23 December 2015

Six Flicks (Give or Take)

My friend Just Bud Fox is the only person I know well who's on Tumblr. Last week he posted a response to a challenge of sorts, one of these things that goes around and after you have given your answer you get to tag others to provide theirs.

The request was, "name six movies you can watch any time," and even though I'm not a Tumblr-er, I thought it would be a fun exercise to do this myself. It doesn't necessarily mean these are my favorite movies, though it's likely there would be some overlap. They are just ones that I find watchable enough to revisit frequently. As I tend to do when compiling such lists, I'm arranging them alphabetically. Also, like JBF, I couldn't keep it to just six.

The Blues Brothers (1980): "We're on a mission from God." I was a few weeks shy of 17 when this came out, and I had already been indoctrinated into the cult, so to speak, courtesy of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi's performances as Elwood and Jake on Saturday Night Live and the album they had released. It's a very funny movie and it has a bunch of great songs in it, but I think what really did it for me was the sheer scale of the mayhem being perpetrated. Movies have been trying to outdo the destruction ever since, but in my humble opinion few have gotten close while keeping that spirit of fun.

Heat (1995): I really wanted to have a Michael Mann movie on this list, and the obvious choice for me would be 1986's Manhunter, the first screen adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, in which he introduced the world to Hannibal Lecter. (Side note: I will always prefer Brian Cox's interpretation of that character to Anthony Hopkins'.) But it has always bothered me that Mann chose to deviate from the book's ending to go for something much more typically Hollywood, and if I'm being honest, Heat is a far more engrossing movie. It's about a group of bank robbers planning a huge heist; it runs 2 hours and 45 minutes and doesn't feel more than maybe five minutes too long. It's one of the best crime movies in recent decades, and boasts the only onscreen appearance of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in the same scene.

L.A. Confidential (1997): Yes, I like crime movies. This one came pre-sold to me because I was already a big fan of the book and its author, James Ellroy. I thought the movie did an excellent job of bringing the sprawling noir story and the early 1950's time period to life on screen, and it's full of actors doing great work: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger (who won a best supporting actress Oscar), David Strathairn; even Danny DeVito has a nice turn in this one.

The Matrix (1999): This is likely as close as we're ever going to get to a film version of William Gibson's Neuromancer, which is fine with me. The best way to watch this is to ignore all the pop-philosophy stuff and just enjoy the ride. The visual effects were a genuine revelation and still look amazing today.

Ocean's Eleven (2001): This one just checks so many boxes for me, though I kind of wish someone other than Julia Roberts had been cast as Tess, but that's really just a minor complaint. Movies are meant to be a source of enjoyment, and for that it's hard to top this one. The cast, the characters, the dialogue, the way it's filmed and lit, Brad Pitt constantly eating...

Ronin (1998): A different sort of heist movie, one with a twist: a group of mercenaries is assembled in Europe to acquire a particular case, but the members don't know what's in it, or who wants it. De Niro again, in one of his more low-key roles (not a bad thing at all), with Jean Reno, Sean Bean, Natascha McElhone, Jonathan Pryce, and others, plus some of the absolute best car chase work ever put on film.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984): I'm not sure if this was the first "mockumentary" or not, but I think it's still the standard by which all other aspirants should be judged. Another brilliant blend of music and comedy, everything about this movie is just spot-on and perfect, and the utter deadpan seriousness of everyone involved is what sells it.

Wanted (2008): This action vehicle about a secret league of assassins charged with keeping the world in balance is utterly ridiculous, and an absolute blast. It's terribly violent and should NEVER be seen by children, but it has buckets of style and boasts a cast that works to invest you in the far-fetched story, led by James McAvoy alongside Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Common, and a younger Chris Pratt in a supporting role.

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