Friday, September 19, 2014

Another Two Fistfuls of Favorites! (Brad's Picks)

For the last two years, Matt & I have been constructing a list of our Favorite Films.  My personal Top Ten came to me quick & easy; those films have ranked as my all time favorites for several years.  My Top Twenty was a little tougher to crack, but I got their after minimal struggle.  However, formulating my Top Thirty Favorite Films was downright brutal.  A couple of them sprung to mind (#s 21 & 30 were obvious), but I spent several hours over the course of this week pursuing my DVD shelves, selecting & rejecting various movies for whatever reason.  I Love All Of These Films...and so much more.  I cannot guarantee you in a week, let alone a year, that this list will remain - How can The Monster Squad not be in my Top 30 Favorite Films!?!?!  That seems ridiculous to me, but a fact nonetheless.  So take the ranking below with a grain of salt.  I love 'em, but my confidence is not as strong as it was for Movies 1-20.

30.  King Kong (Merian C Cooper & Ernest B Shoedsack, 1933):  Monster movies, this is where it all began.  Frankly, I love all three versions of this movie, as well as the crappy sequels & the Hong Kong knockoffs.  King Kong is one of those rare movies (maybe the only movie) that I'd like to see remade every decade or so, and I find myself positively giddy over the upcoming Skull Island.  It's delightfully simplistic, and eternally relevant.  "It was beauty that killed the beast." This is the ultimate Man Fucks Over Nature story.  We see something beautiful, dangerous, AWEsome and we've gotta have it - even if that means destroying it in the process.  A terribly sad movie, but also one filled with wonder and exceptional cinematic craft.  No King Kong means no Ray Harryhausen, which means no Steven Speilberg, George Lucas, Joe Dante, etc - which means one crappy childhood for this guy.

29.  In The Mouth of Madness (John Carpenter, 1995):  This was the first Horror movie I ever saw in the theater.  Hellraiser was the film that sparked an interest in the genre, and that film led me to the works of Clive Barker & Stephen King.  I remember vividly when I caught the trailer for In The Mouth of Madness on TV, and the Stephen King namecheck immediately peaked an interest.  Who is Sutter Kane?  The concept of a world driven mad by Fiction, was both terrifying & infuriating.  It's a plot spit forth from the mouths of your parents, your teachers, your politicians.  Horror will rot your brain, kids.  Sam Neil has never been better, and his journey from dismissive suit to screaming believer is utterly unsettling.  He steps into frame thinking he's Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, a cocky insurance investigator bored of the game, but a "chance" encounter with an axe-wielding madman sends him scurrying down dark alleys populated by unnamable horrors.  If you're reading this blog post than you already know how this film had an impact on both Matt & myself.  It introduced me to John Carpenter & HP Lovecraft - after such an encounter how can one not become a full fledged horror fiend?

28.  Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988):  There is simply no better action film.  A good, but flawed man fights his way through a slew of bad men in an effort to reunite with true love.  And all set to the backdrop of the Ho-Ho-Holidays.  The 1980s were bogged down with countless bloody shoot 'em ups, but few had as much charming character as Die Hard.  Bruce Willis is exceptional as the everyman.  He's fun, witty, goofy, and absolutely badass when he's got a gun in his hand.  Yipee Ki Yay for the Energizer Bunny, the man takes a beating and keeps on ticking.  After a half dozen sequels, it's hard to find excitement for the "regular Joe," but you can't hate on the studio for trying to recapture the magic of the original.

27.  The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004):  As much as I enjoyed Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums, it was not until The Life Aquatic that Wes Anderson's mastery over his dollhouse filmmaking hit perfection.  Words like "quirky" and "whimsical" get tossed around a lot when discussing his films, and I find them to be frustratingly reductive.  Anderson does not wish to recreate reality.  He's not interested in Oscar Bait.  He strives for the artificial, for style, for the storybook.  But to say there's no truth in the artificial is absurd.  The Life Aquatic is layered in familial heartbreak.  Bill Murray is an artist soaked in despair, a man desperate to believe in fatherhood when the chance presents itself, but also incapable of expressing love.  Owen Wilson is equally adrift as the son in question, but manages to force himself into this gruesome adventure of oceanic revenge while deflecting the jealously of Zissou's crew.  Ultimately, The Life Aquatic is about getting beyond your emotional baggage, and accepting the imperfect people around you.

26.  The Professionals (Richard Brooks, 1966):  Last year, in the wake of The Lone Ranger, I put together a list of my Top 5 Favorite Westerns, and The Professionals ranked at number 4.  Well, as I warned above, I've changed my mind.  It now sits as my third favorite western & my 26th favorite movie.  Lists are stupid.  But I love them.  Ralph Bellamy's Texas tycoon hires Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, & Woody Strode to charge down into Mexico to rescue his wife from Jack Palance's crazed revolutionary.  But as plot demands, things are not as simple as they seem.  I've spoken about it before, but perhaps the most stunning feat about The Professionals is Lancaster's ability to steal the show from Marvin.  His rapscallion is not so much an outlaw as he is a man who let his disgust for humanity crush his own morality, and the result is a gleaming devil worth rooting for.  Lee Marvin is simply a badass...he's great at being a badass, but it's also kinda expected.  The Professionals is certainly Lancaster's show, but there are few films with as strong a cast - each man (and one lady) gets their moment.  Imagine The Wild Bunch minus the grotesque i.e. violence as Adventure!

25.  Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005):  One of my many reoccurring rants around here is my stance against Superhero Origin movies - they're boring!  Been there, done that.  'nuff said.  So, why in the world is my all time favorite Comic Book movie an origin story???  Well, because in the 75 years of Batman's time on Earth, we've never been given the full story on Bruce Wayne.  Yep, before Batman Begins even the comic books only told a partial story.  Not to mention the fact that because we've had so many incarnations of Batman over the years, an origin story was actually a fresh approach to the character.  I love The Dark Knight, I dig Rises, and I even appreciate the Clooney travesty.  The Brave & The Bold and "Holy Adam West, Batman!"  But this is Bruce Wayne's story.  No other film comes close to that kind of human focus.  Plus, the way Nolan & Goyer snake the theme of fear through the story is outstanding.  A child's fear leads to his parents' murder, that fear becomes the child's armor, and that armor becomes Gotham's Knight, it's savior from the forces of darkness.  The first time I saw Batman Begins will go down as my All Time Favorite theatrical experience.  While attending the Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con, I was one of a lucky few who won tickets to see an advanced IMAX screening of Batman Begins.  I've never been more thrilled to be part of a crowd; several hundred nerds cheering, rooting, and screaming as the caped crusader finally got his story told proper.

24.  First Blood (Ted Kotchef, 1982):  The story of two generations of soldiers, the good war vs the bad war.  I know it's hard to imagine in this Expendables era, but once upon a time Sylvester Stallone was considered a Renaissance Man.  Before he got 'roided & sequeled out, Stallone made a career out of emotionally gripping character pieces.  First Blood was the last one...or at least, the last successful one.  A Vietnam vet wanders through town after discovering his last war buddy has died a lonely cancerous death.  A Korean War vet turned constable scoops him up, and attempts to shuffle him down the line so he may not soil the town scenery with his long dirty hair.  An act of disrespect that leads to rage-fueled domestic warfare that's as sad as it is understandable.  John Rambo began his career in cinema as a symbol for the lost, the disaffected, and the traumatized.  This is not the badass action film the sequels would eventually attempt.  First Blood is the story of hurt, and a damn fine one.

23.  Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1943):  I only saw this film for the first time six years ago.  "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."  I'd seen all the clip shows, read all the critic's lists, and I thought I knew what Casablanca was.  Nope.  More often than not, classics are classics for a reason.  Humphrey Bogart is a lost American hiding from himself as much as the war when an old flame walks into his club, and causes all sorts of Nazi trouble.  Bogart is cold & cool in The Maltese Falcon, a cocky braggart in The Big Sleep, and the shlubbiest sadsack loser in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  Rick, though, is Bogart's great performance.  He's a selfish jerk, a master of slick wit, a (self)forgotten patriot, and a doomed romantic.  If all you know is the soundbites, do yourself a favor, and treat yourself to one of The Great Movies.

22.  Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987):  An action film, a gorehound's delight, a Frankenstein parable, and a painfully funny satire of 1980s consumerism.  Robocop is one of the strangest bits of outsider art to sneak into mainstream cinemas.  Peter Weller does Karloff proud as a man slaughtered by criminals, and butchered further by corporate scientists.  He's given very little to emote with (a facial slit & Mr Roboto body language), but the film succeeds thanks to Weller's ability to pull the humanity from the cyborg. Then you have Kurtwood Smith & his gang of goons.  Never has there been a better collection of psychopathic villainy.  Verhoeven revels in the monstrosity of man, he takes glee in showcasing the vile & despicable, and then he projects triumph through violence.  Politically correct?  Hell no!  It's cool though.

21.  2001 - A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968):  My experience with this movie is probably like a lot of folks my age.  At 15, I didn't "get it."  At 20, I thought I liked it until it went Beyond The Infinite.  At 25, seeing it for the first time on the Uptown's Big Screen, I was in awe of the cinematography and the pulsating soundtrack.  At 35, I worship it's attempts at understanding the question of man via science fiction & metaphor.  I don't claim to understand the Star Child any better than I did at 20, but maybe in another decade or so I will.  I certainly look forward to rewatch after rewatch.  2001 is a rare event, a film that evolves as you do.  You gotta cherish that.


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