Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The list to end all lists begins here

Well, I can't say just how many hours I've spent on this one but I'm sure I've devoted more time and energy to this altogether pointless list than I have to any essay I ever wrote in my university career. Granted it is mostly for my own twisted benefit (and for that of the seven or eight people who read this) I truly believe my list to be far superior to the IMDB top 250 or the AFI Top 100 or even Sight and Sound's fine but far too snobbish list. My list is an interesting mix of many different types of films ranging from silent classics to European art films to old Hollywood classics through to some newer blockbusters and pretty much everything in between. I've tried to represent all genres as well as I could, but this is all according my taste, so it's all subjective. I'm not sure if this is a list of the 'greatest' films of all-time or merely my favorite, but I'm inclined towards the latter. At any rate, should the two go hand in hand when one single person makes such a list? Makes sense to me.

At any rate, here is the first installment of My Top 100 Films of All-Time. I will unveil the entire thing over the next week or so and hope everyone enjoys. Let the debate begin!

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Films # 101-81

101.
One Froggy Evening (1955) dir. Chuck Jones- Okay, so I’m cheating a little bit. Not exactly a movie, Chuck Jones’ magnum opus is the best cartoon of all-time and I thought I’d toss it in as a bonus entry. A poor schmuck discovers a magical frog that sings and dances, but only when he’s watching. If you’re feeling too lazy or impatient to sample anything else on this list, start here. In about seven minutes you’ll see why Jones is the best cartoonist ever.

100. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) dir. James Whale- Better than the original, this is the Universal horror movies at their peak. Opening with a great scene involving Mary Shelly discussing her own story (great meta-fiction) and it takes off from there with Dr. Frankenstein creating a mate for his monster at the behest of the mad Dr. Pretorious. Great showy performances abound full of atmospheric set pieces and effects all around. If you love the old time horror movies, this one is the very best.

99. King Creole (1958) dir. Michael Curtiz- My favorite Elvis movie and as a huge fan, I felt compelled to include at least one. Great story and a great cast (including Walter Mattheu as the villain!) it’s a shame that Elvis was soon pushed into doing so many forgettable and formulaic musicals, because he really did have true, natural acting talent. Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) this one is even better than the more well-know Jailhouse Rock. Dark and perhaps even noir-ish (gasp!) it’s a must for any Elvis fan and a great film even for those who aren’t.

98. Broken Blossoms (1919) dir. D.W. Griffith- Very early silent film, in fact it’s almost ninety years old! Perhaps it is somewhat dated in style and attitude, but I still think it’s as moving as ever and thankfully avoids so many of the racist traps of the time. A Chinese immigrant falls in love with a beautiful young lady who is abused by her brutish father. A touching story about two young outcasts, this is a moving and thoughtful tragedy.

97. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) dir. George Roy Hill- Just a really fun movie about a pair of outlaws you can’t help but cheer for, Newman and Redford have to be among the best screen pair in movie history. A blast and a half (a ‘hole in the wall’ if you will), this one is a grand old time, a great western albeit with a subtle but distinct 1960s flavour. Sadly I can’t ever watch it again because it reminds me of something that I’d rather not revisit. Too bad, I’d love to see it once more.

96. Manhattan (1979) dir. Woody Allen- While Annie Hall won all the Oscars (and is a fine film), it wasn’t on my two film shortlist of which Woody Allen film to include. This one won out over Crimes and Misdemeanors, though it was a close call. Wonderfully New York through and through, it’s a comic gem, shot in glorious black & white, accompanied by a wholly appropriate George Gershwin score. I’m totally convinced that if Annie Hall hadn’t come out only two years earlier, this one would have been a far more serious Oscar contender (and a deserving winner). Perhaps in many ways it is as if Woody just tweaked the earlier film to make it that much better, but I can’t says I mind at all.

95. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1958) dir. Don Siegel- Despite all the remakes (of which one is semi-decent) this 1950s pod-people from outer space flick remains among the most chilling and disturbing films of all-time. Even though many associated have denied it, it’s a brilliant Cold War allegory as well. Fast paced and endlessly entertaining, it’s old school paranoia at its best. Sadly they tacked on a more optimistic, pseudo-happy ending to appease the censors, but if you’re smart, you know when the film really ends.

94. Chimes at Midnight (1965) dir. Orson Welles- Unbelievably never even released on DVD, I had to buy a third-rate VHS copy from some shifty company at quite the cost several years ago. Orson Welles, the greatest genius ever to come out of Hollywood couldn’t secure financing to make a movie if his life depended on it, had to cobble together what money he could and make brilliant films in whatever country it was cheapest to work in. Case in point this film (also titled Falstaff) which is a brilliant combination of several Shakespeare plays (though mostly both parts of Henry IV) into this remarkable study of Sir John Falstaff. The budget is next to nil (something which is painfully clear) but the vision is undeniable. Track it down if you can, it’s well worth it.

93. Ran (1985) dir. Akira Kurasawa- Kurasawa’s final masterpiece, on a very basic level it’s King Lear transposed to feudal Japan, but in reality it’s so much more. Visually stunning, it may be Shakespearean in many ways, but it’s also vintage Kurasawa. Not only is it an emotional triumph, it also contains some of the most vivid battle scenes ever filmed. Very few great directors remain great towards the end, but this one bucks the trend. It jumps out at you nonstop, in many ways even more vibrant than real life. One I’d love to see on the big screen if I ever got the chance.

92. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) dir. Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones- Perhaps not even their best film depending on who you as (many prefer Life of Brian), this one is beyond silly, nerdy and oftentimes downright stupid. Sometimes the jokes even do fall flat, but there are so many of them that do work, it’s probably the most you’ll ever laugh in the span of 90 minutes. There’s a plot in there somewhere, but it’s probably best to just ignore it and enjoy all the bits, whether they be great extended sequences (like the hilarious Black Knight scene) or the countless throwaway gags. If you’re in a nutty mood it’s hard to beat this one.

91. Reversal of Fortune (1990) dir. Barbet Schroeder- A great film that's dominated by perhaps an even greater performance. Jeremy Irons is at his showy best in this bio-pic as the despicable, yet innocent (so he says) Claus von Bulow, accused of inducing his wealthy wife’s irreversible coma. Glenn Close is top-billed but (literally) comatose for much of the film and Ron Silver gives a strong turn as the crusading lawyer Alan Dershowitz. Irons was a no-brainer Oscar winner in this one, droll and hilarious. He’s the perfect rotten scoundrel, someone you just LOVE to hate. Plus it also works as a fine legal film. Oh so highly recommended.

90. Triumph of the Will (1935) dir. Leni Riefenstahl- Easily the most difficult film to include on the list, no question. It’s very simply a Nazi propaganda piece, which should make most decent folks cringe and rightfully so. Hardly entertainment (unless you’re a fascist) it is however a magnificent achievement in filmmaking if looked at objectively. Brilliantly shot and one can easily see how effective a work of propaganda this was. If one were to no nothing of Hitler coming into this and the atrocities he committed, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that you would see why he was so popular. Abhorrent yes, but undeniably powerful in its own way.

89. Schindler's List (1993) dir. Steven Spielberg- Ah, I feel much better with this choice. Yes, it's one of those films some people try really hard to dislike because of its widespread acclaim. But it’s just so hard to do so no matter how hard you try. Even the most hardened person will be touched by this incredible but true story of the heretofore rotten man who discovers his own basic humanity and saves his fellow man from the most heinous of horrors. Liam Neeson never got enough credit for his very real and moving performance of a flawed yet remarkable person and Spielberg truly earned that elusive Oscar with this powerful and unforgettable work.

88. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer- Even back then I’m sure they thought that this one was totally out there and it seems even more so now. So much of it shot in close-up, with relatively few inter-titles, this is truly a film unlike no other in which the human face tells the story. The camera is everything here, you just sort of go where it goes and the result is nothing if not hypnotic. I’ve heard it referred to as influential and a landmark and a breakthrough, along with a dozen other adjectives. But still there’s nothing else quite like it; it really does stand alone.

87. The General (1927) dir. Buster Keaton- The Great Stone Face takes on a runaway locomotive and the results are a blast, plain and simple. Of course there are many hilarious bits, but the stunt work here is what takes center stage. Remember they didn’t have computers and the like back in 1927, this was all done with a real life moving train and people could well have been killed! Somehow a flop when it first came out (I can’t see how), this is physical comedy as it’s absolute finest, of the kind we’ll never see again.

86. Total Recall (1990) dir. Paul Verhoeven- Arnie’s best movie, it’s a clever and action packed thrill-ride about a man who may or may not simply be living out a secret agent fantasy, albeit one which takes him to Mars as a potential liberator for the mutant population with the help of alien technology. Convoluted yes, but also nonstop fun, multiple viewing might not help you decipher the puzzles but it’s always a great way to kill two hours, guaranteed.

85. My Favorite Year (1982) dir. Richard Benjamin- Really entertaining film about the Golden Age of television, with Peter O’Toole giving a magnificent performance as a slightly faded (and very drunk) film star who agrees to appear on a 1950s variety show. As a thinly veiled version of Errol Flynn, O’Toole is beyond charming and the movie’s old-timey feel makes you feel all cozy inside. The fact that this great actor has never won an Oscar is truly one of the great injustices in this world.

84. Shane (1953) dir. George Stevens- Alan Ladd gives one of the most iconic western performances as the gunfighter who just wants to settle down, but of course finds himself drawn into the quarrel between the decent homesteaders and the ruthless land baron who wants to drive them out. Ladd is just great as the mysterious and conflicted soul whose past you never do fully find out about. Jack Palance is also great as the ruthless man in black who is sent to take Shane out. Grand western, too bad they don’t make movies like this anymore. Come back Shane!

83. Midnight Cowboy (1969) dir. John Schlesinger- Actually rated X when it came out (!!) it’s obviously not nearly as shocking and controversial today, though it still remains a powerful character study of two losers trying to make it in New York City and ultimately failing. Both Voight and Hoffman are superb. Really a pretty depressing film, but so well done that you’re willing to look past it. Also Harry Nilsson’s rendition of “Everybody’s Talkin’” is chilling. I’ve still not figured out if they’re supposed to be gay or not though. Anyone?

82. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) dir. Peter Hunt- As a fan of the James Bond films, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a 007 flick and therefore it has to be this one. Lazenby is so often given a tough time by fans and while he certainly is no Sean Connery, he did have the good fortune to star in the best Bond film of them all. In truth he really is a lot better than his critics make him out to be and the story and action are simply top-notch. Diana Rigg is also the best Bond girl of them all and the heartbreaking ending is…er, well a heartbreaker.

81. The Rules of the Game (1939) dir. Jean Renoir- Yeah it’s because of this sort of black & white, pretentious Euro-trash ‘films’ that a lot of people look down upon on these sort of lists. The sort of film that could be seen as being elitist and totally inaccessible and of little interest to the vast majority of the film going public. And that’s probably a fair assertion. But it’s also an immensely charming, no-holds-barred farce on the French upper class, one that turns deliciously deadly in its final act. Not one I’d necessarily recommend to everyone, but if you’re something of a film snob like me, you’ll love it.

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I do apologize for the length of this post (and the other four parts that are yet to come) but I tried to figure out the 'read more' thing and it was too difficult. Anyways I hope everyone (all four of your) enjoy it so far and expect the next twenty films in a day or so!

4 Comments:

Blogger Beer said...

good stuff, I look forward to reading the rest of it.

And well done with 'Manhattan', I love that movie. But don't forget about Hannah and Her Sisters.

Congradulations again on putting this together, it's quite the job.

May 21, 2008 9:34 AM  
Blogger Natmac said...

good show mike!

obviously this list is not in any order of quality or significance though right? otherwise 'total recall' is better than 'manhattan' and 'schindler's list'?!?

looking forward to the next 20.

May 21, 2008 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First let me just say that overall I am fairly impressed with the list you've put together (at least this part of it). With that out of the way though, I have two major gripes:

Total Recall is NOT Schwarzenegger's best movie. And I'm not going to sit here and try to make the case for Predator, although it is my favourite film. In this case the nod really has to go to The Terminator. It deals with a far more significant (and theoretically plausible) issue, and it's really the film that put Arnold on the map.

And OHMSS the best Bond film? Ludicrous. For one thing, Lazenby is a piece of cardboard out there. But the real problem with considering this the best Bond film is that it goes against the very nature of what Bond films are supposed to be. Bond getting married? Bond breaking the fourth wall? These aren't things that are supposed to happen. Don't get me wrong, the plot is good, but seeing as it exists as an anomaly within its own genre it's kind of hard to hold it up as the pinnacle of said genre. Realistically the choice should be Goldfinger (which again goes against my personal favourite).

I shall await your retort.
(heart) Coop

May 21, 2008 1:37 PM  
Blogger Kid Icarus said...

Beer: Sorry, but if I were to include another Woody Allen film (which I've already let slip that I won't) it would've been Crimes and Misdemeanors .

Natmac: The numbers are there for a reason! Actually RANKING all these films was one of the hardest parts with each belonging exactly where I want it. No Total Recall may not be 'better' than Manhattan or Schindler's List but perhaps I just like it more. Or then again, maybe I do think it's better. I'm not entirely sure. But I did rank it thus for a reason.

Coop: Sorry, I definitely think Recall is Schwarzenegger's best flick. When it comes to his oeuvre, I'm not looking at things like plausibility and significance. Besides, the second Terminator is better than the first while we're at it, but let's leave that for another debate.

And we've already covered the Bond thing on a previous post devoted specifically 007 movies. With the Bond movies I'm not choosing the best one or even my favorite based on it being the archetype of what the genre should be or whatever. Generic conventions are what lead to many of the lousy Moore entries and most of Brosnan's stuff. OHMSS is what a Bond film should be even if they've forgotten that at times. Casino Royale was definitely a step in the right direction. And if I were to consider an alternative to OHMSS it would be FRWL.

Part two of the list should be on its way sometime late tomorrow night (after I get home from Indy 4).

May 21, 2008 10:18 PM  

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