Thursday, 24 April 2014

Dom's Top Eleven Favourite Movies : Part One

Top Eleven Favourite movies in the order they come to me as I look at my DVD collection

Part One

Sometimes I am accused of being slightly negative in my ramblings and rantings about movies. I can dig that, but I would counter that, well, I've seen some amount of overpraised shit in my time and I guess it pisses me off some.

However I thought, while I'm gearing up to do a bit of work on sequels in the next few weeks, I would put forward a fave-list of movies I have nothing negative to say about at all and would in fact unreservedly recommend.

Here then are the first five of my top eleven fave movies ( right now ). Why eleven? Fuck you, that's why.

Eastern Promises

Directed by  :  David Cronenberg

Starring : Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, other people who also act in it with their faces and mouths and stuff.

Plot : Investigating the death of a young mother to find a guardian for the girls new born baby, London nurse Naomi Watts becomes increasingly embroiled with the Russian Mafia Underground. Seeking help in translating the young girl's diary from a local restauranter – in reality one of the mafia bosses of the Vory V Zakone brotherhood, and someone who may know more about this girl than he is saying – she is shadowed by chauffeur and Mafia assassin Viggo Mortensen, who finds his loyalties tested as the world of violence he trades in threatens him at his own doorstep, and concepts of “family” are thrown to the fore.

Why? : Like a lot of people who study films, I find David Cronenberg a fascinating film maker to analyse. Cited for his fixation on “body-horror”, this description to me has always missed the point of his movies. I would describe him as a film maker with a “body-fascination”, be it through disease, sex, violence, or transformation. In this instance, the Russian Gangland brotherhood the Vory V Zakone's tattoo fetish proves one of the most memorable body-fascination moments, as a naked Viggo Mortensen displays his lifetime of experience through the tattoos on this body. There is also a rich theme of birth and rebirth running throughout the piece, centring overtly around the birth of the mystery as a new life is brought into this world, and subconsciously with the machinations of the brotherhood itself.

Most people tend to point to A History of Violence as being Cronenberg's most accessible film. I adore this movie, but I completely disagree. It has a fetish for graphic violence and a comic-book stylisation that I would suggest many average film-goers would be quickly turned off by, in particular in the characterisation and dialogue.

“Eastern Promises” on the other hand has quite a weak screenplay, really. It's narrative is almost Nancy Drew in it's woman-investigates bad people simplicity; it feels like what it is, a TV movie by a writer – Stephen Knight – who is far more comfortable writing small-screen pieces than cinema, where characters talk about themselves and their feelings quicker than revealing themselves through action.

BUT – it still works brilliantly, in no small part to the terrific acting from every cast member – Watts and Mortensen in particular, she brittle yet tenacious, he sleazy, violent, yet strangely sympathetic – and specifically down to Cronenberg's obsessive eye for detail, and ultimate distaste for the things these men do. He maintains a ferocious mood throughout the piece, constantly pointing the audience towards the threat of violence that only very rarely truly spills out ( see the much cited and rightly praised steam-room fight – vicious, raw, horrible, utterly compelling and as revealing of Mortensen's character as it is of his tally-
wacker ). As the true nastiness of these men creeps in from the corners of the story, we – like Watts – find ourselves disgusted yet compelled to delve deeper.

The true success of this movie is in allying our sympathies not only for Watts plight, but for Mortensen's, rewarding our sympathies with what on the surface might seem a trite conclusion, yet one which makes absolute sense and has far reaching resonance for the characters we've grown to trust across the running time.

One of my absolute faves, and one of David Cronenberg's true masterpieces.

Star Trek : The Motion Picture

Directed by : Robert Wise

Starring : The Cast of Star Trek, and some guy who went on to star in “7th Heaven”

Plot : An alien phenomenon of unprecedented size and power is approaching Earth, destroying everything in its path. The only starship in range is the USS Enterprise-- still in drydock after a major overhaul. As Captain Willard Decker readies his ship and his crew to face this menace, Admiral James T. Kirk arrives with orders to take command of the Enterprise and intercept the intruder. But it has been three years since Kirk last commanded the Enterprise on its historic five year mission... is he up to the task of saving the Earth? ( From IMDB )

Why? : Because, hands down it is just the best Star Trek movie there is. Eschewing the camp, action-film formula that every other movie stuck to after this failed miserably at the box office, “The Motion Picture” is a proper sci-fi movie that dares to ask big questions, yet still manages to be a Star Trek movie proper in its own right. The special fx for the main still stand up ( although Wise did consent to some new CG additions for its DVD/Laserdisc release a few moons ago ), the characters are properly developed and delved into, giving great justification for bringing both the characters and the franchise back, and the 2001-esque final moments thrill physically, intellectually and emotionally.

The best thing about this film is in the way it handles the aged cast. In much the same way as Clint Eastwood's latter day career has focussed in on his age, yet still dipped into his genre roots, “The Motion Picture” consistently reminds the cast AND the audience that this is not the youthful cast of the TV series. Both in it's more serious, even existential tone and in pitting the aging, experienced yet slightly bitter Kirk against the youthful, and possibly better-able Dekker, the film gives us a far darker conflict at its heart than any other Trek movie; it even dares to discuss death, the afterlife, and legacy in a fully adult manner – in the Star Trek franchise's first blockbuster foray.

Needless to say, it came out at the wrong time. Critics and audiences, still wowed by the bombast and simplistic fantasy bluster of “Star Wars” ( without whom it should be added, this film would never have received it's opportunity to exist ), despised this movie, which led – in much the same way as the critical drubbing Tarantino's best film “Jackie Brown” received, led to him popping his head up his own arse to create pop-culture reference movies with no substance – to the franchise disappearing into a black hole of camp explosions and lazy comedy at the expense of it's increasingly aged crew.

Yes, “Wrath of Khan” followed up on the age-crisis at the heart of “Motion Picture,” but with a sledgehammer unsubtly ( the Kobyashi Maru test anyone ? ) that remained not only for the Original Cast movies, but for every Star Trek movie beyond, referencing the characters age as though it were something to be laughed at, ignored, and ironically referenced, but never again challenged.

This is the living embodiement of the concept of original, and best.

Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me

Director : David Lynch

Starring : Most of the cast of the original TV series, Moira Kelly, and for some reason Chris Isaak.

Plot : Charting the last seven days of TV series kickstarter Laura Palmer, the film delves into the drug-addled despair of a prom-queen, and the possibly supernatural forces conspiring to abuse and ultimately murder her through spite.

Why? : Another flick that received a bizarre and unnecessary drubbing from pretty much everyone, this is David Lynch's best, most original, and darkest movie to date.

In reality, this film didn't stand a chance. Drubbed by critics and ignored by audiences, like “Star Trek The Motion Picture,” it simply hit at the wrong time. Twin Peaks had briefly been a phenomenon on the small screen, a dark, witty, weird and twisty murder-mystery tale that drew in millions of fanatical viewers ( myself included ) before shitting on them spectacularly during it's second season.

This is why the audience were simply not there for the film. No one cared anymore, except it seemed David Lynch. Lynch had been a critical darling, albeit briefly, for his Triple Slam of Awesome Movies (tm), "The Elephant Man," "Blue Velvet," and "Wild at Heart" ( we ignore "Dune" because everyone else does and with that logic in mind, it simply never happened ).

For some reason, despite – or retrospectively, perhaps because of – his returning to the by-then familiar Lynchian themes and imagery of the previous movies, which critics had pretty consistently jizzed over up to this point - sexual extremity, strobing lights, red lips on porcelain skin, undercurrents of almost operatic evil in otherwise placid people and places, and a twisted yet silly streak of humour – the critics turned unexpectedly and viciously rabid on this one.

It was a backlash, partly fuelled I suspect by the Twin Peaks brand name and the sheer brilliant cheek of setting it BEFORE the series began, rather than following it up as most TV-based movies do ( see the recent “Veronica Mars,” for example ) or spoofing it, in the manner of a “Brady Bunch” or the hideously awful “21 Jump Street.”

But the backlash ignored the facts in favour of some extremely emotive and smug French booing ( at Cannes, where it was roundly booed by idiots ).

Taken on it's own terms ( granted, hard to do given the pedigree ), this is an original, truly dark, deeply emotional movie, charting the headlong and speeding nosedive of a sexually pressurised, drug addicted, and possibly parentally abused teenage girl as she lingers over her last seven days alive, with the knowledge that her time is running out. Beautifully shot, paced, and acted this is a long movie – but necessarily so to allow for the slow-burn at its difficult heart. Sheryl Lee – looking somewhat older than the seventeen year old she portrays, it has to be said – and Ray Wise reprise their roles as daughter and slowly unwinding father Laura and Leland Palmer respectively, and give perfectly judged, raw, operatic performances. Wise in particular veers between heart-rending, as the father with a dark secret, and terrifying, as that dark secret itself unfolds.

Lynch never bettered the set-pieces and mood he created for this movie, though it informed every film he made after with it's left-field ( and it has to be said slightly misogynist ) sexuality, strobing imagery and darkly shadowed compositions that force the viewer to fear for what might lurk in the corners of the screen. Add to that a smoky, gorgeous score by Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti, and a weird series of cameos from the likes of David Bowie, Chris Isaak, Kiefer Sutherland, Lynch himself and a backwards talking Jurgen Prochnow, and this film is nigh-on perfect.

Boogie Nights

Directed by : Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring : Marky Mark, The Bandit, Don Cheadle, your one from Killing Her Softly, and a red-haired plank of wood.

Plot : Charting a reperatory company of porn performers and film makers across several decades, Boogie Nights zeroes in on literally-rising star Marky Mark, from his discovery, rise to fame in the hey-day of seventies porn-acceptance and inevitable fall from grace as the grubby and drug-fuelled eighties take over.

Why? : Because everything about this film is so completely off-kilter and yet so overwhelmingly perfect it's not even funny.

It's a masterpiece directed by a twenty-seven year old. It's a film that exclusively charts a group of pornographers yet treats them with according dignity, and rare bouts of almost patronly scorn. It wears every one of it's Scorcese, Tarantino and Spielberg influences on its sleeve yet somehow manages to seem thrillingly original. And you get to see Heather Graham full frontal, vagina and everything!

In its own way, “Boogie Nights” is a truly pornographic movie – not so much in its tasteful depiction of intercourse but in it's absolute indulgence in every single frame; the gliding, glorious long-take camerawork ( at one point hedonistically diving into a swimming pool to continue following its characters ), it's frank, sometimes affectionate and often harsh depiction of the reality of porn, and the effects it has on both male and female performers, it's overwhelming pace, it's decade-savvy jukebox soundtrack, and in the sheer number of characters it follows.
The acting is superlative ( with the exception of the truly wooden and inexpressive plank that is Julianne Moore ), with special mention going to Don Cheadle's constantly out-of-his depth performer for soliciting some of the best laughs and deepest pathos within the film.

Paul Thomas Anderson is a strange beast. He's been pretty much allowed do what he wants, which has resulted in some genuine cinematic gems ( “Magnolia” ), some odd-ball left-field experiments ( the wonderfully autistic “Punch Drunk Love” ), and latterly some truly head-scratching, pissy indulgence ( the wasted opportunity that was “The Master” a sort of okay movie with little to say and a very long running time in which not to say it. )

What's brilliant about him is that he divides audiences. But what's truly brilliant about this movie, is that it's the only film he's made that doesn't do that. Even my dad likes “Boogie Nights!” And he hated “Crimson Tide” for fuck sake.

It's a film with great heart, great wit, and befitting his then-age, a vibrancy and affection that has long disappeared from Anderson's increasingly bitter movies.


Directed by : Peter Mullen

Starring : Conor McCarron, Peter Mullen, and Gary Lewis

Plot : Set in working-class Glasgow through the seventies, “NEDS” ( Non-Educated-Delinquents ) follows the studious, overly-intelligent but increasingly emotionally destructive John McGill, a sponge for the violence he witnesses and ultimately involves himself in, inspired by the street-gangs of his Glasgow suburb, and his own alcoholic, weak but verbally abusive father.

Why? : Peter Mullen is one of those all-rounders you just want to hate. As an actor he is raw, angry, always empathetic, and although one could call him one-note, he plays that note clearly, and with enough variation to create melody.

As a writer and a director he has managed to perfect a blend of gritty, angry social realism with an almost whimsical, spiritual poetry.

The gruff-faced Scotch bastard has it all.

Mullen came to the fore in Ireland for tackling “The Magdalene Sisters” at a raw point in the country's history. Biting, angry, satirical, and oddly funny, it was a calling card for Mullen in more ways than one, setting out his stall from the off.

He busied himself taking acting roles in films as diverse as "War Horse," "Children of Men," and the excellent "Tyrannosaur," while searching for a personal project to follow. "NEDS" became that project.

And this is the film by which he should be measured. Up front I'll admit that I'm slightly biased, not only because I pretty much worship the ground Mullen walks on but because I grew up in Scotland across the Eighties and Nineties, and though never in the extremes presented by this movie, I was witness to that peculiarly Scottish form of petulant, give-all working-class violence this film describes.

With two, young first-time actors, Mullen charts five years or so of his main character John McGill's life, starting as a blushing, nervous, overweight twelve year old and slowly transforming into the vicious, knife-wielding thug seen in most of the promo material.

Right from the off Mullen surrounds McGill with male-perpetrated violence: the opening threats from the Secondary-School thug he exacts terrible revenge on at the height of his own violent awakening; the male teachers indifference, vanity, and of course their use of corporal punishment; the peers around him, talking tough, bantering one moment and beating the next; his older brother, a feared young leader in a thuggish gang, and the father who abuses his family, drunkenly screaming at his wife and terrifying his young daughter each night.

Dealing with the consequences of violence, all through this film we're left in no doubt who in society is to blame for the perpetuating of it, but what is special about this movie is that it also accepts that some people are simply more predisposed towards it than others. In this case, the frightened and retiring child that McGill once was, transforms horrifically into that vicious, alienated and angry thug. It suggests however that not only is the exterior influences that push him in this direction, but an interior conflict, a sociopathy that would largely be ignored in that environment.

Yet at no point do we lose sympathy with him, down both to Mullen's superb direction, and the naturalistic performance of first-timer Conor McCarron as the older McGill. Witness the moment he lazily realises he is no longer frightened of his father's violence, and watches the old man at the bottom of the stairs with, at first detachment, then pity, and finally violent resolve.

Mullen has drawn incredibly natural, almost documentary-like performances from the entire cast, adding to the grittily realistic feel of the movie. But McCarron stands out, especially in the last act as the world closes around him and topless – with two knives tied to his hands – he walks out into the burbs to lash out at the world and everyone in it.

As the film moves into it's final act, it becomes something very different. In fact, Mullen HAS come under flack, bizarrely, for betraying the social realism at the heart of his movie with a slow drift into poetical whimsy. He sometimes relies a little too heavilly on religious imagery but then, his story is set at the heart of Catholic Scotland. Based very loosely on Mullen's own upbringing, this film plays out as a fable, and one with a beautiful ending.

But the whimsy works because we're increasingly seeing the world from the point of view of McGill. At first we're scared for him and by the end, scared by him. Yet we do want to see the people who have pushed him to this point punished.

The greatest thing about this movie though? When we finally do, it fills us with dread and horror, and makes us realise that – generally speaking – we are ones who are not predisposed towards violence.

Powerful, biting, angry, funny, and ultimately uplifting. A word of warning though - along with the ugly violence portrayed in the movie, there is also unwavering commitment to that completely indistinguishable inner-city Glasgow accent. Subtitles may be required.

Okay, so that's a lot of reading and clicking on links and checking out awesome movies for one day!

Part Two will be finished in a day or so!

Leave comments, comparisons, denials and pictures of yourself naked if needs be!

Talk soon


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