The Greats: Great Series

Posted: November 2, 2010 in Article, Top Lists
Tags: , , , , ,

If you want to know whether or not you should listen to a critic, you should hear what they think The Greats are. So here are my suggestions for you to peruse. We’ll start with movie series that I think are great.

I’m posting this first to avoid people thinking that I forgot to mention some of the movies that won’t be turning up. I’d hate to hear that it’s no big deal, but how could I forget to add that one movie to the list? That surely I couldn’t have thought it inferior, could I? Well, no of course not. What happened was I couldn’t decide which movie from a particular series to add to the list. You can’t go around naming every movie from a series, because then you’re just padding the list out to make ten. No, instead you’ve either got to name the group as a whole, or write a list made up entirely of series. I did the later. Here we have the ten film series that I think are essential to informed movie watching.

Roger Corman’s Poe Cycle
Do you want to know what Drive-In horror was like before swathes of co-eds starting being cut down by faceless killers? Well, fortunately for you, these movies exist. Before the heavy breathing stalkers and the masked slashers turned the screens red with gallons of dyed karo syrup, horror had to be slightly more cerebrial. Okay, they simply had to be less graphic and rely on more schlock. However, something wonderful happened when Mister Corman met Mister Price and they decided to run a train on Mister Poe. These films really are masterpieces, in both story telling and economy. If you watch carefully, you can see sets, props and costumes re used over and over again. This lends the movies a sense of consistency and style, but it was also cheap. Yes, Price is often the best things in these movies, but he’s the best thing in most movies he’s in. Trust me, there is a lot to see here. Granted, there are some seven movies in the cycle (eight if you count the one that is really an H.P. Lovecraft story with a Poe title) but they’re all at least worth a rental. Make an evening out of it! If nothing else, you can gleefully MST3K them and not worry that you’re doing either series much of a disservice.

The Dollars Trilogy
You know this isn’t a real trilogy, don’t you? Yeah, it’s similar looking characters, but Clint is supposed to be playing a different guy in all three according to the books I’ve read. Also, he’s got a name in each one. Joe, Manco, and Blondie. The Man With No Name was decided upon by the English Language distributors who thought audiences would be confused as to why Clint Eastwood looks like he’s playing the exact same character and yet has different names. To be fair, Americans would have been confused. I’ve been told that there is actually a lot of traditions carried over from Italian theater and thus everyone is supposed to be a stock type of character even though they’re different people every time. It doesn’t matter, the movies gel together well if you look at them as a series so who cares, right? Now A Fist Full of Dollars is a remake of Yojimbo, but it has other influences as well. For A Few Dollars More and The Good The Bad and The Ugly are new stories, but they seem to carry on with the same guy. Some suggest that TGTB&TU is actually a prequel, which would make FAFDM the last in the group chronologically, but that already takes us down a path of more thought that the series needs, never mind how much it deserves. Are these the Best Westerns ever? Well no, if you check that link you’ll find The Best Western is a hotel. Best is subjective because it changes for each person and besides this trilogy is part of the sub-genre of Spaghetti Westerns anyway. They are good though and well worth watching.

George A. Romero’s Dead Movies
Okay, really, I mean the Dead Trilogy. Night of, Dawn of, Day of. Yes, there is also Land of, Diary of and Survival of… but those aren’t very good. Land is okay, but by that point, you end up just shouting at the screen “Yes George! We get it! Humans are a bigger threat to each other than the zombies are! Can we move on now?” However, the first three movies are really good. There is a progression from one movie to the next, with the areas the characters are hold up in growing more elaborate with each successive movie. First a farm house, then a mall, then a massive underground bunker. There is a progression with both the humans and the zombies, each growing more complex with each new movie. The problem is, as I said before, there is a regular theme running through the movies. Humans suck and they’re a bigger problem than the zombies. This can detract after a while, and while I haven’t seen Diary of the Dead, it hurt Land and Survival to continue to bang away on a point that was clearly established several movies ago. Still, if you want to know about modern horror, these are the movies to start with.

Godfather Trilogy
Yes, the whole trilogy. Yes, even Godfather III. Yes, you even have to be nice to Sophia. This is a sticking point for me, because I don’t think Part 3 is all that bad, it’s jsut not as good as the first two. And Mary Corleone is supposed to be a stupid spoiled brat. She’s not being a bad actress since I’ve known several girls who are the age she’s supposed to be portraying, and they act JUST LIKE THAT. Anyone who plays a spoiled and annoying teenager always gets called a lousy actor. In some cases this is accurate, but here it isn’t. Now that I have that out of the way, go see the whole thing. I probably don’t need to tell you that you should watch The Godfather or The Godfather Part II, but I decided that if I was going to go this route, I’d better include things I find essential.

Police Story
These used to be the most famous Jackie Chan movies, although they’ve been eclipsed by another trilogy in recent years. Although, if you think about it, Inspector Lee could just have been Chan Ka-kui* if they had wanted him to be. While there are technically five movies in this series, you can get away with just calling it a trilogy. However, some of Chan’s finest fights and stunts are included in this little series and it is well worth watching. This is Chan attempting to straddle the action/comedy thing and while some of it’s not as successful as it could be, the series is a lot of fun. The first movie was something of a revalation among action fans, Police Story 2 meanders a bit, but the action is far superior. Police Story 3: Supercop is good, but it’s where we begin to loose the series a bit since he stops being a cop in Hong Kong. In First Strike, they sort of loose everything that made a Police Story movie part of the Police Story Series and New Police Story was a re-boot. I wouldn’t say this is a series you watch for the story, you come here for the action and possibly the hijinks. Still, it’s something you should see in order to get a good handle on what more realistic Kung-Fu movies were trying to be. There isn’t the wire work, or the magical elements that more classically themed action had.
*Yes, I know, but I couldn’t find a better piece on the character. Let me have on wikipedia article.

Indiana Jones
This is, quite frankly, a series predicated on the idea that two men wanted to answer the question “What if we made a version of those old adventure movies, only we made them really good?” Meaning both in quality of story and action, but also effects. The supernatural elements in those old serials always had to be implied, because no one ever had the money to do it properly. Raiders of the Lost Ark was, in many ways, making good on the promise that the trailers for serials always made. Temple and Crusade followed suit to varying degrees of success, but Raiders did it best. You actually got to see the Nazi’s get their faces melted, you got to see the heart get pulled out of a guy’s chest, a man actually turns into a mummy before your eyes, and best of all you got to see a hero that was actually a three-dimensional character. Indy had a past, family, weaknesses, and was played by a man who was so magnetic and charismatic the only person who could even hope to evenly share the screen with him was Sean Connery. I’ll grant that Temple and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull aren’t the best movies, but those are even numbered. If they make Indy 5, I’m sure it’ll be great. I even enjoy the bad Indy movies though. Temple and Skull are enjoyable enough, or at least have moments that are good. Granted, they have fewer than the two great movies, but even Skull is at least a good movie.

James Bond
Mostly for Connery. Yeah, he’s not the only one I like, but let’s face it. The essential films are all Connery ones. I could go so far as to suggest that Terence Young made the best three, but I’m not going to say you should stop there. Each generation has their own view of Bond and each movie is different. The series has gone on for a very long time, and it’s incorporated a great deal of styles. While some people talk about the people who play Bond, I’ve actually noticed that the directors of each movie have more of an impact on each movie than the actors do. Movies directed by Guy Hamilton‘s films tend to be a bit sillier, and a bit campier for example. However, lets run down each actor and I’ll give how much I like each one in descending order… Sean Connery (Natch), Daniel Craig (Closer to the books than anyone has been in years), Pierce Brosnan (Could have been the best, had the worst movies), George Lazenby (He actually was good, but one did one movie), Timothy Dalton (Could have done it longer and established himself), Roger Moore (He just played Simon Templar really), Barry Nelson (Jimmy Bond? Really?), David Niven (Let’s not even go there.) You don’t need to watch the whole series, but you should watch a t least one of each actor’s movies. If you want an essential film for each guy, go for From Russia with Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only, Licence To Kill, GoldenEye, and Casino Royale, although I like the quicker pace of Quantum of Solace a bit better. You think I’ve linked enough crap now? This thing long enough? Yeah, okay. Let’s talk about Star Wars now.

Star Wars
Yes, actually, I do mean all six films. I’m not going to mindlessly bash the prequels. I’ll admit that they weren’t as good as the original, but I have very little patience for the whole “George Lucas raped my childhood!” malarkey. Okay, they didn’t pop your cherry a second time, but they weren’t completely irredeemable. Parts of some of them are actually pretty good. The Special Edition is also troubling, mostly because it’s sort of inconsistent. Particularly in Cloudy City, there are a couple of instances where a window is turned into a CGIscape in one shot, but not in the next one. However, those things aside, they are still entertaining movies and the original trilogy should be required viewing for anyone who wants to study sci-fi adventure movies. Like the Indiana Jones series, the tone of Star Wars is greatly based on Sci-Fi serials of days gone by. Only instead of having the question be, “What if we made those really good?” the question was, “What if I made those awesome?” There is a difference between good and awesome though. Awesome is being blown away by the visuals, good is having a guy say “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” However, you can still watch Phantom Menace, Clones, Sith, Hope, Empire and Jedi and enjoy them to various degrees. Empire is my favorite, but I still enjoy the whole series despite the misteps.

Once Upon a Time in China
You remember me talking about Police Story having more realism and less wire-fu? Well, this is the other side of that coin. While not a ghost story, or involving magical elements, the OUATIC series is a more fanciful view of the martial arts world. With wire-assisted jumps, people can leap fifty feet into the air. With breakaway materials, they can kick hard enough to shatter walls. And with the power of history, they can ever so slightly adjust the flow of history to better serve the ideals of Chinese nationalism. The movies are about the Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung and his group of helpers. However, I have to say I’m not sure which people are from history, which are from books and which are from the earlier movies. Kwan Tak-hing played the character for about a million years, producing somewhere in the region of 100 movies which proves anyone who says the Bond series is the longest running a complete and total liar. However, the character has a long and storied history and is like a Chinese Robin Hood, with King Arthur and Abe Lincoln thrown in for good measure. As a result the characters and events have become intermingled with the legend. None of this really matters to you, if you’re a Western Viewer, but it’s part of the story. The point is that this is another series that is a trilogy and then some. I bought my copy as a full trilogy DVD Boxset, but there are six or seven movies in the series depending on how you count. Really though, you can just watch Once Upon a Time in China, Once Upon a Time in China II and Once Upon a Time in China III because those are the ones I’m suggesting. That’s the three that Jet Li starred in, and after that, the series evidently went down hill. However, these three, you should watch. I think 2 is probably the best out of all of them, 3 is the weakest. Let me just say there is a point where you don’t care about Lion Dancing anymore, and then the movie goes on for 15 minutes after that point.

Terry Gilliam’s Dream Movies
You starting to see why some things weren’t included in other groups now? I couldn’t decide between Time Bandits, Baron Munchausen, Brazil or Dr Parnassus, so I decided to put them all here as a series. While I think all of Gilliam’s movies are about dreams and reality in some way, these four exemplify the ideas. TB is about a young boy dreaming, Brazil is a middle-aged man engaging in escapism, Munchausen is about a spent old man trying to relive the glory days, and Parnassus is about the artist himself. The last movie, if I may, is about the man who makes the dreams. Um… yeah. I’ve got less to say about this set than others I guess, go watch them. Now!

In case you want to know how many movies I’m suggesting in this collection, there are about 60 movies just in this post, depending on what you think counts. 60 is a maximum number and I think 40 works a minimum number.

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