Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Top 50 Favorite Movies: Part IV (#20-11)

Coming down the home-stretch...

20. Aguirre, Wrath Of God (1972)
Directed by Werner Herzog

One of the most primal films I've ever seen, Herzog's dissection of humanity and power-driven descent into madness makes for some of the most interesting viewing experiences ever. You'd expect this movie to be more of a sweeping spectacle, but instead of showcasing the wonderful scenery, the film puts you into it and lets you see it from the perspective of its characters. Shot in 4:3 aspect ratio (or "fullscreen" to those of you who aren't total movie snobs), the film draws your attention to action and movements less side-to-side than it does vertically, which is a relatively offbeat visual approach. Klaus Kinski's brutal, but serpentine performance as the titular Aguirre makes for one of the most interesting film leads of its time (or any time, for that matter), a presence that perfectly sums up the entire nature of the film in one single being. But purely technical elements aside, this is just a fantastic movie that sucks me in and spits me back out every time I watch it.

19. Last Year At Marienbad (1961)
Directed by Alain Resnais

Possibly the most pretentious, snobby, and artistic film on this list (if by "possibly", I actually mean "absolutely"), this unconventional French masterpiece by Alain Resnais pretty much floored me when I saw it. It's stayed in the back of my mind from that moment, and I doubt it will ever leave: it seems I'm stuck being at least somewhat pretentious for eternity. But that's okay, as long as it allows me to appreciate genius works of art like this. The structure and presentation of this movie is so bizarrely entrancing; a living fantasy blending the past and present in a unique and beautiful way. Don't worry, I'll stop with the "oh yes, look at how fancy I am with my snobby taste in films" talk here in a bit, but not just yet: I need to finish gushing about my French movies first. The way Resnais toys with the narrative structure to make not only the viewers, but the characters themselves doubt what they see and believe is an incredible feat, and still manages to impress me when I look back on it.

18. Back To The Future (1985)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis

There, isn't this refreshing? I know it is for me, because despite how much I love these snooty foreign films, it's a lot easier for me to write about a movie that I've seen a billion times and loved since I was young enough to think that Capri Sun was a drink worthy of getting excited about. Revisiting this movie at this point in my life is a huge nostalgia trip, only instead of making me look back and think "wow, I was the worst person ever", it makes me glad that I've been able to watch it so many times. A lot of the technical aspects of the story don't make much sense at all, but it doesn't matter, because it's all just so much fun. Christopher Lloyd's Doc Brown is hilarious, the effects are fun and cool, and so many great moments and memorable quotes it's almost ridiculous. And one final thing: I can't write about how much I love Back To The Future without including a small piece on how absolutely hysterical Crispin Glover is as George...George McFly. Someone go back in time and give that man an Oscar, please.

17. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Directed by Wes Anderson

It's pretty much impossible for me to put any single Wes Anderson film on this list without including them all, so instead of going so far as to fill the rest of my list out with his movies, I'll just make a special note of the fact that, despite this being my favorite of his, consider it a three-way tie with The Darjeeling Limited and The Royal Tenenbaums. That being said, Fantastic Mr. Fox does get the upper-hand by being one of the most visually-interesting, imaginative, quotable, and charming family films ever made. Anderson really utilizes the unique advantage of being stop-motion animation, toying with things his live-action films wouldn't ever be able to manage to do. With the animation, setting and incredible voice cast, the full potential of Wes Anderson's creativity is unleashed here, and the result is just incredible. I loved it the first time I watched it (which is the first and only time I've been able to say that about an Anderson movie, surprisingly) and have been quoting and praising it ever since.

16. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg

Another long-standing favorite, I saw this movie first when I was probably under the age of 10, and though I wasn't able to fully grasp what the movie was trying to accomplish with its anarchism, jokes, etc., I still loved it. Probably mostly due to Paul Newman, but the reasons aren't important; the point is that I liked it then, and I like it now. Only now that I've watched it again at the point in my life where I'm significantly less stupid (don't research that), I can actually see why it deserves to be loved. One of the great prison movies of all-time centered on the greatest performance of Paul Newman's career: the personification of charm and defiance. The way his character progresses and reacts to situations is an effective reflection of a big personality held by a restrictive setting. Both tragic, and at times hilarious, this is a movie that has not only aged well: it has flourished.

15. The Exorcist (1973)
Directed by William Friedkin

This movie needs no explanation -- but I'm giving it one anyway. First saw this a few years back, and I can safely say that it disturbed me more than any horror movie had ever done before. I had trouble sleeping for a month afterwards. I was legitimately scared every time I went to go up the stairs that something dark and evil might meet me halfway up: I took to running as fast as I could. In other words, The Exorcist helped me lose a little weight as well as scare the ever-loving crap out of me and possibly scar me for the rest of my life. But being the masochist that I am, I keep returning to it again and again, because in the end, it's not just one of the scariest movies ever made: it's one of the most effective in many other ways, too. The performances by Burstyn, Miller, Sydow, and Blair are all excellent, the lighting is practically the definition atmospheric and spooky, the pacing, makeup, effects, etc. are all completely fantastic. Though the scares have lessened (as can be expected after repeat viewings), I can't hold that against it; it's pretty much the perfect horror movie.

14. Fanny And Alexander (1982)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Again, I almost feel like I'm cheating by including a film that I technically have only seen in its made-for-TV format, but I don't really care. This was one of the most fantastic films I've ever seen, and if I want to put it on my list, I will. Pretty much the culmination of everything good that Bergman had already established in his previous films, this 5-hour epic is the most lush, textured film of Bergman's career. Moving through chapters, Fanny And Alexander takes its time to establish its settings and characters, but never wastes a moment on pointless exposition. Though the running time is bloated, the story very much demands that incredible amount of time to do what it's trying to do, and what can be taken away from the whole experience is rather breathtaking. Bergman being one of my favorite filmmakers and with a touch of spirituality, this movie was destined to become a favorite of mine. I probably shouldn't draw attention this, but I'm pretty predictable like that.

13. Waking Life (2001)
Directed by Richard Linklater

One of the most visually-interesting films ever made. The first time I watched this movie, I wasn't a huge fan (surprised? Me neither), but let's please not drag that part out. Fans of dialogue-heavy, pseudo-philosophy will love this movie, whereas people who like movies that have more traditional story, character, etc. will find it pretentious and dull (but pretty interesting to look at). The first of two roto-scope features by Linklater, this is the one that really blew me away. A fantasy film about lucid dreams (that actually has some interesting and somewhat helpful insights on the topic), in many ways, the movie doesn't really go anywhere: but it doesn't need to. In its own bizarre way, it tells its story in a non-linear, non sequitur method that perfectly reflects the subject and its mode of presentation. A genius work of art that doesn't feel the need to think inside or outside of the box. In fact, I'm not even sure if there is a box when it comes to this movie. It follows its own rules and excels at it in every artistic, thought-provoking way.

12. Rashomon (1950)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa

I've often referred to this as the one and only "perfect" movie. I throw around the word to describe different aspects of movies, but the only whole film that I genuinely can't find a single thing to complain about is this. So why isn't it in my top 10? Well, I like to mix things up and confuse people, and because I want to make my list how I want to make it and no one can stop me. The first undoubtedly "great" film of Kurosawa's illustrious career, he really didn't have anywhere to go but down from here. Which, for him, means going on to direct Seven Samurai, Throne Of Blood, Ran, Red Beard, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and so on. What a horrible filmography, right? Wrong, actually, and if you agreed with me right then, you don't deserve to keep reading this list, so get out right now. Toshiro Mifune, though slightly less manic than he was in Seven Samurai, doesn't exactly give the most subdued performance of his career here, but the result is pretty much impossible to look away from. The story and pacing is, of course, also perfect. Do I really need to go on?

11. Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)
Directed by Peter Jackson

Because as a trilogy I probably wouldn't have put this nearly as high, but as a single independent film I couldn't keep the first installment of Jackson's epic Lord Of The Rings trilogy away from my list. Yes, I do realize this probably makes me a monster, but on its own, Fellowship of The Ring was one of the greatest theatrical experiences of my life, and neither The Two Towers nor The Return Of The King could ever come close. This is where it all started, and by "it all", I pretty much mean the movement that's changed Hollywood ever since. Anyone who didn't have a chance to watch this when it was first released in theaters wouldn't be able to understand the sheer amazement of watching this movie on the big screen when it first came out. It was a feeling of complete astonishment that I doubt I'll ever be able to feel again from a movie, and though I didn't realize it at the time, was a total game-changer. 3 hours of fantastic set-designs, great use of CGI, some of the most magnificent music ever put to film, strong performances, epic cinematography, incredible... I'm running out of different words to describe how great this movie was in pretty much every way without having to resort to digging through a thesaurus.

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