Monday, March 22, 2010

23 movies that have stuck with me

In the bizarro world of Facebook, I was recently meme-tagged by my friend Steve Honeywell. The meme in question asks one to list "23 films that will always stick with you." I suppose "stick with you" can be interpreted in various ways: films so horrific that their images have been burned into your brain, films so profound that you've found yourself exploring their themes over and over through the years, etc. Keeping the potential variety of reasons in mind, then, here's my off-the-cuff, and woefully incomplete, list of films that will always stick with me:

1. The Star Wars trilogy (1977-1983): I'm cheating by counting these as one story

I'm a member of the Star Wars generation, so these films have to be listed. And because I'm old-school in my thinking, there's no way in hell I can include the prequel trilogy in this list. The George Lucas of old was far superior to the old George Lucas.

2. The LOTR trilogy (Peter Jackson; same cheat here, too)

I felt the three movies got better as they went along. "The Fellowship of the Ring" struck me as a bit slow, but it's the necessary grounding for the story such that, by the time we reach "The Return of the King," we're emotionally invested in the lives and fates of the main characters.

3. The Matrix trilogy (arguably minus the third movie, but unfortunately, the third movie completes the story arc; the Wachowskis should have stopped the story at the end of the second movie)

As a student of religion, I found the Matrix movies to be a veritable "Where's Waldo?" of religious and philosophical references. There were the obvious Buddha/Moses/Christ parallels that appeared strongly in the first movie, the goofy PoMo philosophy that suffused the second movie, and the Gnosticism and Hinduism that seemed to dominate both the second and third films. You also had free-floating particles of Greek philosophy and post-WW2 existentialism in there. I don't think the jumble of references added up to a coherent philosophical or religious message, but taken together, the movies were and remain a supremely clever subversion of the cyberpunk genre for the sake of Haphazardly Juxtaposed Deep Thoughts.

My main beef with the series is two-pronged: (a) the first movie had the greatest sense of fun, and the fun was largely missing from the second and third films; (b) Neo follows the christic character arc to its conclusion in the first movie (we see death, resurrection, and ascension), which makes the repeat of Christ-imagery in the third movie problematic.

4. Aliens (James Cameron)

I saw this movie with an audience in the 1980s, and that was by far the best way to view it. Cameron was always better than Lucas when it came to balancing plot, character development, and special effects. Also unlike Lucas, Cameron pushed his actors hard, yielding some brilliant performances and seeding "Aliens" with more humor than you'd normally expect in a horror movie. Well, OK: "Aliens" wasn't merely a horror film: it was more of a genre-transcending horror/action flick with not-so-subtle references to the Vietnam War (martial hubris in the face of brutal nature-- a theme also found in "Avatar") and corporate greed. Its major themes were, arguably, feminism and motherhood.

The Vietnam dimension of "Aliens" deserves further exploration. Cameron's commentary was decidedly pro-Vietnamese (with not-so-native aliens substituting for Vietnamese natives) and anti-soldier-- this during a decade when most Vietnam films were, in some way or another, portraying the US soldier in a more sympathetic light, as if Hollywood were engaged in a massive campaign to apologize for the way returning soldiers were treated in the 1960s and 70s. In any case, whatever the movie's political subtext, I thought "Aliens" was excellently scripted and told a gripping story with fleshed-out characters whose fates we cared about.

5. The Exorcist (Friedkin)

By my reckoning, this is still the best horror movie of all time. At its heart lies a crisis of faith, an internal battle occurring within the mind and heart of Father Damien Karras. Unfortunately, Friedkin's movie doesn't make it as obvious as Blatty's book that Karras sees the demonic possession as evidence of God's existence. The movie does, however, preserve the conflict itself, if not the resolution in favor of faith. The result is that the book and the movie each possess fundamental ambiguities: the book's core ambiguity comes at the end of the story: how can Karras's move toward faith be reconciled with his suicide? The film's core ambiguity is simpler: did Karras find peace of mind at the end?

6. Ran (Kurasawa)

Beautifully shot, beautifully adapted version of Shakespeare's King Lear. One of the most striking images, for me, came during the scene in which Hidetora shoots a man in the back with an arrow: the man collapses, and his blood flows out among hexagonal paving stones, suggesting the contrast between fluid life and rigid death. An incredible visual metaphor.

7. Tampopo (Itami)

One of the most Zen films I've ever seen, "Tampopo" is ostensibly about food, but in reality it's about the value of mindful focus and the virtues of living deeply, as opposed to being caught up in the frenetic rat race of normal, superficially focused human existence. Along the way, it satirizes Japanese culture from the inside, and provides a nearly nonstop barrage of comedy to make the more profound lessons feel less preachy than they might otherwise have been. The exploding-abscess scene is classic, and the dying-mother scene is tragic, especially in light of what my family has just gone through.

That latter scene often struck me as incongruous, given the light-hearted nature of most of the film, but in the end I understood Itami to be trying to weave both death and family into his tapestry of themes, and death is a hard subject to approach in a light-hearted manner (cf. the failure that is "The Bucket List"-- a movie that could have been so, so much better).

8. Why Did Bodhidharma Go East? (Bae)

Perhaps THE most Zen film I've ever seen, since it's explicitly about Korean Seon (Zen) Buddhism. Warning: this movie is quiet and slowly paced, and it can put you to sleep. In that sense, it has a lot in common with seated meditation, which can also put you to sleep if you're not careful. Students of Zen who watch this movie will note references to many Zen sayings, one overt nod to the famous Ox-herding Pictures, and some interesting commentary on the conflict between Buddhist monastic imperatives and the surrounding Confucian culture: how can a Buddhist postulant possibly renounce something as fundamental as family ties in order to pursue a life of contemplation?

A beautiful, simple, and unpretentious movie, "Why Did Bodhidharma Go East?" isn't for everyone, but its imagery and ideas have definitely stuck with me.

9. Good Will Hunting (Van Sant)

I love this movie. I don't care that Matt Damon is a frothing liberal, or that a lot of critics dismissed this film as sappy and predictable. Sure, the major plot line is predictable: of course Will Hunting and Sean Maguire will become friends, and of course Will will pass through a crucial emotional/spiritual threshold, experience some sort of redemptive catharsis, and find himself open to a healthier, more fulfilling future. But to me, the point of the movie isn't so much the goal as it is the journey along the way: the movie has a lot to say on the subjects of friendship and loyalty, selflessness and love, and the courage to master one's own fears in order better to live.

This is one of two movies whose scripts I would kill to have written. The other movie is also in this list. Suffice it to say that I still burn with envy at the thought that Damon and Affleck won their screenwriting Oscar for this film while so fucking young. The fact that they went on to parody themselves-- rather cruelly-- in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" is just icing on the cake. I couldn't hate these guys if I tried.

I also like that "Good Will Hunting" doesn't have any truly evil characters. The closest we come to such a person is the mathematician friend of Robin William's Sean Maguire: Stellan Skarsgård's Gerald Lambeau. Lambeau's major faults are that he's a frustrated womanizer and an arrogant dick, but at no point is he portrayed as actively seeking Will Hunting's ruin. Maguire senses that Will needs time before he'll be ready to accept the demands of any sort of high-pressure work, whereas Lambeau believes that Will has to be pushed hard now; the final shouting match between Maguire and Lambeau is more like an argument between two parents, both equally concerned about Will, than a contest between obviously good and obviously evil men.

The movie's script showed an emotional maturity not common among Hollywood 20-somethings, and even though it did rely on the overused Hollywood trope of therapy, it approached therapy in an authentic way. (I've never gone through therapy, but I've brought myself up on a diet of books that has included some psych titles, such as M. Scott Peck's now-classic The Road Less Traveled. I often wonder whether Damon and Affleck had, in fact, read Peck before or during their work on this movie's script.)

10. Pulp Fiction (Tarantino)

This is the second movie whose screenplay I'd kill to have written. What's not to like about "Pulp Fiction"? Forcible sodomy, shotgun castration, insanely inaccurate biblical quotes, and cunnilingus performed on a cute little Frenchwoman! Oh, and there's a katana in the mix, too-- a trope we'll see again in "Kill Bill."

Although I'll never be a fan of postmodernism and poststructuralism as serious philosophies, I think they're perfectly serviceable ways of thinking within the context of the artistic world-- painting, sculpture, literature, film, etc. That said, I think Quentin Tarantino, both as a writer and as a director, is perhaps the most impressive (and, for me, palatable) incarnation of the essence of PoMo and poststructuralism, to the extent that either way of thinking can be said to have an essence.

"Pulp Fiction" gives us a deliriously nonlinear narrative, a truckload of pungent-- and self-consciously literary-sounding-- dialogue, and some of the most memorable characters ever committed to film. A few of them, mind you, aren't major characters, either: I'm thinking specifically of the crazy taxi driver, Esmerelda Villalobos, whose surreal conversation with Bruce Willis's Butch always has me chortling. Eric Stoltz as the frenetic Lance is equally hilarious.

Tarantino is yet another director who stands in sharp contrast with George Lucas: he actually demands something of his actors, and the results are often marvelous. Samuel Jackson and John Travolta both bring the goods, as do Ving Rhames, Uma Thurman, and Harvey Keitel. Awesome film.

11. L'homme du train (Leconte)

This French movie about an old criminal who comes to a small town to perform a bank robbery, and who ends up befriending a similarly aged literature professor, starts off as an interesting study in contrasting temperaments, but turns into an examination of the nature of friendship and curiosity-inspired role reversal. The criminal slowly finds himself attracted to the old professor's life of contemplation; the professor, meanwhile, begins to take an interest in what it must be like to live the life of a criminal. The way the movie ends may strike some as a bit too lyrical and spiritual, but since old age is the unifying factor in the film, I felt the ending made sense.

12. Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg)

SPR is notable for its harrowing D-Day beach landing sequence at the beginning. This movie falls under the "images so horrific they're seared into my brain" category. The rest of the film is much more slowly paced, almost as if it were a different movie, but Spielberg does a fine job of providing you with an immediate, you-are-there feel throughout. Solid performances, devastating battle sequence at the end... but that beach landing at the beginning is what stays with you.

13. The Outlaw Josey Wales (Eastwood)

I saw this movie only a few days ago, but it impressed me enough to make this list. Over the years, I'd heard a lot about it, and the near-unanimous opinion was that TOJW was an Eastwood classic. I was impressed by how the movie played against Eastwood type: Josey Wales would have liked to be a loner, but he could never seem to find any quiet time, what with his constantly increasing entourage of folks headed south to Texas. The climax, in which Josey Wales met his nemesis Fletcher, resolved itself more cleanly and quietly than I would have expected. This was a movie full of surprises.

TOJW also struck me as flat-out strange: it interwove some heavy-duty themes with bizarrely incongruous moments of hilarity. Were I a filmmaker, I would never think to punctuate a movie about murder, rape, pillage, revenge, and Civil War strife with frequent shots of Eastwood spitting gouts of chewing tobacco on everything in sight: a foppish carpetbagger, a random scorpion, and even his faithful hound dog (the dog was a great actor, too: it snarled and ran away every time it was hit... but it always came back!). Yet somehow, all that incongruity worked in the movie's favor, and I found myself laughing out loud almost every time Eastwood spat on something (or someone).

Lastly, the movie contained a moment of dialogue that gave me goosebumps: the scene where Josey Wales, now deep in Comanche territory, seeks out the chief named Ten Bears and strikes a deal with him, so as to allow a white family to settle on Comanche land. For the curious, the full exchange is here (with text formatting problems, alas), but it's no substitute for watching the actual scene:

TOJW is chock-full of interesting characters, not least of which is Lone Watie, played by Chief Dan George in a performance that seamlessly combines humor, sadness, and soulful profundity.

14. The Unforgiven (Eastwood)

I now see that "The Unforgiven" is the spiritual grandchild of "The Outlaw Josey Wales." In both cases, Eastwood portrays a farmer who leaves the simple life for a return to the gunslinging exploits of his youth, but of the two movies, I'd argue that "The Unforgiven" is more explicitly a study in violence. "The Unforgiven" gives us William Munny, a man who was, thanks to his now-deceased wife, at least temporarily reformed from his meaner-than-hell-cold-blooded-damn-killer ways. But as the movie peels back the layers of Munny's character, we realize with dawning horror that Munny's core remains as rotten as it's ever been: to call William Munny "a mean drunk" would be the understatement of the 19th century, given what he does, without hesitation, at the end of the film.

I suppose, upon deeper reflection, that that's a major difference between Josey Wales and William Munny. Wales is a hard-bitten man, but at heart he isn't evil. Munny, by contrast, is evil to the core, but was gentled for a time by the calming influence of his wife. "The Unforgiven" directly associates Munny's darkness with alcohol-- another way in which this movie is a "revisionist" Western. The violence isn't glorified, and all of the gun battles carry a stink of ignominy about them. Nobility of spirit is harder to find in "The Unforgiven" than it is in "The Outlaw Josey Wales"; unlike that 1970s film, "The Unforgiven" has no wise and humorous American Indians, nor any truly redemptive figures to offer Munny any hope of salvation. Munny's children might come close to fitting this bill, but Munny leaves them to their own devices at the beginning of the story.

This is one of Eastwood's darkest films, and it's even got its own version of Hindu metaphysics: when Little Bill (Gene Hackman) is lying gutshot on the floor of the bar, he croaks, "I don't deserve this." Eastwood's character replies, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it." Karma: old-school style.

15. Die Hard (first movie only; McTiernan)

"Die Hard" offers us our first major flawed 1980s action hero. Unlike Eastwood, Stallone, or even Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis as John McClane is decidedly not stoic in the face of adversity: he groans, he yelps, he howls while spraying lead out of a stolen machine gun, he mutters bitterly about his estranged wife... and he does all this while getting shot at, being beaten up, and losing improbably copious quantities of blood.

Humor is a major component in the movie's appeal, but I also think that the pacing and story structure of "Die Hard" are noteworthy: there are almost no wasted scenes, and just about every moment serves to propel the plot forward in an intelligent way. Case in point: the fateful comment made to McClane by a fellow airline passenger, at the beginning of the movie, that making fists with your toes in the carpet can be relaxing after a long time flying. Much like the butterfly effect in chaos theory, that offhand remark turns out to be the cause of most of John McClane's later troubles.

We'll forgive Alan Rickman his awful German grammar and pronunciation in the role of Hans Grueber, mainly because Rickman is one of the few male actors in the galaxy who can make a nasal voice sound deliciously menacing. I always laugh when my friends from across the pond accuse us Americans of sounding nasal: they have more than their fair share of actors with voice-flattening schnozzes: Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Tom Georgeson, Liam Neeson, et al.

John McClane became iconic as the Everyman we rooted for. As heroes go, you're not supposed to approach him with the same awe and worship you give to stone-faced Arnold or squinty-flinty Eastwood: the idea is that you're not sure whether Everyman can make it out of his latest scrape unscathed. Therein lies the suspense. In the films of Arnold, Clint, and Sly, the outcome is already a forgone conclusion: the invincible good guy will win, but we're dying to see new and original ways of dispatching the bad guys. With Willis, we have a hero who sometimes seems to kill bad guys more through luck or accident than skill. In the 1980s, at least, this take on action heroism was refreshing.

16. Moulin Rouge (McGregor/Kidman/Luhrmann)

I normally dislike musicals, but this bittersweet, heavily pastiched meditation on love in the bohemian idiom was way too cleverly written, edited, and sung/acted for me to dismiss it. Great performances by all the leads, hilarious adaptations of pop songs, and another sublime expression of the Tao of PoMo. I remember that my mother cried at the story's conclusion. "Moulin Rouge" is a romantic, bittersweet fairy tale. For adults, I hasten to add.

17. The Incredibles (Bird)

I still haven't seen Pixar's most recent films, "Up" and "Wall-E," so I may not have all the data I need to make the following judgment, but in my opinion "The Incredibles" is Pixar's best work. The story structure is superb, the characters and their motivations are clearly laid out (as is every single scene involving action/fight choreography), and director Brad Bird convincingly creates an alternate universe that evokes 50s/60s architectural aesthetics alongside 80s-era James Bond technology. I didn't like Michael Giacchino's soundtrack for the recent "Star Trek" (overly repetitive leitmotifs), but I thought he did a perfect job scoring "The Incredibles." Like the movie itself, the soundtrack somehow managed to fuse the superheroic and spy genres.

All praise to Bird's team for inserting so many mature themes in the movie, including the rather awkward topic of marital infidelity-- something for kids who saw the film to pick up on later when they finally re-watch it as adults. Yet another mature theme is that of greatness versus so-called equality: "The Incredibles," as a movie, doesn't argue in favor of PC ideologies that claim we're all equally smart, equally gifted, and equally special. Instead, it puts forth the uncomfortable idea that we're not all created equal, and that some of us may well be better-designed for greatness than others are. I think that's a brave statement to emanate from a Hollywood source. "Sorry, son, but your IQ just isn't high enough for you to think about Harvard," or "Sorry, kid, but no matter how much you work out, you'll never bench 300 pounds" can be tough news to take. Still, that's life, and "The Incredibles" doesn't flinch from that message.

I have several favorite moments from this movie. One of them is when Dash discovers just what he's capable of during the Nomanisan Island chase scene. Another is the suspenseful moment when Helen Parr must decide what to do as the surface-to-air missiles are closing in, threatening not only her own life, but also the lives of two of her kids. I also enjoyed the contrasting ways in which Bob and Helen Parr infiltrated Syndrome's base-- Bob with brute force and Helen with slinky, rubbery subtlety. The most hilarious character was portrayed by Brad Bird himself: Edna Mode, the feisty half-German, half-Japanese midget designer of superheroic outerwear.

"The Incredibles" comes as close to perfect as any film I've seen. It definitely deserves a place on this list.

18. Shiri (a.k.a. "Swiri," Korean action flick; Kang)

As one of the very first Korean movies I actually sat down to watch, "Shiri" has a special place in my heart. It's a well-made action film, especially considering its minuscule budget, and is both better-scripted and far more thoughtful than most US action flicks. While a lot of Korean movies can be rightly accused of overly smarmy sentimentality, the quiet, sad way in which "Shiri" ends strikes me as completely apropos, given the overarching theme of North/South tension and conflict. The movie, which is about the hunt for a North Korean super-assassin, also made me a fan of actors Han Seok-gyu, Song Gang-ho, and Choi Min-shik, and introduced me to actress Kim Yun-jin, currently known in the US for her major role in the TV series "Lost." Kim was the assassin in question.

Korean movies are generally adept at infusing their plots with symbolism, and "Shiri" is no exception. The standoff at the end of the movie between Han Seok-gyu and Choi Min-shik is a perfect example of what I mean: it is, in miniature, the standoff between the North and South today. The movie also doesn't flinch from tweaking North Korean ideology (South Korean public rhetoric is often disappointingly soft when it comes to addressing the depredations of the North), a fact that gives me warm fuzzies. For people who've never watched Korean films before, "Shiri" isn't a bad place to begin.

19. Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino)

"Reservoir Dogs" is quite possibly the most disturbing movie I've seen, mainly because of the infamous ear-removal scene. This is Tarantino's first film, and for me its charm lies in its staging: it often feels like a theater piece that was a little too faithfully adapted for the silver screen. Camera techniques are minimalist overall, as are special effects (except in the spurting blood department). RD is mostly about hard-hitting dialogue, and it features the same sorts of ridiculous monologues (e.g., the "Like a Virgin" spiel) that will later make "Pulp Fiction" famous. Superb acting by the entire cast, and a hell of a beginning for Tarantino. Michael Madsen, as the bland face of evil, was the perfect casting choice, and his casual removal of that poor cop's ear will always, always stick with me.

20. Kung Fu Panda (Stevenson, Osborne)

Although I've written elsewhere about this movie's flaws and virtues, I'm constantly amazed and touched by one scene in particular: the scene depicting the culmination of Po the Panda's training.

In this scene, Po is told that his training is complete and that he is "now free to eat." The master offers him a bowl of hot dumplings, but every time Po tries to eat one, the master becomes a blur of movement and snatches the dumpling away, stuffing it in his own mouth. As Po, dismayed and increasingly angry, watches his coveted dumplings disappear, the master repeats in a growling voice: "You are free to eat!"

Po, outraged: Am I?
Master Shifu, sternly: Are you?

So much East Asian philosophy and culture are contained in the above exchange that I wouldn't even know where to begin unpacking it. But the scene doesn't end there: it continues, as Po realizes he's going to have to work for the last remaining dumpling. An intense battle between Po and his master ensues, and in the end, Po finally manages to snatch the dumpling from the air. However, he seems to have had a moment of realization during his struggle to obtain the dumpling: instead of eating it, he tosses it back to his master and says, "I'm not hungry." Again, there's way too much Asian thought here to unpack. Suffice it to say that, by the end of the dumpling struggle, Po has gained a crucial understanding of the freedom that his master was referring to earlier. Po's mastery of kung fu-- which is another way of referring to Po's mastery of himself-- offers him choices he never knew he had, and he's now that much further along the road to enlightenment.

The scene pulls at my heartstrings, too. Po's affectionate tossing of his last dumpling to his master, whom he obviously loves, always leaves me with a little lump in my throat.

21. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Allen)

By my lights, Woody Allen's best film. As with the Matrix movies, Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors" appeals to my inner religion student. It's probably Allen's most overtly theological work, and it's the only Allen film that, thanks to its Big Ideas, allows me to tolerate all that goddamn New Yawk intellectual whinging and neurosis. I find most of Allen's other films unwatchable for that very reason: I just don't get off on the moaning and groaning of a feckless nebbish. Hats off to Martin Landau for his excellent performance, and GOOD GOD, Anjelica Huston was plump back then!

22. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron)

Strangely enough, I saw this movie with my mother and at least one brother-- maybe both brothers. Mom's comment afterward was that the movie was too slow. I was surprised, but I suppose she had a point: the action scenes were spaced rather far apart along the movie's great length.

Still, I thought T2 was head and shoulders above the first movie, "The Terminator." James Cameron continued to share his fetish for blue color schemes with the world, but he also continued to show us that he could combine acting, a decent plot, and revolutionary special effects into a coherent whole.

Although T2 can be comfortably classed as a science fiction flick, I think it's also one of the better examples of a chase movie (cf. Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto"). The relentlessness and indestructibility of the T-1000 made it an utterly convincing adversary, and even without all that demonic, molten writhing at the movie's end, we viewers would have known without a doubt, from the moment Robert Patrick first appeared, that this thing was pure evil.

Hats off to Patrick, by the way, for a fantastic physical performance. Arnold Schwarzenegger was also reliably solid: as is true with the eternally wooden Keanu Reeves, you need to give Arnold the right script and director for him to shine, otherwise there isn't much to work with. T2 was one of his best cinematic turns, thanks largely to James Cameron. Linda Hamilton, as Sarah Connor, deserves mention as a worthy feminist successor to Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley.

23. The Untouchables (Mamet/Costner/Connery)

I saw this movie with my Georgetown buddies, right there on campus, and as with the above-reviewed "Aliens," I thought "The Untouchables" was a perfect audience movie. It contained so many sinister laugh lines (De Niro managed to be both plump and menacing), as well as enough flying blood and splattered brain matter to remind you that you were watching a Brian De Palma film.

De Palma, left to his own devices, often veers off the tracks in my book, going for gore over substance. Luckily for "The Untouchables," he was working from a script written by playwright David Mamet, whom my buddy Dr. Steve doCarmo describes as a man specializing in writing about "men under pressure." As a result, "The Untouchables" is more than the sum total of its bullet wounds: it's a masterpiece of tension, a study in viciousness, and a showcase for mordant wit, both from Al Capone and from Eliot Ness's mentor, Jim Malone, an Irish beat cop brought to life by the unrepentantly Scottish-sounding Sean Connery. Connery, consistent with most of his other performances, makes almost no attempt to convert his burr into a brogue.

Yes, I cheered along with my undergrad peers when Connery snarled, "Enough of this running shit!" during the US/CA border raid scene. I cheered when he blew the brains out of a corpse in order to intimidate a henchman into confessing. I cheered when Andy Garcia, as Giuseppe Petri (a.k.a. George Stone), blew the brains out of the guy holding the bookkeeper hostage. And after spending most of the two hours largely ignoring Kevin Costner's bland and weak performance, I finally cheered Costner when his Eliot Ness pushed Billy Drago's Frank Nitty off the top of that courthouse.

"The Untouchables" encouraged the cheering of such brutality, but I can't say that I regret the bloodlust. It was a film that was simultaneously artful and gritty, and if we cheered the appearance of crimson gore, or the depiction of laws violated in the same of street justice, we did it in the awareness that this was just a movie... but a damn engaging one.

I'm not really a meme person, so I won't be tagging anyone else, but I thought it was worthwhile to dig around inside my head and see what films I could think of. Had the rules allowed for a longer list, I'd have included tragic films like "Schindler's List," "The Killing Fields," and "Taekgukgi Huinallimyeo." I'd also have included comedies like "Caddyshack," "Raising Arizona," and "Men in Black"-- not to mention thoughtful and thought-provoking films like "Memento" and "Lost in Translation." I might even have included one romantic comedy: "Hitch." I would also have included films that melded profundity with amazing visuals, such as "Sin City," "Blade Runner," and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." I also have a soft spot for "A Knight's Tale," which I found to be one of the best feel-good movies around. "Fight Club" would also have made the list, not only for its fucked-yet-somehow-accurate portrayal of maleness, but also for the creepiness of its climax in a post-9/11 era. An old NZ film, "Once Were Warriors," also comes to mind for its gritty portrayal of modern Maori life. God, there are so many good films out there. "The Hudsucker Proxy." The Godfather trilogy. The list goes on.

I just keep wondering, though: why did we have to list 23 films? Why not 20 or 25? What's up with the prime numbers?



Elisson said...

Thank you for investing the time to write this. I'm always fascinated by the lists people come up with... and why certain items make the list, why others do not. It's a small window into another mind.

John from Daejeon said...

From an artistic standpoint alone, "Citizen Kane" and "Gone With the Wind" are at the top of my list, and Orson's youth and output are more impressive than Matt and Ben's. He just screwed himself by taking on Hearst, who pretty much destroyed Orson in the end.

Kevin Kim said...


Thank you, sir, for stopping by.


I watched both movies, but alas, troglodyte that I am, I enjoyed neither very much. Of the two, I suppose I liked "Gone with the Wind" better.

Of course, it's probably been close to 20 years since I saw either movie. Perhaps a re-viewing is in order. At some point.


Scott said...

Great choices. The opening scene for Saving Private Ryan was an experience. The film couldn't help but be anti-climatic after that. I'd have thrown in a few comedies. Raising Arizona stays with me. A Monty Python film or two deserve mention. For Korean films, most of the popular ones just don't appeal to me. Korean film makers usually lack subtlety when it comes to serious topics. Attack the Gas Station (주유소 습격 사건) is a very silly Korean film, but I can't help but sit through it every time it comes on Korean TV. I think the film is thoroughly Korean and proud of it.

John from Daejeon said...

I think a better question would be, “What 23 movie scenes have stuck with you?” How would that differ from the whole movies that you mentioned?

I know I identify more with certain scenes than whole movies, like 007 swinging his gun directly at me, a certain yellow brick road, Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum in a punk’s face, storming the beaches in France, cows and farm equipment swirling around in a twister, dinosaurs being brought to life on an island off of Costa Rica, a monster ship slowly sinking in the frigid North Atlantic, a killer computer named HAL terrorizing Dave, a Deathstar blowing up, a young Marlon on a motorcycle, an older Marlon making an offer he can’t refuse, a boy who sees dead people, the first Rocky running up a series of steps, a giant bolder chasing after a guy with a fedora and a whip, a crop-duster chasing after a well-dressed man in a corn field, a man with a broken leg looking out at his neighbors with his camera, an alien and a little boy flying over their pursuers, a certain falcon made out of the same stuff as dreams, a knife plunging over and over again into a woman in a certain shower scene, the Duke chasing down those who kidnapped his niece while astride his horse, Kirk getting his first look at his Enterprise after he just finagled his way back into the captain’s chair, a monster being born to shouts of “It’s alive! It’s alive!” etc.

Here is “AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies”:

This one is much better, but it doesn’t cover the last decade or so-- Turner’s “100 Years at the Movies”:

joanna said...

I totally agree about Pulp Fiction, it's my favourite from that list. Because:
1. great script, full of surpirses and twists 2. awesome soundtrack 3. exceptional characters (Samuel Jackson is amazing as the killer afraid of God)4. Totally funny situations (like the ending) 5. Dialogues 6. 100% HUMOUR