As always, here is the group which didn’t quite cut it: Napoleon Dynamite is one which always makes me laugh, but there’s something so… desolate about it? The Passion Of The Christ is just a well made gore-fest, while Team America has dolls fucking. It’s not Meet The Feebles, but what is? The Terminal is one of my favourite underrated Spielberg movies, Dead Man’s Shoes is one of Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows’ best. Hellboy drops in and out of my Top Ten – it’s great fun, even if I don’t love it as much as some – probably because I’m not a huge comic book guy.
10: District 13 (France) Pierre Morel
Merging real life stunts with little or no string work or CG guff, and the parkour and martial arts skills of a talented cast, District 13 is one of the action movies I show people who claim to not like foreign movies. It blows them away, every time. It also has the benefit of having a simple plot which still pulls the viewer in to the world of an over-populated Paris ghetto. Over time, gangs take over the ghetto and the police stay out, leaving millions fighting and stealing and trying to survive. We follow an undercover cop and a brother trying to rescue his sister from one of the marauding gangs. It’s a story you’ve seen a hundred times, but it’s told at breakneck speed with likable faces. Yet, it’s the action which keeps you coming back, a world away from CG superheroes punching CG supervillains out of CG Skyscrapers.
9: A Very Long Engagement (France) Jean Pierre Jeunet
Jeunet, and Tautou’s follow-up to Amelie was always going to be an impossibility – that movie was universally loved. A Very Long Engagement is a very different story and film, a romance of sorts told with a larger cast over a number of years, against the backdrop of War. The visuals are what it has most in common with Amelie as it is one of the most delicious looking films of the era. Jeunet’s usual suspects show up, along with supporting turns from the likes of Jodie Foster and Marion Colliard in a film about undying love and hope in the face of hopeless odds and loveless tyranny.
8: R-Point (SK) Kong Su Chang
It’s still annyoing that so few people know about this film. Even plenty of my online pals who enjoy Asian horror haven’t seen it. I get that it may be a hard sell given its unusual approach and confusing plot, but if anything I liken it to something like Aliens, but with ghosts. It’s a war film with a supernatural bent, it’s like the twisted sister to Session 9, with a similar atmospheric setting. It hits a lot of my sweet notes, without giving too many spoilers away, but there may or may not be something funky going on with time, reality, madness, it has hardened soldiers going up against a mysterious foe, and it does give two shits about convention. Just go in knowing that it’s set during the Vietnam War as a group of soldiers respond to a distress call, and knowing that I’ve recommended it.
7: Shaun Of The Dead (UK/US/France) Edgar Wright
Is it Edgar Wright’s best movie? Probably. Plus it came out at just the right time, when zombie movies were suddenly popular and legitimate, but before they over-saturated the market. I was never the biggest Spaced fan but I knew Simon Pegg from plenty of other things and him and Nick’s laid-back everyman approach to the apocalypse, as well as the filmmakers obvious love for the genre made it a treasure trove for me. Great gags, kills, and plenty of hidden treats in the cast including the great Peter Serafinowicz and George Dawes. That’s right, Matt Lucas will always be the man with the scores, George Dawes, none of that Little Britain wank.
6: Spider-Man 2 (US) Sam Raimi
One of the finest examples of how to follow-up a successful debut and continue a franchise. Of course it all went horribly wrong in Part 3, but everything goes right with Spider-Man 2. It’s bigger and better than the first part, adds a terrific villain in Doc Oc, and all of the surviving players from the first film step it up here. It has everything I want in a blockbuster comic movie, with the added bonus of me actually giving a shit about what happens.
5: House Of Flying Daggers (China/HK) Zhang Yimou
Zhang Yimou had been making breathtaking movies for many years, but beyond Asian film fans like me and well traveled critics, his films were completely unknown in the west. Then Hero came along and made a lot of waves, presumably riding on the wave of success of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. That movie gave him a new status and fame across the globe and House Of Flying Daggers only spread that further. It’s an almost unbelievably beautiful film, spattered with energetic and exuberant martial arts set pieces. The use of colour, of music, puts most films to shame, and the lead trio of Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Zhang Ziyi have rarely been better. At its core it’s a love story, but in many respects the plot is irrelevant – it’s just one of the most beautiful sights to behold.
4: Saw (US) James Wan
Saw was released smack bang in the middle of ‘Torture Porn’ but while that often unfairly vilified, often admittedly vile sub-genre generally focused more on gore and effects, Saw is 100% concerned with plot and the viewer. It wants to trick the viewer and take us on a horrific, twisting journey. While the series would keep it’s increasingly nonsensical twists it would become ever more reliant on gore and unique kills and lose what made the first so special. The story is convoluted without being obtuse, it’s more of a thriller in a horrifying scenario than a straight horror, and it’s bolstered by a great cast. It introduces one of horror’s more engaging serial killers – Jigsaw – and for much of the running time we don’t know what his end-game is, beyond wanting to punish people through the lens of his twisted morality. The film becomes an overlapping game of wits and cat and mouse and we have several intertwining plots – the two men who wake up handcuffed in a room, with only a corpse and a saw between them. The cops hunting Jigsaw. A man holding a woman and child at gunpoint. These are spliced together with various flashbacks and scenes depicting other characters and victims of Jigsaw, and it’s all blended together seamlessly in a swift running time. I can’t say I love the MTV camera thrashing effects which the series is known for, but I’m used enough to those now that I don’t care anymore. For a film which is essentially an extension of one particular scene in Mad Max, it keeps the viewer guessing, and flinching throughout.
3: The Grudge (US) Takashi Shimizu
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I loved the Japanese Grudge (and to a lesser extent the prior TV versions), I loved Ringu. I didn’t like the US Remake The Ring and I therefore wasn’t overly hyped by The Grudge getting a US remake. Over time more promising details emerged – Grudge creator Takashi Shimizu would be directing, Sarah Michelle Gellar would be starring – suddenly I was hyped. Honestly, The Grudge is on par with the Japanese originals, going for a bigger budget, more bombastic version of the exact same story. Most of the original scenes and scares are in place, but what made those effective for me is that there are slight twists on what I expected – a jump scare from a different position or moment – all enough to give me a great time viewing it. Of course I saw this in a packed screening, and people were going nuts at the scares, especially when it was obvious they hadn’t been exposed to the originals.
2: Kill Bill Volume 2 (US) Quentin Tarantino
Volume 2 is distinctly different from Volume 1. Both are great, but both have completely different styles and tones – different enough that they can be enjoyed individually. This one is interesting because it is both a slower burner than the first film, but has the benefit of also racing towards a conclusion. We get more information on Bill and The Bride as individuals, as partners, and we dispense with much of the over the top stylized sequences of the first for a more introspective, near Western style flick. As you would expect, the cast and dialogue are uniformly great, it’s funny, insightful, it has a huge rewatchability for me, and it wraps up in a satisfying way.
1: Dawn Of The Dead (US) Zach Snyder
This one made it onto my Top Movies Of The Decade post, so go read my thoughts there.
Let us know in the comments which movies you would pick!