Friday, 6 April 2018

Top 100 Favourite Films: #90-81

#90: Polyester – The tragedy of camp

Honestly, first time watching this, I didn’t see what was so funny about seeing a disaffected housewife deal with the kitsch version of the Book of Job. You know, having every bizarre bad thing happen to her at once. Of course, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t engaged; I was just engaged under the impression that this was a tragedy, and between Divine’s solid performance in the lead and the rather over-the-top forces working against her, I was not displeased with the result. Sure, upon rewatching it, some of the more farcical elements made themselves more noticeable, not to mention the origins of the nuanced title, but part of me will always remember this as the tragic tale of Francine Fishpaw, her complete dick of a husband and the extent to which he inflicted his dickery on that poor woman.

#89: Much Ado About Nothing (1993) – Shakespeare by way of Married With Children

For a months-long stint of my adolescence, I remember watching nothing else but Married With Children DVD box sets. It did a lot to paint my sense of humour and some of my social mannerisms, but it also gave me an appreciation for a really good insult. An appreciation that extends to this romantic comedy where thespian Kenneth Branagh basically turned the bickering Benedick and Beatrice into the upper class Al and Peggy Bundy. Around that amazingly-performed core, we have some of my favourite Shakespeare quotes (“Forgive me, for I was born to speak all mirth and no matter” is one I often apply to myself), some of my favourite Shakespearean characters (Michael Keaton as Dogberry marks a high point in a career full of outstanding character performances), and the kind of comedy that I can appreciate both on a subconscious level as well-written but also on a visceral level as just plain funny. First time watching this, I was howling through the entire thing, and that remained the same for every time I’ve seen it since.

#88: Crows Zero – A successful live-action anime

Director Takeshi Miike is so monstrously prolific, with over 100 films to his name, that there was a high probability of him showing up on this list at least once. This is probably not the first film most people would have picked, admittedly, but it’s the one that stuck with me the most. Out of all the films I’ve seen that tried to take the aesthetics of Japanese animation and convert them to a live-action setting, this one does the best. The fight scenes are awesome, bringing out a lot of bombastic grit from the ultraviolent high school setting. The characters are solid with the main rivalry between freshman Takiya Genji and senior Serizawa Tamao being one of the few ships I’ve let sail. (And, of course, the badass ginger Rindaman.) It even has the all editing tricks of a traditional anime series, from the numerous flash-backs to a live band performing the film’s theme song, intercut with said flash-backs. Considering most films are a product of converting one medium to another, I like how this film shows as one of the more successful works of adaptation/translation out there.

#87: Coraline – A personal dystopia

The popular conception of what counts as a ‘utopia’ or ‘dystopia’ has always been very broad, a expansive regime that crushes many people at once. This film’s version of it is far simpler: A utopia built just for one little girl, that itself turns out to be an unnervingly personal dystopia. That is what pulls me into this particular film: The idea that an entire fabrication can be made, not to lure in the masses, but to lure in just one person. A mirage that looks even more vibrant than the real world, all made for one special child. And then another. And another. One by one, to feed the hunger of the Beldam, to bring attention that she so dearly craves. Claymation legend Henry Selick brings his usual Burtonesque imagery to the production, establishing the first of several winners from animation studio Laika, and the source material from writing legend Neil Gaiman creates a gently chilling foundation for him to work from. It got me to start taking note of what Claymation is capable of, and it’s the first time I heard about the brilliance that is Neil Gaiman; an amazing things that only led me to find even more amazing things.

#86: 28 Days Later – A shot-on-video zombie flick worth watching

Danny Boyle is the kind of director who could take a story of a man pouring himself a glass of milk and still manage to find a way to stylize the hell out of it. For this film, written by now-burgeoning filmmaker Alex Garland, he managed to take one of the most populated cities in the world and effectively depict it as a barren wasteland, one ravaged by a zombie plague unlike any the cinematic world had seen yet. Sure, there’s some arguments to be made about how much this changed how zombie films are made, going from the Romero-era stumbling dead to this film’s Rage zombies, but honestly, that discussion feels irrelevant to me. I mean, the way that Garland’s immensely humanistic writing managed to wring a lot of genuine emotion and even sympathy out of its characters, from Cillian Murphy as the man unfortunate enough to come out of a coma in the middle of all this to Christopher Eccleston as who should be a vile military leader but instead reads as just making the best out of a horrific situation. It’s the perfect synergy between an incredibly sharp script and a director who was more than capable of delivering it… even if the third act tends to lose me after a while.

#85: The Fly – The best better-than-the-original remake in an era of better-than-the-original remakes

I’ll admit, I’m not that big into the works of David Cronenberg. Most of the time, his work is either too low-key or just too slow for me to really get into. This film, however, is a major exception to that. For a start, it is straight-up brilliant as a horror film, showing a scientist on the verge of a massive breakthrough who ends up falling victim to his own findings. For another, the components here are impeccable, from the great acting courtesy of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis to the incredible effects work from Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis, showing off the continuing stages of Goldblum’s Seth Brundle becoming Brundlefly, easily one of the most unnerving creature designs I’ve seen. And to top all this off, this also serves as one of the single greatest remakes of all time, coming to theatres during a major boom of solid sci-fi remakes like John Carpenter’s The Thing and Chuck Russell’s The Blob. This managed to take what had already become something of a kitschy story, strip it of all but the barest essentials, and completely reinvented it; this is what remakes should always strive for.

#84: Wag The Dog – The science of spin

I first watched this film as part of a media studies course, and ever since that day, I feel like I have developed a better understanding of media spin. The film itself shows a great proficiency in showing said spin, with Robert De Niro’s spin doctor and Dustin Hoffman’s film producer inventing a war to distract from a presidential sex scandal, all aided by Hilary Henkin and master scribe David Mamet’s delicious scripting. But what makes it work as well it does for me is that it is able to break down how specific phrases, images and sounds can alter a person’s understanding of what goes on around them, excellently shown through De Niro’s dialogue that is often soaked in planting ideas in people’s heads through suggestion and even outright denial of things happening. Of course, in retrospect, this film’s understanding of political misdirection actually gets kind of scary, since one month after this film came out, the infamous Monica Lewinsky scandal became public. It’s satire so good that it actively predicted reality, rather than just being a benchmark for reality itself to reach; all the more reason for me to love this thing.

#83: Demolition Man – A centrist action film

Just mentioning the word “centrist” is likely going to land me in hot water, but hear me out on this one. This is a gloriously awesome 90’s action film, showing off Stallone and Wesley Snipes in prime form, and it even managed to make Rob Schneider seem like someone worth casting in something. However, beyond the great action scenes, the increasingly-poignant depiction of the sanitized utopia of San Angeles and the solid sense of humour it carries throughout, there’s something about this that I find immensely fascinating.

This is basically an example of the recursive nature of political history, starting out with a scene of Los Angeles on fire and in the midst of utter anarchy… and then going to the future of San Angeles, where everything is so saccharine that it’s enough to make you miss the chaos. What makes this film sit well with me is that it presents both of these scenarios are the extremes to be avoided, presenting the future for this society as being ambiguous but also one that would benefit from remembering all of what came before it. It advocates for a middle ground between absolute control and absolute freedom, something that also feels rather relevant today in the age of the alt-right and ANTIFA, and even shows how those two ideas can be altered to suit the whims of the ruling class. It’s a cheesy 90’s action movie that has only gotten more relevant since the 90’s ended; now that is a rarity.

#82: A Dirty Shame – Sex is the road to enlightenment

While my heart is rather heavy at the thought of this being kitsch-master John Waters’ last film to date, it still rests easy knowing that he went out with this big of a bang. I’d say no pun intended, but one of the best things about this audacious sex comedy is how in-tune it is with rather antiquated puns and jokes (e.g. “Are you going to the movies? Because you’re already picking your seat.” in response to someone scratching their rear). As much fun as this film is as a look at rather passé views on sexuality, spear-headed by Tracey “Yes, the woman who helped give us The Simpsons” Ullman and Johnny Knoxville with two amazing performances, it actually serves a more spiritual purpose for me.

First time I watched this was only a few months back, while Australia was still going through the same-sex marriage debate, and the film gave me a real sense that things would be a lot easier if people stopped being so creepily interested in the sexual habits of complete strangers. In fact, connecting with one’s personal kinks can be a very empowering thing, one that can help give someone peace with their own existence. So long as everybody consents and nobody gets hurt, it’s all kosher. Yeah, this is shown in a rather blunt way with Knoxville basically playing Sex Jesus, but it’s poignant nonetheless and still has a lot of heart under all the kitsch.

#81: The Brady Bunch Movie – Some things deserve a remake

On the surface, this film sounds like a bad idea: Take an extremely ghastly 70’s sitcom family and put them into mid-90’s U.S. suburbia. Why would anyone bother? The original show has an astoundingly quaint sense of humour to it, the kind of thing that also gets a mixed reaction out of shows like Full House. I’m not a fan of either, and yet, this film definitely got my attention. Partly because I like how it warps the archetypal Brady family, wringing out some pretty dark comedy and a willingness to meet the 90’s halfway. This film's incredibly messed-up version of Jan Brady is the kind of morbidly hilarious shit I can vibe with, and it being attached to something with the name "Brady Bunch" will never not make me laugh. But mainly, it’s because it jettisons all of the faux-comforting tripe of the show and distills it down to the essentials, bringing back elements of the past that are worth bringing back. It takes the optimism of the Flower Power era and the blunt reality of the Grunge era and fused them together, perfectly encapsulated in this one scene. (And yes, the YouTube upload title is a bit how-ya-goin', but ignore that for the time being)

Combine the cheesiness of 70’s pop and the heaviness of 90’s rock and you get 80’s hair metal. Sounds pretty good to me.

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