Wednesday, January 20, 2010

520 - You Aught to Know - Ramin Honary

Most people I know enjoy discussing their opinion of literature and film. Personally, once I have discovered that I really love a film, I most enjoy the process of introspection, and trying to put into words the little emotions I felt as I first experienced each scene. Then gradually, I come to understand the gestalt of the story and how it relates to everything in my own life that I know and love. I had to choose ten, and thankfully the task was simplified by restricting my choices to the small subset of films released theatrically in the US from 2000 to 2010. For any of my favorite films I could go on at great lengths about why I thought it to be wonderful. But for the sake of brevity, I will only describe each film, and hopefully my description will manifest the reason I enjoyed it.

I should say, I am rather picky about the films I see so I have seen relatively few from this past decade. There were about 30 films I wish I could have seen before making this list because I feel there is a chance that of those 30, there will be one that will make me re-consider my list entirely. I was genuinely surprised how much I came to love the movies The Dark Night and Casino Royale, and how I realized almost immediately after seeing them that those would become two of my all-time favorites so far. There might be a few other movies that would surprise me in that same way. I did get to see about five of my "to-view" list this past month, but only Gran Torino was good enough for consideration in the top-ten, and eventually did not make the cut. I might enjoy this same exercise again at the end of this year after I have had a chance to see all of the movies I wanted while also having had a chance to properly reflect on them.

Sometimes a film has an effect on me so profound that I must watch it repeatedly. I find that I will recall a scene or a bit of dialog that I enjoyed, and it will play in my mind again and again for perhaps days until I sit and watch the scene. The films I go back to most often are the ones in which the dialog and the cinematic quality are unforgettable to me. For this reason I decided to order them by how many times I have seen each one, with two exceptions. First, although I have seen "A Beautiful Mind" more times than I have seen Master and Commander, I put master and commander at the top of the list because I tend enjoy the film more as a whole, whereas I enjoy A Beautiful Mind more scene-by-scene. By this I mean, I tend to jump to my favorite scenes and can watch it in parts. But for Master and Commander, regardless of whatever point I start at, I find I am unable to stop watching until the very end. For that film I tend to start from the first scene anyway as it is both intriguing and an exciting battle scene. The last two entries on my list are tied, as I have seen each film only once. I put 3:10 to Yuma above Adaptation simply because I like Russel Crowe better than Nicholas Cage.

I left out The Matrix Reloaded (part twp of the series) because, although it set the standard for modern action films and I was spellbound (a word I do not often use) by the action scenes, its inconclusive ending which actually concluded in the abominable third installment destroyed my faith in the film industry altogether. I left off The Last Samurai very reluctantly as it is an excellent dramatization of the historical conflict that helped define the modern industrialized culture of my second favorite country in the whole world, and I love all of the actors in it except for Tom Cruise who is still a pretty good actor. And finally, I had to leave out the J.J. Abrams rendition of Star Trek, which was my most difficult choice to cut because, as a remake of a classic science fiction series, it was everything it should have been and more, with excellent modern outer-space/action scenes, lovable characters, including the original "Spock", and a fascinating plot.

1. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Peter Weir, 2007

This film is among the most underrated in history. Extraordinary attention to historical and technical detail and flawless acting puts you in the life of a sailor on a battleship in the worlds strongest naval force during the Napoleonic wars. I suppose people went to this film expecting the kind of epic battle sequences they saw in the Lord of the Rings series. Perhaps people hoped for dialog that is basically the same as a modern day conversation minus any slang and any mention of technology, perhaps also with a bit of a romance story thrown in to keep it interesting. Instead they got a bunch of scruffy, unwashed men singing sea-chanteys, working on the ship, living and dying together, speaking with authentic English accents using language appropriate to the setting, and only two battles, neither of which could be called "epic". Apparently few noticed the very realistic problem situations, the emotional relationship between the characters, and the meticulous recreation of the military and maritime technology of that era.

2. A Beautiful Mind, Ron Howard, 2001

3. Memento, Christopher Nolan, 2001

4. Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki, 2001

5. Casino Royale, Martin Campbell, 2006

I have always been a fan of James Bond, and since I was a kid, I have probably seen, about ten times, each film in the series that was made up until Pierce Brosnan. I thought Pierce Brosnan did well enough as Bond, but the plot lines of the newest Bond films were just ridiculous. I was quite skeptical when I heard Hollywood was going to "reboot Bond". I went in with lowered expectations, but it was not even a third of the way through the film by the time I saw that Bond has not been this good since Sean Connery's last take on that character, and I walked out having realized that this was one of my newest all-time favorites. The action-packed chase scenes and fight scenes, the intriguing characters and plot line, the witty dialog, the beautiful and exotic locations and even more beautiful women, the $100,000 wardrobe and $200,000 sports car, the high-stakes game at the ultra-luxurious casino, all of it did justice to the true character of James Bond. They even managed to make the sub-plot about the poker game fascinating to me, which is no small feat. Daniel Craig fits the role perfectly in my mind. And after the classic James Bond theme played to the closing credits, I knew that not only was James Bond successfully "rebooted", but that this was one of my all-time favorite films. My dad tells me that the fictional character was something of a role model for him when he was younger, and with a film like this, I believe Bond could actually be my role model as well, if only I were a billionaire.

6. The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan, 2008

7. Hero, Zhang Yimou, 2002

This is a film about how wonderful it is that so many different states were united under the emperor of the Qin dynasty to form the great nation of China. Let us forget, at least while we watch this film, that nowadays a few of the states would much rather NOT be united with China. As the film's title suggests, it is about a hero who selflessly sets aside his personal convictions to allow the emperor to continue his conquest, and pays great personal sacrifices for sake of the nation. The moral is that a true hero puts the good of the nation before himself. OK, lets also forget about the propaganda for now, and focus on why this film is on my top-ten list. Firstly, the martial arts fighting looks to me more like a beautiful dance, which sets it apart from other martial arts fighting films that only try to emulate what we saw in The Matrix. The characters are complex, and their motives are revealed to us through a story that is told from the hero to the emperor. But there are lies and deceit in the story, and through each elaboration the true nature of the characters are revealed. Every iteration is revealed in a different color, and if you are familiar with Chinese culture, you know that each color symbolizes a different emotion. I thought this way of revealing a story through successive layers of detail was an excellent idea. With flawless acting, as well as a bit of historical merit, this film satisfies the criteria for a film that I love.

8. Bad Santa, Terry Zwigoff, 2003

9. 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold, 2007

10. Adaptation, Spike Jonze, 2002

Ramin Honary is a recent graduate of the Tokyo Institute of Technology and a resident of Tokyo, Japan. He is currently employed as a computer engineer at the Sun Microsystems Tokyo branch. His love of chocolate and Japanese women is unparalleled.

Previously on You Aught to Know: 47-53

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