As the end of January approaches, that New Year’s resolution you were so adamant about just a few weeks earlier is already starting to fall by the wayside. Suddenly, the gym seems farther away, cigarettes call your name, and you haven’t even taken the cellophane off that scrapbook you bought. While we can’t do much to help you with those fading pledges, there is one resolution to which we can assist you in remaining faithful.
If you made it your charge to watch a more diverse assortment of films in 2013, in essence to become a more well-rounded cinephile, we're here to keep you on track. Here is our comprehensive guide to help you begin to branch out:
Bronson vs. Marvin
The '70s were a great time for action films, and the two biggest names of the era were Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson. Here’s a sampling of their best.
The Mechanic: Bronson takes a young Jan-Michael Vincent under his wing; showing him the ropes of contract killing. The complex relationship between the two characters, the slow, methodic storytelling, and the dramatic ending make this one of ol’ Charlie’s finest.
Point Blank:Lee Marvin inhabits Donald E. Westlake’s Parker in this gripping, deliberate crime thriller from John Boorman. Why anyone would want to mess with a guy like Lee Marvin is beyond the limits of reason.
Death Hunt: Can’t decide which actor to watch first? Why not watch them both in this early '80s wilderness actioner. Violent, well-constructed, and featuring one of the decade’s most interesting games of cat-and-mouse.
Asian Fists and Firearms
Whether it’s martial arts or automatic weapons, the action cinema of the East tends to be more brutal and bombastic than Hollywood fare. If you liked The Raid: Redemption, do yourself a favor and track down…
Tiger Cage: Legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping expertly directs this unsung cops vs. criminals actioner. The opening sequence, an unfettered gauntlet of carnage, alone is well worth the price of admission; an unfettered gauntlet of carnage.
Ip Man: Donnie Yen brings to life one of China’s most beloved historical figures, and does so with some of the fastest and most impressive kung fu in recent memory.
Hard Boiled: John Woo earned his reputation working in Hong Kong, and Hard Boiled may be his masterpiece. Chow Yun-fat eloquently dances through Woo’s gorgeous bullet ballet.
Contemporary Foreign Action
Sleepless Night: France may not be the first country one associates with action cinema, but they’ve made huge strides in recent years. Sleepless Night is a single-night nonstop crime story that rages through a nightclub like a force of nature. The cinematography, pacing, and exceptional performances create an organic sense of tension.
Man From Nowhere: Nobody, but nobody, does revenge movies like Korea. The Man from Nowehere is a savage, uncompromising descent into the darkest recesses of the soul of someone we still, despite everything, herald as a hero.
Solomon Kane: It took a French/British/Czech co-production to finally bring Robert E. Howard’s puritanical superhero to the big screen, but it was worth the wait. Solomon Kane combines horror, fantasy, and superhero conventions to create a truly unique filmic experience. James Purefory broodingly and perfectly inhabits the titular antihero.
These aren’t your granddad’s horse operas.
Dudes: A cross-country road trip turns tragic for a trio of rockers in this outstanding '80s gem from Penelope Spheeris. She uses punk rock to breathe new life into an age-old genre. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea has a prominent role in the film.
Sukiyaki Western Django: A wild mashup of Yojimbo and Sergio Corbucci’s Django, Sukiyaki Western Django is somehow still unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Comin’ At Ya!: Of this group, Comin’ At Ya! most closely resembles a traditional spaghetti western, but the filmmakers behind it were keen to bring back the then-languishing 3D technology. If you thought the recent spate of 3D films in theaters were gimmicky, just wait until you see the prolific and hilarious instances in which Comin’ At Ya! finds ways to, well, make things come at ya.
The Long Goodbye: Possibly the best film on this entire list. Elliot Gould, as Philip Marlowe, wafts through a seedy, almost dream-like Los Angeles. Gould’s effortlessly charming performance is enhanced by Robert Altman’s superb direction and a marvelous, if slightly unusual John Williams score. An absolutely masterful film that, incidentally, makes a great double feature with The Big Lebowski.
Elevator to the Gallows: Film noir is sprinkled with traces of Hitchcock in Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows. A fledgling criminal murders his boss while their office building is empty, but his escape is hindered by a busted elevator. Tense, engaging, and given a pulse by a smoky cool Miles Davis score.
The Killing: An early Stanley Kubrick film hits upon the director’s substantial talent for storytelling. A flawless racetrack heist gives way to squabbling and conniving between a team of crooks. Its great cast anchored by Sterling Hayden, The Killing is gorgeously shot and harrowing to the last frame.
Buddy Cop Movies
Freebie and the Bean: It’s hard to do buddy cop films better than Freebie and the Bean. James Caan and Alan Arkin set the standard for unlikely law enforcement duos, constantly at each other’s throats as they do all in their power to get the better of crooks and thugs. Their banter is among the film’s greatest strengths.
Nighthawks: Sylvester Stallone doesn’t get a lot of credit as an actor, and maybe rightfully so, but in 1981’s Nighthawks, he and Billy Dee Williams are a formidable team. The perpetually fuming pair take on an international terrorist played to icy perfection by Rutger Hauer.
Busting: Elliot Gould returns to the list, this time working alongside Robert Blake to bring down a crime boss in Peter Hyams’ Busting. These two are laughably bad at their jobs at the onset, and that is meant as a compliment, but their ability to get serious when it really counts gives the movie a great deal of charm.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.