Sunday, December 15, 2013

My Top 50 Favorite Movies: Part V (#10-1)

10. The Conversation (1974)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

And now it's time to get serious. Most people would pick out The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, or Apocalypse Now as Coppola's greatest film, but even as fantastic as those all are, for me, none can match the genius of The Conversation. Long before I ever watched it, my brother had talked about how great it was, one of the best movies of the '70s, etc. but I wasn't too sure. Finally, I got my hands on a copy, and though my initial reaction wasn't quite as strong as it obviously is now, I was still amazed at how cleverly written and brilliantly paced it was. Not only is this movie a great example of how important sound and sound editing can be in film, it's also one of the best character studies I've ever seen. Gene Hackman, in the best performance of his fantastic career, plays his role perfectly. A man who has seen the potential for surveillance, and despite being the best in the business, he has perpetual fear of being spied on himself, resulting in a life of almost complete isolation and secrecy. A film centered around the importance of a seemingly-harmless conversation that manages to be grounded, interesting, full of twists, and even has a touch of horror elements, making it one of the most well-rounded, concentrated, and simply incredible films I've ever seen.

9. Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Directed by Mike Nichols

If ever the oddly-specific question "what is the best performance in a film by an acting ensemble?" were to be asked to me, without a doubt, this would be my answer. As seems to be the case with most of my favorite movies, this is one that has grown on me over the course of time. It's very hard for me to talk about this movie without gushing about how layered, unforgettable, and just totally brilliant it all is, so I'll try to keep this brief. Before I go into how layered and magnificent the writing is (which it really is), I would again like to address the fact that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor give two of the most incredible performances I've ever seen, and it's a complete shame that all 4 of the films leads didn't win the Oscars they deserved. With its biting, hilarious, and powerful dialogue, watching Burton and Taylor tear each other apart over the course of 2+ hours makes for one of the most uncomfortable but compelling viewing experiences I've ever had. It's taken me some time to completely acknowledge just how much I love this movie, but at this point in time (as you can see) I don't place very many movies ahead of it -- and I doubt I ever will.

8. The Raid: Redemption (2012)
Directed by Gareth Evans

Now for the most "controversial" pick in my top 10. It may seem like I'm jumping to conclusions a bit too fast with this (seeing as I only just watched it last year), but when I think about how many of my favorite movies are ones I've only seen for the first time fairly recently, it becomes a lot more acceptable for me to consider this one of my very favorite movies. An action movie that doesn't waste your time with unnecessary gratuities (like story or almost any character development), but still manages to somehow make you root for the good guys in the end. A totally refreshing adrenaline rush with great cinematography, editing, and stunt choreography that makes almost every other action movie look amateurish. You'd think 100 minutes of almost nonstop action would get old, but it never does. When the bullets stop flying, they find different, more creative ways to destroy everything in sight, and it's just incredible. On the surface, this may seem like a typical action movie, but its ability to portray brutal violence and chaos on-screen for such an extended period of time while still giving me goosebumps is something that no other action movie has been able to do for me.

7. Ed Wood (1994)
Directed by Tim Burton

There was a certain point in time when this was hands-down my favorite movie. The times may have changed and I've found myself some new favorite movies, but I still can always go back to this touching comedic biography of the failed movie career of director Edward D. Wood, Jr. and enjoy it every time. Johnny Depp's enthusiastic portrayal of the titular director is great, with fun support from the entire cast, especially Martin Landau's standout performance as elderly horror legend, Bela Lugosi, which still ranks among the greatest I've ever seen. Thanks in part to its focused approach to both the subject matter and artistic elements, this film captures the mood and spirit of Wood's movies, serving as a loving tribute to the man, while still acknowledging his short-comings as a filmmaker. By far the most reserved film Burton has ever directed, and certainly his most personal -- one could easily compare Wood/Lugosi's relationship with that of Burton and Vincent Price. A great performance piece, a touching memoir, and the most entertaining movie about movies that's ever been made. It's been one of my favorite movies for a long time, and it's gonna stay that way for even longer.

6. Dead Alive (1992)
Directed by Peter Jackson

One of the most ridiculous, over-the-top, gory, insane movies ever made? Absolutely. But it's almost impossible for me to watch this without having a great time. As much as I love the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the spirit of Peter Jackson's earlier films is where my true admiration lies. Much like Bad Taste and Meet The Feebles, this movie feels very cheaply-made, grotesque, off-the-wall, and thoroughly inconsistent. But here, the inconsistencies are what ultimately add to the experience. Several scenes in the movie were so gross, I couldn't help but to laugh at how ridiculous and bizarre they were. Definitely one of the most fun movies I've ever seen, but one of the most difficult for me to describe as an experience without giving specific examples of the kind of things that happen in it. So, without giving much away, I present to you the following as a brief introduction: an evil claymation rat-monkey, an army of zombies being turned into mush by a lawnmower, a kickboxing priest, intestines coming to life and trying to kill people, and zombie sex. Maybe I just have a weird sense of humor, but I think this is pretty much as fun as a movie can get. It oversteps its boundaries, and doesn't seem to show any remorse for doing so. Oh, old Peter Jackson, please come back to us.

5. Brazil (1985)
Directed by Terry Gilliam

The film that holds the illustrious title of "best movie about bureaucracy" (I know, that's some hefty praise), and also my favorite movie of the 1980s. Being the fan of dystopians that I am, and an even bigger fan of George Orwell's 1984, which this story was heavily inspired by, I was almost destined to love this movie. Unsurprisingly (because this is apparently how I am about movies), I didn't love this movie when I first watched it. In fact, I thought it was pretty mediocre, and it took me almost a year to bother revisiting it. And as has been the case with almost every other movie on this list, I was amazed at how incredible it was and how well it stood up to repeat viewings. Terry Gilliam (who is one of my favorite directors) really took everything here to the next level, painting a brilliant picture of what a future run by paperwork and bureaucracy could be like; and though the picture he paints is quite shocking, it can also be very funny and insightful. Ending with one of the most bizarre and fantastic sequences ever put to film, this movie - and everything about it - just screams "masterpiece".

4. Almost Famous (2000)
Directed by Cameron Crowe

One of the most charming movies ever made. Though I'm generally cynical and putrid enough of a person to despise coming-of-age films to my very core, not even someone as grotesque as me could resist this movie. When I'm feeling really down, this is my designated pick-me-upper. The writing is great, the performances are fun, and it's enjoyable to watch the insider, behind-the-scenes look at a rock group without the movie succumbing to simple biographical tendencies -- which, thanks to the film itself focusing on a fictional group, they managed to avoid almost entirely. Certain moments in the movie (particularly the "Tiny Dancer" scene on the bus) make me so happy, it almost makes me sad. I can't really explain it without sounding like a raving lunatic, but this movie just really clicks with me in a way that almost nothing else ever has. Maybe it's because of my hopes to someday be a writer? Maybe it's knowing how it felt to be the only person my age who felt strongly about the same things that I did? Or maybe it's just for the music. But no matter why or how, I can't help but to love this movie, and while it certainly has its flaws, I will always defend it as the wonderful film that I find it to be.

3. Troll 2 (1990)
Directed by Claudio Fragasso

And now for something completely different. Yes, Troll 2, "The best worst movie" is legitimately and in all seriousness one of my all-time favorite films. Every performance is completely inept, every line is absolutely classic; this movie - although completely unintentionally - is one of the most entertaining things I've ever seen. By all counts, someone as pretentious and snobby as me should hate this movie. Nothing about it is done "right", the story is childish and makes no sense whatsoever (why would creatures who despise meat love eating people who have been turned into half-human, half-plants?), there are scenes and characters that go nowhere and serve no purpose...not even the title of the movie is accurate: this is not a sequel to Troll, and the creatures in the movie are only ever referred to as "goblins". Unlike other idiotic attempts to make movies that are "so bad they're good", Troll 2 is one of the most genuine films I've ever seen. The people behind this movie believed in it, and thought it was actually something special. This puts it in a distinct class of its own. Seeing actors deliver lines knowing that they're tongue-in-cheek isn't like watching people take the ridiculous things they're saying seriously. It makes for a very bizarre, hilarious, and completely unique viewing experience. What's not to love?

2. The Seventh Seal (1957)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman

If I were able to attach my name to any movie and say "yes, I was the one who made this", I would almost have to pick The Seventh Seal. Dark, slow, and pretentious as it may be, the mood and atmosphere of this masterpiece suits me more than probably any other film I've seen. Being a huge fan of literal interpretations of metaphysical beings, my love for this movie does go far beyond just being infatuated with the fact that Bergman included Death as one of the film's characters; it was his ability to portray death, not just as a physical being, but as a feeling of dread and helplessness that has really stuck with me. There is a darkness in this movie that few other films could even come close to matching, and the effect that it's had on me has changed the way I watch movies for good. Not only is the film itself powerful in content, but also very striking visually. It takes a specific place in time, captures the essence of it, and amplifies it to the point where it's almost hard to watch without feeling the unease of its cynicism and morbidity. Fanny And Alexander may have been a more mature effort by Bergman, but this is where he was at his most raw and devastating. One of the best movies ever, and don't even think about disagreeing.

Okay, no more gushing about Bergman, it's time to unveil my favorite movie of all-time.

1. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

I'm sure plenty of you saw this one coming. I've been raving about it for what feels like an eternity at this point, and this obsession doesn't seem to be dying down. I could probably write 5000 words on how much I love this movie, and it would still not do the film justice. To start, I would like to mention that I didn't originally like this movie. If you haven't caught on yet, I do that an awful lot, so you shouldn't be too shocked to hear that. This is a movie that has far, far more to offer than what you might see at first. On a superficial level, this movie is still great, but I do feel a lot of people are missing out on some of the films strongest elements by not digging deeper to appreciate it. The cinematography, editing, music, acting, etc. are all of course magnificent, but there are stronger and more subtle aspects at play here.

The ending, which often finds itself being endlessly quoted, is a perfect example of the subtle genius of the film. On the surface it may seem like over-acting, or almost silly. But what the scene does is show how far Plainview has gone down the rabbit hole of his own insanity, succumbing to a dark desire he has long possessed, unleashing his anger, fear, and hatred in one dramatic, powerful moment of violence. But was this act perpetrated on anyone but himself? I've always believed the final scene takes place entirely in his own mind, as he uses Eli Sunday as the symbol of his fury. To people who have seen the movie, have you ever wondered how it came to be that Eli appeared to him at the end of film? Out of the blue, after he forsakes the only person he's ever loved in his life (his "son") and drinks himself to oblivion, his longtime rival (who hasn't aged a day, despite the years that have passed in between their last meeting) comes begging to him, his life in shambles, giving him a chance to release the deep-seated hatred he's held inside; his damaged ego recalling the ways in which Eli hurt his pride in the past, bringing his wrath down upon him tenfold for these acts. And after seeing the bloodied corpse, why doesn't his servant react accordingly? It's far too perfect of a moment for Daniel, showing exactly what kind of monster he is and has always been.

Daniel Day-Lewis, my favorite actor, gives the greatest performance I've ever seen. He becomes Daniel Plainview, and watching him do this with such a brilliantly-written, complex character is something that never ceases to amaze me. He's bitter, warped, manipulative, jealous, maniacal, and even among all these things, still has a piece inside of him that's desperate for some form of companionship. But his desire to feel any kind of closeness with anyone is tampered with by his own remorseless, competitive nature. When he gets close to anyone, he finds ways to feel betrayed by them. His reactions to these betrayals mark some of the most important moments of the film, revealing an even darker side of his already-violent personality that few have had the displeasure of witnessing. By the end, he isn't the same person you see at the beginning. He becomes the man he's always wanted to be: someone with the world at his disposal, without any sense of joy, compassion, or use for anyone else in his life.

The last time I watched this movie, I attempted to write down every great image from the film that I saw on a piece of paper, so as to make a visual storyboard of sorts. By the 1-hour mark, I had already written down so many images that reflected perfectly the mood and tone of the film, that it completely blew it away. It wasn't until this moment that I realized how frivolous my whole experiment really was: every shot of this film is absolutely essential to the experience. Thanks to Paul Thomas Anderson's flawless direction, absolutely stunning cinematography and implementation of its elaborate set pieces, there isn't a single moment in the film that serves no purpose. It all comes back to something, whether to help establish the setting, tone, or to develop its characters. And at over 2½ hours, that is truly incredible.

Laced with the blackest of humor, this movie succeeds in every possible way that a film can. I can watch it back-to-back-to-back and still find new things about it to admire every time. No one has to agree with me for me to be certain, but from my perspective, not only is this the greatest film I've ever seen, but may also be the greatest work of art I've ever come across, period.

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