1) Week End
About: An unhappy married couple going to visit one of their parents in the French countryside get caught up in massive traffic jams, turned-over cars, madmen calling themselves God, poets, magicians, and over-long tracking shots. Ultimately they become cannibals.
Why do I like it? It's Jean-Luc Godard at the peak of his powers, right before he declared (at the end of this movie) the "End of Cinema". It's like a true apocalypse movie, only instead of seeing the aftermath you're seeing it in motion, here, right now, and it's also a hilarious, poetic, no-holds barred rip on the bourgeois. It's a fearless example of the auteur theory at work. I'm reminded of Errol Morris' first impression on seeing Werner Herzog's films when he was younger: "You can *do* that in movies?"
Why you don't like it? It's another over-indulgent Jean-Luc Godard movie where shots go on unnecessarily long and there's no structure. It's like The Doors remake The Road, which sounds awesome until you realize some people hate the Doors and find the Road totally depressing. And why are there cannibals at the end and a man who calls himself God who makes bunnies appear in glove compartments?
2) Diary of the Dead
About: A re-telling of the start of the zombie-apocalypse as a group of amateur filmmakers making a Mummy movie in the woods goes on the run in a Winnebago, all seen from the point of view of one of the filmmakers who can't seem to put the camera down.
Why do I like it? It's George Romero in full satire mode, making a "first-person doc POV" movie while also satirizing it; the filmmakers who survive inside of a panic room, we're led to believe, edit the film on their laptop and send it out over the computer, but that it becomes preachy is Romero's meta-way of telling us how preachy docs get in the way of bigger issues in the world. In this case flesh-craving zombies. It's also one of the director's funniest films.
Why you Don't? Its got some actors who look like they've been plucked out of the local community theater (in general in Romero's films the acting is the lessor quality anyway), and Romero's meta-narrative gets to be too preachy, that is the satire is lost and it becomes like a Loose Change doc with zombies. It also has some silly sequences like a bunch of zombies being kept underwater.
3) Death Proof
About: 2nd half of the Grindhouse double feature, and a story told in two parts: the first is about a group of girls hanging out at a bar, and they meet a devilishly charismatic ex-stunt driver for the movies named Stuntman Mike, who has a 'thing' for following the girls in his car and getting into accidents where his car, being "death proof" kills everyone else he hits while he survives. The second half is about a group of girls who are stunt people on a movie who get chased by Mike... and turn the script on him.
Why I like it: This goes for the theatrical cut, but it's one of Tarantino's wittiest scripts, and it's kind of like a Reservoir Dogs for chicks, as it's mostly girls, unlike last time mostly all men, talking in the way Tarantino is best at. And Kurt Russell is incredible, as are the car chases, which are some of the best since the heyday of George Miller.
Why you Don't Like it: This may be in some part since most people who dislike the movie see the "uncut" version that adds a half hour of unnecessary material that QT was wise to cut for the original American release. The dialog goes on for long stretches - a diner scene that is its own homage to Reservoir Dogs' opening diner scene, is in an unbroken shot for 8 minutes - and it becomes 'Tarantino' speak without the kind of magnetic drive of Pulp Fiction's dialog. And it's stupid. And homage-y.
4) Point Break
About: An FBI agent infiltrates a group of surfing bank robbers, in Presidents of the US masks.
Why I like it: See the 'what it's about' section. It also has one of Patrick Swayze's most charismatic performances, and some kick-ass bank robbing scenes.
Why some don't like it: You might just be a jerk. Or Keanu Reeves hasn't gotten his chops quite yet as an FBI agent who scoffs, "You want me to *surf*?" And the premise is pretty damn silly.
5) Fight Club
About: A man who is in a dead-end job meets a man who makes soap named Tyler Durden, and with him starts a 'Fight Club' that is exclusive until it spreads out through the country and they become terrorist-pranksters.
Why I Like it: It's David Fincher's thumb-my-big-fuck-you-nose-at-society movie, with great cinematography and energy, dynamic performances from Norton and Pitt, and a breakthrough turn for Helena Bonham Carter who you see differently the second time from the first time you see the movie. It also has nice big cocks spliced into family films.
Why you don't like it: It's "Macho Porn" (to quote Roger Ebert) and is so misanthropic as to be more depressing than it is funny. And it's got some stomach-churning moments and is really fucking bizarre (i.e. Norton fights himself in his bosses office).
6) Red Dawn
About: In 1984 small-town mid-west America the Russians and Cubans invade! A group of teens led by Patrick Swayze run for the hills, get armed with whatever guns they can find, and become "The Wolverines", a guerilla group set to destroy the damn Ruskies once and for all.
Why I Like it: It's propaganda for the Right at the time of Ronald Regan's presidency, but it also has a lot of amazing action set-pieces and it has a lot of genuine moments of emotion and the conviction behind John Milius' direction makes it entertainment first, polemic second, and he entertains like a shameless showman. It also gives great early roles for Charlie Sheen, Swayze, Lea Thompson and C Thomas Howell.
Why you don't like it: It's Let's-Bash-The-Reds porn and it's completely implausible; as the #1 American super-power in 1984 and the Soviet Union crumbling day by day at the time, it was highly unlikely anything like it could happen. And it's stupid action movie-ness.
About: A Character study by Woody Allen set in a Connecticut home and involving the ups and downs of middle aged folk who may be falling in or out of love.
Why I Like It: It's one of Woody Allen's sharpest screenplays that makes its big points about how much people need connection emotionally, or as in Bergman how intellectually high-minded people can be emotionally stunted, and it has terrific performances from Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston among others.
Why you Don't Like It: Dreary, in the vein of another Allen Dark Drama, Interiors, and its chamber-drama quality keeps it like a filmed play. It doesn't go into the kind of philosophical quarters that Allen at his best does.
8) A Serious Man
About: A mathematics professor comes upon a crossroads in his life when his wife divorces him for Sy Ableman (seriously, Sy Ableman??) and his son has problems with smaller things like a bully and getting high before his Bar Mitzvah. And it concerns questions of life and death and what anything means.
Why I Like It: The Coens have their 'carte blanche' movie after winning with No Country for Old Men and make a wonderful screenplay about life in suburban Minnesota that comes off like a re-telling of the Book of Job set in a very Jewish quarter. The humor is delightful (just look at the parking lot!) and the music matches well with what's on screen ("Somebody to Love")
Why some don't like it: The opening sequence, set a hundred years ago in a Russian-Jewish home and involving Yiddish superstition (a "Dybyk" for example) has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, even if one thinks it might. The ending frustrates in ways not even No Country for Old Men got to where characters' resolution is left completely up in the air. It becomes a story like the Goy's Teeth in the film. Who Cares?
About: Based on a collection of short stories, Akira Kurosawa's first film in color is about a group of people living day by day in slums and tells their various tales: one is a retarded kid who goes around making the sound of the film's title like a train; a man has an affair he is tired of having; a man tries his best to take care of his son but is failing at it; a man holds a dark secret from a woman who cares for him.
Why I Like It: Kurosawa's first feature in color is bright and vibrant and also has time to show darkness in such a slum as the one he films here, done on location. The characters aren't the usual lot of actors AK works with but that's part of the charm and there's some wonderful work by the actors here.
Why You Don't Like It: Depressing, dour, with only minimal hope for humanity in scope (Kurosawa, after the film failed, tried to commit Seppuku but thankfully without success), and some of the acting is amateur hour.
10) The Dark Crystal
About: In another world and another time, the Gelflings, creatures who are somewhat human-like but also like larger fairies, have mostly been wiped out and the Skeksis, a group of wretched creatures who have big robes and bigger, disgusting appetites, have their own empire until one of two remaining Gelflings in the world is set on a quest to set the missing shard of the Dark Crystal into its rightful place.
Why I Like It: It's like Lord of the Rings only done by Jim Henson, and it's an all-Muppet cast. And Fizgig, cause he's awesome.
Why You Don't Like it: It's like Lord of the Rings only done by Jim Henson, and it's an all-Muppet cast... actually, you don't you like it, for realz?
11) Mars Attacks!
About: Little Green Men from Mars in flying saucers come to Earth and attack the world and an all-star cast of Hollywood figures from Jack Nicholson to Jim Brown. And it's directed by Tim Burton like a colorful 1950's sci-fi movie parody.
Why I Like It: See the 'About'; Jim Brown got an MTV Movie Award nomination for best fight scene for a fistfight he has with the martians.
Why you don't like it: ... Jim Brown? Really? And the way they stop the aliens is by yodeling music? Or it's just too stupid and overcrowded with stars.
12) Heaven's Gate
About: A dramatization of the Johnson County Wars, where in Wyoming (or is it Montana) an "Association" of cattle ranchers got together a bunch of bounty hunters and got ready to systematically kill all of the immigrants from Europe coming into their territory, circa 1890.
Why I Like It: It's got spectacular brown-tinted cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond, Christopher Walken shines as he did in Cimino's previous movie Deer Hunter (although very different characters), its populated by some very good actors, and when the director has his exceptional sequences like the roller rink dance (or a more intimate dance between Kristofferson and Hupert set to soft fiddling) or the big forty-five minute battle sequence(s), it soars into brilliance.
Why You Don't Like it: Over-long and super over-self-above-indulgent, the 'carte-blanche' movie that was mostly responsible for killing UA and firing a lot of people, and it has so much movie that anything complimentary gets sucked down into its dreary state of being and melodramatic nature. Hubris is all over this.
13) Robert Altman's Popeye
About: Popeye hearts Olive, Bluto hearts Olive, Bluto hates Popeye, Popeye tries to steer away, Bluto and Popeye fight, Popeye eats Spinach and kicks ass. Oh and there's a town too with a bunch of other characters.
Why I Like It: Robin Williams does surprisingly well in the Popeye role, Shelly Duvall was cast perfectly as Olive Oil, and several of the songs are fun and catchy (one of which, 'He Needs Me" later used for the most whimsical romantic moment of the past decade in Punch Drunk Love). Altman's panoramic vision works also well for the town the movie's set in, and it's very funny work by its large cast.
Why You Don't Like It: Too many characters, too many songs (some of which just aren't any good), and why is Popeye not into the Spinach all the time and it takes being force-fed to have the spinach? You'll make Popeye angry? You don't like Popeye when he's angry?!
14) Visitor Q
About: The most dysfunctional family in the world (but, rightfully so, set in Japan) indulges in incest, rape, necrophilia, lactating tits, bullies and murder by a knife to the head.
Why I Like It: It's Takashi Miike completely unbound by "good taste" and morals and makes the ultimate satire on suburban mores. It makes Todd Solondz look like a Care Bear, and it's viciously funny with the kinds of perverted twists that keep me on the edge of my seat.
Why You Don't Like it: ....what the fuck was that?! And it's shot on video.
15) Hi, Mom!
About: A peeping tom played by Robert De Niro spies on girls with his telescope in a 1970 apartment in New York, and there's some stuff about the black power movement. Ultimately De Niro becomes a local terrorist.
Why I Like It: One of the most irreverent of all satires, done at a time when Brian De Palma and Robert De Niro didn't have much to prove yet except how insanely talented they were, and it has memorable sequences like a faux documentary shot on the streets of a black woman asking everyone she sees what it's like to be Black in America - mostly all white people!
Why You Don't Like It: No firm plot, totally episodic, dated Vietnam-paranoia-pre-Watergate ballyhoo. And why does De Niro's character become a terrorist near the end?
16) Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams
About: The titular caracters go around in an 'ice cream' truck selling weed, almost get caught in Operation Go-Get-Em by the cops, meet up with Pee Wee Herman on coke and end up in a mental asylum with Pee Wee and Timothy Leary. Wackiness always ensues.
Why I Like It: Perhaps it's partly nostalgia (though I saw the film again a few months ago and feel the same way), but it really captures a stoner-comedy spirit that comes as close to Up in Smoke as possible without being that film. Its plot is loose but that's kind of why I like it, and there's barely a moment a laugh isn't to be had with Stacy Keach as Sgt. Stedenko or especially Pee Wee as the "Hamburger Dude" with a looot of coke. The Mental Hospital scenes especially are the most masterfully (yes, matserfully) directed work Tommy Chong's had as a director.
Why You Don't Like It: It's a stupid Cheech & Chong pot comedy that doesn't go anywhere and the stuff with Stedenko and the lizard-weed is idiotic. And why doest that one drug dealer completely zone out from the start? Where did Timothy Leary come from?
17) Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings
About: Frodo Baggins is charged with the unenviable task of taking the one-ring-to-rule-them-all to Mordor to cast into the fire as it's a pretty important ring that could rule the world.
Why I Like It: Bakshi's style as an animator is whimsical meets harsh lines and rotoscoping that looks frickin frightening (watch the Ring Wraiths in this one, scariest things you've ever seen in a 70's animated movie), and Bakshi remains faithful to the spirit of fantasy-middle-earth Tolkien. It's dark but not too dark for kids, and isn't too light fare like the 1977 The Hobbit for adults.
Why You Don't Like It: Actually this might include me to a small degree. They say you can criticize a movie by making one, and in this case Peter Jackson made the best criticism possible: Bakshi's film condensed Fellowship a bit but especially condenses The Two Towers down to very little screen-time (ultimately it's 137 minutes long as a film), and there's nothing for Return of the King. And some of the animation/rotoscoping is dated and just weird.
About: a 9-year old girl living with his junkie father who dies and lies dead as a doornail in his recliner has an imagination fantasy life with her doll-heads and befriends a mentally challenged guy as they have fun in the fields of whereversville-USA.
Why I Like It: Considering it's a 9-year old girl, this feel like an intensely personal film for Gilliam, and I love how strongly his style compliments the deranged nature of the material. This is a hard story to pull off, but he does it with radical-dark humor and a sense of decorum that is enjoyably disgusting. The caricatures created by Brendan Fletcher and Jeff Bridges are very enjoyable, and Jodelle Ferland is intensely likeable as Jeliza-Rose, though there's a wonderful complexity to her being so damaged by her home-life and being basically all alone in this crazy world.
Why You Don't Like It: ... again, what the fuck is this horseshit? This is funny? This is tasteless and doesn't come anywhere near the heart and depth of a film just like it that came out the same year, Pan's Labyrinth (which is true, though that I can speak it in the same sentence is sign enough of its impact). Some didn't even bother seeing it because of its distasteful premise and subject matter, and Gilliam's style that is so wild and exuberant gets lost in the dark matter.
19) Every Which Way But Loose
About: Clint Eastwood with his pet orangutan Clyde goes around getting into bare-knuckle brawls for money and romances a country singer with her own motives for going along for the ride.
Why I Like It: Clint Eastwood bare-knuckle fights to awesome 70's era (Good) country music and has a pet orangutan in a crowd-pleaser.
Why You Don't Like it: ... Clint Eastwood with an ape? WTF? And at one point he goes on a quest at 2 AM to get the Oragnutan laid by breaking in with him to the zoo?
20) Glen or Glenda
About: Bela Lugosi narrates from his arm-chair and pulls the string while Ed Wood can't decide if he wants to be Glen or Glenda. A case-study and debut feature for Mr. Wood Jr that is an intensely personal film about his own tranvestitism.
Why I Like it: For all of its low-budget faults, it shows a very unlikely position of knowing where to put the camera in creative ways. It also breaks into a twenty minute stretch of surrealism that takes on its own quality of being out of this world like a nightmare; it's the kind of sequence that inspired David Lynch on Eraserhead. Also, it has Bela Lugosi pulling the string and sitting quixotically on his chair pontificating about what people need to be aware of ("Beware... take care...")
Why You Don't Like It: An Ed Wood movie that has all of its bad trademarks: bad staging, poor acting, what kind of shit script is this, and Bela Lugosi saying "PULL THE STRING!" with super-impositions of buffalo? It's not as bad as Plan 9 From Outer Space, but still...
21) Synecdoche, New York
About: A playwright who has some various mental and physical maladies gets an McArthur grant to do whatever he wants, and so he does a long-term (that is for-the-rest-of-his-life) preparation for a play where he recreates New York City, his life, his loves, people, to the point that his doppleganger gets a doppleganger, and major characters get introduced near the end (i.e. Dianne Wiest).
Why I Like It: (and, the same coin, why you don't like it): To be honest, I was very mixed on it the first time around. I was disappointed by how ambitious Kaufman really got to and how despite a first half hour that had a lot of his great misanthropic social satire and a very fine Philip Seymour Hoffman performance, once it got into the building of the city it just got out of hand into a kind of labyrnthine structure, and its depressing nature took control. Seeing it once I still would've felt that way... but then I gave it another chance on a 2nd viewing, and it worked a lot better for me as a deep-rooted and existential thesis on why we're alive and what we're made to live for - and what it's really like for those alive when other drift apart, lose lose, or burn up in a house that is always on fire. Its surrealism finally worked for me, but it doesn't for a lot of others. Some like it a lot (it's Ebert's favorite movie of the past ten years) and some don't like it much at all.
22) The Fountain
|Previously on Avatar..|
Why I Like It: A vision that soars for Darren Aronofsky, even after only seeing it from start to finish once many images stick in the mind like Hugh Jackman in the Mayan garb or bald and on some weird planet-thing like he's David Carradine in the Holy Mountain remake. And Rachel Weisz and Jackman bring a lot of heart to what is already so grandiose a vision that it needs an emotional anchor. Its themes are timeless but explored in ways we haven't seen quite like this before, at least on film.
Why You Don't Like It: Doesn't connect emotionally, and is so surreal as to go past being believable even as romantic science fiction. And, again... what was that when he gets to the Tree of Life?
23) Eyes Wide Shut
About: A successful NYC doctor finds out one night during a discussion of fidelity that his wife had an intense desire to *want* to sleep with a passing sailor on vacation, and while she did not this drives the doctor into a jealousy-fueled odyssey into the night of NYC where he winds up an observer at an orgy on Long Island. There's a murder investigation, but how much of that night's emotions will stick around? What really happened?
Why I Like It: Stanley Kubrick's swan-song explores the nature of sexual desire and the psychological implications of love, lust and everything that goes with the dark side of the erotic. If Full Metal Jacket was his take on Vietnam and The Shining his take on a slasher flick, this is his take on the erotic thriller that was so popular at the time. It has the kind of morally questionable characters that one also saw in Lolita, who have conflicts even when they're seemingly normal and become twisted up into the quagmires they create for themselves. And it's another "odyssey", heh.
Why You Don't Like It: Over-long, Tom Cruise isn't effective, the humor doesn't work (i.e. Leelee Sobieski), and Sydney Pollack's exposition near the end is a little loaded. And what's with all of the masks at the orgy? And it's boring.
About: Crazy satire based loosely on a video game by Dr. Uwe Boll.
Why I Like it: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0486640/usercomments-127
Why You Don't Like It: It's a tasteless Uwe Boll film with intensely unlikeable characters and really stupid, trashy, juvenile comedy.
25) Inland Empire
About: A woman in trouble, and what happens when Jeremy Irons tries to remake 'On High Blue Tomorrows'
Why I Like it: ... I'm still not sure. They do the locomotion at one point and Laura Dern gives her best multiple-character performance ever. A friend said it's like a 3-hour remake of Un chien Andalou, and it's a good comparison. A lot of things happen, some of them make no sense, and there's some really amazing (digital) cinematography, at least considering it's Lynch's first go around with the new medium.
Why You Don't Like it:.... I can't blame you. Lynch needs to get back to film.