Since our Head Writer, Douglas Davidson, got to share his #Fav7Films, Head Editor Crystal Davidson decided to share hers in a Part 2 recommendation list.
I enjoy playing hashtag games, whether on Twitter or Facebook. It only takes a few seconds to type out a response but, for the best games, it takes some pondering to decide on what that response will be. One of the more recent games, #Fav7Films, proved to be a mixed bag as the first slots were quickly filled and several other titles battled it out to make the cut. We all have a bunch of movies that we consider favorites and go on the list immediately. It’s when you get to the lower five or so that you have to decide what the ranking is: would I list Movie J above or below Movie H? Does it make the cut for the top seven or is it on the bottom of the Top 10 material? So, which seven movies do I love watching over and over again?
The Fifth Element
Written and directed by Luc Besson, this sci-fi film is packed with action, adventure, and humor. Corbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a cabby down to his last points on his license when he finds himself at the forefront of a journey to save Earth. It has everything: great music, clever writing, outstanding cast, and over-the-top sets and costumes. The soundtrack is as much of a mashing of styles as the film is and features an amazing musical performance by Maïwenn’s Diva Plavalaguna. The entire cast, including Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker, Tiny Lister, and so many more, delivers performances that absolutely nail each over-the-top character and produce near-perfect chemistry on-screen. The way the characters interact with and play off of each other is a large part of what makes this film so much fun. And the extreme costumes. If you ever wondered how they convinced Chris Tucker to wear a skin-tight leopard-print onesie with a collar up to his ears, there are two bits to share: 1) the role was originally offered to Prince and 2) the designers created even more outrageous outfits and showed those sketches to Tucker first so that he would agree to the more toned down, and originally intended, versions. It’s just another example of the genius that was pulled together to make this come together as well as it did.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
I am one of many who is irritated that Tarantino never released this as The Whole Bloody Affair (the official title of the tale when the two parts are shown together) here in the United States. However, releasing the two parts as separate films does make sense, not just for length, but for tone and pacing as well. Vol. 1 is a straight-up action-revenge flick where the intense nature of the story is reflective of The Bride (Uma Thurman) and how she feels at the early stages of her journey to seek revenge on her former lover, Bill (David Carradine). During these early stages of her roaring rampage, we watch The Bride encounter two of her former cohorts. The relationships they all once shared are evident by the conversations they have around their combat. One of my favorite parts of Vol. 1 is when Tarantino takes us from the massacre in the House of Blue Leaves to the intimate showdown outside in the snow-covered courtyard. The tone changes seamlessly between these two scenes, through visuals and score. Vol. 2 changes tone from Vol. 1 so much that it is its own movie. For the latter half of her revenge story, The Bride is well-traveled and well-worn from her previous adventure. Snow-covered cityscapes and indoor settings are traded for deserts; lots of sun and lots of sand. One of my favorite moments in Volume 2 happens during one of the few indoor scenes. When The Bride finally tracks down Bill, and just as with some of her previous encounters, they end up talking. Bill shoots her with a dart full of a truth serum and, while waiting for it to take effect, gives one of my favorite speeches on superheroes, specifically about Superman/Clark Kent. While some movie-goers are displeased with how the final fight goes down, I think it was perfect and one of the few ways that two warriors of this caliber, who were planning for this encounter for years, would finish things.
The Silence of the Lambs
This movie is nearly perfect. Jodi Foster’s performance as Clarice Sterling, a fledgling F.B.I. agent eager to prove herself, is simply unforgettable due to her ability to showcase the complex emotions of someone brave enough to be going after this line of work but also green enough to not have the confidence to know what to do in certain situations. She is able to portray how brave she walking into the area of the prison where Lecter is kept but also show how terrified she is as she passes cell after cell of prisoners before coming face to face with the notorious cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Her performance does get slightly overshadowed by Hopkins’s brilliant portrayal. Hopkins studied many criminals in preparation for his role and it shows. One character trait that he utilizes very well to trigger the viewer’s own fight or flight response in watching him is to not blink. We are used to people blinking at a regular pace in our daily lives. When someone blinks too much or too little, it triggers a physical response because your body knows that something is not right here. To continue the unease, director Jonathan Demme frames each shot so that the audience is in a character’s shoes, forcing the audience to see Lecter as Clarice sees him during their conversations where she tries to get his help on a seemingly unsolvable case, and vice versa. Having a known cannibal staring you in the face without batting an eye is more than a little unsettling no matter how thick the glass is between you. There are a few subplots that are handled well to keep the story moving and give depth to minor characters without distracting from the main mission. The music is haunting, the settings are unsettling, and the way the cat-and-mouse game toward the end is executed is powerful and, again, a testament to Foster’s acting ability.
If Kill Bill is my first love of Tarantino’s, then Reservoir Dogs is my second. This homage to heist and cop films is very straight forward and to the point. An undercover cop infiltrates a team of criminals pulled together for a heist. Something goes awry turning a quick in-and-out job into a shooting gallery, sending all of the players on the team scrambling to get to the safe house in one piece. Through Tarantino’s dialogue heavy scenes, the audience develops a connection with the members of this colorful gang of criminals outside of their criminal visages. Tarantino sits the audience at the table with the team, as if we are right in the middle of the conversation about tipping or helping the undercover cop rehearse his story over and over again until it’s pure memory and less tale. The fun part of this film is that even though the audience knows who’s undercover (Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange), we still don’t know what went wrong to cause the job to go as far south as it did. In true Tarantino fashion, there is a lot of blood, tons of dialogue, and plenty of subversive moments. One unexpected dance number from Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde is so disturbing you’ll never hear “Stuck in the Middle With You” the same way again.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
This one was already included in the first list, so I’ll simply say – “Heads”.
El orfanato (The Orphanage)
So many movies in the horror genre end up being more silly/funny than scary. This Spanish film, produced by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy/Pan’s Labyrinth) and directed by J.A. Bayona, takes its time to tell its story, resulting in a natural buildup of suspense as the audience takes part in solving the mystery of a boy’s sudden disappearance. There is one standout scene that cranks the creep factor way up without any of the Hollywood tricks audiences have become accustomed do, like jump-scares or intense prosthetics. A child’s game similar to red light/green light is being played by the lead character in an empty room. The shot uses a doorframe from another room to define our field of vision which allows for a slow and steady reveal that sends chills up your spine long after the scene is over.
Shaun of the Dead
Zombies have had a special place in my heart long before it was a fad (insert hipster joke here). Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead are two of my all-time favorite horror zombie flicks. However, the first comedy zombie flick to steal my heart was Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. This was my first introduction to Simon Pegg (Star Trek/Hot Fuzz) and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. The first entry into what is known as the Cornetto Trilogy after the ice cream treat referenced in each film, Shaun’s whole premise revolves around how an everyday Joe would try to survive without any kind of superhero rule coming into play. For example, Shaun (Pegg) and his best mate, Ed (Nick Frost), try to dispatch zombies using vinyl records but can’t quite throw them properly to get them to lodge in the brains of their shuffling foes. This film is full of laughs, including a musical sequence featuring Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” that involves a zombie being rhythmically beaten over the head in pace with the song.