#25: Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory — dir. Mel Stuart
I have faith in children who are raised reading Roald Dahl. They’re the weirdos, the silly ones, the ones who usually have a pretty caustic wit and a smart mouth. And they are good children. My favorite book of his was always George’s Marvelous Medicine, which is essentially a child concocting a poisonous solution with which to murder his hideous grandmother. And yet, it’s still a charming book. I think if somewhere before they reach middle school, if a child has read one Roald Dahl, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and probably an Edgar Allan Poe, they’ll be set for life.
I love this movie so much for every reason I hate the goddamn soulless Tim Burton atrocity. There’s a dark edge to Roald Dahl, and that was captured in the Mel Stuart original. Gene Wilder is remarkable. He’s terrifying and charming and devious and kind. I love the fact that there’s a legitimate case to be built that Willy Wonka is a serial killer who picks off children until he can find one whose own morality matches his. We never see these spoiled brats again. The original Wonka film is pretty much the prototype for Saw. These rotten children break the rules, and are punished for it. Drowned in chocolate. Swollen and smushed. Shrunk. Dropped down a chute for being a bad egg and possibly burned in a furnace. Charlie even breaks the rules. But he is apologetic, and complacent. So Wonka spares him. And gives him the keys to the kingdom. This is pretty much what happens to Shawnee Smith in the first and subsequent Saw films.
And yet as a child, you’re never aware that Wonka is a monster. You love him. It’s all candy, candy, candy! And funny little men! Who were originally pygmy slaves in the first printing of the 1964 novel. Somehow, making them technicolor dwarves is even more disturbing, as if they were bred solely to serve the gods of sugar, fat, salt. Children’s entertainment should always have an edge that you can’t quite see until you’re older. That’s the best kind of candy.
#26: City of God (Cidade de Deus) — dir. Fernando Meirelles, Katia Lund
I remember first seeing this in film school. Without preamble or statement, our professor just put the DVD in and played it for us. What followed blew my goddamn mind out the back of my head.
It’s not just an astonishing story of impoverished youth getting drawn in and out of the crimelords of the favelas in Brazil. That alone would have been breathtaking. It’s like a Brazilian Boyz N The Hood, or pretty much any quality story of ghetto escapism. But then the end credits roll, and you discover it’s based on a true story. That not only was this story phenomenal and haunting and awesome, but that it pretty much exactly happened.
THEN, you discover that Meirelles and Lund could not find enough black actors in Brazil, so they basically just cast all untrained performers and put them through “an acting school.” Including, and my introduction to, Seu Jorge, a famous musician who would go on to be in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic and do that album of excellent David Bowie cover songs in Portuguese.
It was lightning in a bottle for Meirelles, who made a few more major market films before kind of fizzling out. He’s still producing and directing, but this was his opus. This was his moment to shine. The same deal for Lund. They actually tried to make a television show out of the movie, but it just didn’t have that same visceral energy and horror to it.
City of God has gone on to appear on numerous lists for movies you must see before you die, and world cinema, and even drug/gangster films. It used to be much higher on my list. It probably still should be, more likely than not up around the middle of the top twenty. But if you’ve never seen it, do yourself the favor. It’s not a happy film, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s so well done.
#27: Planes, Trains & Automobiles — dir. John Hughes
This was a bitch. Pick your favorite John Hughes is like sending a starving man to a buffet and saying “Okay. You can have one food item. Go.” There’s so many different reasons for liking so many of the films. My love of John Hughes is well-documented. So I decided, alright, forego all the high school films. Ferris Bueller used to be on my top five. Because I appreciated the message of it. And while there is that sociopathic Willy Wonka as horror story element to it, it’s still my favorite of the high school flicks. But I went for the other works. And I knew it’d have to include John Candy. So I picked Planes, Trains & Automobiles.
I think ultimately, it comes down to homesickness. This film is about trying to get home to the people you love. But it’s also about realizing that while you look down on others, you’re probably just a big an asshole if not bigger. Which is a key lesson I still have to learn. But yeah, I mean, trying to fly home, with my family scattered to the four winds, and trying to drive cross country, it’s a bitch and a bear.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles is incredibly quotable, as is most of John Hughes work. The header was almost the entire exchange between Steve Martin and Edie McClurg over the rental car. I WANT FOUR FUCKING WHEELS AND A SEAT. I want a fucking car and I want it right fucking now. It’s an R-rated film. And for basically that scene and the cab driver one. There’s no nudity. There’s no sexuality. Other than a little ball-handling. There’s no violence. Just swearing. Stupid fucking MPAA.
You could probably fit most any John Hughes film in this slot. But yeah, this one will always have a place in my heart.
#28: The Untouchables — dir. Brian de Palma
I’m weird in that when people ask what is your favorite mob movie, I answer with this. I appreciate the genre. And I dig the hell out of Goodfellas, Casino, The Godfather, etc. But, man. This movie. I just don’t know how to explain it. There so much going on.
You’ve got that shootout on the steps that mimics the Battleship Potemkin Odessa Steps scene. You’ve got this brutal fucking dialogue. Of course, Mamet wrote it, so there’s that. You’ve got Sean Connery using his Scottish brogue to play an Irish cop. You’ve got such outstanding quotable lines. De Niro as Capone — people gave him shit, but my god, when he fucking wallops the Christ out of that guy with a bat.
Every death is heartwrenching or brutal. I’ve always heard the whole “save the cat” style of screenwriting. This is where I learned “fuck that cat.” They kill so many darlings. Christ, the opening scene where the little girl comes out of the bar holding the suitcase and they blow her to hell. AAAAAHHHHH! WHO THE HELL DOES THAT?!
It’s a depressing as hell movie, and it just carves your heart when it kills the people you care about. But there are still moments of savage vindication. “He’s in the car.” My second favorite time someone gets throw off a roof into an automobile.
#29: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — dir. Michel Gondry
This used to be my number one. And not even that long ago. Maybe ten years ago? But yeah, it was my without question, number one film. Charlie Kaufman. Punching into my heart and capturing that enduring loneliness, that lust for trying to capture a manic pixie dream girl in a mason jar with holes poked in the top and making her yours.
But then I got into a serious relationship. One I’m still in. My heart got full. It never carried that wistfulness, my emo-sobber phase as my missus is prone to call it. I find that many things that spoke to me in my lonely phase now have a less visceral resonance right in the now. I still love sad songs. I just don’t love them the same way. I’m not likely to carve lyrics in my skin with a Sharpie or a safety pin as once I was.
There’s such a quiet beauty in this film, that the nerdy shoegaze folks defiantly whisper, I GET IT, THIS, THIS, THIS. But when you become a different person, or when you leave those things behind — like finding a book of old poetry from your teen/twenties and rereading them with a cringe. This film is still beautiful, but it doesn’t crush my soul like it used to. It doesn’t have that same latch and lock. Your favorites change as you do. But it’s still a gorgeous film.