Sunday, September 18, 2011

Shane's Desert Island Movies

Only having a handful movies to watch for the rest of my life is a terrifying thought and I really struggled putting this together. Making this list was not just about picking my 5 favourite movies ever (though that was certainly a starting point). Instead it was trying to find the movies I think are great, that I'd be willing to watch again and again, and that would cover the widest range of genres so I would have the most variety. So, here they are in no particular order.

5. The Dark Knight (2008)
I've already praised this movie enough in my favourite films of 2008, so I'll try to keep this brief. This was an easy pick seeing as how it's my favourite superhero film about my favourite superhero. If I can't drag along a stack of graphic novels to the island, I should at least take along the best movie about Batman. When it came down to it I had to decide between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and I love them almost equally, but the truth is one of them had Scarecrow, the other had The Joker. You do the math.

Whenever I'm craving action and thrills this movie will have me covered. So much happens that it practically feels like two movies crammed into one, but it also feels complete enough that I won't mind watching only the middle of a trilogy of movies. Well ... at least that's the idea.

4. Spirited Away (2001) 
For a good while I had this movie pegged as my all time #1. It tells the tale of a young girl named Chihiro who is moving to a new home with her parents when they take a shortcut that leads them to strange abandoned village. As night falls, her parents are transformed into pigs and Chihiro finds the world is filled with spirits. She makes her way to a bathhouse for the spirits and ends up working there as she tries to figure out a way home again.

This movie is such an unusual and beautiful film, I find it hard to describe what's so amazing about it, but bear with me. The score is wonderful and the animation is among the best I've ever seen. Combined with the sound design the film captures details so vividly that every moment spent in the spirit bathhouse feels real: the sound of bare feet on wooden floors, the deep rumbling and hissing of furnaces, the sloshing of hot water. I can practically feel the humidity in the air.

Spirited Away has been compared to "Alice in Wonderland" and other famous fantastical children stories. It does have similarities to many of those tales, but it still stands out as something unique. There is a dream-like quality to Chihiro's journey. The places she travels to and the characters she meets either fill you with a sense of comfort, a sense of fear, or shift between the two. Chihiro herself changes as well; maturing from a sullen, easily-angered girl, to one who is is confident in facing the challenges that life throws at her. It seems like the ideal positive message I'd need in my isolation.

3. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) 
The film takes place almost entirely in a real estate office where a group of salesmen must face off  in a contest that will win one of them a new car and cost one of them their job. The film's taken a competitive job in a competitive industry and added more competition, so you should not be surprised to learn that stress and emotions run high.

First of all, if you haven't watched this movie yet, drop everything and watch it right now. I mean it. I had known about it forever and only got around to seeing it two years ago and it blew my mind. It's so goddamn good. It's an all-star lineup of actors giving amazing performances: Spacey, Arkin, Harris, Pacino. Plus Alec Baldwin tears shit up during the film's opening like no one's business, and Jack Lemmon gives one of the best performances EVER. Seriously, I get chills.

It's so good because every moment is riveting. You have a group of master bullshitters all trying to bullshit their way to the top with their own approach. It's a cutthroat business and as pressure quickly escalates almost every character goes on a tirade before the end. This is easily the most fun I've had watching people yell and swear at each other. In any other movie it would seem profane, but here, with the right script and actors, it's like poetry.

Why is this movie a good pick for my deserted island? Well, the dialogue is so good I want to memorize every line of it, and a deserted island might be just the right place to try. Also, the movie reminds me of some of the worse jobs I've had, and that should make me feel thankful to be out of the workforce and trapped in the middle of the ocean.

2. Rear Window (1954)
I knew I wanted a Hitchcock film here, and I was torn between Rear Window and Vertigo for some time. Rear Window won because it has a more suspenseful story, more enjoyable performances, and I just really love the way the film keeps us locked into Jeff's vantage point throughout. The first time I watched it I was literally stunned at how engrossing it was and how tense I was getting as the final act plays out. Every time I watch it I'm still on the edge of my seat when Lisa goes into the neighbour's apartment to investigate.

I enjoy all the characters immensely, but of course Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly really make this film as great as it is. I love his trademark delivery and mannerisms, and I love her elegant beauty and sensual voice (I would honestly listen to her read the phone book if I could). It's so much fun watching these two very different characters finding a common interest to pull their relationship together, and then switching roles when they get caught up in their curiosity.

Rear Window is entertaining, re-watchable, and a masterpiece of mystery and suspense. I'll be watching it time and time again, deserted or not.

1. Amelie (2001) 
Like Spirited AwayAmelie is a movie that makes the world seem like a more happy, loving place. I figure even if a majority of my favourite movies are of a darker tone, I should choose a a balanced selection so as to keep my spirits up while I'm stuck on the island, you know, forever.

The film follows the life of the titular Amelie as she helps (and sometimes punishes) those around her in interesting ways and falls in love. The visuals are gorgeous and vibrant, the music relaxing and cheerful, and the characters quirky and whimsical. Hell, even the narration is notably pleasant. Front to back it's a charming French film. For me this film is like a warm hug, remembering the innocence of childhood, and reliving the experience of first love. Yeah, I know it sounds corny, but it's true.

All in all I think I've captured a solid selection of movies for whatever mood I might be in: mystery, suspense, action, adventure, drama, comedy, romance, fantasy, or animation. Stories about people trapped in one place and piecing together a secret, or heading off into an unknown world and learning something about themselves. Stories about the competition of business and the cruelty of mankind. Stories about people in disguise helping society for justice or romantic ideals. Stories about growing up and growing old, about losing love and finding love.

Hopefully I've got a nicely rounded assortment of entertainment to keep me occupied through the long lonely years of this hypothetical situation. Or maybe I'll become bored, go crazy, and spend my time making up movies in my mind with my only friend, a volleyball.


Cole D'Arc said...

well, you've certainly surprised me by picking a movie based on a play. particularly one by David Mamet, who is such a polarizing writer. his stuff is really all over the place.

as for the others, i have the same feelings as you do for them and they would all probably make my list if it were just a top seven or so.

Cole D'Arc said...

ive never seen that poster for Rear Window before

Shane said...

I actually meant to mention the fact that Glengarry was originally a play in the list. It certainly explains the dialogue of the film, as well as the structure, and limited settings. Why was it surprising that I chose a movie based on a play? I can be cultured too you know! lol.

Cole D'Arc said...

i just can't recall you ever telling me about any movies based on plays that you really like.

in the case of glengarry, the movie is probably even better than the play because, as you mentioned, Jack Lemmon is awesome in it (his role was the main inspiration for the Simpsons character Gil) and also because Alec Baldwin's part was written specifically for the movie and isn't in the play.

yeah, i've always thought this was a clever little movie but i am pretty surprised to learn you feel so strongly about it. it does make a good desert island choice.

Shane said...

I do feel passionate about Glengarry Glen Ross. It's one of the few movies I can think of that when I watched it for the first time, I immediately watched it a second time back to back.

Other movies I really like based on plays: The Glass Menagerie, Doubt, 12 Angry Men, Rope, Amadeus, and plenty of film adaptations of Shakespeare's work.

I'm glad you can agree with all my picks. I changed my mind so many times trying to work out these five, but I pretty sure I wouldn't regret any of these choices.

Also Jack Lemmon/ Gil is awesome indeed!

Cole D'Arc said...

actually you did tell me how much you like Rope. in fact i think we watched that together. i'd forgotten.
but as for most of the other stuff, of course i knew you liked them, i just was surprised that one of them ranks so high with you.
i constantly forget that Amadeus was a play first - the movie is so beloved i think it overshadows that.

Ryan said...

Somewhat ashamedly I've only seen one of these -- The Dark Knight.

I thought I'd seen Spirited Away years ago, but now that I've read your article I must've mixed it up with something else.

An excellent list, nonetheless!

Shane said...

Ryan - If this list isn't indication enough, I must insist that you seek out and watch the four other films on the list. I shall give you a deadline of 1 year!

**flips over ridiculously huge hourglass**

The sand clock is ticking.

Cole D'Arc said...

man, if i knew that, i would have MADE him watch Spirited Away ages ago.