Friday, March 8, 2013

Top 5 Films Directed by Sam Raimi

Disclaimer: This list is in no particular order.

Sam Raimi comes from humble beginnings. Like most directors who cater to the geek in all of us, Raimi starting making movies as soon as a camera was placed in his hand. Those humble beginnings led into his first feature film, "The Evil Dead" and its arguably superior sequel "The Evil Dead 2" which is where his signature directorial style was starting to emerge (as well as being responsible for introducing us to man-god Bruce Campbell). Using unique camera tricks and unprecedented Foley work, Raimi's style instantly clicked with horror fans everywhere and helped create a new kind of horror. Soon he moved on to his first studio feature (and his first foray into the super hero genre) with "Darkman", where he proved that a budget could not corrupt his integrity even if the film itself proved underwhelming and kind of broken (although it did create a large direct to video legacy with countless sequels).

His career from that point felt more like an artist looking for a new challenge than a filmmaker honing his craft though. Taking on the romance genre with "For Love of the Game", the suspense thriller with "A Simple Plan" and "The Gift" and even a western with "The Quick and the Dead". It wasn't until his Spider-man trilogy where he became a household name. So, without further ado, these are the top five favorite films that Sam Raimi, the director of the new film "Oz the Great and Powerful" has made over the years that best epitomizes his immense talent as a filmmaker and helps solidify him as one of the best directors working today.

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Some horror purists out there may scoff at the idea that this sequel is in any way better than his 1981 original but the fact remains that this more polished, fun and ultimately more memorable requel is in a league of its own in the realm of horror comedy. While it takes nearly the entire film to reach the point where Ash takes on the iconic persona the series is renowned for, all the brilliant gimmicks such as Ash battling his severed hand, outrunning an evil force by ducking into the walls of the cabin and the infamous chainsaw hand, when it does finally get there it is pure gold. Furthermore, this film not only established Bruce Campbell as one of the greatest geek icons of all time, but it positioned Raimi himself as a filmmaker and person who studios should stand up and take notice of (which they most certainly did). "Evil Dead 2" is a classic and one of the first films to earn and truly deserve the cult status it eventually attained.   


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Don't be surprised if you have either forgotten about or never heard of this intensely well crafted thriller about three friends living in a small town who get in way over their heads when they come across a crashed plane in the forest filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Raimi has always displayed a real knack for building tension, but "A Simple Plan" is without a doubt the director's crowning achievement. As the title suggests, it starts out with a simple plan, hide the money until the FBI finishes their investigations and later down the road split it up amongst themselves. They accounted for everything except themselves. The human element becomes their ultimate undoing and the way Raimi sets everything up and executes upon their growing distrust with one another is nail biting filmmaking at its best. It avoids conventions of the genre at every turn and it's eventual outcome is something you won't see coming, but in hindsight is the only place it could have gone. Some may find this surprising and a bit blasphemous, but this is likely the best film of Sam Raimi's career.


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Raimi was on top of the world in 2004. Hailed by critics and fans alike, "Spider-man 2" was (at that point anyways) widely considered to be the best super hero film ever made. It was accessible by non-comic book fans while also treating the material with great respect to keep comic purists happy if not overjoyed. It was also the most successful melding of Raimi's signature filmmaking style with that of a giant blockbuster style film (love that Doc Ock scene in the hospital!). Even though we have entered into what could be considered the super hero movie Renaissance with films like "The Dark Knight" and "The Avengers" bridging the gap between being considered campy fun for kids and serious adult themed material, "Spider-man 2" is still held in high regards by many as one of the best examples of the genre and rightfully so. If only that third film had turned out even half as good as this we would have had something truly special.


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Raimi was quick to put this out after the debacle that was "Spider-man 3". Call it an apology to his fans, call it an ode to the films of his youth (the ones he made that is) or call it for what it is, a sleek and fun little horror romp, but there is no doubting Raimi was out to make a point with "Drag Me to Hell". Up to his old tricks again both in front of and behind the camera (those were real worms he poured into Alison Lohman's mouth!), Raimi once again sets the bar for all other filmmakers looking to dabble into the cinematic world of horror/comedy. As horrific as it is funny, "Drag Me to Hell" is proof positive that even after such disastrous dealings with a big studio he is able to churn out film experiences like no other. The only problem now is that he is once again back in the system, so it may be a while until we get another one of these. But still, who can really argue when we have something as rewatchable as this?


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This was Raimi's first real departure from the fantastical, a hard hitting western featuring an all star cast along with that signature Sam Raimi look and feel. While the classic story of a drifter seeking revenge (played surprisingly well by Sharon Stone) isn't exactly the things of legend, Raimi was able to infuse the film with enough style and grit that it was easy to overlook its more cliche elements. Casting such heavy weights as Gene Hackman, Lance Henriksen, a very young Leonardo DiCaprio, a then relatively unknown Russell Crowe and an assortment of classic character actors also helped punch up the entertainment value. But the real highlight of the film is Raimi's direction, each showdown lasts only a few scant seconds but Raimi knows how to build the tension to a boiling point by stretching each gunfight out to ridiculous lengths. It may not be his best movie (even he has gone record saying it isn't very good) and call it a guilty pleasure, but it sure is a lot of fun which earns it a spot on this list.




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