Aki’s Top 100 Movies 2015, pt. 3

Movies 64-50.

Why don’t I like Star Wars? Its a complicated question. Its not that I don’t like the first two movies, but as a whole, I’m not a big fan. I don’t even consider those two movies among my favorites (they are not on this list).

The thing is, if I had been born in say 1970, I’d probably love Star Wars. In 1977, Vietnam War was finally over, but the arts were still dwelling in the post-Vietnam misery. People were looking for something fun and enjoyable to counterbalance the drama and horror they had been subjected to. Then came Star Wars (and the number two movie of 1977 was actually Smokie and the Bandit), which brought adventure in a new way into movies.

So, yeah, if I had been there, I would have loved it too. Now, its an interesting movie from a historical perspective. Its a fairly good adventure movie and its immediate sequel is a lot better, but they don’t speak to me and for me to really like a movie, it should.

I’m guessing most Star Wars fandom stems from its popularity. Popularity just breeding more popularity. Its okay to like it. The masses have spoken and in certain circles conforming by liking the franchise is a good way to differentiate yourself from the rest of the population. I don’t need this. I never felt the need for approval in this way.

I’m not the biggest fan of Star Wars. I’ll be an individual in my own way, thank you. I don’t need Star Wars for that.

On with the show…

64. Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994, USA)

Memorable moment: Ed Wood meeting Orson Welles to discuss the burdens of making art.

Life of Ed Wood, a hilariously bad movie director, portrayed as an enthusiast, and his friendship with Bela Lugosi, a down and out legendary horror movie actor.

We all know Ed Wood’s movies are horrible (although I doubt most of us have even seen any) and they are (actually its pretty lazy to say they are the worst movies ever, because there’s so much shit been done over the years and his movies actually have some – small – merit to them), but he was always a fan of movies. That’s interesting and relatable. He did what he wanted to do and maybe he wasn’t very good at it and maybe he didn’t have the resources required, but (at least in this movie) he loved every minute of it, not letting anything get him down.

I don’t know how real this picture of him is, but its very interesting and sympathetic.

63. No Man’s Land (Danis Tanovic, 2001, Bosnia-Herzegovina)

Memorable moment: The older Serb placing the mine and explaining how it works.

Two soldiers are stuck in a trench between two sides during the Balkan War. They just happen to be from different sides. To further complicate things, the Bosnian killed a Serb in view of the Serb in the trench and the Serbs put a mine under a wounded friend of the Bosnian, who still happens to be in the trench as well. UN is called to resolve the situation, but are pretty powerless and mostly unwilling to do anything.

I love how bright the whole movie is (expect for a short scene in the beginning), while the subject matter is very dark. It isn’t classified as a comedy by IMDb (where its ‘war’ and ‘drama’), but with dark enough sense of humor, it can easily be seen as such. Its probably not ‘laughing-out-loud’ funny at any point, but there clearly is a humorous strain in there.

The dynamic between the two major characters is interesting. At times they bond, but its an uneasy situation and those bonds are easy to break, especially as they are on different sides.

62. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976, USA)

Memorable moment: People all over yelling ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ out of their windows.

Howard Beale is a news anchor with a dying career. After getting fired, he announces on his show that he is going to kill himself in a week, during his last show. At first, the network won’t have it, but new winds are blowing and soon enough Beale is on the air again as The Angry Prophet Denouncing the Hypocracies of Our Time. He becomes a huge hit and the network looks into developing more edgier shows, such as a reality program about the life of a terrorist organization.

Its very dark, which works for me. It gives a very dark picture of both corporate journalism and the audience. The network isn’t only producing entertainment rather than news, but they are corrupting all sorts of people for the sake of ratings.

61. Miller’s Crossing (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 1990, USA)

Memorable moment: The reveal of Bernie in Reagan’s apartment. Or Sam Raimi’s cameo, maybe.

Tom Reagan is the right hand man of a crime boss of Chicago during the prohibition. His boss, Leo, is in a difficult position, as another high-ranking member of the criminal world wants to kill Leo’s girlfriend’s brother. Reagan is for giving permission on this, but Leo says no and a war ensues. But things aren’t that simple. Reagan is balancing a lot of balls in order to maneuver the city into the direction he wants it to go and its anything but easy.

This story is on the list three times, although this is a very different take on it. I enjoy Reagan’s detachness and how people try to appeal to him, because he is seen as an important figure, even if his power is purely based on influence on one certain crime boss, which is tenuous at best, because they are both having an affair with the same woman.

There’s a lot going on and a weaker movie would suffer for it, but here, if you can’t quite follow everything, it probably just feels more real, because that’s the situation Reagan is in. Things keep happening beyond his control, but he must try his best to stay on top of it all.

60. Leon (Luc Besson, 1994, France)
The Professional

Memorable moment: Stansfield killing Mathilda’s family while listening to classical music.

The family of the 12-year-old Mathilda gets killed for her dad’s indiscretions with the drugs he’s supposed to be holding for Stansfield, who just happens to be a cop. Leon is very unwilling to get mixed up in the situation, but in the end can’t help but feel for the young girl. Mathilda, on the other hand, only wants revenge for his little brother (not really caring about the rest of her family). So, as Leon happens to be a professional hitman, Mathilda becomes his apprentice.

There are two very different cuts of this movie. One is a more straight-forward action flick and the other is an awkward love story between a preteen and a very naïve Leon, who is technically an adult, but can’t really handle himself like one. Each cut is very good in its own right.

Leon is a strange character. He is kind of slow, easily duped by his apparently only ‘friend’, lonely and caring, but also kind of paranoid and some sort of savant at killing. But he also needs someone to play off of. In this case, Mathilda, who brings out the good in him and gives his cold, competent killing some context, which ascends generic action movies.

59. Das Leben der Anderen (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006, Germany)
The Lives of Others

Memorable moment: I wouldn’t have thought this one would be so hard to choose, but I guess the lecture that starts the movie.

Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler is an interrogator for Stasi in the former East Germany. A high profile party official wants to get rid of a writer, who is involved with an actress the official is infatuated with, so Wiesler is tasked with investigating the official, but despite his faultless history as an investigator, he chooses to hide certain things from the documentation to protect the writer… or rather his lover.

The movie is an excellent portrayal of the paranoid days of Stasi. Everyone is always on their toes. Those, who are not, are in constant danger. Its doesn’t even matter whether you are guilty of anything. What matters is whether someone wants to get rid of you. They’ll find reasons, if they want to.

Wiesler is an intriguing figure. He’s very silent, usually letting others implicate themselves and not wanting to implicate himself. Usually when he does speak, its about establishing authority. He knows everything. He has a way to blackmail the authors neighbor into silence ready. Still, he clearly does have a humane side, which he has just been conditioned to not show. Ever.

The direction is a bit clumsy in some points, but the story and especially the subject are very compelling.

58. Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949, UK)

Memorable moment: The family of Alec Guinness’s being first introduced.

Louis was born of a noble woman who left her family to marry a musician. Now, after her death, Louis is determined to return to the family and take over their dukedom. There’s just eight people (all played by Alec Guinness) to get rid of first. He goes through a lot to reach his goal, planning many of the murders meticulously, working his way close to his victims through befriending them.

Its a black comedy, which mostly works because of the collected narrative of Louis himself. Although he is at times emotional within the story, he never lets it affect the way he tells it, staying completely detached.

Its interesting to see how dark comedy was willing to go back in the 40s. It probably helps that it isn’t a Hollywood production, which were hampered at the time by Hays Code. The main character, who we are supposed to identify and sympathize with, is killing people in a very calculated manner. And we love it. He is sticking it to the aristocracy, who let their elitism blind them to the suffering within their own family.

It still works, even though some of his victims are actually kind of good people. Its told in such a way that I don’t actually care.

57. Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011, UK)

Memorable moment: Jay’s reaction to whatever the priest was doing.

Jay is a professional killer who has not taken jobs for a while after an assignment where something went wrong. He’s money is running out, which in turn is causing problems within his marriage. His partner, Gal, comes to him with an offer, which of course is the list in the name. The first victim is a peculiar case, but they are forced to continue despite concerns.

Jay and Gal are not the slick professional killers typical to Hollywood, but just people who kill for a living. They have their problems, of different kinds, but one would assume people who kill for a living are not the most stable ones.

I doubt very many of you have seen this, so I won’t talk about what really happens here, as its one of those movies you shouldn’t spoil (in most cases it doesn’t really matter). The characters are easy to relate to, although not necessarily people you want to relate to. They carry the movie to its strange conclusion quite nicely.

There’s a lot of strange stuff going on even early in the movie and though its more subtle than similar movies usually are, this might be one you want to see again to see what you’ve missed first time around.

56. The Kid (Charlie Chaplin, 1922, USA)

Memorable moment: The Kid sitting on the steps with her mother with another baby in her hands, neither knowing of their relation.

The Tramp comes across an abandoned baby and decides to raise it as his own. He learns responsibility as he cares for the child and the two are happy despite living in squalor. Things get more complicated once officials find out about the situation of the child.

This might not be as high-concept as some of the other Chaplin movies, such as The Great Dictator or Modern Times, but it has a heart and its in the right place. The comedy set pieces in the movie might not work for the modern crowd the way they worked 93 years ago, but there is still something wonderfully naïve about them. You can disregard them completely anyhow and simply enjoy the story.

55. Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008, USA)

Memorable moment: Walt facing his family at a funeral.

Walt, an old widow, who has alienated his children, is pretty sick of his old neighborhood being overrun by foreigners. However, he might appear to be an asshole, but he does have a sense of justice, which forces him to step in when witnessing certain situations. When a young Hmong man is pressured into trying to steal Walt’s priced car, he accepts a recompensation of working for him, which leads the two men into an unconventional friendship, which in turn lead him to question his attitudes and ultimately to his demise.

Where Unforgiven was a sort of story of the Man with No Name returning from retirement, this is more like Dirty Harry coming back for one more fight, although Walt wasn’t a cop. He does have combat experience from Korea.

Walt is man with very strict and somewhat dated idea of masculinity and how things should be. This isn’t always appreciated by the people around him, but we, as viewer’s, can appreciate his desire to protect his way of life, especially since he isn’t really harming anyone. Quite the opposite. It might take him a while to come around, but he does see that other people have a right to protect their way of life as well.

54. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004, USA)

Memorable moment: Joel trying to save the memories within his mind while those memories are falling apart around him.

Joel is an awkward and depressed man. For whatever reason, he decides to skip work and go to the beach. There he meets Clementine, with whom he immediately connects with. It doesn’t end well when she completely ignores her at her work and is clearly involved with another man. Turns out she has removed him from her memory through a treatment. Joel decides to follow suit and get rid of all memories of her, but its not that simple as the memories of her being erased bring back feelings. Meanwhile, one of the technicians has been manipulating Clementine into a relationship with the information he has gathered from both of their processes.

In a way its a pretty dark vision of the future. We want to be happy, so we get rid of unhappy memories. The problem of course being that we need those memories, because they make us who we are. Turns out, people are abusing this technology in a variety of ways. Still, the main characters learn all sorts of things about themselves and humanity wins out in the end.

Gondry gets in his usual camera-based tricks, which bring a unique feel to the movie. It works especially well when we are in Joel’s memories. They are disjointed as our memories are not as clear-cut as our reality (or at least how we like to think about our reality).

You don’t often see sci-fi romantic movies, but this is clearly one. Its a weird one, but that only makes it better.

53. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011, USA)

Memorable moment: The getaway in the beginning of the movie.

Our nameless hero is a stunt-driver-slash-mechanic-slash-getaway-driver. Well, he knows his way around cars anyhow. When he decides to help his ex-con neighbor, things don’t go well and soon spiral out of control.

Its easy to fall in love with the 80’s inspired soundtrack and the highly stylized world of Drive. The main character is an enigma, but you can see he’s heart is sort of in the right place. He might not always know what the right thing to do is, but he tries his best.

He clearly is a risk-taker, but wants to have control over the risks he takes. He clearly doesn’t want others messing with what he is doing. And he seems to be right. Things go his way as long as he is in control of the situation. Of course, to make a movie work this well, he can’t be in control all the time.

52. Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987, USA)

Memorable moment: The murder-suicide.

JT Davis, quickly dubbed Joker, goes through hard marine basic training and goes on to become a military journalist, experiencing the Tet Offensive among other things. He sees the reactions of the locals, as well as the degenerate way his own countrymen try to cope with the situation.

Its all about the brutality of the military machine. First, they do their best to take away your individuality (the shaving of the heads scene in the beginning) and go on to brainwash the marine ethos into you. Then the fun begins when they move you to a foreign country to kill people in the name of a pretty abstract idea. And those people just won’t quit.

This is a very good depiction of all that. It feels exaggerated, and probably is, especially R. Lee Ermey’s character, but there’s a seed of truth to it. The way people are beaten into becoming a caricature of a man seems like something that could happen. I remember my own days in the army (mandatory eight months of training) and there was a certain poorly aimed macho-ism going on. These people just have to take a step or two more than I ever did.

51. Four Lions (Chris Morris, 2010, UK)

Memorable moment: The women in the closet.

Four jihadists in England fight their war very incompetently. They even try to get training, but that falls apart too. Even their small group has ideological differences, which leads to all sorts of inner turmoil. They aren’t all even that fundamental, but still feel down and out enough to fight back against a society that doesn’t even know of their struggle.

A very, very black comedy, like so many other movies on this list. There are times when its a bit too slapsticky, but they are few and far between. Most of the time its a great satire, but again its very, very dark. It also goes deep into Muslim culture, teaching us that not all Muslim’s are alike.

Chris Morris has since moved on to directing US sitcoms (at least one), but this is more closely related to the weird shit he did with Jam and Brass Eye. Its not as experimental with its technique, rather relying on handheld cameras and a simpler approach.

We do need transgressive visionaries like Morris. Good comedy is about pushing the limits and making us squirm just a little, maybe accepting a new viewpoint while at it.

50. Harvey (Henry Koster, 1950, USA)

Memorable moment: Elwood and Harvey at a bar.

Elwood P. Dowd is a harmless, middle-aged man, who just happens to have an imaginary friend in the form of a huge rabbit named Harvey. For this reason, he is an embarrasment to his family, especially his niece’s attempts to find a husband, so they are eager to put him into a mental hospital, just in case, but things don’t go quite as expected.

The whimsical and harmless nature of the humor in the movie is not the kind that usually appeals to me, but somehow it works in this feelgood comedy. Harvey (the rabbit) is a trickster. Its not malicious, but wants to protect his friend the best it can. The way it can, is causing chaos through quite simple tricks, such as stealing objects or leading people into situations where mistakes happen.

One of the nice things about the movie is that the picture is often framed in such a way that it includes Harvey, even if you can’t ever actually see Harvey. A good, subliminal trick to make us think about the non-existent character.

Dowd says Harvey is his best friend and this is probably true, but it seems that Harvey’s influence is two-fold. On one hand, Harvey is helping Dowd help people, but on the other, Harvey keeps Dowd from growing up. Dowd is an alcoholic, who trusts everyone, but those close to him seem to think that he was a gifted child. If so, he clearly was never able to anything with his gifts.

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