Aki’s Top 100 Movies 2015, pt. 2

Movies from 81 to 65.

Lets talk a little about the psychopathic side of directors.

There’s a John Ford movie on today’s list, starring Henry Fonda. They made several movies together, but the partnership fell apart, when Ford assaulted Fonda on set. I don’t remember the details, but it seems to me that its the price of good movies. Some well known directors, such as Hitchcock, Kubrick and the aforementioned Ford just seem to be very abusive towards their stars. Clouzot was known for torturing his wife on screen.

Still, I don’t seem to mind watching these movies and I don’t think most people are going to look at the behind the scenes stuff of these movies, and even if they did, it might be hard to find this particular stuff, since mostly behind the scenes information is given out as part of the marketing campaign and is thus closely controlled.

Of course, this behavior is wrong and its not a good thing that so many people are willing to endure it for the sake of their career. Having worked with any of the previously mentioned directors must have done wonders for one’s curriculum vitae.

81. Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, 2006, USA)

Memorable moment: The whole family dancing to Superfreak.

Richard’s career in the motivational speaking industry is going nowhere. His wife’s brother Frank has just tried to commit suicide over a relationship. His son from a previous marriage, Dwayne, has taken a vow of silence until he can get into flight school. His elderly father has been kicked out of the nursing home for using heroin and has moved in with the family. You know, normal family stuff. In this chaos, the daughter, Olive, has managed to win a qualifier for a big child beauty pageant. For various reasons no member of the family can be left behind, so they bring out an old van and go on a roadtrip.

Although its a feelgood story in the end, its a highly dysfunctional family. The family does have enough likable characters to make the viewer sympathize with their situation. Who doesn’t have black sheep in their family? (Well, if you think you don’t you are probably it.)

In the end, nothing really gets settled and there isn’t a real happy ending. Its more like this is your shitty life. Now deal with it. Kind of a downer for a feelgood movie actually, although its told in an uplifting way. They do learn to appreciate what they have and each other.

80. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright, 2010, USA)

Memorable moment: Vegan police, which is actually kind of stupid, because its just a ridiculous out for the main character, but still. Its memorable.

Scott Pilgrim is a young guy, who spends his time playing in a band and not really much else. He carries all the insecurities of youth and is so self-obsessed he can’t really see what’s happening in the lives of the people around him. Then he meets a girl and to get the girl, he must go through his Seven Evil Exes in a highly stylized series of fights.

Wright found a niche for Michael Cera, who I otherwise can’t stand. Since I don’t see him in anything anymore, maybe people have found out they can’t either. Anyhow, here he works. He can take on all the insecurities we can probably all sympathize with.

The world is great and fun. The whole movie is fun despite the depressing premise. I guess for me its about being able to relate to my own youth and find the light side of it. It wasn’t all serious. It just felt that way.

Oh yeah, and Anna Kendrick rocks, even though she doesn’t get much time in this film.

79. The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 1998, USA)

Memorable moment: Dude’s dream.

The Dude is a man, who enjoys his leisure. He has no ambitions outside of bowling. When a few thugs intrude on his peace in his home to collect a debt, mistakenly attributed to the Dude, the Dude is dragged into trying to find his namesake’s wife.

A pretty absurd, but great comedy. Dude is hardly a protagonist in this movie, as he doesn’t really push the plot forward. He just experiences it and goes with the flow, with different other people actually being active. Even the wife wasn’t really kidnapped. She just decided to leave. In the end, nothing really goes anywhere.

There’s supposedly a sequel coming, which would be a first for a Coen Brothers movie (well, there’s Fargo TV-series, but I don’t think that’s really a sequel, its more of spin-off). If such a movie does happen, I think the reason is that The Dude is strong enough character to carry another movie, while most other main characters from Coen movies are too quirky or eccentric to return.

78. Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988, USA)

Memorable moment: McClane having to walk through broken glass.

John McClane is a cop in New York, who’s wife has left him to work in LA. Trying to patch things up, John goes to LA for Christmas. He meets his wife in an office Christmas party, but the timing is pretty bad, because a group of apparent terrorists take over the building. John is left to clear the mess.

This was actually Alan Rickman’s first major role on the big screen. Hard to believe that since his role is one of the best remembered villains in the whole artform, probably only losing to various fantasy villains, such as Darth Vader. Bruce Willis was just beginning his movie career as well. Until then, he’d pretty much just worked on TV (not quite, but pretty much). They lead a varied cast of characters, where there are no easy take downs. Every one of the terrorists is almost like a miniboss, presenting their own unique challenge (the best attribute in the sequels as well). The claustrophobic environment of the skyscraper definitely helps.

Christmas movie royalty.

77. The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940, USA)

Memorable moment: The dance with the globe.

A jewish barber has been hospitalized since WWI (about 20 years ago) and is just now returning home to learn that the new dictator of the land, Hynkel, has been persecuting his people. Meanwhile, Hynkel is having his own problems as the visiting dictator Napaloni is upstaging him in every turn.

Chaplin does a double starring role here as both the Hitler-analogue and the jew trying to help his people.

Some of the humor is outdated and much of it has been redone numerous times, but that’s what happens when you make something as ingenious as this. It definitely still works. Chaplin knew what he was doing. Did anyone else have the courage to do the same at the time? Probably, but no one with the same high profile.

In many ways, its as timely as ever. What we need is making fun of war, radical far right and imperialism. Leaders need this kind of criticism. Its always been the job of the clergy to decide upon the truth, but its also always been the job of the comedians to tell how things really are.

76. Ying xiong (Yimou Zhang, 2002, China)

Memorable moment: Our Hero’s death.

A hero who has killed the worst enemies of the emperor out to conquer all the nations out there, is recounting his story to the emperor himself.

Grouching Tiger Hidden Dragon might be better known of these highly stylized martial arts movies, but this one is the best. I especially like the ending, where (spoiler!) the hero, who is actually there to assassinate the emperor, decides in the end that his goal is wrong and then dies without resisting in order to let, whatever needs to happen, happen. Sure, it might be designed to be Chinese propaganda, but its an ending that works, because its different, yet emotionally fulfilling.

To me, its always great when a hero can make such a personal sacrifice for the bigger good. I wouldn’t do it myself, ever, but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect doing just that (at least for the right cause, which I’m not actually sure the Hero is doing, but still).

75. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969, USA)

Memorable moment: The remaining gang members walking on their way to the final battle.

The Wild West is waning, but these guys don’t really have anywhere else to go, so they take a job to steal some weapons for the Mexican army. Neither party really trusts the other.

There’s a scene in this movie with 122 deaths. What more do you need to know? Its not only that, the whole movie is quite hectic. It has a thousands of cuts, which keep you on your toes when you need it.

According to John Wayne, this movie destroyed the myth of the old west. Apparently he hadn’t been watching movies very actively for a while, as that had been going on since at least 1943 (with Ox-Bow Incident). Maybe this was the final nail in the coffin.

The characters are very iconic. They’ve seen it all, and can’t simply settle down, because there’s nowhere to settle down to. They do what they need to, but in the end, they realize their part in the myth, although probably a bit too late and also in a somewhat meaningless way, but at least they go down fightning, which is probably the best they can do.

74. Twelve Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995, USA)

Memorable moment: The interrogation scene, where the scientists in the future are examining Cole.

James Cole is a prisoner somewhere in the near future. What little remains of human population lives underground, using their prison population to go above, to find clues as to what happened. After having shown some ability in this department, Cole is sent back in time to stop the end of the world. Instead, Cole ends up in a mental hospital, where he meets another patient and a doctor who are sympathetic to him, if not his cause.

In the end, did Cole’s antics actually cause the end of the world?

Is Cole really crazy? Probably not, but at times it really is hard to say (although there is pretty clear evidence in the film that he is not). The good part is that Cole is not sure himself. After all, if everyone tells you you are crazy, who are you to say otherwise? Maybe you did hallucinate something and maybe your brain isn’t working right. After all, all you have is your brain telling itself its not wrong.

73. To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962, USA)

Memorable moment: Finch going down to stand up to the crowd out for the suspects blood.

Scout and Jem are two kids growing up in the South during the depression. Their mother has died and they live with their lawyer father, Atticus Finch. Finch is a stout defender of people’s rights and when a black man is wrongly accused of raping a white woman, its up to Finch to defend him despite all the problems he faces and teach his kids plenty of important lessons in the meantime.

Its told from the kids viewpoint, so its kind of naive and simple, but the message is great and memorable. Finch is a great hero I’d like to see more in movies, although he’s probably too idealistic and perfect for the modern day.

72. 3 idiots (Rajkumar Hirani, 2009, India)

Memorable moment: A song coming to an abrupt end when the students find their friend’s body after he killed himself.

Farhan and Raju meet Chatur, thinking they are going to meet Rancho, their long time friend. Instead, Chatur, their competitor from their days at college, hints at knowing where they could find Rancho. Then, we see flashbacks about their time back in the day, when Rancho helped them find themselves.

Feels like Aamir Khan stars in about 80% of all Indian movies. Actually, he’s just probably the one star of Indian cinema that’s known to us in the west, and thus most of the movies that get exported are his.

Anyhow, this is in a way a pretty basic Indian movie. Its long, has a number of musical performances, and doesn’t really contain itself in one genre. Its basically just a fun movie with a pretty basic story, but its well told.

71. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007, USA)

Memorable moment: I drink your milkshake. (An actual quote from congressional hearing.)

Daniel Plainview is a prospector. After finally striking oil, he begins to build a fortune. With the help of his adopted son, H.W., he finds the crown jewel of his empire, ‘an ocean of oil’, but there’s opposition and competition, not only in the form of other oil companies, but in the form of a young man, who uses religion to manipulate the locals and Plainview’s workers. After all the sacrifices he has made, Plainview is not about to give in and is indeed ready to do anything, growing more ruthless and amoral over his long career.

I guess the key here is that Plainview clearly has attributes we respect. He is hardworking and goes through many problems in his quest. He even adopts the kid of one of his dead workers. We want to like him, but we also see the dark side of his personality. This dichotomy elevates the film, especially with Daniel Day-Lewis in the part.

It doesn’t hurt that the movie is gorgeously shot and gives an important historical point of view, which is at least in some ways topical today.

70. Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950, USA)

Memorable moment: The ‘waxworks’, including Buster Keaton as Himself.

Joe Gillis is a screenwriter, who has hit hard times as of late. While trying to evade repo men who are after his car, he stumbles upon an old mansion, inhabited by Norma Desmond, a star of the silent era, who still dreams of glory after dropping off the limelight. Gillis seizes the opportunity for employment and exploits her delusions with lethal consequences (as we see in the beginning of the film as the film is told in a flashback).

Many of the stars of the silent era found the transfer to sound difficult and only a few careers survived, making the premise a little obscure, but effective. Gloria Swanson was one of these stars, making her a perfect actress for the job (although there were plenty, who were better known). She had hardly worked since the early thirties. William Holden is also a perfect seedy writer, only caring about his career, while still losing a part of his identity in the process of working for Norma.

The Waxworks (Norma’s friends) are especially poignant.

69. La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954, Italy)

Memorable moment: Gelsomina’s smile when trying on outfits for the first time.

Gelsomina is a bit special. Her father has left and the rest of the family lives in poverty, so her mother is happy to sell her off to Zampano, a travelling performer, for a paltry 10000 lires and some food. The work intrigues Gelsomina, but Zampano’s womanizing and short temper make the life unbearable, until they join a circus, where she meets a trapeze artist, who shows him another side to the life on the road.

Gelsomina is in many ways reminiscent of Chaplin’s Tramp character (but is actually a part of a much older clown tradition of the Auguste) in her innocence and clumsy interactions with the world. Life with Zampano definitely doesn’t suit her and in her inexperience her spirit is all but crushed.

The story has a tragic end, as is appropriate, but at its heart its a beautiful story and in my mind easily Fellini’s best movie.

68. Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder, 1953, USA)

Memorable moment: The scene in the beginning where Seften coolly bets against two inmates making it during their prison escape.

Sefton is a black marketeer in a POW camp in Germany during WWII. When things go bad during an escape attempt, he is automatically suspected by his countrymen, because of his apparent cozy relationship with the Germans. Sefton needs to manipulate the situation to find the real culprit and to maneuver himself out of the camp (as well as make a hefty amount of money doing it).

I don’t like the light-hearted interludes in this movie (except when the humor goes really dark), but otherwise its a solid thriller. There’s no deep and involved detecting done (and Sefton actually sort of stumbles on the culprit), but its enough. I enjoy the way POWs are portrayed (save for the humor, again). They are not heroic, even though they try to maintain a veneer of patriotism. They just try to pass the time the best they can. Even the early escape attempt is pretty much just about fighting boredom, even if it does have grave consequences.

Sure, there are moments of patriotism, but you can live with those.

67. The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940, USA)

Memorable moment: Casey’s speech in the woods before his death.

During the Dust Bowl Tom Joad returns home after a four-year stint in a penitentiary to find his family ready to move out of their ancestral home. They set out for California with promises of jobs, but they are not alone and things aren’t going to be easy. Many people are looking to drive them out fearing for their own economic well-being, many others are looking to exploit their moment of weakness (often with official back up). There are some people looking to help them as well, but not very many.

Its pretty topical for us Finns (and many people all over the world), as there’s currently a huge influx of refugees from the Middle East. Although most of them are escaping violence, the root of that violence is actually economic (and largely related to climate change, which lead to political unrest in Syria and which in turn lead to ISIS) and the response by locals is all too often quite similar to that of the people of California in this story. Its easy to be sympathetic of the Oakies in the movie, but it doesn’t necessarily translate very well into real life.

We should learn from such movies. Especially about ourselves. Its what art is supposed to be about (of course entertainment is also a big thing, but these don’t have to be mutually exclusive).

66. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Trey Parker, 1999, USA)

Memorable moment: Satan singing about his importance in the world.

Kenny dies once again and the parents of South Park attribute the death to the recent quite foul Terrence & Phillip movie. In a true South Park fashion, they overdo their reaction banning the duo from the country and implanting chips that control cursing into children (well, Cartman). The kids have to stop their parents before its too late and Satan rises from hell.

What can I say? Its funny, but it also raises points in a very deliberately overt and obvious way.

65. Se7en (David Fincher, 1995, USA)

Memorable moment: John Doe’s notebooks. Which have actually been meticulously written full of stuff by someone in the art department.

Mills is a new detective partnered with Somerset, who is on his way out. Together they stumble onto horrific a series of murders themed around seven deadly sins.

Fincher came out of the gates strong. This was only his second feature (after Alien 3), but establishes him as one of the modern day masters of the form. He clearly has his own style, which serves him well, but its subtle enough to work for mainstream audiences.

What stands out here is the attention to details. Everything has been planned out meticulously. There’s an extra on the DVD about how they wrote John Doe’s diaries, even if they are shown only for a few moments in the movie. Though the world seems like our own, its a nightmarish place. Even Mills’s supposed safe haven (his home) is actually just as stressful as the outside world due to trains running frequently right next to the apartment.

But its not only the details of the sets and the props, but the details of the story and how its told. Fincher knows how to build an atmosphere. Those slight movements of camera or angles which just work on a subliminal level. The plot is also great. John Doe has an agenda that’s pretty incomprehensible for anyone, but it comes together in a darkly beautiful way in the end.

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