Saturday, October 24, 2015

100-something Movies You Should See If You Like Movies: E-H

Continued from part 1, which also describes the methodology behind this list in case the title doesn’t make it clear.  Newer entries will be labeled u1, u2, u3... uX depending on when I add them, so use your internet word searcher and check back in several months to follow my ongoing chronicle of the best that Hollywood has to offer.  Links to other sections are appended at the bottom.

Edge of Tomorrow –

The helicopter scene alone merits a spot on this list.  And Emily Blunt doing pushups.  Is there something on her face?  Too bad Emily Blunt had to go and make such a dumbkopf of herself.

Edward Scissorhands –

Old but complete review here.  A very sad yet very wonderful movie.

Empire of the Sun –

Spielberg’s historical magnum opus, much better than the also strong Saving Private Ryan.

Enemy –

Jake Gyllenhaal plays two physically identical characters, or two versions of the same character, depending on how you try to make sense of the story.  I don’t know why people think this is slow-paced. Of all the nonsensical, symbolism-fueled arthouse pictures I’ve seen, this is probably the most riveting.  I’m not really convinced that it’s a split personality movie.  I really want it NOT to be another split personality movie.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 

A very imaginative and experimental movie about love, memories, and how our past defines our present.  Charlie Kaufman is kind of an annoying artsy-fartsy hipster (see the movie he wrote about himself writing the very movie that you’re watching), but bravo to him for pulling this script off.

Evil Dead II and Hausu (u1) –

A couple basic things I learned about filmmaking from watching Evil Dead II: 1. Cutting scenes on action can be very startling and effective; 2. POV shots are sorely underutilized in modern cinema; 3. Practical effects can look really cheesy, and sometimes that is charming; 4. Humor and horror are a lot less separate than one might think.  Both rely on setting up and subverting expectations, and a great director will allow his viewers sufficient leeway to laugh or recoil as they will.  This is what separates a political comedy like Borat from a TV sitcom like Friends, or a Sam Raimi horror film from the latest chapter in the Insidious-Conjuring saga.

I affix Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 film House to the more customary Evil Dead not because it’s more entertaining or because it inspired the latter (House wasn’t released in the United States until Janus/Criterion picked it up in the 2000s), but for lifting some symbolical weight from the whacky horror comedy genre and for pushing the limits with its visual weirdness.  It’s also just more pleasing to look at all around, achieving moments of simple beauty in its colorful sunsets and killings, whereas Evil Dead II delights viewers more by its homespun, unabashedly cheap aesthetic than by Raimi’s painterly eye for composition.  In truth, if you were to watch any of the ugly Evil Dead movies every week for a lifetime, you’d probably get sick of the world pretty fast.  The Hausu Blu-ray comes with subtitles, so you could induce yourself to take a pleasant, 90-minute nap nearly every time.

Ex Machina –

Unpredictable, thought-provoking, and extraordinarily beautiful robot movie that exploits modern liberal sensibilities on the rights of the nonhuman and shockingly rejects those sensibilities in the final act.  It doesn’t wield quite as much staying power on second viewing, but then what movie does that packs so many astonishing, last-minute twists?

Exit through the Gift Shop –

The less that’s said about Mr. Brainwash, Banksy, and the other street artist icons mythologized by Exit Through the Gift Shop, the better, because their documentary is a bit of a trip.  The story told herein seems too outrageous to be true, and that’s kind of the point.  People have debated how much of Brainwash’s journey is real and how much is a carefully constructed fabrication of director Banksy, whoever he is, but the crucial moment in the drama – people lining up in droves to fork over massive sums of money for what’s essentially a worthless piece of hodgepodge, mishmashed junk – is completely factual.  Exit Through the Gift Shop is in essence a movie about marketing and all the trickery involved, so why do so many people care if the movie itself is an engineered work of entertaining trickery?  Maybe art is just a joke, but doesn’t the art of deceiving stupid people lie at the core of all American politics and commerce?

Fantastic Mr. Fox –

The stop-motion Wes Anderson comedy with talking animals we never knew we wanted.  What the cuss kind of movies list would this be without it?  Really old review from the dark days of The Author’s Files featured here.  Read it to see how far we’ve come.  All the sentences are just like this one and the one after it.  They start with a noun, follow with a verb of being, and end with an adjective describing the noun.  That kind of writing just isn’t very interesting.  Even for a wild animal.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High & Election 

These two go rather hand in hand, both aiming to expose a darker and more worldly aspect of high school that’s often glossed over in the genre, and not in a crass, extravagant way a la 21 Jump Street but with a sobering maturity and sincere awareness of real social faults.  Teenagers in both these films are accurately and/or idealistically portrayed as horny, malicious, power-hungry, jealous, injudicious, petty, rabidly sexual beings.  Fast Times is particularly renowned for a poolside fantasy experienced by Judge Reinhold, Election deals more frankly with the reality of pervy high-school teachers than perhaps anything else, and young Reese Witherspoon is anything but America’s sweetheart in the latter movie.  I prefer the satiric Election for all the political observations it milks from student government proceedings, though both are strong pictures of young adults’ life in their respective periods.  Fast Times originally left a sour taste in my mouth because of how lightly it ended up treating abortion, but then I mulled it over for a longer time and ceded that the movie’s not really concerned with judging any of the characters, just with honestly depicting moral dilemmas that many people really face in high school.  Both these movies do this very effectively.

Fight Club –

Superbly entertaining to watch, with captivating, moody cinematography, snappy writing, and great performances, while also being thematically perplexing enough that people fifteen years later can still argue about what the heck it really means.  Regardless, it’s mostly great for being so slick and absorbing.  See the outro scene that made a Pixies “fan” of everybody for the prime example of how to end a movie with a bang, like literally.  I am Jack’s remnants of a once brilliant mind blown to smithereens.

The Fly –

For a special effects-driven movie about a scientist turning into a human fly, this was surprisingly emotional and effective at making me care about Jeff Goldblum’s tragic metamorphosis.  No one questions the enduring magnificence of its revolting makeup and prop design, but it also packs one of the saddest endings ever put to screen.

Full Metal Jacket –

Me love this movie long time.

Ghost in the Shell 1.0 and 2.0 (u1)

Densely philosophical science-fiction that’s animated immaculately and often strains one’s ability to follow the plot.  Treads a lot of the same ground since covered by Ex MachinaSnowpiercer, and of course The Matrix, and I maintain a weird theory that the art team of the game Mirror’s Edge must have spent a lot of time pouring over Ghost’s future Hong Kong.  I actually prefer the second movie for its more involving narrative and action, so if you find the original too plodding and unapproachable, give Innocence a shot. Or go watch the Scarjo remake soon to hit theaters that looks like generic, PG-13, robot-fighting-for-its-freedom trash.

Gladiator –

Russell Crowe has so many good lines within this film, it’s almost tragic that he’s just a made-up movie character.  And who could forget what a sickly, horrifying creepazoid Joaquin Phoenix made as Commodus?

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly –

I would say they just don’t make them like they used to, but then I’d fall into the trap of romanticizing the movies of the past as exponentially, universally superior to the movies of the present, which they most definitely aren’t.  Unless the older movie is directed by Sergio Leone and scored by Ennio Morricone.

The Graduate –

Mrs. Robinson is the most attractive of all Dustin Hoffman’s parent’s friends, but he thinks she’s trying to seduce him.  A very messy, nontraditional story of free spirits falling in love and running away ensues, resulting in a fabulous fusion of everything that makes a movie stand out as a movie.

Hard Candy (u1) –

Allow me to cut the tension: Hard Candy is an extraordinarily unrelenting and stylized experiment in generating empathy for a really messed-up guy, propelled by powerhouse acting and luscious, ethereal filmmaking.  Its centerpiece, which stretches on for at least 15 minutes in several shots that bleed into each other, has to be the most uncomfortable scene for male viewers in modern American cinema. Simply put, it took a lot of balls to make this movie, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to feminists.  Or maybe I would.  I don’t know.

On a side-note, Hard Candy introduced me to my favorite song by Blonde Redhead, which sounds all the more punchy and hypnotic after the near-total absence of musical score in the rest of the movie.  If you do plan on watching something with a title and a poster like Hard Candy, then don’t click on the link to Elephant Woman.  If you don’t, however, plan on that, then do click on the link.

Hardcore Henry (u1)

I’ve swayed back and forth in my mind on whether Hardcore Henry belongs on a list of movies for people who like movies.  It’s certainly a movie for those who like video games, and for those who, recognizing the numerous faults of modern first-person shooters, criticize such perversions of gaming form with knowledge and passionate urgency.  The majority of mainstream critics, having attained the age or elitist sophistication that apparently precludes one from recognizing interactive storytelling as art, don’t hate Hardcore Henry’s inspirations with knowledge or with passion or with urgency, which led nearly half of them to dismiss it as dumb, mindless fun instead of crediting it for what it is: an intelligent and pointed parody that one can also passively enjoy as an extremely fun and over-the-top action movie.  In truth, Hardcore Henry skewers nearly every gaming cliché imaginable – formulaic level design, in-game tutorials, bad NPC lines, overlapping dialogue, boss battles, a silent protagonist, equestrian transportation, scantily clad warriors – and does so through a highly entertaining POV presentation that hasn’t been executed so well by the artiest of art films.  But I suppose you wouldn’t know that if you’ve never held a video game controller.

Heathers (u1) –

They just don’t make high-school movies like this anymore, movies that gleefully revel and find humor in the kind of hot-button topics that Millennials’ mollycoddled and puritanical culture has anointed not to be questioned or transgressed.  Upon consideration, I don’t think that any mainstream teen movie has succeeded the irreverence of Heathers, which owes in part to the patronizing notion that movies about or aimed at young people should have an explicitly moralizing function.  Believing high-schoolers haven’t yet developed the moral compass to discern independently that Winona Ryder and Christian Slater are playing really unethical and depraved people, studios prudishly refrain from OK’ing any script starring a teenage starlet as an anti-hero unless it verbally labels her an anti-hero and reforms her through her experiences.

Heathers has no such reservations about the satirical comprehension of its viewers.  This is a daring and different pre-Columbine comedy, and one that I am very glad exists.

Hellboy –

Really old, unexhaustive review here paired with commentary on Shrek.  It’s funny, stylish, emotional, occasionally beautiful, and laconically sums up the philosophy by which any man should live: “I can promise you two things.  One, I’ll always look this good.  Two, I’ll never give up on you.”  Hellboy 2 is also visually creative and entertaining fan service but can’t compete with the originality of the first, which I just realized is not an origin story.

Her –

Probably the most intensely sensual film I’ve yet seen, it portrays a man’s longing for intimacy without any of its trials, disappointments, or uncertainties.  It may be early to make this call, but ten years from now, Her will also be recognized as one of the most prescient cinematic visions of the future, taking a slightly exaggerated version of our present, cell phone-addicted society and forming an all too probable conclusion about the corrosive effect technology will continue to have on human relationships.  I almost cried.

Hero (without kung fu) –

A very interesting, little remembered film starring Dustin Hoffman, it’s basically about what makes a person good or bad, whether it’s a pattern of behavior that we sustain throughout our day-to-day life or the momentary choices we make in times of extreme tribulation.

Hero (with kung fu) –

I don’t know if I’ve seen a movie that exudes more epicness than Hero. Every shot is designed for maximum visual sensation, and not in the aggressive, Rick Berman fashion of shoving unnecessary crap into the frame for the sake of “denseness”, but in a gentle and caressing manner that seduces your eyes with the splendor of the colors, the hugeness of the settings, and the fantastical beauty of the cinematography. Aside from being a landmark work of photographic art, it’s also a great film to show any aspiring creative writers, weaving a nonlinear, not always objective story through multiple layers of flashbacks and eschewing a traditionally happy ending for a much more somber resolution open to individual interpretation.

Holes –

Let me tell you girl scouts a story.  Once upon a time, when I was just a little kid who couldn’t watch most PG-13 and R movies, there was a magical movie called Holes, where it (almost) never rained, where there was a surprising amount of killing and starving and danger for a Disney film, where Shia Labeouf was just a cool teenager.  Louis Sachar’s script simmered with memorable one-liners and characters.  The end.

Hoodwinked –

If you think that Pixar movies are the pinnacle of creative writing in the animation medium, you’ll probably think Hoodwinked feels a lot like hot coffee, all over your neck, very, very painful.  If you like layered storytelling that draws on multiple points of view, cleverly contorts existing folklore, alludes to other cultural touchstones, and tells a musical fable of going over the woods and through the river, then here’s a story I hope you’ll like.

How To Train Your Dragon –

I didn’t really get the hype about this the first time I watched it in the theater with stupid 3D glasses.  Then I grew up a little bit, and How To Train Your Dragon grew with me.  That may be the dumbest, most falsely sentimental sentence I’ve written in praise of a film.

The Hunt (u1) –

In a time when campuses like the regrettably-named Emerson College actively discourage misandrist, brainwashed youths from using neutral qualifiers like “alleged” or “accused” in reference to sexual assault, the themes of this uncommon Danish movie seem all the more poignant and vital.  Intentionally or not, The Hunt feels like a convicted rebuttal to the all the most trumpeted tenets of rape culture ideology (and the narcissistic #MeToo fad). So argues the film, that the severity of the claim doesn’t inherently give it credence, that people lie for a multitude of reasons, even about rape/assault/harassment, and that persecuting someone found innocent in the name of justice is just about the most unjust, uncharitable, and un-Christian thing that one can do.

If this had been an English-language film, Mads Mikkelsen would currently be an Oscar-winning actor.

Fast-travel to other parts:


  1. Oh boy, I can't wait for the I's. So many great moves that start with the letter "I". Igor, I Am Legend, Inside Out, The Imitation Games, Iron Man 3. Wow, such a great letter for movies.


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