In just over two days time, I enter year 27 (woohoo!) It's a strange year, utterly lacking symmetry. But this week, I'll try and do posts centering on 1984. But for now, you get the pleasure of judging and mocking my life in film.
A friend over at Let's Get Comical alerted me a while back to a wonderful blogathon that's circling the Interweb: choosing a favorite movie for every year that you've been alive. As is the way of these things, he got the meme from The Stories That Really Mattered. (you, dear reader, ought to be perusing both of these blogs now and again).
The experience has proven surprisingly difficult, especially in the 1980's. And there's a hole in the early 90's where I am just not too filmically aware (for shame!).
Disclaimer: When forced to choose between two films, I will generally choose the movie I can see myself watching again, rather than the one I remember loving more.
The first time I saw Sixteen Candles, I was just a few weeks shy of my own 16th birthday. The particular loneliness that Sam experiences really spoke to me at that age (though perhaps not as much as Andie's experience in Pretty in Pink, but thankfully I've grown out of that phase). This movie has stayed with me because, to the great surprise of my non-adolescent self, it's incredibly funny, and isn't particularly angsty. To this day, a wide smile spreadsover my face whenever I hear the strange synth opening of The Thompson Twin's "If You Were Here."
(Runners-Up: Starman, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)
Yes, folks, that's Explorers. And yes, that's mini Ethan Hawke. I very dearly loved this movie when I was younger, but frankly, I wouldn't dare watching it today. Though I do remember quite distinctly that Ethan Hawke already had his pouty thing down.
If this choice seems to have come from left-field, well, there weren't too many options in 1985. There are plenty of other movies I like, but none I really love.
The excessively creepy picture above sums up everything I love about Labyrinth, which is probably the movie that introduced sexuality to many kids of my generation. And if David Bowie's tumescent balls aren't terrifying enough, there's an entire scene of headless chickens dancing around like...well...headless chickens. And even though I know it's deeply, deeply wrong, I can't help but hope that with every fresh rewatch, this time they'll work it out.
This was a toss-up between Dirty Dancing and Living Daylights. I know Living Daylights is not the most popular Bond, but I really love Timothy Dalton, and I have endless amounts of glee for that ridiculous scene of them sledding down the hill INSIDE A STRADIVARIUS CELLO. But let's be honest, Dirty Dancing is a better movie.
I won't lie, I hated it the first time I saw it (I was probably way too young to comprehend the many social issues undergirding what seemed to my 14 year old self like a sickly romance). But I've seen it many times since, and each time I'm surprised by the darkness in the film and the bleak lives of all the characters who aren't named Baby. So the triumphant end isn't so much a validation of their love affair, but of the how you have to find joy wherever you can.
A friend lent me her DVD of Cinema Paradiso, claiming it to be her favorite film of all time, telling me little else about the movie. Watching it was a revelation, a tribute to the magic of movies. I was inroduced to the film with the special edition, however, and I wonder how different I would feel about the movie if I'd only seen the original cut. Run and see this now if you haven't. A simple tale of a boy and his town's projectionist.
Heathers is still so...very. Allow me to quote from a previous piece about Winona Ryder:
It's astonishing to think that an entire archetype would not exist without Winona Ryder: the moody outsider who flies dangerously close to the dark side but never loses her firm belief that the world has no purpose except to provide a vehicle for her sarcasm and narcissism (there have been many male characters of this nature, but Ryder's take is uniquely female, and infinitely more strange than the Holden Caulfield type). Teen girls would never be the same. There would be no Mean Girls or Buffy without the road paved by many classic Ryder characters.
The movie's still fresh, and if you haven't seen it yet, well fuck me gently with a chainsaw!
I'm sorry to say that I hadn't seen Goodfellas in its entirety until just a few months ago. But don't worry, I'd seen the legendary long shot a million times before, and seeing it in context for the first time didn't add to or distract from the beauty of that scene. Once again, I was surprised by how funny the film was. I was expecting something more along the lines of The Godfather. Ray Liotta was a great lead, and it's unfortunate that his career seems to have trickled out.
Runners-Up: Ghost, Pump Up the Volume
What's there to say about Beauty and the Beast that hasn't been said a million times before? It's the Disney model brought to perfection, and I don't think they've matched it before or since (we'll see how Tangled stands up in ten years, however). There's a charm in the performances, a spring in the animated steps, and most importantly, really great songs. Starting this list, I wouldn't have expected to put an animated film on the list, but there you go.
Choosing a favorite film from this year was very near impossible. We've got Batman Returns, Ferngully, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Mighty Ducks! But, believe it or not, I do hold Buffy the Vampire Slayer very dear to my heart. It's completely over the top and ridiculous, and knows it, giving us the best death scene in the history of ever:
I defy you not to laugh. People love to hate this movie, but I love it most sincerely, and without it, we would never have had my beloved Angel.
Dazed and Confused leaves me little cold plot-wise, but it's the perfect love letter to my beloved Austin, Texas. There's not a single locale in the film where I haven't wasted excessive amounts of time in my college years. The crowning scene is the climbing of the radio tower in Zilker Park. A good friend of mine made it all the way up. My youth didn't just imitate art, it imitated Dazed and Confused. (Though the pranks played by my high school Powderpuffs were far more insidious.)
The Crow couldn't be more 1994 if it tried. Everything about it is so particular to its milieu that it's impossible to imagine a remake that does justice to the original. It's not just a time, but a particular goth metal social group that doesn't really exist anymore, at least not in the same way as it did in the 1990's. Also, what a fantastic soundtrack. From The Cure's "Burn" to Nine Inch Nails "Dead Souls," it's the most perfect style of music for me and for this film. It's one of the luckiest breaks in the movie world that Trent Reznor has shifted full time to soundtracking.
Here's the video for "Burn":
Before Sunrise or Goldeneye...yikes. or EMPIRE RECORDS!!! Yeah, ok, it's Empire Records. Why? I've gone a bit cold on Before Sunrise in recent years (still adore Before Sunset, though. Apparently it's a sign of maturity when you begin to find young Ethan Hawke intolerable, according to an article from The Awl that I can't quite locate at the moment). Yet Empire Records, somehow, has not staled.
Very much a product of its time, it celebrates a mythical world in which teenagers can find jobs (I know!) doing things that still allow them to behave like teenagers. And while Empire Records is chock full of storylines that make you want to roll your eyes in frustration (why did Robin Tunney shave her head? Why is Liv Tyler completely intolerable?), it's got a magical spirit just the same.
Here's Rex Manning's fake music video (oh Rexy, you're so sexy!):
Oh 1996, the year o' the blockbuster action film. There were so many classics to choose from: Independence Day, Twister, Mission: Impossible, The Rock, Broken Arrow, Executive Decision, and more. But I'm giving this one to Star Trek: First Contact. It was the first movie ever to give me nightmares, a special brand of dystopian nightmare that recurs every now and again, where I'm the only one who knows the truth in an Escherian society out to destroy me or make me conform.
I probably need to write a longer post justifying this choice, but let me just say that this is the last great romantic comedy. For one brief, shining moment, Cameron Diaz showed us what a likeable star she could be, and then promptly forgot after this movie was released. Julia Roberts devours her role, playing someone truly horrible in every way, but still allowing us to feel a tiny bit of sympathy for her (very tiny, mind you). Oh, and Rupert Everett.
Runners-Up: Contact, The Game, The Peacemaker.
Who would have thought that Ethan Embry would have showed up twice in this list! Can't Hardly Wait marks the brief moment when he was very attractive (he looked weird in Empire Records, and looked weird in every movie after CHW). Lauren Ambrose plays, basically, a stand-in for me, and this whole high school enters one of the nuttiest parties in high school movie history. Other highlights include Seth Green as a would-be hip-hop star, Jenna Elfman as an angel prostitute, and the best damn performance of "Paradise City" ever.
Runners-Up: Great Expectations, The Mask of Zorro
Check out 1999: Being John Malkovich, Ten Things I Hate About You, Election, Girl, Interrupted, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. I narrowed this down to Ten Things and Talented Mr. Ripley, but I think Ripley wins by just a hair. I hadn't seen this movie until about a year ago, but it left a deep impression. Matt Damon plays Ripley so subtly that we're never quite sure when he's being sincere and when he's being devious, even though our heads tell us it's usually the latter. Even his most villainous acts are coloured by the most obvious longing, so we can't help but feel sorry for this psychopath.
Frequency may seem like a strange choice in a year with Requiem for a Dream and High Fidelity, but I have personal reasons for including it. When I was in high school, I was pretty much a lone sci-fi fan. But when I showed this movie to professed sci-fi haters, they were converted. So I have to give it credit as a gateway into the realm of the fantastical for those who haven't experienced it or are revulsed by it. I've rewatched it since, and while the ending is completely ridiculous, the rest of the movie stands up. Also? Physicist Brian Greene plays himself in two different timelines!
Runner-Up: Coyote Ugly. I have no shame and I don't care what you say.
To say that I remain fascinated with The Others is an understatement. The Sixth Sense didn't seem to reward rewatching; once you've seen it once, you know the twist, and that's it. But The Others still surprises me everytime I watch it. There are little hints peppered all the way through the film, so the ending doesn't just feel like a cheap twist. Nothing is extraneous or sentimental, and watching Nicole Kidman's treatment of her children would be just as riveting without the grand twist. And the scene with Christopher Eccleston is just so damn eerie. When they cast him in Doctor Who, I actually was like "really? the creepy guy from The Others?"
Runners-Up: The Mummy Returns, Lord of the Rings
Chicago is more than a minor obsession of mine. I have a fairly completist knowledge of the entire saga, all the way back to the 1920's. I still dream of getting my hands on the recently unearthed original silent film, Roxie Hart. It's become almost like a fairytale of our time; it's been told and retold, and each new version reflects something fundamental in our society. Also? Great songs. I don't dare listen to even one song, because that means I'll just end up watching the whole movie again.
Runners-Up: Two Towers, Minority Report, Secretary
Jeux d'Enfants (Love Me if You Dare) kicked off a long love affair with Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet (of course they're together in real life, they have millions of oodles of chemistry). This remains a litmus test for friendship, with rare exceptions. Friendships with people who hated this movie have fallen apart, while fellow lovers of the movie have become some of my closest. I'm now afraid to show it to anyone who hasn't seen it before, for this reason...but as they say...cap ou pas cap?
Runner-up: Lost in Translation (if I'm honest, this movie might win were I to choose again tomorrow. LOVE it.)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Unlike Jeux D'Enfants, one of favorite things is introducing others to this film and watching them fall in love with it too. Kate Winslet's great "fuck you" to the manic pixie dream girl trope still resonates, and I'm eternally sad that Jim Carrey's career didn't reap the many benefits he should have received (by all accounts, he seems to have gone a bit nuts).
Runners-Up: There are no runners-up. You can't beat Eternal Sunshine in my mind (unless, maybe, you're Lost in Translation). So instead, I give you a WORST MOVIE EVER: Garden State. It's one of God's funny tricks: with something exemplary, you must also receive unabashed bullshit. And I realize I still owe many of you a long post of cathartic hatred of this movie, which you may yet receive before 2012.
You can love Pride and Prejudice or hate it, but I don't care what you think, as a firm member of the former camp. When I'm down or miserable, this is the movie I turn to for a reliable pick-me-up. There are a million sentimental reasons to love it, but its greatest strength is how Joe Wright teases out every last bit of humor from any situation. The dinner with Mr. Collins remains one of my favorite comic scenes from any movie, and Keira Knightley proves herself very adept at comedic work (she seems wasted in period melodrama these days). Also, this film kicked off a long love of Joe Wright, one of the most exciting directors working today.
A weird, disturbing and wonderful movie, Little Children moves us adeptly through scenes we might expect and scenes we would never have expected in a million years. It's very funny in scenes that no one would dare to find the humor in, and the denouement is truly shocking.
Runners-Up: This was a fantastic year for heartbreakingly depressing movies. Water. Children of Men. Half Nelson.
If you haven't seen Once yet, why not? Made on a shoe-string budget, Once tells the tale of an Irish street busker who falls in love with a Czech pianist, and together they make musical magic, but struggle to record or release their songs. I like the pretend that the events of the film continued on in real life, culminating in the ultimate recognition: an Oscar for best song. I don't mind admitting that "Falling Slowly" was my wedding song.
Watch the video and tell me it doesn't feel like an extension of the film, the perfect ending. It begins as sparsely as the original, then the symphony orchestra elevates it to another place.
Runners-Up: Lives of Others, Walk Hard
Anne Hathaway earned a lifetime pass for Rachel Getting Married, where she plays Rachel as a completely unpredictable mess in a movie that takes a surprising turn every few minutes. She's let out of the mental hospital for one weekend, for her sister's wedding (to the guy from TV on the Radio, hilariously), and she manages to really fuck shit up. Jonathan Demme films the movie almost like a documentary, never allowing us to escape even for a moment from this uncomfortable hell-hole. It's not something I'd want to watch over and over again, but come on guys. Sociopaths in Saris! (Band name, I call it!)
Runners-Up: Mamma Mia. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The Dark Knight.
Adventureland boasts a terrific cast (Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, more), but that's nothing without a great script. Greg Mottola (Superbad) keeps the movie tightly focused, about an aimless college graduate looking to save money for grad school by working at a horrible theme park. This movie has more in common with the sweet teen films of John Hughes than the cynical teen films we get today, which feature kids that are ten times too knowing for their years, who are cynically detached without ever having experienced real life.
Runners-Up: Zombieland. Moon. Hurt Locker. Up.
Oh, Easy A. It's not the best movie of 2010 by any objective metric, but as I've seen it about 15 times already, there you go. I look forward to Emma Stone's world domination by 2020.
As I wrote previously about the film:
Easy A's greatest strength is that it's not afraid to have a little fun. Take the early "Pocketful of Sunshine" scene, a bit of random silliness that shouldn't be funny, but really really is. Only because it's true. It's a peculiarity of Hollywood that filmmakers believe that when teenagers are alone in their rooms, all they do is stare dramatically at their ceilings or ponder their social lives and body image issues. But no. Sometimes we just dance like idiots to absolutely ridiculous songs without any shame or self-consciousness. (Another truth: normal girls who don't have social lives to speak of often have excellent relationships with their English teachers).
Because it never ceases to amuse:
Runners-Up: Tangled. The Town. I Am Love. Winter's Bone. The Social Network.
I know it's much too soon to put a pin on 2011, but I feel that I ought to try. I'm still struggling to find the words to convey my experience with Tree of Life, but know that it moved me tremendously. It's not often that a director has the guts to stretch his film across timespan of the universe itself, and you may disagree over whether he succeeds, but you cannot deny the scope and ambition. It may be a flawed film, but in many ways, it's the perfection of Terence Malick's unique gaze.
Also? It starts fights. Gotta give Malick credit for that.