Friday, May 4, 2012
My 100 Worst Favorite Movies, Part 1
Hey, I'm back with a big new 10 part series of capsule reviews! Expect it to be self-indulgent. Behold:
I have a tendency to defend movies. And not just the great ones. I like movies, I watch a lot of them, and I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve got my moments of snobbery (this IS the internet after all), but I rarely fail to find something of value in the movies I see. It helps that I leverage friends, lists, trusted critics, the internet and a bit of common sense to vet what I take in. Still, I’ve seen plenty of films whose merits were contradicted by all of those resources, which I’d defend. I'd probably lose the case, but I'd defend them. This is a list about those movies.
I’m calling this my 100 "Worst Favorite" Films. "Favorite Worst" Films implies that I think all these films are actually bad and, worse still, openly admit it. It took me a while to formulate exactly what I was going for with this list, but it amounts to this: what films do I value well beyond the critics/the public/anyone objective. So that includes movies deemed wretched that I think worthwhile all the way up to movies labeled mediocre that I consider brilliant. It includes titles I think are genuinely underrated or neglected as well as films I love, but can’t realistically call masterpieces.
I’ve tried not weasel out of embarrassing myself by choosing only obscure titles. I’m hoping everyone will recognize at least a couple films that will totally undermine my authority as a film blogger. For those films you don’t recognize (perhaps for good reason) I’ve provided blurbs that explain the gap between my opinion and the general consensus. And who knows, maybe a few of you will agree with me?
I’ve also aimed for variety, so while the list is dominated by sci-fi and horror (which lend themselves to flawed genius) I’ve also included art films, exploitation, musicals, documentaries, romantic comedies, children’s cartoons and 'adult' films. Where else will you find Care Bears Adventures in Wonderland on a list with Dr. Jekyll and His Women?
I’ll be putting out the list in daily installments of 10 films each. For any regular readers out there I apologize for recycling many movies that I’ve written about before, especially during the Hall of Strangeness series. Like most people, I'm biased towards films I saw in my formative years, the 1990's in my case, so I should apologize for that too. But I'm not going to. After all, this list is all about bias.
So now, blurring the line between recommendations and confessions, I present my worst favorites films for your enjoyment (even if, statistically speaking, the odds aren’t in your favor).
8-Diagram Pole Fighter – A classic martial arts films that is undergoing a welcome resuscitation, 8-Diagram Pole Fighter is, as one might expect, all about the pole fighting choreography. This is best displayed during the opening credits, a scene which the rest of the movie can’t often live up to. The film is severely handicapped by the death of one of the leads, who just disappears near the final act of the movie and isn’t mentioned again. Typical of the genre, the acting and dubbing are often outrageously bad. Of note: more teeth get knocked out in the final battle, which takes place on a pyramid of coffins, than in any five other films I’ve seen.
American Astronaut – A science-fiction western musical by inspired indie rocker Cory McAbee. Poorly paced, steeped in twisted insider humor and dreamlike to the point of occasional frustration, this is still a masterpiece of atmosphere, space-as-the-new-West revisionism and raw individual vision. Critics disagree with the nice things I said. I don’t think it ever even had a theatrical release and I’ve only been able to buy copies from the band’s website.
The Annunciation – A work of nigh unrivaled ambition, condemnation and pretentiousness, The Annunciation is a Hungarian adaptation of The Tragedy of Man, framed as a vision presented to Adam and Eve by Lucifer, just after the fall, in which they watch the consequences of sin throughout the history of civilization spanning ancient Babylonia, the French Revolution, Victorian England and more. The film would have been dark and daring enough had it not used a cast composed entirely of children ages 10-12, whose unnerving depictions of mankind’s treachery, lust, rage and, in rare glimpses, redemption, scandalized contemporary Western censors and left the few critics who caught a screening scratching their heads. A handful, like me, was riveted.
Apartment Zero – Colin Firth stars as an Argentinian stalker infatuated with Hollywood Golden Age cinema and his new roommate, who might be a war criminal. Firth seems harmless at first, but his character arc has a satisfying curve to it. Apartment Zero is a queer thriller that wavers pleasantly (for me) between creepy and campy, yet the genuine affection for the troubled lead and the inclusion of grisly real-life political issues can’t quite be laughed away. I tend to enjoy films like this where one can’t quite pin down the dominate tone or the intended reaction.
The Apple (1980) - In the distant future (1994), two Canadian folksingers must battle to save their music, and their souls, from dystopian music industry tyrant BIM (Boogalow International Music) and his mind-controlling disco beats in this ambitious sci-fi musical adaptation of the Bible. The costume design, choreography and songwriting are frankly amateurish, but in the best sense: full of crazy ideas and laughable wrongness that a ‘better’ director would have cut or failed to conceive. I have so much fun watching this awkward, enthusiastic time-capsule that it must be doing something right.
Bad Blood (1986) – Imagine a future in which youth is being wiped out by a new STD that kills people who have sex without love. Now imagine a movie that has basically nothing to do with that. This is both of those movies. The young cast includes early-career Juliette Binoche, Denis Lavant and Julie Delpy. It’s so oozing with style that it congeals over and, thankfully, largely obscures the plot. The experimental lighting tends to obscure the action. But really its quite beautiful. And David Bowie’s music comes through pretty clear. I’m excited because Leos Carax, the director, is emerging from a 13 year hiatus with an upcoming parallel realities film called Holy Motors.
Barbarella – Pure silly space-romping future-camp full of 60’s psychedelic set design and goofy technobabble. Child dolls with gnashing metal teeth. A blind angel who lacks the will to fly. A giant sex organ (as in piano). Nothing makes any sense and doesn’t need to because everyone seems like they are having fun. Oh yeah, and Jane Fonda strips in zero G. If you like Barbarella make sure to check out Modesty Blaise, a close runner-up.
Billy Jack – Billy Jack is a half-breed ex-Green Beret who defends a hippy commune from small town America and their conservative authoritarianism using kick-heavy kung-fu. Director/writer/star Tom Laughlin can’t always decide rather he wants to make an exploitation film or a painfully sincere flower-power screed and ends up tipping towards the latter, allowing the film to make up for its laundry list of flaws on the strength of its naïve, but endearing, convictions. It actually makes me respect it a lot more that it sticks to its values even at the expense of being, you know, a bit more entertaining.
Blind Beast – A blind masseuse kidnaps a client who he obsesses over via touch. He imprisons her in his warehouse, an overwhelming menagerie of female body part sculptures (I can't do it justice without screenshots), where he plans to develop the sense of touch to an art form that will rival sight and sound. Masumura, one of cinema’s most underrated masters, both indulges and elevates the pulpy material with his expressionist sets, philosophical script and brave performances. His satire of corporate culture and the media, Giants and Toys, almost made the list.
Blindman – A blind gunslinger delivering 50 mail-order brides to a mining camp is betrayed and robbed of his human cargo. He sets out for revenge against a clan of foes with names like Domingo, Skunk and Candy (played by Beatles drummer Ringo Starr). Strange and misguided beyond measure, the film nevertheless knows how deliver memorable setpieces unlike anything the stagnant western genre has produced before. It all culminates in a gritty showdown between the two chief rivals, both now blind, scrapping desperately amid a field of nameless gravestones; a staggering metaphor for… something.