Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Ten Best Across-The-Board Trilogies

I have watched "Captain America: Civil War" several times since buying the blu-ray a few weeks ago. When I saw the movie in theaters back in May, I had watched "Captain America: The First Avenger" and "Captain America: Winter Soldier" all the night before. I was cranked up on all things Captain America when I saw the movie. Not only did I love the movie, I had a very special retrospect of the everything. I declared on social media that the "Captain America" trilogy was one of the best film trilogies of all time. I still believe it.

I was thinking today, and I thought to myself: what other good trilogies are there? Sure, when we do the legwork and put our thinking caps on, we can think of several. But what made all three "Captain America" films special is that each film developed Steve Rogers as a character, each film gave him a new threat to defeat while also echoing threads from each previous movie. Nowhere in this collection of films does anything simply tread water. I also love that when you watch the final battle between Iron Man, Captain America and The Winter Solider in "Civil War," Steve's entire story comes full circle.

How many trilogies have pulled that off? Really think about it? How many trilogies out there are across-the-board great? Each film is amazing, not just good or mediocre or "that sucked, but the other two were great." But how many trilogies featured three amazing movies? The true answer is not that many, and I have decided to think hard on the subject today and I came up with the ten best Across-The-Board trilogies.

Now, let me be clear. These trilogies made the list because all three films are great. On this list, you won't find Sam Raimi's "Spiderman" movies, or the "X-Men" movies or even "The Godfather" or "Dark Knight" trilogies. All of those trilogies have one thing in common; they all fall apart at the third film. The third film of any series is tricky, because how can keep making your characters and their journey relevant? Its a particular skill-set that only few possess. That is as clear as day as I made this list. "Indiana Jones," "Mad Max," "Terminator" "Shrek," "Evil Dead" and "Star Wars" missed the list too because those aren't trilogies, those are film series. I will not cherry-pick in order to find a trilogy in a series. That to me felt like cheating, and missed the point I am trying to make. Making three good movies in a row is special and happens rarely. So please keep that in mind as you are reading my list.

Yep, you read that correctly. Look, your mileage may vary. I know I am one of those odd people who loves "The Matrix" movies unabashedly. But think about how many great science fiction franchises out there that perfectly blend social issues and philosophies of life in all three of its films? These films are filled to the brim with metaphor. (For a Theology final I had in college, I actually wrote the many ways Neo parallels Jesus Christ across all three Matrix films.) Not to mention blending those big ideas in a film featuring robots, kung-fu, machine guns and lots of loud, rock music. Each film feels like a fever dream, a warped and green version of a philosophy class taught by one maniac of a college professor. Each film works, yes even the "Dragonball-esque" finish in the last film. Yes even the truce reached in the last film. You may disagree, but each film is smart and blending brains with bombast proves to be hard for many in Hollywood. The Wachowski's made it look easy across three films.

On a surface level, one could look at the three films Robert Rodriguez made here just see the same thing. Yes, each film follows a loner Mariachi player who carries a guitar case full of guns, seeking vigilante justice on drug dealers. What Rodriguez does so well though, is make each film have its own pulse, its own style. If you really over-analyze things then sure, perhaps Rodriguez did just simply tread water. But the wiring of each film is different, the style of each film is different. If you didn't know that these movies weren't made by the same guy, you'd have no way of knowing they were connected in the first place. Plus, its just a wonderful spotlight on Antonio Banderas and the third film features one of the best Johnny Depp appearances of his career. AHEM. Of. His. Career.

At first glance, these films may not look connected. And yes, you'd be correct. The films are not connected in any thematic sense. They are more like blood relatives to each other. Each film deals with revenge, violence and salvation. That was the goal South Korean filmmaker had when he set out to make each of these films. SO in that way, these films are connected. The world of international films says they are a trilogy and its almost creepy how certain themes or character beats echo in each of the films. "Oldboy" is still the best of the bunch, one of the very best films of the 2000's decade and one of the leading films that really brought South Korean cinema to American attention. I watch it and it still feels like a bomb going off, that's what great cinema can do to the viewer, and this trilogy does it in spades.

I had to sneak this trilogy in before Pixar made a fourth film in the series. They are planning a fourth film in this saga and it scares me on all sorts of levels. Why ruin a perfect trilogy by adding an unneeded fourth film? Didn't Pixar already tell a complete story with these characters? Is a action figure love story really what we need now after this perfect trilogy? This trio of films was never just another children's series. Each film told a true story of the human psyche. The need to be needed, to be wanted, to be the best that you can be, to use yourself to the fullest. These are all things any human being on this planet earth can relate to. And Pixar made these films with humor and a unique balance of tender moments. This trilogy was a game-changer animation-wise and it put Pixar on the map in a big way and made them the studio they are today. There is a lot to celebrate here.

I have already spread all the love of this trilogy above, either you're in or you're out. The best superhero trilogy of all time.

Krzysztof Kieslowski made something special in the 1990's. Much like the Vengeance trilogy earlier in the list, these films may not feel connected in any thematic way in the beginning. But Kielsowski took the French flag, and looked at the colors from left to right and got blue, white and red. Each film in the trilogy is named after one of these colors. The colors represent the ideals of the motto of the French Republic; liberty, equality and fraternity. It is amazing how well each film fits the motto they are channeling, the metaphors they are reaching for. The result is a trilogy unlike any other.

Sergio Leone was a god of filmmaking. The true grandmaster of spaghetti Westerns. Leone gave birth to this wee little sub-genre and changed the industry forever. These didn't feel like your father's Western's. They didn't do too much to interpret the American identity through the time period or really exploit it for any reason. Clint Eastwood is like a lone samurai in these films, walking through seemingly deserted terrain, helping and lending a hand wherever. They didn't feel like your normal Western, which is what breathed a new life into the genre at the time.

What makes our journey through love so different from everyone elses? We are, in fact, looking for the exact same things in love, aren't we? What each film in Richard Linklater's special trilogy does is pick up on its two star-crossed lovers in different times in their lives, apart by a degree of ten years. The first film is that love-at-first-sight feeling you get when you meet someone you are interested in. The second film is about coming together when your feelings are on high. The third film is about being together for awhile and struggling to keep it all together after conflict. Linklater's films almost feel like an odyssey through the trials and tribulations that come with being in a long-term relationship with someone. He literally puts love under a microscope. It seems as I get older, these films speak to me in very different ways, especially since I have been with the same girl for seven years now and we will be married in seven months. It hasn't always been love-drunk road, but how we get back on that road is what's most important.

Magic. Every. time.

What made J.R.R. Tolken's book so popular? For me, it was that he took a story clearly set in the vast realms of fantasy and wrote in a fashion that made it feel like it was pulled from history. I am almost prepared to declare that Middle-Earth was a real place in some frame of time, because how can all that detail go towards something not real? Not bad for a book that featured monsters, elves, dwarves, trolls, magic, hobbits, giant spiders and walking, talking trees. What Peter Jackson did was take Tolken's book and made a series of films that also felt pulled from history. Middle Earth in Jackson's books feels like a real place, like Jackson was able to find some parallel dimension traveling hardware or something. Even though this is clearly fantasy, he made us feel a full emotional overload. We feel for these characters, they become our friends. Coming from a extreme horror background, things get creepy and strange in various moments of the trilogy. Jackson was also never afraid to go dark, but always shining a beacon of light. I have been drunk on this trilogy since grade school, the highest praise I can hand any trilogy.

So, what say the rest of you?

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