Watch and See – My Top 101 Favorite Films: Part 5
And a big thank you for joining me in the final installment in what is undoubtedly the most arduous post I’ve ever written. Hope you enjoyed!
Thanks for bearing with me on this trip down my personal memory lane and through my favorite films of all time. For the final installment, you’ll encounter: silence, sin, singing, greed, comedy with a hint of nihilism, a Mark Twain quote and comedy and tragedy, a shave, loneliness, an exposé, post-Cold War allegories about reunification of Europe, oil, jealousy, cosmos, commentary on reality TV and horror’s impact on society, 191 screenplay pages in a brusque 92 minutes, men and women being friends (or not), more neo-noir, adolescent adults, and a couple song and dance numbers, including “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. And now, drum roll please….
81. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Directed by Jonathan Demme
Arguably the greatest thriller ever made, Jonathan Demme’s part procedural, part look into the mind of a monster contains some of the greatest performances in the last three decades. The confidence exuded from Jodie Foster makes her newbie FBI agent Clarice Starling convincing and real. Anthony Hopkins’ performance as the sociopathic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, meanwhile, is simply unforgettable. Demme’s is a film that somehow taunts the audience. Lecter looks into the soul of the audience and asks, “Have the lambs stopped screaming?” For us, Demme’s film has left such an enduring legacy who knows when we’ll finally hear the silence of the lambs.
82. Sin City (2004) | Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Sin City is probably the best adaptation of a comic book we’ll ever get. Visually inspired by the series as well as taking its own cues, it’s a style that drips with the same nihilism as the original series. Rodriguez adds his own spin to things, but he remains faithful. It’s harsh black and white recalls film noir, but the splashes of color make the film thrilling, even disturbing at times. It’s a garish and artificial environment, a sadistic tribute to film noir.
83. Singin’ in the Rain* (1952) | Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
I recently got to see Singin’ in the Rain in theaters and on the big screen, and it reminded me of how much I adore this film. It was my first time viewing the big, colorful sets, the outrageous and incredible musical numbers, and the impeccable choreography projected on the big screen. Seeing it again made me realize it is truly amongst the greatest musicals ever made for the screen. The film utilizes a specific element, even gimmick, to perfectly portray a changing time in film. Silent films are becoming a thing of the past, and when people began to experiment with sound, they wanted to do musical revues. Taking some of those same songs from the time make the effort utterly fantastic. It’s a gimmick that works specifically in its favor. The musical numbers are, of course, unforgettable; from the hilarious Donald O’Connor doing “Make ‘Em Laugh” to the iconic rain drenched title song, there’s never a sour note in Singin’ in the Rain. And, oh, what a glorious feeling!
84. The Social Network (2010) | Directed by David Fincher
Every time someone calls The Social Network the “Facebook Movie”, I have a strong desire to… poke them, really hard. With an ingenious script from Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher takes what could easily be a boring, childishly soapy topic and makes it memorable. The film is so character and dialogue driven, you can track the development of every character merely by their lines. Although Fincher’s direction is clearly there, he takes a back seat, utilizing restrained, understated techniques and letting his characters tell the story. I don’t think I’ve ever been as upset as when The Social Network did not win Best Picture at the Academy Awards when it was nominated a few years ago. Kudos to Jesse Eisenberg for portraying an egghead douchebag who may or may not have stolen an idea and making him relatively sympathetic as a character. Though, my favorite part is at the beginning, when Rooney Mara breaks up with Eisenberg. “Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster.” Priceless. Well, more like it’s worth a billion. And that is indeed cool.
85. Some Like it Hot/The Apartment (1959/1960) | Directed by Billy Wilder
Although Wilder may have been better known for some of his darker, fairly nihilistic films like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard, both Some Like It Hot and The Apartment are his human masterpieces. Even though it took several years for Andrew Sarris to finally admit that Wilder qualified as an auteur, Wilder’s humanistic characterizations of the people in his films are all present in both of these films. Some Like it Hot is the most overtly hilarious, with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag and a delicious Marilyn Monroe with a ridiculous name. And while the jokes come fast and furious, the sense of foreboding is still there, while gangster chase after the two male leads. Meanwhile, Wilder examines loneliness and adultery in The Apartment, where Lemmon returns and plays a solitary sap that lets out his apartment for his philandering colleagues and bosses at work. Although it can be incredibly romantic, Wilder’s trademark nihilism is always there, more prominent in The Apartment than in Some Like It Hot. Regardless of the darkness of these films, both are masterpieces of pathos, comedy, and tragedy. But, hey, nobody’s perfect.
86. Star Wars* (1977) | Directed by George Lucas
After Jaws, Star Wars paved the way for the epic blockbuster movie. I guess, despite my loyalty to the series, Star Wars is to blame for the impulsive, mindless adrenaline fests that are so often produced today, over films with thought and integrity. It may be a little ironic, because as big budget as Star Wars may seem, Lucas imbues his film with the same kind of mythmaking and psychology found in Joseph Campbell’s study of mythology and the hero called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Lucas also alludes to one of his favorite directors, Akira Kurosawa. The epic space opera still retains the same thrill and excitement it gave back when it was released in 1977, and has left an enormous impact on my life.
87. Stranger Than Fiction* (2006) | Directed by Marc Forster
It took me three years to formulate a coherent essay on Stranger Than Fiction, because there was so much I wanted to say about it and, unlike me, I was not able to fully articulate my feelings. Had I been reductive, it would have amounted to “All the feels!” The story of a man who happens to be in a story offers itself to philosophical discourse, but just as much as that; the film explores the creative process. This is thanks to Zach Helm’s absolutely brilliant screenplay (which I on my bedside table). I commend Will Ferrell for his lucid, raw performance. Yes, people, the man can do drama, and damn well. But, hey, the entire cast is outstanding. Emma Thompson’s struggling writer, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s one of a kind anarchist baker, and Dustin Hoffman’s extraordinarily unique literature professor are all incredible in the film. To delve further into the mind of Ferrell’s Harold Crick, his thought process is illustrated on the screen by way of a computer generated user interface. Almost as if Apple made him, ever neuroses, quirk, and decision made is shown on the screen. Stranger Than Fiction is a rich, beautiful portrait of creation and life, with the right mix of comedy and tragedy.
88. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) | Directed by Tim Burton
Is it a horror film? Or is it a musical? Whatever it is, it’s brilliant. Tim Burton takes Stephen Sondheim’s dark comedic Broadway hit and creates a Gothic masterpiece, nightmarishly realized, and led by a powerhouse performance from Johnny Depp. There’s a deep, dark soul to this Sweeney Todd, and the film is eaten up by the bleakness and morbidity. Towards the end of the film, though, there is true emotion and pathos. The music is as engaging as ever, retaining the wit Sondheim intended. The darkened, desaturated palette adds extraordinary mood to the film. Pieced together, Sweeney Todd is one of the best films Burton has ever brought to the screen.
89. Taxi Driver (1976) | Directed by Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese’s portrait of a ticking time bomb is one of the most memorable films of all time. Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader together created one of the most disturbed characters on screen. An icon of loneliness and manifestation of mental seclusion, Robert De Niro’s legendary role of Travis Bickle remains one of the most lauded performances of all time. My best friend wrote an essay about the use of sound in the film. For Scorsese utilizes everything in his power to accentuate the feeling of loneliness and solitude. The isolation penetrates the heart, a success on the filmmakers’ part. It’s a masterwork on loneliness.
90. This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006) | Directed by Kirby Dick
I know it’s kind of a shame that this is the sole documentary on the list, but you end up being rather limited. Despite being fairly one sided, you can’t deny that Kirby Dick’s expose of the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board is provocative and extremely entertaining. Part of it is a history lesson on the MPAA, going through the many films that have been denied certain ratings, have been given certain ratings because of content bias, etc. And the other part is a fun expose, as Dick and a private detective attempt to unmask the anonymous “regular parents” on the board that advises you what to watch. Terribly fascinating and eye opening, This Film is Not Yet Rated is a very funny look at the restricted and the general.
91. Three Colors Trilogy (1993 – 1994) | Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski
Although hailed as masterworks of the art house world, Kieślowski’s Three Colors Trilogy, made up of Blue, White, and Red, the colors of the French flag, are far more entertaining than their daunting title would suggest. A lot of people hear “art house” and recoil, but Kieślowski’s films are full of splendor and capture the audience’s attention for their entirety. Blue, with an incredible performance from Juliette Binoche, is the anti-tragedy and the most moving of the trilogy; White is the anti-comedy, quaint and amusing; and Red is the anti-romance, lush and elegant. All three films will affect the way you look at life. Yes, they are life altering. Liberty, equality, fraternity.
92. There Will Be Blood (2007) | Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
There Will Be Blood was the first film from Paul Thomas Anderson that I saw, and even then, I knew I was dealing with a master. With Daniel Day-Lewis’ awe-inspiring performance as a greed driven oil man, There Will Be Blood transcends cinema altogether at times. It’s enormous in its power, each frame and image burned into one’s brain after seeing it. The film is full of deep religious imagery, and Daniel Day-Lewis is totally uncompromising. There Will Be Blood is a drama that shakes you up for good.
93. Toy Story (1995) | Directed by John Lasseter
A story of greed, narcissism, and attempted murder. Yes, people, I am talking about Toy Story. Underneath the sweet story of friendship is something very diabolical, even seedy and nihilistic. The film was originally fashioned and written as a much darker story, but Disney insisted it be happier. Woody was less likable, Buzz was more insane, and their constant head butting was more verbally violent. Even though it was sweetened up extensively for kids, there are still strains of the original darkness in there. Revolutionary when it was released because of the technology that was used, Toy Story is an exceptional film, not merely an animated one. Its story is tight and incredibly interesting, and the voice acting is exemplary. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are both perfect in the film and Woody and Buzz. For the time, the scope of the film is pleasantly huge. Tackling an entire world of play. Toy Story is absolute perfection.
94. The Tree of Life (2011) | Directed by Terrence Malick
It seems far less important understanding or analyzing the film than it is simply basking in all of its beautiful, daring, and undoubtedly striking spell. At its core, the film may (or may not) be about a family in Texas, as a child begins to rebel against his strict father. But, throughout that story of man versus nature, Terrence Malick dares us to sit and watch as the universe comes together before our eyes. It can be a turn-off for some, but one has to admire his audacity and the sheer scope of the challenge. Brad Pitt’s fierce storm of acting and Jessica Chastain’s effervescent mother nature is a wonder to behold. Love it or hate it, The Tree of Life certainly is a wonder.
95. The Truman Show (1998) | Directed by Peter Weir
As you might be able to tell, I admire funny actors who can do serious work. Evident in my selection of Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell stepped out of his goofy shoes and gave us a human character to be remembered (or, it should be, as the film, I feel, is tremendously underrated). Jim Carrey does a similar thing in The Truman Show, which has the plot of a very existential episode of The Twilight Zone. Truman’s life is a reality show, and once he starts to realize this, he encounters a crisis, trying to discover who he is and how much of his life was a lie (all of it, basically). It’s beautifully moving film, with a star turn from Carrey. Laura Linney, who plays his “wife”, is also very good in the film. But, again, it’s Carrey who, er, carries the film. Yes, the script is grand, but Carrey instills the character with pathos and humanism, only bouncing back to his usual goofiness when it serves the character. The Truman Show primarily pushes aside the obvious commentary on reality TV in favor of getting to the heart of its protagonist.
96. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) | Directed by Wes Craven
Even before the Scream films, Wes Craven was getting at the heady commentary of horror films and their impact on the public with the best film in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Having departed from the series since the second film, Craven returns with a chilling and almost prophetic film. In a way, the humor and the story itself is even more self-aware and self-referential than even Scream. There are scenes that refer back to its own screenplay. Freddy Krueger comes back as a manifestation of the darkness that the films show, and the lead from the original, Heather Lagenkamp, worries about the effect the films will have on her son. It’s shockingly smart for Craven to explore this side of horror; the consequences of graphic violence seen at an early age and the ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Flawed though the film is (its third act is kind of lackluster), it actually proves to be one of the most interesting horror films ever released.
97. His Girl Friday (1940) | Directed by Howard Hawks
Although it’s been remade a couple of times, and itself a remake, His Girl Friday is a legendary screwball comedy. If you think you’ve heard fast paced dialogue, you haven’t heard His Girl Friday. It makes Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue sound like it’s going through a drive through at a fast food joint. The screenplay, based on a play called The Front Page, was somewhere over 190 pages, but its smooth 90 minute running time is thanks to the way Hawks directed the dialogue. Characters talk over one another, finish one another’s sentences, and interrupt one another. This fast paced realism is jarring at first, mostly because one doesn’t expect for the dialogue to be traded so quickly. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are perfect together; the former sabotaging the latter’s upcoming wedding. Through the dialogue, Hawks also examines the unscrupulous tactics of reporters all the while. It’s Broadcast News for the 1940’s!
98. When Harry Met Sally… (1989) | Directed by Rob Reiner
Sometimes it is incredibly jarring how on the nose a film can be about a certain subject. When it comes to men and women, few films get as close, or as funny, to the platonic relationship as When Harry Met Sally…. Nora Ephron’s near perfect screenplay accurately and insightfully looks at the dynamic between men and women, especially when they are not in a romantic relationship. I watched this film on a loop last summer, as I found the subject startlingly relevant to my personal life. It made me wonder about my own platonic relationships with my female friends. One must be honest though; When Harry Met Sally, regardless of how well it was written, set up a majority of the tropes one sees in romantic comedies today. It’s really been copied too many times, and never in a satisfying way. (You can also thank Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night for some of those clichés.) Nevertheless, with incredibly witty dialogue, fantastic performances from Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, and some very memorable moments, When Harry Met Sally is a phenomenal romantic comedy. As to whether men and women can just be friends? I posit yes.
99. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) | Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Blending a universe all his own and a couple others that were already world renowned, Zemeckis took the opportunity to really experiment with technology and storytelling, and the results are incredible. Here, cartoon characters interact with humans, and while the comedy runs amok throughout the film, it is at heart an experimental film noir. The cleverness the film has to offer is fun and amusing, and it’s truly spectacular to see some of the most well-known staples of the cartoon universe pop up. Once again, story takes center stage, reminiscent of the hardboiled noirs of yore. Though, the technical aspects are outstanding. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Contains some of the cheekiest humor ever, and its technical aspects as well as its story make it a fantastic film.
100. Young Adult (2011) | Directed by Jason Reitman
I sure as hell hope that I don’t end up knowing, or turning into, Mavis from Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s righteous and darkly hilarious Young Adult. Charlize Theron has the looks to have played a high school bitch, and she fits right into the role, almost as if she’d been playing it since birth. Cody’s razor sharp screenplay not only contains painfully funny dialogue, but even more painful examinations of disappointment and maturity, or lack thereof. She is as stuck in the past as one could ever be, manifesting her desires in her dying young adult book series. Joined by a stellar Patton Oswalt, maybe these guys should have paid attention during history, as they ended up being doomed and repeating it.
101. Young Frankenstein (1974) | Directed by Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks’ terrific parody of Universal Monster movies is amongst the greatest comedies ever made. Parodying everything from Dracula to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and, yes, Frankenstein, the film is an absolutely perfect tribute to those older films. Mel Brooks’ classic has an enduring legacy, and some of the greatest gags on celluloid are in this single film (“Frau Blucher!”). It plays with the sensibilities of the studio era, such as the ridiculous sets and the star system. Young Frankenstein is a classic to behold.
So, what do you think? Let me know! Thanks for reading!
This entry was posted in Take One and tagged Billy Wilder, David Fincher, Gene Kelly, George Lucas, His Girl Friday, Howard awks, Jason Reitman, John Lasseter, Jonathan Demme, Kirby Dick, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Marc Forster, Martin Scorsese, Mel Brooks, Paul Thomas Anderson, Peter Weir, Rob Reiner, Robert Rodriguez, Robert Zemeckis, Sin City, Singin' in the Rain, Some Like It Hot, Stanley Donen, Star Wars, Stranger Than Fiction, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Taci Driver, Terrence Malick, The Apartment, The SIlence of the Lambs, The Social Network, the Tree of Life, The Truman Show, There Will Be Blood, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Three Colors Trilogy, Tim Burton, Toy Story, Wes Craven, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, When Harry Met Sally, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Young Adult, Young Frankenstein.