Thursday, August 23, 2018

Week One: The Effect of a Personal Cinematic Landscape

People ask me all the time why I don’t like being called a critic. Why I, in fact, refuse to be called one despite the fact that Trust the Dice can be pretty critical at times.

The answer is a lot simpler than you’d think.

When I read a critic’s blog, or review, it leaves me with the feeling that they don’t really like movies. That the only reason they watch a movie is to find something wrong with it. That’s not the way I choose to watch films. I HATE watching films that way.

In my mind, there are two different ways to watch a movie. Either you go into it wanting to love it or you go into it knowing you’ll hate it. I like to think I can remain totally impartial before I press play, but that’s just not what humans are. That’s not what we do. If I see a movie called Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda (2014), I’m going into it with expectations… and those expectations are going to be different than they would be for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). That’s just a fact.

At the end of the day, though, I don’t try to nit pick things. I’m not looking for that extra in the background that’s covering his ears before a gunshot goes off. I don’t care about the boom mic that makes a short and random appearance in a reflection. What I care about is whether or not the story engulfs me and the script speaks to me. Are the settings gorgeous? Are the actors noteworthy? Was it a passion-project? Is there a message?

I’m looking for things to make me love it.

On YouTube, there are two channels that really say it all. CinemaSins and CinemaWins. I watch both of them, and I enjoy both of them, but when I go to the theater I’m a lot more like the Wins guy than the Sins guy. I always WANT to be more like the Wins guy, too… because – to be frank?

I fucking love movies.

Sure, you can get that from the fact that I’m even bothering to write this, but it runs deeper than some words in an entertainment blog. I think movies are remarkable.

One guy dreams something up and a whole crew of people work together to put that guy’s dream onto a screen so everyone can see it. It can be anything from a parody to a hardcore message aimed at our leaders. In some cases, it’s both. Movies can work as a distraction or an outlet. They can be a window into a narrative that is completely unfamiliar to someone or a guarantee that no one is alone in what they’re going through. They can be dark, beautiful, hilarious, exhilarating, terrifying… they speak to every one of our emotions and help us find whole new ones. We ugly cry when our favorite characters die and we celebrate when our heroes succeed.

Entertainment is important. It’s changed people’s lives and offered the world insight. There are films that have actively given generals ideas that have changed the tides of war.

My love for movies knows no bounds. I don’t watch a film to find those tiny errors that you can’t un-see, I’m always looking for the best in a movie. It’s easy to fall into the habit of being too critical and, through my life, there’ve always been times when I’ve slipped into looking for that tiny little issue to screw up the whole thing. That’s generally when another film comes along that reminds me that I don’t want to do that. I fall in love with movies all over again.

Those movies shape how I look at all other movies. In many cases, they’ve had a hand in sculpting my personality.

The films that help us all learn to love movies again are not chosen by the award shows. They’re not chosen by the critics. Our own cinematic landscape is chosen on a very personal level and affects the way we watch all the other films that come next.

You might not agree with the movies that have shaped my view of entertainment, and that’s fine. In fact, it’s expected.

There are a huge number of films that make up my cinematic landscape. I settled on just the most important of them and still wound up with more than forty categories/genres. I think that would be a little much for a single article, so we’ll be spending the next three weeks on this subject. The categories are in no particular order, but I’ll still be doing it countdown-style because why not?

Keep in mind, it’s not about what the best film is – just about which movie shaped my perspective the most. I also considered each film for only one category, so you might not see the movies in the categories you’d expect them in.

Don’t just blindly agree with my picks. Tell me what your landscape is made of. Suggest a movie that might change my mind. If we were all the same, what would be the point?


43 – Crossovers

I think you all know where this is going, but I’ll start from the beginning anyway.

For the most part, crossovers are done on a small scale. You have films like Wreck-It-Ralph (2012) and The Lego Movie (2014) that can kind of be sorted into this category if you think about it long enough. The former tends to stick to only a couple of familiar game stereotypes and the latter doesn’t really show the characters in their true primary form, but it’s more the suggestion of the crossover that matters.

Both of those movies stuck in my mind for different reasons, but neither of them really screamed that they were what I should look for in other crossovers. In fact, I didn’t even initially acknowledge either of them as being part of the category.

Seeing Freddy vs. Jason (2003) in theaters, however, affected me more than it probably should have.

I loved watching the two well-known slasher-flick baddies go at it. Was it a great film? Not really, but it was exactly what I wanted it to be. It was corny and ridiculous and bloody. We got to watch two icons of horror go at it. It was gratuitous and, in many cases, hilarious. It leaned on the tropes, of course – but can you blame it? Between the two series, Friday the 13th (1980-2009) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984-2010), they pretty much created the damn tropes. They are two of the giants that horror movies today stand on the shoulders of.

Until recently, that definitely would have been my winner for the crossover category.

And then I saw Avengers: Infinity War (2018).

How could my top crossover movie NOT be Avengers: Infinity War, though?

I covered the epic Marvel film, for the most part, in my articles: “The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Ant-Man and The Wasp” and “Whenis a Spoiler no Longer a Spoiler?” As a result, I won’t spend too much time on it here.

I urge you to think about it, though. When Marvel started with Iron Man (2008), they had no fucking clue how this insane crossover would go over with fans. Comic books movies hadn’t really been wildly loved at the time, and Marvel was using characters that were less-known in the cinematic world. On top of that, they were planning about a decade down the line.

They faced challenges that involved keeping track of continuity, keeping their actors interested in playing their various characters, stacking up to the comics, and keeping the audience entertained enough to keep coming back without having to hold their hand with reminders of what happened in the last film.

Everything most big production companies knew about movies in the time that Iron Man first came out, should have led them to believe that a project of this magnitude couldn’t work. It’s a project that most companies would have scrapped long before they even attempted it.

In the end, taking this chance paid off in spades.

Avengers: Infinity War is going to be what I compare all crossover films to for a very long time. It was a huge undertaking and the company, actors, producers, writers, and directors pulled it off with minimal error.

It’s some big-ass shoes for future crossovers to fill. But I hope other companies keep giving it a try.

42 – Rags to Riches

There are more than just your generic genres to consider when building your personal landscape. There are widely-used stories, stereotypes, and tropes. Some of them don’t really matter, but some are seen quite a bit in your favorite films.

I learned pretty early in life that I love a good rags-to-riches story. Done right, I think they’re inspirational and a lot of fun to get into. They’re usually about following your dreams at all costs.

Clearly, you’ll be expecting Cinderella (1950) and Pretty Woman (1990) here. And, you’ll find them.

Pretty Woman was the very first R-rated film that I was allowed to watch and that pretty much meant that I was going to be affected deeply by it regardless of where I went with my tastes. I tend to forget just how much I’m affected by it until I randomly watch it again and realize how much I judge rags-to-riches stories by it. It’s the epitome of the category. The main character is at rock-bottom at the start of the film and, by the end, she’s in love and moving up in the world.

It’s not as typical as the other films in this category because the main character is still only moving up at the end instead of at her goal, but I still think it fits here.

Cinderella is pretty much the original rags-to-riches story, and I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a huge influence in how I view films along the same lines. I am, of course, talking about the Disney version. However, I can’t put it on the top of my list because I just can’t get comfortable with the idea that a woman in a low place can’t pull herself up and out of it without a man.

Now, when I saw Limitless (2011), I became absolutely enamored by it. The entire movie stuck so deeply in my brain that I sometimes still just think about it out of nowhere. The main character starts so far at the bottom that the only way up is to basically become an addict. By the end of the film, he’s on top and he’s even kicked the habit that brought him there. More than just being successful, though, he’s HAPPY. It’s one of those films that will likely stick with me for the rest of my life, and I had to seriously consider whether or not it was the top movie for this category.

Even with Limitless being a strong contender, the rags-to-riches story that stuck with me on the deepest level was Gypsy (1993). Specifically, I’m talking about the TV Movie with Bette Midler (The Stepford Wives, Hocus Pocus, The Rose). I don’t know how the original would affect me, since I’ve never seen it.

There’s something about Gypsy Rose Louise’s story that has always resonated with me. Sure, the ‘riches’ aspect of the story involves the mousy little girl becoming the best-of-the-best at burlesque… but I don’t think that matters. At the end of the movie, Louise is happy and has bettered herself more than her meager beginnings should have allowed – and she did it without relying on romance. I also love the music enough that this could have gone into the musical category as well.

41 – Genre-Hybrid

This may be a confusing category for people. Clearly, movies are made every day that have more than one genre. In fact, it’s pretty rare for any film to have only a single genre on IMDb. There’s a difference between being multi-genre and being a genre-hybrid, though.

In general, you expect certain mix-ups. Romantic-comedy, for instance, is so common that it’s got its own category in this article (but not this week). Horror-comedy, musical-romance, action-adventure… it’s all super expected… and it’s not really a hybrid. It’s just its own accepted genre all on its own. Like mixing a Poodle and a Labrador. You don’t really even call that kind of dog a mutt anymore, it’s just a Labradoodle. Hell, Microsoft Word doesn’t even think I misspelled that.

A hybrid mixes two (or more) unexpected genres into a single film.

A very minor example of this is Deadpool (2016). In this film you have both a serious superhero story and a caricature/parody script. Sure, it’s absolutely true to the comic book character, but as a movie – it’s not like any other superhero film you have ever seen. It both makes fun of the genre and lands itself as squarely a part of it, without skipping a beat.

Back to the Future III (1993), however, is much easier to place as a genre-hybrid. The mix of sci-fi and western is not something we saw a huge amount of when it first came out. Sure, we have television shows that are starting to delve into that realm to a point that it might just become something expected, soon – and Firefly did it better, but we’re talking about movies. I could have chosen Serenity (2005) as the film for this runner-up position, but you need the TV show for that, so I decided to go this route.

My favorite genre-hybrids, however, tend to mix animation and live-action. In Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), you have an animation/live-action that delves into fantasy, adventure, comedy, and musical territory. I used to watch this movie with my mother weekly. The idea of hopping through realms with an apprentice witch and a conman while trying to defend Britain during a devastating war was just the kind of fantasy I was up for, even as a kid.

As much as Bedknobs and Broomsticks affected me, though, I’ve got to give this one to the animation/live-action film that took Warner Brothers and Disney – among others – and smashed it all into one amazing film.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) is the movie that always pops into my mind whenever anyone talks about mixing genres in an interesting way. Not only do you have that animation/live-action/adventure/comedy mix, but you then involve the crime genre. It’s not really every day that you include the crime genre with a WB/Disney animated film.

If a movie is mixing unexpected genres, I want to see it live up to Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

40 – Historical

I’ll be honest, the historical genre is not my favorite. I never enjoyed history in school and it’s odd, because I love to read about many historical events. It’s just that most historical movies make me feel like I’m back in school and fighting to keep my eyes open. There are very few films in this category that have made an impact on me at all.

Schindler’s List (1993) is easily one of those films that kept my eyes open, even at a young age.

I saw the film pretty much right after it came out. I was barely a pre-teen at the time, and I think that affected much of my ability to really absorb the message and imagery in the film. Never-the-less, there are certain scenes that still stick with me quite a bit. If I saw it later in life, it might have been at the top of this category for me. Unfortunately, seeing it as early as I did means that it didn’t pack as much punch for me as it would have at this point in my life.

My mom became relatively obsessed with Evita (1996) at one point. The film is about Eva Peron’s rise in Argentina. It was one of the first historical films that I could really get into, likely because of the music. A lot of that music has stuck with me throughout the years and, admittedly, is likely why I remember the movie as fondly as I do. Of course, I don’t watch it anymore because my mother played it on repeat for days at a time, but if you ever need anyone to recite every word of it back to you, I’m your girl.

I don’t remember what year of school I was in when I was required to watch Gandhi (1982), but I remember audibly groaning when it was assigned. I mean, it was over three hours long and based solely on a historical figure. I was NOT interested in seeing it at all. By the time the film ended, however, I was hooked. The cast brought the story to life so well that they made an arrogant teenager give a fuck. Have you ever tried to do that? It’s not a simple task. It’s a film that still affects how I view other historical movies… but it’s not the biggest film I compare others to.

The historical film that I look to most when I watch others is likely not something easy to expect. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was just a basic TV Movie, but watching it struck a chord in me that never stopped humming.

Escape from Sobibor (1987) connected me to my ancestors in a way that I never felt before. Reminder: I’m not saying it was better than Schindler’s List, but to my teenage self, it was easier to put myself in the shoes of the victims in this film – and I was horrified, maybe even a little scarred. Whenever I think of holocaust films – or historical movies in general – this is the first one that comes to mind.

I don’t expect anything to affect me on as deep a level, but I keep hoping it will.

39 – Alternate History

This may be along the same lines of the historical genre, but I like it a hell of a lot more. I know, it’s kind of dumb. For the most part, it still involves telling a historical story. The inclusion of a completely different outcome or method of getting to the well-known outcome, shouldn’t matter, but it does. It’s the inclusion of that fantasy, that fiction, that hooks me.

Maybe it’s because there are no spoilers. You don’t know how it’ll turn out, but you don’t need introduction to the world because you live in it – to a point.

The easy answer here would be Inglourious Basterds (2009). It’s one of the first alternate history movies most people I’ve spoken to can come up with. With good reason. It’s a damn good movie. Despite how good it is, though, I don’t find myself referring to it when I watch other films along the same lines.

My other two runner ups are both superhero films, which should shock exactly no one. Watchmen (2009) and the X-Men (2000-) franchise in general. In the former, the alternate history is not just that the heroes supposedly exist in our exact world, but it alters the outcome of the Vietnam war and the core aspects of the Cold War. In the latter, mutants are woven into every aspect of history – from ancient Egypt to World War II to basic racism throughout America’s existence.

All of the films involved in the X-Men series make it easier to swallow the darker side of our history, in unbelievable ways. But that’s why it’s hard for me to put any of them first in this category. As great as they are at what they do, I think a great alternate history film needs to be believable. It needs to convince us that things could have really worked out the way the creators of the film are suggesting they did.

For me, that film is Red Dawn (1984).

I didn’t see Red Dawn for the first time until about five years ago. I immediately fell absolutely in love with it. It was terrifying and I couldn’t look away. The way it fed on the idea of the cold war birthing a real war was incredible. I absolutely believed that a few different decisions could have made that exact thing happen – or something damn near it. It may actually be one of my favorite movies ever… the way it affected me is not something I’m likely to ever forget.

38 – Minimal Dialogue

A lot of films rely on dialogue to get their story across. Some movies choose to take the complete opposite route, though. In minimal dialogue films, either the entire project includes little-to-no talking, or it’s just the main character that keeps their mouth shut.

The first movie I saw that introduced me to this method of story-telling was Dumbo (1941).

I can’t think back to that film without smiling, at least a little. There was a lot of dialogue in the film, sure, but not from the main character. In that original version, the main character never utters so much as a word. He’s pretty much a newborn/young elephant for the entire time, which could be the reason for that. It’s still a heart-warming film that introduces children to some of the cold realities of this world while teaching them how to – quite literally – rise above.

You don’t need Dumbo to speak, because the animation does brilliantly to express where his mind is without it.

I’d say Wall-E (2008) is another good example of this kind of minimal dialogue. Although there’s plenty of dialogue when Wall-E gets to the human part of his story line, he only ever really speaks in simple singular words. Even when it’s just him and Eve on the screen, though, I don’t find myself needing the extra dialogue to catch what’s going on with them. In fact, any extra dialogue there might have taken away from the story.

Now, in Drive (2011), the driver says more than Dumbo or Wall-E do in their respective films, but he still speaks incredibly little for a crime drama. Throughout the entire film, Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine, Blade Runner 2049, La La Land) only speaks 116 lines. Compared to the main character of other films in the same genre, that’s ridiculously low. Still, he conveys every single emotion necessary for the audience to get the most out of the story. It may even be more impressive than the others because it’s a real-life person getting those emotions across, instead of a created image.

I still remember my mouth hanging open a little when I first watched Drive. My adoration of Ryan Gosling was pretty much solidified by that film… but it’s still not the minimal dialogue film that’s affected me the most.

Without a doubt, the minimal dialogue movie that I compare all others to is Hush (2016). I like Drive more, but for this category, Hush simply does the best with the least amount of dialogue in general.

Because the main character is deaf and lives alone, there’s less being said throughout the entire movie, and not just by her. The way the silence heightens the suspense throughout every minute is amazing. The director utilizes sound, in general, almost as if it were its own character. Sound and silence are used as if they were a weapon and a shield, and its done brilliantly. I want to see other minimal dialogue films utilize this same kind of acknowledgement of sound.

37 – Open-Endings

Believe it or not, there was a point in time when I HATED open-endings. I wanted a clear-cut, closure-having, ending. That’s likely because I hadn’t yet seen a movie with an open-ending that was worth it. Either that, or I just didn’t have the right people to debate those endings with.

Really, it doesn’t matter why. What matters is that there were individual films that changed my mind about this.

Clearly, there’s Inception (2010) and The Shining (1981). Both of those are likely going to make it on most people’s lists, though. The spinning top at the end of Inception is relatively iconic at this point and so is that picture at the end of The Shining that pretty much begs people to debate the exact meaning of. They both helped me open my mind to open-endings, but neither of them are really what caused me to alter my perception entirely.

Donnie Darko (2001) was the first film I saw that made me appreciate not just an ambiguous ending, but an ambiguous everything. The entire film is debatable by the end of it. What the fuck was really happening? What wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff did I just watch? Did that really just happen?

Donnie Darko made me question everything, but it’s still not the open-ending movie that makes me watch other films with certain expectations and hopes.

That title goes squarely to In Bruges (2008).

The entire movie is just awesome. On a shallow level, it’s both hilarious and heart-wrenching. Going deeper into it, In Bruges becomes something existential. By the end of the film, the question isn’t only about whether or not the main character dies, but whether or not the main character still wanted to die. You’re left questioning not only the physical consequences of the film, but the philosophical consequences as well. It leaves plenty of room for people to debate the script and plot… and that’s what open-ending films are really meant to do, stimulate discussion.

36 – Women Role-Models

Growing up, finding those females in cinema that were worth looking up to wasn’t always easy. Movies still kind of felt like a boys-club kind of thing. Written by, directed by, and made for guys. In that rare moment when I did find a worthwhile female role-model in a film, I latched onto it like it was made of gold. I wore out every one of those VHS tapes.

I still get excited when I see a movie with strong female characters that I hope my daughter will be able to relate to in the future, even though it’s becoming more common now.

I remember the first time I watched The Addams Family (1991). I was always a weird kid with weird interests. That movie made me realize that it was just fine to be into weird shit and that I could surround myself with people just as weird as me and be happy.

Morticia Addams was that role-model that I looked at as who I wanted to grow up into, and Wednesday was bad-ass. Any scene where someone tried to bully her, or put her down, just ended up with them getting a verbal smackdown of epic proportions.

Even with how odd the characters in this film were, they were all still relatable enough to act as role-models in a lot of respects.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) had two different role-models for young girls. Miranda Priestly was there to show girls just how high they can get, and that they don’t have to be defined by any glass ceiling. Sure, the movie goes into how shit the rest of her life gets, but she keeps moving on and doing what she feels is most important to her, and that’s an important message. Even if she is a bitch in the film.

On the other hand, Andy Sachs represents the idea of going for your dreams while being allowed to keep the life that you may also want. At one point she does lose a lot of her connections, but she gets them back in the end. She makes mistakes, she’s not perfect… but she picks herself up each time and that’s also a very positive message for little girls.

Clearly, Wonder Woman (2017) needs to be acknowledged as well.

For the most part, my adoration of the female superhero comes from the TV show. Because of that, this movie doesn’t really make the top of my list. Still, in the new version of Wonder Woman, she’s shown to be just as, if not more, badass than the male heroes in the same universe. She becomes a war hero and fights a Greek god. That’s kind of hard to top in the superhero world.

The film that really speaks to me in the category of female role-models, however, is A League of Their Own (1992).

I loved baseball when I was younger. Even before I got into soccer, and this film showed me that girls had it in them to be just as good as the boys. Not only that, but I could take my pick of role-models in the film. Every character in the movie had a different dream, a different idea of what they wanted. The two main characters, Kit and Dottie were sisters that wanted drastically different things, and both of those things were ok. They were shown as incredibly strong women whether they wanted to just have their family life, or go into professional sports.

When I watch a film with female role-models, that’s what I want to see. I want to see that it’s acknowledged that there’s not just one type of strong woman; that little girls can be strong regardless of what they want in life.

35 – Parody

This is one of those genres that’s highly debated, and my choices are going to exclude certain kinds of parodies simply because I consider them a whole other kind of film. I’ll explain that in the next entry.

To me, a parody is simply a silly film that makes fun of a genre or a trope. Whatever it’s making fun of – be it general or specific – it’s SILLY. Any seriousness involved is either accidental or immediately surrounded by the absurd.

The first parody I saw, and enjoyed, was The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I still think back on it, and especially Leslie Nielsen (Harvey, Spy Hard, Mr. Magoo), as hilarious. It’s a parody of the crime genre and done really well. It hit upon a lot of the tropes expected from that genre and made me laugh throughout.

I’ll be honest, the rest of the films that I look at as perfect examples of amazing parodies are all made by Mel Brooks (Leap!, Mr. Peabody & Sheman, The Producers). And I’m simply not sorry about it. Man’s a genius. I tried to consider alternate films to talk about instead, but none of it would have been real.

It’s all Mel Brooks for the rest of this category.

My other runners up are Blazing Saddles (1974) and Spaceballs (1987).

I don’t actually even like westerns. In fact, I dislike them so much that I don’t even use that genre as a category in my cinematic landscape. The only time I watch a western is when I’m forced. Never-the-less, Blazing Saddles is fucking hilarious. It touches on all the tropes I hate about westerns and exaggerates them so that other people can see the genre the way I always see it.

For Spaceballs, it’s just a really funny take on the Star Wars (1977-) series. Everything is ridiculous and Rick Moranis (Little Giants, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Little Shop of Horrors) is always on point. The film remains relevant even this long after the original Star Wars films were made, as well – which speaks to the absolute quality.

The film I really look to when judging a parody film, though, is Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993).

The entire movie is quotable, memorable, and has an amazing quality to it. In an age where parodies have become little more than fart jokes and an unfocused bumbling mess, I can’t help but look back to Robin Hood: Men in Tights and wonder what happened to that kind of parody. It’s still slapstick, but it’s more mature than shit like The Starving Games (2013)… furthermore, it focuses on the exact thing it’s trying to exaggerate instead of trying to stuff in as many jokes about as much off-topic shit as it can find.

That’s what I think a parody should be. It’s a film that has an underlying respect and love of the genre it’s making fun of. A bad parody doesn’t have that. It’s like the difference between being roasted by a friend with humorous intentions and being bullied by someone who hates you.

Can we just go back to that kind of parody? Please?

34 – Caricature

Although many people lump this kind of film in with parodies, I do not. There are some distinct differences between the two and I don’t think it’s fair to judge them by the same standards.

A caricature film is similar to a parody in that it’s a silly take on the tropes of a genre. It seeks to exaggerate the stereotypes we’re familiar with, but there’s one big difference between a caricature and a parody. Where a parody is silly at its base and attaches itself completely to whatever it’s making fun of, a caricature is more of a love letter to the tropes of the genre while remaining its own distinct film.

Like a caricature drawing, it exaggerates certain aspects that may seem ultimately silly at times, but it’s still its own work of art.

I understand that the distinction I make here is not recognized widely and I can’t tell you how little I care. I don’t believe categorizing these films as parodies is right and I won’t do it. It undermines them and judges parody films too harshly.

The first movie I ever saw that I feel could be considered a caricature was Scream.

Scream (1996) takes all the horror movie tropes and calls attention to them while still remaining an actual horror film. Whenever I watch, I find myself rooting for Sidney and looking for stuff I may have missed that adequately foreshadows who the killers are. It’s easy to separate this film as its own work of art while still acknowledging it as a love letter to the horror movies that came before.

Although that was the first film I saw like it, it’s not the one that’s affected my take on caricature films the most. Since the turn of the century, there’ve been a lot more films coming out that call attention to this kind of story-telling.

Shaun of the Dead (2004), for instance. I’d say this movie is right on the cusp of parody and caricature. I went back and forth with it for a little while, debating with myself on where to put it. In the end, I have to acknowledge that it’s not just a good film because it makes fun of others, it’s good all on its own.

If Shaun of the Dead was the only zombie film in existence, it would still be a movie I wound up adoring. The hilarious take makes everything about the zombie apocalypse seem a little more realistic. Not everyone would be amazing the first time they picked up a gun, and people would make stupid mistakes and errors in judgement. In this case, the movie shows it all with a funny glaze… which makes it easy to swallow all the gore.

Then there’s The Cabin in the Woods (2012).

This film is not just a love letter to classics like Evil Dead (2013), but it offers an alternate reality where those trope-filled bloody films are required in order to save the world. The ending of The Cabin in the Woods is one of my favorites of all time. To be honest, I like to consider it a prequel to This is the End (2013). It’s not, but… head-canon.

When it comes down to which caricature film affects me the most, it’s got to be Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014).

I don’t care much about the spy genre – in fact, you won’t see it even mentioned in my cinematic landscape. Never-the-less, Kingsman: The Secret Service does things for the genre that make me want to go back and watch the old, less serious, Bond films. It shows you all those aspects of the old spy genre that made it so campy and fun to watch and begs that you re-watch them now, with new eyes. And yet, on its own, it’s a hell of a movie filled with action and a script that’s worth paying attention to.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is the greatest example I think I will ever have of a near-perfect caricature film.

33 – Subverting Expectations

Tropes are simply a fact of life. A huge amount of films come out every year and it would be insane to expect every single one of them to be completely original. Life, itself, can wind up full of tropes. We all know plenty of people who meet a stereotype without any shame. That’s why I don’t worry about tropes all that much… but there’s something awesome about going into a film expecting one thing and getting something totally off the wall different.

A good example of it is Shrek (2001).

Now, not all of Shrek is about subverting expectations. It’s a DreamWorks fairy tale, so you know it’s going to have a happy ending and, since it’s got romance, you know Shrek is going to get the girl. Upon first viewing, though, there’s no way to know that Fiona is going to STAY an ogre. It’s a small unexpected twist, but enough of one that people kept coming back to the film for years to come.

You’re Next (2011) is another film that’s great at subverting expectations – but mostly because of the way horror films handle things. You expect the female characters to be useless, lucky, or only ready to step up once everyone else is dead. In this case, the main character steps up from the get-go. It’s thrilling to watch, even when she makes mistakes. Those mistakes are even a bit unexpected.

Up until a few years ago, I would have said the movie that subverted expectations on a level that affected me the most was April Fool’s Day (1986).

Although it isn’t rated very highly, I have always loved it. Ever since I rented it on a whim from my local video store back when that was still a thing, it’s been a fixture in my mind.

It’s your typical slasher flick right up until the end when it turns out that it was all a big practical joke played on one of the characters. Yes, it’s got B-Movie quality, but it’s entertaining, suspenseful and it’s got a twist that was completely in the feel of the film. I loved it, and I still do – though it’s difficult to find now, so I haven’t seen it in a while.

As great as that film was for this category, though, there is one that’s light-years better.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) is one of those films I watched without anything being able to pull my attention away. It’s basically a cabin in the woods-style horror, but from the point of view of the ‘bad guys’ who are really just confused hillbillies that are being misjudged by the teenagers that would have been the protagonists in any other film. It’s an amazing movie and it takes every expectation you could ever have and puts it through a wood chipper.

Even the tagline subverts expectations. “Evil just messed with the wrong hillbillies” makes it sound like Tucker and Dale are epic and ready to fight… meanwhile they spend the whole film trying to save the teens from themselves and bumbling around.

I can’t imagine any film in the future ever subverting expectations quite as successfully.

32 – Action

Without a doubt, action is one of the biggest genres out there. It merges with pretty much everything, from other genres to tropes. However, it has enough meat to it to be able to stand alone. The problem is, action is often only thought of as one half of a whole.

The action/adventure genres are almost always spoken together in one breath and, if you ask most people, can’t really be told apart.

I don’t entirely believe they’re the same thing… and I definitely believe they bring about two vastly different feeling in a movie.

Where the actual movie difference tends to be that the danger that affects the protagonist comes from different sources between action and adventure, I think it goes deeper than that. It’s easy to define an action as a film where the danger comes from a specific antagonist and an adventure is a genre where the conflict comes from the environment… but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. There are exceptions to both.

On a deeper level, I think it comes down to what the characters in the film are doing. In an action film, the danger is confined to familiar locations, one building or specific area, or even just a singular idea. An adventure goes somewhere. The characters travel… not necessarily far away, but the movie is based around the experience they face in their travels, though the antagonists themselves might be actual characters.

Due to my outlook on the action and adventure genres, I’ve opted to talk about them separately.

The action genre is heart-pounding, exciting, and spectacular to watch. I want to be on the edge of my seat when I watch an action film. I want to see chases, bloody battles, explosions… everything that lands in that generally fantastic – but realistic – area. Although action can pair nicely with fantasy, I appreciate it most when it feels like it could happen to people in this world.

Gladiator (2000), for instance, is an awesome action film. I remember the first time I watched it. Russel Crowe (The Nice Guys, Noah, Les Miserables) was never one of my favorite actors, but I became so incredibly absorbed in the film. The dramatic story mixed with the historical setting, intense fight scenes, and that ending. I never fail to wince when Maximus gets stabbed before his final fight, when he can get his vengeance finally.

Sticking to the revenge plots, Kill Bill (2003-2004) rocked my entire world when I first saw both parts.

Clearly, almost any Quentin Tarantino (Sin City, The Hateful Eight, Pulp Fiction) film would have been in the running to be mentioned here, but Kill Bill is my go-to for bad-ass fight scenes. I think splitting the story into two movies was very necessary and the fact that the plot was as in depth as it was, really hit me. Most of my favorite action films before Kill Bill were really shallow. Back stories were always based on cops or military men.

Speaking of backgrounds with cops, there’s no way I can talk action flicks and not bring up Die Hard (1988). The John McClane character was bad-ass, sure, but he was super relatable as well. He had easy-to-understand motives that almost everyone could sympathize with. He called for help every chance he got, he kept hoping his buddy outside would hear him and send help… he was such a REAL character that it’s hard to not watch his story with every hope that he’d succeed.

For the record, I’m fully on the side that Die Hard is a Christmas film. Not just because of the Christmas music and time of year it was staged in, but because of the actual plot. When you put aside the danger and action aspects, it’s the story of a man trying to spend the holiday with his wife and having to grow as a person to be accepted back into his own family to enjoy the Christmas spirit. That’s all the time I’ll spend on that.

As great as the other action films are, the one that affected me the most was Battle Royale (2000).

Now, I didn’t watch Battle Royale when it first came out. I watched it about three years after the first Hunger Games (2012) movie. People kept comparing Suzanne Collins’ story to the earlier Japanese action film and I was curious.

For the record I know it’s also an adventure film, but it’s the action that affected me the most.

The entire movie was a bloody fight between classmates that had very little other than violence holding it up, but the action was constant. There was never a moment where I, as an audience member, could relax. It kept me right on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.

When I think of action films, I want to feel that same thing. I want to have antagonists to choose from, insane action to watch, and for time to fly by like someone hit fast-forward.

31 – Adventure

Adventure, as a genre, brings to mind quests of epic proportions. What I want from my adventure films is to see characters go through a journey in order to reach a specific goal. Whether it’s obtaining a relic of some sort or just bettering themselves, doesn’t matter to me. It’s that journey that’s the big thing I look forward to watching.

One of the first adventure films I really fell in love with was An American Tail (1986). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I still find myself using the songs from the film to sing my daughter to sleep when she’s having a rough night. Watching the little foreign mouse try to find his family in a whole new country stuck with me and altered not just my outlook on adventure films, but on certain social issues that exist in reality.

The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) trilogy was another adventure that I watched with great interest. Sure, I could have considered it for the fantasy genre instead, but it didn’t affect me on that level as much as it did for the adventure aspect. I’m fully convinced that if the entire plot line revolved around two people needing to find a way to destroy a more recognizable weapon in the real world, I would have been just as enthralled with their journey.

In this case, the adventure quality was heightened by the fantasy involving strange beings and magic, but not held up entirely by it. The change Frodo and the others went through was just more important than the idea that the big bad was a giant glowing eye.

Jumanji (1995) was another adventure that definitely affected how I viewed the genre. Not only was there a quest, but it showed me that the quest didn’t have to span huge distances for it to still feel adventurous.

For most of Alan’s adventure, the audience is absent. We never see his years spent living in the jungle that exists inside the board game, we only see the affect it had on him and how the kids who find the board game later deal with it. It all takes place in one small town, but the group has that all important goal to end the game so that life can return to normal. They grow together, learn how to exist in dangerous situations, and overcome some significant difficulties to get there.

Of all the adventures out there, though, there’s one that will stick with me until I’m old and grey. That movie is The Goonies (1985)

I watched The Goonies at a young age and have been watching it almost every year regardless of how old I get. It has that coming-of-age aspect, but pits the young kids against the criminal Fratelli family while they search for a treasure that might help them save their families. Every conflict drives the characters onward and they face trials that I’ve always been able to relate to. As I get older, I still interpret different aspects of the film differently, and I always look forward to what I might notice later in life.

30 – Social Commentary

Social commentary films are a little more difficult to place than most. Sometimes they can be incredibly subtle, other times they can seem glaringly obvious but really be nothing more than a dramatic telling of a biography. It’s very easy to find deeper meaning where none was meant to be.

One of the most in-your-face and dramatic films I’ve seen that had a social message was Boys Don’t Cry (1999).

I’ll be honest, I’ve only ever seen this film twice… and the second time was because it was on at a friend’s house and I had no say over it. The amount of times I’ve seen it, though, has nothing to do with the quality. It’s one of the better movies I’ve ever seen, actually. The reason I don’t watch it more often is because I can’t. The story is so uncomfortable and terrifying that watching it is physically painful for me.

The entire film is incredibly cast and the script is so realistic that I got super attached to the characters and when Brandon died I cried for nearly an hour. I wanted so badly for him to have a happy ending after everything he went through… but that wouldn’t have made sense for the story at all. The entire reason for the story was to inflict that pain on the audience so that they could understand his story completely. It was done so well that I can’t even seek out the film to watch it again… but that isn’t an issue, because I remember it clearly in my mind anyway.

No matter how far away I get from my viewing, the story (along with several scenes) are always just a thought away for me.

West Side Story (1961) might have been one of the first movies that offered social commentary that I saw. The music and the love story seem very Romeo and Juliet… but the addition of racial tension is so easily relatable and understandable that it always stood out ahead of the Shakespearean classic to me. It taught me the price of racism long before I was old enough to have learned it in real life.

On a subtler note, there was Django Unchained (2012). Yes, the story focused on racial relations, but during a time when that was more of a historical fact than anything else – as awful as that is.

Django’s story became a social commentary, however, when it was shown alongside Schultz’s take on the social norms of the time and how Stephen related to the white family that owned him. You wind up getting to see people on both the right and wrong sides of history while being so sucked into the story that it almost slips right by you.

The movie that altered the way I viewed social commentary films the most, however, was one I watched much more recently. In fact, I watched it for a Foreign Film Friday with Trust the Dice.

We are Young. We are Strong. (2014) caught my eye because of the plot, but it stuck with me because of the cinematography. The story focuses on a group of people dealing with racism and xenophobia in Germany back during the riots of 1992. For the majority of the film, you watch the story in black and white. The shots make everything feel like it happened only in the past, that it was all over and done with.

Suddenly, near the end, color bleeds back into the film and you watch the final riot, in all its violence, in full color. It stops feeling like a historical telling and the fear that comes in with the color is palpable. It instantly occurs to the audience that things haven’t changed all that much and that there’s very little to stop something like that from happening again.

Watching We are Young. We are Strong. taught me that an entire story can be told without worrying about even knowing the language of the film. That simple color change said more to me than entire films had in the past. I highly doubt I will ever forget how I felt at that moment.

Next week, we’ll continue on with the another 15 categories that make up my cinematic landscape.

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