2001, Baybee! I had left school and started University and the world was my oyster – sitting mouth agape and waiting to be scraped asunder. As always, lets get the almosts out of the way: Brotherhood of The Wolf was the first Christophe Gans movie I ever saw. On my way to and from University in those days, the city centre HMV would always have 2 DVDs for 10 or 20 pounds and every so often they would include movies from the foreign section. I think that’s where I first picked this up and saw it. It’s one of those rare movies which mixes horror and martial arts action – but it’s also a serious historical drama too. Plus you get Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Philipe Nahon, and Mark Dacascos. Enemy At The Gates is just great WWII movie which I came to quite late, one with a more unique premise which pits a couple of snipers against each other in Stalingrad, and the various interactions and relationships involved. It has a terrific cast too – Jude Law, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Joseph Fiennes, Ron Perlman, and Bob Hoskins.
Spirited Away is another one I came to late – it took me a while to catch up to most of the Ghibli movies as I stopped caring about any animated stuff towards the end of the 90s. It’s one of Miyazaki’s best – of which he has a bunch of classics – and it has plenty of unique stuff you don’t usually see. Donnie Darko I got to see very early on some sort of screener, but I just thought it was an interesting, quirky movie. Once it became this ig cult hit I had to revisit it to see what I was missing. I still don’t rate it as highly as the superfans, but it’s undoubtedly a cool and interesting movie. Y Tu Mama Tambien is another example of me watching as much foreign cinema as I could at the time – sure, part of it was an excuse to get some non-porn sex all up in my eyes without feeling guilty about it, but I also discovered plenty of legitimate gems. At its heart it’s a coming of age film, set in Mexico, as well as being a road movie – two of my favourite sub genres, and has a fantastic trio of performances in Diego Luna, Gael Gabriel Garcia, and Maribel Verdu.
Monster’s Ball is not a good time. It’s grim, downbeat, and is one of those non-horror movies which I relate to Henry Portrait Of A Serial Killer in look and tone. It is ugly and the colour is drained, and there are no easy answers or happy endings – it also has some career best performances featuring the likes of Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton, Heath Ledger, and Peter Boyle. The Happiness Of The Katakuris was Takashi Miike at his peak of weirdness and output. It’s a zombie musical, sort of, with Miike merging the likes of The Sound Of Music, with something like Fawlty Towers. It is completely bizarre and you won’t have seen anything like it. Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back is Kevin Smith attempting to close out his View Askew Universe by throwing as much fan service at the screen as possible – and as a fan, I am thankful.
10: The Majestic (US) Frank Darabont
I’m not sure what I was expecting of The Majestic. By the time I saw it, Carrey had been through a few flops or hits which I didn’t care for. The Majestic instantly appealed to me as it felt like a Twilight Zone episode, but one of the less horror focused ones. He stars as a man who has lost his memory and who stumbles into an all American patriotic town only for the residents there to recognise him as a lost, presumed dead, war hero. In actual fact, he was a jaded Hollywood writer up for Communism charges and it isn’t until he has become a part of this new town and helped restore their Ye Olde Cinema that his memories come back – all the while the Feds are looking for him since his disappearance. Normally, I shouldn’t like something like this due to the overt political nature of the film and the fact that it all drives towards an ‘America, fuck yeah’ climax, but it is so sweet and wholesome and charming, with all the 1950s ideals and Americana that I can’t help but enjoy it. Frank Darabont is a master at this stuff, and aside from sterling work from Carrey, Darabont brings his usual pals along for the ride – Laure Holden, James Whitmore, Jeffrey DeMunn, Bob Balaban, Martin Landau. I think I can ignore both my own cynicism and the sentimentality is due to the fact that the politics here is not so gung-ho, but almost more Humanist in that it supports those small town, hard-working, respectful ideals which seem a million miles away now regardless of where you sit on a political spectrum.
9: Ichi The Killer (Japan) Takashi Miike
Another Miike film, and one of his most violent. Dispensing with such niceties as subtlty, as exemplified in Audition, Ichi The Killer is a balls out Yakuza WTF-fest as it follows a crying mummy’s boy assassin slicing and dicing his way through ranks of bad guys all while a Yakuza tough guy with a sad0-masochistic love for pain hopes to meet the guy so he can get his rocks off. The violence here ranges from Kill Bill levels of gushing to more extreme and stomach-churning skin torture which Miike would return to in his infamous Masters Of Horror episode Imprint. As with most of Miike’s work, you’ll be chuckling, gagging, and wondering what the hell is going on for most of it, but it’s all shot with such confidence and style that you charge along with it.
8: Session 9 (US) Brad Anderson
Session 9 is one of the most atmospheric horror movies, or any genre actually, ever. On top of that, it is an exercise in dread and mystery – two tools which so many films strive for but never get close to achieving. Much of this is down to sound work, to Anderson’s direction, and to the setting. It’s a shame still that this is not as widely known or acclaimed as the more well known and critically received horror movies, but it’s right up there with the best.
7: The Mummy Returns (US) Stephen Sommers
If I’m right, I saw this before I saw the first Mummy. I saw this at release with one of my besties from School (‘sup Leone), and she enjoyed it as much as I did. It was just an old fashioned Indiana Jones style adventure, fast moving, nifty effects for the time, and a likeable cast uttering plenty of quips. On the plus side, the villain of the piece is fairly sympathetic too. The effects don’t hold up as well today, but it’s still a fun, rip-roaring watch that I would choose over most big budget comic fare nowadays.
6: Frailty (US/Germany/Italy) Bill Paxton
A terrific performance as actor and director by the late great Bill Paxton. Frailty is a mood piece with a lot in common with Session 9. It’s another film which presents its tone and atmosphere early, and nails it throughout. It’s a story told in flashback, as Matthew McConaughey relates to Powers Boothe his and his brother’s involvement in a serial killer case. Through flashbacks we see the boys’ childhood until the strict religious rule of their father, Bill Paxton, who thinks God has given him the power to kill demons (who happen to be disguised as humans). It twists and turns all over the place and even though it feels procedural at points, it remains swift and stylish and engaging similar to something like Zodiac. It’s another underseen film deserving of credit, made by a Hollywood legend who left us before his time.
5: Bully (US) Larry Clark
I’m not sure what it is about Clark’s movies that make them so damn watchable, when they always deal with thoroughly ugly characters in a grim, hopeless world. I’d go as far as saying Bully is his best film, and I think a large part of this is down to the excellent young cast who have rarely been better. In fact, it may be the performers in Clark’s movies, who give a realism to the sordid stories which make his films the sort of thing you can’t look away from even though you know you probably shouldn’t be bearing witness. Bully depicts the real life murder of Bobby Kent by his best friend and associates. Kent is played by Nick Stahl, and is portrayed as a gruesome, preppy, charming bully. He frequently abuses his best friend Marty (Brad Renfro) physically and mentally, while also indulging in a bit of the old rape with his girlfriend (Bijou Phillips). After years of this abuse, Marty is prompted by his girlfriend (Rachel Miner) to murder Bobby, an act which the group are ill-prepared for. The actual murder is a shambles – a literal bloody mess, and the group struggle to keep their lips shut. It’s not an easy watch – it takes no delight in showing how messy killing someone can be, and yet there are plenty of absurdly and darkly funny moments – maybe that’s just me. Michael Pitt and Leo Fitzpatrick show up, Clark once again has no issue showing the debauchery of criminal, forgotten youth, and he perfects the mindset of this hopeless teenage world which I saw plenty of around the same time. It’s a truly wonderful film, but absolutely not for everyone.
4: Visitor Q (Japan) Takashi Miike
From a film which isn’t for everyone, to a film which isn’t for anyone. Visitor Q is the film which the word ‘masterpiece’ was designed for, at least to the extent that people like me should use it. I think this is Miike’s best film – in a year which saw three of his movies make it onto my list post. I’m not sure who I can recommend it to – it begins with a man having sex with his own prostitute daughter as he attempts to make a documentary about modern Japanese youth. The film, literally, asks a number of questions – not the sort of questions anyone has ever asked of course, and then proceeds to answer them. We meet a rather dysfunctional family with a wild set of problems, and then they are infiltrated by a mysterious stranger – Q – who acts as observer and instigator. What follows are handheld digi-cam scenes of murder, sex with corpses, self harm, physical abuse, and lots of lactating. It’s a film unlike any other, and yet it’s ultimately hilarious, and oddly beautiful and affecting. I have no idea how Miike does these things so well, and why I love them so much.
3: Mulholland Drive (US/France) David Lynch
Is it David Lynch’s best film? There’s certainly an argument for that, but then he also has Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man. In any case, it’s a near flawless film and hits that neat blend of Lynch weirdness and accessibility. It’s a twisting journey which ends up feeling more like an experience and once it takes its 2001 turn you’re already sold on the Naomi Watts character that you can’t help but go wherever Lynch takes you. It’s on my Decade list, so read more there.
2: The Fellowship Of The Ring (NZ/US): Peter Jackson
Again, it’s on my decade favourites list – check there for more.
1: Amelie (France/Germany) Jean Pierre Jeunet
And once again, it’s in my decade list.
Let us know your thoughts and favourites in the comments!