Over the next few weeks we’re going to be bringing you The CHUD.com Essential Films Collection – the films that would be in our dream Chewer DVD Box Set. These are 50 movies that we think every Chewer should see and love. This is by no means the definitive list of movies that make one a Chewer, but it’s a good start. It’s also in no order – the first films that we list are just as essential as the last ones. And it’s a list that will leave off the obvious as much as possible – you don’t need us to tell you to see Lawrence of Arabia or Seven Samurai.
So fire up your Netflix or your Amazon accounts – every day we’ll be bringing you two movies that are worth seeing, and probably worth owning as well. Chew on, Chewers.
Ronin (Buy the DVD)
Why it’s Essential:There’s no shortage of accolades you could heap on Ronin. It’s an unnervingly visceral flick, featuring old-fashioned car chases and stunts that put the CGI-laden action films of today to shame in terms of intensity. It’s impeccably acted, impossibly cool, and beautifully shot. But even as I think of how I can honor it, the film carries a note of bittersweetness for me because it represents the end of many things. It was John Frankenheimer’s last great action film. It was definitely the last time Robert DeNiro brought his cinematic tough guy A-game to the screen, giving us something wonderful to remember him by as he descended into an ocean of crap films like Showtime, City By The Sea, and Godsend. You could almost say the same for Jean Reno, who pretty much turned into a parody of himself not long after this film. And it set the bar for onscreen Euro-action and intrigue so high, it was never even approached again until Paul Greengrass’ The Bourne Supremacy in 2004.
But how could you follow an act like this? This is a film so chock full of international badasses that they could afford to write off Sean Bean early on and still keep the intensity up. It remains a great model for how to construct a tight, twisty thriller that isn’t about the surprises, doesn’t outstay its welcome, and is good for more than one viewing. And it’s no wonder that Ronin failed at the box office when it first hit. ‘In a year full of profitable pap like Rush Hour, the asteroid films Armageddon and Deep Impact, Patch Adams, and The Waterboy, this was a film that dared to be real in its action, characterization, and pacing. Those fast food servings may have made a lot more money, but you were definitely hungry for something else shortly after. I’m still eating off the goodness of Ronin.
Why it’s Essential: We’ve got no Hitchcock on this list, because most of his films that fit the mandate are far too obvious, save perhaps Frenzy. And Oldboy is a whole lot better than Frenzy…a whole hell of a lot better. Park Chan-Wook is both a Hitchcockian manipulator and a wholly original voice. He can twist an audience into emotional knots; huge laughs one minute, deep revulsion the next, confusion and ambiguity padding the ends but never pushing us away. The man’s skill with actors and technology alike grew leaps and bounds between Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, and this is both a violent, completely twisted pop culture masterpiece and a layered examination of love and revenge.
Some of the things that make Oldboy so fascinating are utterly foreign — in no American film would a protagonist express his anxiety and alienation by eating a live octopus. But there are just as many aspects that cross all cultural boundaries, since violence and revenge are common to everyone, especially when they’re filmed beautifully. This movie is full of scenes where people get it, and you’ll wince and cheer at the same time, often while thinking that there’s something wrong with you for having at least one response, if not both.
And so, as much fun as it is watching Oh Dae-Su blast through a hallway of henchmen wielding a hammer or dangling a would-be suicide from a rooftop, it’s even more entertaining to watch Park Chan-Wook’s virtuosity at work. This movie is bursting with energy and life. Even fifteen years’ worth of scenes in the dull hotel room prison (OK, those years are condensed a little) are tense and crackling, and with unique camera angles, dynamic staging and an operatic musical sense, Park makes every scene a memorable one. There’s a level at which I think his follow-up, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, is more deeply satisfying, but I would always show this movie to people first, and it’s the one that’s always more immediately watchable.