The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Top Twenty Favorite Films

Note: I am typing up my favorite films here. Not necessarily what I consider to be the greatest, but definitely my favorites.

20. The Dark Knight – Arguably, the greatest comic book film ever made. It transcends the genre to the point where you could easily take away the comic book label, call it a crime drama, and, frankly, that would be a more accurate statement. Heath Ledger’s Joker is the scariest villain to appear in a film since Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Hannibal Lecter. This film not only met its hype, it exceeded it.

19. Sleeping Beauty – This is pure art. Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s ballet brought to life to moving paintings. Every frame of this classic is just breathtaking. The light and the dark balance each other out very well, as the mortals are used as pawns in a battle between good and evil. Of course, it also brought us Maleficent, the most memorable villain from any Disney film. It's an animated ballet through and through.

18. The Shining – A classic by Stanley Kubrick that will never be forgotten. This movie accomplished what so few others have been able to do. It actually frightened me. As an adult, it makes me want to hide under a blanket as I watch it. Watching Jack Torrence slowly descend into madness was so frightening, and simply because it was so human. My favorite scene in the film has to be when his wife, played by Shelly Duvall, discovers just what he has spent the last few months typing.

17. The Big Lebowski – I love the Coen Brothers. And I especially love this comedic take on a film noir mystery. But, instead of Sam Spade, we have the laziest man in Los Angeles as our reluctant protagonist. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman tie the film together just as that rug tied the Dude’s apartment together. Easily one of the funniest movies I have ever watched.

16. Annie Hall – In the long, up and down career of Woody Allen, this remains his best movie. A very smart romantic comedy on the difficulty of relationships. How they are built up, how they fall apart, but how they are ultimately worth the pursuit of it. Whether it lasts or not, one person can have a profound impact on you, and this 1977 Best Picture winner truly earned it’s statue. Definitely more than the “popular competition” that year.

15. True Romance - Probably one of Tony Scott’s best movies, and it was Quentin Tarantino’s first script. An all star cast you could never get today as so many of them have since gone on to become huge stars. I think my favorite scene in this movie has to be the conversation between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper on the history of Sicily. Not to mention that intense and violent scene between James Gandolfini (long before he became Tony Soprano) and Patricia Arquette. My only gripe is that I think Tarantino’s original ending was the better one. Stealing, Cheating, Killing. Who said romance is dead?

14. Richard III – Specifically, Sir Ian McKellen’s version of Richard III. Now, I for one enjoy it when modern films transplant Shakespeare’s plays into different time settings. It works perfectly when shooting for allegory. McKellan’s Richard III is as much a presentation of the play as it is a story about fascism. The acting is top notch, and the visuals are beautiful.

13. The Last Temptation of Christ – It’s really no secret that Martin Scorsese is my favorite Hollywood director. He takes on subject matters that interest me and turns them into sublime movie going experiences. It’s little surprise that he did the same with the story of Jesus Christ. What I like about this movie is that it turns Jesus into a reluctant messiah. He is just so human in this, and let’s face it, whether he was God on Earth or not, we know he was a man… he didn’t spend all that time praying for something different in Gethsemane for nothing. My favorite sequence is at the end, the What If he gave in and accepted Satan’s offer for a normal life. But, he does the right thing at the end and dies so that man’s sins can be forgiven.

12. A Clockwork Orange – Another Kubrick film, yes. I like this one for one simple reason. It makes one consider just how far society should go to destroy our own monsters. Alex was, without question, a monster. But what was done to him was just as monstrous as anything he’d done. In the end it all comes down to your own beliefs, the movie doesn’t make that choice for you.

11. Lost In Translation – Sofia Coppola may not have been much of an actress. But, with this film, we’ve learned that she’s a Hell of a director and writer. I am also a huge fan of Bill Murray and thought he was terrific in this film. He was cheated out of his Oscar for it though. But, this film, like the rest of Murray’s work will stand the test of time.

10. The Lord of the Rings – They were all shot at once. I count them all as one film. A sweeping twelve hour epic. What else has the scope? While I don’t necessarily believe that bigger means better, this film accomplished so much with it’s size alone, that it was often awe inspiring. In contrast, the little, quiet moments were my favorite aspects of the film. Well cast, and special effects that I think will stand the test of time. Other franchises have followed, trying to film multiple movies at once, but have not succeeded like this has.

09. Goodfellas – Martin Scorsese again. This time he brings with him the always dependable Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci. As with all of Scorsese’s films, it is sublime, and beautiful to look at. Watching how these men has changed over the decades as the mob came to power there and eventually lost it is an epic experience. This is a movie I cannot recommend enough. If you haven't seen it. Go home, get your shine box, and watch it!

08. There Will Be Blood – Three words: Daniel Day Lewis. I have often said that he is the greatest actor alive today. I loved him as Bill the Butcher in “Gangs of New York” but, I had to give it to him for this film. Just remember how intense he was in “Gangs” and imagine it getting that much more intense, and you have Daniel Plainview. Of course, I have to shout out to P.T. Anderson, one of my favorite directors for turning the story of this terrible human being into a work of beauty.

07. Bonnie And Clyde – There are those who would call this the ultimate love story. I’m not one of them, but it comes pretty close. The great depression was a horrible time and it turned these two into horrible people. But, throughout it all, you can’t help but root for them, and during the climatic end, you are almost disgusted. Sadly, their wishes weren’t honored and they weren’t buried side by side… and event though they were infamous criminals, you can’t help but feel for them. Desperate times create desperate people.

06. Titus – Ah yes, my favorite film based on a Shakespeare play. Now, I know this is one of the Bard’s more controversial plays, but I cannot see why. Either way, Julie Taymor cements her place as a great filmmaker with this one. I loved Hopkins as Titus. But more than that, I was struck by Jessica Lange as Tamora. Now, I’ve seen the play performed at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare festival a year before the film came out, and both have been a source of inspiration for me in my own writings. On top of all that, the movie is gorgeous to look at.

05. Reservoir Dogs – I love this movie. I love the way it’s told. I love the way it’s directed. I love the entire cast. I love the choice of music. It’s really a very simple movie. It’s not at all over-plotted. But sometimes less is more. There is only one action sequence, and it happens off screen, you just hear the characters talk about it. When your actors are as great as this cast, that can be more powerful than the biggest action sequence money can buy (chew on that one, Michael Bay!). Tarantino’s first film, which set the stage for a very promising career.

04. Citizen Kane – It has been called the greatest film of all time. You know what? It is. Every frame of the movie is art. The character of Charles Foster Kane is a compelling, even if he’s a despicable protagonist. And the story is told entirely through other people’s perspective of him. Citizen Kane changed the way movies were made forever. I often wonder how it must have felt to be Orson Welles. He peaked young and never found this level of success again.

03. Pulp Fiction – My favorite Tarantino film. Now, I know that some people don’t get the non-linear story telling. But, I love it. All of these events intersect, and you get a clearer and clearer picture of it all on multiple viewings. There is always much more to find. My favorite sequence has to be when Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face, and he and Jules need to take refuge in the suburbs until the Wolf shows up to cover up the murder. Has Tarantino peaked with this movie? So far, the answer is yes. But he’s still relatively young and I’m sure he has a lot more in store for us.

02. The Godfather – The ultimate crime movie. But really, it’s all about family. In the Corleone family, we definitely see a real family at work. While all this evil is going on around them, even being caused by them, the Corleones never cease to be compelling. From Sonny getting shot in an attempt to protect his sister from her abusive husband to Vito accepting that his son, Michael, is going to follow in his footsteps and become the next Don when he had hoped that Michael would be the one to escape the life. The final shot of the movie is my favorite final shot in any movie when Kay realizes exactly what Michael has become.

02. The Godfather Part II – What? Two number twos? Well, I cannot count the first one without this one. They just work so well together and integrate so seamlessly that you can easily watch this immediately following the first and feel like you’re watching the same film. Michael’s chosen life destroys his marriage and his family. Watching him go from a man to a monster is the most powerful fall from grace in the history of cinema. And as he sits there at the end, you know that he knows it. His father did horrible things, but never like this. Speaking of his father, the flashbacks with Vito building the empire are breathtaking. My favorite sequence in the film has to be when Vito goes back to Sicily and takes his revenge on Don Ciccio.

And now, comes my choice for number one. My all time favorite movie… I hate to be predictable but…

01. Casablanca – Yes. It took me years and years of pondering all these movies to reach this decision, but "Casablanca" is my all time favorite movie. There are very few films that you can label perfect. But with this film, you can slap that label on it and not feel bad. I wish I could say that I watched this movie cold, but it is so ingrained in our pop culture that you know entire sequences before you watch them. But that does not take away from the experience that is this film. Humphrey Bogart has never made a bad movie, and before this came out, no one ever thought of him as a romantic lead. But he more than pulled it off when he played Rick Blaine. The studio originally wanted Ronald Reagan for the role, but I think we can all be grateful that didn’t happen. Ingrid Bergman is just luminous as Ilsa Lund, and you can see why these two men both love her enough to suffer for her. But, my favorite character in the movie has to be Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault, he has all the best one liners in the movie.

"Bonnie and Clyde" is not the greatest love story ever filmed, "Casablanca" is.

Yes, yes, I know my top choice is a bit of a cliché at this point. But clichés are that for a reason. So, "Casablanca"… my favorite film.

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