It’s Friday and I’m back. The end of the week is here and I’m sure we can all use a nice weekend. If you follow me on Twitter, then you’ll know on Wednesday night Turner Classic Movies aired Standing in the Shadow of Motown. It’s a great documentary on the Funk Brothers. Not to confuse you wrestling fans, the Funk Brothers are the musicians that backed up the great Motown acts of the ’60s such as The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, and The Supremes to just name a few. They played on more #1 hits than The Beatles and Elvis combined. This was meant to finally give them their due. Some great, great performances, including the late Gerald Levert singing the Junior Walker classic “Shotgun” and Joan Osborne singing one of my personal favorites “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” which was made famous by Jimmy Ruffin.
This week’s Top Ten is about the best movie sequels. Now, before we continue, the one big rule is this: the sequel has to be better than the original. So movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade or Kill Bill Vol 2, as great as they are, will not be found here.
10. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
It is easy to dismiss the old Universal monster movies as old camp…if you’ve never actually seen them. The subtle things going on in these movies are quite remarkable. In this sequel, it is revealed that Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and the Monster (Boris Karloff) survived the burning windmill at end of the 1931 original, but the Monster is in need of a friend/mate. While it was largely the Monster’s visual in the original that captures our imaginations, it’s his emotion and humanity that captures us here: his loneliness, his need for companionship, the rejection he feels, his self discovery of being an abomination (“We belong dead!”). The image of the Bride (Elsa Lanchester) hissing at the Monster, not to mention her hair, is beyond iconic.
9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Oh yes, I went there. Warner Brothers scored an absolute coup in signing Alfonso Cuaron to direct the third installment of the insanely popular series. He was absolutely perfect to shepard the movies from Chris Columbus’ more child-like world to the more adult future that Harry and friends would soon be venturing to. It is a much darker movie, much more mature. There’s a good amount to wrap your head around (who really betrayed Harry’s parents?). This film saw the introduction of two key characters in Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) and, my personal favorite character in the series, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). It’s a shame the following movies have yet to even come close to not just the quality of the third installment, but of the promise it showed as well. It also made the least amount of money…go figure.
8. The Road Warrior (1981)
This movie is known simply as Mad Max 2 in most places in the world. In the original, it depicts a young police officer named Max (Mel Gibson) in a dystopian future as law and order begin to break down. His wife and young child are killed by biker punks and he goes on a revenge quest. This movie is the result of that. This Max is older, a shell of himself. He only has a dog for a companion and is only looking out for his own survival. Along the way he encounters a camp being attacked by the gang of Lord Humungus (The Ayatollah of Rock n Rolla!) and befriends a feral boy (who happens to have a razor sharp boomerang!). Does he only help these people for his own gain or does he find some of old self in there? This is the role that put Gibson on the map and his “you talk to me” line is an all-time great.
7. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
To be honest, any movie following the abysmal Star Trek: The Motion Picture would have made this list. The old adage of “be careful what you wish for” is definitely at play here. Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is stuck behind a desk, bored out of his mind. He takes the Enterprise out for one last spin, when he and his crew encounter an old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban). Khan blames Kirk for the death of his wife (after Kirk marooned Khan 15 years before, as seen on an episode of the television show) and Khan would like nothing more than to see Kirk suffer as he has. Montalban’s Khan is Kirk’s greatest foe. He is stronger and more intelligent than Kirk. The rusty Kirk has to outwit Khan if he wants to survive. It is the heartbreaking sacrifice of a close friend that ultimately saves the day. Remember, in space everyone can hear you yell, “KHAN!!!”
6. Aliens (1986)
In 1979, Ridley Scott unleashed Alien onto the world. It was a superb sci-fi horror movie. In 1986, James Cameron came along and took it up a notch. Gone were the claustrophobic horror elements and enter the Colonial Marines and their giant machine guns. Taking place 57 years after the original, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the sole survivor of the first encounter with the Alien, has to come to grips with her fears and come face to face with the monsters once again. While Alien paved the way for a strong female lead backed by a male cast, Aliens showed it was okay for that leading woman to kick a little ass, too. It is Ripley the saves the day as all the marines are either killed or too injured. The final battle with the Alien Queen holds up to this day.
5. The Dark Knight (2008)
If you used to frequent this blog in the past (which I highly doubt), you’ll know my original Top 10 was about comic book movies. That list (albeit slightly changed) will be returning early next month with the release of Iron Man 2, so I don’t think I’ll spend a whole lot of time talking about Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece here. This is simply the best comic book movie ever made (whoops, future spoiler there!). It takes the themes set in 2005’s Batman Begins and expands them even further. It is a story of a war: a war for the soul of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). If one knows the story, the outcome isn’t surprising. Enough has been said about Heath Ledger’s Joker, but it truly is one of the best characters to ever be portrayed on screen.
4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
1984’s Terminator told the story of Sarah Conner, the mother of the future leader of the human race. A cyborg was sent back in time to kill her before her son, John, could be born. As there is a sequel, it obviously didn’t succeed. In Judgment Day, John is now ten years old and Sarah is in a mental institution for trying to blowup a computer factory. Skynet, the artificial intelligence that rules the future world, has sent a newer model, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), to kill John. A reprogrammed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back by the future John to protect him. The T-800 was the model that previously tried to kill Sarah. The effects at the time were top notch, but it is the relationship developed between John and the T-800 that carries the movie. It’s the closest thing to a father he ever had.
3. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
With Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, my generation had it’s Star Wars, especially with how flat the prequels ended up being. Unlike Star Wars, this trilogy’s best chapter is it’s last chapter. While a good part of the story revolves around Frodo Baggins’ (Elijah Wood) near sacrifice of his soul, the most interesting aspect of the movies is of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) no longer running from his destiny and claiming his rightful throne. It is also the most beautiful and powerful of the movies. All the sacrifice needed to do what’s right is off the charts. None of that can be seen better than in the Ride of the Rohirrim. Men who had just barely defended their homeland come to the aid of those who would not come to theirs. The music playing as they rode to their probable doom brings a tear to the eye.
2. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
When doing research for this top ten, I was surprised to see how many lists had Return of the Jedi on their list over this one. That is crazy talk. Yes, Jedi is the climax, the good guys win, and Anakin’s soul is saved. You can’t have all of that happen without Empire. After the Battle of Hoth, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) separates from his friends in order to be trained by the last remaining Jedi Master, Yoda. Meanwhile, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is running from the Imperial Fleet and has a budding romance with Leia (Carrie Fisher). This movie is what every middle movie of a trilogy should be. It’s where it all blows apart. The Empire truly does strike back after it’s lost following 1977’s Star Wars. The revelation at the end just caps everything off: just how much worse can it all get?
1. The Godfather Part II (1974)
To be very honest, this is a movie that almost didn’t make the list. I had to debate very hard with myself if I preferred this one to the original. The fact that I prefer The Godfather Trilogy (1901-1980), a version of the three movies recut to be in chronological order, didn’t help matters, either. Ultimately, I just had to add it. Robert DeNiro (winner of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as the young Vito Corleone) channels Marlon Brando perfectly. However, it is Al Pacino (who plays Michael Corleone) in his finest performance that makes the movie so great. This is the completion of what Vito never wanted for Michael, a turn into a cold, ruthless head of a crime family. It is his story, along with those forced to watch the man they once knew fade away to never return.
Well, that’s it. What do you all think? Any omissions? I know there’s one right off the top of my head. But unfortunately I have yet to see it and I have that particular trilogy in my DVD collection, also.
I’ll be getting Up In The Air from Nextflix in the next couple of days and I heard Inglorious Basterds is now on Instant Play. However, Monday will definitely not be about either of those…it’ll be about KICK-ASS!