The Top 5 Best… And Worst (Redux)

During my first year, I made a self-reflective blog post about my favourites and least favourites of media production. Now in my final year approaching graduation, I think it would be interesting to see if anything has changed…

The Top 5 Films

There have been some real changes to this line-up since last we looked. The Rock is still amongst my favourite action films, but somewhere in the past two years, I swapped action films for dramas, and the result is quite… ‘dramatic’:

5. 12 Angry Men

This all-time classic was recommended to me by a sailor in Tenerife. Although I usually groan at the sound of black and white films, this one was just – simply – a masterpiece. Henry Fonda (who I have much appreciation for – read on) led an all-star cast in this thriller from the late 1950s. The film is probably the most simple set-up I’ve ever seen on cinema – one teenager is accused of killing man. His sentence, death. The jury walk into a room to decide his fate. Eleven think he’s guilty. One thinks he’s innocent. In the next two hours of the film’s duration, the screen never leaves the room. You literally have what is one the tin – twelve men in a room, arguing. Sounds intense, but perhaps not the best film ever. All the same, in terms of films from the ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’, this is by far my favourite yet, and it proves that all you need to make a good film is a good script.

4. Battle Royale

What was once my favourite film of all time has dropped several places since I’ve left school, but still sits in as the oldest surviving entry to my favourite films collection. What is to be said about this prediction of teenage violence spiraling out of control? One of the worst classes from one of the the worst schools in Japan get chosen to partake in ‘Battle Royale’, where they must fight to the death with only one left standing – or else explosive collars attached to their necks will detonate and kill everybody in the game within seventy-two hours. Although this could still be amusingly applied to my current Media Production course, it fails to leave you with the same ‘drained’ feeling as the first time you see it (especially when you’re at secondary school). It’s lost a lot of shock value for me now, particularly as I migrate to the ‘grown-up’ side of the film. But all the same, for a world-cinema experience, this is still in my eyes the unrivaled champion of nerve-wracking viewing.

4. Scarface

On the last account, this was number one, whereas two better films have come along since and entered my ‘Hall Of Fame’. Still, for a film this legendary, there isn’t a lot to be said. Al Pacino is Tony Montana, a small-time crook in Mexico who decides he’s going to make it all the way to the top of the drug-trafficking trade. From street assassinations with kitchen knives to heavy gunfights with the entire Cuban army, the film charts the rise and fall of perhaps one of the most notorious anti-heroes in cinematic history. This film still remains one of the best all-rounders in terms of humour, shocks, violence, tension, narrative, acting and script. It all comes together in a way that can only be described as poetic – and what is more, it teaches every male who watches it what it really takes to be a man in the face of overwhelming odds.

2. Educating Rita

With regards to the tensions of the previous mentioned titles, it may come as a surprise to see this film sitting so high on the chart. On a personal level, nothing has really captured the essence of my early stages of life on this planet quite as sensitively and emotionally accurately as this film has. The film tells the story of Rita – a working class girl at a hairdressing salon who wants to get a university degree and make a better life for herself. First she has to cut loose all her ties to her old life, and makes enemies of all of her friends she’s left behind. Then she has to face the upper class and their prejudices, and indeed her own low self-esteem in order to continue. But the the film’s denouement is built around her boozy lecturer Michael Caine, whom she builds a close friendship to through countless intimate  arguments – that is, that she has destroyed everything that made her an individual, and she has now become a ‘product of academia’, with nothing unique or lively about her left. Just from my own perspective, my life has run many parallels with this film, including the themes of alienation, romance, true friendship and prejudices. I believe this film will probably always be in my top five favourite films.

1. Once Upon A Time In The West

After finishing his ‘Dollars’ Trology with The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, director Sergio Leone returned with his brand of spaghetti western with this film, starring Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda as two conflicting gunslingers in the wild west. This classic film ticks all the boxes that Scarface does with regards to structure, but the subtle edginess of the film made it something of a haunting experience for me, which cut it above just about every film I’d ever seen. Charles Bronson is the nameless cowboy in white, stalking the wilderness and playing a haunting tune on a harmonica. He’s hunting for a gunslinger named Frank – played by Henry Fonda – who is involved in a twisting plot involving railroads, water wells, an outlaw and a feisty woman who’s husband has been killed in the feud. The film is at both times a cinematic masterpiece and a pinnacle of script writing. When nothing is being said, the dry, quiet heat of the desert permeates the scene. When characters do eventually talk, almost every line is a one-liner to quote in itself. The action is full of emotion and tension, the acting is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and every detail of the film has had very calculated and specific attention to it. And that is why this sits as my number one favourite film.

Top 5 Albums

As I have grown up, my music has matured more, and explored some of the older classic sounds as opposed to the modern and the gothic. However, despite the shuffle-round, very little still matches up to the imagination of those earlier sounds, leaving me with a perplexing situation:

5. Orchestra Of Wolves (Gallows)

This album just came in at the exact time I needed to hear it. The punk-core genre was relatively new to me, I’ve just made it to Coventry University, and the above mentioned ‘Rita’ thing was in full swing. What better way to equalize to the new environment than to attack social structure for everything it was worth – the unemployed youth were violent thugs, the women who had sex were sluts – society was a f*cking joke, the city was a f*cking joke, and only thing to do after screaming about it was laugh about it – after all, we never loved them anyway.

4. Brothers In Arms (Dire Straits)

Believe it or not, the most recent addition to this comes from Dire Straits. Normally, to experience such a band, I’d buy a best-of compilation, such as with Presley or Cash last year (epic albums, but running them out the competition). However, after seeing him warm up for Bob Dylan, this often-cited ‘guitar’ album got placed in my lap. Pretty much every track on it confirms it’s something your dads listened to in their youth, but all the same, the tunes are pure class guitar work. Every tune is catchy, all but one sits comfortably on my iPod without fear of moving, and indeed, the guitar work (as I have seen) is amongst the best available – no shredding here bro’, this is total immersive, emotional instrumental tune-age. The final song is the cherry on top.

3. Opheliac (Emilie Autumn)

When it comes to messed up music, in all fairness you need not look much further than this. I’d been a fan of Emilie Autumn for a long time before her ‘official’ debut came out in the form of Opheliac, and despite being one of the worst gigs I’d ever seen, the album rank as one of the best I’ve heard. It is certainly an acquired taste – her blending of gothic fantasy and unnerving realisations of reality are not for the faint hearted. Yet lyrically, she is at both times a poet and a songwriter who effecting blends classical violin playing with heavy industrial, to create her ‘Victoriandustrial’ genre of musical play. The re-writing of Tennyson, the psychotic screaming and raving, and the twisting imagery of the ‘beauty’ of misogyny, suicide and even pedophilia make this album one head-trip which is essentially the ‘Antichrist’ or ‘Salo’ of music – one not soon forgotten.

2. Watershed (Opeth)

My two favourite bands have not changed – and thus neither has to the top two positions on this chart. This haunting album still remans a classic of the ‘heavy metal’ era I went through in my late teens. It is still Opeth’s best work in my opinion, and that makes it truly a force to be reckoned with. The ten-minute-odd freestyle with the dueling guitars sliding around the octaves make their unique sound a love-hate matter, but when you are on a level with this sort music, there is little that can rival it in terms of imagery, style, and overall quality of musicianship.

1. Dark Passion Play (Nightwish)

My favourite band doesn’t seem like they will ever change – having just released Imaginaerum after a near half-decade hiatus, they have still got the power to connect with me in ways that no other band has ever done since. You’ll never dance to their music in night clubs (unless your Finnish), but their musical mastery of blending various symphonic orchestras with their metal-fronted sound and dueling male and female vocalists make their every album a true treasure. Out of all of them though, Dark Passion Play still remains the gem of the series – it effectively saved the band’s career, and every song was completely different from the other one. The variety and mastery has not been matched since, even though their new album is indeed still far above other albums of the genre.

Top 5 Worst Films

There’s been a couple of good competitors on this front over the last two years – not least of all remakes that have completely murdered the originals. I’ll try and keep remakes to a minimum, but here goes:

5. Battle Royale 2: Reqiuem

Given my love of the first movie, thinking about it now this probably deserved to be here a long time ago. Everything that was intelligent about the first film gets taken out and the justification of the actions get lost in plot holes so big you could drive a truck through them. This time, it is another class of bad pupils who are sent to an island, but this time, to kill the survivors of the previous tournaments – including those of the first film. What started out as a satire on political regulations of youth becomes a war movie, where the mission – instead of killing to stay alive and win a game – is to gear up and go to war with other youngsters. There’s lots of shooting, lots of explosions, lots of loud things going on, and it has ‘cash-in’ written all over it. I have seen worse, but then to say the first film made such an impact on me, this rightfully deserves to sit on this list. If you want better ‘teenage cinema’ from the region, I’d recommend Death Note – you actually need a brain for that.

4. Friday 13th

I said I’d try and keep remakes out, but again I’ll have to go against my own rule to highlight this as the totally most epic shite remake of remakes. I went to the cinema to see this, and not only did it murder the first film, but it effectively murdered 2 and 3 as well. Such remakes inspired me to go to university and into the media industry (namely, to wipe them out). As I hate remakes so much, this little trip down ‘memory lane’ involving the resurrection of one Jason Vorhees, and his subsequent killing spree against all sexually active teenagers near Camp Crystal Lake was just a bloody joke. They took a classic of the slasher era of movies and turned it into a weak and not-very-gory piece of cinema. I actually saluted it from keeping the fore down at the time, but in retrospect, that would have given this film purpose. Not having shock value took away the only reason this film was made – without purpose, you waste two hours of your life watching it.

3. Kakera

Still here.

2. The Quest

JCVD averted the list last time with his film Derailed because it went straight to DVD. The Quest, however, did not. It was his first attempt at directing… which pretty much says it all. Jean Claude Van Damme leads the cast as a French pickpocket who embarks on a journey around the world, eventually teaming up with Roger Moore on his quest to win a world-class martial arts tournament to claim a precious scroll. Or something like that. The action was average-to-poorly handled, the slapstick was well out of place, corny and goofy. The final part of the film based around the tournament itself is extremely dull, which again destroys the build-up to what the audience was expecting. JCVD can do much better, and this ‘period action film’ is just poorly handled from start to finish. I thought the actual film ‘JCVD’ was actually quite good, but this is just a nightmare of film making. Finally, JCVD has made it onto the list – this was a cinematic box office flop, and here it sits proudly.

1. Broken Flowers

This movie will probably never change. If the previous list two years ago didn’t do it for you, this is basically everything I go against in terms of film making. It’s narrative, based around bachelor who may or may not have a son, who visits women who may or may not be the mothers, is simply the most boring and pointless piece of film making every created. It fits nicely into the art house genre, which further justifies why it is so stuck up it’s own a*se. In a nutshell, there’s not a lot to add to my previous comments from the previous blog post. This is commonly the one I refer to as ‘worst film ever made’. It’s filmed well, well acted, and cutely surreal. The insult to cinema cannot go unanswered though. If I had the balls, I may watch it again to see if my opinion has changed. But that is very unlikely, and until my memory of this piece of crap becomes more vague, it still remains as the absolute worst of worse films ever made (which is ironic, since I really liked Lost In Translation!)

Top 5 Saddest Cinematic Moments

Here’s a new one (and a brave one). I’m a tough nut to crack when it comes to provoking an emotional response regarding making me upset, yet I always come to realise that some of the most all-time effective moments in cinema to make me well up are actually films that most common weepy fans find quite an easy experience. All the same, time to man up, and simultaneously reduce my man points by a couple of hundred:

5. WALL-E

The Moment – ‘He’s back… or is he?’

The single most depressing thing about this whole movie was the one fact that the kids would not have understood – the inevitable fact that we as a species are doomed. Our only hope is to create machines, but evidently, the ones we make will reflect our failures as creators of design. Deep readings of this children’s film aside, the whole pessimism of fat, automated living in a society governed by rogue machines was in itself depressing. Enter into this f*ck up of social progress the cute little robot Wall-E, who ends up getting smashed to pieces trying to save humanity. Futuristic robot EVE rebuilds him, only to find that (albeit momentarily) Wall-E has lost his humanity – he’s alive, but has become a machine again, fulfilling his original purpose as a fully automated robot. The main character was alive, so technically the film could have left it there. If it had, this film would probably be even higher on this list!

4. Babe

The Moment – ‘That’ll do, pig.’

The oldest entry – and by far the most classic example of getting me to cry – is this little childhood film about the small-time happenings on a farm, seen through the eyes of a pig. The innocence of the narrative makes for a really uplifting feel good film, but things start to get serious when Babe – the aforementioned pig – decides he wants to be a sheepdog and enter the main British contests. Things go ‘champions league’, resulting in taking Babe away from the rural beginnings to be tested on the center stage. When he succeeds, farmer Hogget’s final words to his little companion is perhaps one of the nicest scenes of true friendship ever caught on screen.

3. Dumbo

The Moment – ‘Baby of Mine’

For an honourable mention, most people will remember that the saddest moment in their Disney-filled childhoods was either the dad dying in The Lion King, or the mum dying in Bambi. For me, it was Bambi… until this beast of a film came along. Dumbo is the story of an elephants with huge ears, set as a freak show in a circus. His mother tries to defend him from humans poking him with sticks, and subsequently gets locked up as a ‘crazy animal’. The only way Dumbo can see her again is to sneak out after hours, and ‘cuddle’ her through the bars. What made this so much worse was the fact that although the parent wasn’t dead, she was locked up and forced into living a very unhappy lifestyle. For me at least, that’s much worse!

2. Titanic

The Moment – ‘The Reunion’

Vital man points FLY away with this one, though do keep in mind that back in 1997, this was the best-selling film of all time. Nobody really cared that much when DiCaprio’s wimpy character ended up sinking below the waves, nor did they really care that the old lady had finally made peace with the whole affair all these years on. What really totaled almost everybody who watched the film though was the very last scene – when the old lady passes away, having found peace, and thrown a necklace she received on the ship back into the ocean. She passes away, but her soul sinks with the necklace back down into the ruins of the ship on the ocean floor, which suddenly comes back to life. Everyone who has died on the ship throughout the movie – including DiCaprio – has been waiting for her to return. All I will say is… I bet Billy Zane wasn’t clapping.

1. Schindler’s List 

The Moment – ‘I Could Have Saved More Jews’

This nostalgia trip has made competition for this spot extremely high. Fortunately for Speilberg though, the one thing that’s more tragic than thousands of people dying on a ship, is an entire race of people being exterminated in world war two. Schindler’s List refers to the list of Jewish people that Oskar Schindler saved during the period of world war two, by employing jews as slaves from the concentration camps and saving them from the gas chambers. Come the end of the film (and indeed the war), Schindler decides it’s time to leave the place and close his factory, but not before every jew he has saved turns up as a crowd to thank him. Naturally, he breaks down into tears, but the heartbreaking argument of ‘did he save enough’ that occurs is – for me – the saddest moment in cinema I’ve ever seen. Ben Kingsley and Liam Neeson both deserved awards for this final scene alone.

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