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Izo

Takeshi Miike - the ultra-prolific Japanese genius who recently put out the live action Yatterman and the awesome looking Phoenix Wright movie - could fill this whole list on his own. No modern filmmaker in any nation has poured more genuine creativity and artistic worth into the action, crime and horror genres, or done so much of it.

Izo is best described as a kind of existential gorefest, the stream-of-consciousness story of a feudal samurai whose execution sends his consciousness (soul?) hurtling through time and space, depositing him in a host of settings, time periods and scenarios seemingly at random. He seeks a reason - the answer to the meaning of his brutal existence - the only way he knows how: violently hacking and slashing his way through everyone and everything he comes into contact with a like human chainsaw.

As you may infer from the description, after a while it starts to play out like the film is attempting to stave off the label of "pretentious" by spilling ever greater qualities of blood, daring the arthouse audience that would otherwise appreciate its navel-gazing thematic arc to endure ever more punishing murders.

Strings

Here's a puppet movie like no other: an epic swords-and-sorcery fantasy told through the medium of traditional wood-and-strings marionettes. Really.

Set in a word inhabited by sentient marionette puppets - their strings reach all the way up into the clouds, as though puppeteered by an unseen deity - it's a medieval-political fantasy in the vein of Game of Thrones about a prince who uncovers the dark truth of his kingdom and tries to set things right following the suicide of his father, impeded by an evil uncle who wishes to wrest power for himself.

The story is surprisingly engaging, given that the film is mostly looking to push the puppet planet motif for all it's worth. When the characters have sword fights, they aren't trying to stab eachother - they try to sever their opponents' strings. Wealthy villains wrench fresh (wooden) limbs from poor slaves to replenish their own, and at least one major enemy schemes to build himself a Frankenstinian ultra-body.

Excalibur

John Boorman basically makes two kinds of films: dark, serious dramas like Deliverance, The General and Beyond Rangoon or laughably miscalculated genre offerings like the legendarily awful Zardoz or Exorcist II: The Heretic. Excalibur is where those two sides meet in the middle, and the result is still a sight to behold today.

A pitch-dark retelling of the familiar Arthurian legend from the rise and fall of Uther Pengdragon through the reign and passing of his son King Arthur, largely seen through the eyes of Niccol Williamson as a half-mad Merlin, Excalibur leans heavy on Joseph Campbell's monomyth version of the legend with a healthy dose of hallucinogenic imagery representing both mysticism and religious ecstasy. Boorman also interestingly eschews the increasingly popular optical and animated effects of the era in favor of oldschool practical techniques. The knights' armor changes from realistically dull iron to shimmering mirrored steel to indicate the life of the kingdom, and Merlin's magic takes the form of flash powder and loud sound effects more often than not.

Despite not being a major success in its day, it's become an incredibly influential film otherwise - the ahead-of-their-time action scenes, complete with unironically utilized classical music blaring over otherwise grimy, gritty depictions of medieval England became the template from which all dark period-actioners would later spring.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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