Friday, October 16, 2015

100-something Movies You Should See If You Like Movies: A-D

Whilst finalizing a massive hit piece on the respected critical aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes (the same one that ranks all three Toy Story movies, Finding Nemo, E.T., Boyhood!, and the Wizard of Oz among its “Top 100 Movies of All Time”), it occurred to me that writing such an exposé would inevitably spark rebuttals of, “OK, Mr. Josephos, you can fling your dirt at movies other people love, but what movies do you love yourself?  Do you even like movies?”

Seeing as how every other online critic seems to have a numerical countdown of his own all-time favorites, there’s a case to make for The Author’s Files publishing its own.  Not a numerical one, of course, on one hand because rearranging all the entries to accommodate a new one would be a real pain in the arse, on the other because all the films that would make it onto such a list deserve better than to be pitted against each other in a competitive, mostly subjective ranking system.  There’s simply no definitive scientific way to claim that Memento is a ‘better’ movie than Interstellar by 0.24 points out of five.  I may draw slightly more entertainment or intellectual stimulation from one than from the other, but both represent the pinnacle of storytelling in their respective genres, so it’s kind of frivolous and stupid to say that one is factually superior to the other.

Video games and television are constrained enough in quality that I could likely make a top-fifteen list for each and systematically rank all the contenders with confidence, but the worlds of literature and film are so expansive in style and theme that it’s utterly vain to give them the same treatment.  So here’s part one of my alphabetically arranged rundown of movies that uncommonly affected, stirred, or motivated me to think. Think of it as an inconclusive list of movies for any adult who loves all sorts of movies.  The criterion for inclusion is basically anything that left me thinking, “Whoa,” or, “That was really good.”  Some of these I had to watch twice before I got them.

Well-regarded films that impressed me in some aspects but didn’t quite make the cut or just bewildered me include Taxi Driver, 2001, Akira, Looper, Cloverfield, Road to Perdition, Signs and The Sixth Sense, The Lion King, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, Gran Torino, It Follows, Gravity, The Guest, The Fifth Element, Westworld, the 2009 Star Trek, Star Wars Episode Whatever, pretty much every John Hughes movie, The Skin I Live In, Juno, The Thin Red Line, Short Term 12, Rabbit Proof Fence, Blue Ruin, Pan’s Labyrinth, Avatar, The Winter Soldier, The Prestige, I, Robot, Raising Arizona, O Brother, Fargo, and Burn After Reading.  Who knows if they’ll stay off the list, though, as it’s entirely possible I’ll come back to them as a more mature and knowing person and discover truths formerly concealed to me as a floundering, socially isolated Beatissima undergrad who vainly seeks out truths in entertainment where there’s only falsity and propaganda.

And here, we, go.

About Time 

A surprisingly clever, funny, and unconventional time travel romance about accepting the disappointments and appreciating the blessings life deals you on a daily basis.  British guy from Ex Machina is charmingly awkward and incompetent at using his powers to procure the attention of beautiful women.  Rachel McAdams is ridiculously cute, like serious wifey material, omg.  Great, great movie to show to that lady friend you don’t have.

The Abyss 

Up until the tacked-on anti-war conclusion that vaporizes all the mystery and suspense that surrounded the aliens’ existence (see The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Fifth Element, and the scene in T2 where John Connor conjectures, “We’re not gonna make it, are we?”), this was probably my favorite film of James Cameron, a gripping, strange, and incredibly produced undersea thriller that only feels more astounding when one reads about the drama that went on behind the production.  Superb CG alien design and practical effects, a marriage in its final throes, mutiny and madness in a contained environment, submarine warfare – all this could easily have turned into an overstuffed demo reel grasping at every technical marvel and plot point Cameron could think of, but it’s all so perfectly executed.  It’s just too bad I can’t ignore the final ten minutes.

Alien and Aliens –

I prefer Aliens for repeat viewing because it’s so damn fun, though both work on their own level.  Almost every scene of the latter is instantly memorable and quotable.  I’ll link the original reviews here and here, but it won’t make any difference.

Amadeus –

Alternately funny, disheartening, triumphant, and somber, it’s a gloriously inaccurate and a-historical meditation on envy like no other.

American Psycho –

Metrosexual, elitist music snob Christian Bale says the darnedest things when he isn’t murdering people in his head.  The whole film has a clear, crisp sound and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the scenes a big boost!

Apocalypse Now –

Apocalypse Now is a long trek into misery and darkness, one of which a fellow Beatissima student commented something like, “Well, that movie really makes you feel bad about humanity.”  Joseph Conrad couldn’t have asked for a better adaptation of Heart of Darkness.

Apocalypto –

An unrelenting and enthralling story about noble savages raping, enslaving, and sacrificing each other before the evil white men came to their shores and ruined their idyllic, humble society.  This is action moviemaking condensed to its most primal and powerful form, and I couldn’t ask for a more visceral rebuttal to all the penitent, holier-than-other-historians BS I’ve had to amuse in Alan Taylor’s stupid American Colonies book.

Arrival (u1) –

When Arrival first came out in the aftermath of a deeply traumatizing, hyperbolic election, critics hailed it as a globalist science-fiction parable specifically for our times; however, it’d really be more accurate to call it a science-fiction story unstuck in time, which suddenly veers into a strange and beautiful love story for all times.  Certain scenes early on drag more than necessary and there’s arguably an overuse of media montages.  If I could see the whole film front to back, I can’t say I wouldn’t change anything, but I’d definitely still go through with seeing it.  Since November, I’ve somehow watched it thrice with three different sets of people and it has affected me on every occasion.  The soundtrack is phenomenal.

The Bad News Bears –

I don’t feel all that bad about the scarcity of sports-related movies on this list, but I’m very grateful for the existence of The Bad News Bears.  Evaluated by today’s standards in cinema, the actions demanded of the Little Leaguers are shockingly offensive and even archaic, as they smoke, joke about breasts, butts, and sex, and utter pretty much every gay and racial slur in the book.  Maybe I’m a little sick for loving that someone had the bravado to cram so much bigotry and filth into a movie starring children, but nonetheless I love it.  I also like that it doesn’t have the typical ending where the underdogs are getting whipped until the second half, make a comeback, tie it up, and triumph by a hairsplitting goal/throw/hit.  But I mostly like it because it hails from an era when people didn’t get so worked up over something being Racist.  In 2005, Richard Linklater directed and/or castrated a lame and gratuitous remake for a generation of the perpetually offended.  I could proffer 50 unique reasons why the Linklater version is a cheap and soulless imitation of the original, but there are probably ten people in this world who care enough about The Bad News Bears to read them, so for now I’ll pass.

Beasts of the Southern Wild –

A raw and eye-opening film about extremely “poor” bayou-dwelling people who make do with very little but need very little to lead a whole, contented life.  When I heard the little girl in the movie got an Oscar nomination, the cynic in me thought, “She’s just reading lines and doesn’t even know just what she’s doing.”

She knew exactly what she was doing.

A Beautiful Mind –

The movie that almost every one of my freaking college professors likes to freely talk about as if the whole class already knows the twist.  Fortunately I beat them to it.  Do yourself a favor and watch it as the Author did, not reading anything beforehand about the movie or the person Russell Crowe is playing in the movie. If you do, you’re making a conscious decision to ruin the whole first half of the film, and the very fact you can ruin it implies it must have been pretty special to start.

Being John Malkovich (u1)

“I know what my passion taking hold feels like!”

Black Swan –

This one gets pretty wild.  I don’t know if I’d have given Natalie Portman an award for whatever she did in Black Swan, but Darren Aronofsky’s psychological masterpiece deserves every other award it didn’t get.

Blade Runner –

I honestly didn’t care much for Blade Runner the first time I watched it, finding its plot unduly convoluted and its then-innovative themes all too familiar and simplistic by today’s standards.  How many movies since Blade Runner have tried to humanize the robot slave or meditate on the frailty of human life and memories, which briefly and irrevocably dissolve into time, “like tears in rain”?  Then I tried it again as a slightly older college student and got a completely different impression.  Having more foreknowledge of the narrative’s direction and the characters’ relations to each other, I was able to appreciate Blade Runner’s structure as a series of things that I, like Deckard, just couldn’t believe, moments that shine brightly and briefly before fading into a mounting atmosphere of fatalism, hopelessness, and death.  There’s the “Let me tell you about my mother” scene, the Voight Kampf test of Rachel, the cat and mouse hunt played out between Batty and Deckard, the unicorn dream sequence, and of course the stunningly creative, Vangelis-accompanied visuals of a future Los Angeles roamed by replicants in hiding.  The film is gorgeous in a moody, rain-soaked sort of way, and I found the characters’ remorse much more palpable when I focused on the artistic look over any of the dialogue.

Borat (u1) –

There’s a scene in Borat where Sacha Baron Cohen is grilling a group of middle-aged feminists on social equality or something stupid like that, and one of the women scolds, “You’re laughing.  That is the problem.”  Unbeknownst to her, she’s bound to be one of the biggest problems in the movie.  Borat (and its sequel Bruno, on a less grand scale) is an unapologetic ode to every kind of forbidden laughter, one enlisting real, oblivious Americans to expose the cultural biases other films don’t dare to broach, and one that had me howling almost every minute.  The fact that Cohen, who never once breaks from character during actual, unrepeatable encounters, doesn’t hold an acting trophy while Leonardo Dicaprio does says all one needs to know about the validity of the So White Oscars.  If Cohen wasn’t playing a Middle-Eastern, Muslim-looking dictator, would he have gotten more accolades?

But who am I pick on Leo?  He is #1 prostitute for environmental lobby in whole of Hollywood.  Very nice!

A Boy and His Dog (u1)

Falling on the cheaper end of the post-apocalypse dystopian spectrum, A Boy and His Dog feels ironically expansive and open to exploration, more Fallout, less The Book of Eli.  Factions and distant pastures are suggested but not shown, and the foundational customs of the underground oligarchy in the latter half are left largely to the viewer’s abstraction.  The movie goes whatever dark places it wants to go and doesn’t tarry for general audiences to catch up.  Because it so respected the intelligence and moral discernment of everyone who would happen upon it, A Boy and His Dog inevitably bared itself to accusations of “misogyny” and “nihilism”, two buzzwords no one in critical media knows how to use properly.  Regardless, it serves as a valuable and well-aged reminder a) that a protagonist doesn’t need to be likeable or just, and b) that representing something is not the same as endorsing it.  Would A Boy and His Dog be a better or more virtuous film if the dog turned to the camera and lectured us that pound sign Rape Is Rape, and one should never, ever think to rape?  On the contrary, I assume that director L.Q. Jones already knew that rape was wrong, and he probably assumed that moviegoers would have known as much.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid –

Virtually defines the epic western.

Byzantium (u1)

Byzantium isn’t made of the same technical caliber as some of the other horror movies on this list, but it does have an abnormally challenging story structure and tackles head-on questions of good and evil and the value of life, which is more than one can say about a lot of recent films in my favorite genre.  I formerly wrote a short essay about its sly euthanasia criticism and moral philosophy, which you can read here.

The Cabin In The Woods –

Despite its torturously generic title, The Cabin in the Woods is anything but a generic slasher tribute to The Evil Dead.  There are so many layers of symbolism and subtext at play here you could probably make a movie about the making of the movie, but The Cabin in the Woods already is that movie.

Cast Away –

A movie about a guy who just keeps breathing even after losing everything he loves, twice.  I found it surprising how well it holds up even now that we’re inundated with shows purporting to show real people surviving the real deal.  Zemeckis took a very simple story on paper and made something extraordinary out of it through subtle images, strong sound, and staggering cinematography.

Chronicle –

The filmmakers basically abandon the found footage framework at the very end, but I didn’t care because the storytelling method by that point had become irrelevant. If you liked Man of Steel and its 40-minute ending battle, you probably won’t like Chronicle, which has about 10 minutes of violence in total and fills the rest of its runtime with character development.  If, like me, you’re sick of superhero origin depictions and need something to restore your belief in the artistic merit of the genre, Chronicle proves that they can be as intelligent and empathetic as any other drama.

Courage Under Fire –

Just a thought-provoking Gulf War moving starring Denzel and Meg Ryan.  I don’t remember much about it, but ’twas good.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon –

Saying nothing of the action, what a phenomenal ending does this movie have.

Dancer in the Dark (u1) –

As of the first update, my favorite film is generally a toss-up between this and Memento and Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance.  When I say Mr. Vengeance, it’s usually because I’m trying to confuse somebody; when I say Memento, because I’m trying to bond with another Christopher Nolan fanboy; but when I say Dancer in the Dark, it’s just because I’m being honest.  Never before I have found a film so alternately beautiful and bleak, believable and fantastical, and so emotionally crushing throughout.  It really can be referred to as The Björk Movie, which is reason enough for people who appreciate her music to seek it out, but it’s also an unimpeachable Lars Von Trier film, masterfully channeling his dogmatic resolve for art imitating reality while reining in the lurid indulgences of his later, much less watchable movies (hello Depression Trilogy).  I could write pages upon pages about how intelligent every aspect of its production is – the varying shooting styles, the way in which Selma’s industrial world creeps into her internal music, the use of the songs in general – and someday I hope to find the time to fully expound its brilliance.

The Dark Knight Trilogy –

Rises has to be my favorite of the three for showing what happens when Somebody’s house turns into Everybody’s house, for focusing the most on Bruce Wayne, and for delivering  the most in sheer scale, but all of them are pretty great.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes –

Full review here.  A surprisingly monkeyavellian war film that incidentally has nothing to do with gun control.

The Descendants –

I tried complaining about the swearing in Descendants when I first watched (and reviewed) it two years ago; in retrospect, this was mainly due to the lack of anything else that really warranted complaining.  Later, upon venturing to Beatissima and watching it again with fresher (or filthier) ears, I realized there’s barely any swearing worth noting in The Descendants, even from Shailene Woodley, who may have then hit the peak of her talent and natural beauty before moving on trashy YA junk.  Everything about it works: the music, the writing, the actors, the scouting, Sid’s retarded younger brother.  It isn’t for people who prefer their movies happy and uplifting, but what it is is very moving and deftly executed all around.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels –

Just watch it.

District 9 –

The worst thing to be said about District 9 is that it gives up the documentary feel halfway through to look like a normal sci-fi movie.  That is actually the worst thing anyone has said about District 9.  CG prawns blend seamlessly with the scummiest of urban landscapes, ideas on apartheid/racism are powerfully stated, and masterful acting by Sharlto Copley sells the most hideous and poetic of external transformations.

Dogville (u1) –

Abounding in Jesus symbolism, long-suffering, and eloquent narration by the late, great John Hurt, Dogville ranks among the most emotionally draining and anti-humanist of Lars Von Trier’s works.  The movie builds impeccably to a dramatic precipice like no other, a roughly 10-minute argument between an Old and a New Testament god figure over the merits of freely giving grace to those intractably given to sin. The meaning of the title isn’t fully explicated until the final shot, and even if one doesn’t agree with Trier’s pessimism, Dogville is a parabolic town well worth visiting, as is the follow-up movie Manderlay, which is in many ways more incendiary and provocative, sometimes to its detriment.

Donnie Darko –

I don’t know if Donnie Darko will stay on this list by the time I get around to finishing it again (the DVD broke down 40 minutes in on my second viewing), but as an experimental time-travel mystery it certainly rewards careful thought and conversation, which is all I ask of a movie aimed at grown-ups.  I don’t recall it being very flattering towards political conservatives, but the originality of its structure makes up for that in my mind.  The thing I especially admired about Donnie Darko by the end was its depiction of a truly selfless sacrifice by a man, a deed done not for the sake of looking like a better person but with full knowledge and acceptance that his noble deed will go unnoticed by the whole world and, more crushingly, by the one he loves enough to do it in the first place.

Dredd (u1)

I can’t for the life of me fathom how this movie wasn’t lavished with more awards.  Dredd was dabbling in the tough-as-nails, beautiful chick who isn’t overtly sexualized and steals the spotlight away from the titular hero well before Mad Max: Fury Road, and arguably does a better job at imbuing Anderson with distinctly feminine, lenient traits than does the latter film with Furiosa.  Dredd masterfully balances character development and themes of justice with comic book panache, unique music, and weighty action, but also feels like an earnest, unadulterated sci-fi movie from the era of Terminator or Robocop that was preserved in a warehouse until 2012.

What a shame its lousy marketing team couldn’t fetch an audience for it in theaters.  Dredd may have been a failure at the box office, but according to me, it’s a pass.

Fast-travel to other parts:
E-H
I-L
M-P
Q-S
T-Z

14 comments:

  1. Awww, HEEEEEEIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLL NO. You gave The Abyss, About Time, and Bad News Bears a spot on your list, but The Prestige, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Looper, and Juno get left by the way side? That's just wrong.

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    Replies
    1. What's just wrong is that Emerson Cod doesn't have a list of his own and wastes his time complaining about the breadth of someone else's favorites. Shut your pie hole and go make your own list.

      Delete
  2. I have to assume that you have seen neither 'Bella' nor 'Belle'. Bring your box of tissues.

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  3. Did you see 'Mean Girls'? It was SO fetch! Like, what letter does that movie start with?

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  4. What? You think you're too good for 'Die Hard'? Now I know what a TV dinner feels like.
    Welcome to the party, pal! Let's see you take *this* under advisement, jerkweed!
    Yippee-ki-yay, mother@$!#?*.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And I've heard it from a couple credible sources that your movie hasn't aged that well.

      Delete
  5. This list is lame. You didn't include 'Circle'?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh, wait. I meant 'Sphere'. The one with Lawrence Fishman.

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    Replies
    1. Hey, there's still room for it to show up later. Far be it from me to exclude an underwater suspense movie as masterful as Sphere.

      Delete
  7. Oops. I meant Samuel Jackson. I always get does guys confused.

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  8. Wait you didn't like Boyhood? Boyhood is a masterpiece; perfect in every way. BOYHOOD!

    ReplyDelete
  9. No Anne of Green Gables? This is a huge oversight. Best first date movie ever. Ask yer Dad.

    ReplyDelete

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