Posted April 28, 2011

craiger'stenmost

influentialfilms

ofthelast25years

The most influential films of our times are not necessarily the best films of our times (although there are instances when they can be just that as well).  There are films to be admired and appreciated for their own inherent merits during one’s initial viewing of them, but retrospect often elicits other responses and reconsideration of their value.  I believe that’s where the idea came for me to compile what I consider are the 25 Most Influential Films of the last quarter of a century.  It not only serves the purposes of reflecting on what the medium has offered viewers over the last two decades-plus, but it simultaneously allows me to come to grips with some of the extraordinarily transcending developments in film during that period.  

That’s the key here to this list: The ten film’s listed and discussed below are, as previously stated, not intrinsically the finest films since 1986, but they are ones that took movies in new and daring directions.  This can come in varying forms: pioneering auspicious and game-breaking visual effects technology never before envisioned or utilized; reinvigorating stale or dying genres; establishing new watershed genre elements that have had reverberations to the present day; or establishing superlative creative writer/directorial minds whose work has not only redefined the art form, but has spawned countless pale and inferior imitators.  These ten films represent integral milestones for the movies: they could not be any more different on a cursory examination, but they all nonetheless, for better or worse, deeply affected the business and creative side of the industry and social pop culture as a whole.

So, here there are...in random order:

 

BATMAN (1989)

 
 

Consider, if you will, this summer’s massive comic book adaptation release schedule: THOR, GREEN LANTERN, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, COWBOYS VS. ALIENS, CONAN: THE BARBARIAN, and PRIEST.  

None of these - nor any of the multitude of comic book super hero films of the last two decades - would have seen the light of day if it were not for Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN.  Excluding the 1978 SUPERMAN, BATMAN was the first big budget, mass marketed, and lavish summer event film based on a comic book property during its entire decade.  It was also fuelled by massive fanboy anticipation, the most controversial title character casting ever, and an exodus of merchandising that had not been heard of since the end of the original STAR WARS Trilogy.  There are those that can criticize Burton’s satisfyingly dark and brooding take on the Caped Crusader, but BATMAN's astronomical financial success undeniably started a juggernaut of interest in turning comic book properties into silver screen treatments.  Without the success of BATMAN and the legitimacy it gave to a new genre of action/adventure films, there wouldn’t have been a welcoming climate for THE X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN series and there most certainly wouldn’t have been a creative impetus for Warner Brothers and Christopher Nolan to re-boot Bob Kane’s iconic creation into two of the most critically lauded comic book entertainments of all-time in BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT.  Without BATMAN, our favourite costumed clad heroes would still be held captive to the artist's page.

 
 

 JURASSIC PARK (1993) 

 
 

1993’s JURASSIC PARK is certainly not indicative of director Steven Spielberg’s finest efforts and certainly does not deserve worthy comparisons to his personal and artistic triumphs that were SCHINDLER’S LIST and MUNICH.  Yet, there is absolutely no denying the film’s unending influence on the making of visual effects heavy entertainments since its release.

There were films that daringly forged ahead and utilized CGI to produce impossible-to-create-otherwise images (like TRON, THE ABYSS and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY), but JURASSIC PARK took even larger steps to usher in an ubiquitous revolution in visual effects not felt in the industry since 1977’s STAR WARS.  JURASSIC PARK irrecoverably altered the way that filmmakers envisioned their unique visions and escapist universes.  For better or worse, there are few recent large scale, effects-ladden films that have not made use of the technological milestones started by JURASSIC PARK.  Without the photo-realistic, computer envisioned dinosaurs of Spielberg’s film, George Lucas would not have been tempted to go back to the STAR WARS universe, Peter Jackson would not have fathomed how to successfully mount THE LORD OF THE RINGS fantasy series, James Cameron would have never dared to bring his long gestating AVATAR to silver screen fruition, and…I could go on an on.   CGI may have been one of the best and worst things to happen to the movie industry (films in PARK’s wake pathetically used it to the point of ad nauseum), but there can be no contesting that the film was unprecedented for its pioneering methods. 

 
 

 PULP FICTION (1994) *

 
 

Quentin Tarantino’s second feature film is arguably the most innovative and influential film of the 1990’s.  A British film critic once stated, in praise of its director and film, that “Not since CITIZEN KANE has one man appeared from relative obscurity to redefine the art of moviemaking.” 

Tarantino redefined the future of movies in incalculable ways.  PULP FICTION was lauded for its richly colorful, lyrical, and ironic and pop culture infused dialogue passages, which completely awakened screenwriters ever since from the doldrums of witless, banal, and expository heavy prose.  Tarantino also made exemplary use of humor and violence into one hip and self-reverential package, which has spawned countless imitators since FICTION’s release.  He also employed – like Welles did in CITIZEN KANE - an unconventional, non-linear, and fractured narrative that flipped the bird at the manner Hollywood lazily used formulas and clichés.  Lastly, PULP FICTION’s sweeping influence on developing, marketing, and releasing independent films – and profitable ones at that – also cannot be undermined.   An inestimable number of films and filmmakers have attempted to re-captured Tarantino’s lightning-in-a-bottle and radicalized aesthetic that transformed the film landscape, but so very few have succeeded. 

*also made CrAiGeR's TEN BEST FILMS of the 1990's. 

 
 

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT  (1999)

 
 

Remember films like CLOVERFIELD, QUARANTINE, DIARY OF THE DEAD, THE LAST EXORCISM, and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY?  These are horror/sci-fi films that were produced in the faux-documentary or found-footage style, in which some, if not all, of the material had an aura of being editing together from recently unearthed footage.  This, in essence, gave these films a fly-on-the-wall, you-are-there feel.  

All of these films – and countless others to come – owe a large debt of gratitude to 1999’s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, which was released the summer of that year and grossed blockbuster dollars ($150 million) on a shoestring $25,000 budget.  Conceived and shot by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez exploiting only inexpensive hand-held cameras and a virginal cast of non-actors, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was one of the most compelling filmmaking gambles of the last century.  It proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that small films can out outgross their larger, massive budgeted cousins, not to mention the sheer immensity of using the Internet and viral marketing to sell films successfully, which is still the norm today.  More significantly, though, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT has spawned a generation of film auteurs that realized their own pet projects using minimal, off-the-shelf movie making materials as well as engendering a whole new genre of sci-fi and horror.  There have been innumerable BLAIR WITCH imitators, but few have had the same sense of freshness and originality, but it only goes to prove why Myrick and Sanchez’s efforts deserve rightful placement on this list.

 

 

TOY STORY  (1995)

 
 

Do you love the Pixar canon of computer animated films?  The catalogue of artistic triumphs and audience beloved hits is exemplary, to be sure: FINDING NEMO, CARS, THE INCREDIBLES, RATATOUILLE, WALL-E, and UP to name some.  Or maybe you fancy Dreamworks' animated film palette, like the SHREK series, KUNG FU PANDA, or HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.  Regardless of your studio of choice, it’s impossible to consider a time when there were no CGI created animated films, but back in 1995 we existed within a period just like that.  John Lasseter’s TOY STORY was the very first film to abscond from using traditional hand drawn animated cels – the norm for the genre since near the birth of the film industry – and dared to envision a feature film that harnessed the then very-untested waters of computer generated imagery.  Yes, there were animated short films that used pixalized scenery and characters, but Lasseter used those technological innovations and audaciously took them to the very next quantum leap step.  TOY STORY amazed audiences of the mid-90’s, not only for its stirring and completely unprecedented usage of its new fangled artifice, but it also showed an adept hand for marrying cutting-edge visuals with a witty and sophisticated screenplay that appeased both adults and children.  It’s increasingly hard, in retrospect, to consider the whole landscape of animated films over the last 16 years without this landmark and revolutionary work.

 
 

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (1998)

 
 

Some may shake their heads with incredulity with my inclusion of the Farrelly Brothers' 1998 romcom.  Yet, you can chastise or applaud the sibling filmmakers all you want and their collective body of films, but THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY was a radical game-changer for the romcom genre and its span of influence can be seen in the current films of Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller, and many others that have tried for over a decade to recapture the Farrelly's winning mixture of sentiment, raunch, political incorrectness, and characters that invite our sympathy and understanding.  MARY had the stock traits of many warmed-over romcoms, but the Farrellys fused them with the trappings of shock comedy, and their gleeful sense of genre emancipation brook the then accepted status quo of what could be done in comedies.  The film was dirty minded and often in poor taste and straddled uncomfortable lines between decency and debauchery, but the Farrellys were comedic trendsetters for how they established a new hard R-rated status quo for a genre that seemed forever on perfunctory auto-pilot.  It waked other romcom filmmakers out of idle complacency, and looking at the last 13 years of comedies, their esoteric fingerprints can still be felt.  Many second-rate comedy filmmakers have been trying to out-shock the Farrellys ever since.  That may not be an appetizing trend for the movies, but it's a significant one, nonetheless..

 
 

THE MATRIX  (1999) *

 
 

THE MATRIX, perhaps more than any other film on this list, is a work whose influence can be most directly seen in mainstream films over the last 12 years.  The Wachowski Brothers’ lavish and contemplative sci-fi opus mixed such divergent elements as cyberpunk subculture, homages to ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Biblical overtones, Eastern philosophy, spaghetti westerns, dystopian and post-apocalyptic films, Japanese anime, and Hong Kong action chic.  The brothers took many the most memorable and written about sci-fi ideas and themes and created their own unique and daring mythology that a legion of new genre fans gorged on. 

Its themes of the nature and our perception of reality has been reassembled and focused on in many subsequent films (recent examples like INCEPTION and THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU come to mind), but THE MATRIX’s most overwhelmingly tangible influence on the industry is how it calculatingly changed the look, feel and style of modern action films.  It set a new standard for silver screen, chop-socky battles, using a careful mixture of slow-motion, meticulous camera moves and set ups, and, yes, the radical, in-your-face bravado of its cutting edge, Oscar winning “bullet time” visual effects, which froze characters in time and allowed the camera to dolly around them.  Just ponder how many films, TV shows, video games, etc. used this film’s new aesthetic standard over the last decade-plus and you’ll understand why THE MATRIX was a trail-blazing, genre defying, and highly industrious original.  To quote the film's messiah hero, "Whoa."

*also made CrAiGeR's TEN BEST FILMS of the 1990's. 

 
 

BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE  (2002) *

 
 

Michael Moore has made a career of being an uncensored rabble-rousing documentary filmmaker with a thoughtful mind and a hearty and robust penchant for dealing with everyman American concerns and socio-political issues.  He made one of the most memorable and entertaining documentaries of the 1980’s in ROGER AND ME, but his third feature documentary, BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, set a new standard by which many future non-fiction filmmakers would be – rightfully or wrongfully – compared to.  His 2002 effort illuminated the culture of guns and gun violence in the U.S. using his trademark balance of sly, satiric humor with a sobering and contemplative study of its subject matter.  BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE became the highest grossing doc of all-time, that is until it was usurped by Moore’s own FAHRENHEIT 9/11  a few years later.  Now, he owns the throne of having four of the ten most profitable documentaries ever made.  BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE firmly established the doc-genre as one that could be highly profitable at a time when they were anything but financially dependable.  It also established the notion of staunch political activism mixed with subversive humor in documentaries, which seems like a benchmark by which many successive docs have been held up to.

*also made CrAiGeR's TEN BEST FILMS of 2002. 

 
 

SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE  (1989)

 
 

Many may not see Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 effort as one that should be one a list of the defining films of the last 25 years.  Think again. 

SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE had an indelible effect in terms of revolutionizing the independent film movement of the late ‘80’s, early ‘90’s, and well beyond to the present day.  The critical North American and international success of Soderbergh’s film was instrumental in not only shaping the independent film boom, but also for how it gave legitimacy to indie films as a widely accepted genre.  Also consider the film’s other noteworthy influences: it utterly launched Soderbergh’s filmmaking career as one that traversed between Hollywood and indie fare (he would also go on to be a multiple Oscar-nominated director), it helped spearhead many of its actors to the mainstream, and, perhaps most noteworthy, SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE allowed for the then little known MIRAMAX studios (seen then as an small indie studio) to become a future titan in the film industry.  Miramax went on to release the films of Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino (who, in turn, would create his own shockwaves in the industry), and Woody Allen.  The success Miramax in SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPES’ wake led to Oscar winning glory for them for films like THE ENGLISH PATIENT, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, and CHICAGO. 

Convinced yet?  You should be.

 
 

AVATAR  (2009)

 
 

It could be easily maintained that placing a film so relatively new on this list would seem foolish.  Not in the slightest when you dissect the influence that James Cameron’s AVATAR is already having on the business of making and marketing movies.  

I don’t believe that the film will be a part of the pop culture lexicon in, say, 20 years time (there won’t be die hards attending comic and film conventions in the future dressing like blue-skinned Na'vi like those that dress as their favourite STAR WARS or TREK personas now), nor will most people in the future regard the film memorably on a story front.  No, Cameron’s decade-plus in-the-development sci-fi epic was influential for how it conjured up the first truly credible humanoid CGI characters using trendsetting new camera systems and performance capture technology.  Then there is the 3D aspect, a technique championed by Cameron as the single most important cinematic innovation since color and sound.  It is abundantly clear the film's 3D camera rigs are unmistakably revolutionary, not to mention that Hollywood has made a conscious effort in the last two years to market 3D films (whether they are shot with 3D cameras or - sigh - hastily upconverted after the fact to the third dimension) to the masses in hopes of rekindling AVATAR's extraordinary box office results.  What’s most palpable is that, like STAR WARS before it, AVATAR is spawning a generation of inferior-to-modestly acceptable copycats, and the studios insatiable appetite to release an increasing number of films in 3D echoes back to Cameron’s film.  3D may be a money-grabbing gimmick, but in the wake of AVATAR, it’s a gimmick that does not appear to be losing gas or momentum.

 
 

  H O M E