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August 9, 2013

The Volties: My Top 10 Favorite Movies

There’s been too much negativity on this blog recently.

It’s been a chain of despair -- one troubled product to the next, or at least things that make me think harder than any normal person should.  Man of Steel was crushingly disappointing.  The Last of Us came out as a confused tale (and more confused game) hamstrung by creators and conventions.  The Wolverine had good intentions, but suffered from dull and almost-contradictory drama.  Percy Jackson is just awful.  It wasn’t my plan to do posts on four less-than-savory products almost one after another, but I guess that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

I say it’s time to turn the tide.  And this post should be just the thing to start doing the trick.

But before I get too ahead of myself, there are a couple of things I want to mention very quickly.  First, this is (obviously) based on my personal opinion -- not fact.  Disagreeing with me is more than welcome.  Second, bear in mind that this list is coming from someone that once went years without going to see a movie in theaters, so this isn’t exactly my area of competency.  Third, it’s been a long while since I’ve seen some of these movies, so expect a bit of rosiness clouding my judgment.  Fourth, I’m not about to call any of these movies perfect; they’re just movies that are very near and dear to my heart.  For whatever reason.

Now then.  Let’s rock.

(So hyped for Guilty Gear Xrd.  Venom confirmed?  Be still, my heart.)

10) D3: The Mighty Ducks
Well, if you ever needed evidence that I like dumb things, here it is.

That’s not to say that the movie is genuinely stupid, though.  But it IS, at its core, a straight-up sports movie featuring underdogs going at it.  I saw it on TV a month or two ago, and to my surprise it’s not only aged well (and really, who can say no to rollerblading?), but is a lot more competent than most would give it credit for.  The Ducks face their darkest hour as they enter a climate unsuited for their antics; they’re outsiders off the ice, and torn apart on the ice thanks to -- as they learn the hard way -- zero defensive ability.  They’re forced to adapt…and by adapt, I mean they come dangerously close to retiring the Duck mantle once and for all.  Will they accept?  Will they reject?  Will they win DA BIG GAEM?  If you’ve seen any sports movie in the past…ever…you already know the answer.

I don’t have a clue as to why the movie resonates with me as much as it does.  I’ve avoided sports for practically all my life, and the concept of playing hockey is more of a death wish to me than a sport.  But the movie makes it, its characters, and its drama all work.  If I had to point to a notable flaw, it’s that a commanding knowledge of the Duck canon is almost a requirement so you can know what the big deal about the Knucklepuck is, or why there’s a cowboy on the team.  But even so, it’s not a deal breaker.  It’s a movie with heart, humor, and some surprisingly high stakes.  Also, there’s more cursing than you’d expect from a kid’s movie…though to be fair, I’d wager that less than a third of the cast was high-school aged by the time the filming wrapped up.

9) Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny
Well, if you ever needed FURTHER evidence that I like dumb things, here it is.

In terms of sheer critical quality, Tenacious D isn’t going to win any awards.  It’s a movie that revels in over-the-top excess -- and really, you’d expect no less from a movie that so heavily hinges on the power of rock.  It’s a musical farce that starts with a young Jack Black getting advice from his suddenly-living poster of Ronnie James Dio, and ends with…well, I won’t spoil it, but I’ll just say “yeah, they went there” and leave it at that.  It’s a movie that could have gone wrong in a lot of ways…but they did it oh so right.

It’s one thing to have good music.  It’s one thing to have absurd, off-the-wall humor.   But it’s another thing to have them both mixed together in the same adventure, frame it in the context of a faux-epic quest while pondering the very nature, place, and protocol of rock.  The stuff that’s played straight is the stuff that makes the movie more hilarious than it already is -- but even so, it’s the sheer unpredictability of the movie from one song to the next that makes it into something memorable.  I can’t think of a better musical to watch.

8) West Side Story
Well.  Foot, meet mouth.

There’s just something irresistibly charming about West Side Story.  Maybe it has something to do with the retroactive campiness, in that we can view it from the perspective of an audience nurtured by the sensibilities (or lack thereof) of modern cinema, rather than the mindset of an era at least five decades past.  Maybe it has something to do with an under-appreciation of musicals and Broadway shows, so that when we (by which I mean I) get exposed to something like West Side Story, it’s more fascinating as a result.  Who’s to say?  All I know is that interpretive dance knife fights are pretty friggin’ cool.

And when you think about it, is the dancing in the movie really all that misfit from conflict in general?  Dancing is all about expression via kinetic motion -- and if combat and conflict are methods of expression (and by extension defining one’s stake in the world), then is the dancing really that off the mark?  Ignoring the fact that it looks nice and comes with snappy, ultra-catchy music, there’s a level of thoughtfulness here that makes it more than just a retelling of Romeo and Juliet -- something that could only have been done with a movie, a great score, sharp minds, and talented bodies.

…Or maybe I should just be thankful “Gee Officer Krupke” is a thing that exists.

7) Captain America: The First Avenger
What’s this?  A Captain America fanboy adding the latest and greatest Captain America movie to his list of favorite movies?  What an unprecedented turn of events!

There’s almost no denying that The Avengers was a great movie, but it did have one weakness.  It’s the same weakness all crossovers share: the characters in them have their individual impact and effect on the product reduced, so that everyone gets equal importance without one of them overtaking/coloring everything that goes down.  Compare that to the other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or even The Dark Knight Trilogy.  You KNOW Iron Man is going to dominate in his movies, and he’s given time and opportunities to do so.  You KNOW Batman is going to run things in his movies, because he makes it very clear he’s the star of the show.  And just before Avengers came out and blew audiences away, we got The First Avenger to show us how it’s done.

Steve Rogers may have had the body of a weakling, but he had the heart of a champion.  He lived in a world and circumstances where he wasn’t out to become a world-famous hero; he just wanted to do the right thing, and give others the chance to do the same.  Post-super soldier serum, he’s made into a world-famous hero regardless, but shortly after becomes the soldier he’s always wanted to be in an adventure that’s got no shortage of action, heartbreak, and of course triumph.  The character was fully-realized, he had a good supporting cast to back him up, the world around him was a delight, and baddies ended up getting Shield Slashed as needed. 

Folks, if ever you needed some way to trace my lines of reasoning, look no further than this movie.  Or that dope-ass credits theme.

6) Contact
Out of sheer curiosity, I decided to check Rotten Tomatoes to see the score -- such as it is -- for this movie.  Turns out it’s at 63% -- quite a bit lower than what I was expecting, but I suppose it’s fair nonetheless.  (Side note: at the time of this writing, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is sitting at 27% on the Tomatometer.  Hmmmm.)

Reviews are a suggestion of quality, not a confirmation of it.  So am I a fool for liking a movie with such a dubious score?  Of course not.  It just means I got more out of the movie than others did.  There’s a mystery and a problem to be solved, and it’s that sort of progress toward a final solution -- in this case, how to meet with aliens -- that I’ve always admired in stories.  The conflict between science and religion gets thrown liberally into the mix, and while I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect argument for either side, they both bring up their fair share of points.  (The lead character’s strict adherence to science -- and her intolerance of religion and others’ right to faith -- nearly leads to her downfall.)  There are even a few good twists in there that make the movie all the more worthwhile.

I admit that I’m not much in the way of science or religion, but seeing this movie made me at least consider both in a different light.  It made me want to explore certain topics more thoroughly -- if not doing research on them, then at least trying to take on new perspectives.  And really, isn’t that what any good movie should do?  Even if it’s got Matthew McConaughey’s purportedly-tiny arms?

5) Remember the Titans
Why are there so many sports movies on this list?  And by “so many” I mean two? 

I suspect that it was this movie more than any other that put the idea “Denzel Washington is a pretty cool guy” into my head.  As Coach Herman Boone, he has a commanding presence throughout the movie, to the point where you could feasibly imagine him as the dreaded tyrant Lord Boone (complete with Giga Missile action!).  But in spite of his overwhelming force, he ends up being an inspiration to the team.  Near the start of the movie he demands perfection, and near the end the team throws that back at his face, saying they’d be perfect…and given their record up to that point, they’ve got a shot at pulling it off.

Now, I’ve heard that while the movie is based on a true story, but there were supposedly some liberties taken…and by “liberties” the implication is that most of the movie is based on lies to pull for drama.  That’s not exactly the best fact to have come to life, and it does kind of harm the movie’s credibility…and yet, I’d say I’m willing to forgive.  I can’t say I condone fabrication, but the end result makes up for it -- it’s a movie that packs on the drama and tension, appealing to people that don’t even have a passing interest in football.  It’s exciting, it’s impactful, and there’s a 50-50 chance that the ending will hit you right in the feels.  I approve wholeheartedly -- even if I have to believe the lie.    

4) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
I don’t know about you, but for some reason I always have to do a Google search to remind myself that I’m talking about the 1971 movie, not the 2005 movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I guess it’s because I always felt like the movies should have switched titles; the 2005 movie puts more focus on Johnny Depp Willy Wonka, while the ’71 movie made Wonka more of an enigma than its key player.  But hey, that’s just me.

Whatever the case, I don’t have anything against the ’05 movie -- I just think the original is better.  It’s a movie full of whimsy and imagination, but also cautionary tales and out-and-out terror (and if you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly which scene I’m talking about).  In spite of the odd goings-on in the factory, Gene Wilder’s Wonka manages to be a stranger and more incomprehensible character -- and yet his strangeness is matched by a welcome familiarity in Charlie and the other golden ticket holders.  It’s a movie that manages to put ideas -- or rather, virtues -- front and center, and finishes strong because of it.  It may be in its forties, but I’d say the movie’s still worth another viewing. 

Although…now that I think about it, wouldn’t the systematic elimination of each child thanks to their temptation by vices make the movie a viable entry in the horror genre?  I mean, Wonka could have easily been some kind of murderous psychopath if the desire ever arose.  Just sayin’.

3) October Sky
“There’s a mystery and a problem to be solved, and it’s that sort of progress toward a final solution...that I’ve always admired in stories.”
--Voltech, approximately nine paragraphs ago

How factual is October Sky?  Don’t know.  Don’t care.  Even if it’s an embellished true story, the story that’s on display here is one that I find eerily captivating.  It’s a tale of trial and error, triumph and defeat as our leading man Homer Hickam and his buddies try their hardest to make their own model rocket.  But even then, that’s only half the story.  It’s as much a journey to build the ultimate rocket as it is to reconcile a son shooting for heaven with a father burrowing through the earth.  Their relationship changes and develops over time, filled with high points and low points, arguments and agreements.  Both of them have their moments of bullheadedness, but there’s never a doubt throughout the entire movie that they’re two men that love and respect one another…even if they have trouble expressing it.

In spite of the dreary visuals -- a stylistic choice, given that the bulk of the movie takes place in a mining town on its last legs -- it’s a remarkably optimistic movie.  There are a lot of setbacks for Homer and his dad, but they manage to overcome them with effort, determination, and guts (and science, more often than not).  When people push against the Hickams, the Hickams push back -- usually with awesome results.  It’s worth noting the change in these characters from start to finish; Homer at the start is a shoddy math student, but Homer at the end is able to blow everyone away with what he’s learned…you know, in case the rocket wasn’t enough.

I just saw this movie a couple of weeks ago.  And now I want to see it all over again.

2) The Great Mouse Detective
You didn’t think I’d leave a part of the Disney Animated Canon off of this list, did you?  Please.  I wouldn’t be able to call myself a Kingdom Hearts fan if I did. 

It took me a little while to decide for myself which one should take top honors, especially since I haven’t seen every entry in the Canon -- and even those I have seen, I don’t remember as well as I could.  So I’m going to have to give it to The Great Mouse Detective, if only because of the world’s greatest criminal mind.  Seriously, Ratigan is one awesome villain -- cocky, confident, and calculating when he needs to be, laying on liberal amounts of ham and cheese whenever he gets the chance…but when things don’t go his way, he will utterly destroy you.  Count on Disney to simultaneously inspire wonder and terror into the hearts of men.

But in spite of that scene (you know what I’m talking about), the movie at large is full of charm.  Basil of Baker Street is brilliant -- as you’d expect from a mousy Sherlock Holmes -- but he’s probably as batty as Ratigan.  The other members of the cast all do their part in coloring the movie, and while the “small creatures in a large world” angle has been done plenty of times before, especially in Disney movies, what’s on display in the movie is still engaging, atmospheric, and memorable.  It’s got action, it’s got comedy, it’s got drama, it’s got horror…it’s the total package.  In my eyes, it doesn’t get much better than this.

So, Squeenix… Great Mouse Detective level when?

1) Shakespeare in Love
Raise your hand if you saw this one coming.  Because truth be told, I sure didn’t.

I don’t know what it is about this movie, but every time I see that it’s on, I can’t help but go “hell yeah!” and watch it for a while…if not a long while.  I’m not an expert or authority on anything related to Shakespeare, but there’s always been something I’ve found intriguing about his works, and by extension the man himself (though I guess I’m not the only one to think that).  So I’m glad this movie exists to give the real Shakespeare lovers something to digest -- even if, again, not everything here is 100% true.  It’s a story that kept me hooked from start to finish.

And man oh man, what a movie.  It could have taken on any number of titles based on its content.  Shakespeare Needs to Get Some!  Shakespeare in Drag!  Shakespeare and Identity Fraud!  Shakespeare is a Five-Star Asskicker!  Shakespeare Gets Some!  Shakespeare vs. the World!  The expectation is that the movie’s going to be a stuffy, callous affair, but it’s a movie that’s more than palpable for modern audiences -- even if they don’t know the ins and outs of the man and his style.  It’s funny.  It’s heartfelt.  It’s investigative.  It’s grave.  It’s insightful.  It’s charming.  It even has a dog in it.

Simply put, it’s everything I could ever ask for in a movie and more.  Shakespeare himself would give the movie a thumbs-up if he could.  You know, if he isn’t already.

And that’ll just about wrap things up.  I hope you enjoyed this little list and the insights it gave you into my mind and preferences.  So, if you’re ever out to impress me, all you need to do is present a story that has signature hockey skills, bombastic expositional rock, interpretive dance battles, the American flag liberally applied to its lead character, Jodie Foster listening to extraterrestrial beatboxing, a football team that overcomes adversity by breaking the bones of other teams, a guided tour into a magically lethal industrial complex, a science fair that allows what was in its original design virtually a guided missile, animalized versions of famous literary detectives, and a dog.  It’s all so simple.

It would make for a fantastic movie.  And it would be called…The Greatest Idea Ever.

Or, I dunno, just make a historical drama or something. With at least one rock ballad. 


  1. I'm impressed by the variety on this list. You're certainly a cultured fellow. Interesting point on number 4, regarding the titles. Never really noticed that.

    Oh and chapter 6 is in the Bat-cave. The evil ploy has been revealed.

  2. "Cultured" is certainly not a word I'd ever thought would be used to describe me...but I'll allow it. Just this once.

    You know, now that I think about it the name of the original book was Charlie and the Chocolate factory, so in defense of the '05 movie they probably decided to go back to that to establish a bond with the book. Or maybe help differentiate themselves from the '71 movie (for a given definition of "differentiate"). Actually, a part of me wants to give the '05 movie another look...but then again, I'm worried I might walk away with a bitter impression. I saw the live-action Alice in Wonderland movie a while back, and now I can't divorce Johnny Depp from The Mad Hatter doing a stupid dance.

    Characters doing uncalled-for and poorly-fitted stupid dances seems to be turning into my berserk button. I mean, really, Percy Jackson? A dancing goat-man? REALLY? Why would you --

    Ahem. Anyway, I'll have to give that new chapter a look. Sounds like some tasty stuff, indeed.

  3. Percy Jackson was awful? Curses! I was hoping they would've redeemed themselves after the last fiasco. I'm purposefully not reading the book beforehand just so it's not fresh in my memory. Just in case they decided to change the entire plot, like they did the last time.

    This is a very interesting, diverse list. I've only seen three of them (7,4,2) from beginning to end. The Great Mouse Detective is freaking awesome! Sadly, I couldn't get through West Side Story mostly because it's a musical. And I definitely did not expect the last movie on your list. A romance? Really? lol. I've seen bits of it but honestly the only thing I liked about it was the actor who played Shakespeare. Yummy, yummy. Maybe I'll have to give it another go . . .

  4. "I was hoping they would've redeemed themselves after the last fiasco."

    That would imply that Hollywood learned its lesson from the last fiasco. A plot that makes sense? An actual, enjoyable adventure? Effort? Pshaaaaaaaaaaaaw! No need for that -- as long as we're making a movie based on a recognizable name, people will give us ALL of the dollars! Bring on the dancing goat-man!

    ...I might still be a little bitter about the first movie.

    In any case, I wasn't expecting a lot of the movies on this list...and I made this list. A couple of them almost made the cut (The Simpsons movie was on here at one point, for example), but they just ended up getting edged out at the last second. But there was never a doubt that Shakespeare in Love would take top honors; a little romance is something to be appreciated every now and then.

    That said, if you've seen the Captain America movie, you're set for life. Buuuuuuuuuuut that could just be my overwhelming, blinding bias getting in the way of my rationality and reason.

  5. Wow, this is an odd mix of movies. A lot of curve balls. I like the variety and the fact that there are sports movies. Don't really see that too often.

  6. You would expect no shortage of "curve balls" from a guy who once spoke of escalators in vain, now would you? (Seriously, have you ever tried going down an escalator heading upward? It's not easy.)

    Frankly, though, I'm surprised that I added some sports movies up there as well. I'm not much in the way of sports, but I've always seen the appeal. And I guess that on some levels, sports movies have the things I'm looking for in a story: good characters, an engaging struggle, and no shortage of heart (and triumph, more often than not). Those are things we can all get behind, I'd say.

    But that aside, have you seen the new Guilty Gear footage? IIRC -- and judging by your screen name, obviously -- you're a big fan of the franchise, so I figured you've been keeping a close eye on Xrd. So, feeling hyped yet? Cautious optimism? Smothering with rage?

    Here are some videos of the location test if you haven't seen them yet. I dunno about you, but for me the game's looking like a day-one -- no, second-one buy.


  7. The GFX look good as always and everyone seems to play the same way. As weird as this sounds, this is the only fighting game in which I'm interested in the continuing story.

  8. Interesting list. Very interesting. Some old, some new, and some in between. Nice. :)

    I always liked 'Remember the Titans'. It just kinda stuck with me: it's kinda rememberable (wow that was bad... >.<), which is an accomplishment anything related to sports can do for me. 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?' Hats off to you, dear sir. Loved it ever since I was a kid. The 2005 version was just bland. The Johnny Depp-Tim Burton-Helena Bonham Carter threesome started to really bug me by that point and it has worsened over the years. And don't worry about liking stupid movies. I liked 'Sucker Punch'. ...Don't get the pitchforks and fire. I'm not a witch, I swear!

    Somewhere in my dad's old DVD case he had 'Contact'. Sounded interesting, but I never got the chance to watch it. Since Netflix got rid of a few anime I like, I might as well give this a shot. ...And I'm still having no luck with 'Shakespeare in Love'. I just cannot find it anywhere. :/

    Still, great list. Good to see you positive! Keep the blood vessels safe from implosion. Your brain cells can't replicate so they need to last ya for a long time.

    ps - as for the latest 'Percy Jackson' film that my little counsin dragged me to see (and adores the books)... It had fewer stupid moments than the first... kinda. No goat-man dancing to Ke-dollar-ha, BUT... >.<
    It at least ended on a semi-interesting twist. By far the dumbest scene was a non-consequential sequence that ripped straight out of the end of 'Star Trek Into Darkness'... only DUMBER.

    ... Wait. my negativity might be contagious. I'll shut up. Go back to happy thoughts and enjoy yourself! :D

  9. Eh, no worries about Sucker Punch. Most of what I know about that one is based on hearsay and a few non-contextual moments with it in person; hard for me to be too critical of it if I haven't seen the whole thing. Then again, the Film Brain/JesuOtaku review from a while back didn't exactly paint it in a positive light...but like I said, reviews are only a suggestion of quality, not a confirmation of it.

    In any case, the positive thinking is going to keep on coming for a while yet. In fact, you'll be seeing what I mean soon enough. They say time heals all wounds, but a good video game or two will clean you right up, put you in a snazzy suit, and send you out for a night of big band-blazing struts through town.

    Side note: my brother and a buddy actually wanted to go see the new Percy Jackson movie (they were huge fans of Centaur Pierce Brosnan, hopefully in an "ironic" sense only), and had plans to drag me along with them. I told my brother in no uncertain terms that if he made me watch it I would disown him, and I told my buddy that nothing he could offer me would make me sit through it. No movie he could watch, no price he could pay.

    I consider myself a humble and peaceable fellow. But even I have my pride and dignity.

  10. Yeah, those visuals really are something else -- and given what it's done so VERY often in the past, I'm surprised to hear that the Unreal Engine is being used to make the game look the way it does. Top-notch work, to be sure.

    And actually, I'm interested in seeing what happens story-wise as well. Granted my strongest experience with the story was in Guilty Gear Overture (take that as you will), but there's always been something engaging about the world of Sol and company.

    Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Hell is apparently just a place you can go whenever you want. But that's neither here nor there.

  11. Ha! Overture, I still have that on my shelf. I remember playing and beating the story mode in like 4 hours and then jumping online and seeing no one on. That one didn't really float at all.

  12. I hear that. Every now and then, I still think back to that mission where you have to find Dr. Paradigm's scores. Not exactly the best of times, that.

    On the plus side, the game DID give us new versions of Sol and Ky's themes. So I guess that eases the sting a bit. A tiny bit, but hey, I'll take it.