“We’re in the clear. Running fast. North on the old Richter route passed the mountains. I told her about Batty on the roof dying, making every second count. I told her I loved her. She told me it was the happiest day of her life. She told me she loved me too. I figured I wouldn’t get the headaches or the shakes anymore, not for a while. It was good enough for me, I hope it was good enough for her.”
45. Blade Runner
Let’s give a shout-out to the production designers and art directors, some of the most unsung heroes on any film. You so often don’t think about their contribution. Case in point, Alien and Blade Runner. Two of the most visually distinct movies of their time period, and they look nothing alike even though Ridley Scott is the director of both. A lot of man hours went into creating the brilliantly realized Blade Runner world, and no one put in more hard work than…
Shit, what were their names again? Note to self, search ‘Blade Runner Production Designer + Art Director’ before publishing this review.
It might actually be possible for a movie to be TOO visually striking. Every single shot in Blade Runner is full of sweeping light, fog, shadow, neon, flawless matte paintings, intricate models. It’s as astounding looking as anything that’s come out in the last forty years, and will never look dated because of all the work that’s been put into it. In a way the look of the movie is so overwhelming, it’s more difficult to get to what’s underneath. This is a story with all of my favourite stuff; dystopias, future noir, this era of Harrison Ford, robots, and existential questions, but it actually was a few viewings before I was able to warm to it. And that’s without ever having seen the cut with the voiceover.
Nowadays, I don’t know what was putting me off about Blade Runner. You don’t watch this movie, you bask in it. Especially in the final half hour as Harrison Ford’s Deckard is getting stalked through a dilapidated building, which is as close as a film has ever gotten to putting a bad dream on screen. Yet the morality of the situation is ambiguous. Rutger Hauer’s Batty is someone we’re conditioned to think of as the villain, but isn’t he just a guy whose friends are getting killed by some asshole detective who doesn’t even believe in what he’s doing?
And as much as we usually think of Ford as the lovable hero, casting him as a punch clock cop who’s completely stomped to the curb in a fight isn’t a stretch. In 1980, he played a smuggler who failed to escape the Empire and got frozen in carbonite. In 1981, he played a graverobber who did more to get a super weapon into Nazi hands than the Nazis. And now he’s a guy who shoots sentient robot women in the back and gets the ass kicking of a lifetime for his trouble. Who’s better than Ford at being charming and roguish even though he’s so often entirely ineffectual?
Ridley Scott and his mysterious art department gave us a gift when they put out Blade Runner. It’s a film so dense and so intricate, we’ve been playing with it for decades and will continue to do so. Especially now that the movie has a companion piece. But we’ll get to that…
Amusement (Humour/Elation): N/A
Adrenaline (Excitement): LOW. Might be why I didn’t like the movie the first time, the premise and talent involved sounds like it’s going to make for some action/adventure and the movie just isn’t that.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. You feel most for Batty, not Deckard.
Appreciation (Construction): MODERATE. I don’t think about the script or performances when I first think about Blade Runner but they’re pretty solid.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. The speech on how experiences and memories fade with time is something I think about a lot, just not in terms that poetic.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. The climax in the apartment is like a nightmare you can’t wake up from.
Awe (Visual Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. Can you overdose on visual pizzaz?
It’s Pixar family entertainment meets fearless New Hollywood experimentation. No voice actors, no translations, just a touching love story between two non-human characters who rarely speak in anything other than beeps. And it’s for kids, and they loved it! The same creative impulses that fuelled a Star Wars holiday special about unsubtitled Wookies yelling at each other are also led to Wall-E. And this time it actually works out.
There’s a lot to be in awe of throughout Wall-E. There’s a powerful ecological message, and a warning about the dangers of automation and a society that’s becoming too docile. And yet one of the biggest laughs is a bunch of fat people slowly rolling into a pane of glass. As uplifting as the ending is, the opening ten minutes are as heartbreaking as anything until… well Pixar’s Up just one year later. As bold and as quiet as the first half of Wall-E is, the switch to action adventure later on is seamless. Finally, it cannot be stressed enough, it’s incredible how good a job the movie does at making us care about Wall-E and Eve. They are a power couple for the ages and don’t you deny it!
Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles provided me with some fond childhood movie memories. Wall-E gave me one for adulthood.
Adrenaline (Excitement): LOW. Some more traditional Pixar adventure towards the end.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. Pixar always knows what buttons to push by threatening to hurt the cute little robot.
Appreciation (Construction): MODERATE. The first half hour especially is a huge storytelling accomplishment.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Depicts a future that seems depressingly plausible.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. Visuals a bit more low key than some Pixar movies but all the more impressive for how mature they are.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. Some pretty incredible comedy timing with the two robots.
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. If Eve doesn’t turn up then it’s the saddest film I’ve ever seen.
43. Kingsman: The Secret Service
I didn’t expect anything in particular out of Kingsman, much less something that in spirit is the best Roger Moore era 007 flick. But in 2015, a year with some serious action blockbuster competition, Kingsman wound up being the most fun I had watching a movie all year.
Here’s how good Kingsman is… I usually don’t like training movies. Don’t like boot camps, don’t like academies, don’t like exams and tests. Large parts of Kingsman centre on a young man training to become a spy. And it is fantastic. Colin Firth is ostensibly the lead, he’s a seasoned pro on a spy mission, and he’s fantastic too. But I still find myself wanting the story to get back to the training. That’s not normal for me.
Kingsman is recent enough and prominent enough that it’s pointless to get into some of the twists and turns the story takes. Either I’d be ruining it for you, or telling you something you already know. But the film takes some big swings in terms of the plot, it combines sincerely exciting action adventure with camp and dark humour. It gets Samuel L. Jackson to basically do a parody of Samuel L. Jackson. The music score is incredible, and as mentioned, Colin Fucking Firth. There’s something so delightful about an actor with as much class and dignity as him committing one hundred percent to material this campy.
Bonus, though the sequel is a step down, it’s a lot more fun than many give it credit for.
Affection (Emotional Impact): LOW. Things get sombre with one particular late movie development but it doesn’t last TOO long.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): MODERATE. Valentine’s concerns on overpopulation are so compelling he gets every world leader on board with his plan.
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. Some of the action scenes are a marvel to behold.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. I get scared in the scene with Eggsy’s mother trying to kill her baby kid.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. It’s a pretty silly storyline but it’s plotted really well.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. Too many fun scenes to choose from.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. “Fuck that guy, whoever he is! He made me kill Professor Arnold. Goddamn loved Professor Arnold.”
42. Sunset Boulevard
When you’re penning your first book or script, one rule is drilled into your head; don’t make your protagonist a struggling writer. I’d figured that was to keep editors and publishers from reading your story and assuming you have no imagination beyond your own life. Now I’m starting to think it’s because Sunset Boulevard did the struggling writer story so well, there’s no point in even trying to top it.
Watching this movie recently was like seeing the last piece of a puzzle fall into place. I’d thought I’d made the effort to see all the classics, but Sunset Boulevard had slipped right past me. It’s so reverberated into pop culture, every few scenes I was thinking “Oh, THAT’S what that was from.” From “It’s the pictures that got small,” to the waxworks poker game, to the “that dead guy is me” opening, to the final line and image. Seeing this film was like finding a final Riesen chocolate in your couch cushions a few days after you’d finished the rest of the bag. I’ve been told.
Another film that’s a bit hard to categorize, Sunset Boulevard is sometimes a psychological thriller, and sometimes a dark comedy. Gloria Swanson is, of course, the key to the whole thing. In the unbelievably specific category of “Legendary actresses playing an overly dramatic aging star in a 1950 film about show business,” Bette Davis in All About Eve gives the more nuanced performance. Margot Channing is a real person who’s larger than life. Norma Desmond is a pure movie creation, a psychopathic woman trapped in her own screen persona, and Gloria Swanson goes big, and does it magnificently. That final monologue could have been purely camp, but she makes it deeply terrifying and pitiful as well.
All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard are must watches, both share many of the same strengths, and both are about show business characters playing off each other. I slightly prefer the latter film because it’s got a bit more of a dramatic engine, but still. Dealer’s choice. They’re an amazing double feature.
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Awe (Visual Impact): N/A
Amusement (Humour/Elation): MODERATE. You’re laughing at Norma as often as you’re pitying her.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. You really wind up mourning the life Joe could have led had he not gotten caught in Norm’s web.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. This is my life, starting out I had the exact same experience of trying to rewrite some faded star’s shitty script. That experience was too boring to make a movie out of, but I can still relate.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. The opening is likely to make you a pretty uneasy around Norma Desmond, it’s only a matter of WHEN she’s going to strike…
Appreciation (Construction): EXTRAORDINARY. Story and performances keep you riveted every step of the way.
41. The Truman Show
I hope The Truman Show goes the same way as Groundhog Day. It was one of those movies that was seen as kind of unassumingly good when it came out, and the degree to which it’s permeated our collective frame of reference has revealed itself over time.
I myself saw The Truman Show a couple times as a kid and have pleasant memories of it, but watching it on Netflix again (and again) was a revelation. It finds an inventive way to articulate that shameful question we all think at one time or another; “What if I’m the centre of the entire universe?” and spins it into a digestible, funny, heartwarming package. This is one of the best movies to come out of the 1990s.
The Truman Show came out in a time in which Jim Carrey hadn’t shed his mid-90s image. His fans came in wanting Ace Ventura, his detractors came in skeptical that he could act, and no one got quite what they expected. He makes Truman into a sincerely lovable character, he pulls off some low-key dramatic moments, and his moments of Maniac Carrey are quick and effectively deployed.
So you watch it today knowing what Jim Carrey can do, and you’re also watching it in a post reality TV era. You hear about The Truman Show being ahead of its time and that’s true, but the far inferior EdTV got more right about what early 2000s era TV would become. There’s still enough that’s fantastical about The Truman Show to capture my imagination.
For one thing, I want to know so much more about the logistics of this world that is only ever hinted at. I want to know about about the real world debates that are going on about the morality of basically imprisoning and profiting off this one man’s complete lack of privacy. I want to know more about the lives of the cast members, where they go when their “scenes” are wrapped, how they feel about what they’re doing. I want to know about Truman’s adjustment to the real world after decades of living a charade. I’ll say it, I want to know what the directors cut to when Truman goes to play with himself.
It’s a better movie for not answering these questions. I’d read the shit out of some officially sanctioned tie in “Behind the scenes” book, but The Truman Show succeeds by keeping the focus on this one likeable protagonist as he gradually works out the truth. The deeper, scarier ramifications of Truman’s world are present but just out of sight, and considering the main character’s journey of discovery, maybe that’s appropriate.
Adrenaline (Excitement): LOW. You can tell Christof was waiting all his life for a chance to finally put Truman in an action scene, and gets his wish at the end.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. Tonally this never turns into a Twilight Zone, town full of zombies/robots type scenario, though you get the feeling Truman thinks that at times.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. The artificial world Truman inhabits is incredible without going into sci-fi.
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. One of the fascinating meta-textual moments in all of movies, you actually see the behind the scenes people pulling at our heartstrings in the scene where Truman reunites with his father. It’s manipulation on Christof’s part but sincerely pretty affecting, and that’s when you “get” why The Truman Show is so popular.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. One of the most interesting settings in any movie, and a script that knows just what to focus on.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. You’ve wondered if you were in The <Your Name Here> Show at least once.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. “How do you intend to explain his 22 year absence?” “…Amnesia.” “Brilliant.”