For this entry in the Top 6 Words series, I gave my word selection script a rest and let my friend wintermute pick a word for me. He chose the word “new.”
My favorite “new” movies after the jump. Try thinking up some “new” titles yourself first, though, before looking at mine. Bonus points if your “new” movie is also a new movie. Chime in with your own list in the comments section.
The challenge this time is that so many “new” movies are terrible sequels or reboots: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), The New Maverick (1978), Pocahontas II: Journey To a New World (1998), New Fist of Fury (1976), DragonHeart: A New Beginning (2000), The New Game of Death (1981), Amityville: A New Generation (1993), New Police Story (2004).
See what I mean? The Friday the 13th series even had two such films: Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985) and Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988).
But thanks to the city of New York, I was able to complete a Top 6 list of “new” movies I’m pretty happy with.
6. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
I’m amazed. Something remotely associated with David Spade, who does the voice for the main character in this Disney animated comedy, is funny. Spade’s character isn’t funny very often, but the movie is. Even so, The Emperor’s New Groove marked an unwelcome change of pace for Disney animation, which had had a wonderful run of great musicals and ended them in favor of more disposable comedies. Many of the jokes are reliant on pop culture and are already dated. Still, this is a pleasant diversion.
5. Gangs of New York (2002)
Martin Scorsese’s sprawling epic about, well, the gangs of New York in the mid-1800s is a gorgeous visual spectacle. Besides the amazing reconstruction of 19th century New York, there is also a deliriously unhinged performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. Those two things alone make the movie worthwhile; unfortunately, the film never quite achieves the emotional impact it seems to be striving for.
4. Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942)
The illiterate interpretation of the Tarzan character introduced in Johnny Weissmuller’s first Tarzan film, is actually used to advantage in this unique entry in the series. Boy is kidnapped and taken to New York, and Tarzan and Jane come after him. Since Weissmuller’s Tarzan had never ventured into civilization before, there are plenty of opportunities for some amusing fish-out-of-water scenes. Watching Tarzan romp about the skyscrapers like he would his vine-filled jungle is a blast, and Cheetah taking on the big city is a riot. Regrettably, this was Maureen O’Sullivan’s last outing as Jane. Elmo Lincoln, the first film Tarzan, has a cameo.
3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
In A Nightmare On Elm Street, we were introduced to a creative kind of horror wherein the line between reality and the fantasy of dreams was blurred. With Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, another layer of reality is added, to intriguing effect: the world of movies. Horrific beings cross the lines between reality, the movies, and dreams — and if you consider that this movie is itself a movie, there’s yet another layer of reality. I loved the games this movie plays with those lines, and it’s one of the reasons why Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is the only strong sequel to the 1984 original. I recommend most horror fans watch the original, skip ahead to this one, and ignore all the others. (A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors might be interesting to the die-hards, and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare is great for unintentional laughs, but the rest are worthless.)
The story is about the making of the Elm Street movies. Heather Langenkamp (from parts 1 and 3) and Robert Englund (who plays Freddy) star as themselves. Wes Craven and series producer Robert Shaye both have small roles. And it seems that the menace of Freddy they’ve been making movies about all this time isn’t quite as fictional as they might have liked. I say no more, for part of the fun is figuring out what the rules are all over again — one of the reasons the other sequels lacked a sense of fascination and awe about them is that the rules were already established with the original film, not that they were always followed. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, with its added layers of reality, takes the same basic idea, builds upon it, and requires us to sort it all through again from the beginning. Although not all the scenes work — particularly one miscalculation that rips off one of the original’s best scenes — the whole is a compelling, terrifying, suspenseful, and often clever work.
I must also compliment star Heather Langenkamp, who, in the years since her previous appearance in the series, learned how to act. She’s fantastic here; her solid, moving performance serves as an anchor: we empathize with her terror and therefore are with her — rather than just watch her — as she fights to survive.
2. A New Leaf (1971)
A New Leaf is one of those comedies that has so much fun with itself, we can’t help but to enjoy ourselves, too. It stars Walter Matthau as a rich man who knows more about spending money than making it. When his accountant informs him he is broke, he sets a scheme in motion to get rich again: marry a rich woman no one will miss, then bump her off. Of course it’s not that simple. The rich woman in question (played by Elaine May, who wrote the script and directed the film) is as smart and naive as Matthau’s character is dim and cunning. She also happens to be a sweet little thing, and it’s simply unconscionable that other people, too, are trying to mine the bank account of his dear, doomed bride.
Sadly, A New Leaf is a casualty of studio-forced cuts. Elaine May’s cut of the film clocked in around three hours. Paramount was nervous about releasing a comedy that long and chopped it almost in half. It is therefore almost surprising that the released version is even coherent, let alone so good, but the editing shows: there’s a whole other movie lurking in there somewhere. Whether the longer cut was better or not, I have no idea. Added length is not always a good thing. But it’s unfortunate that May’s vision was not realized.
1. Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman takes the directorial chair for his craziest film (which is saying something), which appears to be about a theatrical director trying to put together a great, personal work. I say “appears,” because the surface plot is just a mask for what Kaufman is really talking about, which is nothing less than the nature of human life itself. In the 1920s, there was a film movement in Germany called Expressionism, where filmmakers arranged the sets and lighting to reflect the main character’s state of mind. Here, we have an expressionist plot: the whole story can be said to be a reflection of the character’s state of mind.
Certainly the story doesn’t make much literal sense. Throughout the course of this film, a book will address him directly, he will mistake himself for an actor playing him, and a woman will purchase a house on fire. Creepy turns like this are reminiscent of filmmakers such as David Lynch and the early surrealists, but the weirdness is played as a tragedy, rather than a metaphysical thriller. If all this sounds heavy and philosophical, it is. If you see this at all, give it the room in your head to breathe. This is the kind of film that can be greatly rewarding, but only if you invest in it.