I wake up disoriented and dazed; I open my eyes, and I can hardly see through an aggressive sheen of bright light. As my vision adjusts, I find myself on a white, sandy shore as I stare across water so blue as to be otherworldly. Wind flutters through my hair. The sun beats down on my skin. My blood slowly runs cold as I realize that I’m utterly alone, abandoned on some God-forsaken (but, admittedly, really pretty) island out in the middle of who knows where.
I am stranded, bereft of human company, and with no visible hope of rescue.
Fortunately, whoever put me in this pickle left me with a consolation prize– a kick-ass home entertainment system, a state of the art DVD player, and the 8 DVDs I could never do without. (How all the electronics operate, and how my captor knew my 8 desert island DVDs, I’ll never know. Maybe he’s clairvoyant, though that only solves half the equation.) So, left to my life of solitude, what am I going to spend my days watching in between the hours I whittle away by collecting firewood, swimming in the ocean, building shelter, and gathering food? (Hey, I read The Cay enough times as a kid that I think I could figure out how to spear a lobster if I had to.)
You’re in luck, because I’m going to answer that question for you– right now. Here are my Desert Island DVDs!
(Author’s note: Special thanks to Andy at Fandango Groovers for putting this little exercise together!)
(Author’s other note: Some of the titles link to specific DVDs, while some don’t. The ones that don’t, put simply, don’t because there isn’t a definitive “must-have” DVD release worth linking to.)
(Author’s final note: Check out the list at Fandango Groovers! There are some really inspired choices on here by some of the very bloggers I have tagged in my blog roll, so head on over and peruse the wonderful blog lists from Castor, Meredith, Darren, and many others!)
1.) The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended Edition)— I like to count the LotR trilogy as a single film for the purpose of cheating on my “top whatever” lists, but here we’re talking about our desert island DVDs, so I guess I don’t really have to. (Arguably, it’s still a cheat.) This is a package anyone should include on their Desert Island list, clocking in at roughly 12 hours of fantasy epic goodness with a nigh-inexhaustible supply of bonus features that, frankly, entertain and thrill almost as much of the films. (Watching Bernard Hill and extras charge on horseback during the filming of the “Ride of the Rohirrim” sequence makes my hairs stand up just as much as the finished scene.) And when you’re stuck away from home, the ultimate hope-driven “there and back again” journey tale seems to appropriate to pass up.
2.) Blazing Saddles— One of the greatest comedies ever, and one of the rare movies that I will drop everything to watch no matter what I’m doing or what else is on. Endlessly inventive in its sheer absurdity, Blazing Saddles is a clear pick for “favorite Mel Brooks movie” for my money, a brash picture that spares no expense in its mission to make its audience laugh. Call it shapeless all you want, because structure, here, is hardly the point. The point is that a man and his horse are hung in the gallows, Slim Pickens gives Harvey Korman a bubble bath, and the entire film breaks through the fourth wall and into the studio parking lot in a raucous ending brawl. The film, in short, is pure insanity, and exactly the sort of thing that any reasonable person would want with them in the event of abrupt and unexplained relocation to a lush but uninhabited chunk of rock and sand. We all need a little madness. Brooks never fails to oblige.
3.) Once Upon a Time in China 2— I’ll make this short. Two of the world’s greatest martial artists (Donny Yen and Jet Li) engage in one of kung fu cinema’s greatest duels. The sequence never fails to enrapture and thrill, and on the goodwill of their fight alone, I would never leave home without it.
4.) Army of Darkness— So, I figure that I’m going to be all alone and with no one to talk to, so what better way to circumvent that little problem than to bring along one of the most quotable movies ever? Between “This is my boomstick”, “Hail to the king, baby”, and “Gimme some sugar, baby”, I can pretty much carry out a conversation with myself, though admittedly it’d be sort of one-sided and a little creepy. But that’s sort of besides the point– it’s Army of Darkness. Could you imagine going for an extended period of time without being able to watch this campy horror-comedy classic, one of Bruce Campbell’s finest moments outside of Evil Dead and one of the most beloved entries in the geek cinematic lexicon? Because I, frankly, cannot.
5.) Memento— A good twist should enhance the movie you just watched instead of undoing it. Anyone can zig at the climax of their film instead of zagging and make everything you’ve just seen feel like a lie, but a truly skilled filmmaker can introduce a game-changer in the last lap and add a whole new layer to their picture. Christopher Nolan (forever known as “the director of The Dark Knight“) creates a storytelling experience that feels incredibly satisfying even after multiple viewings, when the fix is already in and we know how the movie upends things in its denouement. The tale of Leonard Shelby gains an entirely different perspective in the wake of Nolan’s third-act revelation instead of boiling down to a cheap and under-handed magic trick; rather, Memento feels almost like a new film every time you watch it.
6.) Oldboy: Ultimate Edition— Oh, like you’re even surprised that a) this is on my Desert Island list, and b) that I own the Ultimate Edition. If you’ve been reading this blog, then at this point me shoe-horning Oldboy into any list where it’ll fit should be par for the course with me.
7.) Deep Rising— Horror movies gain greater effectiveness in a setting appropriate to the story. Here’s a neat tidbit: I watched The Blair Witch Project the summer of its release in a lodge in the woods with a bunch of friends. After it finished, we walked back to our respective cabins in the pitch black Vermont night. Surprise: I was terrified. I’ve heard that watching Paranormal Activity in your own home produces similar effects (I know The Strangers does). So I imagine that, in light of the ending, watching Deep Rising on a desert island might make this creepy, fun monster movie work even better than it does from the safety of a couch.
8.) Once— Does this seem a little out of place surrounded by B-horror, Korean tragedy, kung-fu royalty, and an epic blockbuster? Maybe, but there’s plenty of room for something more quiet and down-to-Earth amidst the noise and bother. Once is a perfect little film, an affecting, brisk, small-scale musical romance; it also boasts one of the best soundtracks of its decade, weaving each wonderful song naturally into the narrative. I’m a little fuzzy on the parameters of the exercise, so I’m not sure if my relocation also involves receiving my Desert Island Albums, too; in the face of uncertainty, I’d err on the side of caution. Once is the kind of movie you can just as easily watch as listen to, as melodious and beautiful to the ears as to the eyes.