Saturday, March 16, 2013

Top 5 Movie Guide: Magic

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we turn to this weekend's "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" for inspiration and compile some of our favorite films about Magic! Superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have ruled the Las Vegas strip for years, raking in millions with illusions as big as Burt's growing ego. But lately the duo's greatest deception is their public friendship, while secretly they've grown to loathe each other. Facing cutthroat competition from guerrilla street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), whose cult following surges with each outrageous stunt, even their show looks stale. But there's still time to salvage their act - and their friendship - by staging their own daring stunt.


So obviously the main focus this week is stage magicians and illusionists. And while many of the writers below did stick almost strictly to films revolving around such, we left the category open to simply "Magic" to allow for a bit more expansion and broadness. We all generally tried to avoid much inclusion of things like witches and wizards - as there's more than enough there to eventually warrant there own category - but it wasn't an official restriction. Overall, any specific parameters were left up completely to each individual writer.

Hit the jump to check out all of our picks!


Alex Schopp -
I'm not really sure how I defined my selections below, but I did make a conscious effort to avoid which and wizard movies. This became a delicate category after that as well, because I didn't want to cross over into Fantasy too much either.

     1. The Prestige (2006)
This is a great film, and it seems to represent the category below better than most films below. I love the time period that this film takes place in, and the sci-fi elements that work their way into the film are definitely to my liking. Both Jackman and Bale play off of each other perfectly as rivaling stage magicians. I think I can say that this is probably my favorite Christopher Nolan film.
     2. Midnight in Paris (2011)
I probably like this film more overall than the one above, but it was much less centered around our theme. Still, there are magical elements involved, and I see no witches or wizards in the film. Where else was this supposed to go? Even though I'm not a huge Woody Allen fan, this was a delightful film that hit on some themes pretty relevant to not only myself, but most from our generation.
     3. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Don't let the title of the film fool you. Yes, the "Wizard" is labeled as such, but we all know by now that he was a big phony. But still, there is magic in the film. This is a great and beautiful story; I hope everyone loves this film.
     4. The Great Buck Howard (2008)
Another film we can closely associate (probably the most so) to our movie of reference this weekend. While the overall production qualities and styles of the film weren't strong enough to keep me coming back for more viewings, John Malkovich provided a quality performance as the aging stage magician. Is there a better story arc out there than that of a former star, suddenly old and washed up, out for one last hurrah? If there is, I haven't heard of it.
     5. Matilda (1996)
Again, magic, but no wizards. No stages either, but this film seemed better than some of the others I was considering. I've featured this on at least one list before, and all I really want to say about the film is that if you haven't watched it as an adult, it probably holds up much better than you'd expect. There are some silly moments, but most age groups should still be able to enjoy this one.

Ben Foutch -
My list represents the magician/illusionist.

     1. Lord of Illusions (1995)
Those of you who've been frequenting our Top 5 lists are probably aware of my weakness for horror films, especially ones by Clive Barker. This one in particular does a great job of capturing the sense of wonder that this genre has to offer; and it's effectively creepy on top of that. I feel like a complete dork for saying this, but I'm going to anyway...I have an official U.S. one-sheet in storage.
     2. The Prestige (2006)
There's really not much to be said about this that hasn't already. It's just an expertly crafted thriller with a fantastic climax. And it's one of those films that you can't honestly ask for more and have no room to be disappointed.
     3. The Illusionist (2006)
This really captures the power of magic and theater, especially for the time period. It's not groundbreaking by any stretch, but I respect its honest approach at delivering a fun, entertaining ride that delivers mystery, suspense, romance, and magic. And, the performances seem generally inspired.
     4. The Great Buck Howard (2008)
I wasn't too fond of the style the film, but the look into the loneliness of a fading star seemed to ground the material into something that will stuck with me. Often funny, and proudly displaying a razor sharp performance by Malkovich, this overlooked gem perfectly displays the wonder, class, flair, and skill you would expect from the characters that inhabit this genre.
     5. Magic (1978)
This film hasn't aged very well, and the tone greatly suffers for it at times - my main gripe is the score; it just doesn't fit the film. Regardless, Anthony Hopkins hits the mark on portraying a schizo-ventriloquist. Some might call it overly sentimental or cheesy - which I can definitely agree at times - but Corky is such an interesting character and his dummy (Fats) more than fits the mold of other ventriloquist dummies by being a small, human replica carved from pure evil and the bed-wetting power of nightmares.

Derek Clem -
So there wouldn't be too much overlap if we are to ever do a Witch/Wizard/Sorcerer list in the future I tried to stick to stage magicians while compiling my list. Also i feel it better matches with the inspiration.

     1. The Prestige (2006)
I asked a real magician if he preferred this or "The Illusionist" (2006). He picked "The Illusionist"...I was dumbfounded.
     2. Scoop (2006)
Woody Allen as a stage magician is...I think "adorable" is the word.
     3. The Great Buck Howard (2008)
Here we go behind the curtain of a magician's show through the eyes of his personal assistant. Plus, Tom Hanks makes a cameo as the father of the assistant, who's played by his real life son, Colin Hanks! That's exciting!
     4. FairyTale: A True Story (1997)
Interesting story where magician Harry Houdini tries to expose photographs of fairies as being fraudulent.
     5. The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)
This really isn't that great of a movie but one of the more annoying characters in the film leads a humorous life. He's a real sorcerer but uses his powers to act like a stage magician. I love the idea of someone who can actually perform real magic having to act like they are performing tricks, illusions, and slight of hand.

Nathan Hinds -
This list didn't resemble the original one I compiled in any way. I ultimately decided to narrow my choices down to having an illusion/performance element to them.

     1. The Prestige (2006)
I can't imagine there is a film that better represents this category. This movie gets more and more impressive every time I watch it.
     2. Batman Begins (2005)
Why does this make the list? A major part of Ra's Al Ghul's training was the use of illusions and theatricality.
     3. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
It may seem odd that the film I consider the greatest ever made is at number three on this list. Well that's simple, the whole part about the Wizard of Oz being an illusionist is a very small part of the film, and it was also one of the biggest letdowns ever when you find out that he's basically a big fake.
     4. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009)
Most people think that "The Dark Knight" was Heath Ledger's last film. Nope, it was this one. When you watch TDK and this film, you really could see that Ledger was on the verge of becoming one of Hollywood's biggest heavyweights. I strongly believe he would've gone on to win multiple Oscars had he not died so young. I purposefully didn't want to talk about the plot for people who haven't seen it. They should just discover it for themselves.
     5. The Last Action Hero (1993)
I had trouble justifying this being on the list, but since I've never seen a film about Harry Houdini, who is widely considered the greatest illusionist ever, I had to find a way to include him. If you can't include an actual movie about Houdini, might as well use a movie where a kid gets sucked into an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with a magic movie ticket that supposedly came from Houdini.

Tracy Allison -
I’m disappointed that so many of my movies for this list are from the 2000's era, but I do truly love all five. It was hard to think back to all of the movies from my childhood that involved magic.

     1. Midnight in Paris (2011)
This Woody Allen feature struck a chord in me like no movie ever had before. I identified with the lead character and saw myself in him completely. The magical aspect of this movie is one that I won’t reveal here. It took me by surprise in the greatest way, blending many of my favorite subjects, and I hope it does the same for anyone that has yet to view this little treasure. It’s a subtle comedy that makes its serious topics easily digestible and enjoyable. A movie doesn't have to be intense or dark or insanely deep in order to be pretty near perfect.
     2. The Green Mile (1999)
What better place to showcase true magic than in a dingy cellblock full of convicted murderers waiting on death row? This was the first movie that I saw that I ever all out sobbed while watching and it still gets me every time. I went into this movie knowing nothing about it and I believe that’s one of the many reasons that made it so special and surprising to me. You won’t find any other movie like this one.
     3. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
I was expecting a child’s fairy tale when I turned this movie on and please don’t make the same mistake I did. It is not that at all. What it is, though, is a beautifully disturbing fairy tale for adults. Please don’t be turned off by the subtitles, the imagery is interesting and disturbing enough to capture even those minds that grow weary of reading dialogue.
     4. The Prestige (2006)
With a batch of talented actors and a story with instant intrigue, this movie gets me every time. I can never decide which magician I want to “win” in the end. I don’t know whose side I’m on. There are so many little pieces to this story that I have no problem re-watching this film again and again.
     5. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
I watched this again recently and was pleasantly surprised at how well it held up to a viewing as an adult. It’s often been criticized for its episodic quality, and maybe nostalgia clouded it for me, but I love it still. The walrus story told in the movie still makes me cringe; in fact I hate thinking about it now. I think that the fantastic qualities of this film are the wonderful imagined creatures and ideas that were missing from other movies of the time. Its imaginative qualities made it leagues ahead of its peers and for good reason.

Well there we have it, folks. A good variety of films this week; we managed to get a bit more variety than expected out of a narrower category than usual. Overall, there were 17 different films featured above, and only four in multiple variety. Only one film, which seems completely deserving given the source we're working from this week, hit all five lists. That was "The Prestige". Not only does the film actually revolve around stage magicians, but there are some really great fantasy and sci-fi elements worked in as well. This was the film that Christopher Nolan directed just before "The Dark Knight" in 2008. Plenty of great performances and little twists throughout should keep just about any movie fan interested and entertained.

Otherwise, "The Great Buck Howard" - also a film about a stage magician - was the only film to hit on three lists, while both "The Wizard of Oz" and "Midnight in Paris" hit on two lists each. The first film seems the obvious sleeper pick of this trio, and if you never got around to it, there are some quality performances and story arcs present. The other two deviate from the main theme a bit more, but nonetheless, magic is still involved with each.

As always, we hope that each of the selections above helps to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films that this category has to offer, and guides you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!