Thursday, June 7, 2012

FEATURE: LoEB Assignment: Top 10 Movies


This week, Cool and Collected's Brian - creator and coordinator of the League of Extraordinary Bloggers - posed us a fairly simple task: compile a list of our Top Ten movies. Of course, as is always the way with the simple things, this proved to be a little more challenging than it first appeared, but never one to shy away from a challenge (unless we're sleepy or hungry), here's our Top Ten Movies.

Number 10: Zombie/Zombie 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters
One of the earliest  ''Video Nasties'' (essentially, in 1984 the UK government decided a number of movies were morally bankrupt and so were subject to an outright ban), Zombie Flesh Eaters gained cult status due mostly to playground word of mouth. Kids who'd seen it would boast about the wooden splinter/eyeball scene, the maggot-eyed zombies (what is it with Italian horror and eyes?) and, of course, the boobs.

For me though, two things stuck out about this movie: the haunting electronic score by Fabio Frizzi (which always struck me as the best thing John Carpenter never composed) and one of the most iconic attack scenes ever in a zombie movie, in which an underwater zombie mixes it up with a shark.

If you've the stomach to handle it be sure to give Zombie/Zombie 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters a look, as it's a surprisingly atmospheric, haunting flick.

Number 9: This is Spinal Tap
Probably the most famous of the Christopher Guest/Michael McKean/Harry Shearer collaborations, This is Spinal Tap is a movie most people will probably tell you they've seen when in reality they mean they've heard people repeating a lot of its gags. Things going up to 11. Things being none more black. The inability of crime scene investigators to dust vomit for prints. The movie's dialogue has entered the zeitgeist to the extent that some people don't even realize they're quoting it, yet you'd be surprised how many people haven't actually sat down and watched it. If you happen to have a friend who fits into that category, do them a favor and ensure they get to see this classic.


And let's not forget the music. Composed and performed by the cast, the This is Spinal Tap soundtrack manages to parody the over-the-top masculinity of 80s hair metal perfectly, to the point of many people believing it to be an actual documentary. Big Bottom, Sex Farm, (Listen to The) Flower People and Stonehenge are all pitch-perfect parodies of the genre. And despite its satirical roots, I'll do harm to anybody who doesn't think Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You (Tonite) kicks ass.

Number 8: Black Christmas
If you're a fan of horror movies and you've never seen the original Black Christmas then stop reading right now, go find a copy, watch it and then come back.

You're welcome.

Directed by Bob Clark (yes, the same guy behind Porkies and A Christmas Story), Black Christmas is the seminal stalk and slash movie: pretty girls in trouble, a disturbed killer (known by a single name - in this case ''Billy''), point-of-view stalking shots... And yet, for all these tropes (which it could be argued the movie invented anyway) it's a refreshingly original take and - unlike every other slasher since (barring Halloween, which John Carpenter reputedly wanted to make as a sequel to this flick anyway) - is genuinely creepy.

Ignore the remake with Buffy's magic sister and check out this fantastically atmospheric movie.

Number 7: A Mighty Wind
Another entry for the improv trio of Guest/McKean/Shearer, this time around joined by Jim's Dad, Stiffler's Mom and the Nasty Woman from Glee. More subtle than This is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind centers on a tribute concert that sees a group of dysfunctional folk musicians reuniting to commemorate the passing of their manager. 

Again, like This is Spinal Tap, much of the movie's dialogue was improvised by the cast and when you know that it gives you a whole new appreciation for the movie and the talent involved. For example, in this scene Fred Willard's only direction was ''he interrupts.''


Number 6: Mulholland Dr.
I love surrealism and I love horror, so it's always a treat for me when David Lynch comes up with a gem like this. Part soap opera (indeed, it was originally filmed as a pilot for a new TV series), part psychodrama, Mulholland Dr. is - on the surface - a movie about identity, not so much a whodunnit but more a whoamI, as amnesiac Laura Harring teams up with spunky new kid in Hollywood Naomi Watts to solve the mystery of her identity. But it's also about the roles we play in life, relationships and manipulation and the lengths unrequited love can drive you to. It's not an easy movie to watch and you may find yourself confused, but stick with it and invest the time into it and you'll be rewarded.

 

This scene perhaps sums up the movie's atmosphere perfectly. You may not know what's going on on an intellectual level but you understand emotionally. That's the magic of Mulholland Dr.

Number 5: Quatermass & The Pit
Visionary write Nigel Kneale has produced some phenomenally good TV and movies in his time. Although at times uneven, the anthology show Beasts provided some of the most disturbing TV ever and his paranormal drama The Stone Tape is a brilliant example of restraint and mounting horror. But his greatest creation is, without a doubt, Professor Bernard Quatermass. Originally the third in a series of dramas produced for the BBC (and subsequently given the big screen treatment) Quatermass & The Pit sees Kneale again exploring the relationship between science and the supernatural in this intelligent, well-paced sci-fi horror.

When an underground train station's renovations unearth a mysterious metallic cylinder, the military fear an unexploded bomb from the Blitz. But it turns out to be something even more deadly...

Although some argue that the original BBC drama is the more effective of the two, I have to admit that the shorter run-time of the movie adaptation - which cuts a lot of the series' padding - makes this version a more enjoyable experience for me, personally.

Number 4: Night of the Demon
If Nigel Kneale is the master of televisual horror, then M.R. James is the master of the literary ghost story. Sadly James' work is very difficult to translate from the written word to the screen and although there have been a few attempts to do so (and some, like Night of the Demon do so very well) James remains a fairly unknown writer. Which is an absolute crime, as he's one of the few writers who can produce genuinely creepy and tense moments on the page.

Directed by another master of the genre, Jaques Tourneur, Night of the Demon (AKA Curse of the Demon) is an exercise in shadow and suggestion. Or at least it would have been had the studio not insisted on adding some explicit shots of a monster. But even with these scenes it's still a film brimming with atmosphere and dread (so much so that anybody under the age of 25 will probably think it's dumb and boring - always a good sign in my mind.)

If you watch it and enjoy it then do yourself a favor and read M.R. James' original works. They may seem a little stuffy and dated (James' first works were published over a century ago) but the essential genius of his work still shines through to this day.

Number 3: Die Hard
Die Hard is quite simply the perfect action movie. Bruce Willis does his best Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman makes a charmingly awesome baddy, the action sequences are thrilling without becoming fridge-nukingly silly and the script is so on-point and sharp you could cut your toenails with it.

If you're a man and you don't like Die Hard then there's something seriously wrong with you.

Number 2: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
OK, so it's probably cheating to include a trilogy as one entry but given that they're really just one big movie split into three parts, I'm including it as one.

Peter Jackson's epic adaptation of Tolkien's masterwork may have its detractors (and yes, much as I'd have liked to see Tom Bombadil in there, too, how much does he really add to the journey?) but considering the amount of material they had to work with, it's amazing that the movies managed to include as much as they do in the scripts. And yes, there are some changes to the books' plots. Some work for the big screen (such as Aragorn's ''journey'' as a hero) and some seem rather odd (that business with Aragorn falling off the cliff) but despite the plot changes, the movies remain faithful to the spirit of the books.

And even though it's not something that happens in the book, this speech sums up their spirit perfectly. And for this scene alone, it's worth watching the entire trilogy.


Number 1: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is, quite simply, the greatest sci-fi action movie ever made. Like Die Hard, it's scripted with incredible precision, with every line of dialogue being not only vital but also perfect, the pacing of every scene is just right and the plot rolls along at a rate that allows the story to progress without glossing over detail, yet at the same time never becoming bogged down with triviality.

Without giving too much away (although surely everybody has seen this movie by now) it's all about Kirk's journey and learning to deal with the consequences of his actions, both positive and negative and embracing them rather than constantly trying to run from them. Considering the slightly hokey performances and scripts of the original show, it's surprising to see so much depth in a ''sci-fi action flick'' and many viewers will be surprised at just how much dramatic ''meat'' there is on this bone.

Add to that a literary script by Jack Sowards and Director Nicholas Meyer, great special effects, a crackling performance from Ricardo Montalban and a pitch-perfect pace and it becomes obvious why this is not only the best of the Star Trek movies but also one of the best sci-fi action movies ever.

Number 1 (Again): The Wicker Man
I've tried to slim my picks down to a manageable ten but I'm so torn on my Number One choice that I simply can't make the call. So here's my other favorite movie, The Wicker Man.

No, I'm not talking about the Nic Cage-starring bastardization but rather, the original from 1973. Starring Edward Woodward and the World's Most Prolific Actor Sir Christopher Lee (in a role he always cites as his favorite), The Wicker Man is an oddity of a movie. There are scenes where not much seems to happen.  Women leap over fires and children dance around a maypole. There are discourses on the nature of animals. There's a lot of folk music. Yet this weirdness is part of its magic. Initial viewings may leave you baffled, amused or even angry. But after a second, third or even fourth time around you'll find yourself enthralled by its weird atmosphere and surreal nature.


Much like the above Willow's Song, The Wicker Man is perhaps best described as ''haunting'' and that's one of the reasons its stuck with me for so many years. Give it a try and you'll no doubt find yourself humming the Maypole Song or Gently Johnny, too. Just pray that your apple crop doesn't fail.

So that's my Top Ten (and given it could easily have been a Top Thirty and still not covered everything - such as my love of John Carpenter flicks or the Amicus canon - I think I showed a pretty decent level of restraint there.) But what did my fellow League members have to say?

TL at Flashlights are Something to Eat included a few I'd forgotten about
Michael at Memories of Tomorrow shares his Top Ten (including one of mine)
New League Member Brother Midnight at Green Plastic Squirt Gun has eclectic tastes
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