Continuing a dynamic and somewhat subjective list of truly excellent movies for people who like all kinds of movies. For a more thorough explanation of the methodology behind these recommendations, check out part 1 here. Newer entries will be labeled u1, u2, u3... uX depending on when I add them, so use your internet word searcher and check back in several months to follow my ongoing chronicle of the best that Hollywood has to offer. Links to other sections are appended at the bottom.
The only one of the series in which characters exist for reasons other than traveling from point A to point B, Ice Age has everything you could ask not only of an animated movie but of a movie-movie generally: great music, engaging heroes, hilarity in its lighter moments, sincerity in its heavier ones, and an honest celebration of loyalty and friendship between extremely divergent personalities.
Incendies (u1) –
The story of Incendies probably doesn’t look all that incredible laid out front to back on paper, but the genius of Denis Villeneuve’s possible magnum opus is that he doesn’t tell it front to back, staging what could have been a tiring melodrama or anti-war polemic as a gripping mystery. The final moments are at once tragic, sobering, hopeful, and cathartic, but the movie lingers most for a four-minute, devastating scene in the middle, which stands alone as a complete story in itself and represents the unforgettable capacity of film.
As twisty and complex as its sci-fi narrative is, Inception isn’t one of Christopher Nolan’s more thematically or emotionally powerful films. It’s just a cool story about dream thieves navigating interesting manifestations of the subconscious, and a really cool one at that. This is a movie marked by its tremendous scale, scale of sets, of score, of cinematography. It’s the only movie where a guy runs down the walls of a hotel hallway and engages a security guard in a fistfight that covers every surface of the rotating set. Top that, Stanley Kubrick.
The pro-American, anti-sameness, quasi-Randian parable which Brad Bird protests he didn’t mean to make and which I’m very glad he did.
Overlong review here. It’s probably not quite as glourious as I remember it, but damned if it wasn’t a massively entertaining and unsettling imagining of the more covert battles waged in World War II.
Insomnia (u1) –
Insomnia (u1) –
An earlier and less expensive entry in the Christopher Nolan canon, Insomnia doesn’t depend on a mindblowing, 3rd act twist or IMAX spectacles to capture audiences, which has led to the woeful popular appraisal that it’s one of his weaker films. Between it and Memento, Nolan proves his deftness at telling smaller stories with depth and grandeur, and Insomnia will make great supplementary viewing for any budding philosopher who’s struggling to understand Kant. Edited to near-perfection (one shootout briefly exposes Nolan’s then-ungainliness with action), acted superbly by all, and shot in several beautiful northwestern locations, the movie deserves a lot more recognition than it’s received, which is why it’s going on the prestigious 100-Something Movies List.
Is it about faith vs. humanism? Individualism vs. utilitarianism? Global warming alarmism or selfishness masquerading as social responsibility? On a simpler note, is TARS the greatest robot personality since Wheatley? And to think The Matt Damon has a higher Tomatometer score than this... there is no justice in the public’s appetite.
The Jerk (u1) –
The Jerk (u1) –
In which Steve Martin is raised a poor, black child. The Jerk may also feature my favorite usage of a ukulele in a movie.
Jurassic Park –
The movie hits its cinematic peak pretty early on with the iconic T. Rex attack before mutating into assorted chases of varying effectiveness, the better ones involving viciously clever girls and the inferior ones involving, well, a clever girl. This is still the only Crichton adaptation besides maybe Westworld that I’d consider essential viewing, and that’s a bloody shame because his novels read so much like movies in the first place. How did Sphere get to be so bland and cheap, especially with such charismatic stars as Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Fishburne? I digress. Let’s get back to good movies.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 Chapters 3 and 5 –
Kill Bill is not the finest script that Quentin Tarantino has penned. Chapter 4 could have been cut out entirely and the dialogue is incredibly cheesy, exulting in its comic book tone and dropping R-rated words just because Tarantino’s 9th-grader brain thought that they sounded cool. The movie’s still absurdly entertaining, vibrant, and well made. The anime flashback sequence of Chapter 3 ranks among the best uses of animation in film and Yuen Wo Ping’s fight choreography in the hyper-violent Chapter 5 borders on jaw-dropping.
The Killer (u1) –
The soundtrack is terrible, but this is action movie gold, so pure in fact that given the state of current American action I would call it required viewing.
Yeah, the brontosaur things don’t look that great, and yeah, it doesn’t make much sense why Jack Black would tell the New York theater crowd that “these chains… are made of chrome steel!” The rest of the film is beautiful, sad, and unrelentingly intense.
Whatever message Kingsman’s trying to get across is scattered all across the ideological plane, and it suffers as a result. On one hand it intermittently espouses very admirable ideas about what it means to be a gentleman, and it features a rare spy girl in a supporting role who isn’t sexualized just for the sake of gratifying male audiences, but then it closes with a very crass and out-of-the-blue sex joke that doesn’t at all reflect the character of the man we’ve come to know. The main bad guy is a crazy Global Warming environmentalist who conspires to eliminate the human race for the future survival of earth, but in order to carry out this plan he must first do a trial run on a church of lesser bad guy Christians who rail against the “Jew-, nigger-, fag-lovers the devil will burn for all eternity”. Elements like that are kind of dumb and degrade the movie as a whole. Nonetheless, Kingsman has some of the coolest and most original scenes of murder and mayhem I’ve ever seen, and every deadly blow is rendered completely legible to the human eye with flawless camera work, effects, and cuts.
Afterwards I told the dudes I watched it with that, “I thought it was pretty incredible.” “Say that again,” they said, unaccustomed to hearing such words from this Author’s mouth. It’s pretty incredible.
A Knight’s Tale –
Straight outta Guilderland, this is the movie that redefined our cultural perception of Chaucer as well as the editorial policy of these Files’ invectives. “I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day. You will be naked for eternity.”
Kung Fu Panda –
Somehow Wall-e is a better movie than this. I know the Academy was trying to be all mystical and kung-fuey, but Wall-e is a Level 0 piece of storytelling.
Lady Snowblood (u1) –
Is pretty much what you could envision from the title, with copious amounts of all three present. Lady Snowblood looks gorgeous, especially on the Criterion Collection restoration, and bests many more traditional samurai pictures for sheer entertainment and practical blood gushing effects. Whether or not it surpasses Kill Bill, its affectionately made rip-off, is a matter of personal taste, although I consider the absence of Tarantino’s vulgar dialogue a plus. Lady Snowblood 2 also merits viewing, though its more political and complicated story probably impairs Americans’ ability to relate to it.
Lars and the Real Girl (u1) –
Lars and the Real Girl (u1) –
Watching Lars and the Real Girl, I kept thinking about three things in the back of my head: pornography, my generation’s fear of long-term commitments, and trannies. At least one of these was probably intended by writer Nancy Oliver, while others are natural byproducts of Lars being a generally well-written, layered movie that, much like Citizen Kane’s brazen invective of a contemporary, uber-wealthy businessman whom no one thinks upon or trembles at anymore, only gets richer with age. Perhaps its greatest accomplishment is getting me to feel sad (and rather mad) over Lars and his predicament at the beginning, then bringing me around to feel sad together with him by the end. Enthusiastically recommended to Christian congregations which don’t watch anything unless it’s animated or paints all Christians in an unambiguously flattering light, to those who liked Her or May or I’m A Cyborg But That’s OK, and to really any human being.
I confess I’ve only seen the American cut of Léon, which allegedly washes out most of the more unsavory, controversial scenes between Jean Reno and 12-year-old Natalie Portman, who puts on the best show of her career. Even the cleaned-up version masterfully ratchets up the tension all the way to its explosive, violent finale.
Life of Brian (u1) –
Holy Grail will always be the most popular Monty Python venture, but Life of Brian is my pick for their smartest. Watching the latter for the first time in 2016, it’s hard to fathom why churches in Europe once condemned it with such defensive fervor. Maybe it had something to do with humans’ tendency to echo, like, or retweet what they hear about a subject rather than investigating it for themselves, which is much harder and doesn’t grant the same immediacy of satisfaction. Whatever the case, Life of Brian ironically is little more than a hilarious story about thinking for yourself and not blindly following charismatic speakers because of a crowd. It may even teach the uninitiated a thing or two about Latin and Biggus Dikkus, though there’s absolutely nothing funny about the latter individual. Americanes, rident non!
Lilo and Stitch –
One of the few Disney movies I can abide to watch over and over, Lilo and Stitch has quietly imprinted marks on tons of movies produced today, from the mute hero character who learns to speak through a civilizing friend, to aliens mispronouncing human words, to the incorporation of classic rock tracks as a defining feature of the characters’ lives (Guardians of the Galaxy, anyone?). It’s also relatively mature for a Disney flick, dealing with parentless households, intervention of state social workers for the good of the child, broken families and how they heal, social isolation, and so on. Feminazi culture critics like gushing over Frozen for its strong female characters, but that movie’s badness level is unusually high for a story that tries and fails to give an interesting, nuanced picture of sisterhood. Lilo and Stitch, on the other hand, is funny, heartfelt, and visually fetching enough that I could confidently show it to anyone male or female over the age of eight and know that friend will get a kick out of it.
Little Shop of Horrors –
The perfect melding of demented, Tim Burton-esque characters, catchy melodies, romance, and visual magic. Suddenly Seymour…
The Lobster (u1) –
My selection as of this writing for the movie of 2016, The Lobster has enough big ideas within it to inspire several essays on the role of government, the symbolic significance of marriage, and the authenticity of reality TV dating or social media presence. With any luck someday I will get around to writing one of those essays, but for now I’ll just say that Yorgos Lanthimos’ film feels like a purely dystopian story, which is probably why it hasn’t resonated that much with the general population looking for something to entertain them on Amazon Prime (where this currently boasts a 2.4/5). The Lobster isn’t meant to serve as entertainment, though it’s often humorous in a sickly way, and the onerous length of certain slow-motion scenes is the one thing in my mind that holds it back from perfection, making subsequent viewings more of a slog than necessary. The performances are cold and stilted across the board, but in the universe of The Lobster, one can think of several good reasons why the bachelors and bachelorettes would want or have to suppress outward displays of emotion. In an era where insipid action movies are dressed up as “dystopian fiction” and marketed to young adults who don’t know the roots of the genre, it was so satisfying to observe a film that had assurance in the strength of its philosophy and didn’t peddle breakneck parkour sequences, irredeemable government stormtroopers, or a teenage rebel who “can change everything”.
Locke (u1) –
Locke (u1) –
Tom Hardy is great per usual as well as the unique, reflection-heavy cinematography, but what raises Locke from improvisational, stage play experiment to cinematic wonder is its themes of manhood and responsibility. This is one of the manliest movies I’ve ever seen, not because of Ivan Locke’s outer feats of strength or masculinity or stubbornness, but because he more clearly and concisely embodies what it means to be a grown man than any beefy action hero. Locke owns the mistakes he makes in life and works to rectify them no matter the consequences to himself, and by the denouement he has left us both profoundly moved and devastated.
While certainly a sweeping and impressive middle chapter, The Two Towers still seemed to me like a bunch of fighting and time-filler that ended up sticking the final one with seven climaxes, but the other two are fantastic blends of matchless direction and meaningful fantasy. And no, I haven’t seen the extended, 4-hour editions. Are they really worth a full day of my life? Tolkien nerds, speak up. Yourguyses opinion means a lot to me.
Fast-travel to other parts: