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I didn't always watch a lot of movies. But then last year of high school (around 2009), I watched Pulp Fiction, loved it, started really getting into Tarantino's films, and by and by ended up feverishly watching all manner of classic and essential movies I felt I ought to have seen already.
And as I've done so, I've been using IMDb to track and rate all the movies I watch. It's kind of ruined movies for me, as I can no longer watch a movie without thinking all the time I'm watching it what rating I'm gonna give it... but it's such a powerful tool and I love it all the same.
My general rule of thumb is, why watch the flavour du jour when there are so many established classics I've still yet to see? That said, a) I think there are plenty of great movies being made today, and as they're the most available films to me I do watch plenty of them, and b) it's become less and less the traditionally classic and essential films I really like to seek out; I've found my niche - or niches - in world cinema.
I have a most especial fondness for the golden age of Japanese cinema, and the films of the eccentric German director Werner Herzog. My favourite films are Ningen no joken, by Masaki Kobayashi, and Herz aus Glas, by Herzog. One is a 10-hour anti-war drama, the other is a weirdo 90-minute film for which the actors performed under hypnosis. Here is a list of all my most favourite films: http://www.imdb.com/list/Bw65XZIpkH8/. Unlike most lazy IMDb lists, I actually wrote words for it!
Werner Herzog, who is sort of my hero, says that 'film culture is not analysis, it is agitation of the mind'. I am with him on this 100%. I look straight at films, and I judge them for how they engage me, how they agitate my mind, whether they, as the very best of them do, provide me some kind of mysterious and unexplainable sense of illumination.
It is important to me most of all to remain subjective - not to be swayed too much by a film's overall reception; there is something like an integrity to my own opinions. There will be great movies I hate. And the films I like most sometimes tend to be more polarizing. I figure this is how you know I'm genuine.
Anyway, I tend to make the occasional enthusiastic post on the IMDb boards no one looks at for little-known films and filmmakers, or the occasional shy and reluctant post on the actually popular boards. So, uh, see you 'round? I guess?
Also, I only rate feature-length movies on IMDb - no TV shows or shorts (though I do count miniseries for some reason). But I guess I'll tell you some of my non-movie interests... My favourite TV show is The Venture Bros., my favourite album is Heaven Up Here by Echo & the Bunnymen, my favourite author is Philip K. Dick, and my favourite videogame is Killer7. So, uh, there you have it!
I've written comments for all of the films to try to explain what I like about them, to give the reader an idea about the films and why I'd recommend them, and to more effectively convey my tastes in general. And so of course comments and suggestions for films you think I'd like that I may not have seen are most welcome (but keep in mind obviously, this is my list, and there is no such thing as a film that "must" be included to "legitimize" the list, or any of that nonsense).
This list is in order of preference, but, you know, a lot of them are pretty interchangeable, and I change the order of all of them all the time, and I'd still be hard-pressed to explain why any one film has the edge over the film below it. What matters is: all of these films are amazing!
Latest Addition: Memories of Murder (2003)
These are actors I like enough that they can be significant influencing factors in my decision to watch a movie - whereas I usually go by the film's reputation and director.
I've tried to be incredibly selective about what films make this list and I've got a good one film per director thing going on at the moment, but feel free to suggest any movies that you think are worthy of this list - I'd love to see more movies as beautiful as these, especially ones that are as heavily stylized as the #1 film on here.
Zatôichi to Yôjinbô (1970)
Zatoichi Meets Mifune
In making my way through the Zatoichi films, I was both trepidatious and excited to arrive at 'Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo'. On the one hand I was worried, once we get into the crossover films, that's a sign they're starting to run out of ideas. On the other hand, how can you go wrong with a film that unites Katsu and Mifune? It's also directed by Kihachi Okamoto (The Sword of Doom, Kill!), the only real name director the series has had besides Misumi. And besides, after nineteen instalments there has yet to be one I thought was less than great; the series hasn't shown any sign of slowing down yet.
Alas, though, I think this is the first Zatoichi film I thought was merely 'good'.
The movie sees Zatoichi returning to his home town, a town that looks very similar to the one in Yojimbo, and here he meets the titular bodyguard. For a while at the beginning I was trying to figure out if this was in fact supposed to be the town from Yojimbo, if the old man in this movie was supposed to be the same old man from that film, and just what the hell Mifune's yojimbo was doing still there considering the ending of that film. Mifune's character also seemed quite different from his character in that film, despite some surface similarities; here he plays kind of a drunken bastard. I soon realized, the best way to approach this film is, it's a different town, and Mifune plays a different character: it's just another Zatoichi adventure, with no connection to Kurosawa's film save a few nods here and there.
Really, this is what I was hoping for. Those less familiar with Zatoichi may have been hoping for a true crossover that takes place as much in the Yojimbo universe as the Zatoichi universe, but in the context of the Zatoichi series, this wouldn't feel right. But even just as a regular Zatoichi flick, I was still slightly disappointed in this effort. At nearly two hours this is, I believe, the longest Zatoichi film, but it just lacks the storytelling economy that makes the other entries so enjoyable; this one seems over-complicated and uncompelling by comparison.
Further, there were other little things that bothered me about this movie. Katsu seemed less competent than usual struggling with normal stairs, and apparently unable to gauge the distance of a sound... This film continues the trend of the last few entries towards a darker side of the character, but Zatoichi's aspiration to becoming a 'villain', and simultaneous contempt towards 'spies' just seemed kind of random. And as much as I love Mifune, his performance here really didn't impress me.
There are good points to the film though. It's one of the more visually stunning entries in the Zatoichi series, with some beautiful sequences. And the finale is quite satisfying (even if it borrows a bit too blatantly from Treasure of the Sierra Madre). It's a solid film, but considering the talent involved, it could have been something really special, and instead it gets my vote as the weakest entry in the series so far.
Hokusai manga (1981)
Eccentric Portrait of an Eccentric Artist
I first noticed this film amongst the more popular Japanese films on Hulu, but I didn't pay much mind to it, cause I figured I could guess how it got there (being titled "Edo Porn" and all). But when I realized that this was a film by Kaneto Shindô (Onibaba, Kuroneko, The Naked Island), I couldn't pass up a chance to watch another one of his films.
This film is a portrait of the Japanese artist Hokusai, who I knew nothing about going in, but whom this film has piqued my interest in. He created the famous "Great Wave off Kanagawa". Apparently, he also created what could probably be considered the earliest example of tentacle porn. The sequence in the film where he draws that is... amazing.
This film starts off a generally well-made, albeit somewhat odd biopic of an eccentric man. In the last act however... I can understand the criticisms. There's a lot of Hokusai and his friend stumbling around the actors in unconvincing 90-year-old man makeup doing their best half- crazy half-senile old man impressions. There's a lot of Hokusai talking to himself about death. Things get really strange, but I have to admit, that's kind of what I love about this film.
In a strange way, I think this is a good companion film to Kenji Mizoguchi's "Utamaro and His Five Women". That film is also about a famous Japanese woodblock printmaker of the same era, Utamaro, who is mentioned and briefly appears in "Edo Porn" as something of a rival of Hokusai. Made 35 years earlier, it's a completely different style of film, but, y'know, they're completely different styles of artists.
Excellent (Very) Early Kobayashi Film
Masaki Kobayashi's first couple films, this and his 45-minute debut "Youth of the Son", were highly influenced by Kobayashi's mentor, Keisuke Kinoshita, who supervised the whole production of "Youth of the Son" and who wrote the screenplay for this film, "Sincere Heart". Kinoshita's films, as I understand, were more sentimental, and that shows in these films. But already with this one, I see Kobayashi starting to come into his own.
"Youth of the Son" was a cute film. It's such an overly joyous affair, it's so corny, that I should have found it cringe-worthy, but I have to admit, it made me smile. It has a similar appeal to that of an Ozu film such as "Good Morning" (and even features favourite Ozu actor Chishû Ryû), but sillier, and not quite on that level of quality. Still, it was a good film. There was just nothing in it that I recognized as Kobayashi. It lacked an edge. It was too benign. There was no angst!
"Sincere Heart" is quite a bit more interesting. The same baby-faced lead actor from "Youth of the Son" is back Akira Ishihama, who I did not realize until afterwards was Motome Chijiiwa in "Harakiri" (!) and for much of the film, "Sincere Heart" feels very much like "Youth of the Son". But then, in the second half, the film reveals its edge. There's a certain cynicism in the film, about class differences, and in this I recognize Kobayashi. But the film is still sentimental, its Kinoshita influence is still strong, and the result of this hybridization of styles is quite an effective little tearjerker.
The film is not as good as Kobayashi's masterpieces "The Human Condition", "Harakiri", "Kwaidan" or "Samurai Rebellion", nor is it the best of his less widely-seen works, but it's an excellent early film that deserves to be seen by more people.
Vampire's Kiss (1988)
The Funniest Movie I've Ever Seen A Masterpiece of Comedy Cage at His Very Best and Craziest
HOLY CRAP this is the funniest movie I've ever seen! Nicolas Cage, who I already knew as easily the greatest actor working today (if you have a problem with this statement, we'll talk, you will see that it is objectively insane not to hold this belief), is unbelievably amazing. I thought he was crazy in some of his other films, like Bad Lieutenant and Matchstick Men, but that was nothing. By comparison to Vampire's Kiss, his acting in those films was understated. THIS is Cage unhinged. It is INCREDIBLE. I would say that about 95% of the time he was on-screen (or so), I was laughing. This movie had me literally rolling on the floor. Throughout.
At the time of this writing, this film holds a 5.5 rating on IMDb; are you kidding me? I was expecting with this film to like Cage in the context of a bad movie. Instead, I immediately (from about the time when the bat flies in the window), recognized it as a brilliant parody of bad movies - like Nicolas Cage was playing like he was a bad actor in a bad movie, but exaggerated in such a self-conscious and pitch-perfect way that it doesn't itself become one of the bad movies it's parodying.
But as the film goes on, it becomes so much more even than that! It is such a violently maniacal parody of the whole vampire craze that it's not only masterful as a spoof it becomes easily the best thing to do with vampires at all that I've ever seen! Some people use the term "so bad it's good" for films like this, but I'm beginning to think I have some kind of defect where I can't differentiate "so bad it's good" from just regular "good". If I genuinely enjoy something, how can it be bad? Okay, I can sort of get it with something like "C.H.U.D.", which I slightly enjoy for its campiness even though it's not actually that good. But THIS, no. THIS is a genuine masterpiece of comedy.
The Wicker Man (2006)
So I watched the original "The Wicker Man" the night before, in preparation for the Cage version. And in watching the new one I am left with the impression that the filmmakers wanted to make a parody, but, parodies of 30+ year old movies having as they do, rather limited audiences, they masqueraded it as a remake, to get it produced.
The end result is somewhere in between a parody and a remake, and it's pretty weird. The audience for this film is probably even tinier those expecting a remake will be disappointed by a slew weird changes from the original film, and those who haven't seen the original will probably find it to be an incoherent mess. But with the original fresh in mind and having no especial fondness for it, I found the remake highly entertaining. And as a vehicle for Cage to do what he does best, that is, go a little bit crazy, this film is ideal.
Take for example a scene early in the film where Cage visits a school classroom. The scene is ripped directly from the original film, but exaggerated and made funny. "Phallic symbol, phallic symbol" chant the children, as if quoting the original film, and stripping it of context and meaning. Then there's the crow in the desk. And then there's Cage's dramatic point at the empty desk. All of these moments are funny if you remember the original. The teacher's slip of the tongue in this scene is particularly funny, because you realize that she's just revealed something the film wasn't supposed to reveal yet but the dramatic tension isn't lost because having seen the original you already knew what was going to happen.
From there it gets worse if you've not seen the original. The whole pagan thing is never actually explained and instead there's this weird women vs. men thing going on. On reflection I have no idea what the point of the beginning was. Other important details that made the narrative of the original cohesive are brushed over. And there's an added twist to the original twist ending that obviously doesn't make sense. Good film.
Hadaka no shima (1960)
It is what it is. Maybe more.
I just watched this film and feel strangely compelled to describe my experience with it.
This is a film with no dialogue, and, for the great majority of it, nothing resembling a plot. It's about a family of farmers, whose lives are pretty much so routine that they don't have anything to say to one another. We observe their routines.
Since so little happens, and it's not incredibly engaging, my mind wandered a lot. But I didn't think about other things; I was never bored. I thought a lot about the movie.
Mostly at first I thought about why the movie didn't work. The no dialogue thing pretty much ensures that nothing happens that's interesting enough for the characters to talk about. And I felt like I more than got the point after twenty minutes - how is this going to go on for another 80? Later I pondered what the modern equivalent to the film would be. Someone going to an office building, nodding to the doorman, and then staring at a computer screen for the rest of the film, before going home and barely acknowledging his family? I wondered if that's any better a life.
As the film went on, and it showed more and more aspects and finer details in the farmer's lives, I realized that Shindo must have experience in this lifestyle; probably the film is at least semi- autobiographical, and one of the children is based on him. And it's nice to have this film to document this kind of now-obsolete lifestyle. Certainly I'd much rather have this film, with its great music and cinematography and acting, than some lame cinema verité-style documentary with interviews and crap. But still I did not think it was a good film. I couldn't fault it though. It just is what it is. An ode to that sort of lifestyle, which no longer really exists in that form.
Anyway, in the last quarter of the film, a traditional plot element does come up, and it is engaging and great. The characters even have things to say, though the film cuts away before they talk - we knew what they were going to say; the visuals speak for themselves. And the ending works because the first three quarters of the film were what they were. And I can't help but like the film after all. I still don't think it's great. I think something like, for example, Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff is far more powerful.
It is slow and certainly not for everyone, and it takes social realism to a bit of an extreme - so don't expect something greatly stylized and fanciful like Kuroneko or Onibaba (although, in a way, the extremeness is stylization in itself. Also, both The Naked Island and Onibaba have similarly memorable senses of place, I found) - but in a unique way it's pretty good. It was certainly worth my giving it a look anyway.
Edit: Though I haven't seen the film again, nearly a year later it still sticks in my head. And I've bumped up my score by a point. There are times when I'm in the mood for a silent film something free of the harshness of sound and dialogue just music and images. But even silent films contain words, action sequences, the occasional harsh sound effect... and in a way The Naked Island is better than any silent film, when I'm looking for the ultimate mellow film experience. It is beautiful and emotionally involving it puts me in a state of reverie without ever trying to shake me out of it. I think I love it. I must see it again, to find out.