Dark City — Hey, kids! Remember The Matrix? It came out in 1999 and completely blanketed critics’ praise of what might arguably have been a better movie in the same mind-blowing existential genre. Dark City starred Jack Bauer Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, and William Hurt. It also had Rufus Sewell, who — as opposed to Keanu Reeves — could actually act.
Instead of an attack by machines, Dark City features ghastly, skeletal masters of mind-over-matter, who experiment on humans by rewriting their memories. They toy with people like rats in a lab, and Jack Bauer Kiefer Sutherland is the Faust who sells his soul to help them. Just like The Matrix — and much less popcorn-y — the protagonist discovers he’s lived his life in an imposed reality and has to follow the rabbit to escape.
There is no kung fu.
Cube — Andrew tuned me in to this 1997 Canadian sci-fi-thriller last year, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it. Seven people awake in a labyrinth of stacked, cubic rooms, nearly all laced with deadly booby traps. There are filament wire traps, flame throwers, gas, spears, acid… and the prisoners have to reason their ways through to escape.
The first, blaringly obvious thing about Cube is the set design. It takes place all in cubic rooms (duh), but the walls are elaborately patterned with geometric shapes and backlighting. The secret is that it was all filmed on one set and the crew rotated the cube and changed out the lighting for each “new” room.
Some characters crack under the pressure — I lost my bet with Andrew about who would become the raving baddy — and most meet grisly ends. The endearing thing (which the sequels ruined) about Cube is that you never find out why the prisoners (all named after actual, real-life prisons, by the way) are there or who are their captors. There is no grand reveal.
Dracula 2000 — I never said all the films on this list were good. This one is great for its cheese, it’s slick action, its cavalcade of not-quite-stars, and its heart-pounding (see what I did there?) revelation that DRACULA IS JUDAS ISCARIOT.
Oh, yes. I’m not kidding. The reason ol’ Drac hates silver is because of the 30 pieces of silver he was given by the pharasees to betray Jesus. That’s also why he hates crosses. Judas tried to hang himself, but God cursed him to wander the night eternally as punishment. I’m serious. That’s the big twist.
Did I mention that Dracula is played by none other than Gerard “Leonidas” Butler from 300? Madness? THIS! IS! DRACULAAAAA! The film also stars Jeri Ryan, Jennifer Esposito and Vitamin C (the casting director must have been undead) as Dracula’s brides; Christopher Plummer as Van Helsing and Jonny Lee Miller as his protege; and Omar Epps and Danny Masters (Hyde from That 70s Show) as short-lived vamps.
I can also sum up the best (read “funniest”) part of the movie in six words: Vampire sex scene on the ceiling.
Lucky Number Slevin — My friends all turned their nose up at this slick revenge flick, and I have no idea why. Maybe it looked too hipster, too cool. Maybe it was their natural fear of all thing Josh Hartnett. Maybe it was Bruce Willis’ handlebar mustache. I don’t know. But Slevin, from 2006, is one of the smartest movies I’ve seen and is laced with lots of twists. Toward the middle of the movie, you’ll discover it’s not the movie you thought you were watching. The directors pulled a Kansas City Shuffle on you.
Slevin is a fast-talking smartass caught in the wrong place and the wrong time (or just maybe the perfect place and the perfect time) between two rival gangs. He’s kidnapped alternately by The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley), each who want to use him to kill the other. But Slevin’s got his own plan, and his own reasons for playing both sides against the middle.
There’s also Lucy Liu, playing adorable instead of cold and bitchy. The only weakness in the film, for me, is very the end, which is too Hollywood-happy to work. One of the characters should have stayed dead. The strength, though, is the fastest, sharpest dialog this side of Pulp Fiction.
Batman — Everybody lately has been sitting around circle-jerking about Batman Begins, but they just don’t get it. The best Batman will always be Tim Burton’s masterpiece from 1989. Everything else about the Dark Knight is just imitating.
Burton did everything right. He gave us Batman as a shadowy hero from the start, kicking ass without weighing us down with an hour-long origin story. We get one villain — that’s one, not three — and he’s a scary son of a bitch. Jack Nicholson is a deadly and psycho version of the Joker, not a Cesar Romero clown. The sets were straight out of the comics and had the same eerie nouveau feel as Batman: The Animated Series.
Look, I like Christian Bale, OK? He’s good. And I like Batman Begins. But Michael Keaton will always be the coolest Bat, in my opinion. He was quiet, hard, enigmatic. You could feel his pain without having painful exposition drilled into your brain. Burton’s Batman was just plain the best-executed, artful version of the Dark Knight’s story. But who knows — maybe this summer’s same-titled sequel will flap to the forefront of cannon.