You’re smack-bang in the middle of a movies list now so if you missed the last one, it’d be worth a flick through before reading this one. If a film you love has failed to make the list either (a) I have not seen, or possibly heard of, it, (b) I have seen it but I’m just not a fan, or (c) I completely forgot to include it! All lists like these are going to be highly subjective for personal reasons anyway.
On violence: Recently I saw two reasonably graphic¹ movies, Hotel Rwanda and The whistleblower. This list was completed before I saw them so I couldn’t think about a place for them on it. Both based on true stories, Hotel Rwanda centres on the events surrounding a four-star hotel during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and The whistleblower follows an international worker in post-war Bosnia who discovers how alive and well human trafficking really is. While we may have become desensitized to violence written about in newspapers or the internet, graphic violence has its merits in that it brings the reality closer to us, despite all the other reasonable reservations you may have. Graphic violence is an effective way of letting us into the know, and in this sense it is a call to action².
40. Police story (1985): One of Jackie Chan’s earlier movies, Police Story gives us a look at some of his best work. The opening action sequence is a lot of fun to watch, and although, like most action movies, the events are a bit farfetched, the characters present an alternative to characters of American cinema (there are no fearless heroes quipping cheesy victory puns, and people cry and wet their pants in ways that you’d expect with all those guns around). An added bonus is the addition of a bit of slapstick and misunderstanding for some comic relief between action scenes.
39. 300 (2006): I still remember when they played a scene from 300 in church to illustrate the lavishness of Xerxes (ha, oh no, I don’t remember what the sermon was about; just that we were watching a bit of 300). 300 wins for its visual power. There is a kind of persistent foreboding/brooding feel throughout the film, as if the whole world is a kind of darkness, and when this is absent there’s still a sense that existence is awaiting its moment to get back at you for being born. The coolest thing about this movie is the array of bad guys. The immortals were my favourite, but also the rhino, and I think Frank Miller, or the screenwriters, whatever, did a great job of portraying the rhino through ancient eyes (remember, also, the elephants in The lord of the rings).
38. The family man (2000): A bit of Nicolas Cage? I’ve always found his acting semi-alright… but the concept for this film was quite a nice one I thought, one that fits it as a Christmas movie: The wealthy Wall Street business man into another world wakes up without his money and freedoms, and a wife and kids instead. Although the film plays into the fantasy of having your cake and eating it too (in an obscure sense, a Kierkegaardian double movement where the knight lays down everything and receives it all back again), it’s also a tender reminder of the things that really matter.
37. 10 things I hate about you (1999): A perfect teen movie that focusses on those on the outer, rather than the status quo, the two-dimensional John and Jane Everyman who want to be popular, get laid or get into the right college, etc. This is a story of two rebels who, though they necessarily uphold some degree of the American teenage dream, they also scorn it for both lesser and greater desires. I love Kat’s reading of her poem I hate towards the end of the film, “But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you”, representing the lament at her inability to overcome her clash of desires.
36. American history x (1998): Brilliant exploration of not only racism, but also hate. Seeing the movie for the first time, I was genuinely surprised by Derek’s complete change of values following his time in prison. It’s awesome to see a cheesy theme like redemption advocated by such a hard-nosed movie.
35. Boy (2010): As with Eagle vs Shark, Boy contains aspects of comedy with a much darker undercurrent (same director). It’s a kiwi movie about a boy (!) growing up in 1980s New Zealand, and it allows you to view that much darker side of life through his innocent eyes.
34. The Shawshank redemption (1994): We studied this in high school. So did everyone, so I hear. Someone once said to me that they hate when we have pull apart movies, etc and analyse them and do all that kind of stuff because it’s so ruinous to the pure art form as unadulterated by logic. Turns out it’s still one of my favourite movies, maybe even more so using the information and attention to idiosyncrasies that my amazing English teacher pointed out. This marked a time in my life when I first began to realise that movies could be understood as great works of psychology and philosophy, that they had an insight into human nature, relationships and experience. There are so many favourite moments. Probably the most indie thing that slaps me within my chest every time I see it is when Andy sends Red the blank postcard; the photo and the postmark is all that there is. Necessarily it is blank, lest it be used as evidence to find Andy and bring him back to Shawshank. But the blankness is not just that, so much more! It’s like a single esoteric gesture communicating love between two people, esoteric in that only they can experience and share in it because only they two can know just what it means, despite the audience rudely observing from the other side of the screen.
33. Moonraker (1979): There are so many Bond films, and I’ve seen enough once, twice, thrice or more growing up that at least one of them needs grace the list. I remember reading that Moonraker was the Bondmakers’ response to Star Wars. In Moonraker, Bond, not only gets to farewell his antagonist amid the stars, but he also gets some out of this world action, hint hint (I will here avoid the very bad pun he makes at the end of the film regarding this). One magical moment is when Bond and his female accomplice escape and crash through a conveniently placed 7-up billboard, a beautiful irony that endorses a product only to destroy it. I also love the appearances of Bond’s formidable enemy Jaws in this movie, especially when he finds a lady-friend who is made out to be someone who finally understands him. If you’ve seen it, she somehow reminds me of Mr Bean’s girlfriend, yes? No?
32. Jurassic park (1993): One day it will be possible. When I was tiny we tried recording this over a video we had of Disney’s Robin Hood. Turns out that only the video but not the audio was recorded, which makes for hilarious viewing when T-Rex is eating someone on the toilet amid casual remarks about lunch.
31. I am Sam (2001): That awkward moment when you’re watching this with your nana and trying not to cry… A handicapped man fights for custody of his daughter. It was miserably beautiful.
30. Gladiator (2000): Russell Crowe actually does alright. Naww, he’s not that bad (It’s worth getting a look at Romper stomper, an American history x a little closer to home, both movies courtesy of a former flatmate)! You could say that historical actions are a lot more appreciable than modern-setting actions, devoid of all that big-brother-is-watching conspiracy stuff that allows viewers to trust their mistrust to the Hollywood. Yet Gladiator is a conspiracy in the real sense, a classic conspiracy disguised in the historical, of a man who loses his life gains in status, wealth and relationship to a cold-hearted subtle-usurper. I love how the film gives the bird to the typical story arc, where the main character does not completely triumph in the end (compare Braveheart, where William Wallace, although tortured to the point of death still triumphs in spirit; somehow Maximus’ end spar appears a lot less triumphant). I also enjoy the visual representations of Elysium, the Roman afterlife, which appeal to a common desire for life after death.
29. The adventures of Milo and Otis (1986): A live action film involving a kitten and pug as the main characters. I still have nightmares about the bears.
28. The dark knight (2008): There should never be any denying that Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the nihilistic Joker was completely aweinspiring. The well-known pencil scene will not have to wait long before being included in lists of top movie scenes, and Joker’s oft-imitated “Why so serious” is yet to find an imitator who can actually pull it off as well as did Ledger.
27. The lord of the rings (2001, 2002, 2003): Ignore the Tolkien fans; let the rest of the world speak. Peter Jackson more than succeeded in his visionary interpretation of Tolkien’s novel. Not only that but many people over the world who have seen the films associate the beautiful New Zealand landscape with these films, something we have access to just over our back fences. I have not yet watched all three in a day (I’ve missed out on two opportunities to do so), but it definitely seems like the right thing to do, some day.
26. Up (2009): Kids movies are getting cooler. The persistent surreality and optimism of Up are a refreshing appeal to the more mature viewer. The opening montage is at once a heartwarming and heartbreaking insight into the human condition, a tender rendering of lacrimae rerum. You may find it worthwhile to also have a quick look at the real life Up house.
25. Inception (2010): It was good to see DiCaprio back on the screen beyond his prime (remembering Titanic and Romeo and Juliet fifteen years earlier), although he doesn’t look old, but more like a young guy with an old face. Inception is one of those films which you can subtly puff yourself up with by making intelligent conversation which shows your understanding of it. I like how it appeals to my sense of desire for power, by giving people unlimited control over their environment depending on how committed they are to that desire, or whatever, like The matrix?
24. Good Will Hunting (1997): Matt Damon receives a lot of undue hassle, a result of Team America, so I’ve heard. On the contrary, he plays some awesome roles, like Will Hunting in said movie. Not only that, but he and Ben Affleck (whom I don’t share as much enthusiasm for) co-wrote the film. I love the movie for many reasons. Will is overly-able in most areas of his life, yet he finds it difficult to function properly in a range of standard human relationships. His over-abilities also lead him to make a mockery of those around him because he is familiar with their ideals and practices, yet he scorns them. The climax of the movie comes in a last session between Will and his ongoing therapist Sean. Sean, after having tried everything and continuing to fail counselling Will, proceeds to simply repeat to Will, “It’s not your fault”. Will, aware of what Sean is doing, reacts almost violently before breaking down into Sean’s arms. Will always knew that his past sufferings were not his fault, but he somehow needed to hear them from someone else to believe it.
23. Elf (2003): I realise I’ve actually a few Christmas movies on the list, possibly because they roll around almost every season and just stick in your head, or maybe because you just watch more films around Christmas because there is more on TV. You may notice I’ve neglected to include Jingle all the way (Arnold Swarchenegger), Die hard, and The grinch who stole Christmas, ad infinitum. Elf somehow cracks me up so much, and I think this role is one of Will Ferrell’s most fitting. Zooey Deschanel is also exceptionally pretty (and she sings!).
22. The road (2009): Based on a not-too-long-ago-written book of the same name, The road stands out from all the other in vogue post-apocalyptic films being released this last decade. The going is heavy and dull, and I found it especially scary (there are cannibals!). The film also explores the tension between looking out for one’s own and one’s self against vulnerable others in a hostile world.
21. The lion king (1994): Out of each on the list, I’ve definitely seen this without a doubt the most times more than any other film. We had it on VHS, and made sure that when we sold it at the garage sale, when all our other videos went for $1, this one went for $2. I’m sure my sister watched One hundred and one dalmatians at least once for every dalmatian too. There are countless good things to say here. The soundtrack will forever have a place in my heart. My favourite scene would have to be either when Timon and Pumba do their diversion dance in front of the hyenas or when Simba and Nala “ditch the dodo” through song and Zazu ends up under a rhino. I actually faintly remember seeing this at the cinema, which involved a wee short with Pluto preceding the film (like the Pixar shorts that they have before some of their features).
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¹Reasonably graphic according to my little experience in movie watching. I have no interest in anything like Hostel or Saw. Hotel Rwanda is not so graphic in what we do see, mainly the many dead bodies, but the suggestive nature of the film is graphic in itself.