35. Back to the Future
What can I say about Back to the Future? I like it for the same reasons everyone else likes it. It’s pure movie magic. And I mean that almost literally. Great films like this can be pure alchemy, impossible to duplicate. Odds are always good someone is going to gum up the works.
Just think about this. A sizeable portion of Back to the Future was filmed with Eric Stoltz, whose Marty McFly was so intense and grim that they had to shitcan him and work around Michael J. Fox’s Family Ties schedule. In early drafts, the time machine was going to be a fridge, before writers Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale decided a DeLorean would be more practical. And cooler. Sid Sheinberg, a guy already on a roll in 1985 after sitting on Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, decided the title ought to be Spacemen from Pluto. Back to the Future is the name of a goddamn blockbuster. Spacemen from Pluto is a movie that places 3rd in the opening weekend box office and gets a single bare bones DVD release a couple decades later. Luckily, Steven Spielberg intervened and the title remained.
So, even a film that feels as assured as Back to the Future could have gone off the rails at a number of points. Happily though, it’s one of the most enduring crowdpleasers of all time.
Affection (Emotional Impact): LOW. George McFly fighting for Lorraine (in both cases) is pretty great.
Awe (Visual Impact): LOW. Shot in a pretty straightforward way, though the 1950s details are fun.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): MODERATE. Wouldn’t you be interested in meeting your parents are the age you are now?
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. The big finale with Marty and Doc trying to send the DeLorean home has always been a pretty tense scene for me.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. But it’s also really exciting.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. First and foremost, it’s a really entertaining film.
34. He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not
Film scholars have been asking the same question for as long as I can remember; “Is there a missing link between Amelie and Gone Girl?” It gives me great delight to announce that our long national search is at an end.
I never trusted that Amelie. Just because she was working for a greater good doesn’t mean she wasn’t gaslighting or manipulating the people closest to her. Now we see these just barely concealed sociopathic tendencies blossom in He Loves Me… He’s Loves Me Not. It’s Audrey Tautou brilliantly playing off the persona she established a couple of years earlier, reintroducing us to a character that seems familiar and then taking her into some deeper and darker places.
How deep and dark? Well, it’s another thriller that ought not to be ruined. He Loves Me… has one of those stories that’s structured in a way to let the truth gradually dawn on different people at different points. It’d be sinful to rob people of that experience. But once the story starts to pay off it never ever stops being satisfying, right down to the last, frightening moment.
Maybe the most obscure movie on this whole list, it only got onto my radar after I saw a rave review on James Berardinelli’s Reelviews website (same place I first learned about The Sweet Hereafter and Purple Noon). I wish it was much easier to find, but happening upon a film like this every now and then makes the search for hidden treasure all the more gratifying.
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): LOW.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. Laughter of the “Oh, that just happened” variety.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. You’ll feel sorry for Audrey Tautou… for a while.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. Deceptively romantic cinematography of Paris in bloom.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. When the truth is revealed things get scary.
Appreciation (Construction): EXTRAORDINARY. The story is even more fun when you see it for a second time (which is really the fourth time, if you’re getting technical).
33. Django Unchained
I like Tarantino when he’s not showing off. This is recognizably his movie through and through, but nothing about it feels self indulgent or ostentatious for its own sake. If there’s a long monologue, a drawn out standoff, or a burst of gratuitous violence, its entirely in keeping with the story.
A story which, by the way, is very linear compared to Tarantino’s other works. Django Unchained takes a long, direct road through the pre-Civil War deep south, and the fact that the journey is so much fun even without any real twists or turns, or extended flashbacks, or big stylistic flourishes, speaks to Tarantino’s skill as a filmmaker. There’s something to admire when you know a director has a lot of tricks up his sleeve and is choosing not to lean on them.
It’s good in the way movies like Django Unchained ought to be good. The characters are magnetic and larger than life, with top flight A Listers and character actors filling out every corner of the screen. The shot compositions are beautiful, making the 1860s deep south look like a beautiful place to settle down aside from the obvious.
And look, Django Unchained manages to take one of the most shameful periods in North American history and use it to fuel a story that doesn’t shy away from moments of brutality while still managing to be a gloriously entertaining blaxploitation revenge tale. I’m not going to argue with anyone who believes it was a fundamentally bad idea to tell that story in the first place, but at the least you can’t deny how well that bad idea was executed.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Applicability (Real World Resonance): MODERATE. A great way to make the horrors of the time real for audiences is to use real events as the basis for entertainment.
Adrenaline (Excitement): MODERATE. There’s only one big action scene but it’s a doozy.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. All credit to Kerry Washington in an overlooked role, she seems to be the only character who realises she’s in a real fucked up situation and that makes the setting feel more horrific.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. When things start to go south in Candyland Tarantino does what he does best; long dialogue scenes that hold the promise of sudden violence.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. When this movie’s outdoors it’s incredible to look at.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. Again, a filmmaker known for twisty subversive storytelling gives us a movie that succeeds by being pretty straightforward, and that speaks well of how top notch the production is.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. I called Django Unchained my favourite comedy of 2012 once and got some funny looks.
I hate that this now has to be specified, but I’m talking about the 1984 film, not the bland, reheated piece of crap that came later. And to be absolutely clear, there’s nothing sexist about me saying that. I don’t hate Ghostbusters II because of the all male cast. I knew from watching the trailer that it was going to suck.
Well, that was obligatory. Anyway.
When there’s a mega-hit movie, the same behind the scenes lore begins to come out. Nobody liked the script, we didn’t think we were making anything special, the studio didn’t know what we were doing. They HAD to have known Ghostbusters was going to be a good one as they were making it, right? Well, maybe not Dan Akyroyd, who when left to his own devices makes Nothing But Trouble and whose original scripts for Ghostbusters were out of this world wacky. He might have been disappointed. But everyone else had to have realized they were working on a blockbuster comedy that was cast to the rafters with the best SNL and SCTV alum in the business.
I mean, Bill Murray is in it. Bill Murray, who’s been the best thing about at least two movies on my list so far, is unsurprisingly the best thing about Ghostbusters too. But this time a lot more narrowly, and it’s not because his performance isn’t as good, it’s because every part of this production is so top notch.
Harold Ramis, Annie Potts, Rick Moranis stealing scenes left and right, some of the best comedy around, apocalyptic stakes, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria! Everything about Ghostbusters feel so effortlessly charming and funny. It’s as though it was designed in a lab to be the perfect four quadrant film.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): N/A
Appreciation (Construction): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. Some of the effects are of their time but it’s rare to get a summer blockbuster comedy on this scale.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. That library ghost and those dogs are still pretty scary.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): EXTRAORDINARY. “I’m gonna take a shower!”
31. The Untouchables
Every time I’m 45 minutes into The Untouchables I’m like “Why is this one of my favourite movies again?” By the time the credits roll I’m like “Oh, right.” The first part of The Untouchables takes a bit of time to get all of its major characters and plot threads into place, but when that’s through we get a long string of incredible Sequences. Capital S Sequences with their own little internal arcs that play like their own little amazing short films within the larger body of The Untouchables. You could watch most any clip from this movie on YouTube without context and enjoy it fully, but string them together and it’s hard to find a more entertaining film.
How good a job does Brian De Palma do with The Untouchables? The last half hour is centered on Kevin Costner and it’s the best part of the movie. Kevin Costner, the same guy who starred in Dances With Wolves. (Oh wait, that movie won Best Picture? I’m the only one who hates it? Hmm.) Kevin Costner, the same guy who starred in The Postman. (Oh wait, that movie’s so bad no one even remembers it? Well shit.) Point is, I don’t like this era of Kevin Costner, I think he’s mainly just a vessel that carries a nice suit around. The third act of The Untouchables becomes a vehicle for him and even I have to admit how good it is.
The number of living legends converging on this pulpy remake of an old TV show is incredible. Brian De Palma I can usually take or leave, but there’s no denying his contributions to film and his approach is perfect for the movie. Aside from him you’ve got Sean Connery, Robert De Niro and Andy Garcia rounding out the cast. David Mamet putting out the kind of script in which every other line is destined to wind up on the “Memorable Quotes” page of IMDB. The legendary Ennio Morricone doing a score as grand as any you’ll ever find. There are moments of huge elation, spectacle, and tragedy. The Untouchables has it all.
Except women. The only actress with anything to do in the movie is Patricia Clarkson playing Elliot’s wife. Her credit at the end, hilariously, is just “Elliot’s Wife.” Brian De Palma can hunt down dozens of period appropriate cars and costumes in order to seamlessly recreate Chicago in the 1930s, but can’t take five seconds to come up with a name for Mrs. Ness?
Sure, we’ll end the review on that note. Why the hell not?
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A. Any resemblance to real life is coincidental.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. Pretty much just Charles Martin Smith.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. Also pretty much just Charles Martin Smith.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. A lot of screen legends doing, if not their best work, then their splashiest and most entertaining.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. If Chicago didn’t look like that in 1930 then far as I’m concerned that’s a problem with real life Chicago, not The Untouchables.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. Common pattern is for the first half of a sequence to have an agonizing build-up…
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. …followed by a joyous burst of action and excitement.