar, in one of the most brutal and chilling scenes you will ever see. If you haven't seen it, you need to.

39. Dark City (1998, Alex Proyas)
38. Bringing Up Baby (1938, Howard Hawkes)
37. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989, Steven Spielberg)
36. Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)

35. Wayne's World (1992, Penelope Spheeris) -- One of those movies that as a kid, I never quite understood the jokes, but laughed anyway because my brothers and their friends did. To this day I still quote this film, dating me a bit, but I could care less. The movie has its inspired moments (like the casting of Rob Lowe and the scene with Alice Cooper) and its not so inspired moments (the plot is very generic), that Myers and co. hilariously point out and poke fun of with their multiple endings (the Scooby-Doo one being the best). The thought of the movie always puts a smile on my face. Probably the only good movie to ever exist based on SNL characters.

34. True Romance (1993, Tony Scott) -- Tony Scott should feel proud. I just placed his movie over Citizen Kane (mostly because I couldn't have two Welle's films on here, and I have always liked Touch of Evil more). True Romance is the perfect pairing of Quentin Tarantino's referential dialogue (I still prefer Christian Slater's opening monologue about Elvis to Tarantino's interpretation of Like a Virgin in Resevoir Dogs) and Tony Scott's visual flair. The film has all of the staples you come to find in a Tony Scott film: bright colors, cigarette smoke that has never looked so artistic, a kinetic pace to the action scenes, and lots and lots of bullets. The cast is amazing and sadly it was the last good movie Christian Slater ever made. He's just a lot of fun to watch as he works with Tarantino's dialogue. The film really stands out for three reasons: the scene with Christoper Walken and Dennis Hopper, just watch the way these two pros handle the scene, it's magic, and easily the best scene in the movie, also there is a wonderful and tense moment when Slater and Arquette are trying to sell cocaine to a slimy movie producer (Saul Rubinek) and just watch as one of the characters in the room has a bug on him as he tries to get information for the police...just wonderfully tense and funny. The third scene is worth noting just because it has Bronson Pinchot snorting cocaine and then getting it all over his face. Yes, if you have ever wanted to see Balki from Perfect Strangers snort cocaine, here is your chance. God bless you Quentin Tarantino.

33. Midnight Run (1988, Martin Brest) -- One of my favorite films of the 80's. I first saw this movie because I worked in a video store with a manager who would always recommend that I see films from the 80's like Stripes and Caddyshack or Trading Places, etc. One of my favorite films he suggested to me at the time (I think I was 21) was Midnight Run. It's a great buddy/chase/road trip movie and the odd pairing of Charles Grodin and Robert DeNiro works extremely well for both laughs and when the emotional stuff kicks in (a staple of the 80's action/comedy film). Martin Brest is an underrated director and gets some big laughs out of his cast (especially Dennis Farina). It's one of those films that is so wonderfully 80's (I can't explain it, except if you always find yourself watching Beverly Hills Cop or Lethal Weapon when they are on TV then you know what I mean) and just sucks me in every time I see it play on TV. A real fun movie.

32. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987, John Hughes) -- For my money this is the pinnacle of John Hughes' 80's comedies. It has all the requisite Hughesisms (awkward moments, gratuitous language, and of course the obligatory tug-at-the-heartstrings scene), and it was probably the last laugh out loud movie that John Candy made. Steve Martin has rarely topped himself since (aside from Parenthood, LA Story, and Bowfinger his comedies since this one have been terrible). The movie is worth seeing for the scene in the car rental lot alone, and the conversation about 'ball handling' that follows. Thankfully the film has a Thanksgiving theme, thereby allowing me to have an excuse to watch it every year.

31. The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall) -- Neil Marshall's referential love song to the horror films of the 70's and 80's is the best horror film since Wes Craven's New Nightmare. The story on its surface is about a group of women spelunking, getting lost, and having to stave off weird creatures. But the heart of the film is the psychological. Drawing all kinds of imagery from films like Alien, Don't Look Now, Carrie, and even Picnic at Hanging Rock, the film is more interesting when thought of not as a horror film, but the psychological battle the main character has with trying to fight her demons and letting her husband and daughter rest in piece. The final image is both haunting and an emotional punch to the gut that you so rarely find in horror film. It's proof that the genre still can lend itself to heavy themes by being both artistic and exhilarating without having to be heavy handed. The title is the key the films multi-layered plot. A wonderful film that with time will probably crack the top 25.

30. Wild at Heart (1990, David Lynch) -- Certainly not the best David Lynch film (that would be Blue Velvet), but it is definitely the most fun. Where Blue Velvet's darker undercurrent makes it a lot harder to watch on a regular basis, the pure ethereal experience of Wild at Heart (seriously, watching it you feel as if you are on drugs) is something that I will never not want to experience. It's the typical bizarre 50's/punk-noir storyline that Lynch usually offers up. Great performances by Nicolas Cage (as Sailor) and Laura Dern, not to mention the bizarre and creepy Willem Dafoe. But nothing tops the bizarre relationship between Harry Dean Stanton and Diane Ladd, who as the overprotective mother is something that has to be seen to believe. Everything from the way the film is shot by Frederick Elms, to the editing to the music is meant to give you a sense of reverie. I can't explain it, but the first time I watched the film it was like I just had an outer body experience. A truly wonderfully weird movie.

29. Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento) -- One of the best Italian horror films of all time. It doesn't make the final cut, because I like the campiness of Fulci's The Beyond more than the seriousness of Argento's masterpiece. Actually, I prefer some other Argento like Opera and Tenebre to Suspiria, but it makes the list because I used to watch it so many times, in awe of what Itlaian horror offered that American horror didn't. I saw for the first time that beautiful filmmaking could mesh with squeamish horror visuals. The film is bloody, and bloody good looking. The opening to the film is one of the most famous in all of horror, and rightly so, it kicks your butt right from the beginning, and then takes a break for a bit, before spiraling into a kaleidescope of bright colors, eerie music, obtrusive set pieces, and lots and lots of gore. Oh, and Goblin scores the film. That's enough right there to see it. Modern horror films wish they could be this good.

28. Lethal Weapon 2 (1989, Richard Donner) -- Ah Lethal Weapon 2...where would I be without you? I so badly wanted to put this in the top 25 but I just couldn't find a place, plus there are more memorable and nostalgic action pictures that deserve a place on the list. This was probably one of the first videos that I wore out from watching so much (along with yes...Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Batman, and Last Crusade). I remember this film for a few things: a house on stilts, obligatory 1980's sex scene, Joe Pesci getting effed in the drive-thru, and a surf board decapitating someone. Man I loved this movie. True it doesn't have Gary Busey as the villain, but I think I just like the second one a tad more because of the element Joe Pesci adds to it. It's a funnier film with essentially the same action scenes and pacing. It's a toss up, but I have to go with part two as the better of the Lethal Weapon movies, but seriously, check em both out. They are the Citizen Kane of the buddy cop action sub-genre.

27. Pan's Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo Del Toro) -- Guillermo Del Toro's brilliant film blurs the lines between fantasy and reality so wonderfully that it deserves comparison to Fellini's 8 1/2. Although the film is only two years old, I would argue that it is easily one of the best films ever made. Much like the more serious horror films on this list, The Descent and Suspiria, Del Toro has fun with the conventions of the genre but seeks to excavate something deeper than just a generic shock fest. Also, much like last years The Orphanage (which Del Toro produced), Pan's Labyrinth shows that the Spanish horror/fantasy genre is interested in exploring the themes of fantasy as a means to pull yourself out of the harsh realities of the real world. I wouldn't dare spoil anything from the way the plot unfolds, but everything from the films score to its beautiful imagery draws you in and is truly a special film experience. He not only draws from the horror genre, but also fantasy films like The Wizard of Oz and Snow White, evoking wonderful Blake-like innocence and experience imagery. When the final shot of the film comes, you feel both the sadness and the joy Del Toro wants you to feel. Like any good director he succeeds in playing the audience like a piano, and when you realize what the film is really about, it only makes you want to see the film again and again.

26. Witness (1985, Peter Weir) -- Peter Weir's film is another odd hybrid like The Descent. A film that is a genre picture but seeks to do so much more with that genre. The film on its surface is nothing more than your generic crime picture with John Booke (Harrison Ford) having to go out of his comfort zone to protect a crucial witness who saw two policeman commit a murder. When Booke has to adapt to the Amish lifestyle is when Weir and his cinematographer John Toll shine. The films crime story takes a back seat to a more contemplative and poetic picture. The images are framed in a way to look like old oil paintings, nothing seems real, as the audience feels Booke's displacement as the alien in another country. The film is rewatchable for the wonderful cinematography, the great musical score, and the engrossing murder mystery. But most of all this is Ford's show. Never before or since has he been as good as he is in Witness. Weir is a very underrated director, and it was really hard to find a film of his that I wanted to choose because I like them all so much. the interest of cheating some more, also check out: Fearless, The Last Wave, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and The Truman Show.


  1. You totally outdid me, you jerk.

    I'm going to go back through and re-rank mine now!

  2. I appreciate that your list is populated with "prestige" films, critically loved commercial hits, and some films that you just love, like Lethal Weapon 2 and Wolf.

    This is why my list includes Bloodsport and Top Gun. :D

  3. Man. You say what I want to say but can't say about the movies I love. Cool that you rightly list some movies that get overlooked. Like Open Range and Out of Sight.
    The best, and I mean the very best, critic comments on movies I've ever read. Thanks.