Friday, November 27, 2015

100-something Movies You Should See If You Like Movies: T-Z

And here we are, folks.  This is the sixth and final installment in an alphabetical rundown of movies the Author would recommend to anyone who enjoys all kinds of movies.  We will be issuing periodic updates to this list in the future but at a significantly lower rate because I don’t get paid to write about these and whenever I do I inhibit myself from completing stuff I’m actually required to do.  If you want to support TAF’s ongoing efforts to seek out and highlight excellence in cinema, please like, subscribe, share, and donate to our Patreon at – oh, never mind.  Sometime after December 18th I’ll try to post a roundup of all the 2015 films I saw, good and bad, Star Wars and not-Star Wars, as well as my year-end thoughts on America’s brewing intellectual race war.  Aside from movies, I’d also like to do some much shorter series on games, music, television, and literature (one of these would be harder than the rest), and the feedback we get on this post will probably determine which artistic medium we tackle next.

As always, links to the other sections are appended at the bottom, and if there’s a film you hold in high regard, do go ahead and leave any suggestions in the comments.

Taps –

Taps is a relic from the 80s about a military school revolt that quickly escalates into a standoff with the military itself. Everyone seems to think it’s a liberal antiwar screed and it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I thought all the characters got a fair shake from the script. Watch it cause it’s thought-provoking and features a bunch of really young stars at the top of their game. Tom Cruise plays a crazy person and Sean Penn plays a caricature of himself.

Teeth –

“Even the PG-13 has heavy making out.” Teeth is a movie that probably doesn’t deserve to be on any professional Top X Movies List, but fortunately for Teeth, deserving’s got nothing to do with this list. I could describe the premise of this movie to my readers, but if I did, my synopsis would only mortify the lot of you out of giving it a shot. Suffice it to say that Teeth is a satire of Purity Culture in contemporary Christianity, a set of practices and youth group platitudes that aren’t entirely extra-Biblical or even wrong but which all too often supplant any other theological topics and sometimes make kids more liable to consider premarital sex than they would be if their mentors trusted them to do the right thing without incessant, obnoxious prodding. For young and hitherto exhausted Christians who received the purity talk some 50 times or more in high school and are already in on the joke, Teeth makes a really funny mockery of contemporary Christian culture’s overzealous worries about “unclean thoughts/deeds” and the absurd lengths our teachers go to to make sure kids aren’t having any. For those who haven’t heard the No Sex Before Marriage lecture quite as many times as your own Author, Teeth will probably come across as an offensive, neo-Feminist diatribe against religious traditions written by a proudly irreligious gay guy. It will strike them as that kind of movie because it actually is that kind of movie.

Maybe it’s nothing more than that kind of movie, but either way you view it, it’s undeniably engrossing and two believers would be hard pressed not to have a good debate afterwards about its worldview. Concerning Mere Christianity or the immorality of premarital sex, I’ve never tried to obscure what I believe is true and righteous, but at the same time I think there’s something, for lack of a better word, lame about a supposedly Christian college of 18-22 year-olds where sexuality is so stigmatized that almost no undergrad is romantically pursuing another young person, which, morality aside, is just the natural thing to be doing at that age and should be expected at any such institution. Purity or Modesty Culture honorably aims to arm young believers against temptations to sin, but as an unfortunate byproduct it also ends up arming them against godly, committed relationships rooted in a moral and temperate acceptance of their sexual being.

Since I’ve summarized the thematic point of the film, you may no longer feel obligated to watch it. It’s kind of really gross and cringeworthy, especially for males, and the length at which I’ve written about it isn’t meant to imply that it’s superior to the other titles listed. On a note completely unrelated to the preceding rant, Teeth ends with a song called Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp.

The Terminator –

The original Terminator has a couple glaring problems: as satisfying as it is to see a stoic and invincible Arnold Schwarzenegger marching through a police station and gunning down thirty guys with a weapon in each hand, in actuality he wouldn’t be able to obtain a fully automatic Uzi rifle from a gun store, nor would he be able to shoot the storekeeper in the chest because he left some shotgun shells on the counter. Silly James Cameron. At least you can say you made a really fun and well-paced action movie, minus the awful-looking stop-motion Terminator puppet. What are you gonna do if you don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars to blow on pretty, blue aliens or the evil machines that are wrecking their ecosystem?

The Thing –

Much like The Fly, this 30-year-old classic remains top of the line in credible and disgusting effects work without a hint of CGI, but it also tells a tense and compact story tinged with political themes of paranoia and the way in which fear of the unseen enemy disintegrates trust between comrades.

Thirst (u1) 

A few words I would use to describe Thirst: humorous, violent, playful, seductive, erotic, extravagant, elegant, mesmerizing, gonzo. A tale about a struggling religious man that never fully commits to its religious underbelly (Park Chan-Wook is not, as far as anyone knows, a Christian), it nonetheless draws upon the legend of the vampire as a metaphor for the baser primal instincts latent in all men, the id which wages a savage war for dominance with the hero’s waning Catholicism. It employs special effects rarely but effectively, has one of the best, most justified sex scenes ever for what that’s worth, and couldn’t possibly close in more spectacular fashion.

Three Amigos –

“Will you kiss me on the verandah?”
“Lips are fine.”

Top Secret! –

Old review here. Top Secret! makes Monty Python’s Holy Grail look slow and dull and dated. No other film has such a sustained and rapid onslaught of visual jokes except for maybe Scott Pilgrim, which undercuts its own appeal by aiming so much humor squarely at nerds and hipsters.

Transformers –

People masquerading as critical consumers of media automatically (and quite stupidly) dismiss this as a stupid Michael Bay movie, but nobody rolls out a slicker Bayhem movie than the Bay himself, and Transformers undeniably crushes all alternatives in straight-up, effects-driven action movies. Just see the highway chase with Bonecrusher barreling through a truck, the opening assault on the Qatar base, or the shot of Ironhide blasting himself off the ground to avoid incoming missiles and a screaming woman. Even the cheesy and very well-worn subplot of dorky nerd Sam Witwicky trying to impress hot car mechanic Megan Fox has grown on me with repeated viewings. All this is topped off with one of the most epic-sounding, dramatic, woefully underrated scores ever. You’d have to wear a Decepticon sticker on your car to not appreciate this modern classic in waiting.

The Tree of Life –

The Tree of Life isn’t as easily explained as most of the other movies on this list. It’s certainly a lot harder to explain than Teeth, and it’ll probably take some repeat viewings before I finally feel I get it. Terrence Malick gives us a deeply spiritual and artsy piece that ignores our thirst for rational understanding and doesn’t resemble any other film aesthetically.

Tron: Legacy –

Tron has gained something of a legacy as that protracted Daft Punk music video which was commercially designed to be as exhilarating and visually gigantic as possible, and you can certainly watch it that way if you want. Or you can flex your brain muscles a little harder and try identifying all the Jesus, Holocaust, and Creation story symbols the writers cleverly wormed into their huge, flashy Ultimate Frisbee fantasy film. You do you. No hate. Sorry.

True Grit (2010) –

Just a good, old-fashioned revenge yarn brought to you by the Coen Brothers and a brilliant ensemble. Ever stalwart.

The Truman Show –

A funny thinking person’s movie, not just prophetic of reality television trends but filled with religious subtext, kind of like it’s slicing, dicing, and peeling all at once. Someday I’ll get around to reviewing it, but I don’t necessarily like using my brain on long, detailed, philosophical blog posts that no one reads in full, so that’ll be a while.

12 Monkeys –

A Terry Gilliam-directed sci-fi movie that’s a little off all the way through, and not only in the best and craziest role Brad Pitt has ever played.

Unforgiven –

“It's a hell of a thing, killing a man.  Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”

The Vengeance Trilogy (u1)

Taken collectively, these are the best films I’ve ever seen in terms of film form. Orson Welles is always credited with inventing the cinematic toolbox, but Park Chan-Wook has built much greater wonders using the same tools. Like Welles, Park underwent no formal film schooling, studying philosophy in college, and actually busied himself outside of directing with writing essays and film critiques. Knowing nothing of his personal background while watching the trilogy, it didn’t surprise me to learn afterwards that he counts Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Vonnegut among his major influences, as all three movies deal in the kind of high drama, dark comedy, and flexible narration those older writers mastered. To say a brief word about each film, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a tightly scripted, starkly photographed thriller wherein every character action is justified, makes perfect sense, and contributes to an escalating trail of violence. Oldboy is the comic-book movie to end all lazy comic-book movies, running circles around American action flicks with parallel imagery, in-camera transitions, stunning long takes, and almost every other trick in the book. Lady Vengeance falls somewhere between them both, starting out as perhaps the most confusing and stylized of the bunch before transfiguring into the most contemplative, harrowing film of the series. I could write pages upon pages about every aspect I loved in each one’s framing, editing, scoring, cinematography, and writing, but for now I’ll simply exhort you to order the Blu-ray or pull Oldboy up on Netflix, which looks about the same. Since they’re not a trilogy proper but an accidental sequence of thematically related dramas, you can really watch them in whatever order pleases you – alone, without your kids or friends, because they’re rated R for many, many reasons.

Victoria (u1)

Would Victoria be as impressive a film if it wasn’t captured in an unbroken two-hour take and just shot traditionally? As to this we can only speculate, but it is marvelously structured as a thriller and I wouldn’t expect it to weaken on repeat viewings, unlike Birdman, which uses its faux-one-shot grandstanding as a smokescreen for an insufferably masturbatory script. The flashing lights and drowning bass of a transportive nightclub beckon viewer and young heroine alike into a sensual underworld, demanding to be seen and heard in the same darkness that engulfs the characters.

The Village –

Full review here. At the time I called it the most vividly first-person film I’ve seen, and I’d stand by that assessment today. In his prime, Shyamalan utilized sensations of sound and color more fully than almost any other filmmaker, and The Village embodies the perfect marriage of cinematic and symbolical depth. The Village also marked the turning point in critical reception of Shyamalan’s works, and it marked that point because the majority of movie critics are communists. I don’t know if M. Night Shyamalan is a communist, but he sure made one hell of an anti-communism horror film, much better than The Giver – the movie, which was the original anti-communism story about a village where all is not as it seems. Would that that movie had never been released from its community.

Walk the Line –

Walk the Line doesn’t break any new ground in how to structure an artistic genius story: you’ve got the detached husband who dreams of making it big, the wife who wants him to choose a safer, family-centered career, montage sequences of said husband rising into stardom, drug addiction, infidelity, a beautiful romantic interest who’s “too afraid to fall in love”—lots of movie-ish stuff we’ve seen before. Rarely are these stock components executed with as much pathos as they are in Walk the Line. I’m not sure how much of it is factual, but given that it’s based on Johnny Cash’s autobiography, I doubt that any of it was meant to besmirch his legacy. I would recommend this film to anyone who thinks that country music has always sucked, or who thinks that Straight Outta Compton or Pitch Perfect were aca-effing-mazing. Not only would they hear a splendid recreation of the sound of Johnny Cash and June Carter, but they’d also get to see one of the most versatile actors ever, Joaquin Phoenix, turn into a complete and utter wreck on camera. And people think that Leo gets cheated at the Oscars.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Wererabbit –

Still a better love story than Twilight, and the cool thing is that Aardman Studios actually took a story about a wererabbit somewhat seriously.  “I have two – one golden bullet left.”

We Need To Talk About Kevin (u1) –

Beautiful, tragic, grim, and more disturbing in a real-world sense than most anything since Silence of the LambsKevin delivers a powerful meditation on pure evil, whether it exists as an entity in itself or is merely inculcated by external causes. Lynne Ramsay doesn’t make films often, but when she does they are astounding.

Whiplash –

Kind of like this decade’s Karate Kid or Rocky, but with drumming and a million times better directed, acted, and edited. Makes you want to play an instrument so you too can get the girl of your dreams. Or maybe not. Check it out. Even if you hate jazz. No, especially if you hate jazz, not because it’ll automatically endow you with a new appreciation for the art of jazz but because you can then tell all your friends who love jazz that you thought Whiplash was the coolest movie ever and those friends will no longer be able to call you “ignorant”.

Fast-travel to other parts:


  1. Well, there's more to life than having a movie about me included in your silly list, and I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is.

    1. You keep searching for that, brother. And I don't mean like an actual brother.


Please be aware that Google/Blogger has a regrettable habit of crashing before you hit the Preview or Publish button, so writing out longer comments separately before entering them into the browser is well advised.

Moderation is to combat spam, not to muzzle dissenting voices.