September's Monthly Feature – Top Fives (Pt. 1 of 3)

Top 10 lists are really passé these days, as everyone and their mother has a top 10 list about everything. Years ago Rob Gordon (John Cusack) once opined about his Top Five List of things in High Fidelity, rattling off Top Five lists of things related to his life and/or music. He was on to something, as a list of five is much tougher to come up with than a top 10. You have to make hard choices and be able to really come up with five good answers; you’re narrowing the field in half, therefore the ones that have to stay have to be good.

And as such we’ve decided to run with this and settle some arguments (and start out some new ones) by answering questions that need five answers. So this month we’ve compiled some top fives of our own to argue, debate and hopefully settle some issues that need to be settled. And since we have a dozen participants, we’re breaking it up into a three part smorgasbord of excitement and debate. Everyone has been given two questions to answer with corresponding Top Five lists. After weeks of struggle and debate we’ve given our answers. Over the next three days we’ll be examining some of the great questions of film and adding in some new ones as well.

Today the newest members of the PJ staff will go under the microscope as John Price, Lauren Leigh, Li Ping Lin and Caroline Hagood will step up for the fun. They may have the least amount of time on the staff, but their questions aren’t easy by any means.

John Price, Popcorn Junkies Contributor:

Question #1 You live in one of the great college towns of the Midwest. Name the best five movies set during college.

1. Animal House – Much like the Beatles would top any music list, Animal House should be given a free pass onto a list of great college movies. That is the only concession I offer since I don’t much enjoy this film, but I recognize its importance.

2. Revenge of the Nerds – “I just want to say: I’m a nerd, and I’m pretty proud of it.” This movie is 80s boob-obsessed comedy at its finest. I confess the Nerds’ musical performance gives me chills and I feel it might be wise to pattern my life after Booger.

3. Good Will Hunting – While it is not a “typical” college film, it is easily the best movie to take place on a campus. Everything clicks perfectly here; being a psychologically burdened genius has never looked so romantically appealing. Heck, I’d settle for being one of his friends.

4. Rules of Attraction – The presence of James Van Der Beek might have scared people away from this wonderfully bizarre black comedy, but anyone looking for something truly unique owes it to themselves to watch this film. It swings violently (pleasingly) back and forth between trippy surrealism and uncomfortable reality.

5. Wonder Boys – This film’s clever script would be intriguing even without the fantastic acting involved. But why choose one when you can have both? This movie remains, probably, the most emotionally true to the college experience for students and staff alike.

Question #2 Which five songs have been overused in films?

1. “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind – Do do do/Do do do do/Do do do/Do do do do/It’s 97/Here’s a preview/Dated reference/Still will haunt you/Happy sounding/But give it review/This song’s about crystal meth! Proof that no one is paying attention to the lyrics because the asinine chorus beats listeners into submission. Fine, we’ll see your movie already!

2. “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood & The Destroyers – Setting aside my overwhelming disdain for George Thorogood, I can admit that “Bad to the Bone” does set a certain mood. Twenty years ago, the familiar guitar riff cued the introduction of a badass character. Now those chords prepare audiences for an ass bad joke.

3. “I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown – When you change your routine, it feels good. James Brown knows that, and he wants you to dance with him to show that you know that. Don’t worry about taking care of your new business, Brown’s song lends itself to montages so that you may accomplish more in a shorter period of time.

4. “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf – Riding motorcycles, untamed animals in domestic situations, and unruly children all embody a wild and free spirit. Thus, there needs to be a song to remind viewers of what they are seeing. Thank you, Steppenwolf, what would we do without you?

5. “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones – I just want to take another opportunity to dig at Martin Scorsese. I actually love this song and its frequent use, but can Scorsese make a soundtrack without it? Further evidence of Scorsese’s predictable directing style. Yeah, I said it, let’s fight about it.

Li Ping Lin, Popcorn Junkies Contributor:

Question #1 Name the top five coming of age movies.

1. American Graffiti – For many, the early stages of growing up starts when you’re about to head off to college; no other film captures this period in life more perfectly than American Graffiti. The film follows Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) the night before the big day as they both try to clear up some unresolved issues with their family and friends. It really captures the ’60s era as well as that very mixed feeling of both excitement and apprehension when one takes the next big step.

2. The Breakfast ClubThe Breakfast Club is timeless; it humorously portrays different stereotypes (the geek, jock, Prom Queen, psycho, and troublemaker) and brings us to the conclusion that we’re more alike than we think. I also really like it for its clever dialogue, which are worlds apart from the lingo in crappy teen flicks we get today.

3. Ghost WorldGhost World features Thora Birch (American Beauty) and Scarlett Johansson (before her over-exposure) as Enid and Rebecca, two social outcasts who’ve just graduated high school and are about to rent a house together. For me, this film realistically captures the difficulty, complexities, and the utter loneliness of coming-of-age without coming off as being forced.

4. Dead Poets Society – Admittedly formulaic, Dead Poets Society is one of my guilty pleasures as it combines many things and people that I’m fond of: poetry, Thoreau and transcendentalism, Ethan Hawke, and overly clichéd phrases like “Carpe Diem.” Although many people think this movie is cheesy, I confess to giving in to the cheese, especially that last scene where they’re standing on their desks; that gets me every time.

5. Igby Goes Down – I was pleasantly surprised by Igby Goes Down, which reminds me of “Catcher in the Rye” a lot both in its tone and in its characters. I really took to the main character (played by Kieran Culkin), who comes from a very dysfunctional WASP family; like Holden, Igby is a little disturbed, a little angry, but mostly lonely. I think the only thing that might have ruined this film for me was the appearance of sleazebag/floozy Ryan Phillipe as the older brother; but the awesome soundtrack kind of makes up for it.

Question #2 It’s not well known that you’re a big fan of Woody Allen movies. Name the best five films Allen has done besides “Annie Hall”

1. Manhattan – I’m surprised that Woody considers this his worst film because it is definitely on the Top Five of most fans–it captures the essence of New York City perfectly (despite being slightly over-romantic), it’s as funny as Annie Hall, and it employs the perfect usage of black and white. Many Woody films are built around great dialogue, and Manhattan is a testament to this. I’ve watched this film so many times and have found myself just sitting there, totally absorbed by the pitch-perfect conversations; they are funny, sentimental, and romantic.

2. Crimes and Misdemeanors – “If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it’s not funny.”

Nuff said.

3. Hannah and Her Sisters – I don’t know if you could ask for a more perfect film where everything blends so well: the dialogue, the comedy, the drama, the characters. Along with Crimes and Misdemeanors, I think Hannah and Her Sisters is one of Woody’s last masterpieces–he’s done some awesome stuff since, like Bullets Over Broadway and Sweet and Lowdown, but Hannah and Crimes really showed his growth as a director from the days of Bananas, and how he’s learned to employ comedy as his exploration of religion, morals, and relationships got deeper.

4. Mighty Aphrodite – This is definitely one of Woody’s funniest films. It uses the theme of Greek mythology effectively (unlike in his abysmal short film, “Oedipus Wrecks” for the New York Stories anthology). For some reason, that awkward conversation between Michael Rapaport and Mira Sorvino’s characters on their initial date always cracks me up. Also, the scene where Woody asks Zeus for advice and instead gets the answering machine is brilliant.

5. InteriorsInteriors is Woody’s most serious work as it was a complete departure from his usual comedic style. While Woody often cites Bergman as one of his major influences, this is the film where that is most obvious; it almost completely parallels Cries and Whispers and in many ways, is equally as great as that film. Interiors is intense and depressing but beautiful; it really confirmed for me Woody’s versatility as a director.

Lauren Leigh, Popcorn Junkies Contributor:

Question #1 You mentioned in your first review on this site that you’re from Canada. Who are the five best Canadian actors currently working?

1. & 2. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams – Hollywood North’s golden couple met while filming The Notebook, and credit to them for keeping it real and not working together since (I see no Eyes Wide Shut in their future). Ryan’s range is amazing; he could be Canada’s Edward Norton.

3. Jim Carrey – I tend to agree with the Hollywood Foreign Press, as opposed to the Academy regarding Carrey’s dramatic chops.

4. Sarah Polley – A child star who has actually turned out okay. She consistently makes interesting choices in roles (my favorite being My Life Without Me), and has major indie cred for doing so.

5. Andrea Martin A top notch character actress, and was also a founding member of SCTV, where many great Canadian comedians have come from.

Question #2 Name the five best movie soundtracks.

A great soundtrack is not only characterized by how it underscores a film as you watch it—a great soundtrack can translate into the perfect soundtrack for moments of your life.

1. Velvet Goldmine – Glam rock appears yet again. Whenever I dye my hair (which used to happen a lot during my undergrad) I must listen to this soundtrack. Brian Eno, Venus in Furs, Lou Reed and Shudder to Think bring out the pink-haired punk rocker in me. Though my hair is now brown, this soundtrack will never get old.

2. Storytelling – Todd Solondz has a quirky sense of humor. So do Belle & Sebastian, together its magic. The subtle sound, but not so subtle lyrics are extremely hilarious in a deadpan kind of way. This soundtrack also contains the best 1 and a half minute pop song I have ever heard: “Scooby Driver”.

3. Magnolia – Aimee Mann’s songs are so seamlessly integrated into Magnolia, but it’s no coincidence. P.T. Anderson wrote the film while listening to these songs. In essence the movie is a visual interpretation of Mann’s beautifully written concept album.

4. Hedwig and the Angry Inch -This musical started as an off-Broadway show. My copy is autographed. While there is a strong narrative plot, the fact that each song could exist on it’s own as the perfect combination of glam rock and pop is what takes this gem to another level.

5. The Big Chill – The quintessential film soundtrack, a stereotypical choice, but only because it is THAT good. I love Motown and this is the perfect combination. A must for midnight baking binges or singing into a hairbrush.

Caroline Hagood, Popcorn Junkies / DVD Lounge Contributor:

Question #1 It has been noted that your tastes in film are decidedly non-stereotypical. What are your five favorite films that involve excessive amounts of violence?

1. Apocalypse NowApocalypse Now is one of my favorite movies, and every time I see it I’m impressed by the nihilism of its violence. The film is a thoughtful meditation on horror, packed with unforgettable imagery, such as the helicopters that bomb villages while playing Wagner, the graphic sacrifice of the water buffalo, and Colonel Kurtz’s horrifying kingdom.

2. Existenz – I tend to like stylized violence, so I’m a sucker for everything David Cronenberg. He has a knack for crafting the kind of violence that hovers between artful comic crudeness and aesthetic achievement. There’s something almost beautiful about the blood in his movies. Existenz is full of delectable grossness, including a gun made of flesh and bone, and plenty of that blood of which I spoke so highly. Every time flesh is torn (which happens quite frequently in this film) I find myself wondering what strange new universe of disturbing oddities will emerge.

3. Natural Born Killers – As perverse as it may sound, the violence in Natural Born Killers strikes me as a natural extension of Mickey and Mallory’s romance. The two characters’ damaged nature is so well explained that it seems as though there could be no other way of life for them. Once I made that decision, their savagery seemed more like passion gone terribly awry. They kill just to kiss in the bloody aftermath. They destroy to keep from falling apart. That a string of deaths brings these offbeat lovers life is the film’s unexpected revelation.

4. A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange is hard for me to watch for the very reason that I include it on this list: its violence is so masterful. The more abhorrent the scene, the more sucked into it I become, and the more culpable I feel. The image of Alex raping a woman in her phallic-symbol-covered flat while crooning “Singing in the Rain” hits the scene’s intended note of horror so skillfully that it becomes wonder.

5. The Untouchables – I remember watching The Untouchables with my father at a fairly young age, and being blown away by the polished coolness of the violence—you’re not rooting for the good guy or the bad guy, but whoever is about to shoot just so you can see the bullets tearing through the air. This movie almost made me drop out of school and become a gangster. Although my life has taken a slightly different path, I will never forget sitting on the couch, drooling over the cool speed of it all.

Question #2 Name the five best movies you’d prefer to watch on a date.

1. Before SunriseBefore Sunrise is Richard Linklater’s take on the romantic comedy genre, and it’s a supremely good one. Known for his characters’ rambling, stream-of-consciousness interactions Linklater uses this tool to its best advantage here. The result is a movie about passion for life and fleeting found moments of tender closeness.

2. Napoleon DynamiteNapoleon Dynamite captures one of the most endearing and hilarious losers of all time and his feeble friendship with the only boy who looks up to him. The film’s brand of humor isn’t derivative, but rather marches to its own uniquely offbeat tune. If your date doesn’t find this movie funny, you should just go home.

3. Knocked UpKnocked Up is a great date movie for a variety of reasons. First of all, it shows a realistic development of a relationship. The fact that the situation is far from perfect makes it more believable, and, therefore, more romantic. The movie’s key strength is that it relies on the truthfulness of its romance. You genuinely believe the evolution of Ben and Alison’s feelings for each other. I also like the way they are united by their ability to laugh at their differences, and then move on. The film also boasts a quality that is rare on the romantic comedy circuit these days: humor.

4. Howl’s Moving CastleHowl’s Moving Castle is a deeply inventive and romantic anime movie. When a pretty girl is transformed by a spell into an old hag, it takes a young wizard to see through her external ugliness. On a more interesting level, the film’s shifting reality creates a strange, dreamy mood that, if mutual, would make for quite a date.

5. ShortbusShortbus is shocking in many ways, and they’re all good. The movie addresses sex and sexuality in a surprisingly smart way that is too dirty and kitsch to be overly pretentious. It deals with a female sex therapist that can’t have an orgasm, and therefore journeys through various sexually absurd scenarios. The movie is beyond bizarre (including a scene where the protagonist has a vibrating homing device installed inside of her, down there, which her boyfriend keeps paging). This movie will definitely, um, break the ice.

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