Of the more recent hashtag games to take over social media, #Fav7Films is both incredibly fun and daunting. As a lover of storytelling, I try to find the good in nearly every movie. There are few films I haven’t completed and less that I would put on a list of films I hate, so the concept of putting together a list of films I love was even more difficult. Give me a category like directors or actors – even genres – and I can give you a short list. General statements like ‘Seven Favorite Films’ give me the heebie-jeebies. Can’t do it. Too hard. Why? I love movies like Hook for the manic, yet innocent performance by Robin Williams. Not a great film, but Williams and Dustin Hoffman are fun to watch. Ever heard of The Meteor Man? Written and directed by actor/comedian Robert Townsend, it’s a clever twist on the superhero genre with a cast of nearly every R&B or Hip-Hop star of the early 1990s from Another Bad Creation to Big Daddy Kane. It’s great fun and the actors are top notch, but it’s not on any Oscar lists. So EOM took a different approach. Rather than thinking of the best films, we asked what seven movies would you want on a deserted island?
Leon: The Professional
The film that introduced me to multi-hyphenate Luc Besson, this 1994 action/drama centers on a hermit-like hit man, Leon, who stumbles into the cross-hairs of a corrupt cop after he takes a young girl under his protection. Though there has been a great deal of controversy around this film for the depiction between Jean Reno’s Leon and Natalie Portman’s Mathilda (her first feature film, by the way) for the way Leon begins to train Mathilda, but also for their budding romantic relationship. Don’t let such things keep you from a film that illustrates just what makes a Besson picture a unique adventure – operatic fight scenes that alternate between bombastic and quiet, an all-star cast that features Gary Oldman as the dirty cop, and a narrative that is as honest and surreal as it is heartbreaking.
This 1995 actioner is writer/director Robert Rodriquez’s second story in the El Mariachi series that serves as both a sequel to the original story and remakes it, but with a larger budget. Starring Antonio Banderas in the title role as the mysterious mariachi player, El Mariachi is a man out for blood and on the hunt for the drug dealer known as Bucho. As he cuts a path through Bucho’s men, he meets the local bookstore owner Carolina (Salma Hayek) and slowly begins to realize that his one-man crusade may cause more damage than good. If El Mariachi put Rodriquez on the map, Desperado is where he proved to be the real deal. His narrative is tight, the characters have purpose, and the comedy is executed perfectly to keep the drama from turning audiences dour.
Actor/comedian Denis Leary made a name for himself in the early 90s by taking the stage and ranting about the things that annoyed him. For his audience, it was a way to laugh at the things that bothered them. For the always angry Leary, it opened the door to the underrated dramedy The Ref. Featuring Leary as Gus, a burglar whose latest crime has him on the run from the cops at Christmas, The Ref allowed Leary to show off that underneath the frothing anger was a man capable of real dramatic depth. It helps, of course, that Leary is supported by Judy Davis (Barton Fink) and Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) as a couple Gus takes hostage whose deteriorating marriage seems to take over the dire situation they are in. Even now, this film is highly quotable and endures through time.
Army of Darkness
There is no better actor at embracing his B-level status than “The Man With The Chin”, Bruce Campbell. Though he made in bones in horror movies, he’s proved time and again that he can handle anything you throw at him. But no matter the level of success, Campbell will always be known as Ashley J. Williams – S-Mart employee, survivor, loudmouth braggart. In the third installment of director Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, Ashley finds himself thrust backward in time to fight the evil force he’s seemingly defeated twice already. With tongue thrust firmly in cheek, there is little to take seriously throughout Army of Darkness, but it’s insanely fun. The special FX are cheesy and the dialogues’ worse – plus Ashley himself is often hard to root for – yet it’s hard not to just roll with it all, even when Ashley sprouts an evil version of himself from his shoulder. Yep. His shoulder. No where near as dark and gloomy as the previous two Evil Dead films, Army of Darkness is all camp and you’ll be saying “hail to the king” every time you watch it.
The Boondock Saints
Say what you will about writer/director Troy Duffy, but he has crafted two films whose followers are legion. In 1999 Duffy first released The Boondock Saints, a story about the MacManus brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) who believe they are on a holy mission to rid the world of criminals. The premise sounds crazy – like a version of The Blues Brothers gone wrong – yet through an interesting mix of editing and compelling characterization, nothing feels unrealistic. Unfortunately, the timing of the release occurred around the shooting in Columbine, so the high-octane gun fights in The Boondock Saints seemed too inappropriate for theaters. Thankfully this film found a home on VHS and any viewer of the movie found themselves sharing it with anyone who would watch. In a story that seems shallow with the frequent free-for-all gun fights, the quiet dramatic moments show-off the heart that lies beneath. As you’ll discover, ultimately, The Boondock Saints is a story about family, redemption, and the lengths people are willing to go to do what’s right.
Elmore Leonard fans (Justified/Out of Sight/Be Cool/) women should never be underestimated, the hero is always quick with a word, and the villains manage to more vicious than they are smart. In the 1995 Barry Sonnenfeld-directed adaptation of Leonard’s novel, loan shark Chili Palmer (John Travolta) heads to Hollywood to collect on money owed to his boss and finds himself embroiled in a director Harry Zimm’s (Gene Hackman) own loan-related troubles. This film has everything you could want: a charming black-hat hero, compelling opposition (Dennis Farina’s Ray Barboni on one side and Delroy Lindo’s Bo Catlett on the other), a capable female lead(Rene Russo as Karen Flores), and more surprises than you’d think possible. Granted, I love movies about making movies, especially when the cast is top notch (Danny DeVito, James Gandolfini, and Harvey Keitel – to name a few), but Leonard’s writing zips, the characters are fully-formed, and you never know who is being above board. A story about a loan shark shouldn’t make you giddy and yet, somehow, Get Shorty full of nothing but giggles.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a dour tale of a young man’s quest for revenge at the expense of his sanity and a great many lives. In fact, two lives Hamlet takes in an effort to save his own are those of childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They’re barely in the play long enough to be introduced before they are brutally murdered off-stage when Hamlet has them executed in his place. There’s not much comedy here, yet Tom Stoppard manages to find some in the 1990 film featuring Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz and Tim Roth as Guildenstern that places these two minor characters as the heroes in a story that seems to neverendingly revolve around them. This is, in fact, the most ingenious part of the film – the two characters, through the process of their journey – seem to come to grips with their inevitable fate, yet are forced to live it over and again as they forget their purpose. Each time they come to the realization that they are but players in a greater story, the thought fades and they seem to just ride the narrative only to struggle with the purpose later when cogitative thought begins to function again. It’s heady stuff, yet Stoppard’s approach is never dull as it asks existential questions about the characters themselves, while also asking the audience to examine themselves. Probably only a film Shakespeare fans will endure, though there is a little something for everyone.