Here we go. Finally.
The list is mostly for me, but as I have written the list out and published it (even going so far as to tell people about it), there is an assumption that someone else might take interest. In order to make this more usable, I might as well list some of the things I read and watch. “Why?”, one might ask. Well, because it might inform others of where I come from with this list. Every piece of media I consume is going to have at least a miniscule effect on my taste, so if you find that your taste is similar, you might find these interesting as well, or if you are aware of these, you might have a better idea of whether it’s a good idea for you to read the list.
These sources are not only about finding new movies, but they have other effects on me, such as they will influence what I pay attention to during the movie or think about afterwards. For example, when I pay attention to the politics, cinematography or character arcs in a movie, I can probably point to who’s fault that is.
If you don’t yet, you might be thinking in a short while that I’m taking all this way too seriously. I disagree. This is all fun and interesting to me. Even the more theoretical books on these subjects (listed below) are something I might have very well read even if I didn’t have an outside motive. Learning is fun, kids.
There’s only one website I read regularly: 366 Weird Movies. They are exactly what it says on the tin. They scour the world those often, but not always, obscure movies (there’s on their Canonical List, which is only available from one particular library in Canada and another, which is only available from one online fetish shop), which sate our hunger for something different. Indeed very different. In reality, the hunger is never sated and instead these movies have a tendency to just feed the curiosity. There’s at least 21 movies on my list, which are also on their list and while quality is not their first priority, you can also find plenty of excellent movies there, which you probably wouldn’t come across otherwise. I have also read through all of their yearbooks.
Well, this is a much longer list. I have followed a lot of different channels over the years, but some have died off and others I’ve become bored with. Back in the day I used to watch some of the channels with a more popularized views, but their lack of insight quickly became just dull.
I guess the source I’ve been following the longest is Red Letter Media. Ever since the days of those legendary feature length reviews of Star Wars Prequels I’ve watched every video they’ve put out. I even have a couple of their DVDs. The funny thing is, I hardly ever go out and see a movie based on their recommendation (I can point to a few) and the ones I end up seeing specifically because they talked about them, are mostly some off-handed comments from Jay, which are often mocked by Mike. Still, they offer a pretty different viewpoint on movies and I do enjoy their sense of humor.
Another channel I’ve been sort of a long term follower of is Breakfast All Day. They haven’t been around that long under that moniker, as they used to be What the Flick?! before TYT Network purged all entertainment programming. These are professional critics, but they don’t seem to fall under the usual stereotype of such people. They even enjoy fun movies. I guess this is my main source for current movies, even if they don’t cover that many European or Asian ones.
Sometimes I find Ryan Hollinger‘s decision to stick specifically to horror movies somewhat limiting, but as a former filmmaker and a lifelong fan of the horror, he can always dig up interesting points of view into various themes and characters even in movies I have no interest in seeing. His encyclopedic knowledge of the genre has lead me to some very interesting choices, although it seems to be harder and harder to get my hands on some of those movies.
I’m not sure I completely agree with Renegade Cut‘s politics, but as he does make his points eloquently, I am interested in hearing him out. He has managed to spoil some movies for me (not in the sense we talk about spoilers, but in the sense that I can’t really like them any longer), but I don’t really mind, because I’m still interested in his insights and it’s not like I don’t have plenty of movies to like, so I can sacrifice some here and there.
I used to have a subscription to a Finnish magazine called Filmihullu (literally ‘film crazy’, but something like ‘film fan’ or ‘film enthusiast’ would be a more appropriate translation), but the subscription lapsed, when I moved and the bill didn’t reach me. I guess I didn’t really mind either, as their work was quite hit or miss for me. Like many such publications, they have a tendency to put certain obscure directors on a pedestal, which just feels disingenuous. In a way this is understandable, because making even one good movie is very tough, but at the same time, if everyone is special, no one is. The magazine does have its moments, though.
I also read some books specifically for this project and some others while the project was still underway. I started with Rick Altman’s Film/Genre (and I started reading his book in Finnish as well before realizing that these are the same book), followed it up with some Short Cuts, which are short introductory books on film theory from Columbia University Press, and Ira Jaffe’s Hollywood Hybrids. I followed these with David Parkinson’s 100 Ideas that Changed Film and I’m currently reading William Paul’s Laughing & Screaming (which is such a massive tome that it’s going to take me a while as I mostly read while travelling and bringing this along is not an option).
… aaand on to the list:
100. Blue Ruin (United States 2013)
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Dwight has been homeless for a while, when a police officer picks him up and tells him that the man who killed his parents is going to be set free from prison shortly. Dwight sets out to enact revenge on him.
… except that Dwight isn’t a former marine or CIA operative or anything like that. He’s just a guy and thus everything doesn’t exactly go to plan. This is a subversion of the revenge trope. It’s about what would happen if one of us just decided to do something like this. It’s a horrible mess. Sure, just like us, Dwight has an idea what he needs to do, but he mostly seems to follow the example set by various movies, which don’t necessarily relate that well into real life (or more realistic movie).
There is a long tradition of such films from I Spit on Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman, 1978) and even before that. Those tend to be fantasies. Movies about people who either are already competent or find the strength within themselves to handle the situation, but Dwight is nothing like that. He clearly has the strength to do it, but he has also mostly given up on life.
It’s a deconstruction of a genre. The problem with movies like this is that you need to have an established genre to make it work. It’s not parody. Parodies are – at least the good ones – loving homages to the genre. They are more like friendly roasts than mockeries. Genre deconstructions often come from the opposite place. Someone is tired of the various cliches a certain genre exploits over and over again, and they decide to do something else.
This is often good for the genre. A good deconstruction (or parody, for that matter) can bring to light the banal way these movies are made and force them to change.
Dwight’s exploits could easily be played for jokes, but it’s much more interesting than that. No doubt most viewers will find some parts funny, but it’s all in the service of a very interesting drama. This is one of those movies I like to point to when people claim no-one does anything original any more.
99. Jungfrukällan (Sweden 1960)
(The Virgin Spring)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Karin is an only child of a rich family in medieval Sweden. One day she is raped and murdered while delivering candles to the local church. Unbeknowst to themselves, the culprits then visit her parents.
If this feels familiar, it might be because this was remade as The Last House on the Left by Wes Craven 12 years later. Shows you how remakes can still be worthwhile and how genres can affect each other. I mean, this is often considered high art, while The Last House on the Left is usually seen as exploitation.
In many ways, this was the beginning of the so called rape-and-revenge movies, which range from shitty B-movies to critically acclaimed, even Oscar-nominated or -winning films (Nocturnal Animals and Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri come to mind). Otherwise, this was influenced by Bergman’s earlier work and the reception Sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) received due to it’s historical inaccuracy. Thus, this was researched more thoroughly.
The structure of the movie is not exactly traditional as the movie spends a lot time early on simply establishing the characters. We don’t even meet the culprits until around 30 minute mark of 90 minute movie.
I like the way nordic traditions are handled in this. Sure, the family is Christian, but when shit needs to get done, the father first has a ritualistic bath in the sauna to get ready. A very pagan way of approaching this.
In this sense, this can also be seen as a meditation on morals. The devout Christians will easily forget their own rules of conduct, when things don’t go their way. And yet, after accusing God of what had happened that day, the father makes a resolution to build a church on the site of the murder.
98. Ah-ga-ssi (South Korea 2016)
Director: Chan-wook Park
A young woman, Sook-hee, is hired to serve a young Japanese heiress living with her uncle on a huge estate in the occupied Korea of 1930s. However, Sook-hee is a career criminal hired to help in the seduction of the heiress by con artist. The isolated and naive heiress is easy enough to manipulate, but the plot gets more complicated when someone catches feelings.
When I first saw this, I liked the movie very much, but I did wonder whether it would hold up on repeat views. Obviously, the impact of the twist is lessened when you know to expect it, but while that does change the experience, there are various factors that still work for it. Obviously, now I’m looking for signs of the twist, which in itself is fun, but I do enjoy Sook-hee as a character. She’s what we would call in RPG circles a lovable rogue. She enjoyd her previous work as a pickpocket, doesn’t mind selling orphaned babies to Japan, where she expects them to have a good life, even wishing she could breastfeed the children while they are in her care, and she’s very conflicted about the whole deal with heiress.
I guess the plot is kind of too convoluted, but at the same time it’s kind of fun. This is actually kind of weird and it wouldn’t work in many movies. Many people would find certain parts of the movie disturbing, but there’s also sections which have a feel of heist movie, or perhaps even just bit like a parody of one. I think this is the magic of South Korean movies: They seem to be able to take these disparate influences and make something compelling with them. That’s actually a bit of a recurring theme with the various Asian movies on this list (but not all). They have clear western roots, but make those elements their own.
97. Kokuhaku (Japan 2010)
Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
A young teacher, who’s also a single morher, knows her students, whom she calls student A and student B, killed her only child. As she knows the justice system will not touch minors, she sets out to take revenge on those responsible herself. She’s not shy about it either, telling her whole class. Not that the killers are trying to hide it either, as one of them outright tells their teacher (even if he takes it back as a joke). The teacher’s revenge is not very straightforward, but it works in a horrible way, but also has unexpected side effects.
The themes of the movie are pretty scary. We have students, who are totally immoral. Even the ones that aren’t killers are horrible bullies, using any excuse to “punish” other students for whatever reason. The adults around them are either uninterested or have an exceedingly positive image of kids, not even seeing what’s right in front of them. Even the good kid in the class turns out to be an actual murderer. No wonder this world turned even the kind-hearted teacher into someone willing to take out her rage on her students. Or is it frustration? Hard to say.
How much of this is upbringing? Who is really at fault here? We get a lot of looks at the lives of the two students, both before and after the incident, and in both cases we learn that they had problematic parents. Still, I assume most parents are not that much better. These parents are quite selfish. The children are extensions of themselves. When something doesn’t go as planned, they reject the kids.
There are some good guys in the film. One of them has full-blown AIDS and in a twist dies of cancer. The other quits teaching the class after one of the students accuses him of causing yet another murder. The universe doesn’t give a shit. That’s not a very nice moral to the story, but it is true. Actually, this does mean that as a society, we should encourage people to be better by rewarding good behavior.
96. Kynodontas (Greece 2009)
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
For some reason the parents of three teenage children (well, they are adults or at least close to it) have decided to protect their offspring from the outside world at their fenced house. Their only connections to the outside are their father going to work and Christina, a woman their father brings over to have sex with their son. The children have been told they can’t leave the perimeter of the house until their dogteeth fall out. However, they are at an age, when their natural inclination is to rebel, which is now causing problems. Christina’s presence isn’t helping, as the daughters are looking for a connection outside of the family.
Our first step into this little world is a tape the children are listening, where their father explains the new words they are going to use from now on. Later on we discover that this is in fact a way the parents fix the lapses they’ve had with their language, when they’ve brought words into the discussion, that have no meaning to the children, but need to be handled in some way.
The children are quite naive and childlike, as their natural progression has been corrupted by the lack of various influences most people have. The parents aren’t helping as they seem to have a very conservative worldview. For example, they don’t care for the sexual needs of the daughters in the same way they cater to the needs of the son. Their life is very regimented and they don’t get to make any decisions for themselves. They just live to please their parents and play, when they don’t have chores. They do have natural curiosity, which leads them to all kinds of trouble with their parents. We do get to see things like their art brut efforts at a dance performance and their expemerimentation with getting high on chemicals from their medicine cabinet.
It’s all about control. The parents don’t seem to have any other reason for their actions beside wanting these human toys to play with. Especially their mother seems to relish the moments she gets to punish her children and their father seems to enjoy manipulating their children to compete with each other. Even Christina sees an opportunity to push around the children. This also leads to the children being afraid of their parents, which in turn leads them into lying to get out of trouble. However, as their little white lies are based on the the big lies told by their parents, they are immediately caught. However, in order to maintain their fragile version of reality, the parents have to go along with their childrens lies.
The control, especially by the father, is very reminiscent of fascism. It’s easy to throw this word around, but in this particular case it’s very apt. The father tries to control the media, fearmongers about outsiders and is paranoid about their borders. Remind you of anything?
The movie is shot in a series of static shots. In some cases it’s almost as if we are peeping on their lives. At other times we are just witnessing their actions. It’s not a movie that really draws you in. It’s more like the viewer is wondering about their world. Almost like a field study on how these conditions affect these people. There is definitely a story, but it’s not the main ingredient of the movie. It’s more of a character study, but doesn’t really feel like it in the same way as, say, Nightcrawler or Taxi Driver, where there is a much clearer progression.
95. Hagazussa (Austria 2017)
Director: Lukas Feigelfeld
Albrun was orphaned on a lonely mountain cottage when her mother dies after a horrible disease. Now she’s an adult and life isn’t easy for her and her child (father unknown, which probably doesn’t help her status among her neighbors). The locals harass them in various ways until one day another woman steps up to defend her. However, that doesn’t last too long and Albrun is betrayed with dire consequences.
As a strong introvert, I’m never lonely when I’m actually alone, but I feel for Albrun. She isn’t just alone, because there just doesn’t happen to be anyone around, she’s utterly separated from the small community. The harassment she experiences isn’t just teasing either. She’s been threatened to be burned alive as a witch since childhood. She also longs for companionship, but doesn’t even really know how to behave around other people.
This works largely on atmosphere. The music is sparse and largely based on droning strings. There isn’t much dialogue and actually much of the movie is just silence in the wilderness of the Alps, or noises off-screen informing us of something dangerous.
The world is clearly ours, but also unfamiliar. There are plenty of things that might make certain people uncomfortable. Or more likely quite a few. On repeat views, I find it interesting to try to figure out whether Albrun is insane from the start or did the world just push her there.
I didn’t check, but this might very well be the most obscure movie on the list. Something has to be, but the margin just seems to be too wide. Of course, it’s still pretty new and it was actually the director’s thesis project, so this obscurity might change, when the word gets out. This should have an audience within the people who liked The VVitch, as this does seem to have some of that movie’s DNA. Actually much more than ‘some’.
94. Nocturnal Animals (United States 2016)
Director: Tom Ford
Susan Morrow lives a life of luxury, but she’s also very much isolated from any kind of emotion. When her ex-husband sends her a manuscript of his book, she finds long lost feelings within herself.
Susan has the perfect life… on paper. She has a handsome and rich husband, and she’s independently rich through her own art gallery. On the other hand, her husband’s business isn’t going that well and he’s cheating on her. She hates the art she’s shilling (the weirdest scene in the movie is the opening, which consists of four extremely fat women dancing nude except for some cheerleading regalia) and no-one around her seems to care that much either. The sterility of her life is best highlighted when one of her employees shows her how the employee herself has built an artificial barrier between herself and her kid by simply putting up cameras in the kid’s cot. When she shows Susan the stream on the phone, Susan accidentally breaks the phone, but the employee doesn’t really even bat an eye. She’s even uncapable of getting angry or worried.
Edward’s, Susan’s ex-husband’s, book is something completely different. It deals with the kidnapping, rape and murder of the wife and teenage daughter of the main character. Emotions aren’t spared here. After all, it is a revenge story, although quite a realistic one. We get to see the story within our framework of Susan’s life and she imagines the main character looking exactly like Edward, as well as the wife looking quite a bit like herself (Amy Adams as Susan and Isla Fisher as the fictional wife, in the darkness of the movie, they do really look quite the same).
There is quite an obvious lesson here about following your passions instead of simply trying to live the life you are expected to. What’s really interesting is the stark contrast between the story within the story and the frame. I also find the effect the book has on Susan familiar. It is often easier to feel something through art. I often wonder why I (and many others) gravitate to movies which evoke these feelings in us? I mean, I don’t really want to feel these emotions in my usual life, so why do we seek them as part of art?
Actually, it’s pretty simple. Our brains can learn through simulation. By simulating situations, which bring up these feelings, we can handle them when and if the real thing happens to us. That’s why we love these movies.
93. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (United Kingdom 1989)
Director: Peter Greenaway
Albert is a ruthless gangster The Thief), with an overly high opinion of his own tastes. He has just taken over a restaurant from the previous owner (The Cook) who still has control over the kitchen. His more refined wife (His Wife, obviously) is tired of her husband’s behavior and seeks to escape her situation to the arms of a lover (well, you get the gist), who is a frequent guest at the restaurant. The two play a dangerous game right under the nose of the The Thief.
This is a Peter Greenaway movie and if you’ve seen them, you will recognize his style immediately. Many shots feel like a stageplay. For me, all this feels like you can never forget the existence of the camera, which brings a certain sense of artificiality, but it works.
The costumes were designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier. They are often austentatious. The Thief and his crew are over-dressed. They give the air of newly rich, who try to be stylish without really understanding what constitutes a style. Many of the workers in the restaurant have similarly unconventional dresses.
Greenaway has called the movie his most political. At the time, Thatcher had been in power for a decade, so the popular sentiment against her was quite strong. There have been many interpretations on this, but I think at its core, this is just a revenge fantasy from the same tradition Shakespeare wrote his revenge plays around four centuries earlier.
Our real hero is The Cook. He is the only one who stands up to The Thief, he helps the lovers throughout their budding relationship and is finally a key in enacting the said revenge. He always keeps his cool. Despite this, he is the least memorable of the four primary characters.
The Thief, on the other hand, steals most of the scenes (the pun wasn’t intended, but I’m sort of happy how it came out). He wants to present himself as classy, but isn’t interested in working for the distinction and will actually lash out against anyone he perceives as more sophisticated, including his wife. The Thief is anti-intellectual and he frequently attacks Her Lover for his love of books claiming to have found a superior form of intelligence. The movie does a lot of work to make sure we hate The Thief from the very beginning and at no point in the movie is he in any way sympathetic – especially to Greenaway’s audience.
92. The Favourite (United Kingdom 2018)
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Queen Anne is the ruler of England, but due to her frailty, much of the power has fallen to Lady Sarah, her childhood friend and the wife of Lord Marlborough, the general of the army waging war in France. Not everyone is happy with the war, as some of the members of the court feel that the taxes levied on them are unfair. Here arrives Abigail, a fallen noblewoman, who happens to be related to Lady Sarah. She first finds employment in the kitchen, but due to her education and charm, she soon rises in the ranks, leading to bitter competition with Lady Sarah.
One might think this is historical, but if you pay attention to the movie, it’s pretty obvious that it’s not. Mostly it was wildly extrapolated from some letters between Anne and Sarah from their youth, as well as from a book by Lady Sarah, which was mostly intended as a retaliation to the queen after their fallout. In actuality, Anne was quite capable despite her ill health and actually united England and Scotland officially under the banner of Great Britain.
I really like the character of Lady Sarah. She is quite capable and doesn’t really care about the societal limits usually imposed on women at the time. Of course, if the story largely follows her depictions, this might not have been true, but as a fictional character, she’s great. I’m not much into spin-offs, but I wouldn’t mind the Adventures of Lady Marlborough. Daniel Craig is the coolest Bond, but his wife seems to surpass him.
I also like the court. Different powers within it have very different motivations and Abigail manages to use her experiences from her former life to navigate it quite fast. They are managing the affairs of the country, but for many participants it’s all about their ego or their personal fortunes. In this sense, it’s all very topical as well.
Yorgos Lanthimos is quickly becoming my favourite working director. He might not be the best, but I have liked all the movies I’ve seen from him thus far (and I’ve seen most). Actually, both Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer were all very close to getting on the list as well.
91. Life of Brian (United Kingdom 1979)
Director: Terry Jones
Brian just happened to be born right next door to Jesus. The rest of his life follows a very similar path, except that the run-ins with the Romans are quite different, even if they end in much the same way. And aliens?
There’s actually a surprising amount of historical accuracy here. Not that Brian actually existed, but apparently being a messiah was in vogue around the time. Even the story of Jesus has many plot points similar to stories from other older religions. Obviously, various religious institutions objected to the movie and it was banned in various places sometimes for a very long time.
Of the three narrative movies by the Pythons, this has aged the worst. There’s certain jokes here, which wouldn’t really fly any more. ‘Raped until she likes it’ and the Stan/Loretta situation come to mind. Still, the major messages of the movie still hold. The bases of religions are absurd, those in power are laughable and those who resist are ineffective.
You could also raise the question of fate. Brian doesn’t really have a say in anything. Of course, the ending really rubs this home, but even before that he’s first controlled by his domineering mother, then he follows the requests of the whatever-Front and finally his so-called followers push him into certain actions. At no point is he able to control his own destiny.
As a Python movie, it does have a certain sketch-like structure. We have many scenes that aren’t necessary for the plot, but are quite funny and memorable, so I’m glad they are there. The scene which still makes me laugh the most is ‘Romans eunt domus’ episode, but the ending is also weirdly fun and uplifting despite the circumstances.
I actually saw this quite recently in a theatre. It was an interesting experience, as the movie itself seemed to bring people together in a way I’ve never seen a movie do before. A bunch of strangers met there and decided to go for a beer to discuss it afterwards. When do you ever see that happening?
90. Teorema (Italy 1968)
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
A mysterious letter arrives informing an upper-class family of a visitor. The visitor arrives the next day and no one seems to question his presence. He proceeds to seduce the whole family, including the maid and possibly the dog, which leads each of them to make drastic changes in their lives.
Admittedly, it’s hard for me not to like a movie everyone hates for political reasons. It had to go through courts even to be able to get released. The conservatives in Italy hated this for it’s blasphemous content, while the left didn’t really seem to know what to think of it and hated it as well. Although that latter part might be just the result of them needing to keep their distance from Pasolini, as they had done previously after a scandal with an underaged male prostitute, which does make it hard to root for the man despite his antiestablishment ways. Not the male part, but the underaged part. A predilection which eventually lead to his death (although, the situation was more complicated than that).
Being an Italian movie, there are weird dubbing issues. Terrence Stamp, as the visitor, is often cut away from when he’s speaking, so that the dubbing doesn’t become too distracting. However, he’s not the only one dubbed. As was the commonly used technique in Italy for a very long time, everyone is dubbed. This is either bad or really bad, depending on how used you are to dubbing. In Finland, we don’t really have dubbed movies (except for animations), so I’m not really used to it at all outside of Italian movies, so I don’t really like it.
That’s pretty much the extent of my problems with the movie. I’m not an expert on Pasolini, nor have I seen all his 12 movies (I’ve seen four), but there seems to be this weird fascination with religion despite his atheism. I can understand this very well. Religion fascinates me as well. Actually, I read a book called History of God back in the day. It was written by a nun (or an ex-nun, not sure) and talked about the history of monotheistic religions. The overall message was that if people believe religion gives them all the answers, the religion becomes a problem, while if people approach religion as something mysterious and as a source of inspiration for exploring various ideas, than it’s good for us. This movie definitely has this more mystic approach to religion.
89. The Crow (United States 1994)
Director: Alex Proyas
Eric Draven is murdered brutally by a gang, while they rape his fiance, just a day before their wedding. A year later, a crow wakes Draven up from his uneasy slumber to avenge her death. While the gang is dispatched easily enough, their boss is actively looking into this weird supernatural being.
I’m not going to claim this is a masterpiece or anything. Actually, it’s a very 90s movie and the 90s haven’t aged very well. A lot of film noir inspired settings, leather coats and names that wouldn’t quite fly today. Top Dollar? Sounds more like someone from childrens show than the weird crime lord played by Michael Wincott, although I’m not sure the name is actually mentioned even once in the movie. Still, this just came out at the right time in my life. Well, actually I was probably somewhat too old at 17 when I first saw this, but being a fan of all things gothic at that point (and I still enjoy goth music quite a bit), it did make a very good impression. I even remember naming this as my favorite movie at least once. Me still liking this after 25 years or so, is more about nostalgia than anything. On the other hand, I’m not a nostalgic person, so there must be something else that still works for me.
Well, there is the music. The original graphic novel quotes various gothic bands on many occasions, so in a way the music just follows that model. Back in those days Nine Inch Nails doing a Joy Division cover was the greatest thing you could imagine.
Even now, despite the 90s fingerprints all over it, the stylized world does work for me, even if it doesn’t do that as well as it did in the mid-90s. And that’s good, because the style and the music are pretty much all that’s going for it. The plot is kind of light and the characters are very much just one-dimensional archetypes.
You don’t necessarily think of this movie as part of the superhero genre, but from the 90s point of view, this is exactly that (and he does have a very practical superpower in being able to purge drugs and addiction out of a person). Everything needed to be darker and edgier and this just amps that to eleven. Even if this doesn’t quite fit into the world of Avengers, with a little ironing this could in fact find it’s way into the world of the Defenders (well, remembering different owners of the properties). It’s own franchise fell pretty flat despite three sequels, each with different main character, and a TV-series. I’ve seen two of the sequels, but I have no recollection of what goes on in them, except that Iggy Pop makes an appearance.
Obviously, Brandon Lee’s untimely death colors this movie and does give it an edge (although I’m definitely not advocating letting your stars die like that). It also meant they had to rework some of the movie to accomodate this mishap. How much did that change the movie? Hard to say. They were able to use a body double some of the time and the end result is good. Not sure if they filmed in sequence, but I do think some of the latter parts of the movie are more disjointed than the rest. Lee was a rising star. He hadn’t done many movies at that point, but had had several starring roles under his belt. This could have been his breakthrough. You never know. Actually, probably not, as his acting isn’t especially good.
88. A Field in England (United Kingdom 2013)
Director: Ben Wheatley
Four men decide that they have better things to do than participate in a battle in the English Civil War. One of them knows of an alehouse nearby, so that becomes their destination. However, there is no alehouse. The man just needed a workforce, so he drugs the others to dig up a treasure, which they know is hidden somewhere in the field they are currently on.
At first, the movie appears purely historical, but we diverge from that soon enough in a quite a memorable scene. There is an interesting method of divination, when they are actually trying to locate the treasure. This isn’t continuous, but this one particular scene does do quite a bit to set the mood of the movie.
The movie was also shot in black and white. Weirdly, this does make the movie more believable, even though the color (or lack thereof) should have nothing to do with it. The real reason behind this decision might very well have been the modest budget (I would imagine the lack of color leaves some leeway in wardrobe and lighting, for example).
Although we know there is a war somewhere in the background, this is no war movie as it stays there quite firmly, as we only meet six people throughout the movie. It’s just mostly there to inform us of the period (mid 16th century) and gives the characters some initial tension. However, they get over this quite fast due to their lack of interest in fighting.
In the end, it’s probably the weirdness of the movie, which pushed it into this list. It feels like the writers did their research and made sure the more magic parts of the movie followed the alchemical “knowledge” of the period. Works for me.
87. Suna no onna (Japan 1964)
(Woman in the Dunes)
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
A teacher, who uses his vacation time to collect insects in the desert, is lured into a pit in the sand. There he meets a woman, who is trapped there voluntarily (or has at least accepted her position), and finds himself trapped within a prison, which needs constant attention from the prisoners to even hold up.
Its never really explained why they wanted the man, but there are hints. It would seem that the woman believes herself to be some sort of offering to unnamed spirits of the desert and the man is there to accompany her and help her with the work of clearing the sand that has fallen into the pit every night. Its also hinted that the village just needs a more solid workforce, but forcing someone to do meaningless work in this way just isn’t very productive. The woman also tells him that there have been other men trapped as well, but in different houses, so he’s not the first to meet this fate. In the end, the reasons don’t really matter. This movie is not about a rational story.
There is a chance that the actual theme here is that of exploiting Japanese fears from the early 60s of city dwellers disappearing in the countryside. That would be a boring explanation and since we don’t have this point of view, we can make our own interpretations. This could be easily seen as a condemnation of capitalism and how it traps people in meaningless jobs. We can see this also as an allegory for the futility of trying to control nature.
The recurring images of sand moving in the wind would definitely support the latter. These are beautiful, but at the same time they are also a source of dread, as we know the sand is a constant threat to our main characters. Sand is everywhere. As the too have sex, their skin is covered by it, they need to protect their food with umbrellas, because the roof doesn’t hold the sand very well, and shifting it is a nightly chore (they do it at night as it’s too hot during the day).
86. Paths of Glory (United States 1957)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
War is always shit, but WWI seems to have been even more so for the common soldier. Our common images of that war are about lines of men charging into Gatling gun fire or being gassed to death. Colonel Dax is in a poor situation. His commanding officer is desperate for promotion among the ranks of the generals, so he orders an attack, which is clearly a suicide mission. When the attack fails and Dax’s men make a retreat, the general orders court martials. Dax manages to negotiate the number of men to be tried to three (two of whom have just pissed of their immediate superior and the third has just bad luck in a lottery) and takes on the role of defending the accused. However, as he soon finds out, the whole trial is a mockery, as the conclusions have been reached even before it started.
There is always a huge contrast between the lives of the high-ranking officers and the men in the trenches. The general lives in a huge mansion, while the soldiers live in cramped conditions in the bunkers. This is emphasized visually as well. The camera gets in close to the soldiers, but gives us a wider view of the lavish palace of the generals, where we get to see all the nice things he has accrued for himself based on his position. The well-being of the common men in the trenches doesn’t matter to commanders. They are ready to throw their lives away just to gain a little more influence for themselves (did you know that the armistice was signed 5AM, but didn’t go into effect until 11, because it sounded nice to the signees, as it was the 11th of November – many commanders actually kept the fighting going on for those six hours in hopes of capturing just a little more territory). And what will they do with that influence? Throw even more people into the enemy fire just to take one more step. Even the other generals will not incriminate others among them, because this is just the way things are done. Accusing others among them would open accusations against themselves as well. Power protects power.
Although the soldiers in the movie are French, the message should ring true to anyone. As Dax quote Samuel Johnson at one point, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. Johnson wasn’t really condemning all patriotism, but was rather talking about a specific way the concept was used by certain politicians of his time. Still, we see this all the time these days. Various right wing movements base their philosophy largely on false patriotism, where they form their own vision of their country based on an exaggerated view of the past. Certain politicians hide behind veterans, even if they aren’t actually interested in helping those people in any way.
We never get to see the Germans these men are supposedly fighting. They are quite incidental anyhow. The real enemy for these men is the power structure that needs to keep them on the battlefield for their own benefit or ego. It’s been said that there are no anti-war movies, as war always seems exciting. I don’t quite agree with this, but assuming this to be true, Kubrick is clearly onto something here and in Full Metal Jacket. Does someone actually want to be here? There is no exhilarating combat sequences you can latch onto or which will bring youth to recruitment offices.
85. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (United States 2010)
Director: Edgar Wright
Scott has had trouble growing up, but as he meets and immediately falls in love with Ramona, he needs to fight her Seven Deadly Exes. And find himself.
This is a movie by Edgar Wright, so you know every detail matters. Weirdly, I thought, mostly based on Paul, that much of this in the Cornetto Trilogy came from Simon Pegg. I guess they both have that attitude to scripts (or they did uncredited work on each others movies, who knows). Wright was still clearly the perfect choice to direct this movie.
The movie is often a weird form of expressionism. The world is shown quite subjectively from Scott’s point of view. The video game references (in case you haven’t seen the movie, the situations are often depicted as video games) are just the way Scott sees the world, but that’s not all. There are often small visual clues, little anomalies, in the world which convey how Scott is feeling in that situation.
Of course, the memorable thing is the video game referencing, if you don’t pay too much attention to it. The video game theme actually comes from the comic (or graphic novels) the movie is based on. It seems gimmicky, but is actually a very thematic way to explain our character, who has been playing video games all his life. Of course, it’s also visually fun and feels energetic. There are other ways it’s origin as a graphic novel shows, especially the split screens, but also the quick editing.
The other thing in Scott’s life is the music. It’s not all to my liking (not a big fan of Beck, who wrote all the songs for Sex Bob-Omb, the band Scott plays in), but the performances are great. It’s mostly quite aggressive, which is appropriate, because they are often a prologue to the fights, or actually part of them.
The army of supporting characters is also great. I don’t recall how well these people were known back then, but many are now stars (many were probably at the time as well). Well, for Michael Cera this was pretty much the end. He’s done stuff since then, but nothing even resembling a hit. (Not that this was a hit either.)
84. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (United Kingdom 1990)
Director: Tom Stoppard
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are summoned to the court to handle a matter regarding Hamlet, whom they are friends with. What they are not aware of is that they are actually just minor characters in a larger story and what they do is not important or meaningful, as their actions have been scripted and they can’t escape the fate Shakespeare prescribed for them.
As minor characters, there is a lot we don’t know about them and when we don’t know, they don’t know either as the author didn’t bother to think about it. Actually, since they are minor characters, who we always meet together, we or they don’t know their names either (well, actually Oldman is Rosencrantz and Roth is Guildenstern, but they were originally cast the other way around). A fact that seems to bother one of them quite a bit. We also know what happens to them in the end. So, as it stands, the movie is quite nihilistic in it’s own weird way. Nothing they do or try matters in the end. I decided to call this a nihilistic farce, as that what Giles Edwards called it in his review at 366 Weird Movies (where this is number 229).
Despite their problems with their identity, the two main characters are not identical. You can’t really call them protagonists, as despite their attempts, they are not pushing the narrative along, except between the actual scenes, when they are not needed by the main story. Oldman is more chlldlike. He is infused with curiosity and finds various phenomena, which he tests out, but which always fail when he tries to present them to Roth. Roth, on the other hand, is more existential. He is, somewhat clumsily, trying to find meaning in something that really doesn’t have any from his point of view.
Ebert disliked the movie. He found it hard to pinpoint why, but “I think the problem is that this material was never meant to be a film, and can hardly work as a film”. I, on the other hand, don’t have the benefit of having seen the play, which he was largely basing his view on, so perhaps that’s why I feel differently. Ebert wasn’t the only critic who didn’t like it. The Tomato Score from the Top Critics is 0%. Sure, there’s just six of them and the overall score from critics is actually barely Fresh (at 62% as of this writing). Depending on the critic, they found it boring or the actors weren’t good in their roles. I don’t usually disagree this much with critics at large. I really liked the two leads. It’s not that their performances were really good, but more like the characters feel like they don’t really belong, because the characters themselves feel like they don’t belong within the context of the movie.
It’s funny and it’s weird and it’s weirdly funny. What else does one need?
83. 3 Idiots (India 2009)
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Back in ’99 Raju and Farhan met Rancho during their first year in college to study engineering. Farhan is there due to pressure from his father. Raju has different outside pressures, as he wants to raise his family from poverty. Rancho, on the other hand, is there purely for the love of learning. Rancho’s tendency to do things his way leads him into conflict with the head of the faculty known as Virus. Jumping ten years ahead, no-one has heard of Rancho since college. Chatur, Rancho’s rival, comes to Raju and Farhan to remind them of a bet and the three of them go out to find Rancho based on a figure in the background of a photo taken by Chatur’s assistant.
Although I never had to face the conflicts Rancho did, I had a very similar outlook on my studies in university. Of course, you can’t learn everything purely based on practice, especially at higher levels of education, but it surely helps. Now, as a teacher in higher education, I also like to encourage my students to go out and do projects to learn for themselves. Sadly, I don’t have the time to really focus on each of them individually (which is also why I get why Virus wants to do things the way he does), but I do when I get the chance. It’s quite understandable that the movie appeals to me.
Hollywood is often criticized for using old actors, but these three actors ranged from thirty to 44 at the time the movie came out. Of course, it’s possible that people in India attend college later than us in the west (although I do have even older students, but they are more of an exception than the rule). Also, Hollywood coming of age stories tend to happen in high school.
I haven’t seen that many of them (12 according to IMDb), but Indian movies aren’t like Hollywood ones in many other ways. There is no clear genre here. Obviously, a movie needs musical scenes. In Indian movies, this seems to be as much a rule as making movies in color. The tone of the movie can change easily between scenes or even during them. Of course, in this particular case, as we are talking about coming of age, the characters should both face trauma and triumphs, which makes the genre fluidity that much more acceptable.
In the end, it’s a fun movie with characters you can root for and a fumbling antagonist you can root against. Some of the writing is a bit lazy (they could have checked some of the science in the film), but I doubt most of the viewers would notice this. There are some nice twists in the mystery, which serve to explain the Indian culture for someone like me, which is part of the reason I like to watch movies from variety of countries.
82. Green Room (United States 2015)
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
A decidedly small-time punk band is on tour, when their latest date falls through. However, they get a new booking. To their surprise, it just happens to be at a bar patronized by a gang of neo-Nazis. After their gig, they stumble upon a corpse of a recently murdered woman and must fight their way out.
This is quite closely related to Saulnier’s previous film, Blue Ruin, which I talked about previously in this very same article. It pretty much has the same premise: put normal people into a situation you would normally only see in movies and see how they handle it.
Not well. Actually, the most interesting part of the movie is the bad guys. They are lead by Darcy (played by Patrick Stewart), but Darcy seems like he’s quite disappointed at what he has. Some of the gang members are enthusiastic, but they are young and just eager to please. Others are incompetent or traitorous. Probably not exactly what he had in mind when organizing this group.
The band is hardly better off, although they do have a member, who seems to be surprisingly good in the situation. Still, it’s not like they are cool under fire. I guess they do pretty well in the end (or it could have been worse), but that’s mostly just because the bad guys are what they are.
I do like the band. They are trying to be as true to the hardcore punk bands of the early 80s, which pretty much means that they have doomed themselves into obscurity, as they don’t have any kind of social media presence and are otherwise hard to contact. When they start their gig in front of a pretty militant looking pack of skinheads, their first song is a cover of Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Punks Fuck Off.
the technique itself. Leone achieved that.