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Saturday, April 27, 2013

My Top 20 Favorite Movies of All Time (So Far)- #20-11

            Several years ago, inspired by Doug Walker’s list of his 20 favorite movies (also in two parts), I came up with a list of my own 20 favorite movies.  After recently rereading the list (and since I have not yet had the chance to see 42 or any of the tiny handful of other interesting films out thus far this year), I realized that, while some films’ spots on the list remain immutable and fixed, some no longer held the same esteem in my eyes.  Others I adored even more than I did when I made the list.  And still other films, ones that I had not seen at the time, have since then wormed their way into the warmest cockles of my heart.  The only movies that were not eligible for consideration were films I have seen in the past year, since I usually need some time to distance from myself from the first viewing before I can rightfully call a film a “favorite” (meaning movies like Lincoln, Cloud Atlas, and Moonrise Kingdom, which could very well be on a future version of this list, will not be making appearances just yet). 

            With that, I present to you my revised list of my Top 20 favorite movies of all time.  Thus far. 

First, the Honorable Top 10- The 10 films that just barely failed to make this list

Fargo, 5 Centimeters Per Second (yeah, I know it’s “technically” not a movie, shut up), The Iron Giant, Up, Spirited Away, Million Dollar Baby, Kingdom of Heaven (Director’s Cut), The Departed, Ice Age, Amistad

And now, the official list. 

Oh yeah, warning, spoilers, Bob Loblaw. 

20. 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957)

            It was only due to rotten timing that I have not yet been in a stage production of this great, great story.  12 Angry Men is one of the tightest character-dramas I’ve ever seen, taking place in a single room over the course of a single afternoon.  The original film version makes the tension in the script even more potent with liberal but careful use of close-ups, well-timed edits, and it’s use of shadows and angles (my favorite shot is where Juror #8 stands up to reveal the copycat knife).  If you have not yet seen this gem and no theater company is playing it nearby, I cannot recommend this classic highly enough (this version and the play have pretty much the same structure, characters, and dialogue, with very few alterations, so it’s almost the same as seeing the play live). 

19. Shine (Scott Hicks, 1996)

           The movie that got Captain Barbossa an Oscar, Shine is the “true” (always qualified in film) story of an Australian-Jewish pianist named David Helfgott, a piano prodigy who has a stroke at a young age, just as his star is beginning to rise.  Alone, mentally handicapped, and forgotten by the world and his family for many years, he eventually finds a way to overcome his mental and emotional scars enough to be able to perform again late in his life.  As a piano player myself, I especially love the montage of David as a young student learning to play Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano Concerto, one of the most notoriously difficult pieces ever written for piano.  It can be a saddening movie to watch at times, but its story of the ability of one’s passions to endure the trials of life make it equally uplifting. 

18. Guns of Navarone (J. Lee Thompson, 1961)

            Years upon years of watching every WII-related movie I can get my hands on, and this is still my favorite, based solely on the strength of its writing and acting.  Not only is Gregory Peck as stoically brilliant as ever, but he’s matched beat for beat by Anthony Quinn and David Niven.  All three of these guys have their own great scenes and memorable one-liners and speeches, making this one of my favorite movies to quote incessantly.  It isn’t without its flaws- the “tiny-commando-team-that-slaughters-a-thousand-Nazis single-handedly” cliché and the ever-classic “German characters who clearly aren’t German” are relics of the age in which the movie was made- but if you can forgive the film for that, you can have a lot of fun just watching the characters interact with each other (which, thankfully, is most of the movie anyway). 

17. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

            The degree to which I identify with Daniel Plainview (insofar as his worldview is concerned) is, at times, rather frightening.  VERY loosely adapted from the Upton Sinclair novel Oil, Blood isn’t a typically narrative story, nor does it offer much in the way of commentary on the broad themes of oil drilling and venture capitalism that make up its backdrop.  Rather, the film zooms in to focus exclusively on the development of a single man, slowly driven insane by greed and loneliness.  While other speculators, attendants, and competitors come and go, the only constant in the film is the success-obsessed Daniel Plainview, along with his adopted son H.W., who provides possibly the only human connection he actually wants, and the young preacher Eli, who is either Daniel’s most despised competitor, or the best friend he’s ever had.  Special mention must be made to Johnny Greenwood’s beautifully dissonant soundtrack, which provides an extra level of unease to the viewer as they watch Daniel fall farther and farther away from personal redemption. 

16. Gettysburg (Ronald Maxwell, 1993)

           Having spent much of my childhood 10 minutes away from Kennesaw Mountain, and an hour away from Atlanta, it was perhaps inevitable that I would grow up to be a massive Civil War buff.  Based on the novel The Killer Angels (incidentally one of my favorite books of all time), Gettysburg was financed by Ted Turner personally to be a faithful adaptation of the book, and, honestly, strictly in terms of how closely it follows the source material, Gettysburg might be the “best” (read “fewest changes made”) film adaptation of a book ever made.  With a solid 4 hours running time, watching this film is a commitment that should only be undertaken by genuine Civil War acolytes.  Does that mean it’s a “bad” movie?  Well, yes and no, in different ways.  Is it a fascinating and incredibly unique movie experience?  Yes.  Most certainly, yes. 

15. Fiddler On The Roof (Norman Jewison, 1971)

            Although I am not a musical fanatic, by any means, I do regret the steady decline of the “Movie Musical” over the last century.  Yeah, it’s had its revival moments, but cinema as a whole is no longer an industry where acting, singing, AND dancing are as ubiquitous as romantic subplots.  Thankfully, Fiddler has a LOT more going for it than just, “Hey, it’s a classic musical!”  Looking at the film as a whole, I think there’s two things that make the movie so special for me.  One is, obviously, the music, which is catchy, moving, and memorable, but you knew that already.  The other is Tevye, who ranks as one of my all-time favorite lead characters.  He’s a very strong embodiment of that age-old conflict between time-honored traditions and the movement of social changes (even if his rebellious daughters aren’t on the same level of interesting as he is). 

14. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

            This movie left me literally speechless the first time I saw it, something very, very few movies have managed to achieve.  Space Odyssey is less of a film (at least in the “conventional” sense) and more of a visual symphony.  It has its central themes of evolution and the nature of life, among others, spread across a vast 4-part structure.  Each part, while having its own unique stories, ideas, and characters, are nonetheless connected to the others in subtle yet crucial ways.  It is not a film that wants you to like it, nor does it try to make you like it.  It is simply is what it is- a fascinating and complex vision of one man of our nature as humans, where we came from, and what we could become. 

13. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1971)

           I still remember when I saw The Godfather for the first time.  When the movie ended and the credits started to roll, I literally jumped out of my chair in shock- “WHAT???  Al Pacino was in this movie???”  Years later, I still have a hard time reminding myself that quiet, soft-spoken Michael is played by the same guy associated these days with police thrillers like Insomnia or Righteous Kill.  That’s probably one of the movie’s biggest strengths though, and one reason why it has endured as one of the all-time great American movies- when you watch these films, you don’t see actors playing characters, you see the characters as flesh-and-blood people.  Rather than over-categorize its subjects as simply evil and inhuman to core, Coppola goes he extra mile to remind us that, yes, such people are reprehensible, but they are still people.  Case in point-  Vito Corleone, legendary crime lord, does not die in a gunfight, or at the hands of an assassin, or in retaliation for any of his many murders; he dies while laughing, playing with his grandchild. 

12. Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2004)

            Although I understand the arguments naming The Dark Knight as the “best” Batman movie (see my previous post on this subject), Batman Begins is still my favorite of the 7 live-action Batman films that currently exist.  Although my reasons for loving this movie are many, what clinches its spot as one of my favorites is still Wilkinson’s performance as the crime lord of Gotham.  Good God, do I love his scene with pre-wanderer Bruce in the seedy downtown bar- “This is a world you’ll never understand.  And you always fear….what you don’t understand.”  That’s the sort of broad villain dialogue that, in the wrong hands, could easily overload the screen with cheese, but Wilkinson knows how to deliver the goods juuuuust right. 

11. Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1999)

           It’s probably just a matter of time before this masterpiece cracks my Top 10 list.  One thing I’ve noticed about myself over the years is that I am inevitably drawn to movies/books/plays/etc. that really make me feel like I’ve been on a great journey with its characters (a characteristic you’ll probably notice in a lot of my top 10 films).  Mononoke is one such film.  The world it inhabits is so wide, so spread out, and yet it all feels so familiar.  Yes, there is magic, and demons, and Gods, unlike our world, but like our world, there is an ever-present conflict between the wants and desires of both God and Man.  And, like in our world, there is no “right” or “wrong” side, only different sides, each with their own legitimate claim to life on this Earth.  Something conflict specialists the world over would do well to recognize. 

            And those, my dear friends and readers, is the first half of my list.  When exactly I will be able to post my top 10, I do not know, but it should be sometime within the next week.  As always, feel free to share any thoughts and comments on films 20-11 (technically films 30-11), and keep an eye out for the second half of the list early next month.  Til then, dear readers. 

-Noah Franc 

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