Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The HoG25: The Best 25 Movies of the Past 25 Years (Part Two)

Time now, boys and girls, to examine the top 10 films of the last 25 years. If you made it through installment one if this piece, then you deserve a Coke and a smile. And if you take that honor, and chug through today's, well, you deserve some popcorn, too. They're there, waitin' for you, after the jump.

10. Anchorman

It seems silly to write about the impact or deep sociological meaning of a goofy movie filled with poop and boner jokes. So I’ll instead wonder why funny people have such a short shelf life.

Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Bill Cosby were the funniest people alive when I was a little kid, but they all became less funny the older I got. These guys started in stand-up but matriculated to film and TV careers, and although Pryor had a few funny movie roles and Bill Cosby made a seminal sitcom, they petered out when it came to making people laugh.

Eddie Murphy then became the funniest guy in the world, and he actually made a few great movies, but then he had kids and started filming crappy family movies (same thing happened to Ice Cube). Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, all these guys were uproarious for a few years but faded. Please be clear that I’m talking about their work as actors, not stand-up comics. Totally different sports.

Dane Cook, as we’ve all agreed,

was never funny or good at anything.

Which brings us to Adam Sandler, who was the king of movie comedies in the 90s, and Will Ferrell, who’s taken the title in this decade. Both of these guys killed it for a few years and then sucked. Sucked hard. We all kept going to their shitty movies, hoping they’d rekindle a little Billy Madison or Ron Burgundy for us, but no, instead we paid nine dollars to see some figure-skating abortion. Fuck that.

The funniest movie I’ve seen since Anchorman was The Hangover, which doesn’t really solve our dilemma. It was directed by Todd Phillips, who also made Starsky & Hutch and School For Scoundrels -— neither of those were very good. Phillips did make Old School, which was great, but he seems spotty. The Hangover had a pretty ragged cast, most notably Andy from The Office and Zach Galifianikis, who’s gut-bustingly funny but will not become the next Will Ferrell.

Judd Apatow has had a hand in a nice little run of funny movies, but I think he’s done.

Basically, we’re all waiting for a comedy Jesus to be born unto us and lead us to the promised land of laffs. I just hope he gets here soon, before I’m bored one night and I’m forced to rent "Land Of The Lost."

9. The Hudsucker Proxy

"The Hudsucker Proxy" is probably not the “best” Coen brothers movie -— that title would likely be awarded to "Barton Fink," maybe, or "Blood Simple" or "Fargo" (as much as I love "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," it doesn’t make their top 3). But it’s indisputably my favorite. It is, like so much of their work, a period piece; and, like so much of their work, the period in question (’50s Wall Street) has been stylized and idealized and fantasized so thoroughly that it bears only a tangential connection to reality.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, because the real world of mid-20th century corporate America was a pile of depressing turd biscuits, and Proxy is pure oddball whimsy. It features one of Paul Newman’s most understated roles, that of the malevolent CEO manipulating Tim Robbins’ starry-eyed rube, and Jennifer Jason Leigh is just criminally hot as the iconic tough-talking reporter with a heart of gold. The mail room scene is a classic -- “if you forget your number, THEY DOCK YA!” —and Coen veteran Steve Buscemi makes a scene-stealing cameo as a beatnik bartender (that’s actually how’s he’s credited). There’s also a fight between good and evil janitors. This is one of the rare films that I will watch start to finish any time I see it on cable -— and unlike, say, "The Thing," it’s almost never cut to shreds.

Possibly because it was, you know, for kids.

8. The Usual Suspects

Is it possible to do this film justice in such a short space? Doubtful. The perfect rug-pulled-out-from-under-you¬-at-the-final-act thriller, larded with fine performances by Chazz Palminteri, Gabriel Byrne and especially Kevin Spacey, was easily the equal of any such movie in my memory.

Like Keyser Soze, the movie’s famous villain, the script is pure genius because it successfully pulls off a daylight bit of sleight-of-hand: you don’t see the cards until the final seconds, when everything snaps into place so perfectly that you feel practically pained you didn’t see it coming. Well, maybe you did, but I sure didn’t. Ninety percent of the thing is a red herring, and that’s tough to pull off over the course of a full-length feature.

The dialogue is also memorable. “How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss?” “He was dead just long enough for the murder rap to blow over. And then he had lunch.” And, of course, “Keaton always said, "’I don't believe in God, but I'm afraid of him.’ Well, I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.” Spacey’s rambling turn as the supposed weakling Roger “Verbal” Kint was the gig that put him on the map and brought him the later Oscar-bait, but he was never better in any of those movies than he was here. M. Night Shymalan looks at this movie, wipes away a tear and wonders why he sucks so badly.

Old No. 7: Everyone loves a movie that has a shocking, you-never-saw-it-coming twist, but I think it’s a real sign of quality when you watch the movie again, you know the twist is there, and you still love it. I also think the 250-word minimum we’ve created for these entries is a kind of fucked with movies —-should I review a movie like "The Usual Suspects," which everyone has seen? Should I talk about how it made me feel, or the point I was at when I first saw it, who I was dating, what my diet consisted of? I think that’s all kind of pointless. I can rattle on about a quarterback or a second baseman or an incompetent coach or broadcaster all day. Writing about movies is tough, especially 15-year-old ones. Which is why I work for a blog whose rough focus is the rivalry between two NFL teams, not costume design.

Here’s a fun fact: the key grip and best boy are part of a hierarchy of technicians who work on movie lighting. That’s all I got.

7. Fight Club

Old No. 7:
The House of Georges is no place for weepy introspection or in-depth study of societal norms. We publish stolen photographs of scantily clad whores and fake conversations with Mike Cox. "Fight Club" is important, however, on a level that goes beyond simply being an enjoyable movie. It speaks to what it means to be a man.

Face it, we’ve turned into a nation of pussies. We are more concerned with finding our favorite flavor of coffee drink than we are with knowing how to survive in the woods. We don’t change our own oil, and we hire foreigners to fix and build things that men should fix and build themselves.

It would behoove us all to get our ass kicked once in a while, to experience something not through an electronic device but through blood and gristle and missing teeth. I’m not saying we should be violent just for the sake of being violent but, actually that’s exactly what I’m saying. Men are different from women. We are the hunters, and while there’s nothing wrong with picking up some cooking skills, helping around the house and being polite we should remember our caveman roots.

This innate Cro-Magnon thuggery is a big reason we watch sports —- not the winning and losing so much as the game within the game. We are not allowed to plunk our opponents with 95 mph fastballs, but we love it when our pitchers do. We can’t decapitate receivers coming over the middle, bury another driver into the wall or drop the gloves at center ice in real life, so we ask our athletes to do it for us, to satisfy our bloodlust.

Basically what I’m saying is that Phil Sims is a giant pussy.

Bankmeister: No place for weepy introspection or in-depth study of societal norms? Christ. My TPS-report memos are always offline.

6. No Country For Old Men

Old No. 7:
I think the hardest thing about making a movie is ending it. How many times have you been watching something good that just derails at the conclusion? It’s really difficult—you have two hours to introduce characters and a plot line, get us the viewers to care about the little imaginary world you’ve created, and then wrap it all up in a tidy fashion. Most movies can’t do this.

I’ve heard many opinions about the ending of No Country, either people hated its abrupt and mysterious finality or loved its method of feeding the viewer’s imagination. Place me squarely in the second camp.

It’s painful how brilliant this movie is—the brutality of its characters and West Texas landscape just rips your guts out. There is not a single note of music, no soundtrack or score, a huge risk taken by the Coens but a perfect background to a nearly perfect movie.

Bankmeister: I've seen the best movie ever about 600 times. Then the ending ruined it and it became the worst. That feeling always stays with me, too. But not, here. A few days after seeing it, I got it. That's the brilliance of Cormac McCarthy's writing. I wasn't bummed that it ended abruptly or mysteriously, but I wanted that fucker to have his heart ripped out Temple-of-Doom style. That he survives while good is defeated puts a bowtie on the story's motif: a morally barren world.

5. Silence of the Lambs

Old No. 7
: I don’t like horror movies. It’s not that they’re too scary, just that they’re usually not very good. I thought the first couple "Saw"s were OK, and I love the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," but I never understood what folks got out of all the "Halloween"s or "Friday The 13th"s or what not.

That being said, "Silence Of The Lambs" is the best horror movie ever made. We celebrate serial killers too much in this country, romanticizing every deranged idiot and turning him into Hannibal Lecter. Mass murderers are typically not brilliant and engaging, they’re sick, fucked-up losers. But this movie gives you the good kind of nightmares.

Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster both have reputations as great actors, mostly on the strength of this movie. But look at their careers, they’re both pretty pedestrian. Hopkins is a clumsy old curmudgeon, and Foster simply can’t act. She’s horrible. But just like Dennis Rodman was effective when he played with Jordan, Pippen and Phil Jackson, Hopkins and Foster shine here under the direction of Jonathan Demme.

Bankmeister: a) In order to deal with the horribleness of Jodie Foster, I expected a solid four minutes of a naked her getting plowed. Didn’t happen. Movie blew. b) Scottie Pippen is the NBA’s Phil Simms, a giant, overrated pussy.

4. Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee has disappointed me plenty. I went through a period a few years back where, if I saw he had a new movie in the movie-houses, I’d make it a destination. And what did it get me? Fucking “Summer of Sam” and “He Got Game,” which remains one of the most cringe-inducing films I’ve ever seen. But I kept on doing it, because I kept on thinking that one of these days, he’d make a movie that was as powerful as "Do the Right Thing."

It’s a simple concept, as so many great movies are. One hot summer day in the ghetto, everyone is feeling that summer irritability, one innocuous comment -— “hey Sal, how come ain’t no brothers on your wall?” -— sets off a tornado of recrimination, racism and violence. The characters aren’t exactly deep as much as they’re symbolic, but in the context of the movie it makes perfect sense: Da Mayor, identifying a broken-down, beaten-down generation that still has its pride; Buggin’ Out, representing a nascent political consciousness that his peers don’t really want to embrace; Radio Raheem, rocking the PE on the boombox and not saying much until it’s time to break some fools, and then, tragically, getting broken himself.

It’s as powerful a cinematic discussion of race as has been made. Plus, it features Rosie Perez’s boobs.

3. Reservoir Dogs

To my mind, this movie is the purest distillation of Tarantino’s style: his endless filmic homages and his T.S. Eliot -- like footnoting of influences hadn’t grown so blatant as they would be in "Kill Bill 1" & "2" (both of which should have come with a reference book), or even "Pulp Fiction." Not that "Dogs" wasn’t similarly shaped by the Asian and European gangster reels which form artistic backbone of the man’s oeuvre -— or Rashomon, which gives the whole thing its structure -- it just doesn’t telegraph those influences—which makes for a taut, throat-punch of a movie.

Tim Roth, who would become one of QT’s regulars in the way that Charles Durning has for the Coen brothers or Eugene Levy has for Christopher Guest, is at his twitchy best as the injured undercover cop whom Harvey Keitel’s character is trying desperately to save, and Michael Madsen’s empty-eyed Mr. White stands with the most memorable thugs in the filmdom —- go ahead and watch the de-earing of the cop and try to not flinch, I still can’t, even after all these years. This was also the movie that introduced the world to Steve Buscemi, and for that alone it deserves a place on the mantel. “Why do I have to be Mr. Pink?”

Tarantino actually let his actors control this film rather than directing it to death; he’d do well to remember how well it worked for him the first time."

2. Pulp Fiction

“Pulp Fiction” changed everything. It took the peculiarities of “Reservoir Dogs,” stretched the impossible into believable, and upped the human being requirement of intelligent badassness. While not quite as quotable as “Friday,” or brutal as “Dogs,” it was hipper, funner, inclusive of sex appeal, and the outright bizarre. Mention must be made of the use of time. Before “Pulp,” directors and the like had been toying with the manipulation of it for about a few years. Tarantino’s uppance of the par, however, was executed with a shrewdness preceded by none. The same should be said about dialogue. The conversations that occur are so loosely detached from the clearly attached pieces of action and plot, that an interesting level of absurdity mixed with sheer genius, an idea never before done and done so well. To talk of Royales with Cheese and foot massages for other men’s wives while en route to shoot up some white boys is, well, it’s insane, in an awesome way.

One must give John Travolta and Uma Thurman their due for delivering their roles with such craft, but let’s face it: This film ain’t anything more than another day at the office without Samuel L. Jackson, the one with the wallet “that says Bad Motherfucker.” His protection of the case in the diner robbery scene -– “We still cool Yolanda?” –- his repeated asking –- “Say what again!” of the aforementioned white boys: “What does Marcellus Wallace look like?” his wardrobe, his stunning Jheri curl, and his simply complex presence commanded every audience member’s respect and attention in a fresher, newer way that Hollywood had never known.

The piece is an outright gem from to finish. Every last tidbit was entertaining, thrilling, funny –- “Prank caller, prank caller!” –- and suspenseful. I can scarcely imagine a film in the last 25 years that has demanded, and rightfully so, the attention it got, the instant-classic status it deserved, especially in an age where far too many flicks are being dubbed as classics when so very few actually are. “Pulp Fiction” is an epic display of what an incredible film-making mind should consider and produce. The Iron Triangle has spoken, and if you are not in agreeance, we will hasten to wake up the gimp, especially for you and your incorrect opines.

1. Goodfellas

Old No. 7:
There’s no doubt that the Mafia genre has been the most consistently compelling of my lifetime. The first two "Godfather"s and "Scarface" are true classics that were made before our 25-year window. The Sopranos was an epic that we’ll hit when we get to our Top 25 television shows. And although there have been some shitty Mob movies, it’s pretty remarkable how good most have been -— think "Donnie Brasco," "A Bronx Tale," "The Departed," "Road To Perdition," "The Untouchables," "Casino," "Carlito’s Way" and "Miller’s Crossing." Beyond that you can add movies that, like "Scarface," aren’t strictly based on La Cosa Nostra but still have the same themes of lawlessness and kickassery, like "Heat," "The Dark Knight" and all of Tarantino’s stuff.

Why is this format such a winner? I think it’s simple, guys relate to characters that do what they want. They go wherever they want, they fuck whomever they want, and if someone crosses them they either rough ‘em up or take ‘em out. Who among us hasn’t felt like whacking someone who pisses us off?

When I was younger it always used to bother me that the bad guys never won —- in almost every instance they were either killed or incarcerated. And that was fucking weak, because I pull for the bad guys. I hated seeing Henry Hill, Ray Liotta’s character, in witness protection at the end:

And that's the hardest part. Today everything is different; there's no action... have to wait around like everyone else. Can't even get decent food - right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I'm an average nobody... get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.

A schnook! That’s horrible! Henry Hill was a titan, and you’ve reduced him to schnookhood!

I think it’s a sign you’ve grown up a little when you watch a movie like "Goodfellas" and instead of being bummed when the gangsters go down, you’re relieved for the sake of society. Either that, or you’ve been bridled and broken by the oppressive forces of fatherhood, marriage and commerce.

And there you have it, folks. The 25. We hope no feelings were hurt in the consumption of this novella, and in case you're curious, there is an honorable mention list:

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
"Shawshank Redemption"
"Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"
"Saving Private Ryan"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
the "Bourne" trilogy
"Good Will Hunting"
"Thank You for Smoking"
"The Green Mile"
"Fargo, "and
"A Bronx Tale"

You, of course, precious reader, are required (and admired) to tell us your thoughts, a half-scroll below.


Hercules Rockefeller said...

Well done, fellas.

1. Do the Right Thing can lick my fuckin' balls.

2. I'd have Glory on there somewhere.

Cecil said...

We mentioned Glory but somehow it didn't make the final cut--although it was definitely at the edge of the Top 25 for all of us.

No Do the Right Thing, eh? The soundtrack makes it worthwhile alone. Another few we forgot/didn't necessarily love: 12 Monkeys, Toy Story (truly), Shakes the Clown, The Departed...

old no. 7 said...

Love Toy Story, and Toy Story 2 was hands down the best sequel since the second Godfather. It would have been nice to get something in from the Pixar bunch, they're right up there with the Coens in terms of consistent quality.

I think The Departed was phenomenal, but for me it just missed the cut because Jack Nicholson tried to sabotage that movie. Watch it again and tell me he isn't. Jack was never a great actor, but if you found the right role for him he could kill it because he's Jack. But his Frank Costello is horrid.

My just-missed, outside those two: Shawshank Redemption, Saving Private Ryan, The Fugitive, The Dark Knight, the Kill Bills, Glengarry Glen Ross, Old School, 300, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, Fargo, A Bronx Tale, Donnie Brasco, Tin Cup, The Hangover, Slumdog Millionaire, Heat, Full Metal Jacket, Wall Street, Braveheart, Gladiator, the Bournes, Traffic, Sideways, Tombstone, Snatch, Raising Arizona, Inside Man, Thank You For Smoking, Dazed & Confused, Point Break.

Cecil said...

Ah, Donnie Brasco. A great fucking movie. One of Pacino's best, and not coincidentally, one of the few where he doesn't relentlessly gnaw scenery.

Dylan said...

D Brasco is very good and Pacino is definitely a bit subdued in the flick. You can assign that to direction. Good(methinks.)
I assume "gnawing scenery" is camera-hogging or scene-stealing to a certain extent. If so, Al is definitely a true extrovert, only comfortable with all eyes upon him.

Anonymous said...

you guys totally fucked up the movie list. ice pirates wasn't on there anywhere.

Anonymous said...