Thursday, December 24, 2015

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Normally, I post my list of ten necessary additions to the 1001 Movies list on Christmas. Christmas falls on a Friday this year, though, and the Oscar Got It Wrong posts take precedence over everything else I do here. That being the case, Santa’s showing up a day early this year with some suggestions for the keepers of The List. I have a hope that one day one of them will deign to visit this humble site and perhaps consider my opinion when it comes to adding some sadly forgotten films for an upcoming edition.

So here’s this year’s 10, many of which I saw for the first time this year. There’s no order other than the order I decided to go in.

1. Nightcrawler (2014)

This brutal update of Network got only a little love come Oscar time and was completely ignored by The List’s compilers. So far, it’s my favorite film from 2014. I like where it takes the story and takes the characters. It gets so extreme, but the path we take to get there makes sense at every step. In addition to being a wake-up call to the 24-hour news cycle’s excess, it’s also a hell of a fine movie.

2. Blood Feast (1963)

When Jason Soto told me to review this, I knew sort of what I was in for. But I said it on that review and I’ll say it here: it belongs on The List. That this is a terrible movie doesn’t really matter. There are, after all, plenty of terrible movies already on the 1001 Movies list. What it is, though, is incredibly influential. Would modern horror cinema exist without its influence? It would, but it would be significantly changed. Sure, it’s dreck, but it’s influential dreck.

3. Life Itself (2014)

I don’t know how Life Itself avoided being nominated for Best Documentary Feature last year—either the filmmaker has enemies in the Academy or Ebert did. Regardless, this is the way a biopic should be made. This is simply the story of the man in question at the end of his life, unafraid of his physical appearance and unashamed to be shown to the world. Ebert was a hero in his life, and a hero in the way he died. If you love film, you owe it to yourself and Roger Ebert to watch this.

4. Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Animation is vastly underrepresented on The List, and Kung Fu Panda is one of the best animated films of the current century. In addition to giving us great and lovable characters and a fun story, it actually delivers a good message and does it without beating the audience over the head. That’s rare in a movie for children, and that it manages to infuse actual Zen philosophy into the mix? This is a film that should be celebrated.

5. Mean Girls (2004)

The movie that in many ways defines the Baby Boomer generation (The Big Chill) is on The List. There are plenty of films that were important for Gen-X as well, notably The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that are enshrined. Shouldn’t one of the defining films of the Millennials be here as well? And is there a better candidate than Mean Girls for this sort of drama?

6. The Station Agent (2003)

I don’t have a reason to suggest The Station Agent beyond the fact that I just love The Station Agent. It’s a great story beautifully acted with characters that come across as real people. If it’s revolutionary, it is only in the sense that it has the wisdom to treat Peter Dinklage’s character as a man rather than as a physical condition. I can’t imagine someone disliking a film this well done.

7. The Collector (1965)

In many ways, the stalker sub-genre of films began with Play Misty for Me, but The Collector went to a lot of the same places first. I still find it unbelievable that a film with this ending managed to slip past the censors in the middle of the 1960s. Two gutting performances and a truly disturbing romance results in a film that more people should know. The “captive romantic partner” idea has truly become a subgenre (The Loved Ones, Otis) and it started here.

8. Drunken Master (1978)

Chop-socky films are notoriously absent from The List just as animated films are. The only real Jackie Chan entry is the forgettable Project A, Part II. Drunken Master is a much better selection, Sure, it’s kind of stupid, has a goofy plot, and some lamentable acting, but this is Chan in is physical and comedic prime. Chan would’ve been huge regardless because of his tremendous talent, but would he have been as much without Drunken Master? I think not.

9. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

It may not be up to the speed of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, but New Nightmare shows surprising chops in the idea department. Craven made some stinkers in his career, but he was also responsible for multiple horror franchises that have stood up well over time. New Nightmare is ridiculously meta and incredibly inventive, two things the horror genre isn’t really known for.

10. V for Vendetta (2005)

Looking back through the films I’ve put on these lists in the past, I kind of can’t believe that I haven’t brought up V for Vendetta before this. This is a ballsy film, daring for making a terrorist essentially a folk hero in a post-9/11 world. The source material for V for Vendetta is among the best you’ll ever find and the film does it justice, remarkable in and of itself. All of the performances are fantastic, and it served as a reminder of just how good Natalie Portman can be when she’s given good material. Also, Hugo Weaving might be the coolest human being ever.


  1. I'm not familiar with some of these and some that I am I didn't care for but Mean Girls, which I also watched for the first time this year, is a lot of fun with some sly observations and spirited performances. A real reminder of the talent that Lindsay Lohan has thrown away.

    Glad to see the mention of The Station Agent, a wonderful film that deserves to be better known. If nothing else it did manage to allow Peter Dinklage to be perceived in a different light than most performers of his stature. The only previous performer that I can think of that attained near his level of recognition is Michael Dunn and he was usually stuck as either a villain or the sideline narrator of the action as he was in Ship of Fools.

    I didn't care for The Collector as much as you, I admired the artistry of the making and performances but it was too dark for me to ever want to see again. I think Wyler's name was probably what greased the rails for it to not be tampered with too much. A great deal had changed with the public and the industry between the release of Peeping Tom in '60 which more or less ruined Michael Powell's career and the release of this and the new freedom the cinema was undergoing at the time.

    Loved Life Itself and am equally puzzled at its lack of award recognition. It would seem to play into all their sweet spots. It was difficult to watch at times as his illness took its course but a fascinating glimpse into his world.

    Although I thought Renee Russo and particularly Jake Gyllenhaal were tremendous, and again robbed of awards recognition, I HATED Nightcrawler so very, very much.

    1. The best thing The Station Agent does is treat Peter Dinklage like a guy first. He's not someone playing his physical condition, but a real guy who just happens to be really short. It's a smart script, and I respect that. I like Dinklage in general.

      I tend to like a lot of films that run dark and The Collector is right in my wheelhouse. The legend is that the censor fell asleep during the viewing and passed it, ending unseen. Even if that didn't actually happen, it's a great story.

      There are a few that I put here that are not specifically for the quality of the film but for the influence they wield. It's something I have to remind myself of frequently when looking at The List. It's not the 1001 greatest movies ever made, but the 1001 you must see. Films like Blood Feast and Drunken Master, while not great as movies, are incredibly influential in what followed them, and I mention them specifically in that light--a lot of what comes after them is directly related to them.

      Nightcrawler is more evidence that I frequently like my movies on the darker side. I can certainly understand hating it and I won't argue the point with you. I don't think it's a film that has a lot of middle ground.

  2. I haven't seen most of these and I like V for Vendetta but not quite as much as you.
    But Mean Girls is a must! I rented the DVD when the movie was only a year old and I loved it. But my niece and nephew really love it and so I've seen it a few more times over the years and I'm amazed at how well it stands up on repeated viewings.
    I'm not at all surprised at its current "modern classic" status and I heartily support its inclusion on the List.

    1. I do really like V for Vendetta, but my reason for putting it here is for how audacious it is. V is, simply, a terrorist, and he's made the hero.

  3. Nightcrawler is fantastic, and I completely agree with you on Mean Girls, belonging to the generation you speak of (we don't seem to have many classic teen films anyway). Life Itself was a lovely snapshot of a life: maybe the Academy never forgave Ebert and Siskel for their fury over past voting procedure for documentary, which is why it wasn't recognised.

    1. The Siskel/Ebert documentary voting thing is actually a huge possibility. All of that happened because of Hoop Dreams, and Steve James was the director of both films. He's not gotten a single nomination since being nominated for film editing on Hoop Dreams. He may well be blackballed.

  4. Big agreement on Nightcrawler, The Station Agent, and Life Itself. I like Legend of the Drunken Master better, but I'm pretty sure Drunken Master is the movie that made Chan a star so by that measure it deserves to be there more. I liked Mean Girls well enough, but it wouldn't have occurred to me to add it to the list. The same with Kung Fu Panda. I liked it quite a bit, and I completely agree that modern animation is underrepresented, but I'd pick others first. I also like V for Vendetta, and agree that it took a hell of a chance, but primarily action movies don't get a lot of love from the editors, either. I haven't seen the other three films.

    1. Of all of these suggested adds, New Nightmare is probably the longest shot. I like it, but I don't think you'd rate it above a three and it might not get there for you. If it did, it would be for the supremely inventive screenplay.

      Blood Feast you can skip. It's important for the horror genre, but it's the furthest thing from a good movie on the list above.

      As for The Collector...I'll be interested to see your take on it.