My 10 Favorite Movies: Part 2
Welcome to the second of my two-part rundown of my favorite movies of all time. I rambled on enough in the preamble to Part 1, so let’s just get to it.
My favorite movie by Wes Anderson (one of my favorite directors) is also his first. I saw Bottle Rocket in theatres in 1996 (I was in high school and talked a couple of friends into seeing it with me based on a small TV item on it I’d seen that made me laugh), and I laughed as hard as I ever had at a movie. Anderson’s later films would solidify his reputation for quirky movies with quirky characters, and while the same can definitely be said for Bottle Rocket, it’s not as stylistically out-there as his better-known movies like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. It’s also more obviously a comedy – it’s basically a riff on the post-Tarantino crime movies that were then flooding the movie landscape, following a trio of privileged kids-turned-wannabe criminals more interested in the lifestyle than with committing actual crimes – than his later movies, though Bottle Rocket has tons of heart, especially in the relationship between old friends Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Dignan (Owen Wilson). This is a movie I watch when I’m feeling down, and it never fails to pick me up, and the final shot of Dignan waving to Anthony and Bob (Robert Musgrave) makes me smile just thinking about it.
Since this movie’s release, both of the Wilson brothers have become big movie stars, but I’ll always reserve a place in my heart for them, no matter how many crappy movies they make, because of Bottle Rocket.
There isn’t a whole lot in movies I like more than samurai. I’ve always found them fascinating, and I’ve read more than a few books on Japanese history, and that fascination can be traced back to the films of Akira Kurosawa. I actually saw Yojimbo first, and it knocked me on my ass, but when I got around to seeing his 1954 masterpiece, it was a revelation. I’d always enjoyed action movies about an ragtag group of guys who have to defend something (a building, a town, a planet) against a much larger force, and Seven Samurai is the template, in one form or another, for all of those movies (most obviously The Magnificent Seven, itself a really cool movie). About midway through my first viewing of this movie, I understood why it’s considered one of the greatest films ever made. The performances are incredible – especially the legendary Toshiro Mifune, whose character is almost the exact opposite of his iconic turn in Yojimbo – the characters are great, the story is totally gripping (the last hour-plus of the movie, basically, is an extended siege sequence)…there’s almost no aspect of this film that susbsequent action/adventure movies didn’t draw from. I’m an action movie guy, and to watch Seven Samurai is to witness the creation of the action movie as we know it.
This is the Akira Kurosawa movie I actually came to first – I’m embarrassed to admit, after watching Walter Hill’s so-so prohibition-era 1996 remake with Bruce Willis, Last Man Standing – and it remains one of the formative movie-watching experiences of my life. I’d rented it after seeing Last Man Standing (which I’d quite enjoyed, but seeing the real deal has since ruined it for me), and I watched it, rewound the tape, and immediately pressed “Play” again. I’ve never been much of a fan of westerns (though I can appreciate a good one when I see one), but this was a western with, to me, an even cooler lead than Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name in Toshiro Mifune’s chin-scratching swordsman, and the story, in which he plays two warring groups of bandits off one another as a hired bodyguard, managed to be gripping and absurdly hilarious at the same time. (Kurosawa and Mifune emphasized the comedy even more in the 1962 sequel, Sanjuro). Yojimbo is one of those movies that I’d been waiting my whole life to see, I just didn’t know it at the time.
I’ve mentioned more than once how much I love director Kathryn Bigelow, and this is my favorite of her movies. I realize Point Break has become something of a camp classic, but my appreciation of this movie, about an FBI agent who goes undercover to crack a ring of surfing bank robbers, has nothing to do with camp or irony. I do think it’s hilarious – Gary Busey and John C. McGinley provide two of the funniest supporting performances in any action movie I’ve seen – and some of the plot twists are hokey (it’s an action movie from 1991 after all), but the surfing and skydiving sequences are gorgeously shot, Patrick Swayze is a fantastically charismatic villain, and it’s got one of the best car chases I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen Point Break so many times I know the script almost by heart, and it never gets old to me.
The Last Boy Scout
Yes, another early-‘90s actioner; I will never deny that I embrace my roots. Tony Scott’s The Last Boy Scout is one of the first movies I watched incessantly, and I still do to this day. The primary reason for this is the sublime script by Shane Black, who’s riffing on classic detective stories (Black, who penned the original Lethal Weapon before eventually almost destroying his career with the screenplay for The Last Action Hero, would later go even further down this route into full-on homage in his directorial debut/comeback, 2005’s brilliant Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – read more about it here). Black’s scripts share a lot of common threads – a pair of bickering guys reluctantly thrown together to solve a case that they eventually realize is a much larger conspiracy, oddly articulate henchmen, a truckload of wonderfully quotable lines – but this one’s my favorite.
The story follows a burned out private eye (Bruce Willis) who teams with a washed-up former quarterback (Damon Wayans, with a stripper girlfriend played by a then-unknown Halle Berry) to unravel a conspiracy surrounding legalized gambling and pro football. That’s all beside the point though, as the exchanges between Willis and Wayans are what make this movie, and the way Black plays with the conventions of action movies, without going overboard with meta-humor like The Last Action Hero did. (“You’re the bad guy, right?” Willis asks Taylor Negron’s deliciously evil Mr. Milo shortly after they first meet. “I am the bad guy,” Milo responds enthusiastically.) More than any other movie on this list, The Last Boy Scout is far and away the movie I quote the most; there isn’t another movie I can think of that I’ve seen that has so many amazing and hilarious exchanges, my favorite being the brief scene in which Willis and Wayans discuss the latter’s leather pants. I’ve watched it probably 100 times, and it’s never not made me laugh like an idiot. Of all the movies I’ve listed here, The Last Boy Scout is probably the one that’s the least defensible from an objective standpoint, but it’s also the one that I probably get the most pure enjoyment out of watching. I don’t watch The Last Boy Scout to appreciate the craftsmanship or the technical achievement on display, I watch it because it’s 105 minutes of violent, foul-mouthed fun.
Labels: Lists, self-indulgence, Shane Black