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.
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.
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.
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 hyperviolent Chapter 5 borders on jawdropping.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
The Lovely Bones is the most critically maligned movie Peter Jackson has ever made. It was one of the most critically maligned movies of 2009, period. It may also be the most visually sumptuous and haunting picture he’s directed.
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