This is a sticky topic for me. When people figure out I was a film major in college they tend to think I should be able to rattle off a list of my all time favorite movies and moreover think they should be able to then judge my taste based on this list. Eh. I’m not really what some people expect from a film buff. I’ve seen the best of the heralded best or so I’ve been told. I understand films on some levels other people don’t always consider I suppose. I appreciate composition, direction, performance, complexity and metaphor. But, I don’t always. More often than not I am along for the ride like anyone else and things like my mood, time, comfort of my seating situation and hunger all effect my preference of one film over another. Not to mention it takes time to think of all the movies I’ve seen, I don’t keep any written record so, who knows, maybe I missed a great one somewhere. Some of these films I appreciate for just pure enjoyment purposes, others are saying something that at least interests me — profound or not. Others I find compelling for their accomplishments in technical ability or in their ability to push the capability of the visual medium. Mixed bag. Finally, I attempted to do a top 10, I don’t know how stuck to this numbering I am. If I did this tomorrow I might change my mind entirely.
Wall-e – Woah! I’m started with a pixar animation? Yeah. That’s the kind of list this is going to be. Listen. This is a meaningful story about the destruction of the habitability of the earth. Not only is it saying something interesting, the pacing is great, the visuals are superb and the story has a good bit of seriousness and whimsy. Do it all with a robot that says one word, and do it well. It’s a damn good animated film and you can watch it with your kids.
Kingdom of Heaven — I don’t even know if this is considered a good film. The plot has holes, the acting at time is a little weak. Yet, I really like it. A world grappling with it’s competing religions, a man grappling with his past and future. As forced as it might be it spends some time considering some of the big questions and I like that with a little bit of sword fighting mixed in. Not a great one maybe, but, this is my list because I like it.
Gone with the Wind — Ah yes. Everyone who even wants to think about movie-buffness has seen this one. The glorious american south. Civil war. Southern Belles. Yeah. It’s big, it’s long and I found it compelling and filled with great performances and equaling imagery. I think it was an ambitious story to tackle and well done all around.
The Searchers — If you’ve never seen a John Wayne film directed by legendary western director John Ford and don’t plan to in the future — I’d still say this is one to look at. John Wayne was good at what he did. This movie has a darkness to it as well, following a man searching for his missing niece with the will to do anything to retrieve her. I had a hard time between this and Stagecoach which I see as sort of equals; both great watches.
Rear Window — A Hitchcock masterpiece of set construction and studio film making. The film is focused down to the level of a play but uses space and shot composition in a way that would never work on stage. Suspense and intrigue in a film that many people will point to as a cinema classic. It lives up to billing and is very accessible while others of its caliber can sometimes be harder to embrace.
Braveheart – This movie highlighting the Scottish legend William Wallace is just a cliche of itself at this point. I don’t know how well it was received when originally in theaters but I think now it’s mostly viewed as cable movie trash. I found Gibson engaged, intense and powerful in this one. I found the plot available and easy to watch at any point. I’ll even go back to this when I’m sick or tired as something familiar to which I can return. Between this and The Patriot which are honestly pretty similar movies I have maybe seen them 5 or 6 times. Neither fails to give me a little tingle near the heroic ending. The modern hero movie with super powers and explosions might be flashy but William Wallace had passion and it gives me little goosebumps when his memory fuels that final battle his people yelling his name as they charge into battle. Might be a guy thing, but, I’m a guy so deal with it.
10. The Big Labowski
I had to fit a cult classic somewhere in this list. I could have gone with Super Troopers or something like Sean of the Dead but I think TBL has such a special feel to it that I think it gets the spot on this list just for sheer acting talent. Jeff Bridges might make the movie what it is but John Goodman certainly does his bit to help it along too. The pacing and story is very unique and the cohen brothers are known for this style of using unconventional plot devices to create a story that seems wandering at times but ends up having a great arc.
9. Back to the Future
I once themed a party around watching the back to the future trilogy. We wound up getting drunk based on bad rules to a drinking game based on memorable lines. The problem was Back to the Future is full of memorable lines due to the fact that we were seeing Michael J. Fox in his prime in a well written and directed series that combined the 1980′s and time travel. By scrutinous film connoisseur standards this is probably a marginal movie. By mine? It’s a classic. Watch it 5 times and that’s probably not enough.
8. My Neighbor Totorro
I am a fan of Hayao Miyazaki. A big fan. They are a breed of kids movies that takes the time to appreciate the beauty of quality illustration and animation. They have their own pacing and sometimes even dark story lines tied to the pure bright beauty of the studios animations. My neighbor Totorro is a classic of the group, while not the most acclaimed (Spirited Away), kid friendliest (Ponyo) or the most visually striking (Princess Mononoke) it does end up being a sort of poster child for the Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli movie franchise. My interest outside of the visual whimsy is the story revolving around two young girls who are dealing with their mother’s poor health in a new house, new school and new place. They are growing up and struggling against the unfairness of life. With two daughters of my own (who love Totorro) I have a certain sentimental soft spot for this great film.
7. Magnificent Amberson’s
Orson Welles cinematic classic Citizen Kane was no doubt a masterpiece. In its time however it was not well received (probably because the unwashed masses don’t really care about shot composition or metaphor). When it came then to his second films in complete creative control the studio decided to relieve him of his direction near the end of the filming process and edit what they had as they saw fit. Without the vision of Welles the film was mangled and released by RKO with a happier ending and cutting 40 or so minutes from the production. All that said. This film was the a masterpiece of Welles deep understanding of visual story-telling. Shot composition and camera movement were superb even in what was available. This is a mix of what is, which is good, great even and notion of what could have been.
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I like Jim Carey in his comedic roles, but this film proved his acting chops don’t stop there (by the way, the whole cast was great). His performance, along with the deep and complex storytelling and visual metaphors put a fairly recent film in a place, in my mind, to compete with other great films of the past. Here though, there is something very watchable about the film. There is a lot going on, time is a little non-linear but it’s also something to settle down with on a rainy day or a winter evening. It’s heady, but I think the relative newness and modern visual treatment gives the film a very accessible feeling. Film buffs and people who just like movies can all find something to like here.
5. Pan’s Labyrinth
Gueillmo Del Torro, perhaps better known for his Hellboy films, has put out a couple dark, spanish language films about fairy tales and monsters. Pan’s Labyrinth is certainly dark in both the daylight and the night when the fairy tales are real. The world of hidden fairy tale secrets is not a sunshine and rainbow filled escape for the young girl who is the protagonist of the film, it’s equally dark and scary as the Spanish Civil War being fought all around her. The result is a haunting, beautiful and scary world and a great film.
4. Gangs of New York
It’s a masterpiece for a number of reasons I hardly feel the need to get into. Foremost of these is the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis. Yeah DiCaprio is the main character and he does well in his own right but this movie belongs to The Butcher and his portrayal by Day-Lewis. Not only is this really well done, interesting and capture the wonderful world of old New York in all it’s grittyness — but it also has a great historical context ending in the Draft Day Riots of 1863. I can’t help but trying my New York accent and throwing the kitchen knives every time I see this one.
3. Bicycle Theives
This one is a little tougher to get your hands on and your head around for a number of reasons most notably because it’s a little older (1948) and originally in Italian. But it’s characters, plot and cinematography are both beautiful and heartbreaking. I’m not sure if it’s possible to see this film without a tear in your eye even if you’re not a parent. I haven’t done it yet and I don’t expect to now that I have children of my own. This is one of those films that will always show up on the lists of greatest films and has every right to be there.
2. Moonrise Kingdom
There was a point in movie making in the 2ks or 2010′s where there were a lot of these films that had this purposely against the grain, strange takes on real life feel type of feel to them. A type of film with which I was just on the edge of being sick to death. Just before I gave up on trying to watch some of these films– looking for one of them to say something interesting — I found this film about a boy and a girl and fell in love. It was weird, quirky and met every expectation of that indy genre with ease, yet it had something deeper down at the heart of it. As the plot meanders every which way I defy anyone who has ever been in love to not adore this film.
1. 8 1/2
This film has pretty much everything someone who fancies them self a film buff would like to sink their teeth into and is frequently called the greatest film ever made about film making. Creative use of every part of cinema; every element deserves, if not begs for a second look and a second thought. The exploration is of the self here and moving into the mind of a film maker and creator in such a way presents plenty of bizarre, non-linear story telling opportunities (which are fully exploited). I think what might distinguish this film a bit more so though, are the moments where madness seems to take over but is then weaved back seamlessly into a graceful dance Fellini orchestrates masterfully.
That’s the list for now. We will have to see how it changes going forward but, some really great ones here many of which I am now anxious to re-watch.