Category: Lists

Five Favorite Supernatural Horror Films

As a fan of the supernatural horror I am more than pleased to witness the sub-genre’s revival in recent years. While certainly not all recent outings have been great, there has been a good portion of decent films being released lately. James Wan’s The Conjuring looks good based on the marketing material we’ve seen so far, but see for yourselves as it hits theaters in the US this weekend.

In honor of The Conjuring and in true Rotten Tomatoes fashion, here are five of my favorite supernatural horror films, in order of release date.

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5. The Amityville Horror (1979, Stuart Rosenberg)
Scary, creepy and atmospheric: The Amityville Horror is one of the best haunted house films ever made. The story revolves around a young couple that moves into a new home that apparently has a dark past. What really sells this movie for me though is Margot Kidder, who not only looks enchanting, but can also act: How refreshing is that? Anyway, if you’re looking for a classic genre film that has stood the test of time and can still be quite frightening, look no further. This is it.

4. Ringu (1998, Hideo Nakata), Ringu 2 (1999, Hideo Nakata) & Ringu 0: Bâsudei (2000, Tsuruta Norio)
I would recommend watching the whole Ringu trilogy, before approaching the American remakes (which are also good). Nothing beats the original Japanese trilogy however. This is my favorite horror trilogy, because the quality is consistent throughout. Three excellent detective stories slash mysteries slash supernatural horror films. I also recommend using subtitles, because so much is lost in translation when dubbing a film, besides it’s also scarier that way.

3. Noroi: The Curse (2005, Shiraishi Kōji)
Noroi is the scariest film of the five, at least on a first viewing. It’s especially frightening if you believe in demons and the supernatural. Still, this is probably my favorite found footage film. It was made before the sub-genre caught on in America, so it has the advantage that it wasn’t just made to cash in on a gimmick. The faux documentary tells the story of a filmmaker investigating paranormal incidents connected to an ancient demon who seems to be back for revenge.

2. Solstice (2008, Daniel Myrick)
Directed by one of the guys responsible for The Blair Witch Project, Solstice retains the same atmospheric undertones, while presenting itself in a shiny and glossy teen horror aesthetic. When I first watched the movie a couple years ago I’ll admit that I was mostly lured in thanks to the charming Elizabeth Harnois (playing two roles at the same time). Since then I revisited it, because it was genuinely scary and much better than what you’d expect from similar fare.

1. The Innkeepers (2011, Ti West)
As someone that doesn’t mind slow-paced films, but actually prefers them I really dug The Innkeepers. It has a good sense of humor, build-up and Sara Paxton, who’s always easy on the eyes. Beyond that it is a good haunted ‘house’ film, because it is more about tone and atmosphere instead of plot. While the first two acts are excellent in creating a creepy environment, the third act falls a bit flat because it shows too much and what it decides to show isn’t nearly as scary as what’s in the viewer’s mind. Still very recommended.

Five Favorite ‘Arrested Development’ Films

This weekend Adam Sandler’s follow-up to the horrible and painfully unfunny Grown Ups will be released in theaters. Based on how terrible the first film was and judging by the trailer for this sequel I can, in good conscience, advice you to stay away from it. I’m not sure if Transformers Pacific Rim is any better, but it got a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s officially socially acceptable to like that movie (unlike Transformers). Anyway, we’re not here to talk new releases, although you should absolutely check out Thomas Vinterberg’s Jagten (English title: The Hunt) starring the amazing Mads Mikkelsen.

Any-who! This is a short list of five films is about young adults still stuck in the adolescent phase, not wanting to grow up. I personally feel like that sometimes, so this is a subject close to home and certainly one of the movie topics that fascinates me most currently. I even started watching the aptly named television show Arrested Development and it’s the only thing on TV I watch right now, and I can certainly recommend it if you’re into all that.
So in (dis)honor of Grown Ups 2 here’s a list of my Five Favorite ‘Arrested Development’ Films. This week I don’t feel like ranking them, so I’ll present them in chronological release date order.

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5. I Vitelloni (1953, Federico Fellini)
If you thought this whole “arrested development” discourse was something new, think again. Federico Fellini was already sensing it in the fifties, I guess he was way ahead of its time in a lot of ways, but like most of his films they’re still very topical even today. I Vitelloni is about a group of young adults in a small town in Italy trying to figure out what to do with their lives. In typical Fellini fashion there are happy party scenes and then sad and melancholy moments of reflection at the beach. Besides being a funny, yet deep film, I Vitelloni went on to inspire contemporary filmmakers from Martin Scorsese to Sofia Coppola, so if you like any of their films at all you owe it to yourself to check out I Vitelloni.

4. Being There (1979, Hal Ashby)
This one might be a bit of a stretch. One could say that Chance (Peter Sellers) is a big kid, afraid to go in the real world, but he also might be suffering from psychological problems. Then again one might say that adults stuck in adolescence almost certainly have issues in their past they need to resolve. Anyway, aside from the very ending (the “gag reel”) I love this film. It’s Peter Sellers, it’s funny, charming, quirky and  deeply moving. This film is about so many issues our society is currently still trying to resolve. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it and it’s definitely due for a re-watch, but if memory serves me correctly it’s also gorgeous to look at.

3. The Darjeeling Limited (2007, Wes Anderson)
Considered by many Wes’ worst film, I actually think this one is underrated and not even half as bad as most people say. In a lot of ways almost every Wes Anderson film has characters “trying to grow up”, but this one especially is about these three brothers trying to figure out their lives and how their family fell apart, while on a train trip in India. It has Wes’ signature humor, cinematography and cast. Co-written by Roman Coppola, this small gem of a movie is actually my third favorite of his, behind The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom.

2. Somewhere (2010, Sofia Coppola)
I’ve already mentioned her, I always do, but Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere is about a young actor who is bored out of his mind after the shooting of a film. Looking at the larger implications of it, he is also very dissatisfied with his life. Why? Because he is very detached from everyone. He has alienated the people who love him and people can’t love him, because he doesn’t love himself. Also, who do you trust in the film business? This film is about loneliness and trying to connect, oh and while there’s no Wong Kar-wai and Michelangelo Antonioni on this list, they’re certainly worth mentioning because they inspired Sofia and discuss some of the same themes. If you haven’t read my review of Somewhere yet and you want to, by all means please do.

1. Young Adult (2011, Jason Reitman)
Directed by one of the most interesting American indie filmmakers and written by one of the most talented and exciting screenwriters Diablo Cody, Young Adult is one of my favorite films in recent years. Charlize Theron gives an Academy Award worthy performance, and that was a great year between her and Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia: Who won the Oscar again that year? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure these ladies were robbed. Oh, I bet the Weinsteins were involved! #mafiosi! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Returning to Young Adult it’s a fairly depressing, yet darkly funny film. The cinematography might seem unspectacular on a first viewing, but it’s so subtle, I caught it’s genius only on a second viewing. Hats off: Eric Steelberg did a career best job on this picture. Who won ‘best cinematography’? Just kidding (kind of). But no, this is a great film and it’s tough to summarize it in a couple of sentences, but expect a full review as soon as I re-watch it.

To round-up the discussion.
These are all ‘dramedies’, that is dramas with comedic elements to them. Far from Grown Ups, and this is the last time I’ll mention that abyssal film, I promise. What do they have in common besides that? Well, since I’ve picked those out, they all look great and they deal with their characters in a respectful, non-judgemental way. They have a sense of irony and wit, but they never make fun of the characters or look down on them. That’s precisely why I like them: They don’t offer ready-made solutions to life’s problems, but they also don’t shy away from discussing some topics that most filmmakers would be uneasy discussing, and thus would either trivialize or treat superficially.

Five Favorite Johnny Depp Films

Lone Ranger is coming out in theaters this week. It looks horrible to say the least, but Johnny Depp has definitely made some excellent films. Since my knowledge of the Western genre is scarce, and that’s understating it, I decided to give you a list of my five favorite Johnny Depp films. Either of these looks a thousand times better than his new film, which I shall never name again, and so think about maybe getting one of these on DVD or Blu-Ray and save the theater expenses. Or (more likely) you already own one of these and can just re-visit it for free instead of spending money on what looks to be a dreadful film (and the reviews so far seem to confirm this).

A little disclaimer I regretfully haven’t seen Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995) yet which looks excellent and I’m a huge fan of Jarmusch and that is the only film of his I haven’t seen to date. Based on that and Jarmusch’s track-record I feel that I can recommend it without having seen it.

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5. Ed Wood (1994, Tim Burton)
Burton and Depp collaborations are legendary at this point, a brand of their own if you will. In 1994 however it wasn’t as extreme as it is today, so Ed Wood doesn’t feel like they were doing it to cash-in on it. Ed Wood is a charming, gorgeous looking black & white film. It’s the biography of infamous director Ed Wood. One of Depp’s best performances and also a great Bill Murray and a Tim Burton in top form.

4. Platoon (1986, Oliver Stone)
At this point of his career Johnny Depp wasn’t a star yet, so it’s no surprise his role is quite small in this picture. However this is a great film you should check out anyway. Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe are spectacular in their respective roles. It’s also one of Oliver Stone’s best films and a great war film in general, and that’s another genre I’m not particularly fond of, so coming from me it has to mean something, right?

3. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003, Robert Rodriguez
Great Mexploitation or Western set in Mexico. A funny film with some dazzling action, a sexy Salma Hayek and an incredible cast of fantastic actors: Antonio Banderas, Mickey Rourke, Danny Trejo, Willem Dafoe and the list goes on and on. While Johnny Depp isn’t the main character in this one, his role is certainly important and he plays such a badass. If you’re thinking about checking it out for him alone: Please do.

2. The Ninth Gate (1999, Roman Polanski)
As a horror guy and a Polanski fan I have to recommend The Ninth Gate. It’s not as good as say Rosemary’s Baby or The Tenant, but it’s a solid effort from the Polish director. Great suspense and an intriguing story, this film will definitely please Johnny Depp fans, as he’s pretty much in every frame of this film. I mistakenly watched this during the day, but I can imagine it being terrifying especially at nighttime.

1. Edward Scissorhands (1990, Tim Burton)
To me this remains Burton and Depp’s best film. One might say the quality of their cinematic collaborations peaked early, but I stand by it. Edward Scissorhands is a sweet, romantic film about being a misfit, a fairly tale, a heartbreaking story. It’s one of my all time favorite films and one I’ll re-watch every year. I also love Winona Ryder in this and of course there’s Burton signature production and costume design already coming to the forefront here. It’s the film that catapulted Depp and Burton into international stardom, every self-respecting fan should have seen this one at least once.

Five Favorite ‘LGBT’ Films

Like every week in honor of a particular release pertaining to a specific type of film I like to bring up (at least) five other that are somehow related. This weekend Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited is coming out in limited release, so I thought I’d spend a few words on my favorite films portraying homosexual, bisexual or transgender characters.

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Happy Together (1997, Wong Kar-wai)
With this film Wong Kar-wai was trying to warn Hong Kong audiences to flee the country while they still could: Once the fifty year period of independence from the mainland run out they might experience less tolerant policies and politics regarding freedom of “sexuality”. Aside from making a political statement Wong was also making a poetic one. Christopher Doyle shoots some of the most gorgeous images of cinema history, especially the ones in black and white. The film is about a destructive relationship between to men moving to Argentina. Highly recommended.

Being John Malkovich (1999, Spike Jonze)
I know I’ve recommended this one already only last week, but I’ll repeat myself because it is also relevant with this weeks topic. Jonze explores human sexuality in this film like no other I’ve seen before. It’s about how sexual identity shouldn’t be viewed as something ‘fixed’ to a body, but rather to the essence of one’s person. The attractions in this film are not exclusively physical, but also “intellectual”. It questions whether traditional labels like “gay”, “hetero” or “bi” even make sense and that’s precisely what I love about it. Sometimes things are more complicated and difficult to explain, but society prefers to trivialize everything to be able to sleep at night.

Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch)
Lynch is one of my favorite directors and this is considered his masterpiece. Although I prefer Inland Empire and Blue Velvet this is a close third and a fantastic film about Hollywood, dreams and lesbians. Who dreams who? That’s the question. I love the bizarre atmosphere and non-linear plot. A great film noir that I can recommend especially for a career best performance by Naomi Watts and of course like I said it’s a David Lynch film so that should be a good enough reason to check it out. Also: Sex!

The Rules of Attraction (2002, Roger Avary)
This film does feature gay characters, but they’re not necessarily the main part of the story, although there is one of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever seen involving one of them. Still I want to recommend it because of the weird tone and feel of this film and because I don’t hear many people mentioning it or talking about it anymore. The atmosphere I was referring to is once more about feeling lost and alone in this world. It’s kind of depressing now that I think of it, so I’ll recommend it with a grain of salt and if you’re into more melodramatic cinema. The story is about these college kids trying to figure out their lives while partying and having sex and all the usual stuff we do to find themselves.

Kaboom (2010, Gregg Araki)
Gregg Araki’s entire filmography except for maybe his ‘straight movie’ The Doom Generation (1995) could be recommended, but I’d like to go ahead tell you to check out my personal favorite: Kaboom. I’ve already written full-length thoughts on it, but I didn’t focus much on the fact that it’s about a bisexual character. That’s because Araki doesn’t make a big deal out of it, and those are precisely the ‘gay films’ I prefer: The ones that are just about those characters and don’t treat them any different from those that happen to be heterosexual.

If these five are not enough for you I’d like to bring up Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) which I’m sure everyone has at least heard of. Swans are gay, so it makes sense that Aronofsky explore’s Nina’s (Natalie Portman) sexuality. Another bonus recommendation is the light comedy But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) getting more into a “religious nuts hating gays” kind of discourse.
That’s if from me, if you have a film that you would like to recommend: Go ahead, I like getting recommendations!

Favorite ‘Fake’ Criterion Cover Art

We all love the Criterion Collection. They release and restore some of the best films of all time and some add great features in every single one of their releases. A lot of care and attention for detail. Most of all they put a lot of love and passion in their work, because they love movies, just like us.
Every great marketer however also knows that a good product is never enough. The right package can be a lot more convincing sometimes. The people at Criterion know this and that’s why they’re just as devoted to making a good cover art as with everything else they do.

If you’re a fan of the Collection, I’m sure there are a lot of personal favorites you’d like to see in there. Searching the web for some fake Criterion releases you can find a lot of fun stuff, but also daydream and hope one day your favorite film will make it into the prestigious Collection.

Here is some of the best fan made art I found. Some of these aren’t even real films (namely Rob Zombie’s faux Grindhouse trailer for Werewolf Women of the SS or Eli Roth’s film within a film Nation’s Pride). Some of these are highly unlikely even to be considered for a Criterion release (I Know Who Killed Me). For other films the studios smartly hold on to their rights (2001: A Space Odyssey). Most of these are also some of my favorite films, some of these are simply good-looking or genius (like the one for Dancer in the Dark) and others I feel are underrated or overlooked (Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Suicides).

Five Favorite Zombie Flicks

WARM BODIES

This weekend World War Z will be released in the States. While I don’t plan to see it anytime soon, unless it gets rave reviews (which doesn’t seem to be the case), I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss and recommend some of my very favorite entries in the sub-genre. Zombies may have regained their popularity recently, but the dead have been walking the silver screen since Victor Halperin’s White Zombie (1932). Some might argue that even earlier works like Frankenstein (1910) or German expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) should be regarded as such.

I won’t debate whether that’s true or not: I’ll just go ahead and give you my five favorite zombie flicks, listed in chronological order.

5. Night of the Living Dead (1968, George A. Romero)
This is a horror classic. Many will point to Dawn of the Dead (the original of course), but I prefer this gritty, black & white gem. It also happens to be my favorite Romero film and just one of the best genre films of all time. I don’t have much more to say except: Great social commentary, good atmosphere and pacing and great photography.

4. Zombi 2 (1979, Lucio Fulci)
The unofficial/unauthorized Italian pseudo-sequel to Dawn of the Dead is a fun and creepy film. A typical giallo score, grainy 70s look and some great zombie gore are what you can look forward to with this one. There’s one scene in particular that is very hard to digest, and to this day continues to inspire contemporary genre directors like Eli Roth.

3. Dellamorte Dellamore (1994, Michele Soavi)
Another great zombie film from Italy is Cemetary Man. A dark, erotic, twisted tale of sex and death starring one of Italy’s hottest actresses: Anna Falchi. Based on a novel by comic book artist Tiziano Scalvi (Dylan Dog, the comic not the film) this little romance horror story is certainly the most aesthetic and sensuous one on this list.  

2. Død snø (2009, Tommy Wirkola)
Nazi zombies! How can I resist that? Impossible. I have a weird fetish for the fascist aesthetic. Dead Snow is a fun and funny film, a lot of gore and a good sense of humor. The plot is the standard young-adults-go-to-the-woods, but it transcends the genre tropes and clichés, thanks to its love and revere of the genre.

1. Zombieland (2009, Ruben Fleischer)
This film was part of the revival of the zombie film sub-genre. A charming horror/comedy, with some great actors (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin) and an hilarious cameo by a Hollywood legend. I like the romance angle, the heartfelt comedy, the innovative filmmaking/editing approach and just overall the lighthearted tone of it.

I would also like to mention Rec (2007, Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza): The only reason it’s not in the top five is that some wouldn’t consider it a real zombie film. I find it to be very scary and just one of the best found footage films out there. Another mention goes to Planet Terror (2007, Robert Rodriguez), which is a fun grindhouse/(m)exploitation throwback, featuring the director’s signature humor and an almost unprecedented level of cheesiness. Last but not least, this year’s genre darling: Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies.

Top Ten Title Cards

This week Criterion asked about our favorite title designs on Facebook. After thinking about it and reading other people’s responses and trying to remember if my favorite films had a title card at all I narrowed it down to ten I think are pretty awesome. Some filmmakers consistently think their title sequences through like Sofia Coppola, Lars von Trier or Sono Sion, so I just picked one of theirs, but I’m not even sure it’s their best, but that’s what I was able to find on the good ole internet. At this point I’d also like to mention Woody Allen who has consistently kept same identical opening titles for his entire career, I won’t count him in this list, but y’all know his signature font, so..

These are my favorite title cards in chronological order, because I’m not good at ranking stuff.

Actors Playing Themselves

With This is the End coming out in theaters, many might think actors playing themselves is somewhat revolutionary or “genius”. While I can’t think of an entire film based on that premise alone, there certainly have been a lot of actors playing themselves in movies over the years. And I’m not talking about like Woody Allen playing a version of himself in every one of his starring roles or instructing his actors to play a surrogate of his persona: I mean actors playing themselves, like literally.

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1. Cecil B. DeMille in Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Not an actor, but a director; still what a memorable cameo in what’s quite possibly the greatest Hollywood film of all time. A great scene in a classic film about film and the film industry. Definitely one of my all time favorites, highly recommended for Billy Wilder’s fantastic script and direction.

2. Marcello Mastroianni et al. in Fellini’s Intervista (1987)
One of Federico Fellini’s most self-indulgent movies no doubt, but it’s still a lot of fun to see him re-team with Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg and others. To see these aging icons however made a weird impression, but overall Intervista works as a self-referential comedy imbued by the master’s trademark humor.

3. John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich (1999)
Great movie. John Malkovich playing himself is hilarious and creepy at the same time. Or maybe it’s the other character’s obsession with him that give off these weird vibes of creepiness. Regardless, director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman knock it out of the park with this one.

4. Alfred Molina et al. in Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)
Most if not all of the eleven shorts in this Jim Jarmusch film feature celebrities playing versions of themselves. My favorite has to be Cousins? with Alfred Molina discovering that he’s related to Steve Coogan, who couldn’t care less. Very funny.

5. Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
His cameo in the films is a repeated joke in all the Harold & Kumar films. Neil Patrick Harris, as a comedic actor, is highly overrated, but his ‘shtick’ is fairly appropriate in the context of these already ‘schlocky’ films.

Five Films For People Anticipating Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring

One thing I like to do whenever there is a film coming out I’m excited for is to watch movies that might have similar themes. With The Bling Ring coming out in limited release tomorrow only few privileged people will have the pleasure to see it. The films I’m recommending here on the other hand should be relatively easy to find and hopefully they’ll get you pumped for Sofia Coppola’s new film.

3-Iron (2004)

1. I soliti ignoti (1958, Mario Monicelli)
Big Deal on Madonna Street is one of the most famous and celebrated heist/caper films. Part of the Criterion Collection and shot in magnificent black & white, this is a charming little Italian crime/comedy featuring some of our cinema’s greatest actors like Vittorio Gassman, Claudia Cardinale, Marcello Mastroianni and legendary comedic actor Totò. I soliti ignoti relates to The Bling Ring in that it is precisely about invading and robbing other people’s houses, although it focuses more on the planning stages of the coup.

2. Purple Noon (1960, René Clément)
Another great film in the Criterion Collection is Plein soleil, a French version of The Talented Mr. Ripley based on the book by Patricia Highsmith. Alain Delon plays the title character scamming his “friends” to get their money and lifestyle. Although there’s no “robbing celebrities” in this one, it is clear that Tom Ripley envies his rich buddies’ life and thus decides to go the illegal route to enjoy their luxuries. Sound familiar?

3. The Doom Generation (1995, Gregg Araki)
As part of Gregg Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy and the director’s only ‘heterosexual’ film, The Doom Generation is about teenagers committing armed robberies to the tune of dopest shoegaze tracks. The film deals with typical themes of teen angst, loneliness and depression or in other words: What it’s like to be a teenager. Much like the for Burglar Bunch things escalate reaching new levels of ridiculous, although I’m sure there are no neo-nazis in The Bling Ring.

4. Party Monster (2003, Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato)
Macaulay Culkin plays a rampant scene queen/drug addict/himself? Just kidding. He plays a party monster. Although the guys from The Bling Ring don’t do hard drugs I wanted to mention this film, because Sofia Coppola fans might love it. Party Monster is all about exploring the idea of celebrity and our society’s fascination with stars. It also discusses themes of isolation and solitude, much like the previous film I mentioned, and it also helps that it has a good, cynical sense of humor.

5. 3-Iron (2004, Kim Ki-duk)
“What an odd pick” you might say “You’re probably just throwing that in here, because you’re out of ideas”. No, I’m not. Yes, Kim Ki-duk’s 3-Iron is a masterpiece and you should watch it regardless of any movie being released in theaters, but it is relevant here. The central premise is a character invading people’s homes; not to rob them mind you, but he still gets arrested. Also, there’s a romantic sub-plot you might get great enjoyment from, I certainly did. This is my favorite Kim Ki-duk film and it relates to Sofia Coppola’s work, because they’re both sentimental directors and again, they explore similar themes.

So, these are my recommendations. If you’d like to give some (better?) recommendations, feel free to give us these recommendations. I always like getting recommendations. Man, I sure used that word a lot. Recommendations!

Five Favorite Owen Wilson Films

With a new film starring Owen Wilson coming out in theaters this week-end, I thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss his best films. Before seeing him in practically every Wes Anderson film I didn’t think much of the guy as an actor. Sure, he seems like a nice fellow, but man, did he chose some bad movies.

This isn’t about those movies though. This is about his best work, in my opinion, and what he will hopefully be remembered for.
After the dreadful looking Internship he will be back working with Wes Anderson in The Grand Budapest Hotel and some more renowned filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Peter Bogdanovich.

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Without further ado, here are my top five Owen Wilson films:

1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)

2. Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen)

3. The Darjeeling Limited (2007, Wes Anderson)

4. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2005, Wes Anderson)

5. Bottle Rocket (1996, Wes Anderson)