Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Let's Do It Again: My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #60 - #51

Continuing on with my favorite films list, including a Star Wars opinion that I wrote about a while ago and I stand by it today.

Let's crack into that top 60, shall we?

60. Spotlight

The 2016 Academy Award winner for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay is a terrific, compelling and insightful film with a focus on outstanding journalism and why we should give a shit when the President insights anger towards the media. Spotlight tells the true story of the team at the Boston Globe that uncovered a massive scandal of the sexual abuse of children at the local Catholic archdiocese. This country needs reporters like the Spotlight team, and director Tom McCarthy delivers one hell of a film about them.

59. The Insider

This set of ten films kicks off with back to back pictures that shine a, well, spotlight on journalism, this time with Michael Mann's spectacular dramatic thriller The Insider, based on the true story of a man named Jeffrey Wigand whom after being fired by a big tobacco company decides to come clean about some of the industry's best kept secrets to the television series 60 Minutes, facing pressure and threats to himself and his family to keep his mouth shut. Hard to believe this one is 18 years old now, I recall seeing it in the theater and being blown away. Multiple viewings later, nothing has changed.

58. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Released when I was 7 years old, T2 was an instant classic for me at a very young age and these days I consider it to be a slice of iconic action filmmaking. Sometimes you watch something as a kid and look back at it later on and wonder what you loved about the movie. If anything, I actually love Terminator 2 even more today.

57. Inside Out

The 2015 Pixar film Inside Out, over the course of two years and a handful of viewings, has become my favorite animated film of all time. That simple. Funny, heartfelt, joyous and deeply, profoundly moving, this one is a true treasure.

56. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi is my fourth favorite Star Wars film, and it still manages to rank 56th on my all time favorites. Safe to say I love the franchise.

55. Fargo

One of a few masterful films from the Coen brothers, the 1996 crime drama Fargo doesn't feature a single misstep over its 90 or so minute duration. It's dark, disturbing, fascinating and really fucking funny. 

54. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

It's funny how I agree with every complaint I hear about regarding The Force Awakens and yet it just doesn't matter. Sure, it's a beat by beat remake of A New Hope, without a doubt, but maybe that's exactly what the Star Wars universe needed, a dose of history repeating itself while knowing exactly the right recipe to bring fans that were dismayed by the prequels back into the fold. I love the characters, new and old, I love the tone, I love the dialogue so, so much. I love this movie a ton.

53. The Godfather Part II

An often asked question and one that the answer given typically causes a debate is which Godfather film do you prefer? The original or the sequel? For me the answer is the first one, and we will get to that masterpiece eventually, but that isn't a slight to the stunning follow up The Godfather Part II by any means. Two tremendous, iconic works of cinema.

52. Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick and the subject of war, which he was clearly not a very big fan of, results in some exceptional cinematic experience. My list already included the film Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove, and now it is time for Full Metal Jacket to get the recognition it so deeply deserves.

51. Unforgiven

It took a long time for me to fall in love with westerns, only recently discovering some of the Sergio Leone classics that define the genre, but all along, ever since it was first released when I was a wee little child, I have loved Unforgiven, the best picture winning film both directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Let's Do It Again: My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #70 - #61

Into the top 70 we go, my second go round through my favorite films of all time. I figure this is a good list to update every so often because we are always discovering new things and also changing our minds on what we do and do not love.

70. O.J.: Made in America

The award for greatest documentary I had ever seen was previously held by Baraka, which made this list in the last installment posted, coming in at #79 overall. That all changed when I got a chance to sit down and take in all seven and a half hours of the masterful, powerful, expansive, comprehensive and completely brilliant O.J.: Made in America, originally aired as a five night television special but played in theaters as to qualify for the Academy Awards and it ended up winning (and rightfully so). What an achievement this is.

69. Upstream Color

Odds are that director Shane Carruth still has not appeared on many radars despite critical success with his films Primer and Upstream Color, but I hope that will change. Perhaps he can release something more mainstream that will attract attention to films like Upstream Color, because this is a spellbinding, baffling, bizarre work that deserves to be seen.

68. Oldboy

On my previously list of ten I pointed out that my love was for the original The Vanishing, not the american remake. Well that applies with even more importance here with Oldboy, the original being a Korean masterpiece and the remake...well, nevermind, I won't get into it. Not important. Oldboy, directed by Park Chan-wook, deserves so much recognition without being bogged down by the failures of a remake. Watch the original, but be prepared to be disturbed. My goodness what an ending.

67. Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin is one of the greatest entertainers and filmmakers of all time and my personal favorite of all his amazing movies is Modern Times, a film that somehow manages to still deliver a relevant to today message 81 years after its release, one regarding economic disparity and the quest to find some semblance of the American dream.

66. Life of Pi

Visually magnificent and emotionally devastating, yet also life affirming and wonderful, Ang Lee's 2012 masterpiece Life of Pi is a treasure, and no offense to Argo but the Academy should have matched Lee's director win that year with a Best Picture trophy as well.

65. Moon

Duncan Jones may not be a household name just yet like his late, great father, but lord knows he should be thanks to his first film Moon, a masterful work of science fiction starring Sam Rockwell in a role that should have garnered award attention but was overlooked. 

64. Field of Dreams

Every single year before the first pitch of the baseball regular season is thrown, I watch Field of Dreams. It's tradition at this point and I love every second of it. I enjoy pretty much every sport but baseball, it's on another level. It's a passion on an almost romantic level, the sights and sounds and even smell of the game intoxicating, and this year it was an extra special viewing seeing as how it was the first time in my life that I prepared for a new season with my team being defending World Series champions. 

63. The Babadook

I know plenty of people who not only don't agree with me loving The Babadook, they don't even like it. Not at all. I chalk this difference of opinion up to what we were looking for from the film and whether it delivered that, since the general complaint is that it "isn't scary" or "isn't really a horror film", and while I definitely disagree with that second one, I do agree that no, I don't get scared by The Babadook. I am, however, blown away by its subtleties portraying the power of grief and the way it can take over and destroy the lives of those suffering from it.

62. My Neighbor Totoro

If you have followed me in any fashion and read my words before regarding Hayao Miyazaki, I think you know I have used the word "genius" an awful lot and in my opinion My Neighbor Totoro is his most stunning, most moving, most heartfelt achievement, which is saying something considering his entire career is littered with brilliance. A film that can and should be viewed by everyone.

61. The Deer Hunter

The final film on this list of ten is the shocking, brutal, incredible movie The Deer Hunter by Michael Cimino, featuring an incredible cast including Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale and Meryl Streep. Not so much a war film but rather a film about war, both during battle and far away from the carnage that took place there, the way the horrors of combat follow soldiers home and haunt their lives long after they were removed from the physical danger.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Dark Night Review

Not to be confused with the Christopher Nolan Batman crime thriller masterpiece, Dark Night directed by Tim Sutton is based on or around the 2012 tragedy that took place in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, a mass shooting plot carried out by a man named James Holmes that took a dozen innocent lives and stole the safety so many of us associated with the cinematic experience. Early in the film a television screen portrays the real life criminal case against Holmes, so Sutton was not intending on recreating those events or tell that specific story but rather a copycat killer plotting a very similar event.

Dark Night is a story told unconventionally, lacking a traditional narrative and instead focusing on random moments in the lives of those people who later would be sitting inside a movie theater when a gunman opened fire. It reminded me in a sense of the terrific Ryan Coogler picture Fruitvale Station only instead of the tragedy of watching the final hours of a single life, this instead spreads its focus among multiple subjects and in a far more abstract way. The star of Dark Night is its cinematography and smooth, artful camera work. This is a film that many will be turned off by for a multitude of reasons, but one undeniable thing is that Sutton and his crew have a tremendous handle on aspects that may seem simple to many but are not: how to film and how to frame.

During Dark Night I found myself haunted by the occasional lingering shot or quiet moment with a young man whom is clearly deeply disturbed, but as the movie wound down I couldn't help but wonder: did Sutton actually achieve something haunting, or am I haunted only because I know what the film is based around and what really happened that inspired it? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, as I know some expertly handled shots and careful, calm moments were exploding with a subtle, horrifying rage utilizing a camera either slowly zooming in or staying static for an uncomfortably long time when it felt like we were past due for a cut did make my skin crawl, yet I can't help but think that if you sat down to watch Dark Night knowing nothing of its plot, the true story it is based around or the thematic goals of Sutton's work, you would likely be left completely cold and confused, wondering what the hell was the point of this whole exercise.

With so many films based on true, tragic events kicking me in the nuts and keeping me awake a little bit later at night without me once doubting how it got me to that point, what troubles me is the fact that I can't quite put my finger on if Dark Night occasionally worked for me only because I kept thinking back to when I was in the cinema watching The Dark Knight Rises, only to return home and turn on the news and see the chaos and carnage that unfolded as I was lucky enough to simply sit back and enjoy the show. Had this exact same picture been made 10, 15, even 20 years from now, would anyone even be willing to ride out the eerie, odd lack of a narrative style seemingly building to nothing?

A ton of talent on display here and I love the concept of the approach, and some of Dark Night absolutely works. I just don't know if any of it matters without already being haunted before the first frame even hits the screen.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Let's Do It Again: My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #80 - #71

After a delay of about a month, time to get back on track with this list. Now moving into the top 80 of my favorite films of all time, take a look and let me know if you love any, hate any, doesn't matter, would love to hear which movies caught your attention and why.

80. Goodfellas

A picture that ages like a fine wine, what really needs to be said about Goodfellas? I'm sure you have seen it, but if it has been a long time, watch it again. I recently did and what a treasure this Scorsese masterpiece continues to be.

79. Baraka

A documentary lacking a conventional narrative or even a verbal element of any kind, Baraka is just a series of incredibly beautiful sights and sounds from around the world filmed and edited together, and it is extraordinary. 

78. The Vanishing

To be clear, this is the original 1988 Dutch film, not the 1993 American remake. That isn't to slight the remake (although I have heard it deserves to be slighted), I just have never seen it as I really don't see the point when the original is perfect. The Vanishing is one of the most haunting, disturbing films I have ever seen, with an ending that still rattles me randomly when I think about it.

77. The Spirit of the Beehive

A personal favorite of visionary director Guillermo del Toro and a clear inspiration for his incredible Pan's Labyrinth, The Spirit of the Beehive is gorgeous and mysterious and simply brilliant. The directorial debut from Spanish film director Victor Erice, and what a way to introduce yourself to the cinematic world.

76. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Kubrick's satirical look at war is great enough based on its own merits, a tremendously funny and entertaining film, but what makes it really stand out now is just how prescient it turned out to be. Despite being released over 50 years ago, Dr. Strangelove still plays today with remarkable accuracy and relevance.

75. Children of Men

An incredible, intense, painful experience, Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men has plenty of admirers like myself but the film is underappreciated overall, bold and fascinating storytelling that from my experience most people have never even heard of. Find a way to see it, but I must warn you, my wife appreciated that it is a great film but she will never watch it again as a scene towards the end managed to literally give her an anxiety attack. That may not sound like a compliment to the movie, but trust me, it is.

74. Road to Perdition

Let's keep this simple: Road to Perdition is fantastic and the scene depicted in the image above is one of my all time favorite moments in cinema, and that isn't an exaggeration. I have seen the film at least a dozen times, probably more, so sometimes I can turn it on while also doing something else as I know I don't have to devote my entire attention span to it, but whenever this moment arrives, I drop whatever I am doing and just soak it in. Breathtaking. 

73. Blade Runner

The sequel is due out in October and outside of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it is my most anticipated film of the rest of 2017, partially because it looks so damn amazing and is made by an outstanding filmmaker in Denis Villenueve, but also because it is the sequel to a science fiction masterclass. Blade Runner is a stunning achievement.

72. Only God Forgives

A polarizing film, no doubt, with an equal share of people absolutely loathing it as those who love it, but count me among the second group. A neon drenched nightmare directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, I have watched Only God Forgives 4 or 5 times now and it gets better and better each time. 

71. Paths of Glory

Another Kubrick film that serves as a scathing criticism of war, although unlike Dr. Strangelove, Paths of Glory is not a satirical comedy but rather a deep dive into the absurd notion that we would expect soldiers to complete a mission that is essentially suicide and their refusal to do so would lead their own country to put them to death under the charge of cowardice. This film is hard to watch and yet I watched it twice the very first time I saw it. As soon as it ended I pressed play again and sat through it all over again. Kubrick is a genius, possibly my favorite filmmaker of all time, and Paths of Glory is an example of why.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Let's Do It Again: My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #90 - #81

Moving on to the next set of ten films, these being my 90th through 81st ranked movies of all time. What will become clear as you look at what makes the cut to be one of my favorites is that I don't have a specific genre that dominates my attention or my heart. I will fall in love with anything, whether it be a comedy, animation, science fiction, drama or something completely surreal lacking a traditional narrative. Some of all of those things are found throughout this list.

90. Rope

When the fabulous career of Alfred Hitchcock is discussed you rarely hear about the film Rope, an overlooked masterpiece. Of course, it isn't just the viewing public that is to blame for Rope not getting the acclaim it deserves, as Hitchcock himself referred to the picture as "an experiment that didn't work". Oh but I think it did work, I think it worked wonders. The film is shown as if it has no cuts at all, but it is through editing trickery that this perception exists because there are plenty of cuts in Rope, but to the naked eye the experience feels like one giant long shot featuring handheld camera work that weaves throughout the room and it is something to behold. 

89. Anatomy of a Murder

I love a great legal courtroom drama, and one of the finest examples of such a film is Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder, nominated for Best Picture in 1960. Terrific performances, perfectly made and filled with the expected tension as evidence unfolds in a courtroom, I am completely drawn in by every second of this movie.

88. The Neon Demon

From a Hitchcock film from 1948 and a courtroom drama from 1959 to The Neon Demon, a 2016 Nicolas Winding Refn movie about the ruthless nature of the modeling industry, a surreal nightmare starring beautiful people doing absolutely horrific things. This isn't the last of the recently released Refn films to make my list. 

87. Dazed and Confused

This is a film that I have always loved but my reasons why have shifted over time, starting when I was a teen and I thought of it as nothing more than a loose, fun stoner teenage comedy and now with my deep appreciation for the work of Richard Linklater, I see it as a loose, fun stoner teenage comedy with also a ton of nuance bubbling up with a lot to say. Some movies I loved 20 years ago now seem so hollow or meaningless upon reflection, but Dazed and Confused only gets better with age.

86. Mulholland Drive

The first time I watched Mulholland Drive, I had no fucking idea what was happening, but I loved it.
The second time I watched Mulholland Drive, I had no fucking idea what was happening, but I still loved it. The third time I watched Mulholland Drive, I had no fucking idea what was happening. but I loved it even more. The fourth time I watched Mulholland Drive, I started to form my own opinion about what was happening, had no idea if I was even remotely on the right track, but who gives a shit, I loved it more than ever. I even wrote a paper about it for school.

85. Predator

A lot of people my age have nostalgic memories towards the Disney films from our childhood years, but I don't. Funny enough I didn't love most of those movies until I got older. For me, there were a bunch of movies I probably shouldn't even have been watching at a single digit age that make me feel all warm and sappy when I think about them, remembering a time when I would spend my summer avoiding the heat with alien creatures and galaxies far, far away. One of those films is Predator, a glorious action spectacle that is perfectly paced, incredibly memorable and scary as hell for an 8 year old to witness. I loved it then and I love it now.

84. Toy Story

Sometimes I wonder if the Toy Story sequels and also the numerous other terrific Pixar films since have managed to overshadow just how perfect of a movie the original is. Briskly paced, moving, brilliantly innovative and fun, I will always hold the original in high regard.

83. Scarface

I don't know what lead to me believing for roughly 20 years that the film Scarface was not good, because it turns out giving it a chance in my early 30's made me recognize that it isn't good, it's flat out great. I think I always was turned off by the way the character Tony Montana was glorified by our culture as some sort of iconic hero when in reality he is anything but. I should have had more faith in Brian De Palma. 

82. The Raid

One of the greatest action films I have ever seen, The Raid is an Indonesian masterpiece directed by Gareth Evans, and despite its relative popularity I'm sure many of you out there have never seen it. If you don't mind some pretty grotesque violence or dealing with the feeling that you are having a panic attack because of the sheer ferocious pace of the action, I cannot recommend this movie enough.

81. Spirited Away

Already my second Miyazaki to make the list, a man in a class by himself in regards to animated brilliance. Spirited Away is unbelievably haunting and beautiful cinema, a hand drawn master class that belongs on any Mount Rushmore of the genre. The intricate details, the concepts, the ability to deliver a story filled with meaningful themes, the pitch perfect musical score. Incredible.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Let's Do It Again: My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #100 - #91

Let's do it again.

A couple years ago I put together a favorite films list, 100 movies I cherished that I felt compelled to rank. The thing about lists regarding personal taste is that taste changes day by day, week by week. month by month, year by year. Something I may have listed in my top 50 previously may not even make my 100 this time around because perhaps I had just recently seen it back then and was still caught up in my own personal hype machine, the best of the work dancing through my mind as I found it a spot on the list, but I haven't seen it since. Haven't thought about it since, at least not as much as I assumed I would.

My logic behind putting this list together during the middle of the year was, frankly, based on the fact that nothing released during the first half of 2017 was going to threaten their way onto my all time list, so I knew I wouldn't have clouded judgment involving something brand new. So even my favorites of last year, I have at least had quite a few months to let the movies resonate and revisit them and truly decide if my love is as high as I once thought. My top 2 of 2016 do indeed make the cut here.

So here we go, starting with number 100 and working my way down, my favorite films of all time:

100. In The Mood For Love

A gorgeous, sexy, vibrant piece of filmmaking from Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai, In The Mood For Love is one of those films where every frame feels like its own individual piece of art, filled with color and contrast, expertly lit and shot. 

99. Pan's Labyrinth

Not the only Guillermo del Toro film in this specific list of ten, and yes many people will roll their eyes at the one I have listed higher than Pan's Labyrinth. Frankly, I don't give a damn, but let's stay on topic with this movie because it deserves its moment. Pan's Labyrinth is creepy, fascinating and beyond beautiful, a fable that is pure, spectacular cinema. 

98. There Will Be Blood

I know plenty of people will not accept what I am about to say, because he is considered a modern cinematic god (and rightfully so), but this is the only Paul Thomas Anderson picture that makes my list. I know, I know, it's a damn shame but it isn't that I don't appreciate the man or his work, I most certainly do, but typically I can completely admire his brilliance while also never truly loving the stories he tells on a personal level. The one exception to this is There Will Be Blood, a bold, odd, stunning masterpiece.

97. Inception

This is one of those films that I will never forget seeing it for the first time in the theater because the experience was bigger than the movie itself. My daughter was born in 2007 and because of the chaos that goes with raising a newborn and toddler, along with the differing work schedules of myself and my wife, it was basically impossible to get out to a theater. My return to the cinema occurred in 2010 when Inception was released, and it was quite the blockbuster experience on a huge screen. I had viewed the trailer maybe 100 times before actually seeing the film, and despite the hype it didn't disappoint.

96. The Thin Red Line

Somehow a Best Picture nominee managed to fly under the radar in terms of recognition, mostly because it was labeled the second best movie from its own genre the year it was released. That's the problem with being nominated in the same categories with Saving Private Ryan, but count me among those that actually feel The Thin Red Line is the better film and one of the best war pictures ever made. This isn't the only appearance of a film by director Terrence Malick on the list, but you have to wait quite some time to get to his next picture. 

95. Warrior

Never would have believed you had you told me prior to my first viewing of the film Warrior that it would make a favorite movie of all time list. Not only did I not have any interest in MMA fighting then, I remained uninterested now, but that's the thing about Warrior, it isn't an MMA film, it is a powerful, emotional character driven drama that happens to revolve around the MMA world. I am a mess every single time I watch this beauty, destroyed by the relationships and the devastating performances. 

94. Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids

Thought Warrior was a surprise? How about a Justin Timberlake concert film making the cut? The Netflix original concert documentary Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids is an incredible experience, directed by the late great Jonathan Demme of The Silence of the Lambs and, more appropriately for comparison here, Stop Making Sense fame. So many would view this as "just a concert", but the way Demme focuses not just on Timberlake but every single piece of the band around him, along with the way each moment is framed to capture the relationship Timberlake forms with every single person on and off the stage is something to behold. I watched this for the sixth or seventh time just the other night and it gets better each time. 

93. Pacific Rim

I warned you that Guillermo del Toro would make another appearance on this list of ten, and here we are, and hell yes it is Pacific Rim. Action packed, colorful, inventive, exciting fun that is so perfectly, delightfully cheesy in the best possible way. This is a Kaiju film made by a filmmaker who understands exactly what makes such experiences great, featuring characters with absurd names and silly nonsense scattered throughout, but balanced out by real relationship and the strong desire to watch robots kick the shit out of monsters. I can't get enough of Pacific Rim.

92. Whiplash

Now known for his follow up feature to the critically acclaimed and Oscar winning Whiplash, a little brilliant beauty called La La Land (which you will absolutely be seeing later on this list), it might be easy for some to forget about the movie that put Damien Chazelle on the map. Don't. A masterful example of frenetic editing and what true electricity feels like in cinema, Whiplash is dynamite with a final sequence that is pitch perfect. 

91. Princess Mononoke

I love animated films but so many just feel like lazy cash grabs filled with bright colors and characters with silly voices made my studios that know they will put butts in seats solely by kids begging their parents to go see it. It is with this in mind that I try to make sure I never take Hayao Miyazaki for granted, a true master of animation and a man who filled his work with so much meaning and depth and important messages about humanity, complicated emotions and a love for planet Earth. Princess Mononoke is the first Miyazaki on this list, but it certainly won't be the last.