e. magill's                        

The Unapologetic Geek


Top 5 Movie Lists, Part 3

RECAP: Amelia and I purchased a 5-disc DVD changer over the weekend, to celebrate our generous tax return. In honor of this, I wanted to list my five favorite movies, as though deciding which movies I would choose if I could only put 5 movies in the DVD player. However, after pouring over all of my favorite flicks, I realized that it would be completely impossible to pick just five. Therefore, I narrowed it down to my top five movies in each of twelve genres (some of which I made up myself). A lot of time and effort was made in compiling this list, and Iíd like to thank Netflix, IMDB, and Wikipedia for their tireless help in my review. Also, due to the size of this list and the time it is taking me to compile it, I have decided to split it into four installments to be posted here over the next few days. Check back all week, and be sure to add comments detailing all the different ways in which you disagree with my assessments.

Drug Movies

Naked Lunch

There are generally two types of films in this list: movies about drugs, and movies that can only be truly appreciated if you are on drugs. David Cronenbergís adaptation of William S. Burroughsí seminal novel, Naked Lunch, happens to fit into both categories. While not a direct adaptation, the film Naked Lunch is a quasi-biographical story of an incomprehensibly mad writer who, after becoming addicted to bug powder, starts taking orders from giant cockroaches, shoots his wife in much the same way as Burroughs accidentally shot his wife, and gets embroiled in a hallucinatory world of depravity and psycho-sexual paranoia, all the while writing reports to his imagined leaders, reports that would become the novel, Naked Lunch. The film contains some of the most disturbing imagery you will ever see, and Peter Wellerís mesmerizing portrayal of William Lee (a.k.a. William S. Burroughs) is hauntingly delicious, especially when he is reciting, verbatim, the famous ďTalking AssholeĒ story from the original novel. While Cronenberg has become far more tame in recent years, Naked Lunch is the movie that captures his earlier style in the finest and most drug-addling way possible, regardless of whether itís a faithful incarnation of Burroughsí controversially obscene book.

One of my most treasured movie-going experiences was deciding, on a whim, to go to the movie theater late one night with my brother Robert and see the first movie that was playing. Trainspotting happened to be that movie, and neither of us knew anything about it at the time. This was before the film became a cult classic, before its lead, Ewan McGregor, became a superstar, and before the dead baby crawling on the ceiling became a staple of drug movie satires. A Scottish film version of the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, with heavy accents and an eccentric soundtrack, Trainspotting is primarily about heroin addict Renton, who goes on a madcap journey to quit drugs and choose life. Itís a movie that is both funny and as shockingly serious as a dead baby or a friend with AIDS. Itís poignant without being preachy, and it shows an understanding of young adults and drug addicts that is rarely seen on film. Itís ultimately an uplifting movie, and I really wish Ewan would swallow his friggin pride and sign on with Danny Boyle for the sequel, Porno.

I toyed with putting Go, one of director Doug Limanís earliest forays into feature film, in the number 1 spot on this list, just because I love watching it so much, but really, it isnít a true drug movie. The primary plot around which the four main vignettes of the film rotate does have a lot to do with a flubbed drug deal for twenty hits of ecstacy, and at least one of the characters winds up taking a couple, but otherwise, itís just a movie about young people getting into crazy scenarios and managing to survive them by nothing short of divine intervention. Itís a movie about the illusion of invulnerability of youth, of having fun in the most dangerous of times, and I have to admit the young Katie Holmes is impossibly cute. I watch this movie fairly often, just because it makes me feel good and it reminds me of the better half of my experiences when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Drugs had a lot to do with it, but really, theyíre just a tool for the setting.
Pink Floyd the Wall

Far from just a 90 minute music video from the early 1980ís, Pink Floyd the Wall is a harrowing portrayal of madness, alienation, celebrity, drug use, and inner demons. Part live action, part crazed animation, Pink Floyd the Wall is Roger Watersí magnum opus, a vision he had for many years before successfully turning it into a rock album and then feature film. It is a highly personal and visual film, which can be interpreted in any number of ways, and it is the kind of movie that is fascinating sober, but a religious experience on drugs. (Please note that I do not necessarily condone the use of illicit substances by those not responsible enough to know the potentially life-shattering consequences.)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Itís strange that two movies on this list are movies I saw with my brother Robert, since Iím fairly certain that Robert never experimented with illegal drugs. However, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is another movie we saw together, and we loved it. I didnít live through 1969, nor do I regard Hunter S. Thompsonís political viewpoint as anything resembling accurate, but his writings on the counter-cultureóFear and Loathing in Las Vegas in particularóare fascinating, unique, artistic, and eye-opening. The movie based on his book is surprisingly true to its source, and the few things the movie adds, including two very poetic monologues, make it even better. Terry Gilliam should be commended for bringing Thompsonís work to the screen so faithfully, and Johnny Depp should be proud of what could easily be his best role. This is a movie you donít need drugs to understand (though it helps), and itís a movie with grandiose themes about the American experience and where the country was headed in the post-sixties era. I donít necessarily agree with the viewpoint, but it is one that should not be ignored.
Honorable Mentions: Half-Baked, Groove, Lost Highway, The Salton Sea, SLC Punk, Traffic


Edward Scissorhands

The movie that started Tim Burtonís ridiculously long love affair with Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, is probably their best collaboration (Ed Wood takes a close second). Edward Scissorhands is the culmination of Burtonís lifelong work in dark fantasy, German expressionism, and quirky humor. He has made many great films, but Edward Scissorhands is truly a modern fairy tale, one with few real-world trappings and a castle-full of childlike fascination.
Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

I know Iím making a lot of enemies by listing one of the new trilogy films as my favorite Star Wars movie (and Iíll go ahead and warn you that there isnít a single Lord of the Rings film in my top 5). Most fans would probably consider it blasphemy to say that any movie other than The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite, but I have to be honest here. I do think George Lucas made a lot of mistakes leading up to Revenge of the Sith, but his last movie in the saga marked the perfection of his craft. While the first two episodes would have been better with a different director, I think he did admirably with his final chapter, in which Anakin Skywalker becomes the cultural icon that is Darth Vader. There are multiple layers to the film, which separates it from all others in the saga, and it is successfully able to close the gap between The Phantom Menace and A New Hope, not to mention the fact that the final lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan is the most epic, most technically impressive, and most exciting lightsaber duel of all-time, as it needs to be. It may be the darkest take on the Star Wars universe, but hey, I like dark.

Of course, you couldnít get any less dark than Steven Spielbergís Hook, a whimsical reimagining of the classic story of Peter Pan. Robin Williams plays a Peter who chose to leave Neverland, grow up, get married, and have kids. Peter, who has forgotten about his past identity, visits an elderly Wendy (played by Maggy Smith) right before his arch-nemesis, Captain Hook (an awesome Dustin Hoffman), kidnaps Peterís children, forcing the hero into a final confrontation. Slowly, Peter remembers his past, gets in touch with his inner child, and finds the means to defeat Captain Hook once and for all. Itís a movie that will make you feel like a kid again, and thatís why it makes this list.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban

Harry Potter is a verifiable phenomenon, and the series of books has successfully captured the imagination of adults and children alike. I am not ashamed to say I love the books (especially the latter ones), and the movies are surprisingly well-done flicks. And though Order of the Phoenix is probably my favorite Potter book, Prisoner of Askaban is my favorite Potter movie (so far). It is the first movie in the series to prove that the movies can be approached in the same mature way as a serious adult drama, and itís also the only one to use mildly experimental filming techniques to set the scene. The two films that have followed have been almost as good, but Prisoner of Askaban captures the feel of Rowlingís books the best, more mature than Colombusí earlier efforts, and less disorientingly cluttered than the two blockbusters that follow it.
What Dreams May Come

Frankly, Iím surprised that Robin Williams has wound up on so many of these lists, but What Dreams May Come is easily my favorite fantasy flick. Williams stars with Cuba Gooding, Jr., Max von Sydow, and Annabella Sciorra in a beautiful adaptation of Richard Mathesonís spiritually satisfying novel (Matheson, Iíd like to note, is one of my favorite authors), which starts with the hero, Chris Nielson, a man who has already lost his two children in a car accident, meeting an equally sudden and violent death. The rest of the story takes place in a unique vision of the afterlife so amazing you want to believe in it. The imagery, including an impressionistic world made of paint, is the stuff of dreams and nightmares, and I guarantee you youíve never seen anything else like it. But thereís a dark side to Nielsonís new existence, in that some people wind up in a self-imposed torturous hell caused by their own madness. When Chris discovers that his troubled wife winds up in such a place after committing suicide, he goes against all odds to traverse the many fantastic realms of his new existence to find her and rescue her. ***SPOILER ALERT!*** In the end, he saves her by choosing to join her, a sacrifice so profound that it echoes into eternity. This logical conclusion, which is something I can unfortunately relate to, is brilliant, poignant, and tear-jerkingly wonderful, as is the movie as a whole.
Honorable Mentions: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the rest of the Star Wars saga, the rest of the Harry Potter flicks, Cool World, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Legend, MirrorMask, Willow, Panís Labyrinth

Historical Drama/Epic

Immortal Beloved

Immortal Beloved takes a famous mystery surrounding the death of Ludwig von Beethoven, winds a convincingóthough highly unlikelyósolution to that mystery, and uses that to frame a film that highlights the most legendary moments from the composerís infamous life. Itís an ingeniusly structured film, incredibly well-acted by Gary Oldman and others. It also contains brilliant set and costume design, perfectly invisible special effects, a soundtrack composed of nothing but Beethoven creations, and a wealth of meaningful moments. Even if you know nothing of the man, Immortal Beloved is an amazing film.

A virtually unknown HBO/BBC production, Conspiracy is the true story of the Wannsee Conference, an event that took little more than an hour but represents one of the darkest chapters in human history. During the Wannsee Conference, which took place on January 20, 1942, several members of the Nazi leadership, including the utterly evil Reinhard Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh) and the frightening Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci), made the decision to enact the Final Solution phase of the Holocaust, in which they attempted to exterminate all Jews. Anybody who wants to know how cold logic can be used to justify something so terrible should see this movie, which is based on surviving records of the conference with a diligent adherence to historical fact. I canít stress enough how important this movie is, and I think it should be required viewing in schools, right next to Schindlerís List.

Yes, I think Titanic is a great film. I donít care what you think. It captured the romance of history, the fascination with a singular event, and the mythology that surrounds it. Thatís why itís on this list, and I donít want to hear how you think Leonardo DiCaprio sucks ďjust because.Ē In my experience, people who say they hate this movie secretly admire it.
United 93

Itís almost impossible for me to talk about United 93 from the normal standpoint of somebody reviewing a movie, possibly because it is the only film in this list that details an event that I was alive to witness. I canít really get into the little minutia of things like the camera usage or the musical score or the acting, mostly because it all seems so meaningless to discuss. All I really want to talk about is how I felt after watching it, and I wonít lie. When the credits started rolling, I was pretty shaken, but after about a minute of letting the experience settle, I was crying my eyes out into a wad of Kleenex. This film is jarring, to say the least, and realistic to the extreme. Thereís a real-time pacing, which works on you in a very slow and almost imperceptable manner. Sure, while watching it, you might think about the little minutiaóthe music and the acting and the camera workóbut once the film builds up to its climax, all of that is replaced by an intellectual need to keep it together. It becomes relentlessly emotional and intense, and when the inevitable crash takes place, you will be left feeling as bad if not worse than you should have felt on that day. Itís not an easy movie to watch, and I sincerely doubt I will ever watch it again, but I think itís a movie everybody should see. It doesnít tell you anything you didnít already know or could easily find out. However, the film puts it into a raw and very real context more effectively than I could have predicted, and it delicately rips off the scabs of those 9/11 wounds we all should have. Itís important to review those feelings. It helps you heal.

This list ends as it begins, with a movie about a classical composer. Amadeus, based on Peter Shafferís play and loosely based on actual events, is about court composer Salieri (easily F. Murray Abrahamís most memorable role), who has dedicated his life to making music in celebration of God, but has been overshadowed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, possibly the greatest composer of all time, who, rather than devoting himself to God, is an offensive little creature with no regard for the rules of Venitian aristocracy. Salieri is offended to the point where he declares war on God himself and vows to destroy His gifted instrument. Despite its blatant religious overtones, Amadeus (keep in mind that the name ďAmadeusĒ is actually latin for ďbeloved by GodĒ) is about dealing with mediocrity, mortality, and jealousy, and those are themes all talented people can appreciate. It is also a virtual textbook on how to make a period piece, with every element of the times perfectly crafted and put in place. For any number of reasons, Amadeus is probably one of the greatest movies ever made.
Honorable Mentions: Amistad, Dangerous Liaisons, Empire of the Sun, The Ghost and the Darkness, Gladiator, Hamlet (1990), K-19: The Widowmaker, The Last King of Scotland, The Last Samurai,The Madness of King George, Othello (1995), RKO 281, Sunshine (1999)

-e. magill 02/06/2008

Check out the other installments:
PART 1:Action/Adventure

PART 2:Comedy

PART 4:Horror


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