I’ve figured for a while that I need to introduce myself more formally, which of course on a film-centric website means a top ten list. See, I’m not gen’rally like the folks ’round here.
My taste in movies is actually dramatically different from the rest of my MCS writers, partially because I tolerate much bigger mistakes in film than they do, but also because of a wandering film experience and the fact that I want something different out of films than what I see my co-contributors looking for.
So, at the risk of offending the guys with a bunch of bad assumptions, let’s proceed into my top thirteen favorite films of all time. (Why thirteen, you ask? Because I can.)
13. The Saint I don’t particularly want to tell you about the plots of my favorite movies. If you don’t know that these movies exist, consider this an argument that you should see them, unless otherwise noted. What I do want to talk about is why these are my favorite movies – what about them has left such a lasting impression.
The Saint is good Val Kilmer. This is one of my go-to movies when nothing else seems like a good movie to watch. It’s clever, it’s slick, and it doesn’t out-think itself. Better yet, it has a light-hearted sense of humor that never fails to make me smile. It’s nothing new to cinema; I would be surprised to see it in many top ten lists, but I like the pace, and I like the idea of a guy who can be anyone because he isn’t anyone. One of my hobbies, watching movies, is to watch the movie from first person – either rubbing out an existing character or adding a new one – and this was one of the movies where I started that.
12. The Pest This is one of my old-school movies. Going through this exercise to pick my favorite movies, I realized that most of my favorite movies are old, and I think that’s normal. The first time you see an idea, it’s going to be more important than it could ever be the next time you see it. The Pest, though, is unique (and is one of the reasons I extended my list to thirteen). This one is John Leguizamo doing basically anything he can think of. It’s wild, it’s pointless, and it’s the most random movie I’ve ever watched. I love it, though, because I knew the introductory song, at one point, (still know most of it) and I know many of the references he makes. More fun, I don’t know more of them, and I don’t know if it’s because he’s making references to things I don’t get, or if it’s because he’s just making them up. It’s that kind of humor. Most people aren’t going to appreciate the absolute level of randomness this movie tosses around; heck, even I wouldn’t appreciate it, today. But at a moment in time, with the right people in the room, I watched this movie four times in a row. And it has earned a spot on my list of movies that I will love forever.
11. Undercover Blues I don’t generally like standard ‘funny’ movies. I love when a movie that is otherwise serious (or serious-ish) has the ability to laugh at itself, but a movie that is simply constructed to be funny is not rewatchable enough that I would consider it a favorite, with a pair of exceptions – The Pest and Undercover Blues. Never heard of it? No real surprise, there. There’s a sense of ‘you’re an us’ when I say that Undercover Blues is one of my favorite movies, and someone says ‘yeah, that’s a great movie’. It’s funny, and it’s funny over and over again. Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner as married spies are sexy and playful and quick-witted, the villians are over-the-top and over played yet beyond that. Stanley Tucci is at his best playing villan-sidekick Morty – likely the most quotable character of the movie. This is the kind of movie where you’re certain the entire cast was having a blast shooting the movie. It’s just my kind of fun.
10. Constantine Catholic mythology with a cataclysmic clash between heaven and hell. Awesome. It would be easy to dismiss this as a lot of hand-waving and quick action that isn’t actually supported with plot in evidence, but that’s not how I see it. Rather, this movie is a great story with a lot bigger story (that may or may not actually exist – what do I care?) underneath it. Water is the universal conduit, a centuries-old African shaman is officially ‘neutral’, and a creature with no sinuses can sniff. Ha! I like the way things move, the way the degradation of hell-creatures is imagined, and I like how Keanu Reeves seems simultaneously integral to the whole story and completely outside of it. It’s a gift.
9. Underworld The best blue hero since Papa Smurf. Seriously.
In the thoery of vampire stories, romantic bat vampires are at a massive advantage. They’re sexy by definition, nigh-on invincible (so they have great fight sequences), they’re immortal (and therefore know everything important already and have tons of back-story to draw on), and they make great tortured anti-heroes because they’re so much better than regular people, and yet so much less happy. It’s like you take an opening shot of a gorgeous vampiress in black leather, crouched in the rain with a pensive, foreboding posture, and you can phone in the rest of the movie. Underworld (with the FIRST sequel as an implied tie-on) is my hands-down favorite of the genre because it gets the style – the rain, the dark hair, the black mesh clothes, the color scheme of the scenery, the slick weapons and slick fight sequences – and because Kate Beckinsale is H-O-T-T. Seriously.
8. Batman Begins Mmm. Where do I start? I was disappointed when I heard that Christian Bale was going to play Batman, because I had loved him since Newsies and didn’t like the idea of someone else getting to cast him in a massive franchise before I got to. What can I say? I dream big.
Christian Bale is brilliant. I would be more emphatic, but it serves him better to be clear and simple. Brilliant. His Batman is the same – clear, simple, brilliant. This is a serious movie, and it’s what the intellectual nature of Batman deserves (without discounting the Adam West era at all, don’t misunderstand). As a whole creation, it is smart, coherant, and something that I want more of. I’ve heard Quaid tease about certain studios making as many sequels of a successful movie as the audience will digest, simply to make more money. Chalk me up as just such an audience-goer. More, more, more.
7. Equilibrium I didn’t actually mean for Christian Bale to end up back to back, and it’s hard to follow up my Batman Begins explanation with one for why Equilibrium is better, but it is. Where Batman Begins is gutsy and cerebral (simultaneously, I might add… ha), Equilibrium has a rhythm that it plays to. This was my very first Netflix movie, and (bad precedent) I went out and bought it within days of getting it in the mail. Batman Begins is martial arts; Equilibrium is martial arts with guns. And sunglasses. If I had to balance one over the other based on the number of scenes Christian Bale goes shirtless, I think Batman Begins would win, but I’m not certain of that.
The other thing that Equilibrium has going for it, though, is an idea, and – I suppose – a victory. I lived inside of this movie for days at least, probably weeks. It’s not a happy place to be, but it seriously gets glory. And purpose. It’s what I want when I’m watching a movie, and it’s a shame that it hasn’t gotten more general attention than it has.
6. Serenity I could just say ‘space cowboys’ and move on, but I will dote on Serenity a bit further, because it’s a delight to do so. If you are one of those ‘I’m too good for TV’ movie people, you don’t know who Joss Whedon is other than that guy who’s supposed to be doing the Avengers, and you therefore don’t know the trail of destruction he leaves in his wake. Armageddon coming to a small screen near you – week after week after week. Firefly is among Whedon’s best shows, though they all have their strong points, and after the first season aired in the wrong order and got cancelled, the entire cast got together to film the second season in the form of a movie on the original set. If it’s happened before elsewhere, I don’t know about it. The reason the movie was worth it is the charming, light-hearted uniqueness of the characters and script and the epic scope of the endeavor. Ask any three given devotees who their favorite character is and you’ll get five answers. It is a coming-together of fantastic actors – previously known and unknown – in the precise right roles for a small window of time.
5. Garden State A movie that takes everything seriously and nothing seriously. I loved it the first time I saw it, and I went back over and over again. The entire movie is stuffed with moments – clever observations packed with hyperbole mixed back-to-back with profound insights about the nature of the nomadic life of Zach Braff’s generation of twenty-somethings. It’s tempting to say that the plot is in some way ‘real’, but it’s not true. It just fakes it with impressive commitment.
4. Real Genius This, for instance, is under “h” for toy. This was what a nerd crush was supposed to be like. One of the smartest (hottest) guys on the planet wandering around in a toxic waste t-shirt and antennae, goofing off in ways that only a genius could. Genius is wasted on the serious. I desperately wish that Chris Knight was real, and that he had gone to my high school. His is the kind of world that you don’t realize you’re missing until you’ve seen it firsthand.
There is nothing epic, nothing thematically important, nothing relationally important in this movie. The plot itself is simply a conduit for nerdy innuendo and catty banter. Did I say banter? Indeed, I did. The dialogue in this movie is top-shelf, despite having nothing particularly pressing to say. Chris has an answer for everything, and sometimes when I’m looking for a smile, I just go through the IMDB list of quotes from this movie. It’s not so much quotable, because they either require a setup or are impossible to get through, but they’re great reading. And I do use ‘moles and trolls, moles and trolls’ from time to time.
In its entirety:
Moles and trolls, moles and trolls, work, work, work, work, work. We never see the light of day. We plan this thing for weeks and all they want to do is study. I’m disgusted. I’m sorry but it’s not like me, I’m depressed. There was what, no one at the mutant hamster races, we only had one entry into the Madame Curie look-alike contest and he was disqualified later. Why do I bother?
3. Princess Bride If you didn’t see this one coming, you weren’t paying attention. This is officially the most quotable movie ever. No arguments. If you have ever seen an internet comment thread spontaneously break off into competing Princess Bride quotes, you know what I’m talking about. Nothing else comes close to capturing the American ideal of the fairy tale; it’s beautiful, silly, passionate without being burdensome, and slaps on a bunch of throughtless theme stickers across the whole movie. Why will true love always triumph? Because I said so. The bad guys are bad guys, through and through, and the good guys are good guys, even if they hang out in the theives forest, agree to kidnap people for money and/or captain a pirate ship. Because I said so. Fairy tales are supposed to be uncomplicated affairs. Beautiful princess, prince charming, dangerous wizard, fairy godmother, etc. Princess Bride has it all. Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles… Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.
2. The Matrix This is high on my list of greatest movies of all time. It did lots of important things, like bullet time and all that. Many of these important things contribute to making it one of my favorite movies, but some of the more traditionally impressive things that it accomplished are worth noting separately. It captured the sensation of ‘I don’t belong here’ in a new way, giving new meaning to the idea of social castoffs, but without the unnecessary angst baggage. There may be dark brooding, but it’s definitely not angst.
I am particularly a fan of the martial arts choreography in this film. I’ve gone on about it before; it is such an interesting blend of stylized motion and crisp martial arts that has stuck with me since the first time I saw it. Instead of doing standard fight scenes, we get Trinity’s scorpion kick. I am pleased with this, even if the fight scenes at the end of the day don’t really make that much sense.
This movie was the right film at the right time, and it turned a corner in cinema. I can’t really imagine that any movie in my lifetime will do the same. I know it’s inevitable, but all the same, I can’t imagine it.
1. 10 Things I Hate About You Surprise? This movie came out in 1999, and it has been my favorite movie ever since. Taming of the Shrew is my favorite Shakespearean play, to start, but that’s hardly the root of my love for this movie. Heath Ledger singing ‘You’re Just Too Good to Be True’ backed up by the marching band while dancing up and down the bleachers and running from campus security gets much closer, but this is a total package movie, believe it or not. A guidance counselor who is writing trashy romance novels on school time, a paranoid gynecologist father, the cowboys, the rastas, it’s all great. The quotes out of this movie are so characteristic, and for years, they were call-and-answer greetings for me. “I know you can be overwhelmed, and I know you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?” “I think you can in Europe.” This was the Saved By the Bell generation’s high school movie. It’s nostalgic and funny and clever, and far and away my favorite movie ever.
So that brings us to the so what portion of the list. What do my favorite movies say about me? It seems obvious that I like black leather. Looking a bit deeper, I prefer movies that don’t take themselves too seriously (notable exception – Batman Begins) and don’t generally like dumb movies (exception: The Pest). I’ve noticed that people often like to refer to their tastes in music and movies as ‘eclectic’. I am not eclectic. I am patently mainstream. I recognize this. While I can appreciate movies that work hard to make a profound point, I don’t necessarily enjoy them as a group. My taste in guys tends to run tall, solidly built, and generally darker (though the eagle-eyed reader will notice that not a single contribution has been made to my top 13 movies by Johnny Depp…). I was anguished to leave off both the Pirates and LOTR enterprises, but they aren’t my favorite movies: they belong on other adjective lists. Great movies, fun movies, even best movies would probably turn them both up. My favorite movies are easy to watch, and often have a personal meaning that has nothing to do with the movie. Three of them make it onto the list because of the same specific individual with whom I first watched them. A fourth in this group was a narrow miss.
Quaid and Shep are notably concerned with who made a movie. If you asked me who made that movie, I’d tell you the male lead, and chances are very good that I’d tell you ‘shoot, um, the guy who played’ the male lead character. If a movie has made it onto my list without a male lead, it’s because the female lead is particularly amazing. Selene rocks. I have a shelf of male actors that I am interested in individually and a handful (literally less than five) female actors with the same notability. After that, I care about plot and about character. Theme is enough to make a movie fall off my list, but not enough to get it onto a list. The only movies that have ever made me angry focused on violence and misery for their own sakes; my movies, like any plot, must be redeemed for me to be happy with them, without any exception that I can come up with.
So that’s it, I guess. That’s what I can tell you about myself, in movie format. If nothing else, I’ve given myself a massive craving to watch a bunch of good movies in the near future. Happy viewing.