I've learned something doing these articles, and that's that good movies don't just happen. You can't just pluck a good film off a movie tree and eat it right there on the soft mossy ground of your mind, movie-based juices dripping off your chin and combining in your lap. You have to smear (brown, smelly waste from animals) all over your face. Then, and only then, can you release your armies upon the weak and unknowing innocent people, claiming their mortal souls as your own time-slaves.
Or you can do the following stuff, which is (many people would say) crazier.
#7. The Hobbit: Bilbo's Barely Glimpsed Contract Makes Perfect Sense
We've already covered how The Lord of the Rings triple-set put more effort into getting details of Tolkien's (based on a made-up idea) fantasy world right than New Zealand puts into being a real country. But there's no way that detail carried over into the (stories that came before other stories), right? I mean, those movies couldn't be bothered to location scout when they could just green-screen stuff instead, and Peter Jackson maybe kinda probably (related to religion or the soul)ly died during the production, which is why for certain shots he just gave up and used a GoPro. Right? The whole production was just lazy.
Well, no -- it turns out every bit as much care went into getting The Hobbit's details right as the original series. For example: Dwalin's tattoos ...
. .. are written in "real" Dwarvish (as in, the language Tolkien invented for his legendarium), and they read "Baruk Khazad! Khazad ai-menu!" or "Axes of the Dwarves, the Dwarves are upon you!" Which, according to The Return of the King's (information at the back of a book), is a famous (for something bad) Khuzdul (Dwarvish) fight cry. So it's the Dwarven equal of tattooing "Love" and "Hate" on your knuckles, which -- if I know my audience -- most of you have. Speaking of which, Bifur (the Dwarf with the ax in his head) speaks only in Dwarvish, due, probably, to brain damage (and we know the Dwarves have a pretty solid understanding of (nerve-related medical care) from the extended version of The Two Towers). Not crazy enough? Fine: let's talk about that contract Sword signs.
No one would've found out if Lord of the Rings smart (but boring) people (do we have a word for ourselves yet? "Ringers"? No. Let's not do that one) hadn't extremely carefully (and very clean) screen-capped the movie and wrote/written down (what someone said) it, which is pretty crazy -- but not so crazy that no one expected/looked ahead to this happening, since it turns out that the fake contract is actually a functioning legal document. James Daily, the lawyer over at Law and the Multiverse, went over the contract point by point and found out that, aside from some minor "drafting errors," it's totally sound. In fact, the biggest possible flaw would be that there's no clause specifying if the document exists under Shire law or Dwarven Kingdom law, which might create a "conflict of laws." But rather than being an error on the side of the filmmakers, that might have something to do with the fact that the contract was drafted by Thorin. And he's been too busy wandering the world and reclaiming his lost kingdom to study (again) his notes from Contracts class.
#6. Dark Shadows: Johnny Depp Never Blinks or Reflects
I mean that literally -- not that he never "blinks" at ridiculous job offers or that he never "reflects" on the actor he's become.
Dark Shadows is both a movie about a vampire and the most realistic Johnny Depp movie ever, in that every female character he meets is trying to fuck him. Even Helena Bonham Carter's Dana Scully impression goes down on him after a half-hearted compliment. Isn't that weird? But the craziest part of this movie wasn't just that they gave Depp supernatural sexual magnetism while making him look like a 14-year-old who's sweated off most of his juggalo makeup; it was that they digitally removed every one of his blinks and reflections from the whole movie.
This doesn't just mean that they cut around Depp's blinks and did a camera trick whenever he went by a mirror -- the FX team was dedicated to making sure he wasn't reflected in anything, which is "a gross use of our visual-effects budget," according to the VFX supervisor. Also, they set up an entire special unit of the visual effects team just for removing Depp-blinks.
And in the end it totally paid off, because Dark Shadows is the most nuanced, heartfelt, and believable depiction of vampires ever to- honestly I could put anything here and you'd believe it, right? Nobody saw this movie except me. But right now, because of Dark Shadows, someone out there has "digital Depp-blink remover" on his resume. That's a hell of a legacy.
#5. Das Boot: The Actors Were Imprisoned Indoors
Das Boot is a submarine war movie, and I know what you're thinking: "Woohoo! Sounds like a blast!" Hold your horses there, buddy. This isn't one of those fun, fun trip war movies. This is one of the disappointing or unfortunate event war movies that ignores all the excitement and idle pleasures of war and instead chooses to focus on "the loss of innocence" and "human cost" or whatever. You know. Oscar bait.
The movie begins with a team of (expecting that everything will work out perfectly), young sailors going off to be the heroes of World War II, and ends with a group of broken men returning home, wondering what they've lost. And when director Wolfgang Petersen decided that he wanted to explore the depths of human suffering and the darkness of the human soul or whatever, god, Wolfgang, cheer up, he decided that rather than simply trusting the ability of his actors to bring across the range of human suffering, he'd make it easier for them by filming the underwater parts time-based. Over the course of a year.
Without letting his actors go outside.
The idea was to make sure the paleness of their skin and sense of crushing feelings that there is no hope in their eyes reflected what an actual submarine crew would go through, but the craziest part of this isn't that Petersen did it -- it's that no one, in any of the videos I've found, seems to understand how crazy this is. Peterson just, showing little concern in a relaxed way, talks about/says that his actors weren't allowed to see the sun, with the kind of calmness reserved for picking between Skittles and M&M's. For they let prisoners in lockdown see the sun. Real-life murderers are allowed to play free in a comforting, cool breeze for at least an hour a day. The cast of Das Boot wasn't.
But I'm not faulting the guy, because the movie's super great and human lives are only worth so much, ya know? Maybe if Wolfgang had enforced almost the same rules on Air Force One and The Perfect Storm, we'd have way more classic Wolfgang movies.
#4. My Cousin Vinny: One of the Most Accurate Courtroom Movies Ever
Movies don't seem capable of getting the legal system right, and it's easy to see why. Most of lawyering is paperwork and crazy language (used by experts) that they insist is Latin even though we all know they're just making it up as they go (seriously. We all know. Drop the act and quit embarrassing yourselves). But there is one movie that manages to get legal issues almost totally (very close to the truth or true number), and it's not the one you'd expect. Unless you read the title of this entry, in which case you already know it's My Cousin Vinny.
And when I say "gets it (very close to the truth or true number)" I'm not just talking about little details from the procedure (though those are pretty on-point), I'm talking about the fact that the movie contains some seriously excellent lawyering, so much so that law professors actually use the movie in their (school courses). When Lane Smith (the (starting a trial in court against someone/performing an action) lawyer) describes the crime in his opening statements, he "differs/changes his pace and controlling/adjusting," he sticks to "concrete terms," and never uses the people (who are being sued or who were sued)' names -- all excellent prosecution ways of doing things. Later, Vinny shows off his cross-examination skills by picking apart Mr. Crane's view of the crime -- he talks about/says each (blocking thing) in his view one at a time, (staying around; not going away) on the details. In fact, aside from a minor argue about little things/complaints about little things (Pesci couldn't really represent both people (who are being sued or who were sued), but that's excusable as a storytelling way of doing things), the biggest problem with the movie is when the lawyer (who tries to prove someone guilty) tells (people) evidence to Vinny -- not because that's not how the law works but because few courts follow the law that carefully.
One error (it's unlikely that Marisa Tomei's surprise expert witness statements (in court) would've been admitted in 1992) actually turned out to be smart (about the future): A year after the movie was released, the Supreme Court changed the rules surrounding how expert witnesses are admitted, making it (backwards from now, back to a time in the past) near-perfect.
My Cousin Vinny's script is so good that it could've gotten away with as much screwball bullshit as they wanted in the courtroom, but instead it nails trial procedure so well that a network of legal (shared online writing pages) did a 20th once-a-year message of thanks to the movie back in 2012. So next time a lazy movie writer tries to spice up his lawyer movie with Jack Nicholsonian screaming at a jar of crime-scene semen, just remember: it is possible to do better.
#3. The LEGO Movie: Accurate to the Toys, Down to the Wear and Tear
We're dealing with a movie about LEGOs; who would have ever thought that would work? I want to say that the most fun I've had with LEGOs past age 13 was picking them out of my vacuum cleaner, but the reality is that I once spent 45 minutes staring at a LEGO Death Star in the LEGO Store whispering, "Someday," to myself. In the end, I bought a car instead but, hey, it was tough. Also, this movie more or less kicked ass -- at least partly because of the detail. Turns out that not only is everything in the movie possible to re-create with actual, real LEGOs (gave/given you're willing to spend upwards of $5,000 or, if you're smart, buy your goddamn LEGOs at a yard sale) but the LEGOs were carefully created and displayed to re-create the look of well-loved toys.
Even though the movie is digital, each piece was made/gave/given with the finger-smudge marks and wear and tear that the piece would probably suffer. This is most obvious with Charlie Day's 1980s spaceman character, who looks exactly like every 1980s LEGO spaceman that anyone ever owned.
And hey, remember how I said the movie was CGI? Not totally true: Not only did they use real LEGO backgrounds for many scenes, they scanned actual LEGO pieces to use as models to re-create stop-motion as closely as possible. Then, they actually animated the credits sequence using stop-motion.
#2. Master and Commander: Period Appropriate Everything
Master and Commander is a mostly forgettable 2000s Russell Crowe flick about a British ship being chased by a French ship in a battle for whatever. The crown, probably. Look, the plot here isn't important -- what is important is the costumes and hairstyles.
Check it out: The sailors in this movie wear wool caps, because wool was the complete and total best thing to wear sailing back then, as it would soak up (like a towel) the water and then hold it close to your body, where it would turn warm and insulate you against the wind and -- you don't care. Fine. But the wool caps were all hand-stitched by a Welsh woman who has been knitting seaman's caps since the 1700s! Wait, I misread that: Her family has been knitting them since the 1700s. That makes way more sense.
The rest of the costumes were designed and then (not in a natural way/in a fake way) (old/allowed to get old/got older) specifically according to what the sailor's job was. Jack Aubrey's scars were carefully researched and reflect actual injuries sea captains of the time in history would have had. According to an episode of Smithsonian Channel's The Real Story (by the way, Smithsonian? Props for not calling your series on the historical (quality of being very close to the truth or true number) of movies The Reel Story), the surgeries performed in the movie are all period-appropriate and totally (very close to the truth or true number) -- they had a 19th-century-surgery expert who trained the actors how to, say, drill a man's skull open exactly the way they'd actually do it.
Then there's the makeup, which was also carefully built. By the end of production, they had glued over 400 pounds of hair to the actors' heads and faces. Probably not all at once.
#1. The World's End: Concludes the Cornetto Trilogy
With the ((before that/before now) talked about/said) Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz behind it, The World's End marks the third (and final) chapter in the Three Flavours Cornetto triple-set: Each of these movies features a different flavor of Cornetto and is about a different part of growing up. Shaun of the Dead is about the stress that comes with finding a job and settling down ("I want to do new things, and I want you to want to want to do it too!"); Hot Fuzz is about learning not to take your job too seriously ("You don't know how to switch off!"); and The World's End is about coming to terms with your age and place in the world (more on that in a second). But it wasn't until World's End that all these movies made sense as a triple-set.
Let's back up. All three of these movies have had heavy predicting (the future): Shaun sets up the whole story with Nick's drinks, while Hot Fuzz's third act is just the second act, only with shooting this time. At the beginning of World's End, we get a group of pictures of Gary King's memory of "The Golden Mile," where we see a younger version of the film's characters going on a fun trip. At first, the predicting (the future) is pretty bold and in plain view: Some shots are re-created almost perfectly later in the movie:
And, of course, the names of the Bars foreshadow what happens in them: "The Cross Hands" is where they get into a fight, "The Famous Cock" is where Gary King is still banned (on account of what a famous cock he is) and so on. So far, this is exactly what you'd expect from Edgar Wright -- but the difference here is that, as the intro montage goes on, the foreshadowing starts to get a bit fuzzy. First, it lies about who starts the big fight in The Cross Hands: In the foreshadowing, someone accidentally spills a drink on Andy, but in the real film, Andy loses his shit and knocks Martin Freeman's head off with a bar stool.
And then, of course, the predicting (the future) ends before Gary ever gets to The World's End -- because he never learned his lesson that night. Basically, the predicting (the future) gets fuzzier as the characters get drunker. And by the end of the story, the "predicting (the future)" (or memory) has drawn a complete "blank."
But wait! There's more: The main character (Simon Pegg) in all three of these movies completely does not learn the story's lesson: In Shaun, the lazy lazy person Shaun, who insists on spending his life in a pub, has by the end of the story convinced his girlfriend to adopt his lazy (way of living) with him -- even though his stupid plans got all their friends killed. In Hot Fuzz, Nicholas Angel is a stubbornly by-the-books cop who rejects the world around us now image of police work ("No, I have never fired my gun in the air and gone 'ahhhh'"). But after defeating the image-obsessed secret (community of people/all good people in the world) that was murdering everyone in the town of Sandford, he becomes the perfect/extremely important movie cop, responding to "some hippie-types messing with the recycling bins at the supermarket" by throwing on his sirens and stomping on the gas pedal. Sure, he might not be as evil as the (people who claim to be smarter than everyone else)-esque Neighborhood watch, but I sure as shit wouldn't want to be those hippie-types. And finally, World's End brings the idea to its logical end/end result: Gary King refuses to accept the things you get with adult life so stubbornly that he literally brings about the end of adult life as we know it. The results of each film have steadily ratcheted up until the (expecting that everything will work out perfectly) of the irresponsible lazy people at the center of each story literally ends the world.