Friday, March 6, 2009

That's a Wrap TAWp Nine Ten

Welcome to the That's A Wrap TAWp Nine Ten, where your faithful That's A Wrap editors pick their top three favorite titles in a selected category. Together the picks combine to create VOLTRON! Well, ok, not quite as cool as robotic kitties of doom, but it's close. We combine the lists to form one super cool list of nine ten things that we really like.

Today's question, in honor of the release of Watchmen, what are the best comic book films produced to date?

Hit the jump to find our answers!


The Rocketeer

Yeah, that's right The Rocketeer, ya got a problem with that? Who needs to be a tortured and dark billionaire or a radioactive spider when you've got a rocketpack? I remain eternally tortured that these things aren't being mass produced yet. The movie was pretty much a flop, but I've always found it to be one of the most rewatchable films in my collection. It's not high art, but it's high fun with a wonderfully old school Hollywood-vibe throughout. Billy Campbell, Alan Arkin and a young, but totally gorgeous Jennifer Connelly are all good. My favorite two parts are Timothy Dalton as the Nazi spy/Erroll Flynn rip-off (he always worked better as a bad guy) and Terry O'Quinn as a completely inaccurate, but utterly enjoyable version of Howard Hughes.

Who knows how much better this Little Film That Didn't could have done if somebody at Disney didn't think that right before Terminator 2: Judgement Day was the perfect time to launch it. But hey, there should be a place in American comic book cinema for a movie where the FBI and mobsters overcome their differences to take on Nazi.


It may not be the most elegantly made film, it’s much longer than it needed to be and some of the special effects…aren’t special or effective. So why do I love this film? Because director Guillermo del Toro loves Hellboy and it shows in every frame of this movie. It’s X-Files meets the Cthulu mythos meets X-men, that might seem like a strange mash up, but trust me it works. It’s loud and oftentimes pretty as hell, no pun intended.

Del Toro is a king of prosthetic makeup effects, and he makes brilliant use of it here. Ron Perlman is damn near unrecognizable under all that red, but it’s the best performance of his career and I couldn’t see anyone else playing Big Red. Del Toro has been tasked to direct the upcoming film adaptation of The Hobbit, based solely on Hellboy I can say it’s in the right hands.

Road to Perdition (2002)

A rare exception on this list for me, I actually saw this film before I ever read the source material. This story of a father and his last surviving son, doing everything to get the boy somewhere safe is in fact a story told many times before. But that doesn't do much to diminish the fine journey that this movie is. Especially considering the film is viewed through the magnificent eye of cinematographer Conrad L. Hall.

I actually consider this Sam Mendes' best film (not being as high on American Beauty as many others). It was wonderful to experience the old-school gangster feeling of the piece, like something made decades ago reminding me often of Leone's Once Upon a Time in America. The slow burn to the climax works compared to the mile-a-minute action scenes that movies based on comics usually are constructed with. While Hanks and most of the other performances of the movie are fine, I'm continually delighted most of all watch a great like Paul Newman at the top of his form. His final scene out in the rainstorm never fails to devastate me, Newman and Hall both make this the absolute highlight of the piece.

Batman Begins(2005)

Sure, the majority of the work will say that The Dark Knight is the better film…and, well, it is. But it’s not the better comic book film. Batman Begins is undoubtedly one of the best comic book adaptations because it’s the first Batman movie to honestly make me care about the character. Sure I liked Burton’s Batman when I was a kid, but I was a kid. They really weren’t good movies; none of the Batman films were good—until Batman Begins.

Christopher Nolan made Batman and Bruce Wayne into distinct and complex characters. Hell, Nolan made Scarecrow into a legitimate villain! The acting (aside from one blemish, thankfully absent from the sequel) is all top notch. And while the story is more comic book-y than TDK, it’s still fantastic in it’s own right.

Superman (1978)

It might be X-Men that kicked off the most recent surge in comic book to film adaptations, but the grand-daddy of them all is Richard Donner's 1978 classic. Let's get it out there right now that for all the Wellings and Rouths, there hasn't been an actor that has come within six football fields of Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent. Even the ending I forever derided as hokey beyond belief has grown on me over time. It's still inexcusably silly, but I never call the movie on it.

A big part of my connection with this movie is the feeling that mine is probably the last generation that was still impressed by it. Even though I was born three years after its release, I still saw it at an age to be amazed by it. But now in an era of computer special effects, unfortunately there isn't that absolute wonder at seeing a man fly.

Sky High(2005)

Ok, ok, so this one is a little bit of a cheat since it’s not actually based on an existing comic property. But the thing is, Sky High is so true to the spirit of a comic book. Sure it’s a Disney movie and it stars a bunch of no-name kids(who went on to illustrious careers as annoying guest stars on 24 and Jason fodder in Friday the 13th) in high school and maybe there is a little too much tweener dating nonsense in it, but is one of the funniest and spot-on brilliant comic book satires ever made.

Aside from the unknowns in the main cast, the rest of the credits include names intended to make nerd hearts swoon: Bruce Campbell, Kurt Russell, Kevin (Liter of cola) Heffernan, Lynda Carter and Dave Foley. Just to name a few. It’s goofy, it’s got a somewhat predictable story, but it’s also funny as hell and loads of fun.

Spider-man 2(2004)

Quite simply the far and away the best of the explosion of films from Marvel in the last decade. Sam Raimi bring the same humor and sense of whiz-bang fun he had first touched into years before with his Evil Dead series. With a budget earned by the enormous success of the origin film, Raimi certainly upped his game. Until recently there wasn't even a close competitor to this comic book movie, at least in nothing from Marvel or DC's mainstream.

It's one of the few instances where the characters and performances of a big summer event film felt like they held their own with the CGI-created action sequences. The two big differences between this film and the others in the series are making Alfred Molina's Doc Ock (a far more interesting and credible performance than any villain in the other two) and the approach of making the absolute most of the time spend out of the costume. Here they are freed from the standard restraints of the origin story, but seem to overindulge themselves with the vaudvillian approach to Peter Parker's everday life. Instead everything is tightened up and almost no screen time is wasted.

A History of Violence(2005)

Man, 2005 was a good year for comic book films, and AHOV was most definitely the crown jewel of that year. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, AHOV tells the story of small town cafĂ© owner Tom Mckenna and the lie that threatens to tear his family apart. The acting is terrific. Viggo Mortensen is extremely compelling as Tom and William Hurt was nominated for an Oscar for his work in the film—which comprises only the last ten minutes.

Graphic violence and…well…violently graphic sex make this film difficult at times to watch but the story is fantastic and the direction by David Cronenberg is a joy to behold. For all the talk of The Dark Knight being a gritty, dark, crime film—AHOV did it first and did it better.

The Dark Knight (2008)

This is the one film on the list that I feel absolutely certain in claiming it as the best picture of the year. More of a crime opera in the vein of Michael Mann's Heat than a superhero story, the second film did more to push the envelope of what we should expect from this genre than anything in the previous 30 years. As a director, Christopher Nolan actually managed to top his first movie in his reboot of the series and even his work on The Prestige. It's one of the very few comic book movies to have merited a conversation as being something more artistic than a well-made blockbuster.

For all the many fine performances in the film, particularly Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon, its by now common knowledge that Heath Ledger... oh, um... excuse me... ACADEMY AWARD WINNER Heath Ledger steal the show as the Joker in a performance worthy of comparison to virtually everything that has come before it. Now, I'm not going all fanboy and calling it the best job ever, better than De Niro or Pacino or Brando or other greats, but I wouldn't laugh anyone out of the room for making the comparison. Until this, it's hard to remember the last time I went into a film with and was actually blown away with something better than I expected. Often these comic book characters are so important to the target audience that grew up with them, we come in expecting so much that it's almost impossible for any film to do more than meet expectations. For one rare evening last summer, I was more than impressed.

Billy American Splendor(2003)

From off the streets of Cleveland comes: The greatest comic book film ever produced. American Splendor tells us the life story of comic author Harvey Pekar, a regular joe trying to make it through life the best he can. Mixing actors and their real life counterparts as well as animated and static comic panels, American Splendor could have ended up as an incomprehensible mess. It’s not. Instead it’s a charming, funny, moving, and intelligent film.

One of my gripes about Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon was the documentary style interviews with characters from the film discussing real life events. American Splendor shares many of the storytelling devices of Frost/Nixon except we get the pleasure of seeing the real life people tell us the story in their own words. You hear that Academy? Better than a best picture nominee!

No comments:

Post a Comment