100 Favorite Movies (090-081)


This is the second part of my 100 Favorite Movies blog feature. Here I'm counting down from 090-081.

You can read part one here: http://1000trillionsuns.blogspot.com/2012/07/100-favorite-movies-100-091.html

And now, the countdown continues:


090  Memento (2000) - Christopher Nolan's first appearance on this list but certainly not his last. Memento is a tricky movie about a man, who can't create new memories, searching for the killer of his wife.Guy Pearce plays the man, his body tattooed with notes he makes so that when he wakes up each morning he can continue on his hunt. The movie is smart, and devilishly clever, told basically in reverse, and the ending provides an intelligent little twist in the tale. That word will get bandied about a lot when I describe Nolan's films - intelligent. As a director, Nolan has a grasp for both the intimate details and the big picture. His biggest asset is that he handles everything with intelligence and never "talks down" to his audience. He is also involved as a screenwriter for many of his films so, his own intimate knowledge of his work allows a greater degree of depth in his directing. He might not provide all the answers you want, but he gives you the clues and the information to build your own picture. In Memento the tiny details are given particular attention and the audience is given clues, just like the main character, and forced to think as the movie unfolds. A mention should be made of Nolan's brother Jonathon whose idea Memento was borne from and who serves as a screenwriter for many of Nolan's movies. It is clear the brothers are blessed with considerable complex thoughts and intend to force their audience to think while they enjoy the movie. Look out for more Nolan on the list later.

089  The Fog (1980) - The John Carpenter original is creepy and atmospheric, unlike the more recent remake. Since Carpenter is used to working on a limited budget, he makes the most of what he's got. Like many of his movies, Carpenter scores the soundtrack with his own foreboding electronic music. It's simple and effective, creating an uncomfortable and dark ambience. Carpenter fills out his cast with honest, but cheap, actors. Usually those who are well known in the horror genre and particularly in Carpenter's other efforts. Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh, Tom Atkins and Hal Holbrook round out a good cast in this particular creep-fest. The titular Fog provides Carpenter with cover to hide his surprises, those "horror movie" moments, but NOT like more brutal and gory modern fare. Most of the horror is suggested, sometimes by a sound or by an actor reaction but rarely is there anything stomach churning on the screen. And that's the beauty of this movie, it creeps into your head as the Fog creeps towards the shoreline of the sleepy small town of Antonio Bay. Father Malone (Holbrook) uncovers the secret and realizes, too late, what has cursed Antonio Bay. More reliant on atmosphere than almost all of today's horror spectacles, The Fog, and what lies within, is a genuine chiller...

088  Awakenings (1990) - Based on stunning true-life events, Awakenings is a wonderfully acted and moving story of a group of catatonic patients at a hospital being roused from their frozen state by a new drug and a hopeful young doctor. Robin Williams (wearing a beard so you know its serious Robin) plays Dr. Sayer, a studious, quiet and introverted man who uncovers the truth behind the statue-like patients he finds in a hospital. Robert De Niro plays one of the patients, Leonard, who after being woken after many years from his catatonic state, struggles with his new reality while trying to help Sayer find a permanent solution to the problem. The movie is heartbreaking but hopeful as the "Awakening" provides a small window for the patients to live their lives again. Penny Marshall directed and avoids too much sentimentality and cloying emotion. Instead she relies on the wonderful script, gorgeous music and the pitch perfect acting of her leads to convey the story with honesty and power. BEST SCENE: The movie is littered with good moments but one of the most powerful for me is when Leonard is suffering a setback, his body becoming rigid as he starts reverting back to his catatonic state. Dr. Sayer wants to help but he is is forcefully ordered by Leonard to keep filming him as he struggles and to "Learn, learn, learn." Powerful and brutal. Both men should've won Oscars for these roles.

087  The Prophecy (1995) - Christopher Walken as a pissed off Angel Gabriel? Sign me up. This movie was one of those fun finds from the video store. Gabriel needs to find a soul which will sway the War in Heaven in his favor. However, he's not going to get it all his own way. The movie is filled with cool imagery and interesting religious concepts like Gabriel's disharmony because God saw fit to show favor to the humans  and give them souls. Gabriel dismisses humanity as monkeys and seeks now to redress the balance in favor of the Angels, those who were once most favored by God. If the themes seem heavy and dark, the movie avoids preaching or offering anything more than a mythical angle on things, and is held together by the charismatic Walken, whose Gabriel moves like a dancer, has a sinister sense of humor and is single-minded of purpose. Walken is the star of the show but look out for Elias Koteas, Eric Stoltz, Virginia Madsen and Viggo Mortensen in one of his earliest roles. Well worth a watch. BEST SCENE: Gabriel explains why we humans have the cupid's bow on our top lip.

086  Dracula (1992) - Forget Keanu's terrible accent...and acting. He goes on to star in the Matrix and is perfectly good in it. Here, not so much. Forget about him. Concentrate instead on the beautiful visual style created by Coppola, the thunderous and ominous soundtrack by Kilar and the virtuoso performance by Gary Oldman. The cast is bolstered by Anthony Hopkins and Winona Ryder but there's no doubt this is Oldman's movie, playing the charismatic, dashing and monstrous Count Dracula. The visuals in this movie are suitably dark and soaked in red with Coppola employing many little tricks and techniques to give it a very stylized period look. To that end the effects, make-up and costumes are impressive and all earned Oscars. No doubt the film has its flaws but those are easy to overlook with such impressive visuals. And of course, whenever Oldman is on the screen the movie shines.

085  The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) - No, not the Keanu Reeves movie from the late 2000's but the old black and white effort with Michael Rennie. Simply, this is a movie about an alien who comes to Earth to warn humanity that it must find a way to live peacefully or be destroyed by the other inhabitants of the galaxy as a threat to their safety. Of course, humans being what they are, they shoot the guy (they didn't even ask his name...turns out he's called Klaatu) before he really gets the message out there. He's bundled off to hospital to be poked, prodded and interrogated but he's not content with being the punchline of some ironic Earth-humor so, he escapes. For a while he lives amongst the humans, learning about them and finally decides the only way to get the message through to them is by a demonstration of power. I won't give it all away but the title of the movie should give you a clue. Of course, the star of the show is Gort, the giant space robot, who spends most of the movie standing sentinel by the spaceship but who hides a powerful death-ray beneath his visor. The movie is nicely directed by Robert Wise, probably more famously known for The Sound of Music and West Side Story but who was never afraid to mix up genres. He has already directed another movie on my list: The Andromeda Strain. The whole thing is held together with the brilliant score by Bernard Herrmann which utilized the theremin for the otherworldly sounds. Classic science fiction! GEEK FACT: Like all good sci-fi stories, there is more to be seen here than simple aliens versus humans. It can be viewed as an allegory and that Klaatu represents Jesus (While living among the humans he chooses the name Carpenter and he is killed and resurrected) however, I first saw this when I was really young and all I know is it had a huge robot that could shoot lasers out of his face! Klaatu barada nikto Gort...

084  Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) - The original was a pure classic so it's little wonder the movie has been made and remade so many times. The paranoia and the great scares make it a perfect sci-fi/horror movie. However, I'm not picking the original, instead I'm going for the 1978 version with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy. Why? One simple reason: the scare factor. The original was creepy and played on the paranoia of the time. The '78 version just seemed to up the ante and make it a far more terrifying prospect to be body-snatched...or worse, one of the few left un-snatched! This version gets picked over the original for the pay-off: the ending is fantastically scary, or it was when I was a young lad. One other point to note is the solid direction by Philip Kaufman. He'll appear again later on the list for his directing abilities but its worth noting he's the dude who came up with the story for Raiders of the Lost Ark with George Lucas. Not too shabby.

083  The Sixth Sense (1999) - M. Night Shyamalan's crowning achievement and the possible reason his ego ran off the reservation. credit where credit is due though. If you were lucky enough to see this movie without anyone spoiling the twist for you, you walked out of the cinema chattering excitedly about it. That's how movies should be. There should be something to talk about, to be in awe of or a moment that just stole your breath away that you can't wait to talk about it. The Sixth Sense had one of those moments. It also brought the most overused sentence of the year with: "I see dead people." but that's okay too. Haley Joel Osment was superb as Cole, the young boy afflicted with visions of the dead. Bruce Willis played the somber and troubled psychologist tasked with helping the boy and managed to do so with nary a smirk. And mustn't forget Toni Collette, providing a wonderful turn as Cole's protective mother. Shyamalan proved an able storyteller, his script and directing wonderfully done. Filled with genuinely creepy moments and a great ending, its just a shame he spent the next dozen years trying to prove to everyone why he was so good. Sadly, he hasn't managed to reach these heights again. (He did take a good swing at it with Unbreakable though). BEST SCENE: That twist ending...

082  Edward Scissorhands (1990) - Johnny Depp was already every teen girls dream but this movie cemented him in place. Depp plays Edward, a sweet and sheltered young man who falls in love with a pretty girl from town. The big set back though is he has scissors for hands! Tim Burton's dark fairytale is brought to life with great visual flare, Edward's gothic castle in stark contrast to the colorful "Anytown, America" suburbs nearby. Edward is at first embraced by the community because of his natural gift with his scissorhands but of course, play with sharp instruments too long and something is bound to get cut. This is a super-sweet story without ever becoming saccharin. Depp is magnificent, proving to be a gifted actor with both dramatic and comedic talent. His movements for Edward, including the way he shuffle walks and his speech are brilliant. Winona Ryder provides the romantic interest and the cast is rounded out by a group of well known character actors: Vincent Price (his last role), Alan Arkin, Dianne Wiest and Kathy Baker. This is Burton's most visually arresting movie and one of composer Danny Elfman's top two film scores. A great film for all the family, especially if you like fairytales with a dark edge.

081  The Truman Show (1998) - What would you do if you discovered your entire life was just one big reality show? That's the question posed to Jim Carrey's character Truman Burbank as he slowly becomes aware that everything around him is not what it seems. Carrey was keen to prove his acting chops and be known for more than the mugging the made him famous and here he manages to show both skills off without ever getting too far out of control. Credit then to director Peter Weir (Master and Commander) for keeping a tight hold on his star. The story is brilliantly conceived (and becoming a more and more believable conceit in today's reality TV world) by Andrew Niccol who also wrote Gattaca, Lord of War and In Time. Carrey is backed up by a fine cast including the likes of Ed Harris, Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti. the movie is funny and touching. It's not afraid to have a jab at us, the viewer, but never gets mean about it. The best part though is how Truman comes to terms with what he's discovered and the decision he makes when the truth is known to him. Great film. BEST SCENE: Truman tests the will of "God" (Christof, played by Ed Harris)

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