Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dust Forms Words 100 Must-See Movies: 81 to 90

81: Primer (2004)
Filmed on a mere $7,000, Primer is the best time-travel movie ever shot, despite never using the words "time" and "travel" in the same sentence. Its dense scientific jargon and frequently subtle plot twists mean that it may take several watchings before you see everything there is to see, but the film is presented in such a well-paced manner that it's a pleasure to rewatch.

The thing that stands out most in the film is how real everything feels; the discovery that leads to the time travel occurs in a way that feels believable and the technology has practical limitations that eventually turn out to not be so significant as first believed. The two main characters have very human reactions to their discovery, and the low budget brings the action into houses and garages, creating a domestic down-to-earth feel for the whole film.

82: Hot Fuzz (2007)
The second cinematic team-up between Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright is as strong as their first. Hot Fuzz is ostensibly the story of a big-city cop in a small England town, but along the way it plays with the conventions of Westerns, buddy comedies, and small-town conspiracy movies.

The first act is a little slow, but if the film spends a lot of time loading guns up front it's only because it fires so many at the end. The climax is non-stop brilliance. Hot Fuzz is easily one of the funniest British comedies ever made, and like Shaun of the Dead it carries a strong and coherent plotline behind the humour.

83: Memento (2000)
Directed by Christopher Nolan, Memento is the tale of Leonard, a man unable to form new memories after suffering a traumatic incident. Keeping track of his life with photographs, notes, and tattoos, Leonard is engaged in a search for the man who raped and murdered his wife. The film plays out backwards, starting with the conclusion of Leonard's search and moving earlier in time with each new scene, effectively keeping the audience in Leonard's situation of not knowing the past except by the notes he has left himself.

Guy Pearce is fantastic as Leonard but the real power of the movie comes from its script, written by Nolan himself after adapting it from a short story by his brother. It's a moving, thought provoking, and powerfully depressing movie that leaves the viewer stunned.

84: House On Haunted Hill (1959)
House on Haunted Hill isn't a good movie - it's a great one. But more, I suspect, for horror movie afficionadoes than average filmgoers. It's by William Castle, famed "gimmick" director, who claimed to have filmed the movie in a new technique called "Emergo". Surprised cinema-goers discovered that "Emergo" consisted of a fake skeleton on a pulley which would fly over their heads during the film's climax.

Gimmicks aside, the action on screen is still highly entertaining. This is classic Vincent Price, and forms a good education as to why Price is a horror icon. Here he plays an eccentric millionaire who has invited a group of strangers to spend the night in a haunted mansion, where those who survive the night will be paid $10,000. The movie is actually more psychological thriller than ghost story, but Price's performance dominates the film, aided by Carol Ohmart as his manipulative wife and Elisha Cook Jr and Julie Mitchum in supporting parts. House on Haunted Hill exists as a black and white original, a colorised update, and a 1999 remake; if you can get your hands on it, the original is definitely the one to watch.

85: 3:10 To Yuma (2007)
James Mangold's remake of the 1957 film 3:10 To Yuma is one of the finest Westerns ever made. It's the struggle of one man (Christian Bale) to save his farm and win the respect of his son by escorting a notorious bandit (Russell Crowe) to the 3.10 train to Yuma Prison.

Beautiful landscape photography goes a long way to establishing the mood of the film. Christian Bale's complex characterisation of the protagonist makes an interesting contrast to Crowe's suave charisma. 3:10 To Yuma does a bit of everything, and does it consistently right, reminding you exactly why the world once loved Westerns so dearly.

86: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Simultaneously a clever horror movie and a loving exploration of the age of silent film, Shadow of the Vampire is set during the 1922 filming of the movie Nosferatu. The plot explores the notion that real-life Nosferatu star Max Shreck was in fact a vampire himself. Shadow of the Vampire narrates the outrageous lives of the cast and crew, while simultaneously delivering a horror story that mirrors the events of Nosferatu.

Willem Dafoe as Max Shreck and John Malkovich as filmmaker FW Murnau are the heart of this decidedly odd creation. It's a movie about a silent movie, shot in the style of a silent movie complete with title cards and artificially-added film defects. It's clever, it's highly original, and it's more than a little unsettling.

87: Casablanca (1942)
Ingrid Bergman is amazing in everything she touches; Humphrey Bogart's performance is far above his norm. There's romance, and stoicism, and some Nazis who are, on average, thwarted. But even that can't really explain exactly why Casablanca is so good.

This is a tale of separated lovers who reunite in the Moroccan city of Casablanca during its Nazi occupation; Bogart plays an expatriot nightclub owner while Bergman is the wife of an important resistance leader seeking to escape the city. Sometimes movies just come together to be more than the sum of their parts; Casablanca is one such indefinably excellent film.

88: Children of Men (2006)
Children of Men may ostensibly be a science fiction film, but the sci-fi takes a back seat to real human drama and disturbing political commentary. It's directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who has a genius for creating this kind of pensive fantasy. Clive Owen plays Theo, who lives in a world where no child has been born in eighteen years; the world economy is in chaos and Britain, under the rule of a totalitarian regime, is under siege from an unceasing tide of refugees seeking political stablity and freedom.

The film concerns Theo's journey escorting the world's only pregnant woman to the custody of the near-mythical Human Project, all the while hunted both by the government and by revolutionary extremists. It's an amazing film from start to finish, particularly the technically complex battle scenes in the third act. It's a tragedy that more people haven't seen this movie.

89: Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Cruel Intentions is a movie based on a film based on a play based on a book based on allegedly real events. Dangerous Liaisons is one step simpler, being the film based on the play, and is by a process of logic therefore an exponentially better movie. Attempts to extrapolate this logic into some sort of blessing of the play or the book are unsafe and should not be attempted.

John Malkovich and Glenn Close play rival 18th century nobles, who obtain their chief amusement through the seduction and ruination of the innocent. The two leads are amazing, particularly Close as the complex Marquise de Merteuil. Period dramas like this rise and fall on their wit, costuming and visual authenticity, so it's no surprise Dangerous Liaisons won Oscars for its screenplay, costume design and art direction.

90: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Jack Nicholson has one of the most enviable careers in Hollywood; his list of Oscar nominations alone is longer than the entire resume of many actors. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is yet another of his signature roles, in which he plays criminal Randle McMurphy, who schemes his way out of jail and into a mental ward in the belief it will allow him to finish his sentence in luxury. However, he finds himself and his fellow mental patients under the jurisdiction of Nurse Ratched, a petty tyrant who runs the ward with an iron fist.

Told in the style of a jailbreak film, Randle's struggle against Ratched is the classic story of one man against an unjust system; Nicholson is absolutely perfect in the role and does full justice to the poignant script. There's very little to criticise about One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and it well deserves its place in film history.


Juffles said...

81: Primer

I was wondering if this would hit your list. Loved Primer, K and I sat down with a big sheet of paper and mapped out which version of the characters was where and when, to see if we could untangle all the combinations. :)

Greg Tannahill said...

Actually I have The Angriest to thank for putting me on to that one at a con a couple of years ago. Fantastic little movie, makes me want to sink $7,000 into an indie film myself.

Juffles said...

You never know what you'll get from Angriest's recommendations. The last-but-one DVD he thrust into K's hands saying "OMG YOU MUST WATCH THIS" turned out to be a strange anime version of Blade Runner minus Harrison Ford being witty. :)

Then of course there was Sunshine, which was good except for the little voice in the back of my head going "They are SO going to turn this into Event Horizon at any second....oh look, there it is."

Greg Tannahill said...

I haven't seen Sunshine yet; it's probably out on DVD by now so maybe I should.

Wasn't a fan of Event Horizon though.