Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 20 Best Surprises, 2009 Edition

Might as well close out the year on a high note, right? Here are the 20 Best Surprises, culled from movies that were watched for the first time for this project.Why Twenty? Because 'tis the season of GENEROSITY!

20) Tremors  (1990)
It’s a pretty stupid monster movie, but it knows it and it knows the genre its working with. With a wink and a nod, the movie makes fun of and pays homage to classic 50s monster flicks with its combination of Xenobiology + Rednecks.

19) Le Vacances de Monsieur Hulot  (1953)
This French comedy with barely any spoken dialog sneaks up on you with its subtle humor. The pacing is a little slow, but the comedy doesn’t hit you on the head. You have to think about the jokes after the fact to get them, and I really dig this movie for doing that, especially in contrast to the modern strategy of hitting people over the head with “quirky awkwardness!” (*cough cough* The Office). It was a random find on TCM, and I’m really glad I saw it.

18) So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993)
Mike Myers in his comedic prime and mugging for the camera, a nostalgic early 90s alternative/pop soundtrack and a romantic comedy with a twist of Hitchcock-inspired suspense over the girl of his dreams who may or may not be a serial killer. There’s a lot to like here.

17) Johnny Dangerously  (1984)
Okay, so its really cheesy, but its cheesy in that classic 80s comedy way. Organized crime, slapstick and Michael Keaton is the charismatic anchor that holds everything together. Not a complicated movie by any means, but I laughed my ass off, and that’s what counts.

16) Ed Wood  (1994)
An often touching homage to pursuing dreams, the art of filmmaking, and perseverance in the face of not having any actual talent at making art. Combining great music, Tim Burton’s visual style that champions the bizarre and most importantly, the friendship between Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi’s characters make it a great movie.

15) Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
This movie just feels incomplete because of the lackluster ending, but most of the stuff leading up to it? Awesome. Jonathan Pryce just nails one of the most evil villains to pass through RMWC. This is a kids’ movie with teeth, and its lunging for your throat.

14) The Midnight Meat Train (2009)
While it’s a little far on my gore scale (and sounds like the title of a bad 70s porno), the story is a marvelously messed up urban fable about blurring the lines between obligation and obsession. And when the movie isn’t butchering people and hanging them on meat hooks, the cinematography is strikingly beautiful in its play of color and loneliness.

13) Maverick (1994)
A lighthearted adaptation of a TV series, its got incredibly charismatic lead actors, a great visual eye and a plot that weaves constant twists and backstabs into one hell of a ride with an outstanding payoff.

12) The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
A calm, thoughtful, and above all, not forced message about hope and perseverance in the face of virtual earthly damnation, this movie ambles along like a pleasant conversation, though it does lose its steam after the big payoff.

11) Zatôichi monogatari (1962)
A moody, gritty crime drama set in feudal Japan with a blind badass protagonist and some great camera work. What’s not to like?

10) Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
My gateway into Miyazaki’s animated films, it combines steampunk and magitek into a visually breathtaking world and it just sucks you in with its charm and occasional creepiness that you don’t mind the preachiness just under the surface. Bonus points for an English dub of a-list actors bringing their A game.

9) Braindead/Dead Alive (1992)
Peter Jackson, you insane Kiwi, you. You’ve made a movie with so much gore and fake blood that it crosses the line of revulsion so far that it comes back hilarious.

8) Let The Right One In (2008)
Creepiest movie on this list. The stark landscape of Sweden, the camera shots, the superb acting and above all, the story and implications will haunt you for days. The pacing is deliberately slow in most places, but when it explodes, you’re completely floored. This is one beautifully messed up movie.

7) Dark City (1998)
While its overshadowed by The Matrix which came out a year later, it’s a cerebral dark science fiction noir that explores notions of identity, memory, self-determination and humanity. Not exactly flashy, but there’s a lot of depth to be found. AND its Roger Ebert approved.

6) Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
Who’da thunk the direct sequel to Lugosi’s Dracula would be so damn funny? Witty banter, an awesome female character in Janet the secretary and a lot of crap manages to get under the radar in this movie. Its energetic, daring and a lot of fun.

5) Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)
Possessing inspired set design unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, the entire movie feels like an Expressionistic fever dream. It’s a cinematic landmark and an experience to watch.

4) Die Hard (1988)
Yes it took me this long to see it. I’M SORRY! It takes pretty much every action movie cliché and brazenly wears them on its sleeves, but thanks to the cast and director, it completely works. One of the best straight up action movies ever made.

3) Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
An extraordinary sequel to the great Frankenstein, it surpasses its predecessor without invalidating it. Lighting, Camera Work, Acting, Makeup and Musical Score are all firing on all cylinders with barely any flaws. This is probably the Frankenstein movie for the ages.

2) The Italian Job (1969)
This movie kicks so much ass. Michael Caine’s unstoppable charisma, great dialog, fantastic camera work, Benny Hill, jaw dropping car chases, beautiful women and one hell of an ending all under the umbrella of a Swingin’ Sixties soundtrack from Quincy Jones. I’ll take two of everything, please.

1) The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
This. This. This. This. This. ADVENTURE! so bright you’ll have to wear shades. Hilarious, Glorious, Audacious and full of Awesome, Errol Flynn leads the best Robin Hood movie yet made and is one of the best bright-eyed, un-ironic, straightforwardly heroic tales I’ve ever seen. I had high expectations going into this movie, and they were all exceeded. I can’t praise it enough.

So that's the awesome stuff, and I'll see you in the New Year. The Krampus will show you out the door.

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