50 essential comic-book movies, with Edgar Wright: part 5
It's the top ten, folks, and we're ignoring those boring everyday superheroes in favour of a curmudgeonly cancer victim, a leather-clad playboy, a gun-toting coffee salesman, two brain-fried alien zookeepers and a whole gang of mixed-up DIY rebels...
10. American Splendor (2003)
Directed by Shari Berman & Roger Pulcini
The grumpy guide to living with cancer
No one runs the gamut from bitter disgruntlement to teeth-grinding rage against the Universe like Paul Giamatti, at least not since the passing of Harvey Pekar, whose long-running comic book 'American Splendor' mined a mighty black vein of mundane alienation. As played by Giamatti, Pekar is equal parts rotten bastard, self-pitying child and misunderstood genius. It's an uncompromising portrayal, as Berman & Pulcini's adaptation fearlessly cuts an already ponderous narrative with interviews with Pekar and his friends and work colleagues, weaving the contents and creation of Pekar's semi-fiction into a blend of real life and real art. In interview, Pekar himself has exactly the air of his fictional home in the film; he's musty, dishevelled, prone, you suspect, to inconvenient leaks and mildew. He is in constant need of repair, a closet egotist's need that Giamatti portrays with subtlety and a quiet disdain for sentimentality. The early Pekar is a hard watch as he goes about his screwed-down business, quietly recording the sparks of life still animating his coworkers and the million tiny injustices visited each day upon his own head. The reward for the audience, as it was for those who knew Pekar, is in the life-affirming insight that comes from sticking with the increasingly articulate malcontent right to the not-so-bitter end. PF
Watch the film's spry analysis of 'Revenge of the Nerds'
Read the Time Out review
9. Men in Black (1997)
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Your first, last and only line of defenceSci-fi and comedy often make for uncomfortable bunkmates. For every ‘Galaxy Quest' there's a ‘Space Truckers', for every ‘Mars Attacks!' there's a whole load of ‘Spaceballs'. The rule of thumb seems to be that any successful galactic laugh-a-rama should hold up as a serviceable sci-fi saga even if you were to strip it bare of gags. ‘MiB', for its part, is crammed with more slick ideas, giddy wonderment, groovy hardware and thrilling set pieces than all but a handful of recent straight-up science fiction movies, and that's before you factor in the film's razor sharp comic sensibility. All this plus some natty '60s-inspired production design, A-grade special effects, two pitch-perfect leads and an elegant plot made it one of the most purely enjoyable films of the ‘90s. ALD
Watch the 'MiB' blooper reel here
Read the Time Out review
8. Mystery Men (1999)
Directed by Kinka Usher
Tonight, the lone wolf rides... aloneIn all the fuss about ‘Kick-Ass' earlier this year, it was largely forgotten that the whole ‘superheroes can be ordinary people too' idea had been done before, and done a lot better. ‘Mystery Men' doesn't just have one of the best ensemble casts in living memory (deep breath: Ben Stiller, William H Macy, Hank Azaria, Eddie Izzard, Janeane Garofalo, Geoffrey Rush, Greg Kinnear, Lena Olin and a simply amazing turn from Tom Waits, even managing to drag notable performances from serial offenders like Paul Reubens, Kel Mitchell and, um, Michael Bay) it also benefits from a wildly inventive script, inspired by Bob Burden's original comic book but, if anything, even madder: this is a movie which dares to have the supposed hero killed off (by the actual hero, no less) in a bizarre accident, which sports as many endlessly quotable lines as any film on this list (‘We strike down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering!') and a unique, oddball visual sense to rival the Burtons and the Del Toros of this world. The film flopped, the sequel never came, and director Kinka Usher has never directed since. The world is mad, I tell you. Mad. TH
When even your deleted scenes are this good...
Read the Time Out review
7. Batman Returns (1992)
Directed by Tim Burton
Next up to bat...Despite Tim Burton's incremental decline into creative rot over recent years – culminating in his recent whimsy-by-numbers take on ‘Alice in Wonderland' – there's an argument to be made that it was his superlative ‘Batman' movies that allowed him entry into the Hollywood firmament in the first place. The twilight travails of DC's brooding, masked crusader seemed to chime perfectly with Burton's gothic, vaguely off-kilter visual sensibility, and with a near-perfect pair of films he managed to mesh together the ripping yarn of a tortured playboy with a slyly adult take on stock comic book crime fighting adventures. Of course, Jack Nicholson was perfectly cast as The Joker in the original, Prince-soundtracked 1990 version of the film, but it was the sequel which really got people to sit up and take notice. Michael Keaton re-assumed his role as Bruce Wayne, but this time he didn't just have one charismatic foe to defeat, but three. First and foremost was Michelle Pfeifer's sexpot take on Catwoman, her revealing, spray-on-latex costume surely bringing an untapped ‘specialist' audience into the cinema; then there was Danny DeVito as The Penguin, the foul, pint-sized underground (literally) crime lord who wants to bring his empire to the streets of Gotham; and finally there's Christopher Walken as the pencil-pushing tycoon Max Shreck, whose coin allows these two animals to wreak their eccentric havoc on the city. It was perhaps the long, triumphant shadow of this mighty achievement which made Joel Schumacher's subsequent franchise entries seem even more dire than the meandering rivers of neon slurry they actually were. DJ
Edgar Wright says:
‘When Tim Burton's "Batman" came out, I don't think I've ever been so excited for a film. I had both soundtracks, the Danny Elfman score and the Prince soundtrack, I had the t-shirt... And although I think it's still got a lot of great things in it, it has dated now, and so has "Batman Returns". The things that were good then are still good, Tim Burton's eye and that amazing production design. But the problem with both films is that Burton is just more interested in the villains than the heroes, which is a problem that comes up in a lot of superhero films. But as a 15-year-old I forgave it everything, because I just wanted so much to be excited. The Danny Elfman score is still enough to get me pumped up! The first movie peaks right there, the model shot of the camera going round the bat symbol is still the highlight of the film.'
See a stand-off of good versus evilRead the Time Out review
6. A History of Violence (2005)
Directed by David Cronenberg Gangster's paradiseIt's somewhat ironic that the film within David Cronenberg's unique oeuvre that feels least like it was adapted from a graphic novel is in fact the one that was. Movies like ‘Shivers', ‘The Fly' and ‘Existenz' all feel like they could've ripped straight from the pages of a speculative science fiction page-turner, rather than this smouldering drama about the regular small town Joe who turns out to be...well, anything but a regular small-town Joe. Not falling into the trap of attempting to merely replicate 2000AD linchpin John Wagner's graphic novel on the screen, Cronenberg brings his queasy, corporeal concerns regarding our inability to read or truly understand people from their physical exteriors to a tightly wound drama of family dysfunction and the resurfacing of personal demons. Viggo Mortensen gifted the film with an astonishingly nuanced performance in the lead, and has since become a Cronenberg muse with follow-up, ‘Eastern Promises' and forthcoming psychoanalysis thriller (sic) ‘A Dangerous Method'. DJ
See Ed Harris get sent back to hell with a 12-gauge
Read the Time Out review
See 5 through to 2
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