Saturday, March 13, 2010

Movies: My Top 10 (Plus 2)

In past posts I have mentioned some movies as being in my Top Ten. Here is my Top 10 list.

The first thing to mention is that my Top 10 list has 12 movies. It is not that I have difficulty counting to 10, although I sometimes feel that John Mortimer was actually referring to me when he wrote that Rumpole’s abilities, when it came to mathematics, were very like those of tribal Australian aborigines who would count to 3, everything after that being simply “lots”.

The reason that I have 12 films in my Top 10 is that I couldn’t work out which two to cut from the list.

The next thing to mention is that these movies are not in order of favouritism. It was difficult enough culling favourites without also having to work out the order of priority for those that remained.

The final thing is that my criteria in selecting the movies was simple: what movies do I like most and are good for repeated viewing? This simple criteria means that some movies classed as great by critics don’t get a look in. Those same critics would doubtless look with pained expressions at some of my selections. Citizen Kane has been voted the No 1 film by critics and directors for the American Film Institute and British Film Institute lists of greatest films of all time. But who here has bought a copy or has actually seen it?

Feel free to disagree. Add a comment in the comment box at the end of the post as to your Top 10 or Top 12.
The Godfather
Farncis Ford Coppolla’s 1972 pic The Godfather deservedly received Oscars for best pic, best actor and best adapted screenplay. It tells the story of the Mafia Corleone family between 1945 and 1955. I have previously written about this movie and its qualities. On this one the critics and I are of the same mind, it is one of the greatest movies ever made, No 2 behind Citizen Kane in the American Film Institute list of greatest films of all time. Not only has it given us many great memories, such as horse’s heads in beds, and memorable songs, it has added a phrase to our language: “Make him an offer he can’t refuse.” Joe Fox salutes it in You’ve Got Mail: “The Godfather is the I-ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question.”

Rat Race
I have also previously written about Rat Race, a 2001 film directed by Jerry Zucker. It was not nominated for any awards, reflecting the bias of the Academy towards drama and away from comedy. I would have thought that it is harder to make people laugh than to make them feel sad. This movie has my vote for funniest scene in a movie: the Hitler car segment. It has some experienced funny people in the cast: John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Rohan Atkinson - and there are many comic moments that will remain in the memory. A rat race, by the way, is a term for an endless, pointless pursuit.

Runaway Train
I have previously posted a speech from this movie, Runaway Train, and I will one day give it greater attention in a post. Made in 1985, it was directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. It was nominated for best actor, best supporting actor and film editing, but failed to win any gongs at the Oscars. Boo the Academy. Jon Voigt (Angelia Jolie’s dad) gives the performance of his career, as does Eric Roberts (Julia Roberts’ brother) in this story of 2 escaped convicts on a runaway train with a female engineer, all the while pursued by the fanatical prison warden. The movie is taut, tense and will stay in your memory long after it finishes.
The Blues Brothers
Everybody has favourite scenes or favourite dialogue from The Blues Brothers, a 1980 film directed by John Landis. The whole thing began when Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi teamed up with respected musos for a sketch for the US comedy show Saturday Might Live. From there it developed a life of its own, with an album (Briefcase Full of Blues) released in 1978, followed by the movie. Belushi died in 1982. The movie follows Jake and Elwood as they try to get the band back together and hold a concert to raise the money to save the orphanage in which they grew up. Included are performances by blues and soul greats Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker and Cab Calloway, plus some great sending up of cops, Illinois Nazis, and both types of music: country and western. Everybody… needs somebody…to love…

What a great flick this is. Released in 2002 and directed by Rob Marshall, it picked up 6 Oscars, including best picture and best supporting actress for Catherine Zeta-Jones. So what is so good about this pic? Everything. Here are some reasons:
-  Great story: 2 murderesses on Death Row use the services of lawyer Richard Gere.
-  Great performances: including all 3 doing song and dance numbers (and doing them well).
-  Satire: See how the legal system is depicted in terms of puppets, ventriloquist dolls and “razzle dazzle”.
-  Great numbers: All That Jazz, Funny Honey, We Both Reached For the Gun, Cell Block Tango, Mr Cellophane.
-  A great performance by Queen Latifah as she sings “When You’re Good to Mama”.

12 Angry Men
Originally presented as a TV item, the 1957 film 12 Angry Men was fleshed out and made into a movie for theatre release, being direcetd by Sydney Lumet for his first feature film. The entire film takes place inside the jury room during a murder trial, except for a couple of minutes at the beginning in the court room and a couple of minutes at the end on the court steps. One man wishes to discuss and consider what appears to be an open and shut case. As the deliberations question the evidence, the characters and their strengths, weaknesses, prejudices and personal involvements are gradually exposed and revealed. Despite a taut script, solid direction, great acting and a stellar cast, the movie was not a success when released, suffering from the lack of the new wide screen and colour which took place at the time of its release. (Avoid the remake).

This the ultimate Boy’s Own movie, a rollicking good yarn of the British empire, stiff upper lips and the discipline of the British redcoated soldiers. The story is factual, the defence of the mission station at Rorkes Drift in Natal Province, South Africa against repeated attacks by Zulu warriors in 1879. Made in 1964, Zulu was directed by Cy Endfield, an American working in England after having been blacklisted as part of the McCarthy witch hunt. The battle at Rorkes Drift saw 139 British defenders resist attacks by between 4,000 and 5,000 Zulus, resulting in 11 Victoria Crosses being won, the most in one engagement. Starring Stanley Baker, it also introduces Michael Caine in his first starring role. There are some historical inaccuracies and the daughters of Corporal Hooke walked out at the depiction of their father but generally the facts are correct. Director Ridly Scott liked the movie so much that he took the Zulu war chants and used them as the war chants of the enemy in the battle at Germania in the opening scenes of Gladiator. Director Peter Jackson based the battle at Helms Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on the battle at Rorke’s Drift. Ironically the 700 Zulu extras used in the battle scenes are direct descendants of those who took part in the original battle, including Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezichap who played the role of his ancestor chief, Cetawayo.
Blade Runner
One of the best movies ever made but be warned, there are two versions of Blade Runner, the original release and the later Director’s Cut. My own preference is the former but there is an important scene in the latter missing from the original version. The movie, set in LA in 2019, was made in 1982 with Ridley Scott directing. It concerns the efforts of Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a “blade runner”, to locate and “retire” (kill) genetically manufactured beings, called replicants, whose presence on Earth was made illegal after a past replicant uprising. Replicants are virtually indistinguishable from humans and have implanted memories that they believe are real. The replicants Deckard is hunting have escaped from an off-world colony where they are used for dangerous tasks, pleasure etc, the aim of the escaped replicants being to extend their limited lifespans. The original version has a voiceover and a tacked on happy ending but I prefer it. There is however an important scene in the director’s cut which is integral to the story but was left out of the original, against Ridley Scott’s wishes. At one stage Deckard has a dream about a unicorn. At the end of the movie he flees with another replicant with whom he has fallen in love. He finds an origami unicorn left for him by another blade runner, proving that he himself is a replicant.  The only way that the other blade runner, who has decided to let him go, could know of Deckard's unicorn dreams is that  they are implanted.

Groundhog Day
Another of my favourites that I never tire of watching again and again. Just as the salmon know within themselves when it is time to swim upstream to mate or spawn or whatever they do it for, so the time arrives every now and then when I have the urge, an inner compulsion, to watch Groundhog Day again. The movie was released in 1993, directed by ex Ghostbuster Harold Ramis and tells the story of self centred TV weatherman Phil Connors, doomed to repeat the same day over and over. After a period of hedonism and a period of failed suicide attempts, he rexamines his life and priorities, ultimately thereby ending his time loop. He comments that it is “the end of a very long day”. With its theme of self-improvement and its emphasis on selflessness and rebirth, it has become a favourite of Jewish and Buddhist leaders as illustrative of their spiritual message. Director Harold Ramis originally wanted Tom Hanks to play the lead but decided against it because Tom Hanks was “too nice”. It is now hard to imagine anyone else in that role. The original intention, according to Harold Ramis commenting on the DVD, was for Phil Connors to repeat the same day for about 10,000 years but they ended up cutting it back to about 10 years. Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cooooold out there today…

Full Metal Jacket
Despite the godawful tagline (“In Vietnam the wind doesn’t blow, it sucks”) this is one helluva movie. The movie is in 2 parts: troops in basic training and then their experiences in Vietnam. The first 20 minutes of the film will leave you feeling drained as you watch Gunnery Sergeant Hartman emotionally and psychologically break the newly arrived draftees down so as to enable their rebuilding into Marines. R Lee Ermey picked up an Oscar for best supporting actor in the role of the drill instructor, in his first major acting role after having left the Marines where he was… a drill instructor. Hired by Kubtrick as a technical adviser, he was cast as the instructor after impressing Kubrick with his ability to insult and swear for 15 minutes without stopping, flinching or repeating. He wrote most of his own dialogue and did much of it ad lib. The character is one of the greatest in film and is one who inspires fear and dread. The other character who inspires the same feelings, in the scene when he goes loopy in the toilet, is Vincent D’Onofrio as Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence. Vince now appears as Detective Goren in Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Not a movie to follow a candle lit dinner and bottle of wine with your squeeze. For that sort of evening get Notting Hill or Love Actually, but for a great night’s viewing get Full Metal Jacket.

This movie will be the subject of a more detailed post in the future but, like Groundhog Day, it is a movie I have seen numerous times and never tire of seeing again. It is not only entertaining, it is demonstrative of how the nastiness of the human condition (discrimination, intolerance, violence, abuse and conflict) can surface in society, in individuals and in mobs. This pic should be made compulsory viewing in schools. The story concerns two teenagers who find themselves transported into a black’n’white 1950’s family sitcom where everything is always cheery, uneventful, sanitised etc. David is happy there, it is an escape from a world that has problems, responsibilities, stresses and letdowns. His twin, Jennifer, a slutty shallow teenager concerned solely about her own appearance and social life, hates it. As she begins interacting with the local and leading them into awareness and a sense of self identity, changes start happening, some good, some bad. Those changes lead to other changes, there is a progressive effect, until ultimately there is a court trial reminiscent of the trial with Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Further comments will be in my later article but don’t wait, get your copy and watch it now.

Sin City
Sin City is a movie unlike any other movie you will have seen. Although it is worth looking at for this reason alone, it is actually a great movie imho. Based on the graphic and stylised artwork of the comics of Frank Miller (who appears in the movie as the confessional priest), the movie is both original and compelling. According to noted film critic Roger Ebert “This isn't an adaptation of a comic book, it's like a comic book brought to life and pumped with steroids.” The Warren Beatty movie Dick Tracy was also a film of a comic book and kept the comic book feel by limiting itself to 7 colours. Wherever the colours appeared, the same shade of that colour was used, equivalent to there being only 7 colours, without variations, in the newspaper comics. Sin City does the reverse. It takes away the colour. Everything is in stark black and white except for red blood, green eyes, blonde hair and a yellow skinned villian called the Yellow Bastard. Fans of the flick will be happy to know that there are 2 more movies to be made: a prequel with Marv (and partly midquel in that some of the events take place as the events in the original Sin City are unfolding) called Dame to Kill For, expected to be released this year. Sin City 3 is expected to be based on Miller’s story To Hell and Back.

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