I don’t know about you, but my favorite thing about the summer might just be my three-at-a-time Netflix account. I’m not one of the people that passively Netflixes, that get a couple movies and don’t watch and return them for a week. No sir, I am a religious Netflixer. I can usually go through about five movies a week if I’m selfish (it takes a little longer if I want to watch movies with other people, obviously). I’ve had Netflix for quite a while now, and I don’t see myself ever without it.
This summer I think I’ve gone through around 35-40 discs total, from the day school let out to today. Of those, some of those were television shows (the INCREDIBLE season three of Deadwood), or were movies I’ve already talked about on the blog, like Longford. So I thought it would be fun to list my top ten favorite movies that I’ve Netflixed this summer, so that you can add them to your queues, or rent them from Blockbuster.
And by all means, add me as your Netflix friend! My e-mail is email@example.com. Let’s get a network going.
So, without further delay, the top 10.
Honorable Mention: Disturbia
Dir. DJ Caruso (The Salton Sea)
Starring Shia LaBeouf
Rated PG-13, 2007
If the summer of 2007 is remembered for anything, or indeed, if 2007 is remembered for anything in the world of movies, odds are that it will be remembered as the year that Shia LaBeouf arrived. It’s been said before and it will be said again: He really is the new Tom Hanks. There are few (any?) actors working alive that are more easily likeable and watchable than Shia LaBeouf. He carries this movie just like he managed to carry Transformers amidst all the giant robots. He’s in Indiana Jones 4 next summer where he’ll be challenged by some of the big acting heavyweights like Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt and, of course, Harrison Ford. If he comes out of that as popular as he was going in, I have no doubt that we’ll never hear the end of Shia LaBeouf. He’ll been around for decades and decades. This flick, a Rear Window for the YouTube generation, is surprisingly tight and effective. It’s a perfect summer drive-through movie. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but that’s probably why it’s so enjoyable: it’s got great characters (save the love interest), a snappy rhythm and a hero everyone wants to root for. It’s good movie fun, and sometimes, that’s all we really want.
10. Velvet Goldmine
Dir. Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Christian Bale, Toni Collette, Eddie Izzard
Rated R, 1998
Todd Haynes is probably the leader of the ever-emerging queer cinema pack of filmmakers. If you read that sentence and felt the need to skip to number nine, that is entirely your loss, because this is one of the craziest, strangest, and most original movies you’re likely to see. Haynes seems to pride himself in two things: forging new ground (his debut film was a biopic of Karen Carpenter, made entirely with Barbie Dolls), and building from the stereoytpes of the past (look no further than Far From Heaven for that, where he subverts the classic Douglas Sirk melodrama to startling affect).
This film is basically a gay rock Citizen Kane. The film is structured exactly like Kane, with journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) trying to find out what exactly happened to glam rocker (and clearly David Bowie with a different name) Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Slade faked his own death (by murder) on stage, and when the public found out, he lost all the respect and fame he had.
The film follows Stuart as he uncovers more about Slade; he interviews his suffering ex-wife (the always wonderful Toni Collette) and we see what their strange marriage was like. He interviews American rocker (and clearly Iggy Pop with a different name and bisexual orientations) Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), who was both involved with Slade and Stuart in the past, and we see Wild’s relationship with Slade, and so on.
The film never really comes together at the end, which is a shame, but it’s sheer glam rock as high art ambition makes it pretty forgiveable. Much of the dialogue comes straight from song lyrics or Oscar Wilde, and of course, the songs are great. Haynes has a real ear and love for music (his next film is I’m Not There, a strange Bob Dylan biopic in which multiple actors play Dylan, including Cate Blanchett) and the different songs here just play as genuine glam rock songs. McGregor is a great singer, as he would prove in Moulin Rouge a few years later, and Rhys Meyers is suitable. He gives his best performance here (I couldn’t stand him until this movie), and when some songs would be too difficult for him, Thom Yorke was brought into to dub him over. Which should add a little credibility to the flick for some of you.
A warning to those that need it: this is a gay movie. The sex scenes are not particularly graphic, but there is nudity for both genders.
9. The Age of Innocence
Dir. Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver)
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeifer, Winona Ryder
Rated PG, 1993
I’ve been slowly but surely going through the Martin Scorsese filmography over the last year or two. I don’t know why I don’t just hurry up and finish, as his films rarely disappoint and even the bad ones (and yes, there are certainly bad ones) have fascinating details that still take my breath away. A good example of this is in the bad Gangs of New York, which has one of the greatest monologues and scenes of Scorsese’s career, when Bill the Butcher (Day-Lewis), draped in the American flag, tells William (DiCaprio) that he “never had a son.” It’s a beautiful scene that I still recall to this day, even though I’d consider the movie a tremendous failure.
Scorsese made a big comeback of sorts last year with his Academy Award winning The Departed, a classic already in pretty much every sense of the word. Throw in the likes of Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and lesser known (or respected, sadly) masterworks like The Aviator and The King of Comedy, and you have one of the finest American filmmakers of all time.
On the outset, The Age of Innocence seems like a bizarre choice for Scorsese. Based on the classic novel by Edith Wharton, the film follows the wealthy Newland Archer as he tries to forge a life for himself that he wants and not that rich New York society demands he has. The rich society demands he marry and love the mousey and annoyingly perfect May Welland (Winona Ryder, who received an Oscar nomination for this), while Day-Lewis’s heart is fully with May’s scandalous cousin, Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeifer).
Scorsese’s visual flourishes abound in the film, but he’s wise enough to stand back and really just let his actors do the work for him. What more can be said about Daniel Day-Lewis that hasn’t been said a million times? This, probably his most restrained performance, is fantastic, and watch him slowly crumble and give in to the “norm” is both devastating for his character and thrilling for the audience. Pfeifer is characteristically great, as is Ryder (who needs to make a comeback so bad it’s not even funny). The ending is simple and devastating. In light of recent romances such as The Noteback, which peaks with the wonderful scene with Gosling and McAdams kissing in the rain, The Age of Innocence belongs to a different school of romance. There’s barely any physical connecting between Day-Lewis and Pfeifer, but what little there is is electrifying. It’s a heartbreaking story told with enough love that you’ll find yourself feeling quite romantic afterwards. Or at least, quite honest about what you really want out of your relationships.
8. Days of Wine and Roses
Dir. Blake Edwards (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
Starring Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick
I had never heard of this movie until it was nominated by the American Film Institute as one of the 400 greatest American movies of all time (it did not make the top 100). I have a little pet project going on where I’m trying to see all 400, so one day, this gem popped up.
It’s like Requiem for a Dream, but instead of drugs, alcohol. And while it doesn’t go into the extreme territories that that film does (this film is unrated only because it was made before the rating’s board changes, it’s about a PG-13 now), it’ll shake you up just as much as that film did.
The set-up is this: a charming, handsome, somewhat alcoholic named Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) meets and falls in love and eventually marries the beautiful, loving Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick). She slowly begins to share in his alcoholism, and before either realize it, they’re both in way over their heads, risking their lives, their marriage and their child’s future due to the booze.
Firstly, this is the greatest Jack Lemmon performance. He’s legendary for all the Billy Wilder films, but this performance ripped my heart out of my chest. He realizes he needs to break from his addiction before his wife does, and his attempts to save their marriage and more important to him, her life, is nothing short of excruciating. If Messiah College showed this film before making everyone sign the Community Covenant, I guarentee the number of students drinking on campus would diminish by half at least. I’m scared to death of it now, just like Requiem scared me away from drugs forever.
The film isn’t flawless; it’s a little dated and at times it’s anti-alocholism message sounds more like a PSA than a movie. But for 1962, this is literal decades ahead of it’s time, and I really hope we see a resurgence in the coming years as this film becomes widely known as the classic it desperately deserves to be.
7. Naked Lunch
Dir. David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence)
Starring Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Roy Scheider
Rated R, 1991
David Cronenberg is one of my all time favorite filmmakers, and The Fly is one of my ten favorite movies of all time. This is the first of two entries he has on my Summer Top 10, and this is, undoubtedly, one of the strangest movies of all time. Based on the “unfilmable” book by William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch follows… aw crap, I really can’t explain it, so here’s IMDB:
After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally murders his wife and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in an Islamic port town in Africa.
Yep. You can see one of the alien-bug-creatures in the above picture, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You see, in this world, writing is a way of life, and the way addiction influences art and writing is studied here (it is written by William Burroughs after all). So naturally, the typewriters are alive. They are sometimes like beatles, sometimes like the head of the creature in the above picture, and so on. Usually, they mimick the emotions and feelings of the person typing, in often horrifying fashion.
It’s simultaneously extremely disturbing, extremely scary, and extremely funny. I laughed out loud so much while cover my eyes and being grossed out (it’s a tame enough R people wise, but the creatures and the things they do certainly push it into hard-R territory). At it’s heart though, it all makes sense in a strange, metaphorical way. The cast is great, but only one man manages to steal the show from the incredible creature effects on display (and they really are absolutely astonishing), and that man is Roy Scheider. His role is brief, but the nature of it is something I guarentee you will never forget. Captain Brody from Jaws needs to work so much more often, and it’s a great shame that he’s not in more films.
Dir. Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn, Grizzly Man)
Starring Klaus Kinski
Rated PG, 1982
Werner Herzog can do no wrong. It’s almost a scientific fact at this point. Go research him a little bit. You’ll find stories such as that one time he pulled Joaquin Phoenix out of a burning car. Or that time he was shot in the leg during an interview, called it a “minor injury,” and continued the interview in his boxers. Or that time his friend was sick, so he walked through a different country to see him. Or that time he plotted his entire life to kill his lead actor, Klaus Kinski, who was simultaneously plotting to kill him. Except, they continued making movies together.
This is but one of those movies.
The story is about a German-Irishmen, Brian “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald, a passionate man who wants nothing more than to build an opera in the Peruvian Jungle. To do so, he must conquer rivers, murderous natives, mutiny and above all, must drag his boat over a mountain. Yes. He manages (with the help of the natives) to carry that boat you see in the picture over a mountain. And to film this, well, they carried a boat over a mountain too. That’s just the kind of man Werner Herzog is. You’ve never seen anything like this movie, and that’s exactly why you should see it.
Kinski is, as always, incredible. He, alongside the great Toshiro Mifune, somehow eluded American audiences. They are two of the greatest actors of all time, and you really should watch any movie they are in just for the experience. Kinski is, quite clearly, insane, but he is also quite clearly one of the best actors alive. The combination of those two forces is startling and completely and utterly perfect for such a character as “Fitzcarraldo.” You’ll feel every emotion Kinski feels, especially when he plays the music of his beloved opera star Caruso. Even if you don’t love opera, try to stop your heart from soaring as he plays it, standing atop his ship as it is drug over the jungle mountain. It’s impossible, but then, I would’ve said dragging a boat over a mountain was impossible too.
5. 25th Hour
Dir. Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing, Inside Man)
Starring Ed Norton, Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox, Barry Pepper, Philip Seymor Hoffman, Anna Paquin
Rated R, 2002
Oh Ed Norton. There really are few actors of his callibre alive, but it seems there are so few times when he actually wants to be this good anymore. The same, I suppose, can be said about director Spike Lee. But when the two of them came together for this, they both nailed it.
This is famously the first movie that really looked at 9-11. It’s not overdone, and it’s barely mentioned, but it’s there. The credits feature the lights where the towers used to be, and one characters apartment overlooks Ground Zero. It stands and symbollizes so much for Norton’s character, a man who’s about to ship off to jail for seven years for getting busted for drug dealing. It’s fitting that director Spike Lee was the first to start talking about the towers, followed quickly by Martin Scorsese and the last shot of Gangs of New York. Not many directors personify New York like those two do, and not many get New York like they do either.
The film contains two famous monologues. The first, delivered by a furious Norton to himself, is known as the “F*ck You!” speech, and if I wouldn’t have to censor about half of it, I’d post the whole thing here. It’s angry, startling and delivered with such ferocity that you might be forgiven for thinking Norton was about to jump out of the screen and punch you in the face. The second is more heartbreaking, given by Brian Cox (Norton’s father in this film). To give away what it’s about is a spoiler, but it’s just lovely and dreamy and crushing by the end of the film.
It’s a film with plenty of flaws; the subplot involving Philip Seymor Hoffman being attracted to Anna Paquin never works for a second and just drags the story down. If it was cut completely, the movie would have been that much stronger, and that much better. Another subplot with Norton discovering who ratted on him is equally unnecessary and disposable. The movie isn’t about Norton working out his past, it’s about him coming to terms with his future. Which is possibly exactly what Spike Lee was trying to say to New York City at the same time.
4. The Elephant Man
Dir. David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, Eraserhead)
Starring John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins
Rated PG, 1980
David Lynch remains one of the most peculiar filmmakers alive. His crazier work is, well, near incoherent by his, well, craziness. I personally prefer his softer side, as revealed here in what is, in my opinion, his masterpiece.
He makes two mis-steps; a dream sequence at the start and a second at the end. They are too much “David Lynch,” and take you out of the movie more than immerse you in it. But aside from that, I have no complaints at all. This is a movie that will break your heart and simultaneously put it back together bigger than it ever was before.
John Hurt, unrecognizable in some of the finest make-up work the movies have ever seen, gives one of the great performances as Joseph Merrick, a real life man with severe deformities. As Merrick becomes more than a circus freak and becomes an English Gentleman, my heart continued to swell and swell with love for the man. Yes, his deformities are extremely disturbing. In a way, it reminds me of E.T. For a few minutes, it’s hard to watch him, but a few minutes later, you’ll find yourself bored whenever he’s not onscreen.
Hopkins gives good support as the kind doctor trying to help Merrick, and the film is sumptuously shot in carnivale black and whites. Lynch is admirably non-existent for the majority of the film. He stands back and shoots in pretty straightforward, with barely any visual flourishes. It mostly takes place in Merrick’s room at the hospital. Lynch is wise enough to know that no visual trickery could ever outdo Merrick himself, and he simply lets the story play out to it’s absolutely perfect conclusion (until the unneccessary dream sequence).
It’s 27 years old this year, and people still talk about it like it came out yesterday, and for good reason; while Merrick may be dead in body, his story will never die, but will live on forever. Just like this movie.
3. Cat Ballou
Dir. Elliot Silvestein
Starring Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin, Nat King Cole, Stubby Kaye
Rated PG, 1965
Everyone loves The Princess Bride, right? Well, then everyone will love this movie, maybe even more. It’s a flawless movie; every note is pitch perfect, every joke is gut-clutching hysterical, the acting is amazing (Lee Marvin won an Oscar for his two performances in this film; he even has a gun duel against himself); the directing tight, the action fun, the music (by Greek chorus Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye) addictive and highly sing-along-able, and the story full of wonderful twists and turns and a wonderfully satisfying conclusion.
Jane Fonda, never better and never prettier, plays Cat Ballou, a woman out for revenge for the murder of her father (see The Princess Bride similarities already?). She hires a famous gunslinger Kid (Lee Marvin, who also plays the killer), but the problem is he’s no good fighting sober, only drunk. So Ballou, Kid and her group of friends go on the road to seek vengeance, and also to avoid the law themselves.
The movie kicks off with Ballou at the gallows, about to be hung. Everything looks hopeless, and we’re informed by our on-screen singers that she’s a terrible woman. We flashback to earlier, when she’s nothing but a naiive school teacher. We follow as she turns into this “cold blooded killer,” and I promise you, you’ll have so much fun watching this movie. I urge you to give it a try. I defy you not to smile while watching this.
Dir. David Cronenberg
Starring James Woods
Rated R, 1983
“LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH!”
The second Cronenberg entry on our list is my vote for his second best film, after The Fly. It’s also never been more relevant to today’s world, and I think that’s the sign of a true classic; if a movie becomes more important nearly 25 years after it came out, you know they must have been doing something right.
Like Naked Lunch, this is a tricky pill to swallow. James Woods plays a TV channel manager who specializes in showing soft-core porn and basically, anything other, bigger TV channels won’t show. He’s looking for something new, something startling, and discovers a show called Videodrome, in which women are willingly tortured in horrifically realistic ways. It’s snuff at it’s snuffiest, and he decides to air it.
Well, while he watches it, strange things begin to happen. It begins to take control of his life. It gives him a brain tumor. It also changes his body in grusome, horrific ways. It turns him into a slave for the show, and yes, it will blow your mind.
It’s rated R for a reason; it’s sick. The different changes that occur to his body are not subtle at all, and when Videodrome forces him to go on a killing spree, the results are not clean. But at it’s heart, Videodrome is a big metaphor, about the nature of what we let ourselves watch will stay stuck inside us and will come back to control/haunt/tempty us later.
That’s a pretty Christian message if you ask me, and being an avid film watcher, something I must admit can be a struggle at time. Today’s horror film genre is nothing but torture porn and gorenography, and Videodrome called that it would happen over 20 years before it did. Videodrome is a lucid warning to all of us; what we let in can and will change us, even if we don’t think it will.
Videodrome is not for the faint of heart, but if you like being challenged by movies, and you like having different personal beliefs shaken to their very core, I have no higher recommendation than Videodrome. It’s one of the best movies ever made, and arguably, it’s never been more important.
1. Empire of the Sun
Dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring Christian Bale, John Malkovich
Rated PG, 1987
Do you want to know how much I love this movie? I’d get into a passionate fist fight to defend this movie and even though I’m pretty weak, my passion would carry me to a resounding victory over any who insult this perfect movie’s perfection.
Strong words, I know, but the amount of love in my heart for this movie grows every time I see it. It is, in my opinion, the third best Spielberg film of all time and easily his best of the “serious” films he’s made. It features one of the all time best performances (Christian Bale, still his best performance by leaps and bounds, and that is no insult) and I am not ashamed to say I cry multiple times through this movie; not because it’s sad (it is, at times), but because of how beautiful it is.
There’s a scene when Bale’s Jim is in a POW camp in China during WW2. The Americans begin to bomb the camp, and Jim, transfixed and obsessed with airplanes, runs to the highest roof he can and watches as the planes bomb the attached army base. He screams and cheers them on, and then, it all slows down as a pilot flies by.
The pilot waves at Jim, smiling, and Jim unleashes such joy in the middle of a war that you’ll feel your heart break out of your chest and try to climb into the television to be with him. When he’s finally brought off the roof by a friend, he says one line that will devastate you more than any movie line has ever devastated you. Mark my words.
This movie is perfection to me. Everyone has those movies that they love so unconditionally, that mean SO much to them that they can barely explain it. I can explain it, but not with words: just see the movie. Odds are that you haven’t because for some unknown God-forsaken reason it is the one Spielberg movie that no one’s ever heard of. If you love Spielberg, you’ll love this. A lot of his flaws with sentimentality are absent here, and all of his strengths are on full power. If you love Christian Bale, you’ll love this movie. It’s the greatest performance by a child of all time, and on top of that, one of the great performances of all time. If you love war movies, that’s not really what this is, but you’ll love it anyway.
If you love movies, you’ll love this. It will take you on a journey with Jim, and you’ll find yourself so immersed in that journey that you’ll want to go back again and again and again. I have felt that way since I first saw it four years ago, and every time I see it, it gets twice as good.
Do yourself a favor, and go rent it now. I’ll wait.5 comments
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