Aki’s Top 100 Movies 2015, pt. 1

Movies from 100 to 82.

The only superhero movie on the list is in this part, so I’ll say a few words about those as a genre.

I like them, but for whatever reason, only one made it on to the list and its definitely one most people would be expecting. Some others were very close (such as Batman Begins, Dark Knight, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers), but hundred is hundred and that means plenty of good films were cut.

I would have liked to give Nolan some credit, however. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but the pre-Nolan superhero movies always had little moments where the director would sort of give a wink at the audience or perhaps at critics as if to say that they knew they weren’t supposed to take this seriously.

Nolan didn’t do that. He took the concept of a man dressing up as a bat and going out at night to fight crime as seriously as the fans would want the director to take it. No winks. No nudges. Just a story Batman deserved and that is great.

Of course, this could have led all superhero movies to go with the ‘darker and edgier’ approach, but gladly, that didn’t happen. Marvel still has fun movies, but they are different kind of fun. Before, the director felt compelled not to take it too seriously in a wrong way, now they can have fun with it without being condencending.

But now, on to the list…

100. Snowpiercer (Joon-ho Bong, 2013, South Korea)

Memorable moment: When a brawl simply stops to commemorate the end- and startpoint of their annual circumplanetary journey.

Years ago, the planet went into another ice age. Only a handful of people survived by travelling continuously in a self-sustaining train. The small society is highly hierarchical and the low-class people in the back have had enough. They take up arms and revolt.

That does sound like B-movie premise, but its not like that. Its a pretty big budget project, with international stars, including Kanh-ho Song, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and some guy called Chris Evans (who for me is actually about seventh reason among actors to watch this movie), and actually several other faces you’ll recognize.

The movie sort of has a feel of a video game with each car representing a new level of the story. Each car has its own distinctive feel and its own unique hazards for our heroes travelling through the train.

The movie doesn’t really have good guys. Sure, some are worse than others, but our heroes are taken down from their pedestal (except for those who die quickly enough to dodge this fate).

The key to scifi (and this is very well done in this movie) is to find something that has changed and show what that does to society, but what you are really talking about is us. You are trying to make a point about how something is amiss in our society by highlighting it in a different setting.

This new breed of South Korean films (and this is just one in a long line of great movies) and filmmakers is truly becoming a global force. Their unique way of copying the good parts of western cinema and doing their own thing with it is just great.

To be honest, the movie does fall apart a bit towards the end. Without that, it would be much higher on the list.

99. Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 2001, UK)

Memorable moment: When Mary is moved to the honorary place at the servants’ table because she’s the servant of a countess.

There’s a shooting party in the countryside of UK in the early ’30s. A bunch of aristocrats are there with their servants. There’s plenty of foreboding and indeed (talk of gunroom, a shot ending on poisons, and another on knives), a murder happens.

However, the murder is more of an excuse to dwell into the complexities of the social order (even in the credits, above and below stairs are listed separately). The culprit is not even considered, because to the detective, it would be unthinkable. The servants know everything, because the aristocrats talk freely in front of them, but they have quite a similar social structure with their own petty rivalries and rumourmongering. Many of the servants are totally devoted to their masters and mistresses, while to others its just a job.

Its an ensamble piece with plenty of well-known British actors. There’s no real central character, although an inexperienced servant girl named Mary is sort of our gateway to the world and she also does her own investigating.

The depiction of the old world is interesting to say the least. Although none of the characters are that interesting on their own, the movie doesn’t rely too much on any of them. Each is interesting enough to pull their own weight and thus the whole really works.

98. Kontroll (Nimród Antal, 2003, Hungary)

Memorable moment: Bulcsú’s meeting with the serial killer after an extended footrace.

There’s a sort of warning in the beginning of the movie. There a bureaucrat of some sort from the transport authority of Budapest tells you that this is fictional. I guess that’s a Hungarian thing to be worried about something like that.

Bulcsú has the very thankless job of being a some sort of manager of a team of ticket inspectors on the subway system. They’re the outcasts among the inspector community. They hang around, doing their job with varied enthusiasm and taking up extracurricular activities, such as racing with trains and fighting. But there’s something wrong with Bulcsú. We learn that for some reason he can’t leave the subway tunnels.

All sorts of strange stuff happens in the tunnels. Bulcsú has an encounter with a serial killer, there’s a guy who apparently enjoys being chased by the inspectors, and also a woman dressed as a Teddy bear for some reason.

The movie doesn’t really adhere to any genre. There’s action scenes, there’s horror, and there’s plenty of comedy. The strength of the movie lies in the characters, who are funny and sort of lovable.

97. Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010, Canada)

Memorable moment: When the twins finally understand the significance of why their mother asked one of them to find their brother and one of them to find their father.

Jeanne and Simon are twins. Their mother died recently and during the reading of the will Jeanne is asked to deliver a letter to their father, while Simon is asked to deliver a letter to their brother. They have no idea who their father is and they didn’t even know they had a brother. Jeanne leaves to their mother’s homeland (unnamed, but clearly somewhere in Middle East) to find their father while Simon is against the idea. Most of the movie is told parallel with Jeanne looking for her father and their mother in the past looking for her son. All sorts of secrets kept hidden from the twins are unearthed and we find out how tragic their mother’s life actually was.

The parallel stories balance each other nicely. The mother’s life was indeed very tough and full of obstacles, which would be overbearing if it went on for over two hours. Her children still find out about all sorts of depressing things, but at the same time, at least their life is not as bad, which gives us a little space to be ready for the next horrific thing their mother has to deal with.

96. JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008, Belgium)

Memorable moment: JCVD’s monologue near the end of the movie. He tries his best at introspection and while the speech feels quite deluded at times, its not a delusion of grandeur of a star, but rather delusions we all have. Beautifully so, actually.

If you think you know what the title refers to, you would be right. This is a movie about Jean-Claude Van Damme, starring one Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Van Damme is pretty washed out and has returned to Belgium. He’s pushing 50 and can’t really keep up with what’s required of him. Roles aren’t there anymore and he’s being sued for the custody of his child by his ex-wife. In order to fight in court, he just needs to wire some money to his lawyers in the US. Just so happens that the postal office is being robbed and JCVD is mistaken for the robber. The real robbers take advantage of this while our hero tries to keep the situation under control and the tensions down.

The reason I like this film is the feeling of honesty. I don’t really know how honest it really is (except that JCVD was really 47 when filming this), but the illusion of honesty is definitely there and it does feel very real. JCVD soul-searching and his fantasies of defusing the situation through violence are pretty funny. However, the real humour of the movie comes from how people relate to him. Everyone has a strong opinion, which is likely to change quickly, and quite a few people are out to exploit the situation in some way.

95. Ladri di biciclette (Vittorio de Sica, 1948, Italy)
Bicycle Thieves

Memorable moment: When Antonio tries to steal another bike and gets caught immediately.

A man is offered a job in the war-torn city. He is to spread movie posters in the city. All he needs is he’s bike (a requirement by the employer), but he has pawned it to feed his family, so the family sells some linen received as a wedding gift to get the bike back. However, first day on the job, the bike is stolen.

The problem with American drama is often that everything needs to be larger than life. Not all movies are like this, but that’s what they generally feel like. This movie is about quite ordinary people, who struggle with a problem most of us would only find annoying, but to them its a question of life and death.

94. Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992, USA)

Memorable moment: Shreck manipulating Penguin with fish.

The plot seems to be all over the place. We have Penguin trying to become the mayor on the behest of Max Shreck, while Catwoman is out there trying to avenge her death on said Shreck, and Batman trying to keep the peace. This probably violates many rules of what a good script looks like…

I was surprised myself to find that I actually rated this very highly among superhero movies. Actually, (unless I’m forgetting something right now) its the only superhero movie on this list. Why? Why not the magnificent portrayal of Joker in The Dark Knight, the exhilirating action of The Avengers, or even something like the excellent thriller that is Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Well, this one is weirder. That may not be everything, but apparently this time around its enough. There’s just something wonderful about The Red Triangle Circus Gang, Penguin’s penguins, Catwoman’s mental state and so forth.

I’ll probably be in a radically different place in five years and like something else (or with the number of superhero movies being released, maybe I’m just over them, which may be part of the reason no other superhero movie made the list).

Also, we need these alternative Holiday movies. Is it a criticism of Christmas? I don’t know, but it definitely can be read as one.

93. Festen (Thomas Vinterberg, 1998, Denmark)
The Celebration

Memorable moment: The heartbreaking moment when Christian finally has the courage to tell everyone about their horrific childhood.

Its Helge’s 60th birthday and the whole family is gathered to celebrate. Not even the suicide and the funeral of one of his daughters cast a shadow on the proceedings. Except that the death of his twin sister has finally given Christian enough courage to bring to light the continued sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of their father in their childhood. And no-one gives a shit, first hushing him and then ejecting him from the site.

This was the first of the Dogme 95 movies (von Trier must have been pissed). It shows. The aesthetics of the film are quite crude, as the film emphasizes characters and plot instead of artificiality. I don’t think the manifesto was actually needed in terms of quality, but it did its work in getting publicity for these movies. The main focus of the film is the dynamics of the relationships between these characters and how their common history has affected them. It doesn’t really matter how grainy your picture is if everything else is done well. Actually, the graininess gives it a bit of home movie feel, which is pretty appropriate, although if that’s the case, and I’d have seen this now, when found-footage films are commonplace, my feelings might be very different.

92. Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986, USA)

Memorable moment: No, not that one. To me its the scene when the few survivors of the full on assault emerge from their cover.

Chris is a young idealist, who goes to Vietnam despite the (understandable) opposition from his parents. He finds out soon enough how bad that idea was, as the war is merciless and the politics of his squad are worse.

Its often hard to take Stone very seriously, as his grasp on reality seems to be quite loose. This he experienced first hand (and had a credible expert on), and the movie doesn’t claim to be based on real events (even though it apparently is based largely on Stone’s own experiences).

The dynamic of the platoon is interesting. I guess its supposed to be a metaphor for the duality of man and even though its a bit over the top, it works. You can’t really trust Stone on anything (especially after JFK), but this feels very real.

91. Per qualche dollaro in più (Sergio Leone, 1965, Italy)
For a Few Dollars More

Memorable moment: Mortimer testing Klaus Kinski’s character by lightning a match by scratching it on him.

Monco and Coloner Mortimer are on the trail of the same gang of criminals. They team up, but the alliance is quite volatile.

Second part of the loose Dollar Trilogy by Sergio Leone. To me, the weakest part, but still good enough to land on this list. Leone was just that great.

Leone’s west might be a twisted look at a genre which in itself had problems with reality, but he makes all the myths just that much more interesting by making it all darker and grittier. I know that’s a sin these days, but there’s a reason why its so overdone. Its movies like that just work.

90. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010, USA)

Memorable moment: Arthur fighting in the hotel hallway which is moving around under him.

A group of professionals, who’s job is to extract secrets from people by controlling and infiltrating their dreams, are hired to put a thought into someone’s head instead.

A high-concept sci-fi film. It does suffer some from Di Caprio’s inability to do anything beyond being very intensive (I’m glad he finally got over that part of his career with Wolf of Wall Street), and making Tom Hardy’s character a walking Deus ex machina, but otherwise the movie is great. I especially enjoy the how the dreams react with what’s happening in reality and how the characters abuse this.

Its not really that complicated or thought-provoking, but it is a great action film with unique situations and cool visuals made possible and believable by the concept.

89. Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957, UK)

Memorable moment: Nicholson’s reaction in the end.

Saito is a commandant of a Japanese PoW camp in Burma. His job is to have the (mostly British) prisoners build a bridge on the titular Kwai for the Burma-Siam railroad. At first, the prisoners do their best to sabotage the project, but the senior British officer, colonel Nicholson, has a different idea. To him, this might be a chance to do something worthwhile in the destructive chaos of the war.

Lean’s movies tend to be too slow for even my tastes, but this one is works despite the 161 minute runtime. The cultural clash, the unorthodox approach of Nicholson, and the way the Americans ruin it all in the end is a pretty good metaphor for the futility of war in a smaller scale, never mind what it does to the whole country.

88. Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957, USA)

Memorable moment: The quite ridiculous offense the men are tried for.

WWI and the French generals really, really want a hill. Colonel Dax is tasked with the impossible mission. After it fails, the generals are not going to take the blame, so they take a few soldiers randomly into court for being cowards. Dax, who happens to be a lawyer, decides to defend his men.

The depiction of ambitions of the generals and their lack of any real interest in the well-being of their men is quite scandalous (and was probably even more so back in the day, Kirk Douglas might be a controlling asshole, but he was on the right side of many issues, such as wanting the name of a blacklisted screenwriter to appear in the credits of Spartacus). Also, the arbitrary nature of the whole affair is interesting. There’s also a sequence in the end with a quite rapey feel. The French troops have captured a German woman, who is then forced to perform for them. This was 1957, so its only a song, but still, there’s a certain ‘no one’s really onlye an innocent participant in this thing’ -feel to it.

There is a certain element of cowardice in the film itself, as it is set in France and among the French army, not within the US army. However, this was the fault of the author of the novel, not the filmmakers.

87. Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981, USA)

Memorable moment: The ghostly dance

A group of friends goes out into a cabin. Its been left empty for a while. Once there, one of them is possessed by an unknown force lurking within the woods (and accidentally awakened by the our heroes).

Part of the lure of this movie is its history, but there’s plenty of such movies made by small groups of friends with minimal budget and with troubled productions. How does this surpass all the others (well, most of the others)? Part Bruce Campbell, part the fact that the moviemakers clearly had fun. Its a horror movie, and like most horror movies, the director likes to inject a bit of comedy. The difference? Its not actually just in the head of the director. Also, its still a very good horror movie. I guess an argument for Evil Dead 2 being better could be made, but to me the delicate balance of fun vs. horror goes just a bit too far into the fun side.

86. The Ox-Bow Incident (William A. Wellman, 1943, USA)

Memorable moment: Actually the trailer, where Henry Fonda explains why he felt this movie was important to make.

A posse is formed in a small western town, after a report of a killing of a local farmer reaches the town. Suspects are found quickly, but what to do when neither the sheriff or the judge is at their disposal?

At a time when most movies where more or less patriotic, this really stands out. According to the trailer, Henry Fonda was really keen on making this particular movie. In a way its pretty odd since I don’t think anyone was thinking of these kinds of injustices when the WWII was going on at the same time. I guess its a good thing someone was.

Still quite topical today, when people are easy to crucify on media (social or otherwise) often with dire consequences to the victim.

85. Inherit the Wind (Stanley Kramer, 1960, USA)

Memorable moment: The response of the locals to Brady arriving in town.

A teacher in a small southern town refuses to teach his biology class based on the bible. For this, he’s dragged into court. It becomes a sensation and soon enough, two big-name lawyers come to the aid of each side. The case garners nation-wide attention, as godless atheists and the backwards hillbillies try to make a futile attempt to convince each other of their version of the truth.

The movie does take a side. Or at least, as an atheist, I feel its on my side even after the movie does walk it back a little in the end. Maybe I should ask a fundamentalist about this, but based on IMDb comments, the fundamentalist side believes this is unfair and doesn’t follow what happened at the Scopes Trial faithfully. And it never says it does, either. All in all, just a technically good movie on a subject that appeals to me.

84. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009, South-Africa)

Memorable moment: Wikus in a battle suit trying to protect his new alien friend.

Wikus is an official in a company, that’s charged with clearing a camp of aliens, who are to be moved to a new location. During the operation, when the aliens are notified, Wikus accidentally sprays himself with liquid, which slowly begins to turn him into one of the aliens, thus making him very valuable to his employers, who also happen to be arms manufacturers with some shady research projects.

The movie does have quite a simplistic message about inclusiveness and understanding those who are different from ourselves, but its well executed and Sharlto Copley is a very refreshing star of the show. Compared to Avatar (a movie with similar themes from around the same time), this is just great.

83. Der Himmel über Berlin (Wim Wenders, 1987, Germany)
Wings of Desire

Memorable moment: The library with plenty of angels watching over people.

Angel roams the streets of Berlin silently, spending his time witnessing things happening to people, and bringing them some peace when he can. There’s just something that bothers him: He can’t really experience what people experience, and he really, really wants to. After falling in love with a mortal, he decides to finally go through with it.

That’s actually sort of a spoiler, because he only goes through the transformation in the beginning of the third act. On the other hand, the script is clever enough to bring a good twist on it. This isn’t a comedy about an angel bumbling his way through life as a mortal. Its more about all the stuff we mortals go through. The angel and his colleagues listen in on the thoughts of a number of people, and everyone’s thoughts are just very unfocused. All the subjects just think about stuff. Mostly they are pretty melancholy, but its just a flow of ideas with no apparent end goal. Its all quite futile and boring, but also in its own way its very beautiful. Beautiful enough to make an angel be one of us.

There’s also a sequel from 1993 I haven’t seen, but should be interesting since it stars (among others) Mikhail Gorbachev.

82. Per un pugno di dollari (Sergio Leone, 1964, Italy)
A Fistful of Dollars

Memorable moment: The colonel lighting a match

A stranger comes to a small town torn to pieces by two warring factions of criminals. They hold what’s left of the town pretty much under hostage. The stranger seems to be a mercenary at first, but there seems to be something more going on.

First part of the loose Man With No Name trilogy. Leone just stole the story from Kurosawa (and the film company Toho successfully sued Leone over this, which is also the reason it took them three years to release the film in the US). Leone is a bit like the 90s here. Everything needs to be darker and edgier. Well, at least dirtier and grittier. Leone hadn’t quite mastered his style yet (he had only done a couple of very forgettable movies before this), but its the beginning of a small renaissance in the Western genre (although due to the late release in the US, the latter movies of the trilogy probably had much more influence there).

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