Friday, January 31, 2014

My Top 10 Favorite Movies

These are always hard to do because favorites tend to change over time. But when I was making my initial draft in my head I realized the top 10 I came up with were titles that really impacted me and made an impression long enough to be considered for this list. So as far as I can tell this is the official top 10 that has not only withstood the test of time (with the exception of one title because it is a recent entry) but I can't see what could replace them, either.
With that said I want to include a quick disclaimer: These are my personal top 10 favorites. This is not me saying these are the best of all time. Just the ones that hit me the biggest and ones I adore and appreciate the most. Doesn't mean I don't like your favorites. It just means these are the ones I personally like the most.
Also these will be very short reviews. I could talk at great length for each of these but I'll keep it brief or else this would be so long it'd be absurd.
Also I'm gonna add in the Rotten Tomatoes score just to show how varying in opinion mine is from the general public and critics at large. Or it will at least show you how good everyone, not just myself, thinks some of these lesser known titles are.

Number 10: Whisper of the Heart
(90% on RT)

Starting the list off is a very recent entry. I only just saw this one within the last year and I loved it enough to place it in my top 10. This title is an animated film from Studio Ghibli. Should be a very familiar name and if it isn't then I'm sure titles like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro just to name a few should be familiar. While not directed by the great Miyazaki himself this still retains all the charm of a Miyazaki film. Walt Disney didn't direct every movie that came out of his studios so it's definitely possible to excel without having to be the originator. Anyway, Whisper of the Heart is also one of the more wholesome and somber titles from Ghibli. It doesn't take place in a fantasy world with supernatural elements. Nor does it have characters that are literal spirits from the afterlife like so many other Ghibli titles. This one stays right where it is in reality with the only fantasy, dream-like sequence happening exactly in that place. A fantasy dream sequence.
The plot revolves around a young girl who is obsessed with renting all the same books as a mysterious boy she knows little to nothing about. She continues doing this to figure out what kind of person he is based on his reading choices. It is an adorable tale with a love story right off the bat. Her methods of finding out more about this boy are a lot like falling in love with the character of a book, but with a twist of reality weaved in. The movie really kicks into gear when she finds out this boy is the same boy she finds painfully annoying. And so begins their awkward and adorable tale of love that goes back and forth throughout the movie. Along with that love story it's also about growing up in the cramped suburbs of Japan, as well as self discovery with one's own creativity. I don't want to talk too much about everything that happens because everything about it is so sweet and enduring that I want you to experience it for yourself.
A very underrated title in the Ghibli library. It doesn't have the fantastic world the other titles have but it's got character. So much character in it's characters. I was pulled in from the start and it had me all the way up through the end credits. It's themes and story will make you think of a simpler time. It'll remind you of crushing on your classmate, having tiffs with your parents, self-discovery, and just plain growing up even if it wasn't in Japan. Just goes to show that all kids go through the same stuff no matter where you live or where you came from. This is the most wholesome title you will see on this list so grab onto it while you can. And the fact that I put it ahead all the other Ghibli titles in my personal preferences must say something big.
I've got a soft side guys...

Number 9: Love Exposure
(90% on RT)

Let me share you my first experience with this one. I had imported it from the UK because there was no American release nor was there any sign (and I wasn't planning on waiting around). Since this movie is four hours long it's difficult to fit into any day of the week. That and you need to be in the right mindset to sit down to something that long. Eventually I caved and thought to myself, "Okay, I'll watch the first half tonight (it was on two discs), and then I'll watch the last half later. I'm sure I'll get a similar experience." That night I started the movie around 10PM. I finished disc 1, got up, took a bathroom break, and watched disc 2. I finished around 2 in the morning because I was so engrossed and knew I had to see what happens next. The moral of this story is that if a four hour movie keeps me that engaged for that long then it definitely deserves a second look.
Watching Love Exposure is like reading a great book. So much is going on throughout the lengthy experience yet nothing is wasted. It all ties together very well. Every bit of it is important for the plot to move forward. Simply put I loved this movie from the moment I laid eyes on it and I will easily watch it again, despite it's length, any day of the week.
What makes this movie so fantastic is Shion Sono's unique style of filmmaking. He has made some of the best Japanese films I have ever seen, two of which I reviewed a long time ago right here. Normally I can't stand narration in movies as I feel it is insulting to the viewer. They can see what's going on so they don't need to be told. But in this case it is more like a book, like I stated earlier. There is so much going on all at once that is integral to character and story. Because of this there is a constant narration. And you get very used to it. It's a method Shion has used in his other movies and it works just as well there as it does here. That on top of the very unique story filled with tons of tense drama and equally as wacky comedy it makes for not just one of the best movies I saw that year, that decade, but ever in my lifetime. If you can get past the heavy sexual elements of the story and are open to something different, something a little out of your comfort zone then you're in for something amazing that you will never forget. It may not be my favorite movie, but it is one of the highest rated movies in my book.
I bought it region 2 (UK Import) to get it early but it has since been released on region 1. You have no excuse. Go out and watch this movie RIGHT NOW!

Number 8: The Passion of Joan of Arc
(97% on RT)

One of the best films I've ever seen. Not just from the silent era, but of all film. And to think it was almost gone forever. Many recuts were made throughout the years but the original was thought to be lost. It stayed that way for many years until it was found in a Norwegian insane asylum in the early 80s. It was eventually released to the public in many poor formats until The Criterion Collection got a hold of it and produced the essential DVD edition of it. It will be the closest thing to the original edition any of us will ever have and it is brilliant. The DVD includes it with no soundtrack, and a specially produced soundtrack for the film due to the fact there is no master music track to go along with the film. And if there was that is gone forever.
In case the title didn't give it away this is about the imprisonment, trial, torture, and eventual execution of Joan of Arc. This is one of those movies that is so engrossing, so beautiful that when it's over you immediately want to watch it all over again because the experience is so amazing. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer who film historians consider to be one of the best that ever directed. The only other one of his films I've seen is Vampyr, another silent film I enjoyed immensely.
I guess the way I would describe this title is that it's unafraid. It's very ballsy for the era. My experience growing up is that much older movies tend to be a lot more tame because the restrictions back then were a lot more strict. Then again this came from France and I am unfamiliar with their code back then so I guess I couldn't say too much on that subject. But even in terms of modern film this one can be looked at as very brutal. Maybe not in the amount of violence shown but emotionally it is damaging. The movie starts off with Joan of Arc imprisoned and basically set for death right there. Granted we all know what happens but watching the process of her being tortured and then constantly being forced to discredit herself is rough to get through. Yet so beautiful at the same time.
It's the same reason we watch movies like Schindler's List or mini-series like Roots. They're long, rough rides but we can see the beauty in the tragedy. They're so well put together and remind us of the evils that are in the world or the things people did to defend themselves. They're inspiring, gorgeous displays of the human condition that we can all learn a lesson from. And when they light up Joan of Arc at the end of the movie and the riot ends the film, it's tough. It's tough to get through. Still those 82 minutes blaze by very fast and you want it to keep going. You may even consider starting from the beginning just to experience it all over again.

Number 7: King Kong
(98% on RT)

Ah yes. A classic. One of the most iconic movies ever made and it is one of my favorites.
I didn't see this one until I was in high school. It was around the same time I started working at the Blockbuster near my high school (that has since been turned into a fitness center). This was also around the same time the newest remake of King Kong was coming out. Because of that there were these new DVD editions of King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young, the last one only being connected because it has a giant monkey that goes literally ape shit crazy at the end. I picked them up not because I wanted to see the King Kong remake but because I had always heard about these movies and felt like it was time I saw them. Thankfully this was after I started becoming more open to new style of movies instead of the same old same old low brow crap all the time. In other words there were some older black and white movies I did enjoy but they were few and far between. Thankfully this was one I really got into... big time!
Right there on my first viewing I fell in love with it and have watched it a countless number of times since. While I did enjoy it for it's engaging story and not too corny old timey acting the best parts for me were the monkey and the action sequences. My favorite Christmas special is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and so that's an animation style that has always appealed to me. Along with things like Wallace and Gromit I have always been a big fan of stop motion. Keeping in mind this was literally decades before either of those were born the stop motion work here is top notch. It made me so happy that the animatronics were saved for close ups and when the creatures needed to interact with people close up. But the way that animation was used when they first get to the island and are running from dinosaurs makes for incredible excitement.
But not as good as the classic sequence when King Kong escapes and goes on a rampage through the streets of New York. For the era it was filmed the special effects are brilliant. Switching between stop motion and animatronics, while not seamlessly, still very effectively. And in all honesty I found this sequence to be pretty terrifying. It was constant excitement and horror throughout up until Kong is shot down from the Empire State Building, ending the movie. So the best thing I could wonder then was if my reaction was like that in (or around) 2005 I can only wonder how people responded to it in 1933. Pretty big I imagine. But so much so that I believe I read somewhere that there had to be cuts from when they're still on Kong's island because it got too scary. Crazy how times change, yet this one still holds up in so many ways. The effects may be out of date but the story isn't. It is still very immersive and one of the best classic movie experiences you'll get.

Number 6: The Blair Witch Project
(87% on RT)

There were a few before this and many that followed but none of them have quite that feel that The Blair Witch Project did. This is truly a supreme example of the found footage genre. I really love this style of horror because it's one of the few that adds a very real sense of realism to the tone of the movie. And there are many ways this movie did it right. First it was done on the super cheap, a lot of it was improvised by the actors not to mention the camera was operated by the actors, the actors also literally lived and slept in the woods for the entire shoot adding real tension to the fictional tension, and some of the scary stuff that happens (attack on the tent in the middle of the night for example) was done without the actors knowing again adding a sense of realism. This independent film went on to make a shitload of cash making it one of the most profitable movies ever made, just like Paranormal Activity would do around a decade later. But some of my favorite parts involve the technical side. The movie was filmed in full screen, or 1:33.1. It truly looks like a choppy bit of found footage since it is so rough looking. And for a while I insisted only watching this on VHS to enhance the experience (also see The Shining). But I do have it on DVD now because I have the coolest wife in the world. While we were still dating she sent a DVD copy of this movie off to the director. It took months to get back but when she did she presented me with an autographed copy of the movie. Words could not express how excited I was.
So from an objective standpoint the movie is done really well and it's clear how much I love it. But is it scary? Shit yes it is! I think a lot of people were turned off my the constant shakiness of the camera (they missed the point of the film's style) and how 'nothing happens.' Well the thing is that a lot happens, it just takes a lot of time to build up. And the scary stuff that happens is the fear of the unknown. There is a lot of tension wondering what will happen to these people. And in my book that is way scarier than any monster or jump scare you can put on screen.
During the final minutes of the film my heart starts to race. They are scared as ever with one of their friends missing. They rummage through the woods and find an old, abandoned home. Inside the home is some of the creepiest imagery of abandonment I've ever seen put on screen. It gives the appearance that horrible things are happening. And while some may think the movie ends on a whimper I think it ends they way it should. The movie ends when the found footage runs out of footage. And in that last moment when the last person is knocked to the ground, presumably dead, with the camera still fluttering makes for an excellent ending to one of the best horror movies ever put together.
It ends the way it should. Unlike the theatrical version of Paranormal Activity which should have ended the way the festival cut ended.

Number 5: Ring, and the franchise as a whole
(Ring 1998: 97%, Rasen 1998: No Score [28% audience rating], Ring 2 1999: 0%, The Ring Virus: No Score [37% A.R.], Ring 0 2001: No Score [64% A.R.], The Ring 2002: 71%, The Ring Two 2005: 20%, Sadako 3D: No Rating [21% A.R.])

A few years ago I remember having a conversation with a good friend of mine about obsessions with certain franchises or what have you. The conversation was me trying to figure out if there really was anything where I was a collector of EVERYTHING the franchise has to offer (maybe not literally). This means buying up not just all the, let's say, movies in a franchise like owning all the Star Wars or Bond movies, but also buy the action figures, posters, coffee mugs, calendars, etc. I came to realize that wasn't exactly true for me. I usually have the whole set of movies for a franchise but little beyond that. A print of the theatrical poster at best. But then I remembered Ring. Outside of my #1 pick there hasn't been a horror story I've been more obsessed with and it is yet to be topped. To explain my love for this franchise allow me to expand on what I already have.
Currently I have most of the movies [Ring, Rasen, Ring 2, Ring 0, The Ring Virus, Sadako 3D, The Ring (US Remake), The Ring 2 (US Remake Sequel], the mainline books they were based on [Ring, Spiral, Loop], a couple of the TV mini series [Based on the first two books], the first volume of the manga and I plan on picking up the video game for Dreamcast sometime in the near future as well as any missing gaps like the made for TV movie and the other volumes of the manga as well as Koji Suzuki's books Birthday and S (which has yet to be translated).
To those unfamiliar Ring is essentially a ghost story. It's about a young woman named Sadako who was murdered and thrown into a well. Because of these bizarre psychic supernatural abilities she inherited from her mother her curse lives on in modern times starting with an urban legend about a cursed videotape. The curse being if you watch it, you die. And while almost every new adaptation has been fast and loose with it's interpretation of the original story there have been a few things that stuck. The scary girl with the powers and the curse of a videotape.
And these are scary stories. Not just because there's a creepy girl with long black hair over her face, but in tone. The scary parts of these stories is the mystery and the creeping knowledge that our protagonists may not be able to defeat this evil because she keeps coming back. Some do it very well (Ring [1998], even the remake in 2002) and some do it very poorly (The Ring Two [Sequel to the remake in 2005] and Sadako 3D) but overall they're very effective stories. And they're unique because they're a product of their era. It's hard to imagine a cursed tape working well today. A cursed DVD or YouTube clip just doesn't have the same appeal. Or maybe I'm just a grumpy old man.

Number 4: Brazil
(98% on RT)

Back in high school when I found out there was more to movies than bang bang explosions and there was more of an art to it I discovered a lot of new and exciting movies. Still this was a time when I was major pretentious about it and would dive so deep into the "artsy" and "indie" scene that many of them I now find forgettable and not worth my time. Mostly because a lot of them turned out to be a load of crap that was far too pretentious and trying too hard to be non-mainstream. Still I got plenty of movies that really are great that have stuck with me throughout the years. Later I'll be talking about one that got me into this new perspective but for now let's talk about one of the weirdest and best that I got into during this time.
Shown to me by an old friend who is a big fan of Terry Gilliam films, Brazil is at it's core a satire on the dystopian future stories. When describing it I try my best to not say "a parody of 1984" because I feel that would give the wrong idea. Because the movie is so much more than "Remember that book you had to read in high school? Wait til you get a load of this reference!" As a satire it pokes fun of this type of future while having a very dark, very serious tone in the story overall. Hell, the main plot revolves around a mis-type that makes an innocent man the enemy of the state. And how did that mis-type happen? Why a bug was swatted and it landed in the printer where it printed the wrong name. Absurdly ridiculous stuff like that is what helps makes up the comedy of the movie. But in the movie's near 2 1/2 hour length it explores so many themes, character arcs, side stories that it would take me all day to talk about what makes them all so great and memorable, and just straight up work as both comedy and drama.
Saddest part is this was one of those movies that was filled with a hellish development. The story is really something to dive into. To put it brief it all came down to the trouble of one man. Sid Sheinberg, an entertainment executive. He did what he could to not release Brazil in the state Gilliam wanted it. He thought the movie was too depressing especially with it's super dark ending. Gilliam fought this battle very publicly, causing in a long delay of the film's release. While Gilliam didn't get to release his full director's cut he did get to release it in a similar form. The released edition was 132 minutes while the full director's cut (that would eventually be released as part of the Criterion Collection) is 142 minutes. There was an unofficial, 94 minute "happy" version shown on TV against Gilliam's wishes. But that wasn't shown much and most video releases is 132 minutes. But as a fun feature the Criterion 3 disc edition does include the butchered version. And I've got to say it is fascinating to watch. Really puts in perspective how much a little bit (or in this case A LOT) of editing can do.
So definitely look up Brazil if you're interested in not just a great movie, but a movie with a rich history that is fun to fall down the rabbit hole into.

Number 3: UHF
(57% on RT)

Also known as, "Weird Al's Movie." Back in the late eighties Weird Al Yankovic had been on the market for a good ten years with his comedy albums. Making parodies of popular songs while making very funny original material as well. So towards the end of the decade he went out to put together a movie in the style of his humor that has become so popular over the years from his albums. While the results were a very funny, very creative comedy it did not do well at first. It was slammed by critics and had to compete with many major franchises that year including: Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and the newest Disney animated movie The Little Mermaid. It was looking to become one of those forgettable movies you remember picking up from the video rental store as a kid starring that guy who made a couple of funny records you had but don't remember what happened to them. So... into obscurity. And it almost killed Weird Al's career. He put out a soundtrack (plus new material) for UHF but would release another album until Nirvana came along when he did a parody of Smells Like Teen Spirit. Thankfully for Al and for his fans he rose back to the top of the comedy music world and his movie found an audience. And with the DVD release that happened in the early 2000s it's now considered a cult classic.
While not my number one in terms of this list, it is number one in other aspects of my enjoyment. I am a huge Weird Al fan so this speaks to me on so many levels. The jokes land perfectly, it has that absurd edge (like a free salad bar at a mortuary) that makes me laugh, and it even inspired me in my own sense of humor and writing. You can tell a lot of these jokes were from the deep, deep depths of Al's mind with plenty of inspiration from the likes of the Zucker brothers. And even though it's far from perfect (especially in some of the acting) I have still seen this movie more than any other movie. Period. As in, over one hundred times. It became a tradition to watch this movie every time my best friend came over to my house. Which was a lot. Then I would show it to other people and have repeat viewings on my own.
So this movie about a loser who can't keep a job is put in charge as a manger of a local TV station and turns it around and makes it more popular than even the big name channels in town... has changed my life in so many ways it's ridiculous. One of the biggest examples of joy and hilarity was from Michael Richards who plays the idiot janitor Stanley Spadowski. His performance is brilliant, totally unrecognizable even from fans of Seinfeld. I loved it so much I was even Stanley for Halloween one year in middle school.
Also this is one of those movies I have multiple copies of so I can have it on the original VHS release and DVD re-release. Personally I prefer the VHS release on this one.

Number 2: 2001: A Spacey Odyssey
(97% on RT)

This one will always hold a special place in my heart for one very strong reason. This movie changed my life. I saw it for the first time when I was in high school. Prior to this I only ever watched mainstream movies with many low-brow choices scattered throughout my personal library. However when I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey I was taken into a world of movies I never knew existed. Or that I knew existed, just didn't know how amazing they really were. Despite having a very mainstream past with movies I fell in love with the beautiful slow pacing, the strong use of visuals and music, and the trippy, confusing ending that made me want to know more about the story and the universe it lived in. In that two and a half hour sitting my life was changed forever. Movies became a much bigger part of my life and some of the most unique experiences I've had have come from the love of movies. Shortly after this I purged a lot of the bad choices in my collection while holding onto the handful of greats, which I then looked at in a new perspective.
Outside of it hitting me on such a personal level the movie itself, objectively, is so fantastic. I don't know what I can say that hasn't already been said so I'll just speak from the heart.
In many ways this movie was way ahead of it's time. It was released in 1968 but took 4 years to make. Part of this was Kubrick's insane methods of making movies resulting in very long productions. But also because they were creating super ahead of their time special effects. Giant sets were made for the space ships, one of which was built to rotate like a ferris wheel to use trick imagery to make it appear like there's artificial gravity. When put in context of the time and compared to other movies like this it is truly mind blowing. And the best part is how simple the effects are in practice. Any other effects needed were imprinted on the original film stock instead of copies so they look as realistic as possible. Lastly this was in production and released shortly before the moon landing. Take a look at the movie and the perspective of planets from space. There's even a scene early on, on the moon and the accuracy is (pardon the pun) out of this world.
Accuracy really is the key word here. Despite the supernatural ending most of this movie is very accurate to real life. To the point of being notorious for being really slow and boring. There is no dialogue outside of ape grunts for the first the first twenty five minutes and then at the end there's no dialogue for the last twenty three minutes. Meaning right there, there is nearly an hour of no speaking. Just visuals. Also since there are long periods of "nothing" happening (sequences of the crew doing their daily duties or other work) that would mean at least half or more of this movie is quiet. Not dead silent, no, of course not. During those moments (for the most part) there is an incredible score to accompany the "nothing" going on. And why I say this is accurate is because it is like real space travel. Hours upon days upon weeks upon months of nothing. Then they make their discovery or make it to their destination and the dull wait was worth it in the end. And the payoff here is so worth it. I can't get enough of this movie and other science fiction just like it.

Number 1: The Shining
(92% on RT)

It always came down to this one and the last one. Kubrick against Kubrick for my favor (like he would care which one I liked more). But after re-examining them and thinking about it, for argument's sake this one is easily my number one favorite of all time. No other film have I spent more time viewing and looking further into. I haven't seen this one as many times as UHF but since it's nearly double the length that is saying something for the time actually spent. But then in terms of discovering why everything is the way it is, what everything means, how it differs from the novel, and some other things I would have never noticed by myself it has been hours upon hours looking into it. The only thing that would compare is the Ring franchise. But that's a whole franchise, not just one story. So again, saying something. I think I've discovered about all I can but I'm sure there's still something hidden.
This is also the title I am most particular about when I watch it. I always have watched the first edition VHS version and it's for a good reason. You see, when home video became more popular Kubrick hated how his movies would be cropped when they make it to the small screen. So in his later films he filmed in a way that would compliment them whether it is on the big or the small screen (keep in mind this was years before 16X9 HDTVs). This meant that in theatres it would be presented wide with more on the sides but less on the top and bottom. Then on home video it was less on the sides but would expand the top and bottom. He shot the essential edition for theatrical and home distribution without having to worry about getting a special letterbox edition out there for people to watch it properly. So for his later films I specifically look for the "full screen" version because of this. It's the version that was meant to be watched at home.
But what can I say about this without falling down the rabbit hole yet again on why I love it so much? I guess I'll start from the most primitive point when I say this was one of the first R-rated movies I saw. Also it's one of the earliest examples of horror to me. Since I was a child I've been fascinated by horror because of the thrill that comes with it. This one freaked me out so bad as a kid that whenever I watched it I would be haunted by the images for hours, sometimes days. And one time I even watched it on TV, in the middle of the day, with the nastiest of bits cut out and commercial breaks. Was still freaked out. Would never work on me today but this is to show on what level this movie did to me. Still despite this terror I would always be drawn back to it wanting to watch it again. I even remember when I finally got my own copy of the movie in early high school. It had been a few years since I saw it last but even hours before I picked it up (knowing I would later that day) I was haunted by it both anticipating and fearing it equally.
But I could talk about this for hours and not be even close to done. Simply put this is my favorite movie of all time and it will stay that way. It has strangely shaped me to who I am today in some strange way and I will forever love it for that.

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