My Favorite Movies 2020 Edition, pt. 2 (65-81)

About a week back, I saw this interesting video:

It’s about accessibility of MtG related fiction, but the first part is about the concept of accessibility, both tangible and intangible. So, let’s talk about that in the context of movies. First the tangible part and tomorrow the intangible.

What do we mean when we talk about tangible accessibility of movies? It’s just whether we access to movies. Can we see them. This is quite topical, as I’m writing this not having gone further than the mail box in the last eleven days. It’s somewhat less topical, but topical still from the point of view of larger trends in entertainment. Entertainment has become much more accessible after the advent of WWW and even before that, we had VHS, television, movie theatres and radio, which all changed our lives fundamentally.

But what about the movies?

Well, currently the local theatres are shut down and for a very good reason. I live in a fairly small town, so have two theatres. One is a part of the biggest chain in the country (meaning that it’s still quite small in comparison to many chains elsewhere) and has six screens. The other is run by the local hobbyists and only has one screen. I tend to use them quite a lot, but because of the size of the town, their offerings are somewhat limited.

Then I have Netflix. The Finnish Netflix has less than half of the movies the US version has. This is understandable, as the market is quite small. Still, just over 2000 movies to choose from is not much. I also have Amazon Prime. I don’t know how many movies they have, but I never seem to find anything interesting, so it can’t be too many. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother.

Obviously, we have other services, but they have their limitations as well. Many of the more interesting ones are not available in Finland. MUBI is quite good and I like the idea of rotating curated selection, but it just doesn’t seem to fit how I like to watch movies.

Of course, we have many free movies all over the Internet. Some are excellent, most have been reduced to this situation, because of their lack of commercial appeal.

I don’t own a TV, so I can’t watch movies on that.

FInally, there’s my collection of movies on DVD and BluRay. I have around 3500 of them, which means that I have more movies on my shelf than I have available on Netflix. Of course, the quality is also much higher, as my collection might not be as professionally curated as that of MUBI, but it is still highly curated and not just based on pure commercial concerns.

The problem is that physical media is becoming a playground of the hobbyist. This means that less movies are getting releases and those releases are smaller, which means that getting them will be more difficult. Especially since UK has left EU, thus leaving my primary sources behind additional paywalls in the form of tariffs.

In certain ways, movies are now less accessible to me than they were ten years ago. Sure, we didn’t have streaming services back then, but I had access to more movies on DVD. I bought Eyes Wide Shut fairly recently and it had the kind of cardboard covers which hasn’t been used since early 2000s. That would indicate (hopefully not) that no-one had seen it necessary to release a movie by one of the greatest directors of all time for a very long time.

In the long run things have been becoming better. In my childhood we didn’t have the money to go regularly to movies, VHS was a new thing (actually we had better access to Beta, because my grandfather had those tapes in his electronics shop) and we only had two TV-channels, which were both mostly publicly funded except for certain timeslots, which were rented out to a commercial entity. Compared to that, this is heaven.

81. All Quiet on the Western Front (United States 1930)
Director: Lewis Milestone

A teacher, who is very jingoistic, talks a whole class of his students to enlist to fight in the First World War. Starting with the training and continuing into the fighting, the patriotic notions of justification for the war begin to disappear, while their enemy seems more and more human to them. Pretty soon the war for them is only about surviving day to day, with any larger goals completely forgotten.

This was one of the earliest winners of Best Movie Oscar. I guess, in order to make an anti-war movie with this strong a statement, you had to make it about soldiers in some other country (same with Paths of Glory and now that I think about it, Letters from Iwo Jima, so maybe this tradition has survived better than expected), even if they speak in English. Back in those days you couldn’t really impugn the military efforts of your own country. This movie was banned in both Germany and Italy (and for some reason in New Zealand, France and parts of Australia). Keeping those nationalistic ideals high was just part of the military policy. There were a lot of low quality films back in those days, which were shitty specifically because they had an agenda of military propaganda. I guess by discussing people from somewhere else you could bypass this.

The movie handles the absurdities of war in an interesting way. Paul, our main character, visits home only to find out that the people in there don’t really understand the extent of the problems in the field. They have the privilege of not having to see the repercussions of chemical warfare or Gatling guns, so they can just speculate about the situation from the safety of their homes (civilian casualties were more lower during WWI than WWII or later wars). There’s also corporal Himmelstoss, who gets rewarded with a promotion despite being on field duty only after having gone too far as an instructor and actually missing the combat because he was afraid. How is Paul supposed to trust his superior, when he has nothing but bad experiences of him, while he knows that the soldiers on the opposing side are going through the same shit he is?

When I was in the army, we had two kinds of officers: those who didn’t really have on option in the small town the garrison was in and those who couldn’t really adjust to living in regular society, so they chose a military career, where much of their life is very regimented by it’s nature. Most of the former kind were easy enough to get along with, while the latter kind… not so much. It’s really hard to see someone, who is actually doing this specific job only becuase they feel they are incapable of doing other jobs, as your leader. That is going to kill any motivation you might have had.

80. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (United Kingdom 1975)
Director: Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam

After forming his Knights of the Round Table, King Arthur receives a quest from God to find the Holy Grail. They are met with many obstacles, including the greatest of them all: the low budget of the movie, even if the Black Knight seems to get that much more press.

Yes, the movie is quite absurd, even if it doesn’t quite reach the levels of absurdity of The Meaning of Life (or indeed much of their work on the Flying Circus), but in terms of pure comedy, this is probably the best out there. And not even in just the best comedy Monty Python movie, but the best pure comedy. There are other funny films on top of it on this list, but those manage to compete on other axes.

The openness about the budgetary issues was unique at the time (as far as I know). Deadpool played on similar ideas, but in general movies try to hide this. Obviously, you still try to make everything as nice as possible, but as there are limits, why not have fun with them? (Filmmakers: Please don’t do this, as now it’s been done well twice, so unless you have a fresh take on this, stay away.)

The reoccurring theme of the movie seems to be the absurdity of authority and our respect for it. Arthur and his knights try to bow down to God, but God is not interested in such nonsense. In another part of the movie, some members of an anarcho-syndicalist commune dispute Arthur’s claim of being a king, because they didn’t elect him. In yet another skit, someone notes that Arthur must be the king, because he isn’t covered in shit, like the rest of them. Of course, the Brits are closer to this with their royal family and nobility, but as a Finn I also see the weird adoration granted to royals, despite having made a conscious decision not to become a monarchy over a century ago. Still, when those Swedish royals deign to visit us for whatever reason, people flock to see them. Why? These are people, whose ancestors just happened to be more capable psychopaths than some other people’s ancestors. We were once part of Sweden and it wasn’t a happy time for us.

This is actually what more comedies today should be about. It’s the jesters’ job to remind people in power of their mortality and fallibility.

79. You Were Never Really Here (United Kingdom 2017)
Director: Lynne Ramsay

Joe is a war veteran, who hasn’t been able to really return to normality. He finds employment in finding misisng girls. He is very good at his job, but it’s also eating his soul. When he gets a big job, he gets involved in something he might not like. Not that he can’t handle the job, but the magnitude of everything might just be too much.

Many, or even most, of you have probably seen Joker. Well, I can’t say for sure, but it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to assume that Todd Phillips saw this movie and that was the basis of decision to cast Joaquin Phoenix as Joker. Okay, these were less than two years apart, so it’s also possible that Phoenix was already cast by Phillips, since those big studio movies don’t often move very fast, even if we are talking about a smaller budgeted film, such as Joker. Still, there are many similarities between the two movies. We have a broken main character, who is capable of violence. They are also both very dependent of their mother, have had very rough childhoods and use brain medication of some sort (I don’t understand them well enough to characterize them more precisely).

And while Joker is very violent in a mainstream sort of way, Joe is brutal. He seems to be able to completely disassociate himself from his own brutality in the moment. While Joker is large a creature of instict, with no actual plan, Joe has a mission and follows his plan through like a machine. At the same time, this is a much subtler performance. In Joker, Phoenix let’s go. Joe does his best to maintain his composure. The movie works best, when he can’t.

Besides Phoenix’s work, I do love how the movie is constructed and I really don’t want to underplay Ramsay’s work here. Lynne often distances us from the actual violence. Sometimes it happens off-screen, sometimes it’s happened before we get there and in one great scene we see everything through security cameras. The violence is not the point. We do get a fair share of it, but we only get to see it when it’s necessary.

The movie does focus on this one specific character. It’s actually quite an interesting take. We have a pretty standard modern action hero, in the vein of many Liam Neeson characters (obviously Taken comes to mind), but he is not perfect. He does get the job done, but these things weigh on him. He is not cool and composed except when working. All in all a commendable and interesting subversion on this kind of a character.

78. Incendies (Canada 2010)
Director: Denis Villeneuve

The mother of twins Jeanne and Simon has just died leaving behind a mysterious request for each of them. One of them should find their father, who they have never met, while the other should find their brother, of whom they had never heard of before. Simon isn’t initially interested, while Jeanne travels to their mothers (fictional) homeland to find out what happened to her during the religiously motivated civil war as well to dig the dark history of their family.

There’s a twist I have never been actually able to reconcile. It feels just too much of a coincidence for this type of movie, but it’s also so tragic, that it makes the movie very memorable. Does it make the movie better? The story before is very tragic, but also quite believable. It’s something you could see happening in the real world to real people, which means that the quite unbelievable twist takes away from some of the drama of the movie as a whole.

Still, the movie works, even if the ending leaves me somewhat introspective in a very wrong way. The play, which this is based on, was written by Wajdi Mouawad, who was born in Lebanon, so it’s not a longshot to assume much of what happens in the movie is based on their civil war (although, he was eight when the family left the country, so probably not that much based on his own experiences), but the story is told in such a way that many of the themes feel universal. I mean, I haven’t experienced much of what happens in the movie, but you still understand most of the movie and you feel sympathy for the main characters. Again, I just have a complicated relationship with the ending.

77. The Wild Bunch (United States 1969)
Director: Sam Peckinpah

A gang of outlaws is looking to score one more bank before retirement. A former partner is on their trail, as they move south into Mexico, where they meet the local warlord (actually, a general, but pretty much acts as a warlord). One of them sees the general with his former lover and kills her. The rest are forced to rob a US arms shipment in order to appease the general.

A lot of westerns, especially the revisionist ones, are about men used to their own form of freedom, but are losing ground to ever-expanding civilization. They are put in a peculiar situation: They must sacrifice their own way of life in order for other people to thrive in safety. There’s actually several examples of this on this very list. The men in this particular movie might not be the most willing participants in all this, but when they finally “do the right thing”, at least the end result is gloriously violent.

Peckinpah was well known for this violence in his movies, but this particular movie pioneered various techniques, which further underlined it, especially the quick edits. Not that the beginning of the film, where some kids gleefully torture ants amd scorpions, helps any. The movie isn’t playing down the horrible reality in any way.

The kids also tell another story: This so-called civilization might not even be that good a thing. The kids are from a fairly established town, which is large enough to have a marching band (which gets slaughtered). So, what are the men even fighting for in the end?

Our protagonists are great for their parts. They aren’t young and the toll of years on the road shows. Stars of their age (both Holden and Borgnine were in their early fifties, Jason Statham and Keanu Reeves are roughly that age as of this writing and they are doing very physical roles) seem quite different these days. The age of the actors also works nicely with the theme as the characters know how things used to be in the old west.

76. Holy Motors (France 2012)
Director: Leos Carax

Monsieur Oscar(?) lives a peculiar life, constantly taking on new weird roles, as he traverses in the back of a limousine from situation to situation. Sometimes we see glimpses of the actual Oscar. Maybe. We never really know.

According to IMDb, Denis Levant has 11 different roles, but these are probably just the ones they bothered to name. There seems to be more. My take on this: Oscar is there to fix the bugs in the system. Whatever that system is. He is a sort of Deus Ex Machina, coming into the situation to cause some effect and then move on to his next assignment.

You shouldn’t even try to parse any kind of story from within all the chaos. There might be a story within each segment, but I don’t think that’s that significant. The best you can hope for is to enjoy Levant’s performance, which is great. After all, it carried the movie onto this list.

Personal favourite is the accordion performance. Like most of the situations in the movie, it comes out of nowhere. Levant just steps into the scene with an accordion, soon followed by a bunch of other accordion players, followed by a number of other instruments. Its a bit of relief in a movie, where many of the subjects are quite bleak. The players just seem to have fun and if you think about it, how often do accordion players get to do anything like it? It also feels like a music video within the movie, which might in many other cases feel very out of place, but in this particular case, it works.

In the end, I mostly like the movie simply for just being something completely different. I’m not sure the actual quality of the movie as a whole holds up, but many of the individual segments are great. The ending is actually kind of stupid and unnecessary.

I don’t think this is a coincidence: The director is Leos Carax (actually a stage name) or Leos Carax. The main character is a weird avatar for the director himself. What is the director trying to tell us? Probably something about the outside pressure of making movies. He doesn’t make them often. It’s been eight years since this one and as of this writing, he hasn’t made another. Is the process just too much for him? This is of course just speculation, but I am basing this on certain sources I found when looking for information on the movie.

75. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Italy 1988)
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Salvatore, or Toto as a kid, is a famous director. He has moved on from his humble roots in a small village, but no he hears about the death of an old friend, which prompts him to reminisce about his early years and his friendship with Alfredo, the projectionist of the local cultural centre, i.e. Cinema Paradiso.

It’s largely a history of cinema. Early on it was common for movie experience to be different based on the locale where you saw it. We see the local priest order cuts to made to the films in parts he sees as immoral (mostly kissing). Also, the projectionist didn’t just place reels on the projector. They would often have control over the speed at which movies would shown (studios even encouraged this), so your movie might be of wildly different length with different projectionists during the silent era. The whole film is just a love letter to cinema.

There isn’t much dialogue, as obviously the theme in itself suggests that the visual should be of great importance. There is dialogue when needed, but the story moves forward fine without it. We understand gestures, expressions and camera movements well enough not to require anything more than that. We can just enjoy the movie. There are some conflicts, but the movie doesn’t dwell on them. It would much rather celebrate the media of film.

Movies aren’t even seen as a high art here. The local cinema is a place for everyone to enjoy them and the small community comes to there together to spend time and share an experience. When the cinema burns down (thus the name of the movie, as it’s rebuilt), it’s not just a tragedy to the owner, but for everyone in the village. As various other forms of entertainment (first TV, then physical media and finally the World Wide Web) have displaced movies, just like movies displaced stage entertainment, the communities have also lost something.

74. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Germany 1922)
Director: F.W. Murnau

Count Orlok wants to buy some real estate. While his agent, one herr Hutter, tries to accommodate him, Orlok becomes interested in his wife. Being a vampire, this gives a unique opportunity to terrorize the poor woman. Yes, it’s a plagiarized version of Dracula.

That has been part of the big talking point about the movie for the longest time now. It was thought to be lost, because it was ordered to be destroyed by the courts. It did survive though, which in itself is remarkable, because most of the legally produced moves from the silent era have been lost, because of the way the film was often reused due to it’s cost or destroyed due to it’s flammability.

However, focusing on that point misses the other important consideration: the movie is very good. Despite almost a hundred years of age, it’s still scary in a very freaky way. The long shadows informing us of the Count’s presence have since become truly iconic for a reason. The way he stalks his prey still works. Weirdly, the movie was considered by some to be too well shot to be real horror. This was a time when you could still talk of these things as if they were real and not seem foolish. Vampires weren’t just a bunch of overused cliches. They were fresh in those days and somehow the movie has been able to remain interesting despite all odds.

Many of the techniques it brought to the limelight are still being actively used today. It might not have been the first to have edited scenes happening concurrently together, but I couldn’t name a movie older than it to have done it. I am a big fan of German expressionism and the genre had a lot of influence on a number of genres, but especially film noir.

73. The Meaning of Life (United Kingdom 1983)
Director: Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam

After a 15 minute short reminding us how globalization was a concern even back in the 80s, we are treated to a serious of sketches depicting each stage of human life, from birth to death.

For the longest time, I saw this film as a lesser Python movie (and I don’t think I was alone), which to me still meant that it was in my opinion better than 95% of all movies. I’ve since updated that to around 99% and now I think it’s the best movie from the comedy troupe. However, I do feel the movie is somewhat uneven, although I think my opinion on the weak parts differs from the majority, as I don’t really like the Mr. Creasote sketch. Another weak point is the tiger in Africa.

The strength of the movie isn’t in singular sketches. It’s in the overriding theme, which allows for many funny moments, but in the very way one would hope comedy works in exposing various absurdities in life, especially in various dogmas, which often guide our worldviews. Although both Holy Grail and Life of Brian have a more or less overarching story, they also had a tendency to fall back on sketches. This just happens to be more honest about it.

The story goes that the troupe sold this idea to the studio with a poem, but what really sold the studio was the idea of working with the Pythons, which they figured would attract other comedians under their wings. I guess you do what you need to do to get such immortal classics as UFOria, The Money Pit and Howard the Duck. (Well, honestly, there was also a little movie called Back to the Future, but I don’t know if this whole thing actually lead to anything.) I’m not trying to take anything away from the troupe, though. While this movie might not be a key influence to all those comedians, the troupe’s work as a whole is. They do themselves admit that obviously they had their own influences as well, with certain older comedians even blaming them for copying their style, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t an important building block to what modern comedy is.

72. Låt den rätte komma in (Sweden 2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson

Oskar is a lonely, bullied child in the grey suburbs of Stockholm. This has lead him to be quite a grim kid, dreaming of revenge and collecting news stories of brutal crimes. Eli is a girl of seemingly similar age, who moves into the apartment next door with Håkan. Håkan knows that Eli is actually a vampire and tries to sustain her through killing people and harvesting their blood. However, he is old and thus not exactly an efficient assassin, which leaves Eli alone. Oskar and Eli clumsily form a friendship, which being a coming together of someone with a physical need to kill and someone else with a wish to kill can’t really end well.

Despite being a suburb of a metropolis, the movie’s setting is a place of isolation. Oskar is very much alone. He doesn’t really have any solace from this except for his violent fantasies. The landscape is almost expressionistic in this sense. It’s bare and mostly dead except for a few people here and there. This is what happens to so many people in cities, where you might be completely isolated even if you are surrounded by people. For Oskar, those he interacts with outside of his home are actually threats, which also happens to many children who are victims of bullying.

The writer and the director have both conveyed that they don’t really have much interest in vampires. This explains why the movie doesn’t actually feel like a vampire movie. Vampires have historically been sexy foreigners, who come to take our women or something like that. Actually, historically vampire movies have been more popular in the US under democratic governments, because certain parts of the population are afraid that the democrats will just let all the immigrants into the country and vampires are representative of that fear (this has become mixed recently, but zombies used to be more popular during republican governments, because there were fears of mindless, consumerist masses). This movie finds other, less played out avenues to use the metaphor of a vampire to explore human existance.

Even though vampires might now invoke Twilight, there have actually been smaller movies that take a deeper look into the questions raised by the idea. We have movies like Only Lovers Left Alive, which is about what being an immortal would actually be like, and we have an Iranian film called A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which has a female vampire subverted as being veiled at all times, like the local customs require her to, so her sexuality is also obscured.

The always seems to be more life in these cliches, but it just requires new point of view to use these things differently. Actually, since we all know what a vampire is (except apparently Stephanie Meyer), using them as a basis for various ideas the filmmakers want to convey, might be the right way to go in many situations.

71. Kanashimi no beradonna (Japan 1973)
Director: Eiichi Yamamoto

Jean and Jeanne are very much in love and ask permission to marry without paying for the license from the local lord. The response is that Jeanne is gang raped by the members of the court, the couple is harassed and finally Jeanne is banished from her community. She seeks help and once she learns there’s no-one else, she turns to a penis, which represents Satan.

This is sort of an animation. It’s beautifully painted in watercolors, but there isn’t much actual animation. Mostly the movement comes from pans and zooms on the paintings. I’m not familiar with Japanese animation from this era, but I’ve heard that this was actually normal to them. The only thing that apparently warranted actual animation was Satan, who – again – appears as a flacid penis. Despite this simplicity, the production took six years to complete. It wasn’t worth it at the time, as the movie flopped horribly and was completely forgotten for 40 or so years, before finding a new life just a few years ago.

The film is Japanese, but is full of European influences. It’s loosely based on a non-fiction book called Satanism and Witchcraft, which adopts an interesting perspective on the matter. It claims that witchcraft was actually a reaction to the lack of opportunities – especially for women – under European feudalism. The style of the paintings is also very much European. At the same time, this is a Japanese movie. They didn’t exactly get everything right, which makes me think about how wrong we get things about the Japanese culture.

It’s weird how well this works. It just shouldn’t. Still, the beautiful paintings coupled with the odd subject matter and the Japanese lense we see it through, is just great.

This belongs to a class of movies I like, but can’t really recommend. There’s some other movies on the list, which also belong to this class, but I think this is the epitome for me. Sometimes it’s just hard to find people, who I can trust to enjoy something like this. Not that I go around stopping people on the street to recommend a movie to them, but when I discuss movie recommendations with people (which I seem to do regularly), this is the kind of movie I bring up only if I feel I can joke about it.

70. The Lighthouse (United States 2019)
Director: Robert Eggers

Two lighthousekeepers arrive at a secluded island for their four week watch. The older one guards the light itself jealously, while the younger one is left to do all the menial labour. Those four weeks are hard on each of their sanity. Massive amounts of alcohol doesn’t help.

Eggers made the decision to make this look like movie from the period its about. The aspect ratio is very different from the one we are used to and obviously it’s in black and white. However, he also often lays everything out in the same way they would have done 100 years ago. Still, he doesn’t forget the lessons of the that past century either, but picks his moments of old age cinema carefully.

While the decision to do this in black and white is probably closely related to the era depicted, it’s not quite as simple as that. Black and white feels very different from color. Sure, there’s the old timey feel, but it also enables stark contrasts, which are often missing with colors. Light just doesn’t quite work the same way. There is also a sense of otherworldliness. That you can achieve in color, but not quite in the same way. Even though color should be the default, I do think moving into black and white should happen more than it does currently.

In some ways this feels like The VVitch, Eggers’ only earlier movie. We have only a few characters, willfully isolated from the rest of society and losing control of the situation, but at the same time, The VVitch is largely about kids growing up in that situation, whereas this goes deeper into loss of control. I mean, we as the audience have pretty much no idea about what’s going on either. We only get a version of it, but since we get a version from a certain character, we can’t actually trust it.

At the theater, I was amused by the idea of those last few Twi-Hards trying to follow Robert Pattinson to their best ability. He’s not making it easy with his choices. I can’t say I’ve followed his career very closely, but I can still say pretty confidently, that he hasn’t gone quite this far before. For Willem Defoe, on the other hand, this is probably just par for the course. Each of them is great in their roles, although I’m not quite sure how to interpret Defoe’s sailor speech. Is it an act? It’s just so extreme that I feel it might be.

The movie is quite slow and there isn’t much of a plot. It’s more about the characterization and the mood. The latter is quite heavy. There’s a diegetic horn periodically blowing through most of the movie in the background, which sounds like the trumpet of doom, which are overused in modern trailers. There’s the rain, the wind and the crashing waves, which are always present in the duo’s lives. Is the weather a reflection of their state of mind or does the weather push them into madness?

69. Gosford Park (United Kingdom 2001)
Director: Robert Altman

William McCordle is a rich man in England in the 1930s. A bunch of his relatives and other acquitances have gathered in his house for a party. When McCordle gets murdered, an investigation ensues.

It’s partly a satire of Agatha Christie style mysteries, but that’s not the whole picture. Actually, there is no master detective here. We only have a bumbling inspector, who is quite unwilling to let anyone help. It is listed as a comedy, but it’s actually quite a small part of the whole.

In order for everything to run smoothly, each brings their own servants. Both the party upstairs and the staff downstairs follow their own strict rules of conduct based on status. The murder investigation is just an excuse for each of these groups to have their own interactions. Many are afraid that their personal secrets will come to light.

Of course, the two groups are very separate. In fact, the inspector in charge of the case doesn’t even think to investigate the servants, because to him they are just background noise. The constable accompanying him is clearly more capable, but is completely dismissed because of his lower status. To the inspector, it’s just not his place to take part, even though the downstairs people actually have a better chance of figuring everything out, as they know everything. They are always there in the background, listening and being excellent at remaining unnoticed, as it’s part of their job.

To some of the upstairs people, the downstairs is a mystery to be unravelled, but to most of them, the servants just exist to make their day run smoother. Not that they appreciate these people at all. Even when their existence is actually acknowledged, it’s often manipulative or falls quickly back into the usual power structures.

The cast is an English all-star affair easily on par with the Harry Potter movies. Stephen Fry as the inspector feels and the constable helping him actually feel a little out of place as more comedic actors. They are very different from the overall feel of the movie, which is funny in many places, but in a much more low-key manner. The rest of the cast are better known for drama, which works in the context quite well, as even when the movie is funny, it’s not usually jokey. It’s just contextual.

The mystery is largely meaningless. Sure, it gets solved, but I actually forgot all about it for large portions of the movie. I think that was the goal as well. All the characters and their personal problems are much more interesting throughout.

68. 24 Hour Party People (United Kingdom 2002)
Director: Michael Winterbottom

In Manchester in 1976, Tony Wilson is a TV presenter who comes across the birth of punk as he witnesses an early Sex Pistols performance. This inspires him to start his own record company, Factory Records. The film focuses on two of the major driving artistic forces with Ian Curtis first making the music which put the company on the map, and then Shaun Ryder, who managed to take it down with his antics. And well, I guess Wilson’s loose business practices didn’t really help either.

There’s a lot of fourth wall breaking here. Wilson likes to explain what’s going on in various situations, so we get pieces of wisdom like a John Ford quote on printing the legend instead of the truth and his admittance that even though he was the driving force behind Factory and gets the most screentime, the movie isn’t really about him.

Obviously, it helps the movie immensely, that the music of Joy Division and New Order is great and I do enjoy some of the stuff from Happy Mondays. Also, Ian Curtis being a much more interesting and relatable character than Shaun Ryder, makes the first half of the movie much better than the latter half in my eyes. Not that the latter part is bad and obviously the decline and eventual bankruptcy of Factory Records is in itself interesting. The movie even managed to make me care about club culture, which I generally dislike, as I don’t really care for the crowds.

Perhaps it’s a bit hard for me to separate my love of Joy Division from the movie. It’s career was cut short, but those two albums and the few singles they released influenced so many other bands that in my mind Joy Division is not only one of the greatest bands of all time, but also one of the most important ones. Their legacy is tremendous and obviously hard to quantify, but most of my favorite music (especially in my youth) has roots which can be traced back to this one band that just broke the mold.

Besides the music and the semi-fictional biographies, I like the style. There’s this feeling of anarchy. The rules don’t matter. You can tell the story in the way you feel is the best without regard for ‘best practices’. Sure, it’s still good technically, it just takes certain freedoms. This does lend itself to especially strong emotional moments near the end of the movie.

I do like this idea of doing the biography in the style of what the person being biographied would presumably do or at least the style isn’t the usual biography style, but instead more in line of with how they are trying to portray the person. As Wilson was still alive at the time, he could have had a hand in choosing this approach. I’m not saying this always works, but with artists, this should be a given. American Splendor manages to do this quite well too and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas nails this quite well despite encompassing a single weekend. There’s also another film I’d like to mention here, but as it’s also on the list, I’ll keep my mouth shut for now.

67. Die Hard (United States 1988)
Director: John McTiernan

John McClane is in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the skyscraper, where his estranged wife has invited him to a Christmas party, is being overtaken by an international group of terrorists. He has to fight them alone with the limited tools he has.

Although there had been many kinds of action films throughout the 80s, the most prominent kind were the larger-than-life blockbusters with musclebound main characters. Predator, as the most grievous example of this (although I do like it), came out just the previous year. Along with Lethal Weapon (also the previous year), Die Hard took this into a new direction. It starred an everyman. Someone who was clearly competent in his job, but wasn’t some superhuman freak. Obviously, he manages to handle the situation, but it’s not like he walks through problems or knows precognitively what to do. Each bad guy is almost like a boss fight, because McClane’s only real superhuman attribute is the ability to take punishment. That’s something we can convince ourselves we could do as well, so that just makes the character approachable.. Sure, some situations go beyond the confines of reality, but without these moments this would be a pretty hard sell even in the pre-CGI days of 80s.

Die Hard moved the action genre into a very different direction for a while. Not that most of the movies did this nearly as well. Just play a game: How many different places did they do the Die Hard plot in? Of course, crude CGI had been around for a while by then, but it wasn’t on the level, where you could actually do believable monsters. It didn’t take very long though. It took only five years to move from Die Hard to Jurassic Park and by the turn of the millenium, superheroes would be everywhere.

.. but 32 years ago, that one cop from New York was showing all of us that you don’t need superpowers to persevere. You just need to think things through and be resilient enough to be able to take a lot of hits. Of course, back in those days Bruce Willis cared, which also shows in the movie.

66. The Kid (United States 1921)
Director: Charles Chaplin

A young woman has just given birth to a baby, but is in such dire straits, that in her desperation she leaves him in a limousine in hopes that it’s owner would take care of the child. Sadly, the limousine is stolen with the baby in it and as the thieves are not interested in taking care of a baby, they just dump it in an alley, which is where The Tramp finds him and despite initial hesitancy decides to raise the newly named John. However, events conspire to separate the two.

The movie was pretty unique for it’s time. It was Chaplin’s first feature as a director and his idea of adding dramatic elements into a comedy just had not been done before. It’s now quite normal and often an integral part of comedies, but obviously someone had to be first and this is it. Obviously, this in itself doesn’t make a movie good, just like using this method doesn’t make movies good by default these days either. Instead, a movie needs to have heart and this has plenty of it. Sure, much of the humor is quaint rather than funny by today’s standards, but it’s always used to tell the story and explain the characters.

There’s also just a little bit of weirdness in the movie. Despite being only roughly 50 minutes long (which I’m guessing is partly due to less frames per second in silent films than we use today, as it’s listed as being 68 minutes long at IMDb and frame rates weren’t very stable anyhow, as handcranked cameras would give different results in different situations and studios even encouraged showing their movies in higher speeds than in which they were shot), it includes a dream sequence, in which The Tramp dreams about being an angel among other angels and sin creeping in through devilish figures, who plant various ideas into the minds of the denizens.

Chaplin was quite left-leaning and that was partly the reason why he wasn’t allowed back in the US. This shows in his movies as a certain romantization of the poor and their struggles. However, as attitudes have changed, the movie does seem to have a certain neoliberal bent. Most leftist media sees the government as a protector of the people or at least that what it should strive for. Here, officials are just an obstacle to The Tramp and his adopted kid having a life together. Of course, the world has changed as well. The anti-union tendencies of governments made the System seem like the enemy of the people and in many ways it was. In many countries (like the US) it still is. However, the answer is not in dismantling the government completely, it’s in restructuring it, which many miss as an option.

65. Batman Returns (United States 1992)
Director: Tim Burton

Batman has become a fixture in the city, but new problems arise as Penguin is has political goals and is backed by a corrupt billionaire. Also, that billionaire happens to try to murder Selina Kyle, who then becomes Catwoman and is looking for vengeance somewhat unaimlessly.

Yep, this is still my favorite superhero movie. At the time the whole genre of movies was still in it’s infancy. Sure, besides the Batman movie this is a direct sequel, there had actually been a surprising number of completely forgettable movies made after Superman. Well, Rocketeer was actually very good. There was a pair direct-to-video Marvel movies (Punisher and Captain America) and a pair of Swamp Thing movies, as well as various other movies you may or may not feel are superhero movies (some people like to list RoboCop as such, but I guess they haven’t seen it).

Seeing how new the whole thing was, it’s quite surprising that Burton was allowed to go this hard into the genre deconstruction territory. The current era of superhero dominance didn’t start until 2000 with the X-Men (shit, that’s 20 years ago), but it took quite a long time before these movies began to take similar chances with movies like Deadpool, Logan and Thor: Ragnarok, as well as Amazon series, The Boys. Even these are still a long way from Batman Returns.

What makes it so interesting? The flawed characters. I mean, what would it take for a person to put on a bat-costume to jump around the roofs of the city? And Bruce Wayne is still quite sane compared to the Penguin and Catwoman. I guess they sort of have superpowers, but its never quite clear. Even if they do, they are not like the modern villains who threaten whole cities or worlds or even the universe with their extreme powers.

With so many big characters in the movie, Batman’s return is quite muted. (His presence in the predecessor was less than one might assume for a movie named after him.) Both Penguin and Catwoman steal the spotlight for big chunks of the movie. And why not? Michael Keaton is quite lowkey, while both Pfeiffer and De Vito freely chew the scenery.

This was still an age where computer graphics were in their infancy, so everything is practical (I guess there might be a few effects here and there, but there can’t be many). This means that the set pieces of the film are quite different from what they would be today, but that doesn’t really matter. The more memorable fights are memorable, because they also push the plot forward. I’m much more interested in the characters than Penguin controlling the Batmobile through the streets of Gotham.

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