Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Top 101 Movies Part IX: 20-11

20. The Graduate 1967
Director: Mike Nichols
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
Synopsis: A recent graduate tries to figure out what to do with his life.
Review: I like this movie for many reasons. One is because I enjoy it's sense of humour. Ben Braddock's (Hoffman) awkward personality combined with the blissful unawareness of those around him of his anxiety makes for some deliciously funny moments (my favourite of which can be summed up by the word, "plastics"). Another reason is that I can relate to Benjamin's predicament. I don't really know what my plans are after I graduate, and although I haven't started sleeping with an older woman, it is on my 'To Do' list. Virtually every adult I meet asks me what I plan to do with my major before dispensing some useless advice. Deep down I want to tell them to fuck off, but like Ben I just suppress it, smile, and move on feeling disillusioned. And finally, I like this movie for it's awesome soundtrack that introduced me to Simon and Garfunkel. Also, you get to see Anne Bancroft's tits which isn't a big deal for me, but that's the reason my dad saw this movie twice in the same week when I came out. I later did the math and figured out he was 7-years old at the time, yet he wouldn't let me watch Life of Brian when I was 12, the hypocrite.

19. District 9 2009
Director: Neil Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley
Synopsis: A bureaucratic man working for a corporation in charge of a bunch of aliens stranded on Earth finds himself being turned into one.
Review: Easily one of the best movies of the past decade, and one that I am sure will go on to become a classic work of science-fiction. I normally don't really care about how shiny the special effects are, but I'm impressed by how good the aliens and their technology looks in this move especially when you consider the budget was a tenth that of Avatar. But the effects don't overshadow or try to cover-up the lack of plot or interesting character. Rather they serve the documentarian feel that Blomkamp was aiming for, and the aliens are interesting characters in their own right. Copley does an excellent job as Wikus, the nebbish official who has to lose his humanity in order to find it. On top of this you have multiple layers of social commentary revolving around imperialism in order to make for a compelling, intellectual stimulating, blood-soaked thrill-ride.

18. The Bicycle Thief 1948
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola
Synopsis: A poor man living in Italy has his bike stolen which is vital for his new job.
Review: Out of all the tragedies I've seen in my life, this is by far the saddest. Antonio (Maggiorani) does the best that he can to provide for his family, but just can't seem to catch any breaks. He travels around Rome searching for the thief with his young son , Bruno (Staiola) and their relationship forms the heart and soul of the film. The son wants to make his father proud while the father doesn't want let his son down, and in the conclusion when Antonio performs a final act of desperation, the look on Bruno's face will tear at your heartstrings. The film is as beautiful as it is infinitely sad and does a brutally efficient job at bringing the turmoils of poverty to light. It's not a good movie to watch if you're looking for some lighthearted fare, but it's definitely a must-see.

17. Airplane! 1970
Director: John Abrahams, Davud Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Starring: Leslie Nielson, Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty
Synopsis: A man must land a plane after both pilots pass out.
Review: I am too lazy to re-review this movie as I've already done it, so instead here's a link to that review.

16. M 1931
Director: Fritz Lang
Starring: Peter Lorre
Synopsis: Police and street gangs hunt down a serial killer.
Review: Fritz Lang's first sound film is also what he considers to be his magnum opus which is saying a lot when you consider that Lang directed such notable films as Metropolis, The Big Heat, and Dr. Mabuse. It tells an intense, chilling, and compelling story that makes full use of the new technology in innovative ways. He uses sound to really rack up the tension as well as to provide crucial plot points, and its easy to see how this movie just wouldn't work as a silent film. Also of note is Lorre's performance as the mentally unstable killer. His expressive eyes and impassioned defense speech at the end make for a memorable character. It's a shame he was only ever given bit parts as snivelly little rats when he came over to Hollywood. They really wasted his potential. Even if you don't have the eyes (or ears) to appreciate the technical aspects of the film, it's still a thrilling and darkly humourous film that anybody can enjoy.

15. Wall-E 2008
Director: Andrew Stanton
Starring: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight
Synopsis: A lone robot, wandering the vast desolation of Earth, encounters another robot from space sent on a classified mission.
Review: I had hard time choosing between this one and Up (I have yet to see Toy Story 3). I suppose I could have put both on the list, but I only wanted to put one on as I like them for similar reasons. Ultimately I went with Wall-E for multiple reasons. Firstly, the first half is some of the most brilliant filmmaking I've ever seen. Very little is spoken, but Wall-E's (Burtt) actions and the environment he lives in speaks volumes. Not only does it tell a touching story in a humourous Chaplinesque style, but it also deals with surprisingly sophisticated themes for what is supposed to be a children's movie. In fact the last couple of Pixar movies I've seen all seem to show them taking animation in a more adult direction while still maintaining a sort of cartoonish charm. It's a very refreshing combination that makes most all of their movies a pleasure to watch. These movies are so good that even the credits are fun to watch.

14. This is Spinal Tap 1984
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Christopher Guest, Mike McKean, Harry Shearer
Synopsis: Aging British rockstars tour the USA with little success.
Review: I am too lazy to re-review this movie as I've already done it, so instead here's a link to that review.

13. Reservoir Dogs 1992
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi
Synopsis: A chronicle of the events leading up to and following a heist gone wrong.
Review: Personally, this is my favourite Tarantino film though most seem to prefer Pulp Fiction. You have everything you expect to see in most Tarantino films: slick characters, uber violence, unusual story structure, and dialogue laden with pop culture references. My favourite character is Mr. Pink (Buscemi), because he's essentially the voice of reason in the film and I always go for them, though all of the characters are cool in their own right. It's hard to get more violent than the ear cutting scene which reportedly led to Rob Zombie walking out from the theatre. I'm not a huge fan of that level of violence, but Tarantino always manages to make it work somehow. I think my favourite part of the whole movie is how it's laid out. It's almost as interesting just to watch how Tarantino plays with form as it is to watch the characters interact. Speaking of which, the conversations that occur in this movie are some of the best in any movie. The stand-out is definitely the opening scene where Mr. Brown (Tarantino) discusses Madonna and Mr. Pink explains why he doesn't tip. Overall it's a fun, wicked cool movie that never disappoints.

12. Casablanca 1942
Director: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
Synopsis: A nightclub owner in the titular city meets an old flame of his during WWII.
Review: You'd be hard pressed to find a more quotable movie than Casablanca. The dialogue in this movie is so sharp that I can't even come up with a metaphor to aptly describe how sharp it is. Whenever Rick Blaine (Bogart) opens his mouth, you can expect him to say something awesome. For me, Blaine and Bogart are practically the same person and it goes without saying that this is his most iconic role. The story itself is also classic and features the greatest ending to any movie ever. It's partly a love story, but mostly it's a tale about redemption and recovering a lost humanity. With intrigue, a great anti-hero, a beautiful love interest, and stellar writing, Casablanca is a movie that, much like the famous song, will stay with us as time goes by.

11. Chinatown 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway
Synopsis: A private eye investigates a civil engineer and uncovers a deeper conspiracy.
Review: It's an homage to film noir that despite being in colour, is far more darker than any Sam Spade mystery. As Jake Gittes (Nicholson) gets more embroiled in Evelyn Mulwray's (Dunaway) affairs, everything keeps getting murkier and once everything is out in the open, you'll wish like Jake that you hadn't gotten so nosy. Suffice to say, the ending is not quite what you'd expect or desire, but it's really the only ending this film could have had. Nicholson is fantastic as Gittes who's combination of cleverness, perseverance, humour, and outward aloofness but inward caring makes him one of my all time favourite film heroes. Dunaway is also memorable as the mysterious woman who isn't what you'd expect. And John Huston makes a surprisingly good villain.

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