I was working to come up with a top-ten list of my favorite films and what I found was that several films on the list were related in one way or another. They could be connected by an actor or director, common theme, or via homage. I realized that my appreciation of each film could be enhanced by the other. So, I restructured my approach and I give you:
Blazing Saddles tells the story of Bart, the first black sheriff in the old west. What looks like a screwball comedy is actually a startling intelligent satire of American racism and ignorance during the civil rights era. Released at a time when many lead parts for black actors were in exploitation films this movie’s lead dared to be smart rather than tough. Watch out for the third act when the whole movie goes off the rails in ways that could never be expected or ever come close to being matched.
Young Frankenstein, filmed in glorious black and white, was the sarcastic send up too the dozens of classic monster movies. The grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein battles the negative perceptions of his family’s experiments. He does so while also struggling with his own acceptance of his family history. Gene
Wilder stars as the doctor in what is the best performance of his career.
Why watch them back to back:
These two were the easiest to pick for this list because they are also tied for my all time favorite movies. Both released in 1974, these comedies represent two of the three collaborations between director/producer Mel Brooks and actor Gene Wilder, the other being the original 1968 version of The Producers. They
represent the some of the strongest work from both men’s body of work. They will both make you laugh until you cry.
Chinatown (1974) is the first of two detective films starring Jack Nicholson as J.J. Gittes, a film noir style privet investigator working in LA during the 1930s. JJ is hired to investigate a cheating husband and finds himself caught up in a plot that could change the face of LA forever. A great script and brilliant direction by Roman
Polanski (one of his last before fleeing the USA in 1978) cemented this as one of the best detective stories ever put on film. It has also been credited for making Jack Nicholson a major star.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1989) tells the story of Eddie Valiant, a Hollywood detective in a world where cartoon characters are living breathing people (or rabbits, or ducks, or what ever the hell else) just trying to make a living like anyone else. Often confused as a children’s movie because of the presence of cartoons as major characters, this movie is anything but. Sex, murder and infidelity are major themes wrapped around a plot that could change the face of LA forever (see what I did there?). It is dark and at times terrifying (Christopher Lloyd murders a cute anthropomorphic cartoon shoe. Why? Just because he is a jerk, that's why.) With smarter writing and higher production value that might be expected from a film with such a goofy premise, it remains a popular film twenty years after its release.
Why watch them back to back?
Chinatown and Roger Rabbit are so thematically and visually similar that the latter could have been a sequel to the former. Chinatown played such a major influence on the production of Roger Rabbit that to properly appreciate it you need to familiarize yourself with the source material. You will gain a much deeper appreciation and understanding for the silly cartoons that you laughed at as a kid.
Metropolis is an early example of science fiction on screen. From German director Fritz Lang and produced in 1927, Metropolis is about a future dystopia called Metropolis, where the wealth and excess luxuries of the rich are built on the backs of the poor, who are forced to live and work underground. The main plot revolves around two star-crossed lovers who are separated by their classes. The story also involves a mad scientist who uses the female of the pair to bring to life his greatest creation, a life like robot that wreaks havoc on the city. Visually striking, this silent era classic is still influencing the sci-fi genre to this day.
James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) was the first major hit for the director who would go on to make some of the most successful movies of all time. This sci-fi action movie remains one of the gold standards that all other sci-fi action movies are compared to. You have probably seen this one (if not, why? What is your deal?) but if not, it is about a man sent back in time to protect the mother of a resistance fighter who will one day save the human race from an army of sentient machines. The main villain is a robot Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the role that made his career.
Why watch them back to back?
Because even though these movies are separated by decades they both showcase man’s tenuous relationship with technology. Both Lang and Cameron create worlds where a reliance on technology results in disaster. Both feature machines that look like people and try to overthrow society. Also, after watching a slow moving pre-WWII German film like Metropolis you may need some fast paced action to get you moving again. Unless you really love slow moving pre-WWII German films, in which case I recommend throwing on M, Lang’s 1931 film staring Peter Lorre.
Plan 9 (1959) is often called the worst movie ever made. With good reason. The plot makes little sense; aliens invade the Earth using a weapon that resurrects three dead people, and sometimes they fly around LA to just sort of let people know they are there. Thats pretty much the whole plan. You can see string on all of the flying saucers. One of the leads has an accent so thick you can’t understand a word he says. And, oh yeah, Bella Lugosi, who stars in the film, died before it even started production and was cut into the movie using old footage and a stand in who covered his face with a cape. Despite all of this, the movie is just a lot of fun. Its utter ridiculousness and camp make it the king of all late night B-movies.
Plan 9 has become such a favorite among fans of B-movies that the story of how it came to be is the plot of Tim Burton’s 1994 film Ed Wood. Staring Johnny Depp as the titular character (long before the pairing between the director and actor started going stale) Ed Wood tells the story of how a very unlikely group of
strange people came together to produce some of the worst movies ever made. Ed, a recently uncloseted transvestite with a dream of being a big name director, is inherently likable and has an inspiring enthusiasm for his work, no matter how bad he may be at it.
Why watch them back to back?
After watching Plan 9 I knew I loved it, but had a hard time putting my finger on why. Then I watched Ed Wood and knew. Because despite how quite terrible Plan 9 truly is, it certainly has heart. Burton explores the strange and comical relationships that lead to the creation of Wood’s most well known work. The
friendship formed between Wood and Lugosi also served as a parallel for Burton’s own relationship with Vincent Price at the end of his life. Like the relationship between Ed Wood and his friends these films really make each other make more sense.
Dead Alive is the schlockiest movie I have ever had the pleasure to devote 104 minutes of my life to. The 1992 gross-out comedy-horror zombie movie from New Zealand boasts one of the highest body counts ever put to film. Complete with a zombie sex scene resulting in a zombie baby (not the weirdest part, by far)
this one can hardly be explained, but should not be missed.
Lord of the Rings... you have seen/ heard of this series and there is no reason I should explain it to you. But here we go anyway. Lord of the Rings (2001-3) is one of the biggest film series ever made in pretty much every conceivable category. Adapted from JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy series, Lord of the Rings made crazy
money and you probably own the DVD. Good choice, nerd.
Why watch them back to back?
Peter Jackson directed both of these. Yeah, five years after wrapping on Dead Alive, a gratuitously violent and disgusting low budget work ($3 million), Jackson started preproduction on one of the most ambitious and expensive ($280+ million) film projects of the late 20th/ early 21st century. You want to see versatility in a director, look no further than these two (ok, I mean four) projects. Put the two next to each other and outside the facts that they were both filmed in New Zealand and were helmed by Jackson, but are both brilliant in their own right.Well... actually Frodo does sort of look like the the zombie baby... hmmm....