The Best Of (And The Worst)

With 101MC intently interested on what inspires me in the media, it makes sense to do this. Here, I will look into my Top 5 movies and albums, and (try) to explain why I like them so much. It’s sort of difficult to argue a ‘top 5 worst albums’ list, but much easier to criticise movies (I need to get some things off my chest anyway!). So I’ll finish off with an oh-so-special countdown of my five worst movies of all time ( 😀 ).

We’ll start with music. Here are the five best albums I’ve ever listened to, and why:

5. Cosmic Egg – Wolfmother

Having only recently bought this album, it might be a bit hasty to put this remotely near my top 5 album chart. However, from what I know about my musical tastes, this is probably going to be around for some time to come. Wolfmother is an Australian band, who made their self-titled debut back in 2006 (ah, the memories…). After a hiatus, they made a comeback with this album several months ago, entitled ‘Cosmic Egg’ (named after a Yoga position). Changing from their ‘MGMT-style’ sound of the hugely successful first album, this less-successful sequel took the band’s sound in a new direction. Now Wolfmother are being called new-age ‘Led Zeppelin’ by people on Youtube. The sheer comparison to such a legendary band permits checking out this band. It’s rock n roll, but it’s borderline hippie. One review hated this album because it’s trying to bring back what was fashionable in the 60s and 70s, and called it a backward step. I however salute the band for just this. In case you don’t know, I missed the 60s and 70s. This is a sound that borrows heavily from that era, and then puts a modern spin on it to make it our own.

A link to the music video New Moon Rising, can be found here:

4. Nothing And Nowhere – The Birthday Massacre

It isn’t in HMV, so don’t try looking for it! This ultra-rare album came into my possession when I met The Birthday Massacre in Nottingham, almost a year ago. Nothing & Nowhere is the debut of the band, and again perhaps the least successful of the band’s list of releases. However, the ‘Emo-esque’ electronic sound of the album set it apart from any other. At the time when I discovered TBM, it was rivaled only by Emilie Autumn, and Britain’s own Soho Dolls. The three bands formed an alternative-industrial revolution in terms of my music tastes. But in terms of surviving, this album to this day remains one of the best electronic albums I have. Gary Numan is also great, but again, this album speaks solely for my generation, and for that I am thankful. In terms of content, the album focuses on people’s relations over time. The lyrics are both as ironic as they are upsetting. It has been a running theme throughout the band’s history, and will continue to feature heavily in future releases.

Although no videos were released from the first album, a song from the follow-up called Nevermind encapsulates the band perfectly, both in terms of sound and image. A link to the video can be found here:

Funnily enough, TBM was the last band I ever saw at Nottingham Rock City before I left for Coventry and University. A song from Nothing & Nowhere (entitled ‘To Die For‘) will probably forever be my ‘going to university’ song. Unless I missed my guess, the song Nevermind is actually about someone going to University, and how they change when they return to their hometown.

3. Orchestra Of Wolves – Gallows

By the time I came to university, it was time for another revolution in terms of my music tastes. A chance-gig at the local rock scene called Kasbah allowed me a see a band I’d had my eye on for almost a year. Gallows, a British punk-rock band, had just released their second album, Grey Britain, and were on tour in support of it. After experiencing them live, I went out and bought both albums. The first, entitled ‘Orchestra Of Wolves’ made the most impact however (possibly because Grey Britain focused on British ‘chav’ culture). Orchestra Of Wolves is a very intense album, basically focusing on the nutters of Britain. We have chavs, hateful break-ups, suicide, murder and general sleeping around and date-raping all heavily featured in the lyrics within. The ‘core’ sounds of screaming and heavy bass make this album not one for the under-aged or of a nervous disposition. However, considering I was now for the first time out in this ‘big wide world’, the timing was immaculate at giving me a drive-by education in the worst of modern-day society.

The video to one of the big hits of the album, Staring At The Rude Bois can be found here:

The song acted as a catalyst, whereby punks and chavs joined forces in a huge underground mosh pit. Lethal Bizzle flew the flag one end, Gallows at the other. Just don’t expect them to play it live unless both parties are present.

2. Watershed – Opeth

At this point in the list, we now start to hit some exceptional talent. Michael Akerfeldt is recognised as being one of the greatest guitarists of modern times, fronting the Progressive Death-Metal band Opeth. he was one of the co-founders back in the 90s, and still fronts the band to this day. Don’t let the term ‘death metal’ put you off – it’s used loosely in this context. In my opinion, they are the only band who actually pull off the ‘hippy-goth’ music right.

‘Progressive’ can, in a simplified term, mean ‘long songs’, so bands who can’t do the music right make heaps of rubbish. However, when it comes together, it’s truly amazing. Building upon an extensive backlog of albums, the 2008 release of Watershed proved to be the mainstream hit this Swedish band had been looking for. Possibly due to a recent lineup change, the band experimented with more instruments to create interesting songs, without straying from the acoustic formula. The result is what I consider to be their best album. Despite not being a fan of the last two songs, the first six are more than enough to warrant this position on the list. If you’re looking for something to shake up your own music tastes, look no further. It’s spooky, it’s chilled, it’s retro AND modern at the same time. We have short songs and long songs. Clean vocals and growls. Not just any band can pull this type of work off.

A link to one of the videos from the album, Burden can be found here. Don’t get scared – it’s just a video!:

1. Dark Passion Play – Nightwish

When it comes to people asking me what the best album is I’ve ever heard, it’s generally considered a one-sided argument for me. The single-most influential band in my musical tastes came at the end of my first term of college, when old-school rock and roll went out, and modern European metal came in. The symphonic metal band Nightwish took my ears my storm, and took me on a tour of music I would never have imagined existed. ‘Symphonic Metal’ refers to the setup of a heavy metal band fronting a 120+ classical orchestra in the background. The result will be unlike anything you’ve ever heard. I discovered this band at the same time as Evanescence, which quickly went under with the band Dragon Force. Fellow metal bands Children Of Bodom and Sonata Arctica appeared on my track listings soon after, forming what I called ‘The Finnish Trio’, as they are three of the most popular bands to come out of Finland. Nightwish to the Finnish is what Madonna is to us, yet they only play small venues in our country.

As for the album, it played a very important part in the history of Nightwish. They had recently sacked their opera-singing front woman Tarja Turunen, and had replaced her with the more pop-orientated vocalist Annette Olzon. The fans were equally inspired and outraged by the choice. The first album with the new singer (this one) had a lot to live up to, so it took on the fans with full force. It is one of the most expensive albums ever made, but it is all the better for it. The shortest song is just over three minutes, the longest is just under fourteen (and also features to London Symphonic Orchestra). There is an acoustic song, and there is a purely instrumental song (i.e. with no vocals). As Nightwish have both a female and male singer, songs are sometimes sung by one or duetted by both, giving variety to the vocal talent as well. The themes remain quintessential Nightwish – gothic, spooky, magical and fantastical.

Of the five singles released from this album, the song Amaranth was the most successful (and remains Nightwish’s most successful single yet). A link to the video can be found here:

The follow-up album is expected sometime in the upcoming year. I was 17 when this album came out. I’ll be in my 20s by the time the next one comes out. I hope it’s worth the wait.

Other albums that didn’t make the list are Rage Against The Machine’s self-titled debut. It’s features some excellent bass and good rapping vocals. However, the themes of culture are the same of Gallows, and for me, I connected more with the latter (probably because they’re British). RATM’s rival in my playlist, Pantera, would have also made the list, only their ‘Reinventing Hell’ album is a ‘Best Of’ compilation, which means I omit it from the list. PAIN, the band who warmed up for Nightwish when I saw them, are also quite favoured, especially the debut ‘Rebirth’. However, some songs were just boring, in stark contrast to some truly amazing blending of ‘Dance-Metal’. Also, The Army Of Freshmen album ‘Under The Radar’ officially introduced me to the ‘Emo’ scene. It was good at the time – not so much in retrospect!

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Hope that was interesting, and I’m not being too boring. But movies, on the other hand, are a whole other can of worms. From the top:

5. Go

The DVD cover I have looks nothing like this, in case you decide to make a purchase. The film Go is a little gem I stumbled upon by accident one night staying up late. It belong firmly in the ‘teen sex drama’ category, but wait just a moment. The film revolves around three different characters – a woman who double-crosses a drug lord trying to get money to pay her rent; a man who travels to Vegas for a weekend and ends up annoying the local mobsters; and two gay TV icons who get blackmailed into helping the police in a sting operation. You can probably see where all the stories intertwine, but this film has many more tricks and twists up it’s sleeve.

It’s surprising that a film about young-adult excess could be so deep and involving – even the older generation should get something out of this film. The cinematography is clever, the script is humorous and witty, even when conveying scenes of extreme menace and violence. The acting the wonderful – this was the film I first discovered Timothy Olyphant, and I’ve been a fan ever since. If these sorts of films are your bag, this is a must-see. Even if this isn’t your usual gig however, as mentioned, it is a firm recommendation, and a welcome entry on my Top 5 Movies list.

There link for the trailer can be found here:

4. Ju:On – The Grudge

Not so much a great film – here more so because it is literally the scariest film I have ever seen (and holds the record to this day). The Grudge is an old-school haunted house movie that has been updated for the 21st century. People walk into a house, and then get killed by the resident ghosts in a very non-violent fashion. Heck, I’m not sure this film even has any jump moments. But it gets you in your gut, Exorcist style, and manages to give you nightmares for weeks on end. The sequels weren’t bad either – the sight of a woman with long hair covering her face crawling down a corridor never seems to get old.

Holding position neatly in my world cinema collection, this film remains a classic horror film that I am obliged to show anyone who has the nerve to challenge it. I analyzed it in film studies during my last year at college to find out what made it so scary. Can’t remember what I found… but I had nightmares for another few more weeks…

Watch the trailer if you dare:

3. The Rock

Back before Michael Bay has spoilt his reputation with the Transformers movies, he was making hardcore films such as this one. Originally an all-time action favourite, this film has since ascended the ranks as one of my favourite films of all time. The premise is that a US military commander is holding hostages on Alcatraz Island (a.k.a ‘The Rock) along with several missiles, and is threatening to launch them unless the government cooperates. However, the demands are for the government to stop lying about cover-up operations, and give families the compensation they are rightfully entitled to. A special forces team are sent in, but soon only two remain, and are left to fight the entire island of soldiers in search of the remaining missiles.

What makes this film so great is that fact that the antagonists are never clear. Is the crazed general really that crazy? Not wanting to spoil things too much, by the end of the film he actually appears more like a good guy. The government are always portrayed as bad people with shady intentions – they even decide to blow up the whole island at one point, deciding to kill all the hostages and the remaining members of the team they originally sent in. The acting from everyone is superb – especially Ed Harris as the general. There are some classic quotes and some awesome set-pieces which add to the fun. But what could have so easily been just another good action film (such as Broken Arrow – another of my favourite action films, scored by Hans Zimmer, who also did the music for this film too) becomes so much more, with the first hour spent on characterisation, meaning that when the film does eventually focus on Alcatraz, you care about the characters, which make some scenes all the more poignant.

2. Battle Royale

You probably knew it was coming. This film rarely needs an introduction, as it yet another of my World Cinema collection that sent shivers down my pine upon the first viewing. The story – focusing on a class of adolescents who are forced by the government to fight to the death on an island, was particularly striking back when I was fifteen. If you are ‘of the age’ for this film, you cant help but wonder which member of the class would actually be you if this really happened. I always fancied myself the psycho… but who knows?

Cranking up the tension even more in the genius use of counting down all the remaining classmates every time someone dies. If you want to play the game of placing bets on who will be the last man standing at the end of the film. Despite there being an art-house style ending, you can still play that game, giving complete closure the narrative, which I always enjoy. Several other artistic devices, such as the surreal classical music, and the still frames of text communicating the last dying thoughts of people, add empathy to the situation. Tarantino lists this as his favourite film of all time, but for me, there is only one other which can beat it.

1. Scarface

This all-time classic directed by Brian De Palma (of whom I’ve always been a fan) tells the rags-to-riches-and-back-down-again story of Tony Montana (no relation to the ‘rock singer’), who ascends from the streets of Mexico as a thug, to becoming a drug lord in Miami. This is a film which literally has everything – brilliant acting, equally brilliant script, excellent pacing, well-constructed characters, great cinematography, nostalgic music, epic finale – the list goes on. Also hosting one of the all-time classic movie quotes of all time, this film has become a pivotal part of culture – both of yesteryear and today. Al Pacino’s character is seen as a symbol of both ignorance and power. The character strives for both, with the price of losing respect and love.

What made the film for me, though, was the fact that it’s one of the only ‘classic’ films I like. I thought Taxi Driver was boring (though maybe I was too young to ‘get it’). I thought Apocalypse Now was too long – Platoon was always considered better in my book. The Godfather was too slow, and speaking of slow, I never made it all the way through 2001: A Space Odyssey. This film was the only one to be sold to me as ‘best film ever made’, and actually lived up to expectations. Sure, the story isn’t all that thought-provoking or intelligent. But it’s the epic moments, such as the ‘chainsaw scene’, or just when the acting and script combine, such as the ‘restaurant scene’. Over the moon with joy that this was the first good film I actually thought was a good film, the feeling was enough to cement this in the top spot, probably for a long time to come. It is epic, and if you haven’t at least attempted to see this film yet… you really, really, should.

Films that didn’t make the list included Heat, a film starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. It’s the same running time as Scarface (the the minute), and almost every bit just as epic. However, some parts did sag a little when they focused on the side-characters, losing the film valuable ‘browny points’. Poseidon is the best remake I’ve ever seen, though that alone would never get it anywhere near this chart. You may be surprised to see no anime films here. Princess Mononoke is my favourite, followed by The Grave Of The Fireflies. Both very different films, and both by studio Ghibli. Great experiences in cinema – though at the end of the day, you just can’t beat human actors. Tombstone is a film that does everything right, and is extremely quotable as well, complete with superb performances. However, after the heart-stopping rendition of the ‘OK Corral’ shootout, the film loses it’s way once the vendetta rides start. Watchmen was a film I enjoyed more in retrospect, but refuse to acknowledge it’s strengths given it being so stuck up it’s own a*se. Sideways is a personal favourite – an art-house film I actually enjoyed because of it’s quirkiness, but yet it doesn’t hold that special kick that these movies have. Finally, The Big Lebowski – another classic, awesomely funny with the ever-amazing Jeff Bridges. Perhaps a bit too surreal to be on my ‘best of’ list, but definitely worth checking out.

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AND NOW THE MOMENT YOU’VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR

Turning off a movie half way through because it’s crap doesn’t do this list credit. So these five films are films that I have had to sit through right until the bitter end. Not only did these films offend me, they offended me for two hours. Two hours of my life I will NEVER get back. Ho mama – my wrath is upon yee:

5. I Am Legend

Not only did I go to the cinema (albeit on free tickets) to see this film, I had to watch it several more times at A-Level in film studies for my movie comparison project. You know when a film gets compared to a seventies movie starring Charlton Heston, and the seventies movie looks like The Terminator in comparison, something’s gone wrong somewhere. This film is basically about Will Smith. He is the only one for most of this film. His acting is superb, and puts in a fine performance. Yeah… but.

The special effects are rubbish. Why go the trouble of making authentic-looking empty New York streets, when the creatures look worse than The Mummy from 1999? The cinematography is crap – this is perhaps the worst ‘jump’ film you’ll ever watch. It successfully makes you jump about a million times – something I absolutely HATE in films – especially when they’re not even horror films! Some parts of the film are nonsensical – bad guys set three dogs on our hero, but when the dogs die, they don’t kill him themselves, they just let him get away. Some scenes are repeated (heck, even some parts of the script are). These are to show monotony in the character’s life. Yeah, but we’re paying for this so… hurry it up. Basically the one other human in the whole film is unfortunately out-of-place, half the time are hardcore survivor, the other time a hopeless combatant. She saves the hero’s life from an army one minute, then barely manages to hold her own against three bad guys a few scenes later. It was a zombie movie. It was a bad zombie movie. 28 weeks later did 300% better on about a quarter of the budget. It just makes you think: why? Did you know there are several references to butterflies throughout the film too? 😀 Yeah, I didn’t give a sh*t either.

4. Ghost In The Shell

None of the anime films I’ve watched made the ‘best of ‘list, but here’s a contender for the worst. The artwork is brilliant, and then it all falls apart again. The story, from what I could gather, was something about a machine that had gone on the run, and they send other machine out to get it. Humans play second-fiddle. Well, whoopy-do. Blade Runner beat you to it I’m afraid. Cyborgs and down-trodden societies of the future seemed to be so radical in this film. But it was all so unoriginal. You don’t really care about anything in this film – probably because, like me, you wont have a clue what’s going on. The ‘finale’ is basically a twenty-minute monologue the bad-guy gives at the end. AH! This DID inspire The Matrix after all – that crap bit with The Architect at the end of Reloaded! Yeah, this goes something like that. Boring. No-one cares. No-one really knows anyway.

But we can go a little lower here. The main ‘good-guy’ female robot can turn invisible, but only her skin and insides have this cloaking device. So, basically, clothes would give her away, so she has to be naked before she can turn invisible. Simple, yes? Then tell me, why is it she has trousers stitched into her skin? When she needs to turn invisible, her legs are already covered, so we are treated to a pair of bouncy, anime breasts at almost every scene. Hentai of the future? (No seriously – look at the front cover of the DVD a little closer…) What sort of low ‘sex-sells’ trick is that? If she has trousers, give her a top as well. Or did that escape the graphic designers notice? Going elsewhere on another subject, the pacing was also way off. There’s, like, two action scenes. About ninety minutes apart. This film was not enjoyable. It thought it was really clever. It probably is too clever for most of us. Which probably means we wont enjoy it. Oops.

I will at least give it a chance to sell itself to you (not in that way!) :

3. Kakera – A Piece Of Our Lives

Oh! Shock horror! I called it A Piece Of Our Lives, ha ha ha. Oh well.

Yes, for those who thought I didn’t like this film, that was putting it mildly. I have developed a phobia that the CUEAFS, wonderful though it is, will prompt me to sit through another one of these. The review’s around here somewhere – other than, I’ve not a lot to add. I love World Cinema, but this just took the biscuit, and will probably be on this list for a long time to come. It was bad, bad, bad news. But do you know what’s even worse? There are two films out there I’ve seen that actually offended me more than this did!

2. The Matrix: Revolutions

Hands down, western culture have made the most turkeys. The Matrix was brilliant. The Matrix Reloaded, arguable. This one, not arguable. Never had there been such an anti-climax such as this. This is clear proof. If you’ve set the bar, quit while you’re ahead. So, after two pretty epic films, we get to here, which again, like Ghost…, gets stuck up it’s own backside into an over-complicated story about robots and humans in a down-trodden future. After such awesome fight scenes in the first two movies, this one just fell flat on it’s ass.

As most should know, the worst mistake is the obvious one – this film is mostly set the future! WHO CARES ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR FUTURE? It is dark, bleak, metallic, dismal. It provides contrast, a backdrop, and adds a story. But you can’t defy gravity in the future, which is what people want to see when they buy this movie. Script, crap. Acting, crap. Story, crap. Special effects, overblown, overused, no one cares. Boring again. But just when it couldn’t get any worse, the whole cast basically die off. Agent Smith takes over the world with his clones (?), Neo has a fight. Meant to be epic. Fails on just about every level. (Vote now: Was Neo’s fight with Smith the most epic fail in cinema history?) In the game Path Of Neo, the Wachowski brothers say the whole ‘martyr’ thing is lame in a game, and instead make you fight a huge Agent Smith, which Neo needs to fly at like Superman just to hit. You know what? Buy the game.

1. Broken Flowers

A rather unusual selection, but one that often comes to my mind as ‘worst film ever’. Believe me, if it’s artistic work in a film you’re looking for, this is Val Halla. This is Shangri La. The Holy Grail. Ever since I saw The Long Good Friday, I’ve never been a fan of open-ended films. But here, we have an open-ended narrative in it’s entirety. Bill Murray (who acts really well in this, I must say), plays a man who gets a letter, telling him his son he never knew about is coming to visit him. He visits the four women who may be the mother, but it could or could not be any of them. Then he sees a boy who could or could not be his son. And that’s it.

If there is a film chemically engineered and perfected in a laboratory, until we get the epitome of a film that wastes your time, ladies and gentlemen, I introduce. I do not even know where to begin. The mind crumbles at the sheer concept of this film. I know it’s trying to do something different, but this is personal for me. It goes against everything (and I mean everything) I want to see in a movie besides good acting. The story is slow, long-winded and boring. It’s one previous girlfriend. Then another one. And then another one. We don’t care about them because they’re each only in the film about twenty minutes. It’s art-house. You’re supposed to use your imagination. But how can you if you don’t give a toss? The ending is open, but again you probably wont care. You do, however, care about the two hours you just spent watching the damn thing. For a guy like me, who felt cheated when I got to the end of reading Murder On The Orient Express (say ‘OLAH!’ if you know what I’m talking about!!! 😀 ), this just absolutely does it. A film with bad acting, bad script, bad effects, and bad everything else, BUT is actually about something, will probably fare better than this. This film belongs in the Tate Modern along with all the other rubbish. This is high-class, swish, redefined, triple-filtered, pure 100% crap. This is a boring film that, contrary the the DVD cover, had no laughs for me. Just tears. For all the wrong reasons (and you know when your eyes water when you stifle a yawn? Yeah…) It’s a long boring film, that’s not about anything. That’s meant to be the point. Read into it as much as you want. Watch it if you’re feeling brave (or suicidal). But for me, this is my all time (for the moment) number one!

Out of all the trailers I could find, I could only find this collection of trailers on Youtube. Give it a butchers – you know you want to! :

Out of films I’ve reviewed, 2009 was a bad year. Crank 2 and the Friday 13th remake should get a look-in for being that terrible. Quantum Of Solace and Die Another Day I’ll add, for a matter of national pride, and the pride that was taken away when I walked out of the cinema in utter shame when those films ended. Kung Pow: Enter The First is a film I never managed to finish – the opening twenty minutes alone rank it here somewhere. But at least it would be funny if you were totally, TOTALLY smashed. Worst thing about the films above, you just can’t laugh at them. As if I hadn’t annoyed CUEAFS enough, Kagemusha, an all-time classic of World Cinema, became another let-down. Couldn’t follow it. Didn’t care. Two hours in, a warlord has died and the soldiers have found a replacement. Not quick enough guys. Just not quick enough. Lord Of The Rings 2 was pretty bad, given the standard of the first. Could someone tell Peter Jackson that a fifty-minute battle at the end of a film does not constitute an epic ending. Hostel 2 officially ended my time with ‘torture-porn’ films – it’s so nasty, you feel less of a human being as you watch it. But an all-time highlight in these matters would be the Van-Damme vehicle Derailed. This would be my number one, only it was straight-to-DVD. Of course it was going to be crap. But honestly, check that film out. See how far you make it. It so bad, it’s good. It so good, it’s blood amazing. It’s so bloody amazing, it just might be the worst film you’ve ever seen in your life. Ever. And I’m a hardcore JCVD fan.

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