- Possession (1981) France
- Cremator, The (1969) Slovakia
- Deep Red (1975) Italy
- Silence of the Lambs (1991)
- Se7en (1995)
- Mulholland Dr. (2001)
- Diabolical / Diabolique (1955) France
- Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) Australia
- Videodrome (1983) Canada
- Eraserhead (1977)
- Don't Look Now (1973) UK
- Pan's Labyrinth (2006) Spain
- Saragossa Manuscript, The (1965) Poland
- Shining, The (1980)
- Vanishing, The (1988) Netherlands
- House / Hausu (1977) Japan
- White Ribbon, The (2009) Austria
- Alien (1979)
- Phenomena (1985) Italy
- Gravity (2013)
- Boxer's Omen (1983) Hong Kong
- Peeping Tom (1960) UK
- Sixth Sense, The (1999)
- Vinyan (2008) France
- Memories of Murder (2003) South Korea
- Thing, The (1982)
- Death Laid an Egg (1968) Italy
- Ring, The (2002)
- Others, The (2001) Spain
- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
- Threads (1984) UK
- Descent, The (2005) UK
- Psycho (1960)
- Suspiria (1977) Italy
- Exorcist, The (1973)
- Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
- Orphanage, The (2008) Spain
- Innocents, The (1961) UK
- Targets (1968)
- Night of the Hunter, The (1955)
- Face of Another, The (1966) Japan
- Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) Czech Rep.
- Lost Highway (1997)
- Lunacy (2005) Czech Rep.
- Scream (1996)
- Trouble Every Day (2001) France
- Cabin in the Woods (2011)
- Cure (1997) Japan
- Rocky Horror Picture Show, The (1975)
- Repulsion (1965) UK
- Chinese Ghost Story, A (1987) Hong Kong
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
- Cloverfield (2008)
- Nosferatu, Symphony of the Night (1922) Germany
- Shout, The (1978) UK
- Jaws (1975)
- Holy Blood (Santa Sangre) (1989) Mexico
- Fourth Man, The (1983) Netherlands
- Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) South Korea
- Paranormal Activity (2007)
- Shallow Grave (1994) UK
- Dead Ringers (1988) Canada
- Unknown, The (1927)
- Re-Animator (1985)
- Blue Velvet (1986)
- Devil-Doll, The (1936)
- Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes / The Psychic (1977) Italy
- King Kong (1933)
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- Battle Royale (2000) Japan
- Faust (1994) Czech Rep.
- Hourglass Sanatorium, The (1973) Poland
- War Game, The (1965) UK
- Nightmare on Elm Street, A (1984)
- Man Who Laughs, The (1928)
- Mr. Vampire (1985) Hong Kong
- Paranoiac (1963) UK
- Blair Witch Project, The (1999)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
- Heavenly Creatures (1994) New Zealand
- Pitfall (1962) Japan
- Buried (2010) Spain
- Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The (1970) Italy
- Tingler, The (1959)
- Southern Comfort (1981)
- Save the Green Planet! (2003) South Korea
- Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (1974)
- Finishing School, The / House that Screamed, The (1969) Spain
- 28 Days Later... (2002) UK
- Gozu (Cowhead) (2003) Japan
- Eyes without a Face (1960) France
- Triangle (2009) UK
- Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The (1920) Germany
- Rosemary's Baby (1968)
- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
- Gemini (1999) Japan
- Devils, The (1971) UK
- Picture of Dorian Gray, The (1945)
- Hell (1960) Japan
- Dr. Jekyll and His Women (1981) France
- Carnival of Souls (1962)
- Saw (2004)
- Devil's Backbone, The (2001) Spain
- Paperhouse (1988) UK
- Phantom of the Opera, The (1925)
- Cube (1997) Canada
- Them! (1954)
- Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, The (1971) Italy
- Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2009)
- Careful (1992) Canada
- Cache (Hidden) (2005) France
- Stage Fright (1987) Italy
- Martin (1978)
- Nightbreed (1990) Canada
- Beetlejuice (1988)
- Freaks (1932)
- Collector, The (1965) UK
- Deliverance (1972)
- Curse of the Cat People (1944)
- Open Water (2003)
- Theater of Blood (1973) UK
- Red Queen Kills Seven Times, The (1972) Italy
- Honeymoon Killers, The (1969)
- Ghostbusters (1986)
- Testament (1983)
- Shaun of the Dead (2004) UK
- Poltergeist (1982)
- Severance (2006) UK
- Host, The (2006) South Korea
- Return of the Living Dead, The (1985)
- Phase IV (1974) UK
- Frailty (2001)
- Fists in the Pocket (1965) Italy
- Sunshine (2007) UK
- Tenebre (Unsane) (1982) Italy
- Dead Alive (1992) New Zealand
- Amer (2009) Belgium
- Hellraiser (1987) UK
- Horror of Dracula, The (1958) UK
- [REC] (2007) Spain
- Brain that Wouldn't Die, The (1962)
- Kwaidan (1964) Japan
- Blood and Black Lace (1964) Italy
- Last Wave, The (1977) Australia
- Brood, The (1979) Canada
- Machinist, The (2003)
- Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971) Italy
- Creature from the Black Lagoon, The (1954)
- Legend of Hell House, The (1973) UK
- Man Bites Dog (1991) Belgium
- Killing Kind, The (1973)
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)
- American Psycho (2000)
- Haunting, The (1963) UK
- Cemetery Man (1996) Italy
- Cell, The (2000)
- Bad Seed, The (1956)
- Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1973) Italy
- Predator (1987)
- Blade (1998)
- Ghostwatch (1992) UK
- Seventh Victim, The (1943)
- Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
- Stepford Wives, The (1975)
- Deep Blue Sea (1999)
- Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) Italy
- Kingdom (1994) Denmark
- Carrie (1976)
- Splice (2009) Canada
- Vampires in Havana (1985) Cuba
- Angst (1983) Austria
- I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
- Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People (1963) Japan
- Queen of Spades, The (1949) UK
- Misery (1990)
- Bucket of Blood, A (1959)
- In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
- Unbreakable (2000)
- Hour of the Wolf (1968) Sweden
- Fly, The (1986) Canada
- Case of the Scorpion's Tail, The (1971) Italy
- Arcana (1972) Italy
- Masque of the Red Death, The (1964)
- Evil Dead II (1987)
- Black Sunday (1960) Italy
- Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000) Japan
- Devil and Daniel Webster, The (1941)
- Event Horizon (1997) UK
- Hellstrom Chronicle, The (1971)
- Angel Heart (1987)
- Crawling Eye, The / The Trollenberg Terror (1958) UK
- Faust (1926) Germany
- Troll Hunter, The (2010) Norway
- Cronos (1993) Mexico
- Incubus (1965)
- God Told Me To (1976)
- Onibaba (1964) Japan
- Thesis (1996) Spain
- Ginger Snaps (2000) Canada
- Tale of Two Sisters, A (2003) South Korea
Thursday, October 31, 2013
To celebrate Halloween 2013 here are my top 200 horror films. This is an admittedly idiosyncratic list, so I will explain a little about my taste:
Horror is one of my favorite genres, but I often find I have little in common with most other fans. With a few exceptions, I don’t much care for American slasher movies or comedy-horror. I don’t think horror films should be given a free pass on acting and writing. I tend to disdain sequels and remakes, and rarely bother seeing them even if I like the original. I find popular blockbuster horror films largely stale and rote, with too much reliance on formula and cliche. I think shock cinema and torture porn are largely hollow and pointless (real shock, in my opinion, is about violating expectations and denying gratification, not just showing revolting images). I'm uncomfortable with the latent one-upmanship in the horror community that values senseless gore, sadism and cruelty and I dislike that cultivating a jaded tolerance to that sort of thing is considered a badge of honor.
What I do like is psychological horror, atmosphere, surprises (including a good twist, if it makes sense), really dark or ambitious themes, strong visuals and sound design, moral complexity, originality, uncompromising endings, characters who don’t behave like idiots for the convenience of the plot and explorations of fear and death that function on multiple levels, dissecting individual and socio-cultural anxieties simultaneously. I like both dreamlike surrealism that scares me by providing a glimpse of the otherworldly or unknown and disturbing realism that scares me by confronting me with actual possibilities and hard truths. I genuinely enjoy the physical sensation of terror and I want a good horror films to frighten me (just like I want comedies to make me laugh and sad movies to make me cry), so I don’t consciously resist my emotional reactions. I actually quite enjoy discerningly-deployed practical and digital special effects (and even a healthy smattering of gore), as long as they don’t smother the screenplay. I’m quite fond of art-horror and foreign horror, especially gialli (though they have their own set of conventions). Though I think it is a lesser form of greatness, I occasionally enjoy campiness and cheesiness, but the so-bad-its-good thing usually only works for me when there is quite a bit of (often misguided) talent underneath.
So with all that in mind, let’s get back to the list. It’s got a lot of weird things on it. You may disagree with my rather generous definition of ‘horror’ as it includes multiple documentaries, musicals and martial arts films. Even I'm not sure of the ordering. But if you find yourself agreeing with the titles you recognize, you’ll have fun catching up on the one’s you don’t.
For the record, I don’t consider anything on this list filler. I like everything here (though some I haven’t seen in a long time). There are several times as many films that didn’t make the cut, so any movie that made it earned its spot and just because a movie didn’t make it doesn’t mean I’m not a fan.
I enforced a rule of only one film per series (including reboots), which is why you won’t see Aliens, Frankenstein, Cat People, Dawn of the Dead or Inferno.
If you are wondering about the absence of ‘classics’ like Halloween, Friday the 13th (which is anyway a remake of the superior Italian Twitch of the Death Nerve), Dracula, Birds, Amityville Horror, Phantasm, The Blob, The Omen or The Wicker Man, the answer is that they didn’t make the cut.
If you think I’ve forgotten something or need to track a title down, put your recommendations in the comments section.
And now the list…
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
A couple days ago I watched the last film from Steven Jay Schneider's book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die thus freeing me up to expire, pursue other hobbies or, as is most likely, continue watching more movies. I recommend the book and enjoyed the choices, though of course not everything will appeal to everyone. The choices are culled from a number of critics and film writers who explain what the films are about and why they were included. It's a fun book, given to me by my parents some years ago, that has served as a wonderful source for my exploration of the medium.
A few years ago I mentioned my love for top 1000 movie lists, which continues to this day, although I have yet to complete perhaps the definitive one curated by They Shoot Pictures Don't They. The TSPDT list is a meta-list combining top 10s from directors, critics and other film experts and it gets updated based on new material every year, an event which, I'm ashamed to admit, I anticipate with glee and terror. I've come as close as 5 films from the finish line (all damnably hard to track down), but the 2013 update has knocked me 20+ films back.
For those who care about this time of thing the 2013 update was a fairly dramatic shake-up mostly due to the 2012 once-a-decade international Sight and Sound poll which introduced 124 changes. This was the first year where I think the list got more highbrow (some of the entries go too far, but everyone has their opinion); the tendency being for more mainstream films to rise to the top and rare/challenging works to drop off as more lists are contributed. I am pleased to see a lot of my favorites movies join the list including a whopping 10 from my personal top 100:
Possession (1981), Synecdoche New York, Tree of Life, The Intruder (2004), El Topo, Harakiri, Yellow Submarine, Repo Man, The White Ribbon, No Country for Old Men, WALLE, A Separation, Dancer in the Dark, The Holy Mountain, Stardust Memories, Amelie, Koyaanisqatsi and Tale of Tales are among my favorite newcomers!
I've still got my work cut out for me finishing the TSPDT list (especially if I actually intend to sit through Empire, Andy Warhol's 8 hour shot of the Empire State Building) and no end of other movie lists, but finishing 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die leaves a certain void that I need to fill. Fortunately the 1001 series has branched out to other areas! I'm at 255 from 1001 Books You Must Read and 343 on the rather dubious 1001 Videogames You Must Play.
Here are some other lists I may (or may not) work on:
1001 Disc Golf Courses You Must Play Before You Die (I only wish)
1001 Kittens You Must Snuggle Before You Die
1001 War Crimes You Must Commit Before You Die (worthwhile just to see who contributed)
1001 Yarns You Must Spin Before You Dye (for Sarah)
1001 Odors You Must Smell Before You Die
1001 Animals You Must Taxidermy Before You Die
1001 Trains You Must Spot Before You Die (this probably exists)
1001 Pages You Must Turn Before You Die (abridged edition)
1001 1001 Lists You Must Check Off Before You Die
Friday, January 4, 2013
In case you didn't read the reviews before you went the theater, here's a cheat sheet:
If you're watching a film about a man trying to decide between women, odds are pretty goods it's billed as Serious Drama and will be applauded for its "insight into life and love."
If you're watching a film about a woman trying to decide between men, odds are pretty good it's billed as romantic comedy and it won't win any awards.
A woman is courted by two men.
This is how is plays out in the movies:
90.0% - One turns out to be a total jerk and the other is Mr. Right. The choice is easy and destined to work out.
9.0% - It's a tough choice but one of the men nobly bows out or dies, or they both do, or the woman does, usually by suicide or she ends up with some unexpected third guy.
0.9% - It's a tough choice. She chooses ones. The other is heartbroken but eventually gets over it.
0.1% - She chooses to remain single.
This is how it plays out in real life:
90.0% - It's a tough choice. She chooses ones. The other is heartbroken but eventually gets over it.
9.0% - She chooses to remain single.
0.9% - One turns out to be a total jerk and the other is Mr. Right. The choice is easy and destined to work out.
0.1% - It's a tough choice but one of the men nobly bows out or dies, or they both do, or the woman does, usually by suicide, or she ends up with some unexpected third guy.
In case you are watching a movie about romantic pursuit and have to leave before you catch the ending, here's what happened:
If you're watching a film about a guy under 16 pursuing a girl, he'll impress her in a sport, competition, disaster or alien invasion by succeeding, through hard work and a zany unconventional last-ditch-effort plan while gaining enough confidence to finally ask her out directly, but instead choose his loyal but Hollywood-plain best-friend since childhood.
If you're watching a film about a guy 16-30 pursuing a woman, he'll disguise himself and/or get close to her under false pretenses but when it all comes out she'll forgive him. Otherwise he'll end up with the cute (but not necessarily sexy) outcast who helped him with the ruse.
If you're watching a film about a guy over 30 pursuing a woman, she'll be younger than him and either re-invigorate his routine life with her refreshingly spunky sense of adventure and carefree charmingly-bipolar personality or she'll draw him into committing a crime, betray him and leave him to die.
If you're watching a film about a gal under 16 pursuing a boy, she'll disguise herself and/or get close to him under false pretenses but when it all comes out he'll forgive her. Otherwise she'll end up with the clean-cut (but just a little dorky) school outcast who helped her with the ruse.
If you're watching a film about a gal 16-30 pursuing a man, they'll be fiercely competitive school or career rivals despite their obvious chemistry until they unite against a common threat and instantly forgive all their past insults. Later they'll ignore the fact that their highly-driven, competitive natures mean that they'll probably go back to fighting when, post-adventure, they try to have a real relationship, but by then the movie will already be over so who cares, right?
If you're watching a film about a gal over 30 pursuing a man, then it's a movie no one has heard of because the studio didn't believe in it, pulled the marketing and dumped it on a few screens in March.
If you're watching a film about anyone pursuing anyone and it doesn't work out (gasp!) and someone ends up (double gasp!) single, then it is must have been either Melodrama and somebody died just when their perfect love had beaten all the odds or it was Art and the characters were talky intellectuals/artists with iffy ideas about fidelity and the lesson will be that emotional entanglements suck, but we can't live without them, enjoy the good times while they last and have a laugh at its absurdity now and then (but don't bother re-evaluating your life or, you know, being a self-centered jerk).
And if the film was about anyone pursuing anyone of the same gender (triple gasp!), then it was definitely Art, though it might still be Melodrama too. The ending was that society couldn't tolerate their forbidden love and at least one person got killed. We definitely won't get to see a complicated long-term sustainable homosexual relationship or find out that it looks a lot like a complicated long-term sustainable heterosexual relationship, but nobody wants to see a movie about complicated long-term sustainable relationships anyway so no big deal.
Friday, December 14, 2012
A friend brought my attention to how Abbott and Costello never actually go to Mars in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars and I got to thinking about the way different movie titles lie or mislead. I asked my coworkers to throw in some suggestions. Here’s a list of some favorites:
Abbott and Costello Go to Mars – Except that they don’t. They go to Marti Gras and Venus.
The Greatest Story Ever Told – I’ve seen better. Frequently.
Troll 2 – Not only isn’t there an ‘original’ Troll movie, there aren’t even any trolls. The movie’s about goblins.
Curse of the Cat People – This “sequel” to Cat People has neither curses nor cat people. It’s actually a rather touching story about a child whose dead mother becomes her invisible friend.
Only Angels Have Wings – What about birds, bats, some insects, planes, pegasi, dragons, large estates, libraries, theaters, windmills, soccer teams, Paul McCartney and Hooters?
Armageddon – The title promises one thing, and then the movie deliberately doesn’t give it to you.
The Last Picture Show – This came out in 1971 and there’ve been bunches since.
White Men Can’t Jump – Patently untrue.
The Neverending Story – More accurately The 1 Hour 42 Minute Story. Hmmm… not as catchy.
Boys Don’t Cry – While it’s true that boys don’t have emotions, they often cry when chopping onions.
Mission Impossible – Unless they make a movie about Tom Cruise trying to divide by zero or something, it would be more honest to rename the franchise Mission Improbable.
They Won’t Believe Me – Spoiler: They do… only too late.
It’s a Wonderful Life – It’s kind of eh.
To Kill a Mocking Bird – The early screenings had a lot of disappointed hunters expecting a documentary.
A Thousand Clowns – Falls 999 clowns short.
I, Robot – Though the title comes from Isaac Asimov’s short story collection, the film is actually an adaptation of Jeff Vintar’s Hardwired (but considering that Hardwired takes place within a single room, it’s not very faithful to that either). The movie is about robots rebelling and killing, the exact opposite of what they do in Asimov’s works: serving and protecting.
Dead Man Walking – Not a zombie movie.
Serenity – One of the least apt spaceship names in science-fiction.
Back to the Future – Should really be Back to the Present and, besides, they travel to the past.
Can’t Hardly Wait – A movie about a bunch of high school graduates, none of whom are eagerly anticipating college. They’re either stuck in the past or living in the moment.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Sounds like it ought to be a great youtube video, but it’s actually about Elizabeth Taylor shrieking and Paul Newman sulking.
The Longest Day – Set on June 6th, 1944 although the longest day in 1944 was actually June 21st.
Fidelity – It’s more often about the opposite.
Eyes Without a Face – More a case of too many faces than too few.
Brazil – Not set there; not a single scene.
To Have and Have Not – “Adapted” from the novel by Ernest Hemingway if by adapted you mean has the same title and a few characters with matching names. The plot was shamelessly plucked from Casablanca.
Made in the USA – A French film.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Ever since I posted the movie game on this blog (see right-hand sidebar) I've been making small adjustments and adding new cards. Playing the movie game has become a staple of my lunch breaks at work. I kept meaning to add the 'full game', meaning a version that included actors and directors, but lack of time, will power and a clear plan held me back.
I finally decided to buckle down and get it done and I'm proud to say that the Movie Game 2.0 is now available. For those who haven't seen it, here's how it works:
You push the "Draw Cards" button and two things (genres, decades, sets, props, etc.) appear. You try to think of a movie that fits both. There are no especially right or wrong answers, no points and no way to 'win'. All you need to play is to have seen a few movies. You don't even need to know any names.
But if you do know the names of a lot of actors or directors you'll love this new update.
Here's what's new in version 2.0:
- The regular deck now includes 700+ cards (500,000+ permutations!)
- You can now play with names, over 1,300 of them! That's 2000+ total cards.
- Game modes let you chose whether to include proper names or not.
- Select the difficulty (rather subjective, but I've tried my hardest) of names as well as the number of names per card and the jobs (actor, director, crew) you want to allow to create your own personalize game style.
- 'Special' difficulty gives you nearly 300 themed sets of names.
- Try playing with six-degrees of separation rules.
My next big step will probably be to put together a mobile app version. I'm also thinking of expanding the game modes and putting together a backside database. I'd love to get pictures by the names, or links to imdb, or something to help people out when they don't recognize someone. Feel free to send me ideas.
Thanks to everyone who helped make 2.0 possible!
Friday, July 6, 2012
I spent the day with Tiffany, Chloe, Cleo, Andre and Maud. I had a lovely time so I wrote a poem about it, in chronological order. Enjoy.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: The Poem
Yesterday Girl, Only Yesterday
Hour of the Wolf
Red Dawn Before Sunrise
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Bed and Breakfast, Breakfast in Bed
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Good Morning, Morning Glory
Good Morning, Vietnam
High Noon, Purple Noon.
Mysterious Object at Noon.
12 O'Clock High, 12:08 East of Bucharest
Seven Days to Noon
Chloe in the Afternoon, Love in the Afternoon
An Autumn Afternoon
Seance on a Wet Afternoon, Meshes of the Afternoon
Dog Day Afternoon
3:10 to Yuma.
9 to 5
Cleo from 5 to 7
Dinner at Eight
The Dinner Game:
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
My Dinner with Andre,
The Man Who Came to Dinner.
Starting Out in the Evening
August Evening, Evening Dress.
Before Sunset, Sunset Blvd.,
The Long Day Closes.
Twilight, Tokyo Twilight,
Twilight's Last Gleaming.
My Night at Maud's,
A Night to Remember:
Night at the Crossroads
Night at the Opera
Night and Fog
Night and the City
Nightmare on Elm Street
Night of the Demon
Night of the Hunter
Night of the Living Dead
Saturday Night Fever
Wait Until Dark
Fears of the Dark
All the Colors of the Dark
Alone in the Dark
A Shot in the Dark
A Cry in the Dark
Moonrise Kingdom, After Hours.
10:30 P.M. Summer.
Midnight Express, Midnight Run
The Witching Hour
Chimes at Midnight, Song at Midnight
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
All Night Long
From Dusk till Dawn
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Make Way for Tomorrow
There's Always Tomorrow
Tomorrow Never Dies
I Will Wake Up
and Scald Myself with Tea...
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
The Day After Tomorrow
The Night of the Following Day
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Trouble Every Day – The always-surprising Claire Denis brings us a revisionist vampire film that restores to the over-exposed monster its ability to horrify and disturb. Almost devoid of dialogue, the story unfolds elliptically through shocking imagery, precision editing and a throbbing soundtrack that crawls under the skin and gets inside the mind in a way that few horror films ever do. A movie this dense, implacable, blood-soaked and transgressive was bound to alienate mainstream audiences and critics alike. It only solidified my respect for the director’s intellectual and artistic rigor.
Unforgettable – Unforgettable, to most minds, is a quite the opposite. It has garbage airport potboiler script with a spin, that's really kind of a dumb. Ray Liotta is a medical examiner determined to find his wife’s killer. His primary edge is a serum that lets you experience another person’s memories, provided by obligatory hot scientist Linda Fiorentino. The movie would doubtlessly be miserably bad if not for John Dahl, a talented director who keeps below radar and turns out consistently above-average modern noirs. This is his only flirtation with sci-fi and, despite being one of his weakest films, still kept me engaged, but it tanked at the box office. Dahl’s filmography reads like marathon of better-than-they-had-to-be thrillers most of which I’d defend, including Red Rock West, You Kill Me, The Last Seduction, Joy Ride and Rounders.
The Village – Reviews of this film stank when it came out, and it’s now frequently referred to as the starting point of writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s precipitous decline. Critics and audiences were especially dismissive of the film’s rather obvious twist (after The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, everyone knew to look out for it) and the plotholes revealed therein, but I remember seeing this in theaters with my dad and thinking it was not only quite good, but a lot smarter than its given credit for being. The thematic investigations of fear, control and isolation are compelling to me, the mystery-thriller aspects really rather thrilling and the visual motifs well-handled. I don’t know if it would hold up to a second viewing, but I'm one of the few people who sound like they'd even look forward to a second viewing.
Vampires in Havana – In this animated Cuban movie that mixes vampires, music and politics, Joseph, a womanizing trombonist, gets caught in the middle of a vampire gang war centered on a sunlight immunity serum invented by his uncle. The potion would threaten the indoor beach resorts and blood-based speakeasies of the American cabal while the European gangsters plan to market it as a wonderdrug. The animation lacks a sense of place, character or artistry, but the story doesn't lack for energy and ideas.
Wanted – A secret society of assassins uses weaving errors in a mysterious ‘loom of fate’ to identify targets. As the movie begin, they send one of their top agents (Angelina Jolie) to recruit a regular office loser (James McAvoy) and teach him how to curve bullets by flicking a gun with superhuman speed. Soon he's on a mission to avenge his father. Cue explosions. Twist plot. Introduce exploding mice. This is how to make a stupid action movie and make it well (but still stupid). I came into this thinking that the film would be so ludicrous it had to be terrible, but Russian director Timur Bekmambetov keeps going one step further, rapidly leaving behind our conventional notions of the ludicrous, and entering into a dimension of pure entertainment where blazing action, the rule of cool, self-parody and idiocy magically coexist.
Wayward Cloud – Arguably the best musical about sex and watermelons, Wayward Clouds is Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang’s worst reviewed film. I think it’s his best. Ming-Liang, one of the luminaries of ‘slow cinema’ previously experimented with including lip-synced Chinese pop ballads in his impressive low-key sci-fi film The Hole, but Wayward Cloud takes things to new heights with music numbers that include synchronized umbrellas and genitalia costumes. The story, a pessimistic meditation on the impossibility of romance in a porn-saturated culture, takes place during a drought that forces Taipei to depend on watermelons for hydration.
Wild Things – There’s no question that Wild Things owes its popularity to its canny use of its cast’s assets, most famously on display (unless you are watching the TV-friendly cut) during a threesome between Matt Dillon, Denise Richards and Neve Campbell. But this film would be nothing but empty late-night cable fodder if it weren’t for the surprisingly sharp script, which lets everyone involved really relish their bad behavior and then trots out a seemingly endless supply of twists (most of which work). The slick polish that only a Hollywood budget can provide also meant that some poor art director actually bothered to make the steamy noirish atmosphere and swampy bayou setting needlessly compelling. Sure, it’s the embodiment of guilty pleasure viewing, an unabashedly sexy thriller with no deeper message or higher truth in mind, but it’s better than it should have been.
The World's Greatest Sinner – Though it has been years since I saw this on a late-night TCM airing, Sinner has stayed with me ever since. This independent 1962 cult film follows a regular Joe (actor-director Timothy Carey) during his evolution from insurance salesman, to rock star, to political figure, to cult leader and finally, and most disastrously, to godhood. He spends a lot of the film seducing, and I do mean seducing, old women out of their life savings. Carey, though it seems unlikely, is bizarrely watchable.
Yes – I consider this one of the most wrongfully hated art house masterpieces ever made, with critics almost tripping over each other to spit on it (a 29% average score on Metacritic with the only perfect rating coming from Roger Ebert). Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian and Sam Neill turn in brave top-notch performances with Allen playing a wealthy married microbiologist in love with Abkarian, a Muslim chef. The story is arguably rote, but it's carried to rapturous heights by director Sally Potter’s innovative camerawork full of delicate shallow focus movements, carefully captured details and a claustrophobic materialism. Most controversial of all, however, was her rhyming iambic pentameter script, which I felt was magnificent and perfectly wedded to the story and style but was ruthlessly torn to shreds in reviews, seemingly less for its actual quality than for the hubris of reviving unfashionable poetry in the new millennium.
You Are a Widow, Sir! – A Czech military satire sci-fi body-swap comedy with roots in the fast-paced anything-goes zaniness of the Marx Brothers. The army plots to assassinate the president after he disbands them for gross incompetence (they accidentally cut off his hand during a ceremony) and it’s up to a bumbling love-sick astrologer to foil their plans, which involve brain transplants, bombs and veal. Too convoluted to explain, it nevertheless makes internal sense upon viewing. Not only do I find this a truly funny little gem, I admire how the director leaps headlong into new complications and then, like an escape artist, digs himself out. I’m also a bit obsessed with Czech model/actress Olga Schoberova (I’ve tracked down some real crap just because she's in it) who earlier appeared in director Vaclav Vorlicek’s best work: Who Wants to Kill Jesse? Thankfully Jesse is slowly getting the critical attention it deserves, which is why I felt it was better left off the list.