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.
So begins our descent into movie madness. I can't wait to read what you have to say, and I can't wait to find out your favorites. And don't forget: We'll be doing this every Wednesday and Friday until we get to Numero Uno, which will merit its own post.
25. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong
Why it's here: This is one of those "kitchen sink" movies (as in, "everything but the ... ") that reigned supreme in the 1980s. I credit "Star Wars," particularly the unjustly maligned "Return of the Jedi," for that trend. They're movies stuffed with adventure, often of a science fiction or fantastic nature, with a big charismatic cast featuring often-roguish heroes, imperiled princess and really, really over-the-top villains. Some others that spring to mind are "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Willow." Let me know if you think of any others.
Anyway, "Big Trouble" is one of the first movies I remember being absolutely sucked into. It's crammed full of fun stuff, from daring escapes to cool monsters to Kim Cattrall when she was gorgeous and yet to turn into a drag queen. There's Victor Wong delivering absolutely insane exposition as Egg Shen, the scruffy, cockeyed Obi-Wan Kenobi of the piece. There's the incredibly detailed and chaotic production design that takes us from the grungy back alleys of San Francisco's Chinatown to the underworld itself. There's that floating head with eyes all over, even on its tongue.
But most of all there's Kurt Russell. He plays our hero, Jack Burton, a truck-driving, modern-day John Wayne who happy to jump into the fray, even if it means grappling with fanged and shaggy hell beasts or flinging knives at an evil ancient warrior. He's got a cocky quip for any situation, even if he never knows what the Hell is going on. Sure, he can get the girl in the end, but he's not really interested. Badass.
Memorable quote (one of many): "Okay. You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we're not back by dawn ... call the president."
24. AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD (1972)
Director: Werner Herzog
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo
Why it's here: I could go on and on about Werner Herzog's eye for poetic images in the natural world, about his willingness to sacrifice comfort and sanity to get as close as to the truth as possible by insisting on filming in the most remote and wild locales. But I'd rather you see it for yourself. Go ahead, what are you waiting for?
Okay, okay. "What's it about?" you ask. Well, nominally, it's about a group of Spanish bluebloods and conquistadors scouring the jungles of South America for the mythical city of gold, El Dorado. One officer, Aguirre (Kinski, pictured), who is already a little nuts by the looks of him, grows madder and madder as the explorers press on with their insane quest down the Amazon. The group devolves into a sick parody of a royal court as people die, from both nature's wrath and Aguirre's.
But it's really about Kinski. It's impossible to take your eyes off him, even if he's in the background. He skulks and scowls like an intelligent yet ravenous ape. The scariest thing about Kinski's performance, though, is how close it was to his public persona. Kinski, who died in 1991, was notoriously unstable, violent and difficult to work with. Here's Kinski from his "Jesus Christ Savior" performance in the early 1970s:
But the actor's volatile temperament didn't discourage Herzog, ever attracted to the more extreme elements in life, from working with him five times in one of the more rewarding actor-director partnerships in movie history. The mad odyssey of "Aguirre" is their best collaboration. Eventually, Aguirre outlasts everybody and gets the movie all to himself, drifting defiantly along a mighty and indifferent river, searching in vain for an empire that doesn't and will never exist. All alone, except for a few monkeys. It's one of the finest portraits of the human condition I've seen in a movie.
Memorable quote: "I am the wrath of God. Who else is with me?" (It sounds much cooler in German, by the way.)
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