Favorite Movies of My Life Pt. 4 (2001-2010)

Here we go with part four of the most influential movies of my life, according to the year they were released. I thought about adding more of a prologue here but I’ll save it for the last and final chapter of this essay, covering 2011 through 2016.

2001: Spirited Away

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For this year there was simply no contest. Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away wins this one hands down. This is not just The Potato’s favorite movie, but her Mom’s and her Aunt’s, when they were her age. I have shown this movie to two generations of little girls and there’s just something about this movie that just resonates with them. This movie was voted the 4th best movie of the 20th century, and that is just too accurate.

This is the coming of age story of a bored little girl named Chihiro, whose parent’s gluttony traps her in the spirit world, where she has to navigate this liminal space in a  bathhouse for spirits, dragons, soot sprites, hungry ghosts without faces, and a witch named Yubaba. It’s an Alice in Wonderland story nestled firmly in Japanese traditions. A story about a little girl re-engaging with the world, becoming self-sufficient, gaining confidence, saving her parents, mending relationships and making new friends; most specifically with  a little boy named Haku, who has a  special secret of his own, a tiny bird, and a little guinea pig, that used to be a giant baby.

Every little girl I’ve shared this movie with became completely obsessed with it and wanted to watch it again and again. And no, I was not immune to it either,as I’ve watched this a countless number of times with them.

This year also saw the release of the final chapter in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which gets an honorable mention and was one the most entertaining movies of the year.

 

2002: Blade 2

The movies 28 Days Later, Dog Soldiers, and Eight Legged Freaks were  all released this year, and I initially chose Dog Soldiers as my favorite, but on second thought, I think I prefer Blade 2, because I love Guillermo Del Toro’s vampires, and it’s one of the  first films in what would later become the MCU juggernaut. The next time I think on this topic, my favorite could be Dog Soldiers, though.

Del Toro also introduced a different iteration of the vampire here, which became the foundation of the vampires used in the TV series, the Strain, although I think the book versions were more disgusting. Blade 2 isn’t a meaningful film. It’s just a helluva lot of fun, with Ron Perlman, a giant Jewish guy, playing a  Nazi vampire, and some great Martial Arts, choreographed by Donnie Yen and Wesley Snipes. This is one of the most diverse group of vampire villains I’ve ever seen in a  movie. And you have to watch the DVD, because  Gillermo always gives hilarious commentary. He is quite possibly the most cheerful, profanity spewing, director in Hollywood.

I enjoyed 28 Days Later for showcasing Naomie Harris, in one of her first starring roles as an absolute badass, who gets to kiss pretty boy, Ciilian Murphy. Eight Legged Freaks is one of the funniest movies I saw for this year, and I did a reviews of both it and Dog Soldiers.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/eight-legged-freaks-2002/

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/geeking-out-about-dog-soldiers-2002/

 

2003: Kill Bill Pt. 1

I love Kung Fu movies, and so does Quentin Tarantino, and in the making of this movie, he managed to introduce me to a few I’d not heard of.  This movie is one long beautiful love letter to the Kung Fu movies from his youth. From his casting of Gordon Liu as the leader of the Crazy 88s, Johnny Mo, to Daryl Hannah as an assassin named California Whitesnake, from Viveca Fox as Vernita Green (codename Copperhead), to that final big boss fight, that takes up nearly the last full hour, this movie is totally awesome-sauce.

My favorite scene has to be the final fight between Beatrix and O-ren Ishii. It’s a masterclass in how to craft a minimalist fight sequence. The lighting, and sound effects, (which is something I almost never pay close attention to in a movie), the stop and start of the action, the minimal dialogue, and the costumes (O-ren is dressed as the character Lady Snowblood from the movie of the same name), all of it is simply gorgeous. And its such an emotional scene. We’ve been building to the moment these two characters finally crossed swords, since the beginning of the film, when we noticed that O-ren’s name had already been crossed off of Beatrix’s list. Why this film wasn’t lauded by White women as the second coming of Feminism is anybody’s guess., and it’s another reason I find WW unimpressive.  Because I’ve seen better.

There wasn’t anything else of note released this year, in my opinion.

 

2004: Shaun of the Dead/Man on Fire

I’m going with Shawn of the Dead as my favorite this year, even though the Dawn of the Dead remake was also released. I liked Dawn but I always prefer funny over angsty, so Shaun gets my vote, and Dawn of the Dead was mostly pretty grim. Likable but grim. I’m going to review both of these in October. (Yeah, I’m already making a list of horror movies I want to review for Halloween month!)

This year was a really tough call, because Denzel Washington’s remake of Man on Fire, from the book of the same name, was also released this year. I will always stan for Denzel, no matter what movies he makes, but this is one of my top favorites from him, and Tony Scott, who passed on in 2012. It also stars Chrisotpher Walken. Just about anything with a Walken speech in it is going to get my attention.

The Incredibles is the only cartoon about superheroes that I love, love, love, and watch, every time it airs on TV. It was a serious contender for the title of best film of this year for me,  (and I feel kinda guilty for not choosing it, so let’s call it a Runner-Up), but I’m going stick  with Shaun of the Dead because I wouldn’t mind living in Shaun’s world for a few days.

 

2005: A History of Violence 

David Cronenberg has always been a filmmaker of depth and intelligence, qualities which are well showcased in this movie, based on the comic book of the same name. I do have in my post queue, an outline for a review of this movie, and its companion film, Eastern Promises, because I have a lot to say about both these movies. They have so much in common, even though they look almost nothing alike. The movie has the added benefit of starring two of my personal favorites, Ed Harris, and William Hurt, who I’ve had crushes on since I was a teenager.

In hindsight, I would like to have chosen the Joss Whedon Joint, Serenity, as a fave, but one can only watch this movie so many times. I love it, but Whedon is just not in Cronenberg’s league, and this is one of the few SciFi movies that had my angry-crying at a crucial moment.

Cronenberg  is just on a “ho ‘notha level!” It’s just gotten to the point where everything he creates is a gem.

 

2006: The Host/Slither

I did a review of Slither here:

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/geeking-out-about-slither/

 The Host appears in my list of ten favorite monsters here:

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/my-ten-favorite-monsters/

Now three other worthy films were released this year, but I couldn’t pick Apocalypto because I have an intense dislike of Mel Gibson. I love his films,  (his version of Hamlet is totally the shit), and Apocalypto is simply one of the most gorgeous films he’s ever made. The man is a phenomenal director, and actor, but also a really shitty human being, so no. I couldnt pick this one.

Paprika is an anime movie from  Satoshi Kon, the director most famous for Tokyo Godfathers, and Millenium Actress, and this is one of the most beautiful animes ever made, but unfortunately, it’s confusing as hell. I know that’s on purpose, but still, I’ve watched this movie at least half a dozen times and I’m still confused, which makes this movie little more than a pretty distraction for me. It’s a great movie that has remained opaque to my sensibilities. I’m just going to accept that Satoshi Kon is just waaay smarter than me.

300 is yet another pretty distraction, because I already knew about the Battle of Thermopylae from paying attention in school. There’s nothing particularly deep about this movie, and the plot is fairly simple, but I actually do like Zack Snyder, and this is a gorgeous movie. It doesn’t hurt that it has lots of pretty, half-naked men, running around with spears and shields. I make ‘nan apology for enjoying the sight of Michael Fassbender, jumping around like a giant spider, in a red loincloth.  I mean c’mon! Its Michael Fassbender!!!…Naked!!! I will watch Michael Fassbender do just about anything, really. I have watched movies that I have zero interest in, just because they starred Fassbender, and I make ‘nan apology for that!

 

2007: Hot Fuzz

I had to pick Hot Fuzz, even though I chose Shaun of the Dead, earlier. This movie is just one of the funniest cop movies I’ve ever seen. Okay, I don’t actually watch cop movies all that much, which make Hot Fuzz pretty remarkable Every scene in this movie is a gem, from the opening scenes establishing Nicholas Angel’s total badassery, to establishing Constable Butterman’s total incompetence. Even their names are perfect reflections of their characters, as Nick can do nothing wrong, and Butterman is one of the laziest cops I’ve ever seen in a movie, which is also kinda refreshing.

I loved seeing Billie Whitelaw again, this time being hilarious with a machine gun, and this is the funniest  I’ve ever seen  Timothy Dalton. I didn’t know he was even capable of that level of smarm. The plot, characters, and every tiny detail, is hilarious, from the police interpreter who needs an interpreter, to Constable  Doris Thatcher’s off-color double entendres, to the fact that the village’s security watch group is named after the rap group N.W.A., to the final, ridiculously over the top shootout, which is a requirement in every cop movie. If you have not seen, this check it out. It was last available on Netflix.

I suppose I could have easily chosen Frank Darabont’s The Mist. It’s a good movie, but I wouldn’t call it enjoyable, exactly. That’s a strong word. The end is waaay too depressing for that. I normally shy away from reviewing horror movies that are too famous, preferring to review indies, or little known films, but this is on my list for October, and is mentioned in my top ten monsters list.

There were a lot of really, really excellent movies to choose from this year:  No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood,  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Sunshine, The Bourne Ultimatum, and finally, Eastern Promises, another Cronenberg Joint, that I’ll be doing a review for, later this Summer.

Wow! This was a great year! But I could only choose one, so Hot Fuzz is it.

 

2008: The Dark Knight

C’mon! Was there really going to be any other choice.?

The Dark Knight absolutely ruled this entire year, both the anticipation, and the aftermath. I have no more to say about this movie, than the few hundred other people who wrote about it, so I’ll just leave it alone, and let these guys speak:

A Scene-By-Scene Analysis of THE DARK KNIGHT (2008, dir. Christopher Nolan)

http://www.slashfilm.com/assessing-the-themes-of-the-dark-knight/

 

2009:  Star Trek

I chose Star Trek because I’m one of the few lovers of the OG series who actually likes this movie. I don’t think people hated it exactly, but people had a lot of complaints about it. I didn’t have very many outside of plot and pacing. It wasnt a deep movie, but I had a lot of feels and sometimes that’s good enough to make something a favorite. I mean these actors did a great job of capturing the spirit of the original actors without mimicry, and I just found that all kinds of ticklish!

I was going to choose Watchmen for this year, but that movie is a lot more depressing that my usual fare, and contains a nuclear holocaust, which makes it even less fun, and I think The Watchmen is a superhero movie for people who hate superheroes, because it’s a cynic’s wet dream. But I like the ideas being presented, and I liked the visuals so it makes my top five of the year, along with Sherlock Holmes.

Like Zack Snyder, Guy Ritchie is one of those directors people seem to have no middle ground for. You love them or hate them. I really enjoyed this remake of Sherlock. I enjoy all of the Sherlock’s really, and never seem to get tired of new versions of this character. Plus,  I will watch Robert Downey Jr. do absolutely anything in a movie.

 

2010: Inception

Christopher Nolan just makes movies after my own heart. He is not the kind of director that ever speaks down to his audience. If you are watching a Nolan film you are expected to pay attention, and be on your toes. And he doesn’t stint on the action scenes either. Like Hitchcock, he makes Thrillers for thinkers, and I appreciate that. He just crafts some wonderfully satisfying movies.

http://narrativefirst.com/articles/meaningful-storytelling-an-analysis-of-inception

Movie Review: “Inception”

Let Me In is complicated. I enjoyed the book the original movie was based on, but didn’t care too much for the  original movie. I think it was the acting that threw me off. I think the creators of the American version did a really good job adapting it for American sensibilities while keeping the spirit and theme of the  original film intact, but I couldnt choose it as a favorite, as it has too many scenes of the primary actor being tortured by bullies, for it to be enjoyable, and its kind of depressing.

Geeking Out About : Dog Soldiers (2002)

Dog Soldiers is rarely shown on cable and it’s not on Netflix. (It’s on Amazon but you have to pay for it.) Ironically enough, you can watch it on Youtube for free. Go figure!

This is one of the few, (well-made), occult military movies out there. There are other movies, in the same vein, but I think I can say, with a certain amount of confidence, that when measured against Dog Soldiers, they all suck and I am unanimous in this belief.

I love werewolf movies but this movie isn’t so much about werewolves as it is the soldiers. Its a siege film, where you basically have “ten little indians in the woods”. Instead of a final girl, you get a final guy.

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You are alerted to just what type of film you will be dealing and with and what type of werewolves, right at the opening of the film, when we watch a couple of campers get eaten. I liked this couple, in just the handful of minutes they were introduced, and mistakenly thought they’d play a larger role in the movie. The two of them are dispatched with little ceremony. One of the most chilling moments is watching as one of the werewolves slowly unzips their tent, while it is quite obvious to them, what they’re hearing outside of it, is a dog. The film begins as it means to go on. Characters you think are going to be heroic or play larger roles, die, and the werewolves keep engaging in disturbingly human activities.

Next, there’s a dog that’s killed, purely to showcase the villainy of the villain, Captain Ryan. I dislike animals coming to harm in movies, and I usually skip this scene.The movie also sets up our hero, Private Cooper, who when given the order to kill the dog, by Captain Ryan, refuses. This is to let us know what a fine upstanding man he is compared to Captain Ryan. So basically, the dog is sacrificed to outline what type of characters we’re dealing with and even though the movie is full of gore, I have a hard time watching that particular scene.

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Captain Ryan, because he’s got a major hard-on for Cooper, chooses Cooper’s squad to bait the werewolves, on the pretense that they are just having training exercises, (in the same woods, where the couple had been killed.) To that end, they are all given fake ammunition, while unbeknownst to them, the other training group, led by Captain Ryan, is given live ammunition.

They soon have to trade up for the real stuff,  when they come across the dismembered bodies of the other soldiers, and an injured Captain Ryan. The soldiers were so overwhelmed by the attack, they never even got a chance to fire any of their weapons.

And its extremely fortunate that they find all this dead, but heavily armed, meat because not long afterward, Cooper’s squad is attacked, as well. About half the members are killed and Sgt. Wells, played by one of my favorite actors, Sean Pertwee, (now playing Alfred on Gotham), is injured and infected.The rest of them are rescued by a young journalist, named Megan, who takes them to a seemingly abandoned farmhouse. (Before the movie is over, ask yourself why the house is empty.)

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There proceeds a long siege encounter with the werewolves, which look more wolf-man than wolf,(they are about 7 to 8 feet tall and very powerful looking creatures), attacking the house and trying to get inside, with the soldiers repelling the monsters and trying to come up with tactics to get out of the woods.

The werewolves are not mindless animals. They are sort of like people, and reasonably intelligent and come up with counter-tactics of their own against the soldiers. We’re not given any particular psychology about them. But they do have a very specific reason for wanting to get back in the house (and I believe this is Megan’s fault.) What they think or feel, beyond that, is  unimportant and the creators of the film are not interested in making them sympathetic creatures. Once the film is over you may understand their motives, but they are monsters, pure and simple. Think of this movie as a recreation of one of the best scenes in Aliens.

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While all of this is going on, the unit  gets info-dumped by Megan, who has a surprise of her own, and they try to glean information from an uncooperative Captain Ryan, who is also infected and becomes a werewolf, that they then have some trouble putting down. Its a great scene, all done with practical effects.

But the real draw of this movie, is the companionship of the soldiers. If you listen to the DVD commentary, the actors discuss how they got into their various roles, and what it was like pretending to be British soldiers, for the weeks prior to the shooting of the film. And their hard work pays off on screen. The film is very effective in getting you to like these characters, in just the first twenty minutes, before the shit goes down. They all have great chemistry together. You can tell that these men are friends, who have served together for a very long time, so unlike a lot of movies, where one roots for the monsters because the victims are so unlikable, its heartbreaking to watch these guys get killed. The music during their death scenes, really help to sell the tragedy of it. And while their deaths are very brutal, they do give as well as they get. They are, all of them,  every bit as bad as they think they are.

Most especially Sgt. Wells. The most enjoyable character, he gets some of the best lines, while  doing nothing more than writhing around on a bed, in excruciating pain.This is how good an actor Pertwee is. He and Private Cooper have great chemistry together. It becomes obvious that the two care deeply for each other, from long acquaintance, and that Cooper thinks of Wells as a father figure.

One of the reasons there are no good, frightening, monster movies about vampires and werewolves being made today is that filmmakers are too caught up in the idea of making the monsters sympathetic or likable. I don’t mind such movies, as they have their place, but movies like that are also not scary.

There’s only one woman in the film, but general male dickishness is kept to a minimum, and after a couple of awkward moments, Megan is treated with, more or less, the same level of respect as the other soldiers. After all, she did save their lives. It would have been very easy to make the character bitchy or a damsel, or for her to act like she was in a different movie, but the writers manage to avoid doing that. She’s no one’s love interest. She’s sassy and doesn’t allow herself to be bullied by any of the men in the film. At no point does she come across as helpless, the soldiers begin to accept her a s a member of their team, and this is why her betrayal of them, later in the movie, evokes a feeling of sadness, rather than anger.There’s a sad backstory in there, that makes it difficult to hate her.

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The special effects are occasionally dodgy, (the werewolves look like men in suits, and of course they are, but that’s not a huge concern) but  are never cheap and there’s no CGI. If there was, it was invisible, the way it’s meant to be.There’s also  plenty of gore and shooting.

The current spate of  werewolf movies: Battledogs, Skinwalkers, Wolves, aren’t in the same league as this movie and suffer from a lot of the problems that this movie manages to deftly avoid.

You could do far worse than spending an evening watching Sean Pertwee cussing and  shooting at giant werewolves.