Been wanting to go into detail regarding the movies on my top lists, but considering the huge amount of them I’d have to give descriptions to, along with the fact that I prefer to keep the whole “top list without descriptions” format because it’s easier to change the lists that way whenever I watch a film I missed out on or gain more appreciation for a film after a rewatch, it sounds like too much work with too many inconveniences accompanying the whole mess. So I’m going with a different format from my yearly anime rankings. Instead of detailing every single film on a movie list for a specific year, I’m just going to go into detail regarding the ones I find interesting to talk about from said year.
Probably could have chosen a different year than 1995 to start out with though, because goddamn was this a great year for films. Everything on the current top list for this year is something I really love and would rewatch in a hurry with (maybe) the exception of the third Die Hard film. That isn’t something that I can really say about any of the top ten (twelve?) lists on my anime rankings. I’ll do my best to cut down the films I praise on here, but I make no promises.
The Interesting Selection
David Fincher is one of the most talented movie directors out there and when you put him on surreal crime films, you know you’re going to get something truly special. Thankfully, Se7en is one such film. The interplay between the old wise Morgan Freeman detective and the young brash Brad Pitt one is your standard elder/youth combo, but it works really well and plays out very naturally. Despite the fact that Freeman’s character is set for retirement and doesn’t always agree with Pitt’s views, the film never shoves that aspect into your face, for example. And of course, the actual mystery is pretty damn awesome too. It’s about a serial killer who commits murders that mirror the seven deadly sins, and the way each victim mirrors one sin after another is pretty clever, even if it can be contrived or silly at times. The actual killer unfortunately doesn’t get much to do until the end, but he’s pretty awesome during that final climax. Kevin Spacey can be one scary guy.
Most people remember this movie for its ending and I’m not going to lie, I didn’t see it coming. The final method the killer uses to commit his sin-based crimes is full of tension and will shock many who weren’t spoiled on it. But it doesn’t come off as exploitative or thrown in at the last minute. When you take a look at the rest of the film, you’ll see all the hints laid out for you and how it was the only way Se7en could have ended in a natural manner. I won’t spoil what happens myself, but let’s just say that Morgan Freeman saying he’ll be “around” was the perfect line to end the film on.
The City of Lost Children
I haven’t watched many French films. I only know about this one because Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed it and back in the day, you couldn’t browse the movie selection of a Sam’s Club without running into Amelie, which he also directed. Only other French director I know of is Goddard, but I haven’t looked at his stuff yet. That little tidbit aside, The City of Lost Children is one weird film. Before steampunk was coined as a term, this film was practically the crowning example of the genre with weird dream machines powered by steam and creepy imagery like an army of Santa Clauses who lean more towards the naughty side rather than the nice. And by naughty, I mean terrifying.
Jeunet’s directorial style is fucking surreal. Even though I get what the plot of the movie is, I have a hard time putting it into words. It’s one of those films that you’re better off seeing for yourself and coming to your own conclusion. I will say though that I love Ron Perlman’s character: a strong man who must team up with a bunch of street children from an orphanage run by creepy twins in order to save his adoptive brother. He doesn’t actually speak in the film, having someone who can actually speak French dub his voice whilst he moves his mouth, but that doesn’t get in the way of his character one bit. Also, the film is one of those stories where you’re bombarded by a bunch of different elements with no visible connecting thread until the very end when the big picture finally becomes clear. Oh, and you can control someone’s mind by using mosquitos and a jukebox.
Whilst the third Die Hard film that came out the same year was also fun, Twelve Monkeys was the superior Bruce Willis movie to come from 1995. The fact that it’s Terry Gilliam doing another dystopian satire film in the same vein as his classic 80s movie, Brazil, is enough to get a rise out of most movie fans, when you add the charisma of a bumbling Willis character, a time-travel mechanism that doesn’t suck, and probably one of the more famous bait-and-switches in pop culture, you’re in for a wild ride.
But really, just like with Se7en (and Brazil too), whilst the rest of the movie is solid stuff, it’s the last act that makes Twelve Monkeys stand out amongst the crowd. It definitely wasn’t one of the first movies to pull the twist it did at the end, but that didn’t stop audiences back then from getting surprised despite some hints saying otherwise. At least I think so. I saw the movie long after the ending became integrated into pop culture, so it wasn’t surprising to me persay. Didn’t hurt my enjoyment of Twelve Monkeys though. After all, the best twist endings are stuff we can enjoy for its craft and get happy/sad for when we see them with prior knowledge. And man was the ending kind of depressing. I’m not quite sure what the overall point of the movie was (humanity will always be in danger?) but that’s never been a problem with me as long as the movie delivers on the shallow entertainment and such.
The Personal Highlights
Whisper of the Heart
By far my favorite of Ghibli’s output. It’s pretty much the definition of what slice-of-life should be, hitting those buttons even more than Totoro did in the 80s. Instead of the usual environmental/anti-war themes we associate with the company nowadays, we get a heartwarming story about young love and following your dreams with just a touch of magic that doesn’t overtake the story in a Deus Ex Machina manner. It’s innocent without being overbearing and whilst it may not be “realistic” by most people’s standards, it never loses its genuity in portraying Chihiro’s growth and journey into a world that borders between mundane reality and fantastical wonderland. John Denver’s “Country Roads” as sung by Olivia Newton John is also a nice bonus.
Yeah, all those slice-of-life stories that most anime fans adore because it portrays some aspect of their youth or whatever? Can’t stand them. This is my slice-of-life. Pity the director of this film died due to overwork. I would have loved to see more of him.
I haven’t watched much of Michael Mann’s output as of this writing, but based on what I’ve seen of him, I can safely call him one of my favorite directors in the film industry. And no film of his gets to me more than Heat, quite possibly the best crime film ever conceived.
This film is full of his subtle atmospheric directorial tricks that support a wonderfully written, wonderfully acted story of clashing ideals between Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. The former is a cop who is ruining his personal life through the pursuit of criminals, but won’t quit because it’s the only way he knows how to live. The latter is a criminal who ruins personal lives for his own benefit, but won’t quit for the same reason Pacino won’t. Neither side is shown in the right or the wrong, despite the fact that we lean more towards Pacino’s views (at least I hope we do), and the leads’ contrasting ideals make them perfect foils to each other, leading to a strong hero-villain chemistry that may even surpass Batman and his S/A-list villain line-up. That’s pretty much the main thrust that puts Heat above practically all the other crime films that have come before or after it, and the way said thrust lends to the movie’s conclusion is extremely satisfying whilst being natural to everything that went on prior as well.
On top of that, the tension is great, the violence is brutal without being exploitative, the dialogue is smart with some great funny moments (“She had a great BIG ASS!” – Al Pacino) and the way they work in Val Kilmer’s subplot in the middle without feeling shoehorned in is awesome as well. It’s a pretty long movie, clocking in at just under three hours, but it feels faster than any of the other films on this post with maybe the exception of Whisper. It just gets better and better every time I see it (for example, I just recently rewatched the film a few days before writing this post and I loved it even more than when I first saw it), and I don’t see anything else from the genre surpassing its brilliance.
In fact, I feel like watching it again. Time to end this post here and put in the Blu-ray.