Sunday, October 18, 2015

Stranded With My Movies

This year I did a lot of purging, especially movies. I was somewhere in the 700+ range and have since sold off / gave away nearly 200 (if not more) of those movies. I did this for many reasons, like the change in attitude to not hold onto so many things, switching to more of a minimalistic attitude in life.
Technically I have a long way to go before my life becomes a strong reality of minimalism, but I'd say I'm making good progress.
While selling these off I came up with a thought experiment. For someone like me (and other collector dweebs) I wondered what movies I would bring with me if I was stuck on a desert island for the rest of my life. For some reason the number 50 came to mind. It may seem like a lot to the casual observer, but when you take into consideration the thousands of movies made in the last 100+ years it becomes incredibly difficult, even if you're a casual viewer.
So this list is not really my favorites (technically) but the movies I would want to spend the rest of my life with. Will likely wind up being a lot of favorites, but I'll be omitting some titles in favor of variety so I don't fill up half the list with the complete works of Kubrick, Lynch, and other iconic directors.

Also this list will be in alphabetical order. It's not about ranking, it's about the overall set.

Conveniently and appropriately the film that changed my outlook on film as an art is the first to show up alphabetically. Like others on this list I don't know what else can be said that hasn't already been said. This film has been such an influence on not just my life but the lives of filmmakers since it's release nearly fifty years ago. Even as recent as last year with Interstellar's visuals and score showing direct inspiration. A slow yet well paced adventure that leaves a lot up to interpretation and is one of the greatest viewing experience you'll ever have. I don't think I'd ever tire of this trapped on a desert island.

There's a reason this comedy is so well remembered and adored so much. While some classic comedies are rooted in a specific era or rely on specific references for you to appreciate it, Airplane is a satirical example of what happens when a comedy is pieced together to stand on it's own regardless of who watches it. All is truly asks you to do is understand disaster movies and that's about it. There are some references relevant to the era but everything else stands on it's own. Best of all they play it straight, which is funnier than "trying" to be funny. Easily one of the top 5 best comedies ever put on film!

A true testament of what an animated film can accomplish not just for the science fiction / action genre, but the appeal to adults as well as the artistic crowd. Akira is adapted from a manga of the same name and delivers top notch animation that was rarely seen then, let alone today. Despite being released in 1988 it stands the test of time in so many ways. That and it leaves it's story cryptic and exciting enough to make you want more, urging for repeat viewings to see what you may have missed. If you can stomach the intense violence then there's no reason to skip this essential animated film.

If I'm stuck on a desert island I'm gonna need something goofy. Yes, Airplane can help fill that void but sometimes you need something that's just... dumb. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was made on the super cheap but delivers in a way the filmmakers couldn't try to do if they had a bigger budget. There's something charming about that scrapped together appeal indie flicks like this have, made even better when it's a comedy that works in such a fun and goofy way without trying too hard. Some of the musical numbers are cringe-worthy, but, hey, I'll never claim this is a perfect experience. Only an experience I like to revisit from time to time and is yet to get old.

One of the many iconic films on this list that I don't feel need explanation. However, with all the legendary sci-fi flicks out there you may be surprised (unless you looked ahead) that this is the only one starring Harrison Ford on this list. While Star Wars is good fun it has worn cold on me over the years. Blade Runner achieves brilliant storytelling in a dark future that is far more satisfying. I'd rather have investigation and chit-chat in a gritty environment over dogfights in space any day. And with all the different cuts implying different endings and theories about what really happens makes it all the more worth rewatching.

As much as I love the masterpiece of found footage horror, Paranormal Activity, I feel Blair Witch did a lot of things much better in the grand scheme. It was low budget at the perfect time because it had that low grade VHS feel that made it so much creepier through and through that later found footage movies didn't. The sense of terror is so much stronger because so little is known. The audience feels just as lost as the people in the movie. It's a thrilling experience that hasn't aged as well as it could mostly due to pop culture constantly referencing it, but that last sequence leading up to the dark ending still makes my heart race, giving me chills.

Bizarre visions of the future are among my favorite sub-genres of storytelling, especially when the dystopian and utopian visions become blurred. As horrible as the world of Brazil is it also is charmingly likable and it's full 142 minute director's cut, hell even the theatrical 132 minute cut is an exciting adventure that horrifies you while making you laugh. It's also very important in film history because of the fighting Terry Gilliam had to do to get his vision out there without being censored. It's a combo package between the brilliance of the film itself and the fascinating story behind the scenes. Just be sure you're not watching the "Love Conquers All" cut, at least not til you've seen the proper movie first.

It may be labelled as a black comedy on the poster but I imagine people watching this won't laugh as much as they expected. This is a dark story about an evil man and the affair his wife has with another man. A chilling experience that is complimented by some fantastic imagery and cinematography. Of all my choices on this list I'd say this one has some of the best cinematography (at times Kubrick-esque in the symmetry it uses) and use of color and costume when transitioning from room to room. Watch it and you'll see what I mean.

Among all the smart and artsy works I have on this list I could not go without my favorite action movie of all time. This 2006 thrill ride gives me what no action movie before or since has given me, literal non-stop action. From the moment the movie starts it kicks it into high gear! Even the slower dialogue scenes are filmed in a way that have energy, keeping the pace alive. Not very deep but the wild action still gives me a thrill nearly ten years later. Thank you Neveldine & Taylor. Thank you so much!

There are two things that come to mind when I think of Lars Von Trier: depressing & innovative. His films always have a mega serious tone to them (sometimes too serious) but he always finds a way to innovate and expand his horizons as a filmmaker. To me one of his best works and my personal favorite of his that covers these grounds is Dogville. A tough to get through story that is incredibly innovative for being shot entirely on a sound stage with minimal set pieces. It takes a little while to get through, but in the expansive three hour time frame we fall in love with the setting and characters despite not literally being anywhere and essentially being a blackbox theatre show. Exhilarating none the less!

Horror comes in all kinds of flavors but one thing that's been coming up too much lately is the horror comedy. It's like many filmmakers can't make a scary story so they lazily satire it instead. Rarely does a good example come along, thankfully Drag Me To Hell came along to cleanse the palette. I legitimately found this experience to be fun AND scary that makes me want to revisit over and over again. Even better it's a recent example of a PG-13 horror movie done right! How did that happen?!

It's hard to explain why Eraserhead is such a great piece of film. According to it's own creator, David Lynch, the true meaning has never been figured out and he never intends to explain it. This does not matter since this art house horror film gives you plenty to take from it including your own interpretations, many of which can be very satisfactory. It's mysterious, bizarre, disturbing, and surprisingly re-watchable for the type of experience it is.

This one is special for many reasons. It's a well put together crime drama with a lot of black comedy mixed in. The characters are charming as they are idiotic but the whole experience is a clever satire, even in ways you wouldn't realize right away. The whole "we swear every bit of this is true" was a satire in and of itself and is pretty brilliant when you take the time to think about why they did it. This also is special to me in the midwest sense. Born and raised in the midwest it exaggerates the people and accents I grew up with to a hilarious extent that make it so much more enjoyable for me.

Terry Gilliam knocks it out of the park again with this drug fueled spectacle. Brilliantly adapted, performed, and about everything else by the cast and crew that reflects Hunter S Thompson's book and personality. This is one of the best examples of what it looks and feels like to be constantly high on drugs (from what I've heard at least) and the hallucinations that come with it. Like other Gilliam features it achieves a sense of fun AND terror in so many ways. The inclusion of Ralph Steadman's art in an animated form being one of my favorite bits.

(Flesh for Frankenstein)
This is probably one of the oddest choices on the list because it's not necessarily a good film. Still there's something about it I find absolutely fascinating. Despite Andy Warhol's name being attached he's mostly involved as producer. Still Paul Morrissey's vision is as out there as Warhol himself. It's a bizarre exercise and vision of a legendary character that is as controversial as it is sexually charged. A strange piece that should be walked into with reservations, but you may find it as artistically pleasing as I do. Then you can check out Blood for Dracula, a nearly equally satisfying experience (only not as good) that looks at another legend in a different light.

I have this on my list for special reasons. This was one of my family's favorite movies growing up. It has a special place in my heart. But it's not here for nostalgic reasons. It may not handle the 'time travel' aspect as well as it could, sure, but it's still a very cool and unique perspective I've never seen before or since. It also tugs on my heart strings with the strong father son relationship played brilliantly by Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel. The overly empathetic aspects have grown tired on me, yet I can't deny this movie makes me want to give my dad a hug every time I see it.

Yes, THAT Frozen. If you've been following my blog or know me well enough on a personal level you'll know I fell in love with Frozen from the first day I watched it. All the frenzy that followed it, surprisingly, did not bother me and I still love this amazing animated piece to this day. The songs, characters, story, and everything about it still steals my heart. And now that my wife and I have some killer homemade Anna and Kristoff costumes we can re-live the experience again and again outside of the movie itself. This topped my personal charts of favorite Disney movies and it still holds that spot. I love you, Frozen. I love you so damn much!

(Godzilla [1954])
The giant monster genre is a very mixed bag but is very fun as a whole. I wouldn't want to live on a desert island without one so I may as well go with the one that put the genre on the map. What this first one achieves is incredible especially when you consider when it was made. It, surprisingly, looks, feels and plays out way more realistically than most of the sequels. Godzilla always feels huge and the sense of dread is constant. Something that can't be said for most giant monster movies, especially in modern times when it feels more like a video game with too much focus on the monster and not the people... in all the wrong ways that is.

Technically not a cheat because this was originally released as a single film that contained two movies. Regardless, this was a one of a kind experience upon release. Not only did it include two fantastic throwback flicks from Rodriguez and Tarantino, but it also had numerous fake trailers that played both before and in-between the double feature. I'm still waiting for Eli Roth to make that Thanksgiving slasher flick (the best of the fake trailers) but for now I'll settle with these two beauties that I love to rewatch again and again, especially Death Proof!

Some may say David Lynch is weird for the sake of being weird, especially if they just saw this three hour masterpiece. A film I would not expect many to understand, especially the unwilling or non-Lynch fans, mostly due to the fact that I as a big Lynch fan still don't fully understand aspects of it. The meaning is somewhere in there, hidden. Being so cryptic makes each viewing different and exciting, like his earliest work Eraserhead. I would say this is one not to be missed if it weren't for the 'proceed with caution' I add to the front of that recommendation. It simply isn't for everyone. And for those who do like it, chances are you won't know why you liked it your first viewing. Doesn't matter. It demands repeat viewings and I'm ok with that.

(Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles)
A film with an approach that is bold and difficult to pull off. Jeanne Dielman is a story about a widowed woman's life who is stuck in a dull routine from day to day with cleaning, cooking, running errands, and caring for her teenage son, as well as turning the occasional trick to help cover the cost of living. It takes place over three days and a 3hr 21min runtime. It takes a very artistic approach by intentionally being dull in pacing to help push it's purpose. A strangely compelling experience I found myself more engaged in that I did in films less than half the length with more going on. Not to mention it'll inspire you to make something out of your life and existence so you don't fall into something as depressing as this. 

Some iconic classics you simply cannot ignore. I still find it hard to believe that something as spectacular (especially in visual effects) as King Kong came out in 1933. I'll never forget my first viewing experience with this in high school. I found it thrilling and even scary in ways modern and not so modern cinema can. There's something special about the saw films were made back then along with the true talent that worked on this piece.

I don't think I could live a life on an desert island without this charming treat. Before Frozen came along this was my favorite Disney dating back to infancy when I would want to watch it all the time. And that's not nostalgia speaking my love for this. Even when my wife bought me the blu-ray a couple years ago I still found it to be a wonderful experience that makes me so happy on so many levels after not seeing it for years. For context, I've been finding childhood favorites to be unbearable as of late. Lady and the Tramp has stood the test of time for me and will always remain a classic, unconventional love story with some of the cutest stars ever to grace the screen.

As a lifelong Christian (Lutheran) I have no worry about losing my faith. It's very well set in stone. With that said it may be a wonder why the only film about Christ on this list would be one of the most controversial. Well, it's not just one of Scorsese's most well put together film (minus Harvey Keitel... yikes!) it is also one of the most fascinating character studies of Christ I've ever seen. Many would find this film offensive but I think it's interesting because it feels like we see an interpretation (remember that word, INTERPRETATION) of what Christ may have been going through while living his perfect life before the crucifixion. I think more Christians should see and examine this... something I plan to expand on in a full review one day.

I don't like to use the term 'guilty pleasure' because if you enjoy something you shouldn't feel guilty for it because it clearly does something positive enough for you. However one of my few exceptions is this. I love Lawnmower Man to death even though it is full of problems. Everything from the insane plot, wild characters, and amazing early CG sequences. To me it is worthwhile as a legitimately fun experience while staying a relatively bad movie.

Once in a lifetime does something like Love Exposure come along. A multi-layered experience that pulls you in and refuses to let go until it's four hour runtime is complete. What starts as the simple pursuit for love transforms into so much more that is both please dramatically and comedically. Parts will make you laugh, others will make you cringe, and even though it goes off in many different directions you will gladly stay with it the whole way. Shion Sono has made many brilliant films including Suicide Club and Strange Circus, but this is easily his best work yet, and while I haven't seen all his films yet I find it hard to believe any of his other works could be this amazing.

This was a tough choice because Wes Anderson has made so many great works of art. And while I haven't seen all of his films as of writing this I decided on Moonrise Kingdom because, while it is similar to his other works, I felt he innovated his style enough to make this stand out. I think I could live with this one more than the rest, what with the very strong characters and story, especially coming from the kids. Actually, I found them to be better characters than the veteran, adult actors that show up here. Awesome!

It may be hard to believe that an entire film about two people having dinner and talking could be as good as it is, but it is. Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn play themselves but this is definitely not a documentary because it's been confirmed the characters are not necessarily reflective of their real life personas. Instead of feeling like two cameras are set up watching two people talk, disconnected, you actually feel like you're at the table having dinner with them. Then when it's all done and over with you're just as surprised the restaurant has cleared out as Wallace is. An immersive, unconventional experience that is worth your time.

It's very sad how so few have seen this masterpiece of early cinema. What was intended to be first in a long line of Napoleon films, this one, about his childhood and early rise in the French military, is a cinematic masterpiece that needs to be remembered. It used innovative and previously unseen techniques as well as an overall show of mastery in the art of cinema, building engaging and strong character and story in every way possible. Multiple cuts exist but the only version ever officially released (on VHS and Laserdisc) is 4 hours. This is on the top of my Criterion wish list with as long a cut as possible... and maybe alternate cut for film junkies like me.

This was a hard choice. The Marx Brothers have made some of the best comedies that remain almost as timeless as they are funny (there's some... old fashioned perspectives in some) and I had a lot to choose from. Still I went with A Night at the Opera for many reasons. One of those most important being that I find it much more memorable than a lot of their other material. It has so much more going for it in laughs and overall bits than their other works, especially when compared to their later material like Go West and At the Circus. Also it doesn't have Zeppo. I never cared for Zeppo.

(Noriko's Dinner Table)
Technically a sequel to the haunting Suicide Club but could easily be it's own feature. It takes what we knew in Suicide Club (by revisiting a lot of the events) and expanding on them with stronger characters and story than before. It is definitely more drama than horror but that does not keep it from giving you the chills every now and then. Suicide Club was shock-worthy, Noriko's Dinner Table is worth examining. It offers so much more and is very satisfactory.

I gushed about Napoleon, which was from a similar era, but I definitely fell in love with this one first. Really those two can be put side by side in many ways except for the fact that Joan of Arc stands on its own and is better remembered now. Previously thought to be lost this was re-discovered and eventually re-released with a magnificent transfer by Criterion. The acting is among some of the best I've seen in silent film among other things it does so well. And, sadly, it is merely 82 minutes long. When this experience was over I wanted it to go for another 82 minutes, even longer!

Animation tends to be seen when the story requires wild over the top elements or fantasy. Perfect Blue breaks that mold by being a supremely solid drama that is entirely animated. This story about a retired pop star has many horror elements to it that will definitely shock. It goes very far in uncomfortable directions but it makes it a better story and drama overall. And while this whole thing could have easily been done live action it does take advantage of the fact that it's animated, especially when the mind fuck sequences come up. Much in the same way Requiem for a Dream was a beautiful but uncomfortable experience, Perfect Blue is the same in many respects.

I think many of you reading this can agree that Ghibli/Miyazaki films are great. Among some of the best animated films out there. I agree but one thing that always made me stand out was preferring the less fantastical approach. I've liked his features that weren't as heavy on the fantasy and were smaller in scale with less characters given more screen time. Ponyo is a fantastic combo of that, wherein it does have plenty of fantasy elements but it's so beautifully portrayed that it enhances the experience for me instead of shutting me out. Not to mention it's his cutest feature! Yes, even more than Totoro.

I found The Raid, released in 2011, to be one of the best action movies ever made. Then, three years later the sequel is released and knocks the first one out of the park. Need I say more? The Raid 2 is a powerhouse of ultra violence and killer martial arts fighting. Everyone on screen clearly knows what they're doing without stunt doubles or the use of computers (or at least minimal use.) The sense of creativity in the action is top notch as is the cinematography. One of the biggest highlights for me being the incredible car chase fight scene.

(Ring [1998])
This was actually a tough decision for me. I adore the Ring franchise as a whole but not one film adaptation a ton over the other. Even in rewatching some of the best the franchise has to offer I didn't feel overly empathetic for them. When it came down to it I was deciding between this and Ring 0, the prequel, because of how much better an expansion of the film universe (not book universe) it was. I chose this version in the end because, despite it's noticeable shortcomings, it is an excellent example of what the franchise offers. It was brilliantly adapted in a way that works on screen, making favorable decisions to appeal on screen when things in the book otherwise wouldn't.

Out of anything on this list this shouldn't require explanation. Robocop is fucking incredible! But seriously, not only was this a thrill ride of delightfully 80's proportions but it was also a great satire, whether audiences realized it or not. A seemingly ridiculous concept that somehow works, especially  when you take into consideration the culture and era it was rooted in. It really should be stupid and in many ways it is. However those smarter elements hidden underneath make it stand out. That and the gallons upon gallons of blood and guts in the uncut version.

(Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom)
It's sick, depraved, graphic, and horrifying, but it's also a brilliant work of art. Salo is without a doubt one of the most difficult viewing experiences I've ever had but I can't help but see the artistic value hidden behind all of that. Adapted and somewhat modernized from the book of the same name this piece looks into the harsh nature of power, control, desire, and the darkness in man. This is one of the most discussed and controversial films in an existence. It's important in not just film's history but storytelling history because of those controversial means. It's not sick for the sake of being sick. There's a reason for it being there, it's just a matter of you finding it, if you can stomach it to begin with.

(Seven Samurai)
Despite my love for Japan, it's history, culture, and just about everything else it is surprising I haven't seen more samurai films. Since I can't cheat by choosing multiple (the Musashi Miyamoto trilogy, for example) I decided to go with the knockout of a samurai film, Seven Samurai. Like other classics on this list it is not just a good watching it experience, it's all around high quality work AND innovative for it's time. Techniques used here would be used in the action genre even to this day. I can't confirm if it invented some of these techniques but it definitely popularized them thanks to the incredible fight scenes.

(The Seventh Seal)
What can I say about this that hasn't already been said? The Seventh Seal is a grim discussion on death and fighting against it. Simply put I adore the theme of playing a deadly game of chess against death himself. This opens so many possibilities for intrigue and discussion not just from the characters but from the audience as well. Don't forget that the title itself is a reference to an event in the book of Revelation. One of the most thought provoking films on this list, for sure.

If you remember my top 10 movies of all time list, this one topped it at number one. This is without a doubt my favorite movie of all time and for good reason. It would take me too long to explain so you'll mostly have to take my word for it. There are very few movies I've spent so much time with. Not just in viewings but in research. I love the stories behind the scenes, the intentional and unintentional pieces of symbolism on screen, which of course leads to the conspiracy theories fans have come up with. Above all that it's a creepy, intelligent, and well paced horror story that always creeps me out. Damn I've gotta watch this one again soon!

I hope I don't sound cliche when I say that Shoah is truly a once in a lifetime experience. That's because only once in a lifetime would a piece of art like Shoah be created. A nine hour documentary on the holocaust that tracked down the people who actually lived through it and never using archived footage or photos. It's like a real life tour and discussion making it more of an actual experience instead of a textbook lesson. It understands and respects your intelligence and knows you want something more than the standard documentary on WWII. It took Claude Lanzmann more or less a decade to put together between tracking down the participants and editing down the 350 hours of raw footage into the masterpiece it is today. Out of respect for the people it tracks, out of respect for the filmmaker that put it together, and out of respect for the human condition, this may be one of the most important films you ever experience.

Comparing this to 2001 is definitely unfair but it's one of the few ways I can describe it in layman's terms. It's a slow paced science fiction drama with an even longer running time than the previously mentioned classic. The difference here is that Solaris is much slower and more dense in it's ideas and approach than 2001 was. Solaris tackles some pretty big but personal topics that come up in all people at some point in their lives. And, yes, at nearly three hours long it definitely needs that time to make the proper effect.

We need more animated films like Song of the Sea. It has a fully realized world based on actual Irish folklore. It chooses the proper animation style and approach while taking full advantage of the opportunities they have with it. AND it has lovable and believable characters in a touching story that warms the heart. Not a cringe warming the heart. A true warming experience that makes you want more. I can't wait to revisit this one over and over again. Even if it's not because of the already stated reasons... but the cute factor as well. The level of cute, but not that kind of cute, is through the roof, which helps make it so lovable.

I'd be remissed if I didn't bring a Schwarzenegger movie to this desert island with me. And of all of them I thought I'd go for the most obvious because it's still the best over twenty years later. Rarely does a sequel do something as great as this sequel did. Not to mention it was a special effects powerhouse upon release that still stands up surprisingly well today. Only problem I can think of with rewatching this today would be how dated a lot of it's writing is, especially in the "adapting to real life people" aspect the Terminator is taught. Blegh...

It's sad that the main reason this is so well remembered is because of one scene. A scene about a milkshake that was referencing a similar analogy used for the exact same reasons, used during the time period this film takes place. A shame because this modern epic of a film is mesmerizing. It tackles greed, religion, deception, and so much more. And I can't say enough about the brilliant performance by Daniel Day Lewis. He's the main reason I saw this and he's the main reason I go back. It's been a while since my last viewing, though, so I think it's time for me to visit the oil fields of Daniel Plainview again very, VERY soon.

The Shining may be my all time favorite but there is no movie I've seen more than UHF. I've had more repeat viewings of this cult comedy classic than any other movie. Not necessarily because it's the funniest I've seen. Airplane and most Marx Brothers are better comedic examples. Safe to say it was Weird Al himself and his offbeat sense of humor that kept me coming back. That and this movie has plenty of personal connections to me and my life and friendships with certain people. It's more than a movie for me. But even without the emotional connection this is a mostly forgotten comedy worth a try. Be aware of many out of date references and parodies, though.

(Un Chien Andalou)
The only short film on this list. Un Chien Andalou was made in 1929 and it is a supreme example of early art on film. A very surreal 16 minutes that is no hold barred and is better for it. Plenty of moments can and will surprise you since you wouldn't expect to see some of the material on screen at this time. But for a piece of art co-created by Salvador Dali, who makes an appearance here, that was to be expected. Such a rarity. Especially considering the era it came out of!

(Whisper of the Heart)
Ever see a film that was so impactful and so enjoyable it entered your top 10 favorites of all time... and it stayed there? That's what this beauty of an animated film did to me. This coming of age story about a young girl in urban Japan trying to find her artistic voice is so touching and sweet that it makes my heart melt every time I watch it. So much of it plays out realistically. And that fantastical poster with an anthropomorphic cat? Total fantasy dream sequence. I could go on for a long time of why I adore this experience. Instead take my word for it. It's a lesser known Ghibli and is not directed by Miyazaki. Doesn't mean it's not worthwhile. If anything I like it more than almost everything else they've done.

It's easy to throw around the term "like no other" when a genre film does something a little unique. I only like using those terms when I feel they're necessary. Let me say The Wicker Man is truly a horror film... like no other. Most of it takes place in the daytime, there's lots of singing with minimal traditional horror sound cues, and overall it doesn't scream horror. What is in it's place is environment and character. It's superbly acted and has a sense of dread from the start in ways other horror does not. Some of these elements are likely to be lost to modern audiences... but it's worth a shot.