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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Favorite Films of All Time


10.) Hearts of Darkness (1990)- Directed by Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper


Apocalypse Now (1979) is considered one of the greatest films of all time, but the movie almost cost lives. Director Francis Ford Coppola funded the film himself by putting up his estate as collateral, only to fire the original star (Harvey Kietel) after realizing that he was the wrong actor for the role. 

After Kietel was replaced by Martin Sheen, Sheen had a heart attack and almost died. This is just some of the crazy things that happened during the filming of Apocalypse Now. Coppola’s wife Eleanor was tasked with shooting footage for what was thought to be a little making-of to show the studio that was going to release Apocalypse Now. What Eleanor captured is disturbing at times, with Francis Ford Coppola talking about suicide. His mental state was in constant question during the entire production.

Hearts of Darkness is such an honest portrayal of how far someone can go to make a film. The directors of the film, Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper edit the footage that Eleanor shot during the two year shoot of Apocalypse with interviews shot in the present day. What they got was a raw look at the filmmaking process falling apart one disaster at a time, only to pick itself up one reward at time. This is a film that any and all film students should be required to watch. After twenty years this film has yet to grow old.

9.) Jackie Brown (1997)- Directed by Quentin Tarantino


Tarantino hit the ground running after the success of Pulp Fiction, but instead of making another film right away, he pursued acting. After that career choice failed, he came back hard with Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s love letter to Blaxploitation. Tarantino adapted Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, changed the lead character from a white woman to a black woman, and made, what is arguably his best film.

Jackie Brown was sure to faced stiff criticism because it was Tarantino’s follow up to Pulp Fiction and no matter what he made it would be compared to Pulp Fiction. While I am one to think that Pulp Fiction is severely overrated, Jackie Brown showed us that Tarantino was a director to watch. The film is filled with everything that Tarantino is known for: Strong, well-drawn characters, sudden bursts of graphic violence (although this is Tarantino’s tamest film), and the N-word.

Everything aside, though, Tarantino has crafted a film about getting old and trying to deal with that hand that was dealt to you. Pam Grier, as Jackie Brown, gives one of her best performances. She is a nice person who got screwed and wants to get back at the person who turned her in. Samuel L. Jackson is absolutely terrifying as Odel Robie, the man who has to balance his love towards his money and his love of not being in prison. Robert Forster, who plays Max Cherry of Cherry Bonds is great as a man who has fallen in love with Jackie, but knows that it will lead to nothing but trouble. 

Mix all of these performances with Tarantino’s dialogue and the way he stages a scene and you have yourself a great film.

8.) Evil Dead 2 (1987) Dir. Sam Raimi


Holy shit! I remember the first time I saw Evil Dead 2 (and no it is not Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. Dead by Dawn was the film’s tagline.) and how much the film impacted me, but I am not going to bore you with that. I am here to tell you why this is one of my favorite films of all time.

The Evil Dead series has a lot going for it: Over the top gore, manic direction, and a hero who does not want to be a hero. The one thing that no one mentions is: You do not have to see the previous film(s) to enjoy any of the Evil Dead films. This is a big deal because many of the horror franchises out there continue the previous film’s story. Look at Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. When that film opens, Tommy Jarvis is going to make sure that Jason is dead once and for all. Well, now we need to know how he died. So we go back to the previous film, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, and we realize that Jason isn’t even in that one, so we get really mad, but there is something that we pick up on: The mayor or some schmuck mentions that Jason’s body was cremated. What? I just watched Jason Lives and that guy was alive, well as alive as he could be. He wasn’t ashes in the ground, although that would have made for a really interesting film. Anyway so we go back and watch…

You know what? I went off on a tangent and realized that I stopped talking about Evil Dead 2. What was I trying to talk about? Oh yeah, the story. You can watch any Evil Dead film and know within the first five minutes what the story is and who everyone is. That is how Evil Dead 2 rolls. It doesn’t bog you down with too much story because there is a lot of shit to get to. We need to see severed limbs and gallons upon gallons of blood. We need to see Bruce Campbell chain saw off his own arm and then modify said chain saw into a weapon that fits on the stump where his hand once was. If nothing else, Evil Dead 2 is just cool and fun and you can’t go wrong with that.

7.) Malcolm X (1992) Dir. Spike Lee


Spike Lee had to fight hard to get this film made. He fought the studio over the film’s length and budget. He had to go to prominent people in the black community to raise money so he could complete the film. He went through so much to make a film that is incredibly powerful and moving. 

A lot of people will think that the film is racist. I thought that too before I watched it. The media tried to paint a picture of Spike Lee that told us that he was a racist. Sure, he makes some really dumb comments, but he was, for a long time, the biggest voice in the black filmmaker’s community. So yeah, anything that he says is going to get mashed around until the media can say that he is a racist. I just think that some people need to justify to themselves why a film about Malcolm X, who was against white people for a good portion of his career in the Nation of Islam, could get made by a major studio. My question is: How could it not?

From the brilliant, tracking shot that introduces us to the world Malcolm X lived in before becoming the face of the Nation of Islam, to the closing shots of Nelson Mandela reading a quote from Malcolm X, the film brings it’s A-game for the entire running time. Denzel Washington is Malcolm X. He brings a fire and a calmness to the role that should have won Washington every award that year, including the Oscar.

There is one scene in the film that I think is one of the most powerful in the film. Before becoming Malcolm X, Malcolm was a numbers runner. He ran afoul of a man by the name of West Indian Archie, played by Delroy Lindo who deserved an Oscar for the role. Archie accused Malcolm of cheating him on a bet. Years later, Malcolm goes to visit Archie, who is living in a slum, broke and very sick. Malcolm stays a few minutes because he can’t stand to see Archie living well below his means. The scene is incredibly powerful and brings a tear to my eye every time I watch the film. The two performances are just amazing here.

Lee was able to make his vision of the story of Malcolm X. While Lee did take some liberties with the material, he was able to capture the spirit of Malcolm X, both as a leader and a student. Malcolm X is a very powerful film with great performances and brilliant direction. Even if you don’t agree or like Malcolm X, watch the film. It will give you a different perspective.

6.)  Drunken Master II (1994) Dir. Lau Kar Leung and Jackie Chan


Drunken Master II is one of the best martial arts films I have ever seen. The scope of the fight scenes, the comedy, and the direction are all top notch.  Jackie Chan returns to the role that made him famous, Wong Fei-hung,  a real life martial artist and doctor who has been the subject of over a hundred films (Once Upon a Time in China, another Wong Fei-hung film, was tentatively titled “Wong Fei-hung 100 because it was the hundredth film about Fei-hung.). Fei-hung is a folk hero as well.

Jackie Chan first portrayed Fei-hung in 1978’s Drunken Master, the film that would make Chan a star. I like the original Drunken Master, but I like the sequel better. The first film had some pacing issues and a story that I wasn't really into. This time around the fight scenes are better and the comedy works a lot more often. The addition of Anita Mui as Wong Fei-hung’s stepmother. Mui shines in the role, making it her own. She has some of the biggest laughs in the whole film.

Of course a Jackie Chan film would not be complete without a few fight scenes. Drunken Master II delivers on this and then some. There is a great fight scene between Jackie and the original director, Lau Kar Leung, that takes place beneath a train. There is also the first time that Jackie drinks in the film to heighten his fighting abilities. Then there is the mill sequence. I say sequence because it is comprised of multiple fight scenes. This scene alone is worth the price of admission.

5.) Nightbreed (1990) Dir. Clive Barker


The first time I saw Nightbreed was during a sleepover at a friend’s house. Their parents had rented a bunch of films for us to watch and Nightbreed was the one everyone picked. Looking back, I honestly could not tell you why Nightbreed was chosen. The box art was crap and the description on the back of the box didn’t tell much of what the film was about. Maybe it was Clive Barker’s name. We all knew what Hellraiser was, even if none of us had seen it.

I doesn’t really matter why the film was chosen because after the film was over, I knew that I had just seen something special.

Nightbreed is a film where the monsters are the heroes and the humans are the enemies. That was a nice change of pace. What really hooked me was the imagination that went into the film and the themes that are explored. Clive Barker has a crazy imagination. I say this as a compliment. He comes up with things that no one else could or would have. The monsters here are so inventive and realistic that you are amazed that you find them beautiful. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that is one of many themes explored in this film. The film focuses on a man who doesn’t think he belongs where he is. He feels that he is different. He dreams of a place called Midian, the place where the monsters live. After being bitten by one of the residents of Midian, Boone must choose between living where he belongs or staying with his girlfriend in a place where he is the outsider.

When I was in high school this film really spoke to me. I attended a semi-rich high school where imagination was not really appreciated. I remember taking a creative writing course and was given F after F on stories that I wrote. Every time I would get one back, it would say “Too disgusting/violent. Did not read. I knew the teacher was full of shit because I wrote a story that had no violence in it and still got the F and explanation. I was also picked on because I was always writing and listening to film scores. I felt like an outsider looking in. Nightbreed helped me get through high school and I will always be grateful to Clive Barker for having made it.

4.) The Thing (1982) Dir. John Carpenter


The Thing is a special film for me. It was the first John Carpenter film that I saw and it was one of the first R-rated films that I was allowed to watch. My parents owned a pub and my mother would work there as a cook sometimes. When she did, I and my brother would have to go along with her. She would make us some food and we would sit at one of the single tables and eat. Then my uncle, who partially owned the bar as well, would go down to the video store that was in the same strip mall as us and rent the latest and greatest in action films. Every once in a while, he would grab a horror or sci-fi film.

One day he rented The Thing. I was mesmerized by what I saw. The film takes it’s time to get to the good stuff, but when the dog transforms inside the dog kennel I knew that I needed to see this film to the end. My mother’s time was over about half way through the film and I begged her to let me stay. I wanted to finish the film. My uncle said that he would bring me home and my mother ok’d it. I finished watching The Thing and enjoyed every second of it.

The Thing is John Carpenter’s best film. He takes everything he knows about filmmaking and applies it to the film in a way that makes the film stand out. The characters are very real and behave as such. There are no decisions made by the characters that a normal person would not make. There is also not really a hero per say. Sure, Kurt Russell is the name on the film, but this is an ensemble cast and everyone involved makes each character unique.

Of course I can not talk about The Thing without talk about Rob Bottin (pronounced BOE TEEN, not BOT TIN) and his incredible effects work. Bottin proves here that he is a mad man with a very warped imagination. The stuff that he came up with here is just insane. The paddle scene is a stand out. Walk up to anyone who is a fan of The Thing and say “clear” and they will know exactly what you are referring to.

The Thing is a timeless film that should have been a hit and should have won Bottin an Oscar or two. It is that good.

3.) Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) Dir. Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones


A friend of mine, when we were in high school, told me that I needed to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I had seen some episodes of Flying Circus, their TV show and decided to give the film a chance. I will tell you that his recommendation was one of the best I have ever gotten from any friend I have ever had. This is the funniest film I have ever seen.

There are so many things that I could talk about here. The film plays out like a sketch comedy film, with the characters getting into some funny situation before moving to another. There is the black knight (merely a flesh wound) to the Knights that Say NEH!. There is a lot of things that I could not even do justice talking about. One thing that I will mention is something that doesn’t get a lot of talk. 

Throughout the film, usually after a sketch, two modern times police investigators will show up and start asking questions. It is done very quickly and I  don’t think that we hear too much from the investigators, but it is something that I find very funny. I will not give away what happens with or to them, but it is very fitting to the rest of the film. A very funny film made by very funny people.

2.) Seven Samurai (1954) Dir. Akira Kurosawa


This was a daunting film to watch for me. At the time I watched it, I was not a fan of epic films. I had seen my fair share of them and felt that I could use 3+ hours doing something more constructive. It took me a long time, but I finally sat down and watched Seven Samurai. Boy, did I miss out not watching this film sooner. This is a truly great film. A lot of the films on this list can be seen as good films, but nothing that would be considered a must see. (Maybe The Thing and Hearts of Darkness, but the others are negotiable.) Seven Samurai is a must see for anyone who loves film.

Akira Kurosawa has taken a story about farmers who are struggling against bandits, and turned it into one of the most rousing action films I have ever seen. The way that Kurosawa tells his story through visuals that you are not really aware of the film time you watch the film. You can feel the greatness leaping off the screen.

Not only does Kurosawa give us the good in terms of action, but he also uses the first hour of the film setting up the seven samurai of the title in order to make us feel for them when one of them dies. The film is so way balanced and beautiful that even if the film was a little boring (which it is not) you would still be entranced by what is going on. There is so much happening that one viewing is not enough. Seven Samurai is one of the true greats.  

1.) Hard Boiled (1992) Dir. John Woo     


I fuckin’ love Hard Boiled. I saw this film back in 1993, when companies were trying to cash in on John Woo’s Hong Kong films when his American debut, Hard Target, was released. This my first exposure to Woo and boy did I fall in love with this film and his films in general. I will actively seek out a John Woo film just because he directed it.

Hard Boiled is the type of film that Hollywood should have been making. This is a balls-to-the-wall action movie that barely stops for dialogue.

The film stars Chow Yun-fat and Tony Leung as cops who are trying to take down a gun runner. Leung is an undercover cop inside the runner’s organization. When Yun-fat finds out about him they team up to take the runner out once and for all.

The action here is top notch. The film opens with a tea house shootout that rivals almost any American action movie on its own. There is a warehouse shootout that shows off Woo’s ability to stretch time to his whim. The film’s climax takes place in a hospital, a place that American directors were afraid to shoot in, especially when newborns are involved. Needless to say but, Hard Boiled had a very tough time getting an R rating from the MPAA. In fact, Hard Boiled, The Killer, and Bullet in the Head were bought by Disney and set for release, but the release was scrapped because they could not secure the R ratings and they couldn’t cut the films down because no one would buy them. 
Luckily, years later Hard Boiled and The Killer were released In the states by Dragon Dynasty. We never got Bullet in the Head so that sucks.

Hard Boiled is not John Woo’s best film. That honor goes to Bullet in the Head. It is my favorite of Woo’s films because it is so much fun to watch. I have seen the film countless times and I still get giddy when an action scene starts up. Hard Boiled is one of the films that made me want to be a director and while that hasn’t happened yet, Hard Boiled still holds a place in my heart as my favorite film of all time.

So there are my favorite films of all time. Thanks for reading.
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