30. Lady Snowblood Part 1 and Part 2
While American comic books have struggled for legitimacy as adult entertainment for decades, their Japanese counterparts have long enjoyed acceptance as legitimate elements of mainstream culture. So while the American comic book movie only properly took off in the last fifteen years, jidaigeki adaptations of popular manga have been a staple of Japanese pulp cinema since the early 1970s. The best of these remains Lady Snowblood, director Toshiya Fujita’s two part revenge opera of a woman checking off a kill list of the gangsters who killed her family and left her for dead. Any familiarity to Kill Bill is entirely intentional, with multiple visuals, soundtrack elements and plot points lifted whole cloth by Tarantino. But even for those only familiar with the update, Fujita’s films remain feats of hard edged efficiency, actress Meiko Kaji a goddess of death in a world of opposing colors and sudden violence. Though Kaji is oddly side lined in the much weaker Lady Snowblood 2 (which, given the fatality that closes the first film, seems hard to believe was anything but a cash grab) both films are bloody reminders that while America may have recently turned to its comic stories for cinematic inspiration, we’ve still got a long way to go before catching up to the legacy of Japan. (Adam Hofbauer)
Italian producer Dino de Laurentiis is responsible for three movies appearing on this list: Danger: Diabolik, the remake of Flash Gordon and Barbarella – a kitsch cult classic about a 41st-century astronaut on a mission to find Duran Duran, a scientist who has disappeared along with the galaxy’s deadliest weapon. The plot is blissfully trivial, but Terry Southern’s dialogue livens things up. Meanwhile, the art direction by Claude Renoir is absolutely stunning; the costumes are gorgeous and Jane Fonda gives her most memorable performance.
What many people don’t realize is that Barbarella started as a French science fiction comic book created by Jean-Claude Forest for serialization in the French magazine V in spring 1962. In 1964 Eric Losfeld later published these strips as a stand-alone book which caused quite a scandal and became known as the first “adult” comic-book, despite its eroticism being meager. The original comic book version of Barbarella was modeled on Brigitte Bardot and interesting enough the actress was once married to the director of the 1968 film, Roger Vadim. Barbarella is the best of all Roger Vadim’s films. Besides, what other film features a zero-gravity striptease during the opening credits? (Ricky D)
28. Speed Racer
While the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer is primarily based on the Japanese cartoon of the same name (and a series that is revered in some circles as an early pre-cursor to anime), the story also known as Mach GoGoGo was originally serialized in print in Shueisha’s 1966 Shōnen Book. Despite making over 90 million world-wide, the movie was considered a box office bomb due to its high production cost and divided critics. But since the release the film has since gone on to find a dedicated cult following.
Speed Racer is many things: a racing movie, a family film, an action movie, a spy movie, a coming of age film, and a 136-minute cinematic experience like none other. The movie’s unique and sensational visual language (which is heavy influenced by anime), is one of the reasons Speed Racer was rejected by many critics and audiences on its release – And yet, the look of the film is one of Speed Racer’s best attributes. From the first frame, audiences are immersed in a wildly unconventional spectrum of fluorescent colors, gravity-defying car races, swift pans, quick zooms and quirky flashbacks – all of which is served up in a fluid, dreamlike style. Each shot is gorgeously constructed and the Wachowskis expertly use computer digital effects to create a stunning new world. Everything except the actors in this movie were manipulated on a computer – a definitive benchmark for film considering how well put together it is. Not only i Speed Racer a special effects extravaganza but the film was a first in many technical areas, including the first film to employ the Sony F23 digital film camera and the first to employ Codex digital data recorders for on-set uncompressed HD playback. The editing and directing must be praised, even if you’re not a fan of the story. Despite the crazy visual nature of the film, the action is always easy to follow and never once does the narrative lose the explosive momentum it builds the opening minutes. (Ricky D)
27. Ghost in the Shell
Vastly superior to the manga that preceded it, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is a visual splendour, thematically dense and with a plot so heavy and layered for its brief 82 minute duration that it almost works best as a minimalist action set piece, with Blade Runneresque world building galore. It’s probably the most influential anime film on Hollywood, having a very direct influence on movies like The Matrix, Dark City, and Lucy, and having an overall influence on the cyberpunk genre. Ghost in the Shell has always been a franchise that walked the line between feminism and objectification and if there’s one major reason for the original manga’s failure, it is the troublesome depiction of Major Motoko Kusanagi, the female-bodied cybernetic-human protagonist of every series iteration. Excessively sexualized and demeaned in the manga, frequently through the lens of the male gaze, the anime takes a step back and re-asserts her presence. She is frequently depicted in little-to-no clothing as in the manga, but in Oshii’s film it is never with sexual or titillating intention. If there is lingering, it is on her body in relationship to the world around her, as subject and not object. Major’s body and identity is a core ingredient in Ghost in the Shell, and the film succeeds in giving her agency. The film shines brightest when Major is on-screen; as vast and complex of a world this is, it almost seems to gravitate around this character. Every other incarnation of the franchise gives Major more personality and human characteristics (Stand Alone Complex does the best job at presenting a more human-like Major), but there’s something so satisfyingly cool about her stoic unfazed demeanour in this film. She’s a rockstar. (Trevor Dobbin)
Her directorial efforts since might be somewhat questionable (hi, The Voices), but Marjane Satrapi certainly made a crackerjack of a debut with 2007’s Persepolis, a largely black-and-white, animated adaptation of her own autobiographical graphic novel of the same name, which she co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud.
It depicts an adult Marjane (voiced by Chiara Mastroiann) looking back on her childhood in Tehran. Initially rampant with Bruce Lee obsessions and pop music, things take a toll for the worse with the political goings on in Iran. Repression rears its ugly head, and the disillusioned Marji tries to fit in with the realities of an intolerant regime, but as she gets older her outspokenness gets the better of her. Her rebellious ways see her sent abroad by her family so she can be free to express herself, and the directions her life takes offer a potent commentary on both Iran and the concept of staying true to oneself, no matter what the outside pressures. With a deceptively simple two-dimensional animation style and tight 98-minute structure, Persepolis is an enthralling odyssey. (Josh Slater-Williams)
25. Ghost World
It’s slightly miraculous that Ghost World works. That Daniel Clowes’ dry misanthropic wit, counter culture ethics and slacker characters are translatable to film comes as no surprise, these elements have long been incorporated into cinema with success. It’s the Daniel Clowes aesthetic and storytelling structure that do not lend themselves easily to the live-action moving picture medium. Both his Ghost World comic and Terry Zwigoff’s film adaptation capture the mundane through an uninterested lens (as reinforced by the equally unmotivated characters that populate this world); are stripped down, though warped reflections of the world. There is no flashiness or gimmicky in Zwigoff’s Ghost World; even lacking the beautiful ugliness of Clowes’ illustrations that make him so unique. The film lives or dies on the strength of the script and cast, and fortunately, the stars aligned on this one. Clowes had a hand in writing the movie, and his scenarios play out with as much humour and affection the second time around. Rising star Scarlett Johansson gives her first great performance as doe-eyed Rebecca, best friend in the world to Enid, played to perfection by Thora Birch, which tragically did not kick-start a career as long and as satisfying as Johansson’s. If there’s a film role that better illustrates the anguish of adolescence under a cloak of introversion, misanthropy, and disillusionment, I haven’t seen it. Steve Buscemi as Seymour is a character who, to young viewers may seem like the butt of jokes, but who becomes easier to emphasize, with age, and on repeated viewings. He is a middle-aged equivalent to Enid, and their growing camaraderie is as potent a relationship as Enid and Rebecca. Enid sees no problem with her slacker lifestyle and actually looks up to Seymour while Seymour tries to push away because he wants to see Enid do better. Um, did I mention that Ghost World is funny? Underneath all of its morose musings and observations, it maintains a steady dose of laugh-out-loud moments for most of its running time. (Trevor Dobbin)
24. X2: X-Men United
While the first X-Men film proved that modern special effects could be used to create a believable superhero movie, it was a relatively restrained affair, featuring a small number of characters and limited action set pieces. X2: X-Men United is when the series goes nut, as returning director Bryan Singer thrusts breakout star Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine into the center of a story that dives deep into the themes of racism and bigotry for which the comic book is known – meanwhile shifting Ian McKellen’s Magneto into a more nuanced role as a reluctant (though still nefarious) ally, while also setting up the sequel to tackle one of the all-time great X-Men stories (that said sequel utterly squanders this film’s setup is but one of its many problems). X2 also widens the universe of the first film, introducing new characters (like Alan Cumming’s well-crafted turn as the teleporting Nightcrawler) while increasing the length, complexity and intensity of the action sequences. Colonel Stryker’s attack on the X-Mansion, which closes out the film’s first act, still stands as not only one of the franchise’s best action scenes, but one of action cinema’s best, as Wolverine truly cuts loose for the first time to defend the students from Stryker’s nefarious plans. It’s the centerpiece of an exceptional film which not only realizes the promise of the X-Men on screen, but of comic book films as a whole. (Austin Gorton)
Kick-Ass is a darkly funny, irreverent, and ultraviolent riff on the superhero genre as director Matthew Vaughn begins his tradition of bringing the stylized comic book work of Mark Millar to the silver screen. Vaughn and fellow screenwriter Jane Goldman subvert a lot of stereotypes by making Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the son of a gangster, a likable and nerdy fellow until his fall into supervillainy as well as making a pint-sized, pre-teen girl named Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz’s best performance) the true star of the show. Even though Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) gets the big emotional arc, Hit Girl gets to be the star of Vaughn’s action sequences, which are part Tarantino, part chambara film with a touch of Adam West’s Batman, especially in Big Daddy’s (an unbridled Nicolas Cage) line delivery.
Kick-Ass is a look at how superheroes would never work in the real world as Kick-Ass takes some heavy punishment, but ends up embracing the fantasy and escapism of the genre by the time Kick-Ass and Hit Girl are flying away on a jetpack after taking out gangsters with katanas, mini-guns, and a Joan Jett song. (Vaughn is skilled at picking the perfect song for his fight sequences.) But Kick-Ass earns this moment after its hero has been beaten up, humiliated, and duped so his revenge and glimpse of being a superhero is well worth it. Kick-Ass is both a dark comedy and triumphant action film, and it balances these two genres through the style of Hit Girl and substance of Kick-Ass. (Logan Dalton)
22. Danger: Diabolik
This super-stylish live-action adaptation of the popular (and still ongoing) 1960 Italian comic book, created by sisters Angela & Luciana Giussani, is easily the best of the string of ’60s European comic-strip/superhero movies. Originally an established cinematographer before becoming a director, Mario Bava was renowned for making a film look much better than its low budget would anticipate, and invented ways to cheat and manipulate the frame to make a scene look more extravagant than it really was (take, for instance, the film’s tower heist). Bava clearly understood how comic book panels were meant to be laid out and he clearly knew how to best transport them to the big screen, creating dynamic compositions which perfectly mimics the original source material. Using whatever natural lines he could find to split the film frame (bed posts, mirrors, bookshelves), Bava smartly mimics the look of a comic-book. He was a master in the use of colours, drowning his images in garish greens, yellow or reds. as well as creating a detailed, three-dimensional world – enhanced by wide-angle lenses, psychedelic sets, and outrageous costumes. It’s amazing when you consider he only spent $400,000 of his allotted $3 million budget, and yet Diabolik looks ten times as costly. Also, worth noting is Ennio Morricone’s outrageous electric guitar and sitar-laden score. It’s easily one of his finest scores, capturing the devilish tone of both the comic and the film while providing the perfect compliment to Bava’s gorgeous set-pieces.
Danger: Diabolik is an absolute pulp masterpiece, having gone on to inspire filmmakers to come, including Roman Coppola’s CQ and the Beastie Boys music video, Body Movin’. Before the credits role, the main character winks to the audience as if to promise a sequel, only the director declined future offers from its producer, Dino de Laurentiis, deciding to continue working on his usual low-budget horror films instead. Despite being a box office flop, Danger: Diabolik eventually found a cult following, and is considered by many (including this reviewer) to be one of the best live-action comic book movies ever made – a hidden gem of the genre – and one of my all-time favourites (Ricky D)
21. History of Violence