Thursday, March 5, 2009

Movies: Top Ten

I'm occasionally asked for my top ten movies. Here's a whack at it:

1. Koyaanisqatsi
"Life out of balance": a two-hour minimalist music video, no actors, no script, just the mesmerizing arpeggios of Philip Glass bolstering a portrayal of city life on a scale you rarely perceive - and how, someday, it must tragically collapse. I just can't see this one enough, and have done so at least 8 time (once with live introduction by Glass).

2. Being Human
A forgotten film, portraying Robin Williams as Everyman across the ages. Set in four eras, we see different parts of the same life (as most lives are mostly the same) played out in vastly different eras. Moving, capturing love lost, gained, and all in between - including the eternal quest for shoes that fit.

3. Braveheart
Powerful portrayal of manliness: total devotion to family and country at the cost of total personal sacrifice. FREEEEDOOOOOOOMMMMMMM!!!!!

4. The Truman Show
Good stories depict the arc of personal discovery and change; what could be more so than discovering one's entire life is the set and subject of a TV series, recorded and broadcast by thousands of cameras, and everyone around is a hired extra? Moody music by Philip Glass as a bonus.

5. Ghost Dog
A loser in the 'hood is, by momentary shoulder-shrugging whim, saved from death by a mobster. Thereafter said loser reads the ancient samurai text Hagakuri, and immediately devotes himself fully to the samurai way - and the perplexed thug who saved him. Leveraging this resource, this mid-level mobster uses him as an assassin ... and when the hits make things too complicated, the mob tries to take him out. Unusually, the script brings out the mobsters as the dingy losers they are, and portrays the tragedy of a devotee of a Way without any teacher to guide him.

6. Blade Runner
Gritty, messy, intense thriller that asks what it means to be human. "Time to die" ends one of the great on-screen pontifications. Subject to inappropriate editing in earlier releases, find the "Final Cut" version, done as the director intended.

7. Babette's Feast
A lovely, gentle tale (yes, I have a soft side) of secluded life in a religious commune, and the effect that good food can have on lives.

8. La Femme Nikita
Lost to society and subject to the death penalty, our dysfunctional heroine is trained to be a dark betrayer and agent of society: a spy. Particularly striking, among the gritty setting and tragic consequences, is how we the audience are _not_ privy to the whys and wherefores of her assignments. (The American remake of this French film fails precisely because we _do_ get answers and see consequences.)

9. The Lord of the Rings
A grand portrayal of the fantasy epic. Abridged (focusing on the high action, neglecting the art and scenery along the way), and flawed (director Peter Jackson should stick to filming stories, not altering them), but otherwise captures the vast scale and grandeur of the tale.

10. The Matrix
Whoa. Fantastic kick-butt sci-fi heady action. Not insightful, just way cool.

Honorable mentions:

The Matrix meets Farenheit 451 meets 1984 in this stylized future of governmental eradication of anything emotionally stimulating. Preposterous, but very cool. In the commentary track, the director observes "action is how men express romance on film. Whether it be romance for family, wives, children, king, country, it doesn't matter. They express their love by whipping ass in the name of one or the other of the above."

The Blair Witch Project
El Mariachi
I have a fondness for ultra-low-budget movies: given very little to work with, and forced into thinking way outside the box (or, in the case of Cube, being stuck inside a very small box), capturing the essence of a _good_ story is a remarkable achievement.

Romeo and Juliet
The MTV-modern depictions of these classics show how well Shakespeare captured the essence of timeless human existence. Transplanted into modern-time alternate-universe settings of Verona Beach CA and Denmark Corp. respectively (where much is as life is now save for everyone speaking Elizabethan English, and Post Haste Delivery & Elsinore Castle Apartments are socially well-known), the essence of the Bard's works still shines.

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