Ten Favourites: Films

No introduction, this post is long enough without. I hope to do one of these for films, games, and books. Enjoy, and feel free to debate my choices with me.

10. Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007)

A pretty audacious start, and probably the one film on this list that’ll have people questioning me the most. Of Tarantino’s oeuvre, it’s the black sheep. He even considers it his worst movie. Even I have trouble justifying this choice to my friends.

The truth is, Death Proof just works for me. I love the slice of life stuff at the bar; Jungle Julia’s boyfriend ditching her, the casual planning of the girls’ weekend, the men mocking Stuntman Mike for his scars and his teetotal lifestyle. Hell, even the horrific lapdance. It all culminates in a sick explosion of violence that’s vintage Tarantino, and seals Stuntman Mike’s fetish for power.

The second half of the flick finds us following a second group of women under different circumstances, and proceeds to break all that power down. There’s a lot of nuance here, from Mike’s transformation from a cool guy in control to a whiny crying shit, all the way up to the glorious end where he gets his comeuppance. That shot where he grabs the whisky is one of my favourites from any film, and a great contrast to his character in the first half.

On top of this, it’s a great love letter to stunt films. The chases are all filmed at high speed, and the evil stuntman is beaten by a stuntwoman. Just a great ode to grindhouse, and criminally underrated in my opinion.

9. Mallrats (Kevin Smith, 1995)

I was born a generation too late to catch Kevin Smith’s films on their initial run (dirty millennial!) Mallrats is not Smith at his most technically accomplished (Chasing Amy), his most emotional (Jersey Girl), or even his acerbic wittiest (Clerks), but Mallrats speaks to me the most.

It’s scary how much I relate to Brodie and his nerdy habits of playing way too many video games, geeking out over comics, and his general hopelessness within his relationship. I like to think I’m not quite as bad as he is, but I know I’ve made similar mistakes within previous relationships.

Plus, the gameshow sequence at the end never fails to cheer me up. A lot of laughs for me in Mallrats, and I’m guaranteed to be happy when I put it on, no matter what my mood is to start.

8. Serenity (Joss Whedon, 2005)

Long before Marvel was conquering the box office with characters that had previously been considered b-tier. A whole three years before we thought (and hoped) Batman might punch Titanic from the top of the box office. All the way back in 2005 was my first real indication we’d done it. The geeks had taken over Hollywood.

It’s the Cinderella story you’ve all heard a million times from one end of the ‘verse to the other. The scrappy TV show, given not even a fighting chance by its network, cancelled before it had a shot, brought fighting into feature film status by fans that refused to quit.

Serenity isn’t perfect. There’s points where it looks like a TV movie, and some of it’s a bit cheesy, but it represents a victory for people who wouldn’t give up. It’s become rather incessant and annoying in the eight years since, and lightning is very unlikely to strike twice, but this film represents something big to me. Long before things like Kickstarter were prevalent, we the consumers made our voices heard. And if the years since have proven anything, it’s that the geeks won.

7. Predator (John McTiernan, 1987)

Through most of my late childhood and early teens, I was raised on Schwarzenegger flicks. Long before I was of the requisite age to watch them, I was devouring the likes of Terminator, The Running Man, Total Recall, True Lies etc.

After all these years, it’s Predator that sticks with me the most. Essentially a b-movie that transcends b-movie status by the sheer power of its cast and director (McTiernan went on to direct Die Hard and the Hunt For Red October). The plot is simple. Sent into the jungle to take out a mercenary camp, a squad of manlier than thou spec ops soldiers led by Arnie are picked off one by one by an invisible alien hunter.

That’s it. It’s that simple. We know going in that all the guys except Arnie are cannon fodder, but we can’t help becoming attached anyway. The banter is dumb but fun (“goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus”), the characters are all well played, and the pacing is on point, delivering that old horror trick of not revealing the monster until the explosive finale. Predator comes together in a way that very few b-movies do, to create something better than the sum of its parts.

6. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

I put Andrew Stanton up there because he’s credited as director, but I was very tempted to put Pixar instead. This is the only animated film on the list, and it’s Pixar at their most masterful. Who else could make a romance between two robots who can barely say anything beyond their own names? More to the point, who else could make it work?

WALL-E is a gorgeous film from start to finish, even making a post-apocalyptic earth look appealing by sheer power of its animation. Hell, I’ve never seen a cute cockroach before or since. And the animation extends to the characters too. It had to, or it would all fall apart without the dialogue to support it. The characters need their looks to sell the emotions.

I love it all, start to finish. There’s cuteness with the scenes of WALL-E trying to impress EVE with his trash and the hypnotic space dance, and conflict with the evil ship’s computer, modelled lovingly after HAL from 2001. Although people will argue in favour of the likes of Toy Story or The Incredibles, to me Pixar have yet to top this.

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright, 2010)

When getting into a new relationship, there are fears that come with it. What if her ex was more handsome than me? What if he had a bigger dick? What if he was a better fuck? What if he was a better boyfriend? It’s all inane, but that panic exists, at least for me.

People often demonise this film, and specifically the Ramona character, for making Scott deal with her baggage. I don’t understand how so many people can miss the point, especially when it’s stated out loud (“Scott earned the power of self-respect!”). Scott Pilgrim is about a man trapped in perpetual boyhood, dealing with the baggage that comes with getting into what’s supposedly an adult relationship. His baggage, not Ramona’s.

That it’s all done with allusions and references to comic books, sitcoms, and classic video games is the icing on the cake. Rather than confront his issues through a series of meaningful conversations or awkward encounters, they come down to epic fight sequences, complete with enemies exploding into coins, and levelling up. The punk rock aesthetic doesn’t hurt either. I haven’t read the comics yet, but the film spoke to me in a way that no comedy has done since Mallrats.

4. Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)

I love zombies and George Romero is to blame. I had something of a hard time choosing between Dawn and Day, but Dawn is a classic. It’s got everything. Horror, action, suspense, and comedy. If Night of the Living Dead was inventing the Hollywood zombie, Dawn of the Dead polished it off.

The makeup looks a bit silly by modern standards, but it’s a classic zombie look that has been emulated ever since. The bit where the biker gets his organs ripped out is practically genre defining.

Zombies have been used over the years to spoof different social trends, often playing them up as a manifestation of the upper and middle class fears of a proletariat uprising, but I’m pretty sure that all started here with the mockery of western culture’s obsession with consumerism. There’s something equally hilarious and tragic about the zombies returning to the mall in death because it was all they knew in life, and Romero capitalised on it to create what I consider to be the definitive setting for any zombie media. Something also recognised when they put out the first of the Dead Rising games and wisely set it in a shopping mall.

3. Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)

This one came close. I was this close to putting Ridley Scott’s original in, but when I really thought about it, Aliens trumps it. Scott’s Ripley was a blank slate, it wasn’t until Cameron came along that she got a real arc.

Returning to earth, damaged after the events of the first film, Ripley finds herself a woman lost. Left drifting for decades, she is a mother without a daughter, an officer without a job, a person without a purpose. The always sinister Weyland Yutani corporation gives her that purpose; revenge. Ripley goes back to LV-426 with the hope of wiping out the monsters that took her whole life away. Of course, along the way she meets Newt, a girl who lost her parents, and Ripley’s mission changes.

That maternal instinct comes flooding back, and turns Ripley from that blank slate into the kick ass characters we know and love. Who doesn’t get chills of awesome when she confronts the Alien Queen in that power loader?

And that’s to say nothing of the marines and the villainous Burke. Everyone involved brought their A-game, resulting in one of those rare sequels that tops the original.

2. The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)

Can you dig it? The Warriors is a cult genre classic, a story of a pre-apocalyptic New York on the precipice of the End. It’s a tale of camaraderie, love, and escape. It’s a Greek epic in the form of a neon soaked grindhouse flick.

The story’s structure is a glorious mess. A series of vignettes as the titular Warriors are confronted by various gangs along their journey home after being falsely accused of murdering Cyrus, leader of the biggest gang in the city.

I can’t think of any film before or since that quite captures the scary side of New York, from threatening subway rides at night, to rain slicked streets and dark alleys. It’s Frank Miller’s Daredevil before Frank Miller wrote Daredevil. Both a gritty, visceral action film and a comic book-like experience.

The fights are well shot and brutal. Walter Hill is a master at getting that stuff down, and I still look to the bathroom fight sequence when I’m trying to choreograph that kind of dirty street fight in my own stories. Some of the perfomances are uneven, but it’s all balanced out by a great turn from James Remar as the memorable antihero Ajax. An imperfect film, but it’s unlikely to slip from its place on this list any time soon.

1. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

Well, what else could it be? And what can I say to do it justice? There’s almost nothing that means as much to me as Star Wars. I first saw the special edition re-release back in 1997 (dirty millennial!), and it shaped who I am ever since. I nurtured my love of reading through Star Wars Expanded Universe. My first computer games were Star Wars games. It’s responsible for me being the geek I am today.

It’s that one film for me that I will never tire of. There’s no caveats to this film. Birthday? Star Wars. Christmas? Star Wars. Passed an exam? Star Wars. Suffered a break up? Star Wars. I watch it in better and worse, in sickness and in health. Classic Schmosby.

There are better, more proficient films than Star Wars out there, but this is the one fixture on my list that I can see never changing. It’s just something I have such a personal connection to, all the way from my childhood to now. Some people have religion growing up. I had Star Wars.

Further reading: Films

2012: A Retrospective

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