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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Possibly the best horror movie ever made in its time still holds up remarkably well today.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The rest of the list: