Every now and then, we just gotta lighten things up around here. So on occasion, we whip out one of our ever-popular movie lists. We try to think of great flicks that meet all the qualifications for exceptional entertainment, and in the case of today's list, have all but been forgotten over the years. In some cases, they were not made in America, which means a lot of folks just never watched them. Though listed 10 to 1, they really don't appear in any particular ranking. Just a handy means to keep things organized, and create a little suspense..
So, without further ado, get out the credit card, warm up Netflix, and get ready for some top-notch entertainment.
9) RoboCop (1987)- About the same time as the last film came out, this masterpiece by Paul Verhoeven showed up. Updating Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' to the cyborg age, while placing tongue firmly in cheek, Verhoeven's direction masterfully walks the line between morality tale and farce. If you could tone down the Zucker brothers enough to put a little serious social commentary in between the sight-gags, you would have this film. We loved it so much, we even worked on the sequel, which got the style right, but missed the subtle jabs at modern society.
8) Silent Running (1972)- We love Bruce Dern, and this is his tour de force in what amounts to a one-man show. Douglas Trumbull mans the God Chair as he perfects his special effects wizardry, so evident in '2001: A Space Odyssey.' In fact, '2001' was supposed to go to Saturn, not Jupiter, but Trumbull couldn't perfect the rings to the point Kubrick was satisfied. Trumbull succeeds with magnificent results in this flick. The film itself is a ecological morality play, with Dern watching over a spaceship full of plants that have all disappeared on Earth. Due to a budget crunch, Dern and his crew are ordered to destroy the terrariums and come home. Dern doesn't cotton with that idea, and goes rogue in a ship called, wait for it, Valley Forge. Dern's in his prime as he teeters on the edge of insanity, and turns in a much more realistic man-alone than Tom Hanks did in 'Cast Away'. And we think Hughey, Dewey and Louie are the grand-bots of R2-D2.
7) The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)- Robert Redford takes a spin in the God Seat for this screen version of John Nichols' excellent novel and screenplay. If you've ever lived in New Mexico, this movie will definitely make you smile. It captures the other-worldly feel of life in the State That No One Knew. It's told through the eyes of a kid who's been assigned to New Mexico by Peace Corp. Apparently, someone didn't know that the state was part of America. The kid gets caught up in a passive-aggressive war between a dirt farmer and corporate America. The farmer performs a revolutionary act by watering his beanfield. Events swirl out of hand and things come to the verge of all-out shootin' wars. A top-notch cast turns in some really nice performances and Redford does a great job of caturing the magical southwest backdrop. We were sad, though, that el brazo de Onofre didn't make it into the film version. That was one thing that made the books shine. A fun afternoon killer.
6) The Andromeda Strain (1971)- We turn to Robert Wise and Michael Crichton to keep the New Mexico theme alive. Crichton, of course, created 'Jurassic Park', among many other sci-fi thrillers. And this film, despite 40 years, still holds up well, especially since the story is so good. Sure, the teletype and computer monitors are a tad dated, but you can still imagine this happening today. It's got a veritable who's-who of 70s B-flick actors, who all do great jobs of playing scientists playing God. Wise does a masterful job building and maintaining suspence, as the scientists race against time to find an alien disease returned on a space probe. Even now, it leaves us breathless at the end, with obstacle after emergency. By the way, Trumbull did the effects for this flick, as well. He practically single-handedly created our cultural imagine of the future. The guy who cut Ang Lee's 'Hulk' could've learned a thing or two about split-screen here.
4) The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)- Alfred Hitchcock is one of the few directors to have done his own re-make. We are partial to the original, with Leslie Banks and Peter Lorre. A 'regular guy' is sent on a wild ride by the dying words of a murder victim that he happens upon. This is one of our favorite Peter Lorre roles, outside of House on Haunted Hill. In typical Hitchcock fashion, we are kept in the dark along with the main character. Lots of good twists and turns and ranks among the top who-done-its. Hardcore movie buffs will want to do a double feature with the Jimmy Stewart/Doris Day version. Interesting to see how Hitch re-imagined and re-packaged the story for an American audience.
3) The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)- If you haven't figured it out by our other lists, we'll come right out and admit it...we love Terry Gilliam. We've always been entranced by his incredibly unique visual style. This movie is probably his defining opus, though one of his least known. This movie has so many fine performances and such a rich visual texture, that it is hard to put labels on it. John Neville's Baron is an absolutely flawless characterization. He inhabits a world of endless creativity and child-like imagination. The film has always struck us as the 'Time Bandits' he would have made, if George Harrison had given him a little more money, but the story is completely different and even more compelling. Gilliam's animation background with Monty Python is on full display, and his penchant for warped characters and talented actors come together to create a film that children and adults can enjoy on many levels. We've paired this with 'Wizard of Oz' for a truly twinged double feature.
2) My Fair Lady (1964)- OK, we confess a soft-spot for musicals.Never been much for Barbara or Bette, but the classics have a place in our collection, as does Bob Fosse. Even though Rex Harrison taught Lee Marvin everything he knows about singing (see 'Paint Your Wagon'), this is one of those movies that leaves you singing show tunes for a week. This is also the quintessential British fantasy, changing everything to suit their ideal of beauty, and screwing it all up in the process. This is one of the best musicals for seamlessly blending the singing with the action. George Cukor keeps the Hand of God light and airy, Lerner and Lowe turn in an excellent score, book by G. Bernard Shaw, and Jack Warner personally produced it. This is definitely one to dust off and remind yourself how good movies used to be.
So that's our list for this weekend. We'll be back soon with more bitching and griping. Until then, it's always nice to take a break from reality, dust off some oldies-but-still-on-DVDs. Of course, there are so many more we could add to this list. Ater 120 years of motion pictures, there's plenty out there to explore. Heck, Orson Wells alone could fill up a weekend.
And hey! If you don't like any of our selections, just think how much you paid for the information! We think there's something for everyone here. So enjoy the weekend and get a bit of rest. The fun is yet to come.