These are the chronicles of the esoteric . . .
fine fifteen, part 4
Before I make the big reveal, however, I wanted to give you fifteen movies that almost made it (some were very close indeed), but in the end, and for whatever individual reason, didn't make it into the final list. The Almost Fine Fifteen, in no particular order, are as follows.
1. Iron Man
3. The Truman Show
6. The Dark Knight
7. The Other Guys
8. Garden State
10. Minority Report
12. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
14. I, Robot
And now, without further delay, I give you the Top Three.
This particular slot initially flopped back and forth between two movies before I ultimately - and quickly - decided Batman: Mask of the Phantasm could not be left out. What? Yes, that's right. While The Dark Knight is an epic movie that purely and simply blows Tim Burton's Batman duo - as well as all the other wannabes - clear out of the water ten thousand times (I mean, seriously, no Batman movie counts anymore next to Christopher Nolan's - they're all groveling rubbish), Mask of the Phantasm is the Batman I grew up knowing. No Batman fan will deny the veracity, voracity and nostalgia of the Animated Series. The title of this particular movie refers to more than the quest to identify the Phantasm before his killing spree has ended, but in fact alludes to the masks of Wayne/Batman and the phantasms from his life in general. Released between Burton's Batman Returns and the first of Schumacher's tragedies, Batman Forever, Mask of the Phantasm pits the Dark Knight against not only his deadliest and darkest rival, but also against his past. The story explores Bruce Wayne's relationship to women as well as to his alter ego, ultimately making him choose which will be his mask. At the same time as this identity-crisis, he must attempt to discover who is behind the mask of the mysterious new villain as well as what mask his beloved, who has suddenly come back to Gotham, is now wearing. Although Andrea Beaumont was created for this movie alone (but the Phantasm is loosely based on a villain that appeared in the comics), the film accurately confronts themes familiar from the comics. And the Joker is even more creepy than the twenty-minute TV episodes allowed, portraying him as the anarchist sociopath he is from the comics - something Nolan and Ledger captured brilliantly albeit much more darkly. This movie depicts Batman, along with his inner (Wayne vs Batman) and outer (villains, love, friendship, etc.) struggles, as they truly are. When I think of Batman, this one still is the first that comes to mind.
The very first time I watched Inception in theatres, I knew it was going to be my new love - I was more than merely intrigued, I was smitten. Then I watched it again in theatres and my breath was taken away. By the time I watched it in IMAX, I was thoroughly enamoured. This movie is brilliant; Christopher Nolan is a master storyteller, and with this one he is definitely on top of his game. Inception, of course, fits right in with the reality-exploring themes I gravitate towards, and the film does so in a magnificent, sensational and profound way. Its explorations of love and the memories built therein were at times reminiscent of C S Lewis' book, A Grief Observed. Its examinations of cognition and the presence of ideas was rather interesting, and at times the investigations bordered on the metaphysical, alluding in some ways to the notion people are much more than merely chemical brain functions. The film alludes also to psychological motifs of internal motivation as well as questions our perceptions of not only ourselves but also the surrounding world. Inception creates a very believable universe where people can enter each others dreams (developed, of course, by the U.S. military), raising whole new ethical dilemmas while simultaneously (greatly) emphasising the importance of one's thoughts and brain activities. This is one epic and thought-provoking movie, leaving the viewer awe-struck and pondering (did he wake up? how much was all in a dream? does it matter in the end? can he really ever be free? etc.). Simply brilliant.
Okay, let's be honest. Everybody knows that this spot is unswervingly held by the 1999 massive hit, The Matrix. I still remember my first time watching this in Grant Park's theatre, coming out nearly speechless, wanting desperately to see it again (and subsequently buying the DVD years before we had anything to play it on). A few years ago, The Matrix was named the most influential movie of the last 25 years and it's hard to deny this to be true. Not only did this film alter our expectations of action movies and the way we talk about movies, it blew everyone away with its technological innovation. It not only had plenty of action sequences and sci-fi underpinnings, but it also had metaphysical (philosophical/theological) undertones to an impressive degree. Hailed as the modern-day telling of the Gospel, The Matrix has so much theological content that there are piles of books devoted to it. The story explores our identities within our perceived worlds, teetering on the theological notion of bondage to sin insofar as 'sin' is the system we are all trapped by, knowingly or not. As we journey with Thomas Anderson through his struggle to find out who he is, we discover the world is dramatically different than we can see from our little corner of the universe - that is, there is a huge story going on that none of us are aware of, yet all of us are affected by. The Matrix looks inquisitively at issues such as destiny/fate while at the same time entertaining us with excellently choreographed martial arts; it questions perception, true strength, and self-identity while slowing down time so we can watch Neo dodge bullets; it makes us ponder at what reality actually is and what our freedom truly looks like while thrilling us with chases and fights. The Matrix has so much packed within its 136 minutes it would take much longer than these 300 words to truly unpack and describe everything I love about it. Suffice it to say I could watch this film at any time of day and love every single minute of it (come over at 3AM, and while I'd be groggy and possibly initially frustrated at the sleep-interruption, I would ultimately sit down and watch this with you). It is for me number one - and I can't foresee any movie ever taking its place. Seriously. Ever.
I hope you've enjoyed my Fine Fifteen countdown.
fine fifteen, part 3
Anyway, here's the next batch.
I watched a quarter of an episode to the show which is directly based off this movie - and it was weird. Like, weird - weirder than the movie, for sure. But I did laugh a few times. This spot is filled by the surprise hit Napoleon Dynamite, a movie I fell in love with the first time I saw it - and a movie whose popularity I'm rather surprised at. Though not all would agree, I think it's so quotable and very funny in its weird nature. Its random plot and odd humour are ones I can completely relate to; I remember my brother and I initially saying that if I ever made a movie, it'd be like this one. The story was simple and executed excellently; moreover, the actors were superbly chosen and performed perfectly. It is definitely the most unique take on high school angst and drama I've ever seen, with elements of truth masked in exaggerated hi-jinks. I find myself often thinking of this movie, its scenes, its lines and laughing to myself about it (interestingly, however, I also do not own this one). For me, Napoleon Dynamite is in a league of its own - or at least in a category all by itself.
This movie is the one that I believe may surprise some, but it's a movie which I love every time I watch it. I have been known to have cravings for The Bourne Identity and it helps that my wife also really enjoys it - so we've popped this one in the ol' movie-player and watched it a number of times together. This movie seems to have become rather influential, and for good reason: it has action, but it's not necessarily only an action movie. It's got mystery, drama, a hint of romance - and none of this could've been pulled off with a straight-up action star. I remember my cousin and I talking about this movie when it first came out and he argued that if it's going to be action-y, they should've put Jet Li in the role. However, Jet Li could not have pulled off the intricacies of the other side of the character (albeit, he later did prove himself with his role in Unleashed). Indeed, not only does The Bourne Identity have the most creative and engaging car chase sequence I've seen on film, but the whole movie is one surprise after another. Who knew Matt Damon would be a great action star? The story may not be wholly original, but it certainly took the rogue-agent plot to a whole new level; it's a great action movie with enough twists and turns to keep you invested. The action sequences are visceral and real. And the way the two leads fall in love is actually believable. As always, the 'who-am-I' theme rampant in the movie is one I appreciate - one I think to a certain extent everyone grapples with. For me, The Bourne Identity is a classic movie which grips you from beginning to end and it's one I'd be happy to watch any time.
Another classic in my mind is the hilarious - and I do mean hilarious - Dumb and Dumber. For a movie of this genre, it is quite cleverly written. It's got a good story, and virtually every line is quotable. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels share one of the greatest examples of chemistry for a bromance of any movie I've seen. These guys are brilliant together; they play their characters flawlessly, and the script is itself nearly flawless. When my wife saw it, she was actually vocally surprised at the fact it wasn't merely a stupid, dirty-gag filled film. Of course, naturally it had its share of 'potty humour,' but it was all well placed and wasn't at all extraneous - and it actually had a plot it followed that made sense, even if it was silly. Everything in the movie worked together to the ends of the plot, and the plot truly is about the meaning of friendship, with flavours of finding one's place in the world. However, these are well buried in the humour of the movie. Dumb and Dumber has so many quotables it's not even funny - only that it is funny. In fact, it's hilarious.
I wasn't sure about how this was going to be taken as we've seen everyone in this movie earlier on the list in a pick whose position was initially debated. But really, as far as favourite movies go, this one is absolutely one of them, and the fact that I once had the majority of the script committed to memory simply serves to prove that Star Trek: First Contact is indeed a favourite. This movie is definitely, in my opinion, the best Star Trek movie out there - far surpassing even the highly-regarded JJ Abrams revamp. This movie has it all: action, drama, suspense, humour, time travel, and enough sci-fi jargon to make any geek happy - not to mention throw-backs to the season for all the Trekkies. And, come on, it's got the Borg. First Contact is about fear and confronting your past - but more importantly it's about what makes you who you are. The Next Generation was always good at keeping true to that overarching Star Trek theme of what it means to be a human - Data being the most obvious outlet for exploring such questions. Here, as Picard faces his past in a very real and frightening way, it is he who becomes the metaphor and even alludes to it at the end when the captain charges Lily to be who she is where she's placed, being a better person and making better judgments because of her newly found perspective on the universe, paralleling his enforced strength, wisdom and emotion because of his experiences - despite his momentary lapse in ego. The action is suspenseful, the dialogue is engaging, and the drama is classic (such as the 'You broke your little ships' scene - brilliant). This is definitely an entertaining watch even for non-Trekkies, I'm sure.
I had to put one of Jet Li's movies on this list because I truly love his action expertise - he's incredible to watch. But it was hard to narrow down the movie. I settled on Kiss of the Dragon mostly out of nostalgia, but also because I've watched this movie countless times and have truly enjoyed the ride every single time. I first watched his film as a pirated version in the basement with my friend, and later watched it with my wife. It has now become our favourite film as a couple. Kiss of the Dragon is a quintessential Hollywood martial arts movie: it has a basic plotline and lots of excuses for finely executed martial arts fighting. True to the genre, the bad guy is not just bad, but is in fact rather evil; and of course he's a dirty cop, thus he has connections all over the place and goons who are more than willing to do his dirty work. Jet Li is the innocent, but - as usual - highly awarded, incredibly devoted, and greatly respected cop who gets caught up in something bigger than he ever anticipated. Hijinks ensue. There's no wonder that Jet Li was considered a child prodigy in the field of Wu Shu. His speed is incredible (the fact that directors need to ask him to slow down because the cameras can't catch everything is astonishing), and the scene where he fights a group of police officers is amazing to watch, especially after finding out he told them before filming it that someone was going to get hurt - he wanted to make it realistic, so they basically just went at him, and he aptly defended them off. While he can't speak English that well, he's a fairly good actor, but he did have a few movies under his belt by the time he filmed this one. The action sequences are choreographed excellently, and while the plot is somewhat simple, it manages to have a few complex elements (but not too complex), still the good guy wins in the end, saves the damsel in distress (and her daughter), and the evil guy gets what's coming to him through a mythical method of Chinese pay-back. It's a heart-warming story really - but one with a lot of great martial arts and a handful of quotables. The acting is superb, aside from the female supporting character, but her over-acting perhaps fits well next to Jet Li's reservedness. Regardless, Kiss of the Dragon is an excellent choice for everybody who appreciates a good, solid action-film.
fine fifteen, part 2
This film is considered by most a classic, in every sense of the word. But not only that, it is a leader in visual performance. The movie which won this slot is Jurassic Park. As far as book-to-movie adaptations go, I believe this one would also come out near the top; while it's been some time since I've read the Michael Crichton thriller, I do remember it being pretty faithful to the atmosphere and characters - I don't say plot because I don't remember what all was altered (I do know however that the second movie dropped a few subplots from the book, but ones that were not necessarily crucial - and really, all adaptations do this). For a movie made in 1993, the visual effects were beyond its time; watch it now and they're still stunning (which makes me believe they actually created dinosaurs for this movie). The plot, in my opinion, was rather original and intelligently executed, thanks in part to the excellent source material. Further, it most certainly stands out as a maverick among its genre, with a multitude of undertones (science fiction, drama, romance, comedy) expertly combined, while still maintaining an overall suspenseful ambiance. Lastly, it subtly - and decidedly not so subtly - raised science-related ethical questions before the full-blown onset of stem cell and other similar research; in this way, it plays as a good commentary on the scientific community: despite our (educated) theorising and hypothesising, one never truly knows what the outcome will be.
This particular movie made it in here last minute; it otherwise would've been at the top of the 'almost made it' list. Despite its squeezing in, it managed to make it to number twelve. It is the head of a reboot to a franchise that's been around since 1962 when Sean Connery played the lead. While I've never been a big fan of James Bond (likely because the renditions of my time were more and more like the Batman and Robin of the series - i.e., horrible), Casino Royale caught my attention. I've watched this movie a number of times and I enjoy it every single time. I'm told the characters and stories of this one follow the original books quite a lot more closely than the first films. And I rather like the atmosphere it creates - the action, the dialogue, the romance, the espionage, the suave nonchalance, all the chase scenes (parkour!), and even the suspenseful, if at first confusing, poker game! This here is a very sophisticated action movie, and Daniel Craig is definitely James Bond to me in the way Christian Bale is Batman. Brilliant movie. And now I feel like watching it again.
This spot flip-flopped between two movies by the same director, but ultimately The Village won out - and not simply because it is the first movie that began the Friday afternoon hang-outs between me and my now wife. The Village is a romance movie in a way no romance movie ever has been (that I've seen). Like Million Dollar Baby, this movie is ostensibly one thing, but is in fact another - and this is a realisation I only came to while working on an assignment for my Film and Faith class a few years ago. The Village plays out as a thriller, but is written as a love story: the movie is really about the relationship between Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) and Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) amidst the uneasy truce between their village and the mysterious creatures in the forest around them. The film is beautifully shot with colourful cinematography nearing that of Hero. Moreover, its story handles love in a noticebly delicate and nuanced manner; the obvious, innocent love between Lucius and Ivy is paralleled by the unspoken, forbidden love of their parents - a love poetically restrained. Additionally, the overall story stands as a commentary on seclusion from the world, and Noah Percy (the mentally ill character played by Adrian Brody) is the element that exposes the faults - he is hindered by an incapacity to understand and know how to cope with the darker side of (his) humanity which, in the end, the founders of the village are ultimately attempting to do - while the woodland creatures represent the corruption, false and true, present within our world. But, as the blind lover risks her life for the medicines to save her dying beloved, we see that the overtones are of love and not of a fright-fest. I could actually go on about how great this movie is and all the various subtexts it contains, but I'll leave it at that for now. But not before I mention that if there's a way to poetically depict a stabbing (weird, I know), this movie pulls it off.
This is, I think, the only movie on the list I will never watch with my wife. Not because I don't want to, but because it would be far too disturbing and creepy for her - and not even becuase it's all that terribly disturbing or creepy. Okay, actually, it has some disturbing content, but for me The Cell is an innovative movie. Despite what many may say, Jennifer Lopez actually does a decent job acting in this movie; the person I had trouble (and still sometimes have trouble) taking seriously is Vince Vaughn (Is he good actor? Sometimes I can't tell...). Overshadowing the two is the always brilliant Vincent D'Onofrio. This movie is my first exposure to Tarsem Singh - and his first major project (he's only worked on five, four of which are as a director, and three of which I've watched and love). His cinematography is breath-taking; his imagination, epic. J.Lo plays the lead as a social worker adept at an experimental Matrix-like technology who is convinced by an FBI agent (Vaughn) to use her 'special method' to enter the mind of a newly and suddenly comatose killer in order to find where his last victim is being held (and tortured). The images that follow, while grandiose, are somewhat graphic in nature. Herein lies another movie which plays on my interest of differing realities, albeit less so than others - there are a few moments in the movie which are reminiscent of the Star Trek: Voyager episode, 'Waking World' because the danger is that a 'user' can potentially forget they're not in reality. They even need a wake-up signal. Aside from that, they need to 'plug in' to each others minds, but only the dreamer has the upper hand, as it is they who can shape the sleeping reality as they see fit. But I really can't rave enough about the imagery (for any of his movies) as there are so many scenes of such amazing visuals beyond description - they truly are experiences; this is in fact his trademark and largely what keeps me coming back. This is of course not to say that the story isn't well written, but the cinematography is almost like a lead character in and of itself. It's an engulfing movie, one in which I can't watch snippets of because I'll inevitably need to watch the whole thing (it's happened... twice).
The last movie you'll get from me this week is an obscure, but hiliariously strange film called Pootie Tang. Oh, Pootie. How could any movie-list of mine be complete without Pootie Tang? This movie is beyond brilliant - it is in a category of its own (quite literally). As a mild parody of 'black movies,' the humour goes from quite strange to over-the-top and it's for this reason I couldn't help but love it instantly. Every time I watch this movie I just fall in love with it all over again. The dialogue, the characters, the story and the execution of it all - it's just all so intentionally bad that it's actually quite amazing. There are so many parts of the movie that are too good, and I want to watch them all again right now. The tag-line definitely rings true for both Pootie and the movie itself: 'Too cool for words.' It's such a shame that Pootie Tang was not well received. I will always love Pootie. Sa da tay, my damie. Sepatown.
What I find interesting is how many of these favourite movies I do not own: Jurassic Park, Zoolander, Pootie Tang, and I only own a burnt copy of The Cell and a VHS (!) of Generations. For shame, Eric Jordan. For shame.
fine fifteen, part 1
Before we get into it however, I'd like to begin with a disclaimer on how I've chosen the fifteen films. You see, I have judged my list not on the basis of how 'great' the movie is - that is, I did not make a decision based on merit of exceptional writing, groundbreaking acting, or astonishing cinematography. Instead, I have composed my list purely on the basis of enjoyability (what my brother calls the 'sheer feel' and 'go-back ability'). These are movies I would watch no matter what mood I'm in - movies I have enjoyed since the first time I saw them and I continue to immensely enjoy them regardless of how many times I experience them. This list of fifteen movies are the ones I have put as first on a list of favourites because of the fact that I would buy - and in most (but unfortunately not all) cases have bought - them. Because if I love it enough I want to own it so I can pop it in when I invariably get a craving. They are movies I could never tire of, I often think of, quote from, and am constantly wanting to watch them.
For that reason, I'm sure many of you can already guess what some of these movies are. I watch a lot of movies and there is little doubt as to which are my favourites; but I suppose there may be a few on my list that are surprises to some. I suppose I could make another list consisting of movies I think are actually the best on basis of quality of writing, acting and filming, but I feel there would likely be over-lap.
And with that I end my disclaimer, so without further ado I give you 15 and 14 of Eric Jordan's Fine Fifteen.
This last slot kept changing over the last few months; I was replacing movie after movie, rotating titles constantly. It became an obsessive battle. But I did finally manage to batten down the hatch, as it were. The movie that squeezed its way onto the list is Star Trek: Generations. Yes, the first movie by the crew of the Enterprise 1701-D. It's a classic movie, with a brilliant (and very 'Star Trek') crossover of generations. I love Star Trek for its ability to deal with both fictional spatial anomalies and greater questions of life in one story-line. The way the 'death' of Kirk played against the death of Picard's brother was simple but profound; Data's incorporation of the 'emotion chip' was hilarious, but led to serious questions, as Data always does, of what it means to be human. In addition, there were questions of life in the context of time (a predator or friend?), family (Picard as the last Picard), and morality vs apathy (making a difference). The thing I enjoyed the most, as will come out in some of my other favourite movies, is the explorations of reality: the fictional irregularity encountered in the film - named 'the Nexus' - opened up existential questions in a very unique and sublime way. Lastly, the method they chose to end an era of The Next Generation by actually destroying the beloved Enterprise - not to mention finally putting Kirk to rest as an epic hero - while leaving it open for a new chapter was a good twist. Great movie.
The movie that holds this position was the last one to be added. In all honesty, I'm even now debating whether it should be here or at 15. Regardless, the second last movie is Zoolander. Yes, the magnificent comedy from Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, featuring the always amazing Will Ferrell. Zoolander for me is an oft-quoted gallery of brilliant scenes and hilarious one-liners that subtly and quite sarcastically deals with questions of perception, friendship and morality - though none in much depth. This movie is a classic for comedy-watchers, and is actually quoted often by others, which to be honest I find rather amusing: if you watch this movie again, note how very strange it is - the humour is an oddball sort of Spaceballs humour that makes me wonder if it would've been as big a hit had it been cast with no-names. Zoolander is a movie that I still cannot believe I do not own, and a movie whose rumoured sequel I await with caution. Ultimately, it is a movie I would gladly watch over and over - and laugh every time.