Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Best Films: Hono[u]rable Mentions, Part I

Ponty’s detailed and impassioned reviews of movies routinely put mine to shame.  By comparison, his are erudite, thorough, and nuanced—and almost always include some great clips.

His honorable mention list is no different.  Indeed, it’s lists, plural, as we’ll be treated to the second half next week.  Rather than running down a bunch of films as I did, Ponty breaks them down into specific categories, featuring foreign films and sci-fi/horror this week.  I completely missed foreign films on my lists and my honorable mentions, which is a major oversight.  I might be a full-throated closed-borders nationalist on some issues, but when it comes to movies, music, and art, I’m an open borders extremist.  Let a thousand Korean flowers bloom!

He also mentions (honorably) quite a few flicks that nearly made my list—several of which would make it on a second go around.

With that, here is the first part of Ponty’s honourable mentions:

This list was a wrangle, I don’t mind telling you. There are films that were immovable but many others that have flitted in and out, some of which I will give a good shout out to here. The best thing about running these honourable mentions, though, is the opportunity to highlight many other great films, movies I grew up with and which have stuck with me over the years. Many I’ve repeatedly watched. It’s a comfort thing.

I’m going to categorise these films by genre because there are way too many to individually list. I’m also going to split this into two parts, so I can partially explore some of my choices with the occasional memorable moment thrown in so without further ado, here is part one of my honourable mentions.

Foreign (Non English speaking) films:

I beg your patience with this section because there are many foreign films I love and which could, on any given day, have made my list. As Tyler said recently, if we did another top ten, a lot of these films would feature. In fact, I’d probably have as much trouble ironing out a top ten foreign film collection as I had with the current project.
My first highlight will be a film that bounced around my top 5 for a while. In fact, I’d earmarked it for 4 before I changed my mind at the last minute. The Spanish thriller, Intacto (2001), tells the story of Tomas, who is handpicked for a high stakes game in which luck is the deciding factor. It has some great landscapes, the story has its many twists and turns but it is decidedly unique and that was one of the draws for me. In the below scene, the game is obvious. But who will win?

Another of my favourites comes from the Far East. In fact, many of my favourite films are either Korean, Chinese or Japanese. On this occasion, I’m going to take you to the latter, with Hideo Nakata’s terrifying Ringu (1998). The story is basic enough; people are dying mysteriously, there are whispers of a video tape that kills and a journalist, whose niece was one of those killed, decides to root out the source of these stories. It was the film that started a slew of creepy dark haired girl movies – The Grudge Films (check out Ju-On 2 for a fright), A Tale of Two Sisters, Dark Water and many more. What I loved about Ringu is how subtle it was. When Nakata took the helm of the American remake, he changed the story and made it obviously darker, visually and very on the nose. If anyone was interested in how foreign film makers see the American audience, the remake irons it out plainly. Ringu told the story without gimmicks. It didn’t need to add hyperbolic special effects or crude makeup effects. It didn’t need a scare every 5 seconds to keep the audience interested. When Reiko visits the cabin where her niece watched the tape, it looks very ordinary. In the American version, the cabin is dilapidated and spooky. In my opinion, painting the scene in this way for the audience really isn’t necessary. If the direction and acting is on the ball, the terror will translate well. And when it comes with a soundtrack like this, you know you’re in for a treat. Scraping and scratching violins that make the hairs on the back of your neck rise and shiver.

Audition (1999) is a piece of genius and a bit of a mystery from Takashi Miike, whose Ichi the Killer (2001) is as obvious as Audition is subtle. Another Japanese offering, Audition is about a widower trying to find a new wife. His friend sets up an audition and his eyes alight on Asami, polite, quiet and beautiful. However, she is not as she appears. I won’t stick a clip up for this one but ask that you dig it out. It’s an absolute gem. It can be slow moving but that, for me, is part of its charm.

I love the fantasy action stories from China; Crounching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and House of Flying Daggers (2004) but my personal favourite is Hero (2002), which sees an assassin regale the Chinese Emperor with differing stories on the warriors he defeated to gain access to the palace. I love how the narrative changes, depending on which thread the story moves to but most of all, I love the colours. The cinematography in Flying Daggers is just as impressive but it is this scene from Hero which has stuck with me throughout the years. Remarkable, beautiful.

The dubbing in this clip is terrible but it doesn’t detract from the beauty of the scene, especially at the end when the trees change colour. Watch it in Chinese with the subtitles. It’s a stunning movie.

As much as Peter Jackson, with his shots of New Zealand’s breathtaking landscapes, sold his country to the world, Yimou Zhang did the same with China, and though much credit has to go to the Australian cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, Hero is as immersive as it is beautiful.

In relation to this, Tina and I are currently playing a game called Ghost of Tsushima and though this game is set in Japan rather than China, the cinematic qualities remind me so much of the elements to the Chinese movies I love so much. The countryside, the landscapes, the changing narratives and the colours.

It’s like participating in Hero or Flying Daggers. The photography takes your breath away and the samurai missions are just flat out cool.

From the Far East to France, the romantic comedy Amelie (2001) was another film that very nearly made my list. Quirky, some nice stories, and with a great soundtrack, Amelie is one of those films everyone should watch, especially if you want something to make you feel warm and happy.

Another worthy mention is the Japanese animation Spirited Away (2001), where a ten-year old girl finds herself whisked away to a fantasy world of gods and spirits. Unlike English speaking animation, where the plotlines are as basic as boy meets girl (or vice versa), the pursuit begins, bad guy tries to foil their plans, bad guy defeated, happy ending, Spirited Away is a little more complex than that, mirroring much of what our heroine is feeling as well as the world around her. I like one of the early scenes where Chihiro watches her parents gorge on so much food, they turn into pigs. Food aside, it’s the sort of avarice we see nowadays in the world, especially with politicians.

And finally, I couldn’t complete this section without mentioning two wonderful films, this time from Spain and Mexico; The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). This was Guillermo Del Toro at his best, before he was dragged into Hollywood to direct shoddy offerings like Hellboy. Like Spirited Away, Pan’s Labyrinth sees a young girl escape into fantasy and The Devil’s Backbone is a ghost story set at an orphanage. Both stories are very different but are utterly engaging, the chaos of reality set against the haunting fantasy of escapism in its truest form. One of things you know about me is my distaste for sacharrine kids in film but you don’t get that with these movies. The child actors display the sort of curiosity and wonder you’d expect, their reflection of the situations they find themselves in very real and very poignant.

If you haven’t seen many of these wonderful films, search them out and add them to your collection. Your life will be enriched by all of them.

Horror/Thriller/Sci fi:

Alongside Ringu in terms of great horror movies, I couldn’t in all conscience get through this without mentioning the superb low budget Evil Dead (1981), the brainchild of Sam Raimi. The premise for this film is simple: five young adults drive out to a cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway and end up waking something primeval while they’re there, which proceeds to pick them off one by one until only one man is left to fight. And poor Ash (Bruce Campbell) goes through the mill as across three films, he loses his friends, his hand, and his mind. The first film though is the stand out. I love the crappy stop motion effects, certainly in the makeup effects where the bodies are decomposing at an alarming rate but it’s the soft touches of this film I especially like. In the scene where Ash gives his girlfriend, Linda, a necklace, I enjoyed the playfulness of the soundtrack and the direction, close ups of Linda and Ash’s faces as they toy with each other before the former catches the latter out. I think many people might forget that in this visceral horror, there are some lovely touches, the sort of directorial brilliance that would carry Raimi in years to come and which became uniquely Raimi.

Moving from gory horror to intriguing sci fi, I give you Existenz, a 1999 sci-fi thriller, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law. Like all of David Cronenberg’s films, which question something, this is no different, looking at the problems of creating an alternate reality through the medium of video games. By the time you reach the end of the film, you’ll wonder yourself whether you’re in the real world or still in the game. The gaming technology is organic, something that has been dreamed up for fiction but which you could see bleeding its way into real world technologies. In this case, the game device is attached by a cord into the spine, the console itself living, moving flesh. With real world ideas, like digital chips, already spoken about, the notion that future video game technology could be organic doesn’t seem far fetched at all. Like much dystopian fiction, in future years we may just see some of the elements of this film reflected back at us, like a reflection on a bent spoon, which nicely brings me to another superb science fiction film, The Matrix (1999).

Tina won’t watch this film. For all its superb cinematography, groundbreaking special effects and a captivating storyline, she cannot stand Keanu Reeves. Anyone else in that role and I think she would have enjoyed it as much as I did. For those who haven’t seen it, The Matrix tells the story of Thomas Anderson (Reeves) also known as Neo in the hacker world, who feels disenchanted and disconnected with his life. He works a tedious job and rebels in technology. He finds himself drawn out of boredom by another hacker who calls herself Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). She piques his intrigue by leaving him breadcrumbs, pointing to the idea that the world he inhabits might not be his own. When Neo finds out the truth of his reality and his own part to play in it, it becomes a race against time to fulfil his destiny whilst escaping the clutches of the shadowy agents of the matrix. I like the scene where Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) tells Neo what the matrix is, with yet another reference to Alice in Wonderland. As simplistic as it is complex, this scene is wonderfully constructed, giving Neo all the details without confusing either him or the audience.

Heading back to Cronenberg for another classic, the remake of The Fly (1986), starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. Once again, it’s the exploration of Seth Brundle’s (Goldblum) condition that intrigued me, our scientist trying to understand what’s happening to him, at first seeing it as a gift until he realises the horrifying truth of his ailment. Some of the clips I was going to use are a little gross so if you’re one of the unfortunate souls who haven’t seen this, I’ll leave it to your discretion.

Tyler included Carpenter’s remake of The Thing (1982) on his list, a film that very nearly went onto mine. I love body snatcher type movies, where you’re never sure where the threat is coming from but you know it is always there and in this case, set in the isolation of Antarctica, the fear factor is increased through futily, paranoia and claustrophobia. That said, there are some amusing moments, like the scene where an irate MacReady pours whiskey into the computer that beats him at chess and the rather tense moment where Garry, having seen some of his workmates kill each other, gets a little tetchy at being tied up.

From body snatchers to demons, my 1973 pick, The Exorcist, is a film Tina thought I’d include on my main list. It’s an extremely powerful film, one of the first movies that frightened me. When it was rereleased for its 25th anniversary, I finally got the opportunity to watch it in the cinema and it terrified me so much, all I could see for the next month was a girl with a pasty face sitting on my bed lobbing insults at me. Let’s just say, I didn’t get that much sleep during that period. Away from the demon possession of little Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), the real power comes from the semi-retired exorcist, Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow); the priest struggling with his faith and the death of his mother, Father Karras (Jason Miller); and in the utter helplessness of Regan’s mother, Chris (Ellen Burstyn); as they cast aside their own personal demons to get rid of a very real one. This is one of those films where the performances of this superb cast make you feel as they do and for those suffering their own lapse of faith, The Exorcist, I found, was very good in instilling the power of Christianity to those shrouded in doubt and scepticism.

My final pick for part one is Ridley Scott’s thrilling sci fi, Alien (1979). I know of the debate across the years as to which is better, Alien or Aliens, but for me Alien beats the follow up hands down. For one, the scratch crew of this commercial vessel don’t have the sophisticated weapons of the soldiers in the follow up, nor the know how in dealing with conflict so their terror is reflected much better than that of the sequel. There are a ton of memorable moments I have of this film but I’ll leave you with the sequence where the crew are trying to locate the alien in the airducts. Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is blindly following the instructions of Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) who is tracking the movements of the alien on a monitor and to this day, when that little dot starts moving towards Dallas, Lambert screaming at him to get the hell out of the there, it still makes me fidgety and fearful.

And that, dear readers, brings to an end part one. Stay tuned for part two.


15 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Best Films: Hono[u]rable Mentions, Part I

  1. Thanks mate. 🙂

    When I started going through these, I realised we could have both done a top 50, top 100 but it’d have gone on too long for us and your readers. Plus, they’d have all been in the wrong order. Still, if it means your readers learn of the delights of foreign films, like Intacto, Hero, The Devil’s Backbone and Amelie, that’s a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You may find this odd – possibly comical: a couple of days ago, I was reading a Lenten essay that was beautifully written and so far over my head I couldn’t reach it with a 12ft ladder. I like movies – you inhabit them. And are so far over my head, I can’t follow. But I do like to try.

    I am a fan of both the original and the remake of The Thing; The Exorcist, and Alien(s) so there may be some hope for me after all. Funny story – those who know me know I am in no way, shape, or form, a feminist. But I gotta tell ya – when Ripley gets in that cargo loader for the first time and she handles it like a pro, that was a “YOU GO, GIRL!” moment for me, lol. LOL. When she fights the Queen alien from the inside of the loader – well, just short of a standing ovation from (ahem) ‘you know who’.

    I would add the original and the Donald Sutherland remake of The Body Snatcher. But it was the remake that got to me on an emotional level at the final scene. Shocking, horrifying, and tragically sad.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If you struggle to follow what I’m writing then I’m not doing it properly. The second part should be a little easier to follow. If I feel I might be leading the reader a little too far, I’ll rein back a little.

      I didn’t mind the remake of the Body Snatchers but I found parts of it quite gimmicky. In getting the protagonist from the original film to be an extra, some may call that a respectful homage but I wonder. I also didn’t particularly like how those who’d been taken let out a scream, thus ironing out for those who hadn’t been taken what they were. In the original, it could have been anyone and you’d never have known.

      The main reason I prefer Alien to Aliens is the first played the horror better, in my opinion. Yes, the mercenaries in the second had their own brush with fear when they realised what they were up against but they had the hi tech weaponry and the only thing the crew of the Nostromo had was a flimsy flamethrower. They needed their wits about them, Ripley in the end using brains to outwit the beast.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I didn’t express myself correctly – it’s not that the concepts you write are over my head, your movie choices are outside of my understanding, if you know what I mean – just for example, those martial arts movies, to me, are just silly (nobody flies, ok???) but I appreciate that you see elements in the movies that make them meaningful and that the average viewer may not have even noticed. You do excellent reviews – it’s definitely your niche place.

        Liked by 2 people

      • _Alien_ is a horror film; _Aliens_ is an action film. Therein lies the difference.

        As far as being over anyone’s head, I suspect Audre means not that you haven’t written clearly—you have—but that your analysis is so intelligent, it’s beyond her reckoning.

        And, no, I’m not suggesting Audre is stupid!

        Liked by 2 people

  3. The martial arts movies I mentioned have a real beauty about them. The emotional relationships are played very well and the fantasy elements, like the flying, are almost like ballet. I also like that there is a real focus to every scene, whether it be a slow drip of water from a rooftop or a wide shot displaying the beauty of the country and environment. The martial arts are only a small part of what are stunning and engaging stories.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A few honourable mentions in the sci-fi / horror genre (IMOPO)
    The love war – Lloyd Bridges.
    The Omen – I still cannot watch it on my own 😉
    Mystery and imagination – a 60’s UK TV series, well worth a watch on you tube.
    28 days / 28 weeks later – both as good as one another (IMO)
    Sunshine – Cillian Murphy.
    30 days of night – chilling (IMO)
    Salem’s lot – David Soul.
    Needful things – One of the few Stephen King books that transferred well into a movie.
    The Returned (French: Les Revenants) – French version, not the poor remake.

    I could go on but its not a bad tuppenyworth.

    PS – please keep up the reviews. I enjoy reading them 😉
    Best regards.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m glad you enjoy them, Red. Tyler and Audre do some good reviews too and I hope you, and others, get to enjoy them. 🙂

      The Omen is brilliant. I enjoyed the second and third too but the first is mega creepy, especially the psychotic Mrs Baylock.

      Haven’t watched Sunshine yet. I guess you’re a Cillian Murphy fan? He’s a fantastic actor, not featured half as often as he should.

      Some good recommendations there. I’ll have to check them out.

      Liked by 2 people

      • South Park sort of ruined Jerry Goldsmith’s superb soundtrack for The Omen with their own take for Damien, first series I think.

        ‘Rectus, dominus, cheesy poofs!’ I can’t listen to that tune any more without giggling.

        Funny that Red mentioned 30 Days of Night. I’m sure I pointed you and Audre to that a few weeks ago. It has all the isolation of The Thing remake and matches it on the terror scale.

        Liked by 2 people

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