Sunday, December 20, 2009

Underrated films of the decade

The Baudelaire orphans, Klaus, Sunny and Violet from "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"

These are just some films I've seen and enjoyed that I don't think got enough credit or were seen by enough people. Some of these films are hidden greats, some get the job done really well, and some just have that niche that makes them stick out to me. Comment if you've got suggestions because there are films out there that I haven't gotten around to yet.

The Baxter - Michael Showalter
Overlooked as another lifeless romanic comedy, The Baxter is a lighter 40-Year-Old Virgin with a fresh premise and a delightful supporting performance from Michelle Williams.

Conversations With Other Women - Hans Canosa
A little-seen minor masterpiece that uses its split-screen technique as metaphor for the difficulty of relationships.

Crank - Neveldine/Taylor
Looked at as just another loud, dumb action vehicle for Jason Statham, Crank is brimming with outrageous humor and cinematic invention.

Down in the Valley - David Jacobson
This small Edward Norton film draws inspiration from Taxi Driver, yet is entirely self-assured as its own film. One of Evan Rachel Wood's breakthrough roles.

Dr. T & The Women - Robert Altman
Widley considered one of Altman's weaker comedies and criticized for being masochistic, Dr. T & the Women is a fascinating look at how one man surrounded by women is driven to the edge. Stands alongside the Coen's A Serious Man as one of the best film versions of the story of Job.

Film Geek - James Westby
You can feel the love for film oozing out of Melik Malkasian's performance as Scotty Pelk, the awkward main character of this micro-budget festival film.

The Final Cut - Omar Naim
Echoes of similar futuristic dystopias don't falter this well-made arty genre picture because it proudly stands alongside some of the best as a worthy companion piece.

The Good German - Steven Soderbergh
Soderbergh's experiment with old equipment and moviemaking style may be a bit messy and very flawed, but it is fascinating and stunning to look at.

The Good Girl - Miguel Arteta
Who knows why this minor masterpiece hasn't been seen by more people? Not only does is star Jennifer Aniston, but it's got Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson and Zooey Deschanel as well as one of the most poignant and beautiful moments on film this decade.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad - Suroosh Alvi & Eddy Moretti
This basically homemade doc is a fascinating and compelling look at the effects of war in the Middle East on regular people.

In Good Company - Paul Weitz
Brushed aside as another generic mainstream drama, In Good Company doesn't blow you away, but it hits the right notes consistently and ends in a satisfyingly off-kilter way.

Lady Vengeance - Chan-wook Park
Everyone seems too busy loving Oldboy to pay much attention Chan-wook Park's less flashy final chapter in his Vengeance Trilogy.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events - Brad Silberling
Unfavorable comparisons to Tim Burton were numerous upon its release, but Lemony Snicket's... has some amazing visuals, creative quirk, fun performances and the perfect Thomas Newman score to accompany it. Also perhaps the best end credits sequence this decade.

Lucky Number Slevin - Paul McGuigan
McGuigan's stylish thriller was criticized as style over substance, but when the style is this good and the story is this fun, does it matter?

MirrorMask - Dave McKean
How many people saw this masterpiece? In the vein of Labyrinth except more surreal, dark and polished.

Mostly Martha - Sandra Nettelbeck
This German romance was remade as No Reservations with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart. Do yourself a favor and watch the near-perfect original instead.

Ocean's Twelve - Steven Soderbergh
After the highly successful Ocean's Eleven in 2001, Soderbergh went and made this sequel in a radically different style and piled on the Hollywood in-jokes so heavy that the only people who probably get all the jokes are the people who made the thing. Still, repeat viewings reveal lots of hidden gems such as the phenomenal soundtrack, groovy neo-retro-new-wave style or the totally unnecessarily elaborate intricacies of the plot.

Pontypool - Bruce McDonald
One of the best zombie movies. Stands alongside Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later...

Primer - Shane Carruth
Primer won the Grad Prize at Sundance when it came out, but was overshadowed by Zach Braff's Garden State.

Quid Pro Quo - Carlos Brooks
Vera Farmiga proved she can do better than her performance in The Departed in this odd mystery/drama that stars the very talented Nick Stahl.

Scoop - Woody Allen
After Match Point, almost anything Woody came out with would have paled in comparison, but Scoop is genuinely funny and cute.

Sex and Death 101 - Daniel Waters
Bizarre and messy, Sex and Death 101 has some very interesting stuff underneath what may look like a lame sex comedy.

Shopgirl - Anand Tucker
Aside from one embarrassing scene, this Steve Martin-penned drama hits the perfect note.

S1m0ne - Andrew Niccol
It settles for some issues we've seen before, and it isn't without some messy flaws, but S1m0ne is a thoroughly funny and telling critique of our culture's fascination with celebrity.

The Skeleton Key - Iain Softley
An absolutely first-rate thriller that employs classic Hollywood style to keep you riveted even when you know it's just a movie.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow - Kerry Conran
Sky Captain pre-dates Sin City in my mind at least. Here green-screen immersion is used to bring director Conran's imagination to the screen unfettered.

Smiley Face - Gregg Araki
Stoner comedies have never been this arty (in that indie way). Or maybe indie films have never been this purposefully stupid? Either way Anna Faris shines and Araki brings an odd sense of meaning to a film about getting high and being stupid all day.

The Station Agent - Thomas McCarthy
A breakout mini-hit on release and one of the films that brought Peter Dinklage into our (ever so grateful) lives.

Teeth - Mitchell Lichtenstein
People hear "vagina dentate" or "it's about a girl with teeth in her vagina" and automatically turn around. But they're missing one of the most entertaining and offbeat cult films about female revenge this decade.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
T3 doesn't have the series' best villain, and people complain that it negates T2's message that the future is unwritten. However, the threequel boats some fine action set pieces as well as still-impressive effects. The inspired casting of Nick Stahl and Claire Danes pays off and who doesn't love Schwarzenegger in his signature role? (I also personally kind of prefer the whole "you can't change fate, only postpone it" aspect)

Trick 'r Treat - Michael Dougherty
Delayed for no logical reason for three years, X2 screenwriter Michael Dougherty's directorial debut got a dvd release in late 2009. Those who have seen it have experienced one of the most entertaining horror anthologies since Romero's Creepshow.

Wet Hot American Summer - David Wain
The State got together and made a movie. One of the funniest movies ever.

Willard - Glen Morgan
This remake of the 1971 original (which featured Michael Jackson's "Ben") is an intentionally campy, sometimes quite frightening horror film which features some of Crispen Glover's best work since Back to the Future.

World's Greatest Dad - Bobcat Goldthwait
A limited release and some awkward subject matter may have frightened or disgusted would-be audiences away from this hilarious and refreshing dark comedy.

Young People Fucking - Martin Gero
Don't let the title scare you away! This is a surprisingly hilarious and even endearing little comedy that is a bit dirty, but not half as explicit as you would think.

Mario, Lea, Lina and Martha from "Mostly Martha"

Monday, August 17, 2009

Be Sensible!

Look, we all hate it when people use their cell phones, talk, bring small children, eat loudly and bring annoying children (not all children mind you, just the annoying ones that won’t stop crying, moving or talking) at the movie theater, but do we really need another article about how much we hate these things and why? Why not try to do something about this stuff? I for one have seen a lot of excellent ads by cell phone companies before a film starts that remind people to turn off their phones. Check out this cool preview that screened before a showing of Star Wars last year:

Having reminders like this only adds to the movie-going experience for me. They bring a sense of importance to a relatively inexpensive activity.

Now look, I have no idea how to stop some idiot parents from bringing their 8 year-old to Orphan or some other grossly inappropriate film. The most I can think of to do for this is to ask the MPAA to quit sucking so much and start making sense with their ratings. Give us informative blurbs about a film’s content, and don’t give certain films ratings based on some prejudice (studio blockbusters getting PG-13 after PG-13, homosexuality and male nudity getting R after R, etc.)

Now, just for fun, my favorite cell phone ad:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Double Features

I’ll admit I’ve spent an entire day watching all six Star Wars films back-to-back. I’ve also seen all three extended versions of The Lord of the Rings in a row, and I’ll probably sit down one day to watch all the Harry Potter films in one go. Watching every film in a series is one thing, but what about films that share something, themes, motifs, directors, actors, styles, etc. that would work well as double (or triple, or quadruple or whatever) features?

Say Anything… (1989)/High Fidelity (2000)/Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Both Say Anything… and High Fidelity star John Cusack, but High Fidelity plays on Cusack’s well-known 80’s movie history in a clever way through flashbacks that brings up memories from not only Say Anything… but also Better Off Dead and The Sure Thing. Grosse Pointe Blank (also starring Cusack) is darker than High Fidelity, but has some great 80’s references as well, not the least of which can be found on the stellar soundtrack, which contains tracks from The Clash, a-Ha, Queen & Bowie, The Specials, and Echo and the Bunnymen among others.

Death Wish (1974)/The Brave One (2007)

The ’74 Charles Bronson vigilante classic Death Wish is basically about a man taking out street thugs for killing his wife. Now, you could watch the 2007 remake/re-imagining Death Sentence with Kevin Bacon, or you could check out Neil Jordan’s excellent The Brave One, starring Jodie Foster and also from 2007. While Death Wish and The Brave One share the same basic premise: the main character’s significant other is murdered so they arm themselves and take the law into their own hands, their tones, styles, and messages differ in interesting and compelling ways.

Taxi Driver (1976)/Down in the Valley (2005)

Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is a classic. A masterpiece about that perfectly capture’s its main character’s, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), anger and alienation. Down in the Valley, made roughly 30 years after Taxi Driver, stars Edward Norton as Harlan, a old-style cowboy who falls into a relationship with Evan Rachael Wood’s Tobe. Harlan and Travis share more than a few character traits, and there is an homage of sorts to De Niro’s famous “You talkin’ to me?” scene. Also check out Paul Schrader’s (Taxi Driver’s screenwriter) “Man in a Room” or “Night Worker” films: American Gigolo, Light Sleeper and The Walker, three films he feels follow the same main character through different stages of his life.

Lady Snowblood (1973)/Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2004)

Want to see one of the (many) films Quentin Tarantino drew inspiration from for his Kill Bill films? Go out and watch Lady Snowblood right now. It’s filled with style, action and story, not to mention the beautiful and charismatic Meiko Kaji in the lead role. For more Kill Bill inspiration, check out the Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion series (also starring Kaji), Sex and Fury, Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Game of Death and numerous others.

Yojimbo (1961)/A Fistful of Dollars (1964)/Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 classic Yojimbo is an example of the idea that there are only a certain number of plots around and every story ever told is basically a different variation on one of those stories. Yojimbo’s basic plot (outsider infiltrates two opposing groups and plays them against eachother for his/her own benefit) has been done numerous times. Sergio Leone remade it in 1964 as a Fistfull of Dollars, two years later Sergio Corbucci made Django, Sonny Chiba starred in a Street Fighter movie (Karate Warriors) with a similar plot, Sean Penn starred in the vastly underrated mob drama State of Grace, Bruce Willis starred in 1996’s dull Last Man Standing, although he made up for it with the ultra-stylish Lucky Number Slevin in 2006, and in 2007 Takashi Miike made Sukiyaki Western Django.

The Illusionist (2006)/The Prestige (2006)

These two mystery/thrillers both came out in 2006 and were both about magicians. In The Illusionist, Edward Norton plays Eisenheim, a magician who uses his skills to woo Jessica Biel’s Sophie in late 1800’s Vienna. In The Prestige, Christian Bale and High Jackman play magicians (also in the late 1800’s) battling each other for the ultimate trick. Each film pays stunning attention to period detail, each has some fine performances, and each has an interesting and rewarding mystery.

The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)/almost any movie Bob Evans worked on

The Kid Stays in the Picture is one of the few documentaries I own that I can watch over and over. Chances are you’ve seen some of the movies Robert Evans talks about in the film, but you might enjoy watching the doc along with Man of a Thousand Faces, The Sun Also Rises, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, The Godfather, Love Story, The Cotton Club or one of the other films Evans worked on at Paramount and discusses.

So, there’s my list of some films I could watch back-to-back. How about your’s? I know I left off Kurosawa’s Rashomon and its many incarnations.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quotes from movies I use all the time

I watch a lot of movies. I probably watch too many movies. I’ve reached a point where I have trouble falling asleep unless I’ve watched something.
With all that film-watching comes a lot of quoting, many of which can be embarrassing when you quote something like The Graduate around kids who are still stuck on shouting “I am McLovin!”
So, in no particular order, I thought it might be cool to list some of the most-quoted lines I say in my everyday life (beware: lots of teen comedies).

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Is there any better movie so far this decade to quote from? Nearly every teenager has seen it, as well as some of the more suave adults, and nearly every line is quotable. There’s even an entire alternate movie from all the leftover footage. Some personal favorite lines I have actually quoted:
“I’m in a glass case of emotion!”
“I'm gonna punch you in the ovary, that's what I'm gonna do. A straight shot. Right to the baby maker.”
“I love lamp.”
“60% of the time it works, every time.”
“Great Odin's raven!”
“By the beard of Zeus!” (that one might be an outtake)
“It’s jazz baby!”
“You are a smelly pirate hooker.”
“Why don't you go back to your home on Whore Island?”
“Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means a whale's vagina.”

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Sometimes (not often) an opportunity will present itself and I can let loose with the classic Coen brother line: “you know, for kids!”

Forrest Gump (1994)
Everyone in the USA quotes Forrest Gump, even if they’ve never seen the film. “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.’" is classic, but I prefer to shout “JENNY!” in that southern accent. To bad it makes me look like an idiot.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
This film introduced me to The State, Stella, Wainy Days, and that entire group of actors/comedians. For that I am eternally grateful. What better way to show my appreciation than to quote David Hyde Pierce whenever something doesn’t go my way by shouting (or, more often, whispering to myself) “Fuck my dick!”

No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Coen brothers have been making great American films since Blood Simple in 1984. Out of all the great dialog in No Country the one line I find myself quoting while chuckling to myself is “Friend-o.”

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
I love all of the Best Picture nominees from 1994, and this one was the biggest surprise. While I wish I could remember the more charming dialog on the spot at a party or social occasion, I usually just mumble “Fuck-a-doodle-do.”

Help! (1965)
The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night is one of, if not the best, rock films ever. While Help! Isn’t great in the classic, timeless way their first film is, it knows it’s a silly musical adventure and doesn’t try to be anything more. My siblings and I laugh with each other to lines such as:
“Never you mind!”
“I am a dead-eye shot, shooting.”
“How do you know you're not just as filthy and sent by him to nick the ring by being filthy when you have lulled us with your filthy eastern ways?”
“There's more here than meets the eye!” (followed by much “Huh ho“-ing)

Star Wars
I love the Star Wars saga (it’s so great calling it a mere “series” cheapens it). The classic quotes never get old (“I am your father!” “May the Force be with you” “I have a bad feeling about this”) but I find myself quoting Han Solo more than ever, not because I think he gets the best lines necessarily, but, like most of these other quotes, they’re the ones I remember on the spot:
“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”
“I know.” (to be said after someone tells you they love you)
“Laugh it up, fuzz ball.”

American Pie (1999)
I don’t care if it's a stupid teen sex comedy. Everyone quotes Alyson Hannigan’s line “This one time, at band camp, I stuck a flute in my pussy.” although they usually just leave it as “This one time, at band camp…”

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
“You are a wuss: part wimp, and part pussy.”
Office Space (1999)
I never, ever, have a chance to use this, but I love to say it:
"You know, the Nazis had pieces of flair that they made the jews wear."

Pulp Fiction (1994)
Yet another 1994 film with loads of great dialog, but I love, Love, LOVE the line “Anytime of day is a good time for pie” which first popped up in Tarantino’s script for True Romance.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Everyone, including me, loves to quote Sellers’ line “Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room.” but I usually awkwardly mutter something about fluoridation, our precious bodily fluids, and my essence in conversation as well.

Clerks (1994)/Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Double whammy! This little line: “Hey, Dr. Jones, no time for love” was paraphrased in Clerks as “No time for love Dr. Jones” so whenever I say it I say it in Randal’s voice but think of Short Round (don’t listen to anyone else; Short Round is the best part of that film).

Juno (2007)
“Hey, yeah, uh, I'm just calling to procure a hasty abortion.”

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Is it bad that I melodramatically yell “Run you fools!” every now and then?

Rushmore (1998)
Most of the great lines in Rushmore get lost in my consciousness only to resurface as something I vaguely remember but can’t quite place. I’ll occasionally say “With friends like you, who needs friends?” but the quote I remember the most I can almost never use:
Max Fischer: “I like your nurse's uniform, guy.”
Dr. Peter Flynn: “These are O.R. scrubs.”
Max Fischer: “Oh, are they?”
(If my Film Study teacher from Junior year reads that she might get a kick out of it. I know she loves that bit.)

The Graduate (1968)
Yeah, that’s right, I quote The Graduate. From time to time. Rarely. I have the lines there, it’s just that no one EVER gets that you quoting The Graduate unless you say “Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me.” Two of the lines that tend to pop up in my vernacular are “Plastics” and “Wood or wire? They have both.”

Superbad (2007)
Okay, I do quote Superbad a lot, more than The Graduate I’ll admit. Like Anchorman, there are just soo many great lines. Although I think the whole “I am McLovin!” thing is a lame quote kids say because they think everyone else finds it funny.
“Fuck me, right?”
“That's like slapping God across the face for giving you a beautiful gift.”
“We shouldn't be cock-blocking McLovin, we should be guiding his cock.”
“I'm sorry that I blocked your cock…”
“The funny thing about my back is that it's located on my cock.”
“She wants my dick in and around her mouth!”
“You know how many foods are shaped like dicks? The best kinds.”
“Prepare to be fucked by the long dick of the law!”
“You hit Becca's foot with your dick?”
“Oh no, that IS pimp!”
I know there are other lines and words I quote from Finding Nemo, Grosse Pointe Blank, The Blues Brothers, Zoolander, Old School, Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, Taxi Driver, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, Elf, Top Gun, and others, but if I searched around for every single quote I occasionally drop in conversation or say to myself this would be a much longer, even more boring list.
What are some of you favorite movie quotes?