As fellow movie goons, you guys know that a person's favorite films change as they go through life and sometimes films that you once loved immensely are relegated to the status of fondly-recalled footnotes in your moviegoing life. Such films for me include JAWS, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and of course STAR WARS, all good films but at the time they each filled a certain need that I had before I discovered other things (translation: girls). I still enjoy them and may tune in when they turn up on the TV (which JAWS seems to do every other weekend-I'm not exaggerating. Channel 55 out of Long Island once had it on its syndicated schedule three times in one month alone!), but they just don't have the same resonance that they once held for me...
Now, as a jaded near-40-year-old movie addict, there are a handful of films that have stood the test of time and that I will watch from start to finish no matter what hour of the day or night they may be airing. What follows is a list of my top 10 all-time favorite movies, and the five runners-up. I realize that by divulging this information I will probably lose your respect, but, hey! A man's gotta stand up for what he loves, be it a beat-up car, a woman he knows is bad for him (but he just can't help himself), or a dumbass film that anyone in their right mind would have burned years ago. Enjoy, and feel free to send back your own list of what rocks your cinematic world. I await your scorn.
Oh, and in case you were wondering where this came from, last night was rather slow at the hallowed barbecue joint — post-holiday weekend slump and the night before the first day of school — so our hot redheaded bartender had me, my boss and a regular fill out lists of our top ten favorite movies off the top of our heads, along with her own list; while doing it I tried to remember the contents of the list that you are about to read, a list prepared during my period of unemployment on a night when I had nothing better to do.
EL BUNCHO'S TOP TEN ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIES
(As of 6/23/03-these things are subject to change, ya know...)
KING KONG (1933)
This the film that I can state is without a doubt my favorite movie. Let's face it, it has everything! A violent giant monster (in fact a whole island swarming with dangerous beasties of every description), a bunch of arrogant assholes who think nothing of the possible repercussions of removing said monster from its home, a hot heroine who spends much of the film in her torn undies, a fun story that's straight out of a boy's adventure pulp, Kong on the loose in Manhattan (which wouldn't cause much of a stir nowadays), the battle with planes atop the Empire State building and those poignant final lines. Sheer movie magic... In fact, I got to see the restored print (most of the violence put back in after almost 40 years of re-edits for re-releases) on the big screen when I was eight-years-old and I've been a fan ever since. My mother insisted I see it and I bless her ever day for that bit of parental wisdom. I'll always know how old she is since KONG was released during the year of her birth.
Easily the most tasteless and offensive comedy ever made, this film had a major impact on my sense of humor when I first saw it back in 1982. If you haven't seen it, it's probably the most low-budget, technically inept and poorly acted film you'll ever witness, but it is absolutely fucking hilarious. The "plot" centers around a war to claim the title of "Filthiest People Alive" as waged by the heroic (?) family of Divine (the late 300-pound transvestite, Glenn Milstead) against the evil Connie and Raymond Marble. Divine and family are indeed pretty filthy - what with engaging in cannibalism to rid themselves of obnoxious police officers, a son who forces his date to fuck him while he thrusts two live chickens between their furiously rutting bodies (much to her chagrin), shoplifting raw meat in their crotches, throwing the sleaziest birthday party ever committed to celluloid (witness the singing asshole to truly understand horror), and many other offenses - but the Marbles believe themselves to be worse (they are merely dope dealers, pornographers, and kidnappers who impregnate young girls and sell the resulting babies to lesbian couples. Fucking poseuers!) and will stop at nothing to prove it. Needless to say, they don't stand a chance. Definitely not for all tastes, this movie makes me smile at the mere thought of it, although I could have done without the infamous final sequence in which Divine actually eats a freshly-laid dog turd on camera. But then again, I've since seen "German" porn, so the dog turd wouldn't begin to register these days... Anyway, hooray for John Waters!!!
A strong contender for the tile of "stupidest barbarian flick ever made," this tells the story of two nubile twin sisters (who believe that they are boys) who seek to kill their evil sorcerer father with the aid of three ludicrous sidekicks (obligatory barbarian hunk, bikerish Hagar the Horrible lookalike, and a bargain basement goat-man). Loaded with nudity, ridiculous fights and some of the worst special effects ever created, this couldn't possibly be funnier if it were intended to be, and if I had to get rid of every movie in my collection except for three, SORCERESS would make the cut. Starring absolutely no one that anyone's ever heard of and made for a budget of about $500.
ALAKAZAM THE GREAT! (1960)
Legendary Japanese Manga god Osamu Tezuka (ASTRO BOY, KIMBA THE WHITE LION, PHOENIX 2772) tackles Wu Cheng-En's sixteenth century literary masterpiece JOURNEY TO THE WEST in this lively animated musical. It follows the adventures of the legendary monkey king and his companions, and has an almost hallucinatory feel to it. As usual, Tezuka wears his Disney influence on his sleeve, but once you learn to ignore the saccharine songs (not an easy feat), you'll be drawn in by the incredible visuals and endless fights against monsters, magicians and gods. You also get to see the hero go from being a total asshole to being a great king, and the sweet love story between him and a cute girl monkey named Dee Dee is actually quite touching.
ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)
One of the most faithful adaptations of a novel ever made, this is the movie that I feel best captures the flavor of Manhattan's Upper West Side. An utterly believable tale of supernatural and nuptial violation of the worst kind, this is one slow-burning, paranoia-inducing mammajamma. There are those who prefer THE EXORCIST, but this is a thousand times more subtle and you aren't really sure whether Rosemary is insane or not until it's too late. My favorite horror movie.
Clearly influenced by the basic plot of KING KONG, MOTHRA is the finest of the many Toho studios monster/fantasy epics. When an unscrupulous businessman kidnaps two foot-tall native women from a previously-unexplored island in the Pacific and presses them into a life of exhibition as freaks, he doesn't reckon with the fact that they're actually magical priestesses of the goddess Mothra - and the goddess does not take kindly to those who would harm her priestesses. An orgy of Tohoscope destruction ensues as the military is thwarted at every turn (even atomic cannons are useless), and they slowly come to realize that they really are dealing with a pissed-off deity who defies the laws of man's science. Avoiding the usual pitfalls of this genre, MOTHRA has a tight script, characters you care about, and a villain who is an utter piece of human trash (and obviously meant to be an American, although they don't come straight out and state it). And who can forget the song that the twin fairies sing constantly? Onlookers think it's just some wistful island melody, but don't realize it's the song that gives Mothra an unerring bead on their exact location, the beauty of which is that the girls are encouraged to sing, thereby ensuring the doom of untold thousands. A fucking masterpiece, and the Mothra characters have not been used as well since, with the exception of 1964's GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, which some hail as the best of Toho's classic-era giant monster cycle.
SHOGUN ASSASSIN (1980)
It's rare when a distributor can edit together highlights from two films and create a movie that endures in the hearts of martial arts fans and gore addicts for nearly thirty years. Of course it doesn't hurt when the two films in question are the first installments in the classic six-film series based on the LONE WOLF & CUB samurai comics. This film is a visual feast with cinematography and colors that will make you drool, to say nothing of an interesting plot which is chock full of wall-to-wall bloodshed and dismemberment! I first saw this one in 1985 and was totally blown away. I'm very hard on the quality of the fight scenes in martial arts films - especially the swordsmanship - and the fights here are among the finest I've ever had the joy to witness. Tomisaburo Wakayama stars as Lone Wolf, a man of impeccable honor and skill who is framed for treason against the shogun. Taking his infant son along with him "down the road of vengeance," Lone Wolf proceeds to kick so much ass that it's impossible to keep a body count. And if you like bloodshed, the blood flies quite generously, even hitting the camera on occasion (seriously!). But the real star here is the skill of Wakayama; his utter mastery of the katana is evident in every frame of the film. Trust me on this one, and keep in mind that there are maybe ten minutes in the entire running time where there's no fighting!
MONTY PYTHON & THE HOLY GRAIL (1975)
Sure LIFE OF BRIAN is a much better film, but this movie just kills me for the sheer lunacy of it. The jokes are all over the place and don't make sense much of the time, but who cares? If you laugh, it has succeeded, and this film may be the one that I have voluntarily sat through more than any other. Not much else to say on this one really, since nearly every person on the planet has seen it at least once. I still love my mother's reaction the first time that she saw it: "What the fuck is this? Are the knights supposed to be retarded or something?"
SEVEN SAMURAI (1952)
Not just Kurosawa's masterpiece, but one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Period. I won't even bother to discuss it; if you've seen it, you know I'm right. If you haven't seen it, rent the new Criterion collection DVD of it, or I will slap the taste out of your mouth.
THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)
This is the martial arts film that earned the genre its largely undeserved rep for outrageous gore and violence. THE STREET FIGHTER follows the adventures of Terry Tsurugi, one of the hardest guys in screen history, as he takes on seemingly impossible assignments of a questionable nature for whomever will pay his price. This guy is one ultra-nasty customer who will tear off any part of you that gets close enough (the fate of a would-be rapist is a highlight), and he won't hesitate to do whatever it takes to get paid. When a brother and sister who hired Tsurugi to rescue their brother from his appointment on death row reveal that they don't have the rest of the money they owe him, Tsurugi immediately announces that he'll put the sister out on the streets as a whore until he gets his cash. This leads to the brother's accidental fall to his death from Tsurugi's penthouse window. The sister ends up as a heroin-addicted prostitute in Hong Kong (after suffering a horrible — but thankfully off-camera — gang rape) and just happens to run into her escapee brother, who of course vows to kill Tsurugi for his younger brother's death and his sister's current shameful status. Next, our "hero" refuses a Yakuza kidnapping assignment because it would bring him into conflict with the one man that he respects: his father's old karate training buddy, Masaoka (a tiny, fat badass). This puts him on the Yakuza's shitlist as well. The rest of the movie details Terry's constant — and brutal — encounters with the two pissed off parties and ends in a blood-soaked hand-to-hand battle that finds the vengeful brother minus his larynx (he turns up in the sequel with bionic vocal chords). Not for the squeamish, scenes of this turned up in the Tarantino-scripted TRUE ROMANCE. Fuck ENTER THE DRAGON, this is the real deal. Yes, your Bunche actually said "Fuck ENTER THE DRAGON." If you know me at all, you know I don't say that lightly.
And let us not forget the five that almost made the Top Ten:
JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)
The best of many classics from Ray Harryhausen (in my opinion anyway; there are those who make a valid case for THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, but I go with this one for its slighty more "adult" approach). Motherfuck CGI, this is how special effects are supposed to look! Too many great scenes to recount, but I will say that the theme tune, with the pounding rowing rhythm, makes most of John Williams' tiresome Wagner knockoffs look like the derivative crap that they are. The best mythology movie ever made.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979)
This just might be the perfect zombie movie. A compelling story, interesting characters, a no-win scenario and boatloads of gore, this warped a lot of young minds back in '79, boy...And the cool black guy lives at the end!
THE HUMAN TORNADO (1976)
The funniest black exploitation film ever made. This is the sequel to the nearly unwatchable DOLEMITE (1975), and out-does its predecessor valiantly. For those not in the know: Dolemite is a character whose exploits have been passed on through folk tales and rhymes in American black culture since at least the early 1900's. He's basically Super-Nigger, since he's the greatest badass/ pimp/comedian/lover/fancy dresser ever to walk the Earth! Sample line from the epic poem about him:
Dolemite went to New York City,
Kickin'ass 'til his boots were shitty.
Anyway, this installment sees our hero (played by the hideously middle-aged and out of shape Rudy Ray Moore) evading a Southern sheriff after said sheriff finds out that his wife has been paying Dolemite to fuck her (her line to our hero while in post-coital bliss: "Dolemite, you're worth every cent I pay you!"). Dolemite and his friends (including a young Ernie GHOSTBUSTERS Hudson) flee to California after carjacking the most outrageous homosexual character in celluloid history (he's glad to be hijacked since he always wanted to go to California anyway, and he gets along just fine with his abductors), and find out that the local mafia are moving in on Dolemite's nightclub. Well, Dolemite ain't havin' dat! Much lunacy, bad '70's outfits and terrible martial arts ensue, and just wait until you see the musical numbers! My only warning is that you skip the standup comedy scene just after the insane credits sequence; it really sucks, and is the only thing that keeps this otherwise perfect piece of trash out of the Top TEN.
Yes, the pig movie. It's got a great story, a great hero, and it's about pigs. I have loved pigs since playing with them on my grandmother's ranch, and I will see any film about them. So if you ain't down with BABE, you can eat me.
Daei Studios was the only real competition that Toho had for their giant monster film output, but most of Daei's movies sucked ass, namely the mostly-pitiful Gamera (the giant flying turtle) series. With the Daimajin trilogy they went for a more grown-up approach, combining the then-popular samurai costumed dramas with giant monster mayhem. In a nutshell: an evil warlord deposes the rightful rulers of a fiefdom and takes over, plunging the locals into 18 years of misery and abuse. The rightful heir grows to manhood in the woods and plots revenge while the local priestess warns the bad guy to cut the bullshit or face the wrath of the majin that protects the area. A majin is a stone warrior deity that is believed to come to life and kick righteous ass when the faithful are messed with, so you know where this is going... The bad guy immediately kills the priestess and desecrates the idol by driving a huge stone chisel into its head. The majin awakens during the last half-hour and the destruction is awesome. After stomping all of the other villains to death, Daimajin (which translates as "Giant Majin") impales the evil warlord through the chest with his own stone chisel and leaves him nailed to a wall. Who says there are no happy endings? And one of the two sequels includes a lake-parting effect that blows away the one seen in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.
So what are your top ten? Write in and lemme know!