Aki’s Top 100 Movies 2015, pt. 4

Movies 49-37.

My current movie guide: 366 Weird Movies. The basic idea is that they try to find a weird movie for every day of the year (including leap days). In order to compile this list, they go through all sorts of peculiar stuff. Sure, they works of well known cult directors, such as David Lynch or Terry Gilliam on there, but they also have exploitation movies, extremely artsy stuff, horror, animation, movies from old European masters and so forth.

It might not all be good, I’ve seen around 150 of the 220 or so movies on the list. Many of them are not good, some are utter garbage, but they are always still worth it, because they are different.

Of course, if you’re not into body horror, Swedish humor, or drug-fueled adventures, you should probably tread carefully here, but on the other hand, if you enjoy transgression, hallucinatory sequences or weird sexual fetishes, you’re welcome.

49. La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995, France)
Hate

Memorable moment: Couple of cops teaching a rookie interrogation techniques.

Vinz, Hubert and Said are three young men from the worst suburbs of Paris. The police are there to keep them in line. There’s no illusion of civil service. Its the day after a riot and nerves are running high all around, especially Hubert’s who’s gym was thrashed. Vinz, on the other hand, found a gun lost by a police officer, and he’s planning on using it to avenge the injuries inflicted upon their friend, who’s in the hospital in a coma. Hubert on the other hand wants to get out of the estate, but isn’t quite sure how to do it.

I find it funny that the director of this movie is tha male romantic lead in Amelie. Also, Vincent Cassel, one of the rebellious youths of this movie, now plays middle-aged men in authority positions (see Black Swan for example). Makes me feel old in a way nothing else does.

The three leads are all from different ethnic groups (one arab, one black, one jew), but they don’t seem to care. However, all the police are white (not all, but most), so there’s a clear delineation between minorities and the majority. Its easy to see how they would think all whites are oppressing them, when all the white they encounter definitely are.

Understandably, tensions are high, as the young men don’t have much to do. They are unemployed and don’t have much money, so they just sit around looking for outlets for their frustration. Most of the trade in the estate seems to be of stolen goods and drugs are rampant.

Its not a pretty picture, but it works, because it feels so real and you can understand the men and their situation. At least somewhat.

48. Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961, Japan)

Memorable moment: Sanjuro handing the gun back to the man who just shot him.

A samurai (or The Samurai) comes to town and witnesses its sorry state. Two competing gangs have been terrorising the townfolk and each other. They are in a stalemate and neither party wants to take the initiative, because of the risks involved. Sanjuro (the name the samurai takes almost as a joke) decides to fight the situation in his own way. He begins to work at siccing the gangs into acting against each other by using their paranoia and greed against themselves.

The third time this story is on the list, but this is the original. Kurosawa seems to have a way of making movies of which westerners want to make their own versions, which probably stems from his own western influences.

Kurosawa really knows how to build atmosphere. From the dust bellowing in the beginning to the claustrophobic rooms to the barren main street of the town everything is working towards telling us what kind of a place this town really is. The people (the few remaining) are afraid and for a good reason. In the short term, Sanjuro isn’t really helping, but perhaps he can do something for them in the long term.

47. Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg, 1967, USA)

Memorable moment: The speech quoted in Guns’n’Roses’s Civil War.

Luke is put into prison, but he isn’t really the type to do well there, so he comes up with ways to pass time, even if those ways aren’t very popular among the guards. This leads the guards to systematically work to break him.

Luke is in a poor position. Much of his acting up is about peer pressure. He needs to be the clown to gain respect and he the other prisoners seem to live through him, not having to take those same risks themselves. Luke brings life to the chain gang, but only by basically sacrificing himself. On the other hand, he might not have survived the experience intact anyhow.

Freedom is an interesting theme for a movie and its done very well here. Luke has lost his, but is trying to compensate for it as best he can, even though conforming would clearly be better for him, or at least for his survival. Is freedom important enough to die for? Especially if we are not talking about freedom in a larger context, but simply personal freedom of one individual.

46. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988, Italy)
Cinema Paradiso

Memorable moment: Salvatore watching a reel he received from Alfredo with all parts censored from the movies on behest of the town priest as pornographic (in other words, mostly on-screen kisses from the 40s).

An elderly woman is trying to reach her son, Salvatore. Salvatore hasn’t seen or spoken to her in decades, but she needs to tell him Alfredo has died and his funeral is the next day. This prompts Salvatore to return to his hometown and we get to see his history with Alfredo.

Alfredo was the projectionist at Cinema Paradiso, the local movie theatre. Salvatore fell in love with movies early on and spent a lot of time with Alfredo. Salvatore also falls in love and whatever, but that’s not really the important part. The most important character in the movie is actually the movie house itself, which is not important to Salvatore alone, but instead its the center of the town, where everyone gathers not only for entertainment, but also for news, to fall in love and trading. Whatever you need.

The movies are present throughout. Even when not in the theatre, there’s often a reel or a movie poster somewhere in the picture.

My version of the DVD only has Swedish and Norwegian subtitles, which is in a way problematic, as my Swedish is, shall we say, lacking, but on the other hand, I understand enough. Its not a film about the dialogue. Its actually (from what I understood from the subtitles) pretty simplistic and I’ve managed well without. Even if I miss some of it, its still my 46. favorite film of all time.

45. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (F.W. Murnau, 1922, Germany)
Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror

Memorable moment: First sight of Orlok in all his vampiric glory outside of Hutter’s room.

Count Orlok lives in Transylvania in isolation. He has expressed interest in buying a house in Wisbourg, Germany. One Mr. Hutter is sent to make the deal on a house right next to Hutter’s own. While in Orlok’s castle, Hutter learns that Orlok is a vampire, but Hutter is unable to escape, while Orlok leaves for Wisbourg and Hutter’s wife, Ellen, leaving a trail of death on his way.

It doesn’t say it on the tin, but this is Dracula and was ordered to be destroyed in the 20s for copyright violation. Gladly, some copies survived, although it was thought to be lost for a period of time.

All horror imagery represents something within humans. Or I should probably say all good and well-crafted horror imagery represents something. Despite his quite ugly appearance, Nosferatu represents sexuality. Ellen is described as innocent, which might even mean her marriage to Hutter hasn’t been consumated. Ellen longs for sexual release and Orlok is there for that purpose. Sure, a lot of people die in the meanwhile, but that’s how sexuality is portrayed a lot of the time: as something dangerous.

Sadly, the music for the movie is lost, so each time I watch this, I get to choose between silence and a horrible soundtrack from some unknown composer. Or the commentary track.

44. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011, UK)

Memorable moment: Smiley letting a bee out of a car. Simple, but effective.

Smiley is forced into retirement from British intelligence after a British agent dies at the hands of Soviet agents while on a job in Hungary.. That doesn’t last long, though, as its become evident that there’s a mole in the highest echelons of the organization and he’s brought back to find the leak.

I don’t know if this is common real world parlance, but the headquarters of the British intelligence is known colloquially as the Circus (I love all the other little nicknames and euphemisms they use), which is a reference to the chaos underneath the sophisticated facade of the organization. Everything seems to be falling apart at the seams. Even Smiley’s personal life is horrible, as he’s being cuckolded by his wife. Others are alcoholic, hiding their sexuality, or simply stressed out. Everyone is damaged, which is often the reason why they were chosen for the job. The very thing that makes them desirable makes them unreliable as well.

It all feels very real. This is no Bond movie. Its all about slowly forming some sort of conclusion based on tenuous evidence from disparate points of view. And its all wonderfully compelling. You want to meet these characters as they traverse the paranoid world they inhabit. Their job is to keep their country safe, but to them its a game. Perhaps they need to think of it like that to keep themselves at least somewhat sane.

43. Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979, UK)

Memorable moment: The uplifting song in the end while everyone is dying on their crosses.

Brian’s life parallel’s that of a certain religious figure from around the beginning of the Common Era, which itself parallel’s stories of other messiahs. Well, plus some funny parts.

When I was younger, it was the zaniness that mostly worked for me, but as I’ve grown older, its more about the anti-authoritarian stance the film takes. Its not only about the religion, or even the Romans, but also the intellectuals (or wanna-be intellectuals) of the resistance movement, who are far from effective and more prone to squabbling amongst themselves and with other similar movements. John Cleese excels in these roles of authoritarian without a clue as always.

And its still funny in a way only Monty Python knows how. I’ve always loved the graffiti gag, but there’s little nuggets of humor gold laid through-out the movie.

Part of my love for this movie probably stems from the pretty absurd criticism of the movie from religious authorities, as well as its staunch defence by the authors. Comedy has its place in the world and the Python crew is more than capable of preaching its importance. It may have been Huizinga, who added comedians to the traditional three-tiered model of society. Worker toil, nobility fights and the priests guard the truth, but comedians have the special right to show how absurd our world really is. The Pythons are the epitome of that.

42. Mononoke-hime (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997, Japan)
Princess Mononoke

Memorable moment: Ashitaka’s first encounter with San, as her face is covered in blood.

Note: I’m basing this on the Neil Gaiman rendition of the story. I don’t know how closely it resembles the original. Of course, there’s limitations, because the animation is still the same, but I’ve seen pretty large liberties taken between translations of other Miyazaki movies, so you never know.

Prince Ashitaka is wounded by a strange beast when he stops it from attacking his village. Ashitaka is cursed through the wound and is banished to find a cure. His quest leads him to Tatara, a mining colony in a war against the forest gods, a war neither party can really win.

Easily the darkest and most adult of all Miyazaki’s movies. Of course this is relative and its not actually that dark. I do love the world, especially San, the Princess Mononoke of the title, who lives with the wolves. Miyazaki’s designs of the beasts is great, as usual. I also like the forest spirits and their weird sense of humor.

Its not a big secret, but the movie is about nature conservation. The people of Tatara need to find a way to reconcile their work with the gods of the forest before they strip the landscape bare, but there is no communication, so a peaceful resolution is pretty much impossible. But neither side is evil. Lady Eboshi, the owner of Tatara, is very protective of her people and has freed plenty of women from forced prostitution to work for her and gave lepers a place in society. On the other side, the forest gods simply want to protect their environs. Both could benefit from working together, but its never going to happen without a confrontation.

Prince Ashitaki is more of a witness than anything else. He doesn’t have much room to be proactive, since the scope of the situation is beyond him, but we need such a viewpoint character. It just makes the story run smoother.

41. In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009, UK)

Memorable moment: Pick any of Malcolm’s rants.

A British politician makes an off-handed remark trying to dodge a question about war. Both sides of the question (those who want war and those who want to avoid it) use it as a rallying cry for their side and soon enough he’s in over his head in international politics. He’s dragged into Washington, where he must contend with the chaos of the situation. His staff is facing their own problems with the local government officials.

A very good political satire based on a British TV-series called The Thick of It, although only one of the central characters is in the same role in both the movie and the series. Its about the pressures politicians face when they are trying to do the right thing, but lack the will and the spine to do what they need to.

A very black comedy, with plenty of improvisation, if that’s your thing. Especially Malcolm is magnificent in his role as the foul-mouthed enforcer of the party (as in the TV-series).

Malcolm is a strange character. In a way, he’s the antagonist, because he is always so aggressive towards the protagonist (if the movie even has one, because no one seems to be enough in control to move the plot forward), but on the other hand, he is on the same side. Its just that he’s style is what it is. And that’s what make it all so gloriously funny.

40. Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001, France)
Amélie

Memorable moment: The fifteen concurrent orgasms.

Amelie was raised in a difficult situation and was thus lonely and eccentric, although its emphasized that most people are pretty much the same. One day she finds a child’s stash hidden by the a previous occupant of her apartment. She decides to return it to its owner and if he’s happy, she’ll be good for the rest of her life, while if he’s not, she’ll be bad. Of course, he’s elated and she decides to help everyone around her (although her methods are such that you can’t help but wonder whether ‘being bad’ would have been basically the same). One of the people she tries to help is a mysterious man, who collects shredded photos from photobooths. Since they are both unconventional enough, she starts to fall in love.

Its Jeunet, which shows in the soft colors and quirky world, where the biggest sin is being obnoxious and the obnoxious people get their come-uppings (usually with Amelie’s help). Its a feelgood movie, and even though its probably not for everyone, I do enjoy these movies every now and then.

39. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008, UK)

Memorable moment: When we finally get to see the reason why Ray is so distraught.

Ray and Ken have come to Bruges to hide after a hired kill. Ray hates it and is having second thoughts about his career choice after his first job, while Ken is having the time of his life until their boss, Harry, tells him to kill Ray.

Black comedy is definitely one of my things. It doesn’t come much blacker than this. Ray likes to make fun of a dwarf, who is into hard drugs, such as horse tranquilizers, and fantasizes about taking down the white man when high. But like any (or at least most) good comedy, it has a soul and its not only about being funny. Quite the opposite, actually. There’s nothing funny about Ray’s suicidal thoughts. The contrast works for me. Even his suicide attempt happens in a children’s playground.

I like the interactions of the two main characters. Harry is a bit too much, or would be if this was a straigh action movie, but he comes off alright in this context. Ken’s job as the straight man to both bipolar Ray and the quite aggressive Harry seems quite difficult, but Gleason makes it work with his peculiar brand of cool.

Fun fact: Jordan Prentice, the dwarf in the movie, was also one of the actors who played Howard the Duck.

38. 4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile (Cristian Mungiu, 2007, Romania)
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

Memorable moment: Otilia’s reaction to the sex with the abortionist.

Gabita has gotten herself pregnant in 1980s Romania. Abortion is illegal (highly so), but she’s desperate and turns to her friend and roommate Otilia for help. She arranges the abortion, but everything is overly complicated.

Its a dire movie. This is the sort of thing where European movies shine compared to Hollywood fare. So much is told simply with extended shots of Otilia’s face in an uncomfortable situation.

This might require some background: For whatever reason, abortion was the major form of contraception before mid-60s (and actually still is with 46% of pregnancies being terminated), but then the communist government decided they wanted to increase fertility, and thus forbade it. During Ceaucescu’s reign, the enforcement of these laws was very harsh and people were actively watched for signs of pregnancy to keep people from having abortions. Of course, this lead to plenty of unwanted children being born and put into orphanages, which Ceaucescu then sold for adoption internationally.

Could someone just give them condoms?

But yeah, you can see why this is such a heavy movie.

37. A torinoi lo (Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky, 2011, Hungary)
The Turin Horse

Memorable moment: Following the horse in the beginning.

The story goes that Nieztche went crazy after defending a horse in Turin from its abusive owner. This is supposedly what happened to the horse after that, but the horse doesn’t have much to do. Its more about an elder man and his unmarried daughter living in their farm. Their situation is bad as it is, but then things get even worse, as they try to survive their simply daily life and keep up the routines as the world is falling apart around them, symbolized by the horse and its poor health.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something fascinating about this. Many of the scenes are very long. Probably overly long in most contexts, but here they work. The lives of the pair is very simple. Their diet consists of only potateas with salt and a bit of palinka for the father. They don’t have any entertainment. When the work is done, they just sit around waiting to go to bed. You just get dragged into its emptiness, but they are not willing to let go. Its survival for survival’s sake.

The movie is around 150 minutes long, but only has around 30 takes in it. This means each take is an average of five minutes long. It takes a lot to make that work, but it does. Beautifully.

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