Well, hopefully you all read the first part of this list from last month. And if you did not (shame on you), here is the link. Highly recommended. I now give you the second part of the list, my current top 10 favorite movies. So far.
10. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
The more I thought about The Social Network, the more I was struck by the similarities of its story to the tale of Goethe’s Faust, and also to the movie Amadeus, which you will hear more about presently. Rather than try to accurately portray the legal drama behind the creation of Facebook (which, as the real Parker, Zuckerberg, and others have pointed out, was actually kind of boring), The Social Network chooses instead to use the start of Facebook as a setting for a mostly fictional (though no less relevant) tale of how greed, jealousy, and ego can drive people with tremendous intellect and talent to do admittedly amazing things, but for not-so-laudable reasons (which, again, relates less to the actual story of Facebook than it does to overall human nature). I have seen far fewer films by David Fincher than I would care to admit, but thus far, this is my favorite of his cinematic accomplishments.
9. Waking Life (Richard Linklater, 2001)
As of right now, Waking Life is by far the best “dream film” I’ve seen, although Waltz With Bashir comes pretty damn close in some of its best moments. I love how the lines of both the background and foreground constantly shift and blend into each other, and how the level of cartooniness in the animation style shifts from scene to scene (this was the film that also introduced me to the technique of rotoscoping). What’s it about? Pretty much anything and everything. With a few exceptions, most of its scenes involve heady philosophical discourse of one form or another, touching on the nature of dreams vs. reality, the existence of God, the conflict of faith and science, the social order, and a loooooot more. The animation and occasional strange or funny special effect aside, this is pretty much the epitome of a monologue-centered film, which, since I am a sucker for philosophy, suits me just fine.
8. The Last Samurai (Edward Zwick, 2003)
Out of all the movies on this list, this is the one I would name a guilty pleasure. If you’ve seen it, you probably know why- it’s another Dances With Wolves clone, but with samurai. And yet, despite the fair lack of originality plot-wise, I still love this movie. Why? Well, the Japanese/samurai aesthetic appeals to me personally a lot more than the settings of Wolves, Pocahontas, and Avatar, for one. Also, despite his personal crazy, I really like Tom Cruise as an actor, and I think this is one of his more underrated performances. On top of all that, the main samurai is played by Ken Watanabe, who can do no wrong in my book (if you do not know who this man is, watch Inception again, and then watch Letters from Iwo Jima). Flawed and terribly historically inaccurate? Yes, most definitely yes. And I do not care, because samurai.
7. Apocalypse Now: Redux (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
I specifically put the Redux (read Director’s Cut) version on this list because, like with Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut (which you may recall was in my Honorable Top 10), the Redux is in many ways a totally different film from the one that hit theaters. A lot of famous segments were completely re-edited, and whole scenes, characters, and subplots that initially got cut were put back in by Coppola. Although some added scenes didn’t necessarily add to the emotional punch of the film (some new scenes show Marlon Brando in full daylight, taking a bit away from his character’s mystery), their inclusion, in my opinion, adds even more weight to a powerful film that reminds us of the potential darkness in each person, and that the line between that darkness and the light can be a very fine one indeed. Warning: this is not a date film. Unless your date really, really likes Joseph Conrad.
6. Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
Credit for this one being on the list has to be given to the Nostalgia Critic, since I’d never even heard of it until I saw his top 20 list (he also recently included the two leads on his Top 10 Characters List). Sideways is sort of a bizarre mash-up of a rom-com, drama, bromance, and road trip movie. Paul Giamatti has long been one of my favorite actors, and this is by far my favorite performance of his (sorry John Adams. You’re still awesome though). He and Haden-Church have such a perfect chemistry with each other- they respect and admire each other, and their friendship is clearly genuine, but they never hesitate to call each other out when they do something stupid or immature (and they can both be very, very stupid and immature). Also, I won’t spoil the ending, but it would be remiss of me to not say that it’s one of my favorite endings of any movie ever (right up there with In Bruges and Inception).
5. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, 2003)
Yes, Finding Nemo is still my favorite Pixar movie, although Up and The Incredibles aren’t too far behind on that list. Aside from the soundtrack being one of my favorites and the entire color scheme of the ocean being amazing, this is another movie that makes me feel like I’ve gone on a long adventure. The ocean feels so vast, so deep, so warm, and so threatening, all at the same time. I think it’s a film that perfectly balances its comedy and its serious drama, without one ever drowning out the other. And….yeah, there’s really not much more I can say about this film that I haven’t said already. It’s just a great story.
4. No Country For Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
What makes No Country so potent, in my opinion, is how well it mixes brilliant dialogue with complete silence. Mostly consisting of a basic cat-and-mouse game between two of the three main characters, a lot of the film just shows the characters quietly contemplating what their next move will be, often in darkness or shadows and without saying a word (there is only 16 minutes of music in entire film as well). When someone does speak, however, you do not miss a word that they say. It’s almost as if each character decided on their own they would never talk, to either themselves or others, until it was absolutely required, giving everything they actually do say that much more weight- they’ve mulled long and hard over their words, and no one says anything more or less than what they mean. Tommy Lee Jones’ opening and closing bits are among my favorite monologues in any movie, and add to the somberness of the film’s ending. Instead of ending right after the climax, like most films do, No Country (like Jones’ character) lingers on in pained silence, wondering what the point of it all was.
3. Return of the King: Director’s Cut (Peter Jackson, 2003)
I love the entire LOTR trilogy (both the theatrical releases and the Director’s Cuts), but if you held a gun to my head and demanded to know my one favorite, I would definitely have to go with Return of the King. After 6-7 cinematic hours of establishing characters, developing the major plot points, and detailing the ins and outs of Middle Earth, Return of the King delivers all the payoff you could ever want in spades. I love the Battle of Gondor. I love watching Merry and Pippin get stuff to do aside from tricking Ents. Obviously, I love the charge of the Rohirrim. I love pretty much every moment Ian McKellan gets to just be Ian McKellan (even if he does basically murder Faramir’s father). And gosh-darnit, I cry when Sam carries Frodo. And I am not ashamed.
2. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008)
Having actually been to Bruges by now, I can confirm that it is, indeed, “like a f***ing fairytale.” Martin McDonagh has always used swearing the way that Mel Brooks used racism- he pushes it to such an absurd extreme that it ceases to be offensive or even immature and becomes simply amusing- you realize how empty and even pathetic such language really is when it’s used with such robotic regularity (like Hit Girl in Kickass, but well-written). And the use of empty and pathetic language is perfect for the characters of In Bruges, since they all struggle with being empty and pathetic as well, albeit in their own unique ways. In Bruges is that rare “perfect” movie; everything in it- every scene, every shot, every plot point, every profanity-laced bit of dialogue- is important in one way or another. There’s no fat, no padding, no superfluous subplots. Each part of the film comes together by the end to create a complete whole. And, in my book, that’s as close to perfection as any film can get.
1. Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)
Some things never change. I have been in love with this movie since I saw it for the very first time, over 10 years ago now. Like many of the films on this list, this is the kind of movie where, literally every single time I rewatch it, I notice something else- a line of dialogue, a particular shot, something in the background- that I’d never paid much attention to before, often heavily altering my interpretation of a scene. This movie has almost everything that I tend to prefer in my movies- light humor, dark humor, heavy drama, fantastically quotable lines, unforgettable and sympathetic characters, religious drama, brilliant music, and on, and on, and on. I except many films to come and go from my list of favorites, but Amadeus will probably always hold the #1 spot in my heart. What can one say, but….Amadeus.
And that, dear readers, is my official list of my 20 (or 30) favorite movies, as of right now. However, this list is ever shifting, because, thank God, there are always great new films being made every year. I eagerly await seeing what new works of art make the list the next time I decide to remake it.