Well that was real mature...

Well that was real mature...

Sunday, March 13, 2022

10 Movies to Know Me

A recent post was inspired by the Twitter topic of “Ten Shows to Know Me.” Rather than make a list I expand it to a recommendation for some excellent tv viewing, Now, I thought I would take a run at my favorite films. While it is sci-fi heavy, it is an eclectic mix with (horror, western, crime and even a romantic comedy)

HONORABLE MENTION: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The classic zombie film by George Romero makes my list despite being a genre that I’ve never warmed to. Horror has always left me cold, unless it was classic Universal monster films or the Hammer House of Horror vampire flicks. Romero’s low budget classic clicks with me not because the zombies or horror element that is appealing but the idea of putting a group of diverse people in a pot boiler situation then cranking up the heat/stress level for real drama against the backdrop of the inconceivable.

10. Scream (1996)
One of the reasons I’ve never been a huge horror fan is the slasher subgenre.  Mindless gore with body counts and central characters with the intelligence of a rutabaga… until Scream came along and created a slasher film that mocks the “rules” and tropes of the genre. For every cheap jump scare there is a gag or joke that slyly mocks the competition. A great cast, brilliant script and masterfully directed by Wes Craven, it stands above the rest of the slice and dice series and even approaches… art.

9. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
The John Struges directed western remake of The Seven Samurai is a fantastic piece of Americana. Yule Brenner leads a star-studded cast as an eclectic group of gunmen are hired to defend a small farming village from a gang of bandits. Beautiful vistas have never looked better since films have started being restored to their former widescreen glory after decades of pan and scan broadcasts on tv and Elmer Bernstein’s Academy Award winning score always ups the energy level in this classic tale of good versus evil mixed with a dose of redemption.

8. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quentin Tarantino’s second film cemented him as one of the great filmmakers of his generation. His love of film allowed him to mash up elements of crime, exploitation, drama, comedy, kung fu, western and horror into a brand that is uniquely his. He frequently comes under fire for the moments of violence in his films, but anyone really paying attention will see that he is really a wordsmith and a master of plot and dialogue. The soliloquys far outnumber the violent acts and the characters are far deeper than the shallow caricatures that inhabit typical action films. Pulp Fiction is Tarantino at his best creating a story with a nonlinear collection of short stories that come together to form a larger narrative.

7. Planet of the Apes (1968)
The Rod Serling script based on the French novel led to an epic franchise that includes 9 films and two tv shows but the original is still the best. Social commentary permeates the story about astronauts who clash on a planet where apes rule and men are savages kept in cages. It starts slow but brilliantly builds and builds until hits the audience with an unforgettable closing shot.

6. The Terminator (1984)
The time travel action story about a robot sent into the past to kill the mother of a future resistance leader before he is born results in a violent action film that has a surprising amount of heart. The film launched the careers of both writer/director James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger as box office royalty. Arnold may play the villainous title character but it’s Michael Biehn who shines as the out matched hero trying to protect Linda Hamilton (who would give stellar performances herself in the second and sixth entries of the franchise). This classic spawned an impressive franchise consisting of 5 more films and a tv show. The first follow-up film was groundbreaking and ushered in the digital age of technology, while the others were entertaining but derivative. The 2008 tv show, however is probably best thing since the 1991 sequel.

5. Serenity (2005)
The feature film sequel to the short lived sci-fi western television series Firefly (2002) gave fans some closure but deserves more credit for being a great film on its own. The television cast (along with new characters) are just as luminous on the big screen as the small and the story of the little guy who stands up to the big guy is timeless. Writer/director Joss Whedon (Marvel’s The Avengers) does some great world building about the small spaceship crew being hunted by the totalitarian Alliance and defied expectations for a film that essentially continues a tv franchise.

4. Free Enterprise (1999)
The independent film by Mark Altman and Robert Meyer Burnett is a wonderful romantic comedy about best friends who meet their idol (William Shatner). Sci-fi and comic book references abound, but at its heart it’s a love story grounded in wit and highlighted by offbeat characters played by a wonderful cast. It was ahead of its time since I can only call it Clerks meets Big Bang Theory with a dash of My Favorite Year.

3. Aliens (1986)
The sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien, is the perfect way to follow up a classic. Writer/director James Cameron decided to take a more action route rather than do another variation of monster in space. Sending in the marines to deal with the otherworldly man-eating aliens the second time around results in a pace is relentless instead of suspenseful. The characters (and the viewers) rarely have to time to take a breath and the result is a superior sequel that kicks up a notch for a whole generation of filmmakers and filmgoers.

2. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The superior sequel to the classic 1977 sci-fi fantasy film, Star Wars, that forever changed movie going. George Lucas’s homage to classic Flash Gordon serials spawned the summer blockbuster and made him the preeminent visionary of filmic world building. Common themes and a simple story mixed with technical genius led to the inevitable sequel (and eventually a trilogy of trilogies) but the best film of the entire franchise is the first sequel. Rather than retread common ground, Lucas enlisted the aid of director Ivin Kirshner and writers Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan to deify expectations both in terms of direction (the bad guys win) and complexity. The heroes are deeper and the universe richer the second time around as Luke Skywalker goes off to learn the ways of the force from an exiled Jedi master while Han Solo tries to keep the evil Darth Vader from hunting down Princess Leia, the leader of the Rebellion.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
We top the list with a third superior sequel. With Ricardo Montalban charming tv viewers as Fantasy Island’s Mr. Roark on television every week, film goers were shocked to see him play the obsessed Star Trek villain. Today he is the benchmark for Trek antagonists (one that many fall short of). Not only is the film a sequel to 1979’s Star Trek the Motion Picture and the film series a sequel to the TV show (1966-1969) but the story itself is a sequel to the 1967 episode “Space Seed” which guest starred Montalban as the genetically engineered superman. This time around he is escaping his exile (imposed in the episode) and obsessed with killing the man who left him there: Capt. Kirk of the starship Enterprise.

Four other movies considered for the Honorable Mention slot and would make an expanded top 15 list include (in no particular order) Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979), and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

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