We’re getting close to a finish here, movies 9-5.
I finally finished all the descriptions for the list. The total number of words for the description of these movies: 20332. That’s not even counting the memorable moments, titles, other information or these random thoughts in the beginning of each part. Minimum length of a novella is often thought to be 20000. I may have overdone this.
Is anyone going to read all this? Probably not. Some people will skim through the list and maybe read what I’ve written about a favorite of theirs or some movie they’ve never heard of. Does this matter to me? No. Not at all.
In the end, I’m doing this for myself. Like I said in the introduction, I want to know how my taste has evolved. Also, I just need these little projects. Its just something with a clear goal and a scope I can handle. This all took quite a bit of time, especially since I watched quite a few movies twice (once to ascertain how I’d like to place them, second time so that I don’t miss anything important when writing about them).
Its all in good fun, although at some point the second round began to feel like a chore. The main problem was that I had to rewatch movies that didn’t really fit the mood I was in, which can be rough. Still, I’m glad I did all this. Again.
9. Shichinin no samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954, Japan)
Memorable moment: Kyūzō’s death, which symbolizes the end of the swordsman as he is killed by gunfire. (Although, if I remember my history correctly, the samurai class forbade guns around this time, setting Japan back quite a bit in terms of technology.)
A village is being continually harassed by a group of bandits. The villagers decide to get themselves some protection in the form of some cheap ronins. However, the professionals can’t do it alone. They need help from the villagers, which leads to bonding between the two parties as they plan and train for the confrontation.
I don’t know how many times this has been remade (the most famous versions probably being The Magnificent Seven and Bug’s Life), but its quite a few. The basic idea is very good in its simplicity and easily transported into any setting. Certain themes might be fairly hard to adapt, such as the rise of technology and the destruction of traditional swordsman in its wake, leaving these professional warriors without a reason to exist (although, in reality, the samurai protected their status for a very long time by forbidding the use of gunpowder).
The characters are a well written lot. We have quite distinct personalities with the veteran, traditionalist, crazed-out warrior, and so forth. Each has their moment to shine and their place in the whole.
The best part is the action sequences. They aren’t overly stylized dances with swords, but rather abrupt, but well choreographed moments of not very glorious death. Kyūzō, who is the best swordsman among the bunch, doesn’t even see his killer as he’s shot. Others die in similarly inglorious ways.
8. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994, USA)
Memorable moment: Bud walking in on the rape scene.
A hitman, Jules, has a life-changing experience, when he and his partner are shot repeatedly at from a close range, but none of the bullets hit. A boxer, Bud, is paid to lose a fight, but decides he’d rather use this one opportunity to bet on himself and just leave town with his wife, leaving an angry mobster behind. A mobster, Vincent, goes out on the town with his bosses wife. The stories are tied together, but only for the sake of the movie.
The reason this is so high on the list is probably the complications these people face and how they react to them. Jules has to contend with his partner shooting someone in the head in their car in the middle of LA, and gets into the middle of a robbery at a restaurant. Bud hits the mobster with his car, but crashes the car, after which a very slow pursuit ensues. They are then caught by a shop owner and his cop friend to be used in their private sex games. Vincent’s date snorts heroin thinking its cocain and gets an overdose.
These are not epic problems. Actually, quite the opposite. They have a certain comedic element. Quite darkly comedic, but again, that works for me. Like all Tarantino’s early films, this is actually driven by dialogue. Its pretty much focusing on the moments most other movies aren’t willing to, and in those moments people tend to fill the silence by talking, which is exactly what they do here.
The movie has reputation for being bloody, but that actual number of killed is pretty low compared to most other movies. Sure, it doesn’t shy away from being graphic, but that only adds to the realistic feel of the movie.
7. Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997, UK)
Memorable moment: The ending, where the central characters conquer their fears in a quite expected, but still great way.
An unemployed former factory worker needs money to not lose his son. With no prospects, he decides to organize a strip show with people who you wouldn’t expect to take on such a venture.
So, this isn’t exactly a movie commonly seen is such lists as this, but since this is my list, its here. Its a feelgood movie. The best one out there. Its people who are out on their luck, but decide to take control of the situation in the only way they can come up with. No grand schemes here. Just people on a small venture putting themselves on the line in a very harmless, but daunting way. Meanwhile they have to learn a lot about themselves. Of course. All the usual things you need to see in a movie such as this.
In the end, I guess Brits just do this better than Americans, because the world seems very real. There doesn’t seem to be a set designer, who has gone through the streets, dressing them with garbage to make them feel more like a slum, when what’s actually there is quite enough.
6. The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987, USA)
Memorable moment: The sword fight between Westley and Inigo in the early part of the film.
A grandfather is reading his sick grandchild a book about true love. At first, the kid isn’t that interested, but after a while gets into the story, that story being the major thing of the movie. In the story, we have Westley, a young man desperately in love with Buttercup. When Westley goes out into the world to find his fortune, he disappears and Buttercup (thinking he’s dead) gets herself engaged to the prince of the land. When Westley returns in the guise of the legendary dread pirate Roberts, he needs to fix things with the aid of his newly met friends, the master swordsman Inigo Montoya out to avenge the death of his father, and the gigantic, kind-hearted Fezzik.
As with Full Monty, you might raise some questions here, but again, its all about sentimentality. I’m not even that sentimental, but I do have a romantic side. This movie manages to push just the right buttons by being funny in a slightly transgressive way, but maintains the feel of a light adventure throughout. The over-the-top characters are nice bonus, making this a very memorable movie indeed. In fact, Inigo is much more approachable than Westley, as a character and has probably had a bigger impact on popular culture.
I’m glad the movie is getting the recognition it was due. Ten years ago, when I first made this list and put this movie in the top ten then as well, it was seen as a joke. Not anymore. Now its part of the geek canon of movies. A must-see for everyone. Probably not in the same way as Star Wars or Holy Grail, but getting close.
5. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992, USA)
Memorable moment: Mr. Blonde torturing the cop to the sounds of the 70s.
A group of criminals goes out for a robbery. However, one of them is actually an undercover cop. After the robbery goes horribly wrong, its time to figure out what went wrong. The criminals have been brought together for the job by an outside force, so they don’t really know each other, which creates its own set of problems as makeshift alliances are born.
Tarantino’s debut is still his best movie (at least to me). Probably because back then he used to have to self-edit somewhat, whereas now his movies seem like he can’t kill his darlings (meaning he likes an idea and puts it in his movie whether it fits or not). Sure, he still makes good (actually, even great) movies, but they just aren’t on par with his early work.
The style, the music, the characters… here it all comes together. The dialogue is interesting and funny, and feels real (enough). Since so much of the movie is about dialogue, the characters elevate the movie. Some of them don’t get much to do (as they die early), but the interaction between those who do survive is worth a watch. It seems like its one of those cases where having few resources has forced them to rely on the strenghts of what they do have.