I haven’t been able to get out to the theater in the past week, so I don’t have a fresh review in the hopper yet. I’ll probably see A-Team soon, so there’s that. For now, I thought I’d fill the void with an exercise I like to attempt from time to time. The old “10 movies on a desert island” game. Not original, obviously, but a fun game nonetheless. I’m always surprised by people’s answers. The desert island format is perfect, because it’s all about what you want, by whatever definition you choose. The bullshit is cut away. It isn’t about the best movies, or the coolest movies, it’s about the movies you personally couldn’t live without.
I’m extremely interested in the list of basically anyone who would be reading this. I also want to get mine down for posterity. I’d like to look at this in a few years and see how it stands up. Like a stoney time capsule.
OK, here we go. This is probably going to be pretty hard. I can think of like 20 candidates off the top of my head.
1) The Fellowship of the Ring– It’s pretty easy to start here. I’m the biggest Tolkien nerd on the planet, and this movie was excellent. Nearly perfect, even. I’m still just as impressed as I was when it came out. The same cannot be said for The Two Towers or Return of the King. Those two definitely don’t make my desert island cut. It’s odd that Fellowship is so much better considering they were shot all at once. The book is also the cream of the trilogy, so that’s part of it. But it doesn’t tell the whole tale.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say there had to have been a director switch. In Fellowship everything is done right, whereas the last two are littered with obvious mistakes. The only plausible explanation I can think of is that something changed in the screenwriting process after the first movie’s script was written. Even this doesn’t sound very likely. The LOTR great divide is like the Pythagorean theorem: there is no answer (c-squared).
2) V for Vendetta- V for V was a big hit among my group of friends when it came out, and its been near or at the top of my list ever since. The graphic novel is also incredible. I’m a big fan of Alan Moore, obviously. Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, a whole slew of solid British character actors, and an unbelievably accurate aesthetic delivered by the Wachowski Brothers. The fighting is superb, too. Forceful and direct. The bros went away from that kung-fu bullshit they got so attached to in The Matrix.
What really takes V for V to the next level for me is the way it can move you. To anger, to hope, even to tears. The sequence where Portman is in prison reading the dead lesbian’s letters is some of the best filmmaking I’ve ever seen. Perfect. Just perfect. This movie kicks ass.
3) Congo- Yes, I’m aware Congo is bad. But it’s just the right kind of bad, baby. The kinds of bad that brings the laughs. There’s a part of me that just wanted to fill this list with Surviving the Game, I Robot, and all my other badder faves and be done with it. But then I thought about what would actually happen if I took those travesties to a desert island. I would imagine after a few years alone my possession of a Constantine DVD would start to seem like a pretty cruel joke.
Still, there is no way I would ever go anywhere without Congo. Tim Curry’s turn is Herkermer Homolka is, by far, my favorite acting performance of all time. I would never want to live in a world where I couldn’t watch him try to find those diamonds. “We must follow the gorilla, where she leads!”
4) Rushmore- Another no-brainer for me. I loves me some Wes Anderson (still), and Rushmore is his crown jewel. It’s also Bill Murray’s undisputed finest hour. This was the role that changed the way he acts, and paved the way for his attempted transition to serious actor. In a way, he’s been trying unsuccessfully to re-create it ever since.
I would imagine Rushmore would make the list of virtually everyone I know.
5) Sleepy Hollow- This is similar to the Rushmore pick, in that I basically just took a favorite director, and picked what i consider to be his best work. I realize most of you probably think Burton has done better, but this is my jam. Ask five different people what Burton’s best movie is and you’re likely to get five different answers. I literally did this the other night. The answers were Sleepy Hollow (mine), Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman and Peewee’s Big Adventure.
6) Fletch- There are movies that make me laugh harder than Fletch. In the past two years alone Bruno, Pineapple Express and Macgruber all accomplished that feat. But there is just something about Chevy Chase in this role that really speaks to me. There are a lot of reasons to dislike him, and he definitely made some bad movies. But when I watch Fletch, I feel like I’m seeing a really unique kind of comedic genius at work. Nobody ever did it quite like Chevy Chase. This is him at his absolute best.
7) The Royal Tenenbaums- Am I lame for putting two Wes Anderson movies on my list? It’s hard to tell how people feel about him these days. It seems like there’s some antipathy. I know a lot of people were really disappointed in The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited. I suppose I was too. But Darjeeling was still pretty decent and Life Aquatic has really grown on me the past few years. I actually think it’s a pretty awesome movie now.
Regardless, the Royals Tenenbaums is the last slam-dunk on my list. Great look, great cast, great laughs, great soundtrack, and all kinds of feeling. I love almost every character in the movie. I care about them. Aesthetically, Wes Anderson reached his peak here. You could probably say that about almost every aspect of his filmmaking, actually.
After this it gets harder for me.
8) * The Empire Strikes Back- I hesitated over whether or not to include this. Obviously I’ve always been a huge Star Wars guy, but I feel like my fandom has really been taking a beating these last ten years. All the new movies, with the possible exception of Revenge of the Sith, were total garbage. I’ve grown to really dislike George Lucas. I loved Return of the Jedi as a kid, but can now see in it the beginnings of the nonsense that was to come.
But no matter how fat and lame Lucas gets, I always want to have the option to travel to a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars has been a part of my life for over twenty years. And Empire Strikes Back is still an awesome movie. By far the best of the trilogy. I’ve been fascinated by the ice planet Hoth for as long as I can remember.
*This stupid smiley face was, of course, an accident. Happens automatically when you follow an 8 with a ). I’m gonna leave it in there. I sort of like it, in some perverse way.
9) Boogie Nights- I always forget about this one while compiling my top ten lists, but I really shouldn’t. Boogie Nights is a fine choice no matter what you’re in the mood for. Want to laugh? the scene where Scotty tries to kiss Dirk Diggler is one of the funniest of all time. Then there’s that whole segment where Dirk and Chest Rockwell are doing too much coke and spiraling out of control. The music stuff, that crazy robbery scene with Tom Jane and Alfred Molina, there are laughs everywhere.
But it isn’t a comedy, at least not really. Most of the film builds toward devastating failures by virtually all of the characters. Things sort of work out in the end, but there is a good hour devoted to everyone ruining their lives (with extreme prejudice). Macy kills himself, the colonel goes to jail for child pornography, Amber Waves loses custody of her kids, Rollergirl gets disrespected by that guy in the limo, and Dirk Diggler gets the shit beat out of him by the hillbilly who, oddly enough, had just paid to watch him jack off. Drama!
Great style, an all-star cast, and a plot that draws you in. Boogie Nights has it all.
10) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford- I really agonized over this choice. There were many legitimate candidates. Jesse James might seem like a weird call, but I’m all up in this movie’s business. It seems like most people I talk to either haven’t seen it or weren’t impressed, and I just don’t get that. The narration that opened every scene was superb, as was the accompanying cinematography.
Pitt and Casey Affleck both really get it done as well. Oscar-caliber performances in my humble opinion. Ditto for Sam Rockwell. as a matter of fact, the cast was full of believable performances. And the story of Jesse James and Bob Ford is awesome. It was a great call to tell it from Ford’s perspective. I award big points for creativity.
OK, so that’s my list. Honorable mention goes to Old School, Pineapple Express, The Prestige, Surviving the Game, and Gone, Baby Gone. All were considered. So was Macgruber, actually. I’m going to see it again, and it may very well push its way onto the list. I’m still laughing from the first viewing.
Interested to see some lists, if any of you feel up to posting one. It’s no easy task, even for a fully trained and licensed Stoney Film Critic.