Monday, March 27, 2017

100-Something Movies: The First Update (M-Z)

Continued from the first part of the update.

May –

I got a little carried away working my night shift and accidentally wrote about a page of commentary on May in coincidental enthusiasm and boredom.  Suffice it to say that May is a delightfully oddball yet also reflective horror film about isolation, female sexual desire, and obsession with aesthetics.  It’s probably not for everybody, but those for whom it is are certain to love it.

Please don’t go look up the trailer.

Memories of Murder –

Memories of Murder is unlike any movie you’ve ever seen, unless you have seen Mother.  This may be the best entry point to Korean New Wave cinema, intermittently hilarious, suspenseful, and dizzying in its presentation.

Moana –

I will admit that Moana is far from a perfect movie.  In fact, I could probably fill a page or two with things I would change in it – some irritating lines of dialogue, a lame song in the middle act, the way her hair never stays wet very long.  It’s also the first Disney movie in a really long time I can envision myself watching over and over again without getting bored, like Shrek or How To Train Your Dragon (both of which it resembles a lot), as well as the first Disney movie in a while that didn’t have some severely dating social agenda to grind and just contented itself with telling a good story about two people learning to respect each other.  I’m still in shock at just how great it was.  I. Am. Moanaaaaa.

Mother –

Mother is unlike any movie you’ve ever seen, unless you have seen Memories of Murder.  Of the two, this one packs more of an emotional punch and may linger longer for that reason.  Bong Joon-ho cleverly builds the end into the opening credits, but one can’t understand the significance of it until the story has run its breathtaking course.

Perfect Blue –

I will admit up front that I don’t admire Perfect Blue as much as some other movies on the list; in fact, one might view its inclusion as a kind of affirmative-action for alternative animations.  But here we have to ask if affirmative-action is even inherently bad when it comes to cinema.  If it’s good enough for the Oscars (and we all know the Oscars have never, ever honored crappy movies), then it’s good enough for us. Regardless of politics, Perfect Blue is still an entrancing thriller by all measures, whisked along by jarring transitions, freakish animated imagery, desperate violence, and a perspective that keeps getting more and more unmoored from reality as we know it.  If you’ve already seen Black Swan, you should feel obligated to watch the crazier, more visionary original that inspired it.  I should also note that this isn’t a movie to watch in public or with judgmental people, unless you don’t mind people thinking you’re weird.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer –

Perfume can aptly be described as the anti-Les Miserables, employing much of the same apparel and décor but designed to polarize, repel, and offend.  The sensualist movie manages to be at once massive in scope and incredibly tactile, and like Les Mis it’s highly musical, though it aims to be more eerie and haunting than anything else.  For a great (and funny) video further extolling Perfume, albeit by sampling scenes taken from very late in the film, check out Twin Perfect’s video on it here.

Punch-Drunk Love –

Does choosing the Adam Sandler-starring Punch-Drunk Love as my only essential P.T. Anderson flick over The Master or Magnolia or any of his more serious movies make me a simpleton?  Maybe it does, but The Master and Magnolia only really succeeded in making me bored or angry, and there are lots of other movies that induce me to anger or boredom.  On the contrary, there aren’t a lot of movies that made me feel quite the same as this, thanks to Jon Brion’s incomparable score, the unhinged soundscape in general, and Sandler’s surprisingly convincing performance as a toilet plunger salesman with lots of unspecified issues.  Punch-Drunk Love thrives upon the kind of cringeworthy situations and crippling anxiety that permeate a lot of the Youtube videos I consume, but does so in a commendably entertaining way.  I would urge anybody who doesn’t appreciate its brilliance to watch the first thirty minutes or so of the movie Krisha, which aspires to do pretty much the same thing and ends up being the most excruciating thing I’ve ever heard.

Robocop –

There’s a sizeable group of people out there who seem to think that Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop is a sage and wickedly satirical attack on capitalism, police militarization, or something else, but if we’re being honest, nobody watches Robocop to this day for any of those reasons.  They watch it because it’s fun to see Robocop stop criminals and say one-liners like, “Come quietly or there will be trouble.”  Because Murphy is a character one can easily root for, and the bad guys get their just deserts in ridiculously violent ways.  Because the world depicted still looks believable and there’s a certain undying charm in the stop-motion ED-209 effects.  I’m also inclined to agree with Red Letter Media that Robocop 2 is underrated, if lacking the heft of the original, and I will never watch Robocop 3.

Rosemary’s Baby –

Possibly the best horror movie ever made in its time still holds up remarkably well today.

Secret Sunshine –

Criterion has a fine essay on the spiritual themes of Secret Sunshine that probably does a better job summarizing its merits than I have time to do.  One thing I got out of it as a mere Christian raised in evangelical circles that the Criterion writer probably didn’t is the importance of meeting people where they’re at in their suffering instead of ministering to unreceptive ears.  While told from a secular point of view, the movie doesn’t indiscriminately mock religion or those who seek peace in God, only those most fervent and presumptive proselytizers who think they know exactly why someone thinks the way they do (“Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t real…”) and dish up overused evangelical catchphrases to people who are mired in grief.  I believe it’s an intentional irony that the most Christ-like, loving character in the film is a nonbeliever who starts going to church just for the sake of cozying up to the woman he likes.

A Separation –

The guy who made this movie is a political stuntman and sellout to his countrymen in Iran, but he does make damn fine movies every now and then.  A Separation is totally humorless and depressing but extremely well acted with culturally universal themes of justice, subjectivity of memory, and spirit vs. the letter of the law.

A Serious Man –

A Serious Man may not be the funniest or most technically impressive film in the Coen Brothers’ filmography, but it might just be my favorite, no thanks to Sy Ableman.  Some people have viewed it (and praised it) as a bleak and atheistic movie denying the existence of any grander meaning behind humanity’s suffering, but I think the message of the movie is a whole lot simpler and on the nose: no one is entitled to an explanation from God – after all, He’s God –, and the order behind the universe is like the mathematics behind Schrodinger’s Cat, a perplexing mystery we all have to accept on faith.  Longer review here.

Seven –

Was there a mainstream movie in the 90s that exuded a more filthy atmosphere and sense of foreboding than Se7en?  “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”

Sleeper –

Woody Allen envisions an intellectually degraded, hedonistic future wherein people don’t even have the patience for sexual flings unless it’s a group activity, getting into mechanical cylinders that simulate intercourse quickly and efficiently.  Of all the collaborations between the two actors, Diane Keaton was most attractive in Sleeper, which seems like an odd thing to mention regarding a 44-year-old movie, but so it goes.  It’s a mix of Brave New World, slapstick comedy, and general zaniness that should be recognized more as the weird departure from his formula that Allen actually pulled off to great success.

The Social Network –

The Social Network is an exhilarating, cynical tour guide through all of Generation Y’s newfound ways of flexing their human depravity, corruption, dishonesty, arrogance, gluttony, lust, and betrayal.  It’s basically the story of mankind crunched into a raging 2-hour firestorm of filmic, Fincherian drama, and while some of the figures depicted therein have denounced the story’s theatrics, it undoubtedly stands with the most captivating film stories of our time.  It’s also a compelling psychoanalysis of one of the most powerful corporate machines alive today, why young people latched onto it in droves (SPOILER: It was all about Sex), and how its founder shrewdly nurtured it into a powerhouse of explicit and surreptitious advertising. Fake, but accurate.  On top of that it’s simply brilliant filmmaking, as you can see in this underrated video essay on how Fincher shoots phone conversations.

Splice –

A lot of people seem to hate this movie because the creature (cruelly named Dren by its creators) performs rather graphic coitus with one of the humans in a later stage of her development, and this is understandable.  Of all the sins that should repel us in enlightened society, making love to non-existent, genetically engineered bipeds definitely ranks near the top, certainly on par with or worse than abortion, terrorism, corruption, coercion, and bald-faced lying.  Within the context of Splice, I found this part one of the more imaginative and warranted love scenes I’ve come across, yet that’s not mainly why I enjoyed Vincenzo Natali’s film.  Even if for nothing else, Splice deserves a spot on this list just for better utilizing computer animation than pretty much any mainstream sci-fi to date; much like Ex Machina, it blends makeup, the actor’s physicality, and strategic CG elements to create a more believable and empathetic character than could be achieved solely through one of those tools.  Also clever is the way the priorities and ethics of the two scientists’ unfold over time, the one who seemed more caring and maternal at first being exposed as the more clinical and selfish person all along.  Unfortunately, the ending confrontation takes a needlessly icky and exploitative turn, relegating Splice to the unenviable Abyss Society of movies I love until the director just gave up and scrambled to finish the damn thing.

Spring –

The DVD cover of Spring sells it as a monster movie disguised as a love story.  This is false advertising. It’s actually a love story disguised as a monster movie, one that uses wacky rules of immortality, rebirth, and oxytocin-generation to ponder about living out life to the fullest.  The cinematography is pretty but indie-movie cheap, which adds to its charm for me, and the dialogue feels natural as in the “Before” movies without being utterly boring.  The first 18 minutes are foul and unrepresentative of the movie and you should skip them.

The Squid and the Whale –

Perhaps the most unsentimental and uncomfortably riotous movie ever to deal with divorce, The Squid and the Whale finds self-reflective comedy in the miseries of wretched and despicable people.  Each family member exhibits uniquely loathsome tendencies and bears legitimate grudges against the rest, but Noah Baumbach remarkably prevents any of them from emerging as moral champion, a tact he kind of abandoned in While We’re Young, where Ben Stiller clearly espouses the director’s own beliefs and Adam Driver evolves into an antagonist.  Squid being based in some part on his own childhood, I imagine Baumbach purposely projected more ignoble aspects of himself, his colleagues, and his kin onto all the characters, resulting in an extraordinarily balanced, if not conclusive or typically satisfying script.  I also must give props to any film that references Risky Business, Pink Floyd, and other 80s artifacts as vigorously as this one.  A snobbish and elitist movie that isn’t above ridiculing intellectual snobbery, The Squid and the Whale shrewdly depicts humans’ arrogant propensity to blame everything that’s going wrong in their own lives on individuals other than themselves.

Starship Troopers –

Starship Troopers is a movie about bloodthirsty, indoctrinated young skulls full of mush killing giant bugs to gain their citizenship that makes one want to think twice about going to war, which is quite an achievement for what it is.  I watched this with several college students, one of whom said that it was “basically the cheesiest sci-fi movie ever made” and another of whom had difficulty accepting it was a “real movie, like released in theaters”.  Contrary to their disdain, Starship Troopers is played almost completely straight except for some scattered propaganda videos, and its seamless CGI still tramples a lot of movies made today.

Straw Dogs –

Straw Dogs blew me away, and in the interest of letting it blow you away too, I refrain from giving away anything about the plot except to say I wouldn’t recommend it to the sensitive or to most women.  Dustin Hoffman is incredibly layered, the editing perfect but for a couple fast sequences at the end, and almost no prop or character is set up that isn’t put to some very memorable use.  You also shouldn’t watch Straw Dogs alone, since it begs to be discussed afterwards.

Submarine –

This is the coming-of-age teen movie for those who can’t stand teen movies.  Submarine frequently breaks from conventions but not in a way that narcissistically calls attention to its breaking from conventions, which is itself a convention (see The Spectacular Now or Me and Earl and the Dying Girl). For example, the token school bully of the film is not an obstacle to the protagonist pursuing his love interest because the bully character actually is the love interest, nor does writer/director Richard Aoyade ever condescend his audience by sermonizing about how bullying is wrong.  The lovely cinematography makes strong use of yellows and reds, Alex Turner contributes several wistful songs to an all-original soundtrack, and film generally does a good job not spelling out the moral of the story that stupid kids should apply to their own lives.  It’s sweet and sad and funny and possibly better the second time around.

Sunshine –

Thrilling space-fiction that doesn’t rely on too many twists or frills, features a fantastic score, and incorporates some cool themes about God or immortality or something.  The DVD I have access to is broken and it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so I can’t really say much more.  Maybe this annotation will be replaced somewhere down the line, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Synecdoche, New York –

At the point of writing this, I have only seen Synecdoche, New York once and do not have a very firm idea of what its plot signifies, other than that Charlie Kaufmann is a screenwriting genius.  The movie only runs two hours long but by the end you feel as though it has lasted a lifetime, which was probably the point.  An exhausting film, mentally and emotionally, that I hope to revisit sometime down the line after I’ve watched Your Movie Sucks’ feature-length analysis of the feature.

Thirst –

A few words I would use to describe Thirst: humorous, violent, playful, seductive, erotic, extravagant, elegant, mesmerizing, gonzo.  A tale about a struggling religious man that never fully commits to its religious underbelly (Park Chan-Wook is not, as far as anyone knows, a Christian), it nonetheless draws upon the legend of the vampire as a metaphor for the baser primal instincts latent in all men, the id which wages a savage war for dominance with the hero’s waning Catholicism.  It employs special effects rarely but effectively, has the best, most justified sex scene ever for what that’s worth, and couldn’t possibly close in more spectacular fashion.

The Vengeance Trilogy –

Taken collectively, these are the best films I’ve ever seen in terms of film form.  Orson Welles is always credited with inventing the cinematic toolbox, but Park Chan-Wook has built much greater wonders using the same tools.  Like Welles, Park underwent no formal film schooling, studying philosophy in college, and actually busied himself outside of directing with writing essays and film critiques.  Knowing nothing of his personal background while watching the trilogy, it didn’t surprise me to learn afterwards that he counts Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Vonnegut among his major influences, as all three movies deal in the kind of high drama, dark comedy, and flexible narration those older writers mastered.  To say a brief word about each film, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a tightly scripted, starkly photographed thriller wherein every character action is justified, makes perfect sense, and contributes to an escalating trail of violence. Oldboy is the comic-book movie to end all lazy comic-book movies, running circles around American action flicks with parallel imagery, in-camera transitions, stunning long takes, and almost every other trick in the book.  Lady Vengeance falls somewhere between them both, starting out as perhaps the most confusing and stylized of the bunch before transfiguring into the most contemplative, harrowing film of the series.  I could write pages upon pages about every aspect I loved in each one’s framing, editing, scoring, cinematography, and writing, but for now I’ll simply exhort you to order the Blu-ray or pull Oldboy up on Netflix, which looks about the same.  Since they’re not a trilogy proper but an accidental sequence of thematically related dramas, you can really watch them in whatever order pleases you – alone, without your kids or friends, because they’re rated R for many, many reasons.

Victoria –

Would Victoria be as impressive a film if it wasn’t captured in an unbroken two-hour take and just shot traditionally?  As to this we can only speculate, but it is marvelously structured as a thriller and I wouldn’t expect it to weaken on repeat viewings, unlike Birdman, which uses its faux-one-shot grandstanding as a smokescreen for an insufferably masturbatory script.  The flashing lights and drowning bass of a transportive nightclub beckon viewer and young heroine alike into a sensual underworld, demanding to be seen and heard in the same darkness that engulfs the characters.

We Need To Talk About Kevin –

Beautiful, tragic, grim, and more disturbing in a real-world sense than most anything since Silence of the Lambs, Kevin delivers a powerful meditation on pure evil, whether it exists as an entity in itself or is merely inculcated by external causes.  Lynne Ramsay doesn’t make films often, but when she does they are astounding.

The rest of the list:
A-D
E-H
I-L
M-P
Q-S
T-Z

100-Something Movies: The First Update (A-L)

In which the Author develops a fixation with Korean directors, catches up on influential sci-fi movies he somehow missed before, momentarily decides that Lars Von Trier is his favorite filmmaker, wises up and decides that Lars Von Trier is definitely not his favorite filmmaker, finishes the Christopher Nolan filmography, and does a bit of digging into the Criterion Collection.  Prominent movies since the last honorable mentions post that he’s respected but didn’t particularly like, couldn’t justify putting on his list, or simply doesn’t want to write about at the moment include Brazil, Blue Valentine, Manhattan, Paprika, Split, American Werewolf in London, Little Miss Sunshine, Snow Falling on Cedars, Silence, Hacksaw Ridge, John Wick Chapter 2, Silence (2016), Only Lovers Left Alive, 10 Cloverfield Lane, An Education, L.A. Story, Doctor Zhivago, Fish Tank, Crank, Enter the Void, Mustang, Love Exposure, Ran, Red State, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance, Doubt, Monsters, The Wailing, Up in the Air, A Clockwork Orange, Chungking Express, a bunch of David Cronenberg movies, a couple Noah Baumbach movies, Contagion, and Slumdog Millionaire. Again, the status of all these is subject to change on second viewing.

These are the Author’s favorite films that he’s watched since December of 2015.

Arrival –

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.

Being John Malkovich –

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

Borat –

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 –

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.

Byzantium –

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.

Dancer in the Dark –

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.

Dogville –

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.

Dredd –

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.

Evil Dead II and Hausu –

A couple basic things I learned about filmmaking from watching Evil Dead II: 1. Cutting scenes on action can be very startling and effective; 2. POV shots are sorely underutilized in modern cinema; 3. Practical effects can look really cheesy, and sometimes that is charming; 4. Humor and horror are a lot less separate than one might think.  Both rely on setting up and subverting expectations, and a great director will allow his viewers sufficient leeway to laugh or recoil as they will.  This is what separates a political comedy like Borat from a TV sitcom like Friends, or a Sam Raimi horror film from the latest chapter in the Insidious-Conjuring saga.

I affix Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 film House to the more customary Evil Dead not because it’s more entertaining or because it inspired the latter (House wasn’t released in the United States until Janus/Criterion picked it up in the 2000s), but for lifting some symbolical weight from the whacky horror comedy genre and for pushing the limits with its visual weirdness.  It’s also just more pleasing to look at all around, achieving moments of simple beauty in its colorful sunsets and killings, whereas Evil Dead II delights viewers more by its homespun, unabashedly cheap aesthetic than by Raimi’s painterly eye for composition.  In truth, if you were to watch any of the ugly Evil Dead movies every week for a lifetime, you’d probably get sick of the world pretty fast.  The Hausu Blu-ray comes with subtitles, so you could induce yourself to take a pleasant, 90-minute nap nearly every time.

Ghost in the Shell 1.0 and 2.0 –

Densely philosophical science-fiction that’s animated immaculately and often strains one’s ability to follow the plot.  Treads a lot of the same ground since covered by Ex Machina, Snowpiercer, and of course The Matrix, and I maintain a weird theory that the art team of the game Mirror’s Edge must have spent a lot of time pouring over Ghost’s future Hong Kong.  I actually prefer the second movie for its more involving narrative and action, so if you find the original too plodding and unapproachable, give Innocence a shot. Or go watch the Scarjo remake soon to hit theaters that looks like generic, PG-13, robot-fighting-for-its-freedom trash.

Hard Candy –

Allow me to cut the tension: Hard Candy is an extraordinarily unrelenting and stylized experiment in generating empathy for a really messed-up guy, propelled by powerhouse acting and luscious, ethereal filmmaking.  Its centerpiece, which stretches on for at least 15 minutes in several shots that bleed into each other, has to be the most uncomfortable scene for male viewers in modern American cinema. Simply put, it took a lot of balls to make this movie, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to feminists.  Or maybe I would.  I don’t know.

On a side-note, Hard Candy introduced me to my favorite song by Blonde Redhead, which sounds all the more punchy and hypnotic after the near-total absence of musical score in the rest of the movie.  If you do plan on watching something with a title and a poster like Hard Candy, then don’t click on the link to Elephant Woman.  If you don’t, however, plan on that, then do click on the link.

Hardcore Henry –

I’ve swayed back and forth in my mind on whether Hardcore Henry belongs on a list of movies for people who like movies.  It’s certainly a movie for those who like video games, and for those who, recognizing the numerous faults of modern first-person shooters, criticize such perversions of gaming form with knowledge and passionate urgency.  The majority of mainstream critics, having attained the age or elitist sophistication that apparently precludes one from recognizing interactive storytelling as art, don’t hate Hardcore Henry’s inspirations with knowledge or with passion or with urgency, which led nearly half of them to dismiss it as dumb, mindless fun instead of crediting it for what it is: an intelligent and pointed parody that one can also passively enjoy as an extremely fun and over-the-top action movie.  In truth, Hardcore Henry skewers nearly every gaming cliché imaginable – formulaic level design, in-game tutorials, bad NPC lines, overlapping dialogue, boss battles, a silent protagonist, equestrian transportation, scantily clad warriors – and does so through a highly entertaining POV presentation that hasn’t been executed so well by the artiest of art films.  But I suppose you wouldn’t know that if you’ve never held a video game controller.

Heathers –

They just don’t make high-school movies like this anymore, movies that gleefully revel and find humor in the kind of hot-button topics that Millennials’ mollycoddled and puritanical culture has anointed not to be questioned or transgressed.  Upon consideration, I don’t think that any mainstream teen movie has succeeded the irreverence of Heathers, which owes in part to the patronizing notion that movies about or aimed at young people should have an explicitly moralizing function.  Believing high-schoolers haven’t yet developed the moral compass to discern independently that Winona Ryder and Christian Slater are playing really unethical and depraved people, studios prudishly refrain from OK’ing any script starring a teenage starlet as an anti-hero unless it verbally labels her an anti-hero and reforms her through her experiences.

Heathers has no such reservations about the satirical comprehension of its viewers.  This is a daring and different pre-Columbine comedy, and one that I am very glad exists.

The Hunt –

In a time when campuses like the regrettably-named Emerson College actively discourage misandrist, brainwashed youths from using neutral qualifiers like “alleged” or “accused” in reference to sexual assault, the themes of this uncommon Danish movie seem all the more poignant and vital.  Intentionally or not, The Hunt feels like a convicted rebuttal to the all the most trumpeted tenets of rape culture ideology: the severity of the claim doesn’t inherently give it credence, people lie for a multitude of reasons, even about rape/assault/harassment, and persecuting someone found innocent in the name of justice is just about the most unjust, uncharitable thing one can do.

If this had been an English-language film, Mads Mikkelsen would currently be an Oscar-winning actor.

Incendies –

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.

Insomnia –

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.

The Jerk –

In which Steve Martin is raised a poor, black child.  The Jerk may also feature my favorite usage of a ukulele in a movie.

The Killer –

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.

Lady Snowblood –

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 –

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.

Life of Brian –

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!

The Lobster –

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 –

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.

Update continued here.

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