Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cinematic wonders circa 2011

I have had a tradition since 1985 of making a best films of the year list. It used to be a top 10 list. Then it morphed into a top 5 as it became increasingly difficult to cite ten great movies in any one given year. Now I simply make a list of favorites. I am a picky bastard. Every scene has to work. The direction right down to the shot selection needs to be spot on. The casting perfect. The cinematography, the music, the sets, the locations, the thematic substance....all of it matters. But above all, it simply has to resonate on an emotional, intellectual, or visceral level in a way that will leave me walking out of theater moved, exhilarated, and satisfied. These are the movies of 2011 that worked for me.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle and characters created by Paul Dehn

Not since A.I Artificial Intelligence in 2001 have I thought this much about a film after seeing it. Caesar is an unforgettable character and Rise of the Apes is not just a well crafted, expertly paced, exciting, beautifully directed blockbuster. It is full of iconic moments including an emotional finale that will be etched into cinematic history. At its heart Rise is a coming age of story that resonates with deep emotion. It is a film about family, home, tragedy, separation, finding one's place in the world, and so much more.

The Debt
Directed by John Madden
Screenplay by Matthew VaughnJane Goldman and Peter Straughan

The shrewdly directed, expertly acted film ranks alongside Zodiac (2007) and Michael Clayton (2007) as one of the best adult thrillers of the past decade. Why this pulse pounding action movie did not get more attention is beyond me. The screenplay is smart, Helen Mirren is fantastic and Jesper Christensen is terrifyingly real as the best on screen Nazi villain in years.

The Descendants
Directed by Alexander Payne
Screenplay by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt)  is the best real life filmmaker of our time. There is no better way to phrase the unique blend of pathos, humor, drama, awkwardness, laughter, and heartbreak that he brings to his films. He is literally a modern day Francois Truffaut. The Descendants is yet another in a long line of knockout performances by George Clooney  going back over a decade (Solaris, Michael Clayton, Up in the Air, The American ). He is one of the great leading men of our time, and a movie star in every sense of the word, breathing unique life into every scene he touches.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Directed by Brad Bird
Written by Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec
Based on Mission Impossible created by Bruce Geller

Mission Impossible is the rarest of all rarities, a franchise that actually gets better with each succeeding film. But Ghost Protocol is so much more than just the best Mission Impossible movie. It stands alongside Casino Royal as the one of the two best action movie movies of the past two decades. Brad Bird has directed the best non-Cameron action sequences I have ever seen on the big screen. Ghost Protocol is simply dazzling. 

The Help
Directed by Tate Taylor
Screenplay by Tate Taylor
Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett

Anchored by a knockout cast including rising star Emma Stone, the sleeper smash The Help is proof that quality does count. Make a great film, word will spread, and they will come. There was a great late summer stretch where Rise of the Apes and The Help were one and two week in and week out. It reminded me of August 1982 when E.T. and An Officer and a Gentleman were in a similar battle. Great stuff! One of the most underrated actresses in all of film is Viola Davis. She is fantastic in The Help. Thanks to the enormous success of the movie, this unsung actress is finally getting some long overdue recognition.

Life in a Day
Directed by Kevin Macdonald and the YouTube Community
Produced by Ridley Scott

This trailer says it all. If ever there was a time to use the old Joel Siegel quote "the feel good movie of the year", then this is it. Life in a day is the feel good movie of the year!

Super 8
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by J.J. Abrams

Yeah, Super 8 is a homage all right. And a wonderful one, impeccably crafted on every level, right down to the carefully chosen period color schemes, the lighting, and Michael Giacchino’s nod to John Williams.
he two main character in this movie are wonderfully written and acted. Played by Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, they are the heart and soul of the film. The best scene in the movie is a quiet scene. It involves two kids and super 8 film that helps them come to terms with a tragedy and begin to heal. It is one of many scenes where Abrams demonstrates that if there ever was an heir apparent to the bearded one, it is the creator of Lost.

African Cats
Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Kieth Scholey
Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson

I Bought a Zoo might be cute and Warhorse may be epic, but African Cats is by far the best movie about animals in years. It treats these magnificent cats with the dignity and respect they deserve. It is a beautiful film. And it is real and has a critical message. What little is left of their home must be saved from the evil scourge of Homo sapiens who have all but destroyed this planet and the homeland of these wonderful, noble creatures.

X-Men: First Class
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn

The underrated Kevin Bacon anchors a charismatic cast in might have been the most pleasant overachieving surprise of the year. Setting the film in the story fertile early 1960's was the perfect way to invigorate a movie series that was based on a comic book created in the very same era.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dignity, compassion, and doing the right thing

This is a letter I received from a sanctuary I support, Save the Chimps. 
The news is unfortunately sad. It is about the passing of a beloved and inspiring Chimpanzee named Ron.

Ron spent his most of his life suffering one cruelty after another at the hands of sadistic humans. What I read below makes my blood boil. I  am raging with anger thinking about the horrors he  endured at the hands of human torturers. After you read it, you will be too.
Even a simple soft tissue injury in the lower back is excruciating. Ron must have suffered a living hell! Subjecting an innocent, intelligent creature to that kind of wicked cruelty and endless torment is just plain, sadistic evil. It sickens me. I really do not think the public is aware of the abuse these creatures suffer at the hands of evil humans. Or that the United States is the only prominent country that still tortures our great ape brothers and sisters against their will.

Sanctuaries such as these are completely dependent on the donations from the brave and the compassionate who want to help fight back against abusive humans and evil corporations.
Save the Chimps was able to give Ron a dignified and happy life his final seven years. I support this sanctuary as well as The Center for Great Apes and strongly urge that you do the same.  It is part of the Bull Mongoni philosophy. It is doing the right thing. The letter is as follows:

"On October 10, 2011, our beloved Ron passed away peacefully on his island of heart failure. Ron was familiar to many as one of the stars of the Nature documentary “Chimpanzees: An Unnatural History,” which in part documented Ron’s journey from a former laboratory in New Mexico to a new island home in Florida. He was also the star of our hearts, a huge chimp with an even bigger smile and gentle demeanor.. His charming personality and warm spirit are even more remarkable when considering the harm he suffered for so many years of his life.
Ron’s file estimates his date of birth is September 1, 1976, but since his origins are not recorded, that birth date is merely a guess. We do not know who Ron’s parents are, or where he was born. The first record of Ron’s existence is from June 24, 1987, when he received his first physical at the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP). A single notation in his file said that Ron arrived from “West Point.” Although we do not know if he was a pet, a performer, or a lab chimp prior to his arrival at LEMSIP, West Point was home to Merck, Sharp, and Dohme, which used chimps in biomedical research in the 1970s and 1980s. Ron was a full-grown chimp when he arrived at LEMSIP, weighing 143 lbs; he must have been at least 14 years old, so it is likely that Ron was actually born in 1973 or earlier.

During his 9 years at LEMSIP, Ron was anesthetized with ketamine at least 105 times. On multiple occasions, he was kept anesthetized for six hours or more, as blood was repeatedly drawn from him. He lived alone at LEMSIP, in a 5’ x 5’ x 7’ cage suspended off the ground. A veterinarian at LEMSIP noted that Ron was a very large chimp, and wrote in his file, “needs a much larger cage.” Sadly, there were no larger cages at LEMSIP. In the late 1990s, LEMSIP closed, and Ron was sent to The Coulston Foundation (TCF), a lab in Alamogordo, NM.
In 1997, Ron was observed to have an abnormal echocardiogram, but it was dismissed as being caused by the anesthetic. He was transported to the primate facility on Holloman Air Force Base (HAFB) near Alamogordo, and assigned to a biomedical research study. He was anesthetized 16 times in a 5 week period. After the study ended, he was returned to TCF’s private facility in Alamogordo.

In 1998, Ron was again transported to HAFB and assigned to Study #981109, which came to be known as the Spinal Dynamics study. In this study, Ron had a healthy cervical disc removed from his neck and replaced with a prosthetic disc. The prosthetic remained in Ron’s spine for 6 months, and was then later surgically removed. According to Ron’s records, when the prosthesis was removed, he did not receive any pain medication until eight days after surgery. When he was finally prescribed pain medication, he was given 200 mg ibuprofen, the equivalent of one tablet, twice a day for three days. It is difficult to imagine the amount of pain he must have been in.

In 2002, Save the Chimps (STC), under the leadership of Dr. Carole Noon, took over TCF and rescued Ron. At the time he was living alone in Building 300, which was dubbed “The Dungeon” for its dreary conditions and scores of chimps who lived in isolation. In 2003, STC’s veterinarian, Dr. Jocelyn Bezner, observed clinical signs of heart disease in Ron. His first cardiac ultrasound did not reveal serious heart disease, but in 2004 Ron showed even more symptoms of heart disease, and another ultrasound was scheduled.

During the exam, tragedy struck: Ron stopped breathing and his pulse began to fade. Dr. Bezner began CPR and resuscitated Ron, but he crashed again. Again he was revived, and again he crashed. After the fourth time that Ron stopped breathing, the decision was made to let him pass away, surrounded by his loving caregivers. Then the miracle happened: Ron started breathing again on his own. He had decided that it was not his time. The ultrasound was completed, showing extremely severe heart disease. Remarkably, he was fully recovered within hours of his ordeal. A cardiologist recommended a treatment protocol to help Ron, but cautioned that due to the severity of Ron’s condition, that his prognosis was poor. Dr. Noon began to make plans to move Ron to Florida as soon as a newly constructed building was available for him.

Ron responded well to treatment and moved to Florida in May 2005 with his buddy Thoto. He was accompanied on the journey by Dr. Bezner, and his story was documented in the Nature program “Chimpanzees: An Unnatural History.” When Ron was released, he opted not to go onto the island, sticking to the familiar concrete of the patio.

Over time, however, Ron grew to love the wide open spaces of his island. He could be seen striding magnificently over the hills, or enjoying the view from a platform. He and Thoto began to have conflict, but Ron made a new chimpanzee friend in April, a former pet who had been rescued by STC in 2003. His health was closely monitored, and his medications adjusted as needed. But there is no doubt that his caregivers were all holding their breath, waiting for the worst to happen.

Ron, however, had different plans. He defied all predictions and expectations, and lived a happy life for seven more years, enjoying the peace of his island. He became an adoptive father to young Melody, who was born at STC as a result of a failed vasectomy and whose mother lacked the skills to raise her.  Together with April, he became her protector and guiding hand. He also made new friends and saw his chimpanzee family grow to include many other chimps, such as fellow LEMSIP veteran David, former pet chimps Connor and Kramer, and lady companions Pele and Gail. Ron was a miracle and an inspiration. He endured isolation, torment, and a life-threatening illness; yet somehow Ron found the courage and determination to not only survive, but to embrace life and enjoy every moment to the fullest."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

In the shadows

David Goodis has a reputation as one of the bleakest of Noir and it is quite evident in "The Wounded and the Slain", an expertly crafted psychological foray into the fractured psyche of an emotionally and sexually scarred man who may be beyond redemption. There is also a fascinating attempt to dig deep into the hidden lust and pent up desires of a repressed 1950's era wife who has to put up with her husband's deep descent into a drunken paranoia and despair.

With workman-like prose, Goodis does a fantastic job of creating a detailed atmosphere, both physically (the potrayal of a 1950's Jamaican resort and the seedy side of town on the outskirts is vividly portrayed) and psychologically (we get to inside the minds of these characters, especially Bevan and Cora). To many this will be a very slow book. There is suspense, although not plot or action driven. I found myself fascinated by this pessimistic, emotional journey into the dark side of noir.

Be warned of a few things:
This is a novel that takes bleakness to a new level. There is no such thing as a truly sympathetic character. This book is dated to be sure. But that is the point. To get a feel for the time and place (especially the harsh impenetrable lines between race and class) and to get a taste of the pessimistic noir literature that was popular at the time.

A great entry into the Hard Case series, with yet another cool retro cover by Glen Orbit

Sunday, October 2, 2011

10,000 years in the making

The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution

 by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending

I have a long held interest in evolution and anthropology. Beyond an interest actually. More like an endless fascination. Some would even say obsession. I am a the the Tea Party/GOP's worst nightmare. I cannot be bullied into falling into the current line of thinking that the earth is 6000 years old. I know better.

Enough about fables and delusions and on to science and The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.

As soon as I opened up this book and started to read, I could not stop. I devoured it. Then I read it again. It is utterly fascinating. The book is about exactly what the title says, how the last 10,000 years human evolution is rapidly accelerating due to the adaptions of civilization. We change phyically to adapt to changes from geography, climate, diet, but these are not slow mutations that occur over millions or even hundreds of thousands of years as they have been throughout most of the planet's evolutionary history. These are now rapid changes at the genetic level involving alterations at the chromosomal level called alleles. They can occur in as little as several generations, and the rate of change is increasing dramtically.

The authors go back beyond 10,000 years ago to indentify the time when this explosion of acceleration first began 30,000 years ago. They indentify the exact event. For me this was best part of the book because it something that I always believed and the authors make a strong case to back up their somewhat irrevereant theory. I will not give it away here. It would be akin to giving a away a major spoiler to a novel. But anyone with an interest in anthropology or evolution of human history will find it facinating.

My only problem I had with this book is the use of of the term "ape-like". It is a pet peeve of mine and scientists should know better. Humans ARE great apes so referring to a non-human behavior as "ape-like" is a contradiction.

In many ways The 10,000 Year Explosion reads like the anthropolgy equivilant to a Michio Kaku physics book. That makes perfect sense since one of the authors is a physicist. Overall, this book is a pop science masterwork with some terrific insights and revoltionary theories. Together with Guns, Germs, and Steel, it makes for the perfect new wave evolution double feature.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Action Figure

24 meets Falling Down in the relentless pulp thriller

The words spun around my aching brain in an endless loop
as I marched through the dense heat of the urban brush.
"You're too nice a guy Jackson."
That may have been true before this morning.
But as of 9:17 AM this morning, the moment Fat Head's nightstick rocked my dome, I started to transform into something else--something primal, something strong, and in many ways, something long overdue.
A sleeping giant of buried rage had been awoken.
I thought about Tarmok and the rage of the Bull Mongoni.
The barbarian within me had taken over, this time for good.
I began too feel pity for anyone who dared stand in my way
as I began my dark journey of escape.

I am Wes Jackson.
I am ignorant in the Hollywood Barbell Club sense of the word.
Wes Jackson Lives.

It's all about who you know. It's all about networking. It's all about who is the best bold-faced liar. It's all about listening to your instinct when it screams run. Meet Wes Jackson. A burned out shell of a man leading a life of quiet desperation. Then one day, he has a fateful encounter with two security guard goons. The confrontation escalates and turns deadly, and now Wes Jackson is a man on the run. He is a hunted man-a man who has been reborn and re-invented. And a man who is determined to succeed in his dark journey of escape, no matter who or what stands in his way. Action Figure is a lurid, relentless, adrenaline filled, avant-garde, action-packed, roller coaster ride of adventure that never lets up from start to finish.

Action Figure now available in paperback and Kindle and Nook.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Best movie summer ever

Best movie summer ever...

Well, not really. That will probably always be 1982 (E.T., Blade Runner, Poltergeist, Star Trek II, etc.). Although the best overall year in my books would be 1968 (2001, Planet of the Apes, Barbarella, Night of the Living Dead) with 1987 (Empire of the Sun, No Way Out, Wall Street, Robocop, The Untouchables) as a runner up.

The summer of 2011 cannot compare to any of those years.
But with one instant classic (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), two immensely entertaining, well crafted comic book blockbusters (Thor, Captain America), a fresh and shockingly good addition to a tired series ( X-Men : First Class), a super teaming of two storytelling geniuses from different generations ( Super 8), and a sleeper smash hit surefire Oscar contender (The Help) - this past summer was easily the best movie going season in many, many years. Perhaps even back as far as that fabled summer of 1982.

My favorite seven things from the summer films of 2011.

1) Chris Hemsworth in Thor

Fantastic casting (in all of the roles) and what a find Chris Hemsworth is. Finally, a young actor with the both the charisma and the physical presence of Vin Diesel and The Rock.

2) The period setting of X-Men: First Class

Setting the film in the story fertile early 1960's was the perfect way to invigorate a movie series that was based on a comic book created in the very same era.

3) Elle Fanning in Super 8

There is a quiet scene in Super 8 when Elle Fanning’s and Joel Cortney’s characters are watching some home movies. Elle Fanning’s work in that scene, and her entire performance in this film, is astonishing.

4) The art direction of Captain America

The director of the underrated The Rocketeer seemed like the perfect choice to visualize Captain America into a movie. Boy was he ever. Every frame of the movie is a beautifully designed piece of retro pulp art.

5) Viola Davis in The Help

Thanks to the smashing success of The Help brought on by good old fashioned word of mouth, this unsung actress is finally getting some long overdue recognition.

6) Climb Caesar Climb

When a young Caesar first sees the Redwood Forest and soars up into the trees, it is a wonderful, soaring, euphoric, moving moment of pure movie magic. My favorite scene in my favorite film of 2011 so far.

7) The music of Patrick Doyle.

His scores for Thor and Rise of the Planet of the Apes were the best one two punch by a composer in the same summer in a long time.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

4 for 4 club

You know how baseball has the 30/30 club for players who have stolen 30 bases while hitting 30 home runs? Or the ultra exclusive 40/40 club which has only four members?

I have my own exclusive club when it comes to movies.
I call it the 4 for 4 Club.

The requirements to get in are simple.
First a movie must have a four star rating by me, a rating that must be declared right after seeing it for the first time. Second, I must see the movie a minimum of four times in a theater.

A few technical details.

I use the old school four star rating system so **** out of *** is the top rating.
By theater it has to be a first run theater during a film’s initial run.
So dollar houses and drive-ins do not count. Nor do re-releases, anniversary restoration shows or any other special exhibitions. And of course, any kind of home video is ineligible.

For instance I saw Blade Runner opening weekend in 1982 in a theater and gave it four stars. I saw it few weeks later again at the same theater. The next time I saw it in a theater was the spring of 1984 in a film class. Then I saw it again that summer at a midnight showing, and again two more times during the 1992 director’s cut theatrical-re-release. So even though I actually saw Blade Runner in a theatrical auditorium six times, only the first two viewings count toward the 4 for 4 club. So Blade Runner does not make the club.

And indeed I have seen many less the four star movies four or more times in a theater. Example, the Star Wars prequels. Even the most die-hard fan would be hard-pressed to make a case that they are **** films. I saw The Cable Guy four times in theater in 1998, and I could make the case it is a **** wonderfully subversive dark comedy. But the humor is so specific to someone with my twisted sensibilities, I'd best just keep that on a personal favorite list.

This list is weighted heavily toward movies from the 80's and 90's for a number of reasons, not the least is there was a far better variety of films released. Movie were less bloated and had more manageable running times. In other words the writing was better, the editing tighter, and movies were better paced making multiple viewings feasible without taking off from work, school, or life in general.

Plus there were many more physical theaters spread out in more locations and movies played much, much longer. Now days if I miss seeing something opening weekend I am often fucked.. Even hit movies vanish after a month.

Okay, enough self-indulgent rambling, here is the list presented in images, starting with the most recent inductee and working chronologically backwards.

2011 - 4 viewings (and counting)

2001 - 4 viewings

2000 - 4 viewings

1999 - 4 viewings

1999 - 4 viewings

1997 - 4 viewings

1994 - 5 viewngs

1994 - 5 viewings

1993 - 4 viewings

1993 - 7 viewings

To be continued in: 4 for 4 club part II:  Get a life.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ten great movie quotes with attitude

Ten great movie quotes that reflect the Bull Mongoni philosophy of Caitlin StarGunner Star, Action Figure, and Rise of the Bull Mongoni.

“Give me guys that are poor, smart, and hungry. And no feelings. You want a friend you get a dog.”

Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987)

Screenplay by Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser.

“Man is evil, capable of nothing but destruction.”

Doctor Zaius in Planet of the Apes (1968)

Screenplay by Michael G. Wilson and Rod Serling
Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle.

“We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.”

Tyler Durden in Fight Club (1999)

Screenplay by Jim Uhls
Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk

“Everything matters, everything we do matters.”

Nelson Wright in Flatliners (1990)

Screenplay by Peter Filardi

“Don’t you ever cross a man who ain’t afraid of dying!”

Malcolm Little in Malcolm X (1992)

Screenplay by Spike Lee and Arnold Perl
Based on the book by Alex Haley

Listen fellows, I've had a really rare morning. I’m not in the mood to...”

Bill Foster in Falling Down (1993)

Screenplay by Ebbe Roe Smith

“Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true.”

Bodhi in Point Break (1991)

Screenplay by W. Peter Illif
Story by W. Peter Illif and Rick King

“You’re an actor. Act mother fucker!”

Cody Nicholson in True Romance (1993)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino

“Senator? You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally.”

Michael Corleone in The Godfather part II (1974)

Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo
Based on the novel by Mario Puzo

“Nooooooooooooooooooo          ”

Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver

Friday, August 12, 2011

My top ten films and why

Want to get to know someone?

Do you have a need to explore below the surface, dig deeper, and find out what emotional conflicts are lurking below the surface and driving their actions? What motivates them? What drives their passions and  fuels their angst?

Ask them for a list of their favorite movies.

You can tell an awful lot about a person by taking a close look at their favorite films.

There are some very distinct common themes and obsessions at work here on this list.
Perhaps in the near future I will do an in depth essay blog analyzing this further.
In the mean time...

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle and characters created by Paul Dehn

I’ll tell you how much film affected me. I insist on having a Hall of Fame like waiting period of at least five years before a movie can even be eligible for consideration to be on this list.

Well, that rule has been waived for the first time ever for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes".

Not since "A.I Artificial Intelligence" in 2001 have I thought this much about a film after seeing it. Caesar is an unforgettable character and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is not just a well crafted, expertly paced, exciting blockbuster. It is full of iconic moments including an emotional finale that will be etched into cinematic history.

At its heart Rise is a coming age of story that resonates with deep emotion. It is a film about family, home, tragedy, separation, finding one's place in the world, and so much more.

Videodrome (1983)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Screenplay by David Cronenberg

Describing "Videodrome" to the uninitiated is difficult, because in some ways this is a difficult film. Or as the lead character Max Renn played by James Woods says at one point, “I am having trouble finding my way around.”

A screenwriting logline might read:
A contemporary erotic science fiction film noir about a right wing conspiracy using video signals from S and M underground broadcasts...

Okay maybe this is not the kind of film that can be accurately captured in a logline or marketing catch phrase.

But I do know of a few phrases that can help give a few hints as to what it is; strange, erotic, hallucinatory, prophetic, hypnotic, and just plain insanely brilliant.

This film had a tremendous influence on my book She and the spinoff Video Noir.

Falling Down (1993)
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Screenplay by Ebbe Roe Smith

If ever there was a relevant time to rediscover a film, the time is now, and the film is 1993’s "Falling Down". An insightful masterwork of well executed, stirring set pieces tied together by a haunting (and underrated) performance by Michael Douglas as Bill Foster, "Falling Down" is a film that provokes strong polarizing reactions.

Like several of the main characters on this top ten list, Bill “D-Fens” Foster just wants to find a way to go back “home” and recapture a past that no longer exists.

"Falling Down" tells the story of a distraught and recently displaced loner. The movie shares a similar structure and nihilistic tone to the book Action Figure.

JFK (1991)
Directed by Oliver Stone
Screenplay by Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar
Based on books by Jim Garrison and Jim Marris

The conspiracy, the history, the spooky men in the shadows—"JFK" is the best X-file ever made.

One of two Oliver Stone movies on my list, it is the last great film Stone made before he seemingly lost all story telling sensibilities.

"JFK" is the most fascinating real life inspired film ever made.

This movie is also an example on how to brilliantly use cinematography, different film stock and formats, and editing techniques to enhance the storytelling and atmosphere—as opposed to the frenzied over directed mess most films are today.

Empire of the Sun (1987)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

One of two films from 1987 on my list and one of several about family, tragedy, separation, and the journey of a character struggling to find their way home.

I remember seeing "Empire of the Sun" at a 10PM showing on the Friday night it opened. I literally staggered from the theater breathless from the haunting dreamlike imagery and the soul stirring score by John Williams.

 I much prefer this criminally underrated masterpiece to Spielberg’s other much lauded WWII films he won Oscars for.

Planet of the Apes (1968)
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling
Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle

The original "Planet of the Apes" struck a chord with audiences of 1968 in much the same way Rise is connecting to moviegoers in 2011. Both films have strong performances, innovative special effects, exciting set pieces, and terrific musical scores.

But what sets both Rise and the 1968 original apart from other well crafted genre fair is the way both films have created memorable characters and a rich thematic subtext on the issues of the day. Rise is about family, healthcare, aging, animal welfare and the environment. In 1968 Apes took on civil unrest, racism, war, and nuclear armageddon, but like Rise, never at the expense of story, character, and pacing.

Wall Street (1987)
Directed by Oliver Stone
Screenplay by Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser

I was a stockbroker for fourteen plus years and was literally studying for my Series 7 exam in December 1987 when I first saw this mythic film at a run down General Cinema in Plantation, Florida. It became a bible to young stockbrokers who were “poor, smart and hungry” desperately trying “stake their claim” in the Reaganomics world of the 1980's.

The money culture, the classic dialogue, the clothes, the slang, the attitudes, the cinematography, the rise, the fall, and most of all—Gekko. "Now if you do good sport, you get perks. Lots and lots of perks."

One of three Michael Douglas films in my top ten.
His body of work from 1987 to 1993 is simply mind blowing.

The Bear (1989)
Directed by Jean-Jaques Annaud
Screenplay by Gerard Bach
Based on the novel by James Oliver Curwood

I usually try to avoid animal movies at all costs because quite frankly they just make me sad. And the animals are rarely treated with respect not only as creatures, but as characters.

There are some upsetting parts in this movie to be sure, but they are not forced or contrived. The storytelling is completely honest about things that could and often do happen to bears in the wild when they are just being bears. They are treated with respect as wild animals, and as truly memorable characters we become emotionally involved with.

An almost totally silent movie, "The Bear" tops "Born Free" as the best movie about animals ever made. It is simply a beautiful film.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Steven Spielberg
Screen Story by Ian Watson and Stanley Kubrick
Based on the short story by Brian Aldiss

This is a dark, complex, sentimental, and haunting film that polarized critics and turned off audiences who were expecting a feel good film in the spirit of "ET".

This movie actually does have a lot more in common with "ET" and "Close Encounters" than one might think. But this time the questions posed are not always answered. And the emotional payoff is far more complex.

The film is a technical marvel on every level.

The hyper-real stylish cinematography of Spielberg regular Janusz Kaminski manages to convey the look of both a Kubrick and a Spielberg film at the same time. The mix of cold Kubrickian existential bleakness and the warm Spielberg spirituality of his trademark "god light" is what makes "A.I." such an utterly fascinating experience.

Maestro John William's emotional score infuses the movie with deep sense of sadness as the main character searches for a lost childhood he can never have.

Basic Instinct (1992)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Screenplay by Joe Eszterhas

I love John Dahl’s film noir trilogy ("Kill Me Again", "Red Rock Wes", "The Last Seduction"), but "Basic Instinct" with its "Vertigo" inspired San Francisco locations is my favorite neo-noir.

Michael Douglas is at the peak of his leading man, bad boy, troubled anti-hero form. Sharon Stone is in the prime of her alluring femme fatale sexual charisma. Director Paul Verhoeven, writer Joe Eszterhas, cinematographer Jan DeBont, composer Jerry Goldsmith–every one involved is at the peak of their creative powers in this provocative neo-Hitchcock classic. The most daring (and best) mainstream commercial erotic film ever made.

One of two San Francisco based films on my list (along with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes").