Thursday, February 6, 2014

Top Ten Favorite Movies

Hey y'all.  So I just realized that in the realm of movies, I hate everything.  Not quite literally, but almost.  Working at a used book/movie/music store has brought me into a lot of contact with a lot of stuff I just can't stand.  Comedy these days seems like nothing more than get-togethers between famous people who do stupid stuff while someone films them.  Don't even get me started on chick flicks.  Dramas are pretentious playgrounds of ideas, and actions films are simply things blowing up.

I like none of those things.  In one sense, it's an unfair criticism of Hollywood, as my tastes range in appreciating nature, spiritual truth, and learning the secrets of history -- none of which are popular topics in film these days.  Then again, in another sense, this is showing that Hollywood isn't going after what people really want in films, but simply putting up whatever they want to say.  Or I'm just too picky.

Either way, I do actually like some movies.  My basis for whether or not a movie is good is by how it makes me feel when I'm done watching it.  If I feel good or refreshed in some way, it's a good film.  That's why I find digital effects so unimportant in the long run.  Very rarely will someone's digital creation produce emotions in me.  Good story on the other hand?  Heck yeah.

Keep in mind that this isn't a list of best movies, necessarily, but simply ones I like best.  Basically, the standard by which I will list these is by how they make me feel, and to a lesser degree, how they're produced.  Now, without further ado...

---- My Top Ten Favorite Movies ----

10. Robocop

This is actually a pretty off the wall choice for anyone who hates gore in film as much as I do.  However, because of the standards I'm judging these movies by, I'm pretty much obligated to put this on the list, even if on the lowest spot.

Robocop is unique because not only is it an action film, it's also an art film at the same time.  It boggles my mind that no one has ever tried to combine these two genres together again.  It's the story of a cop, Alex Murphy, who is killed on the job, but forcibly put into a metal armor and made into the ultimate justice machine.  And this is proved vitally necessary by the extreme violence of his dystopian city.  With the druglords controlling the underworld and corrupt businessmen in charge of everything else, Detroit has become a terrible place to live.

Granted, it's not perfect.  It's ham-fisted allegory is a bit too much for me, even though it does work for what the film is trying to accomplish.  I'm not into the gore, and I don't like the old stereotype that everyone who owns a business is a scumbag that cares more about money than people.  However, that doesn't stop this movie from accomplishing what it set out to achieve, and to do so in an intelligent way.

What makes Robocop important to me is the fact that the protagonist chooses to be a hero.  As much as it sucks that a huge corporation turned him into a mechanical beast, Murphy knows that he has an opportunity to stop more crime than before, and ultimately accepts his new life.  I really like this.  It's very heroic and true, without being sappy.

9. The Incredibles

And from the absolutely grotesque to the precious and sweet.  This film is the story of a superhero family who is forced to go into hiding because of a frivolous lawsuit from a man who "didn't want to be rescued".  Mr. Incredible gets bored of normal life, and isn't able to handle injustice in any form, whether from criminal or insurance company.  He thus gets himself involved in a project to stop a robot and hides it from his family, only to find himself in bigger trouble than he realized.

This movie is excellent because it's not trite.  It's not some "kids movie" that treats children like morons, and at the same time it's appropriate.  The themes are good, about being who you really are and working together with your family.  The ending is optimistic and fun, and I love how each person's powers reflect their personality.  Mr. Incredible's strength represents his moral resolve, Elastigirl's flexibility represents her ability to adapt to life in any given circumstance, Violet's powers hide her from the world, and Dash is impulsive.

While people might argue that UP is a better movie (and really, it's quite good), this film means more to me due to it's really cool worldbuilding and appealing characters.  Especially Violet.  She's cool.

8. A Walk to Remember

I know, I know.  I don't like chick flicks.  Really.  This one, however, has a special place in my heart.  Mainly because it's my nineties joy, reminding me of when it was okay to talk about God in movies and just plain have a good time, without any pretentious themes or self-righteous liberal connotations.  It's just a story, and an extremely simple story at that.  A trouble teen meets up with a pastor's daughter, and they fall in love, only to eventually reveal that the girl, Jamie, is dying.

On the whole, this is a very paint-by-numbers romance story, but it is inflated by several things.  First of all, the acting is good.  The environment of the story is very peaceful, and this is the perfect slice of 90s wholesome goodness.  It's refreshing, if a bit overly sentimental.

7. Kill Bill Vol. 2

Like Robocop, technically this movie shouldn't belong on my list.  Granted, the violence in this film isn't as gratuitous (See, Kill Bill Vol. 1), but for some reason I really like it.  This movie is a collection of visuals and music that are wonderful to listen to.  I love the fact that Beatrix Kiddo has gone from nearly unstoppable in the first film to actually being something of a real person by not being able to kill everyone in her sight.  That doesn't mean she isn't dangerous, it simply means that we are able to feel more tension for her as she goes for her goal to kill Bill.

Just a recap for anyone who hasn't seen it, this film is basically about how Beatrix Kiddo, former assassin, attempted to leave her former life and marry a regular person so that she could raise her child away from the professional murdering business.  Bill, her former boss/lover, didn't understand her reasoning and thought she was simply trying to abandon him.  So he attacked her and everyone at her wedding.  Coming out of a four year coma, Beatrix set out on a quest to avenge the deaths of everyone at the wedding, including her unborn baby.

While both Kill Bill films are clearly samurai movies with western tropes, the second feels a lot more like a western (Udon Western?  Ramen Western?), and utilizes this to perfection.  It's still pretty interesting how Far Eastern gloom mixes with Western pessimism.  There are several quirks which I love about this film, particularly how Beatrix doesn't actually get one of her kills, the magnificent visuals, the fact that Bill is older rather than some young Hollywood trope, and the shortness of the final fight.  This film takes what could have been a trite samurai knock-off and brings the emotions up right where they belong.

That doesn't mean it's perfect.  My biggest gripe with the film is the bit where Beatrix goes to a former pimp for information on where Bill is.  Not only is this scene rather offensive to women, it's narratively unnecessary.  Perhaps we needed a calm moment between kill number four and the discovery of Bill, but this scene doesn't add anything to the depth of the movie, and in fact detracts from it.  It doesn't help that the supposed "Mexican" is a white guy in a makeup job, and his accent is so thick and quiet that there's little way to tell what he's saying without turning on the subtitles.  While the hunt for Bill shouldn't have been ignored entirely, this scene doesn't help.

Oh yeah, and it was weird how Elle Driver, Bill's new girlfriend, tells Bill to go do some drugs when she tells him that Beatrix killed his brother.  That seems a bit of a strange thing to tell one's assassin leader boyfriend in such a serious situation.

There's something about this film that gets me.  I don't know what it is, but when it came on TV once, I started to watch it, and suddenly felt really good.  I don't know why.  It may have had something to do with that being a really stressful year.  In any case, here it goes.

6. Rab ne Bana di Jodi (A Match Made by God)

Note: when I say this film is one of my favorites, I mean the edited down version.  The full version is meh, and proof positive that editing is the most important part of any film.

I saw the edited version on an airplane, when I was flying across the ocean to China (if you're ever flying overseas, remember to not fly United), and watching the Boys over Flowers film.  It was really boring, so I kept looking over at my friend's screen, and she was watching Rab ne Bana.  I'd seen part of one Bollywood film in high school, but this was the first one I ever got to watch all the way through.  This movie was so good, that I even got Dad to watch it.  It's not his favorite Bollywood (I think his is Jab We Met), but it did start an obsession with him.  After all, who doesn't like cheerful musical films with people in colorful costumes singing and dancing?

Rab ne Bana di Jodi is the story of Surinder Sahni, who is invited to the wedding of his former teacher's daughter, Taani.  However, her fiancee and his family all died in a horrible bus accident.  The stress of it all ends up giving the professor a heart attack, and his last act is to ask Suri and Taani to marry, so that he doesn't have to worry about Taani being alone.

Taani obeys her father, but only out of obligation.  Suri loved her the first moment he saw her, so he very much wants her to be happy again.  To this purpose he disguises himself as a different person and joins her dance class.  He says he's doing this to show her his love, because "Suri only reminds her of pain."  Enter the not quite love triangle.  Don't worry, it doesn't go overly cliche in the end.

There's a lot to like in this movie.  The acting is great, the songs are marvelous, there's charm everywhere, it's a great way to learn Indian culture, etc.  It also has one of the best movie lines of all time, where Taani is explaining to Raj what every woman wants: to be loved like no other woman has been loved before.  This is extremely true, unless a woman's heart has been so scarred she avoids love altogether.

Most of the problems with this movie come with the full edition.  These extra scenes drag down the narrative, and also fiddle with Suri's characterization.  In one added scene, Suri realizes that Taani might fall in love with Raj instead of his real self.  I don't like this, as it's more fun to have a naive Suri with a warped perspective.  Also, near the beginning, he debates with himself over whether or not to put a rose by a note he leaves Taani.  What makes this scene awkward is that at this point Taani has holed herself up in her room, still grieving her loss.  She hasn't said as much as one word to Suri since they married.  Anyone with any sense wouldn't flirt with Taani until she comes out of hermit mode, and it makes Suri look like a jerk that he even tried.

I could go on about it, but let's not rant now, shall we?

5. Braveheart

All Mel Gibson controversy aside, this is a good movie.  Sure, it's nowhere close to historically accurate (the Princess of Wales was a child when William Wallace lived; Robert the Bruce's father never had leprosy; etc), but it's a fun ride with some of the best acting I've ever seen.

It's a fantasized tale of how William Wallace, hero of Scotland, attempted to free his country from Edward the First, a malevolent tyrant who used Scotland's kingship issues to take authority of the country.

What sort of spoils this movie for me is that I've read the real story behind it, and it turns out that thanks to Robert the Bruce's arranged marriages for his children with British royalty, and that's what got Scotland and England merged again.  Dang it, Bruce...

4. Interstella 5555

Y'know, this movie probably represents everything I like about movies: emotion, colors, wonderful music, and a plotline that gets really dark but redeems everything by the end.

Interstella 5555 is the animated music video of Daft Punk's album Discovery.  It has no dialogue and few sound affects, but simply tells a story through gorgeous anime figures as the techno plays.  It's the story of a blue-skinned alien band, kidnapped and forced to play for audiences at Earth.  Their only hope is another of their kind, a space agent (?) who is sent out to find them and bring them home.

This movie is a beautifully written masterpiece, which goes from heart-touchingly genuine to out and out bizarre at every turn.  Why did a corrupt man kidnap these four aliens?  As a part of his scheme for universal domination, of course!  He's only been brainwashing musicians since the days of Mozart, all for his evil plans to come to fruition.

My favorite part of the movie is the end, where people find out who the band members really are.  Someone said that if this really happened, we'd (by this I think he meant the government) would just dissect them and steal their technology.  That I know is wrong.  We'd do exactly what this movie portrays: we'd celebrate the awesomeness of getting to meet real extraterrestrials, liking them all the better.  We would send them home.  The end shows that Earth gets transmissions from the alien world, implying that our world and the aliens' will have relations in the future.  I like to imagine that we send lots of bands to their planet for a massive concert party.  Awesome.

3. Star Trek: The Original Series Films (Yes, even Final Frontier)

I quite like all six of the Star Trek films that starred the original series actors, because I didn't want all six of them to crowd out non-Trek entries. My fondest extends to each one;  the first was pure 70s sci fi, Wrath of Khan is the best Trek ever written, Search for Spock was fun to analyze, Voyage Home was just fun, Final Frontier makes me giggle, and Undiscovered Country wrapped everything up nicely.

However, the one that means the most to me personally is The Motion Picture.  Why?  Because the plot works, for one.  Yeah, sure, the pacing of the film needs a kick in the pants, but the more you think about it, the more this film fits true, weird as mess science fiction.  And as a plus, this movie gets an unfair boost from coincidence: I was planning on reviewing this film for the blog about the time my apartment building caught fire, and it shows on the TV while I'm in my hotel room.  It's like God didn't want me to miss out.

Still, that doesn't mean the others aren't important to me too, so they're all going to share a spot right here.

2. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

How can anyone really argue against this movie?  It's a classic that deserves it, with complex themes, great acting, and cinematography that withstood the test of 58 years.  What can I say about this movie that hasn't been said already?

For those shameful few who haven't seen this, it's about three criminals going after gold during the time of the civil war, and their misadventures as they travel.  This is the story of a land torn up by war, and how people live out their lives and try for happiness in such a world, whether by good, bad, or selfish means.

Oh yeah, and don't forget the music.  My favorite is The Ecstasy of Gold, which plays when Tuco is running through the graveyard.  Love that madness.

1. Mortal Kombat

I was actually going to write a review for this movie, but then it got too long and ranty.  Basically, I love most everything about this movie.  The story is great, the action is fun, and there's techno everywhere.  Ironic considering I think the games are dumb.  The movie, however, has broad appeal, nineties charm, and acting that is entertaining, even when it's not very good.

Mortal Kombat is the story of three random strangers who come together to defend earth against Outworld and its sorcerer, Shang Tsung.  Sonya Blade is a secret agent out to catch the man who killed her partner; Johnny Cage, the movie star, wants to prove that he's not a fraud; and Liu Kang, a man who abandoned the Chinese temple where he was raised, is forced to deal with his past when Shang Tsung kills his younger brother.

There's just so much good about this movie.  Like Interstella 5555, Braveheart, and Good/Bad/Ugly, it's a journey through darkness (both metaphorical and literal -- seriously, those are some grotesque props and sets) that ultimately ends up in the light.  The ending scene is just perfect happiness.

Also, this film has my favorite incarnation of Sonya Blade, who is tough without trying to one-up men. Her emotional arc is great, and really shows that her toughness stems from her fear of letting people down and letting injustice win.  Perfecto.

So as you might guess, I'm going to write a Top Ten, Top Ten Favorite/Best Movies list, much like I did for other topics.  Granted, I do have school, and I have two works I want to publish.  School's the main reason I haven't been on here too much.  However, I do intend to keep writing on here, and once my inspiration continues, I'll go on with Me and Aldaris.

In any case, look forward to my next Top Ten Top Tens list, and I'll putter around here so that we don't go another month without updates.  It was a great break, but it's about time I got back.

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