I just want to be clear: These are my 25 favorite films. They're not necessarily the best movies I've seen, although many of them certainly would rank high or near the top of that list. I understand that for some a favorites list is indistinguishable from a best-of list, and that's cool. But it's not my purpose here. I want to celebrate the movies that, for one reason or many, moved me in ways that I can barely describe ... even though I'm going to try here.
Starring: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman, Sissy Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Ed Asner, Kevin Bacon, John Candy, Walter Matthau, Donald Sutherland, Brian Doyle Murray, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders, Wayne Knight, Laurie Metcalf
Why it's here: You'd think three-plus hours of people talking about the most insane conspiracy theories this side of Alex Jones' fat ass would make for some pretty boring cinema. WRONG. "JFK" is a first-rate thriller, only the suspense comes from the formulation of theories and the compilation of "evidence." Information is the killer here.
"JFK" keeps you on the edge of your seat because it's so damned well made. Oliver Stone and his production team crafted an intricate cinematic mosaic to tell the fragmented, jittery tale of former New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison's (Costner) quixotic quest to "prove" a far-reaching conspiracy in the death of President John F. Kennedy. The editing, by Oscar winners Joe Hutsching and Pietro Scalia, weaves together images from all sorts of film stock, from saturated color to grainy black and white to the actual Zapruder film of JFK's murder. Meanwhile, cinematographer Robert Richardson, another Oscar winner, uses harsh, ghostly pools of light (seen in the photo above) to isolate the characters, conspirators and investigators alike. "JFK" is as close as you can come to replicating paranoia in cinematic form.
It doesn't hurt, either, that Stone populates his frame with such a charismatic acting ensemble. Scenery chewing may not have been required on set, but it certainly was encouraged. Joe Pesci spits profanity-accented fire as alleged conspirator David Ferrie, while Tommy Lee Jones is all faux New Orleans gentility as one of Ferrie's alleged partners in the crime of the century. The late, great John Candy and Kevin Bacon stop by for only a couple scenes, but they deliver some of the movie's most memorable lines. Gary Oldman, of course, disappears into his role; he IS Lee Harvey Oswald, the tragic patsy in this postmodern Shakespearean history.
Now, do I believe Stone's and Garrison's case for conspiracy? I used to. The arguments in "JFK" are so compellingly and convincingly made that it's bound to warp curious and impressionable young minds into believing that President Kennedy was killed by a sprawling conspiracy comprising the Gulf Coast mafia, the Office of Naval Intelligence, Lyndon B. Johnson, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the anti-Castro Cuban exile community, the Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI and key figures in New Orleans' "homosexual underworld." Yeah, think about it for a minute. Take a step back and think about it. That's what "JFK" would like you to believe. Of course it's bullshit, but I dare you not to get sucked down the movie's numerous rabbit holes.
Memorable quote: "You don't know shit 'cause you never been fucked in the ass!"
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Neil Patrick Harris, Jake Busey, Patrick Muldoon, Clancy Brown, Michael FUCKING Ironside
Why it's here: Some of you are scratching your heads. Others are likely outraged. "'Starship Troopers'?" you ask. "Why should I take this guy's opinion seriously? Isn't this movie supposed to be TERRIBLE? How can anything starring Casper Van Dien -- Casper Van Dien, fercrissakes! -- make anybody's Top 25? Isn't it just a cheesy sci-fi crapfest with giant bugs?"
Yes, "Starship Troopers" is indeed very cheesy, intentionally so. From the "90210"-worthy casting to the ludicrously soapy love quadrangle to the square-jawed cliches of the military training scenes, it's all so very dead-on as a send-up of Hollywood action films. Even the violence is so over the top you can't really recoil from it, no matter how graphic it is -- still, gore fans will not be disappointed. It's the kind of movie Michael Bay could make if he had a sense of humor, read a little philosophy and stopped doing all that coke. But "Starship Troopers" has its bloody, no-guts-no-glory cake and eats it, too. Regardless of the context, the action still kicks ass, and the lead characters, even if most of them look like they should be posing for Seventeen, are mostly likable.
Director Paul Verhoeven is up to something deeper here, too. He weaves in some hilarious faux newsreel clips between the Tiger Beat flirting and the exploding bugs, adding a pungent political critique to his send-up of Hollywood romance and action movies. Verhoeven is saying that if indeed Earth were ruled by a solitary government that prizes military service above everything else, this is the kind of movie that government would produce as propaganda. That the end product is in so many ways similar to the typical Hollywood output in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as reminiscent of U.S. propaganda films from World War II, has to sting a bit, too.
"Starship Troopers" is also sort of the anti-"Star Wars." The heavily mechanized galactic empire represents the "good" guys here; the "bad" guys aren't even humanoid, they're giant bugs whose highly ordered "society" actually reflects the ideal of the militaristic earthlings in this movie. The heroes aren't scruffy underdog rebels, they're Aryan underwear models. Individualism is viewed as selfish and detrimental to the state. Primary hero Johnny Rico's (Van Dien) arc, his personal growth, is measured by how much of himself he gives up in order to fit in as a cog in the wheel. Contrast this with "Star Wars," in which Luke Skywalker's personal growth is as important from an individualist point of view as it is from a collective one. "Star Wars" earnestly celebrates balance of the self and the collective; "Starship Troopers" slyly satirizes assimilation.
Oh yeah, and there are exploding bugs. Awesome.
Memorable quote: "Rico! You know what to do!"
Link to Nos. 25 & 24
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