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The Film Fan Perspective’s 20 Favorites

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The Film Fan Perspective’s 20 Favorite Films

In “celebration” of the fact that my blog still exists after two years, I’d like to share with the readers the movies that are closest to my heart and mind.  You may already be aware of them, but the idea was to guess as many as possible.

So, without further ado, here are my twenty favorite films, in countdown order:

 

20. High Fidelity-  “What came first, the music or the misery?”  Exactly.  With all of his odd takes on society and politics lately, it might be hard to remember when John Cusack was the stand in for all of us neurotic, fast-talking, hopeless romantic white guys.  The film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity is the high point of Cusack’s career.  The actor’s inherent neuroses fit the character of Rob Gordon, as we both loathe and love him for being so talented yet so indecisive.  His desperate need to not grow up and his need to cling to the ‘fantasy’ speaks to all the males that just haven’t figured it out yet.  Oh, and Jack Black is an absolute force of nature here as a record store employee that just keeps showing up.  Let’s not forget the graceful and gorgeous Iben Hjejle, and the outstanding soundtrack.  It gave me a new angle on music, which led to what my current tastes are.  It’s amazing how I loved the movie at first for being so crisp and funny, but now I love it for understanding it.  Every guy should meet a Charlie, but end up with a Laura.

19. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan- Those unfamiliar with ‘Star Trek’ lore may not understand the carnal hatred that exists between Captain James T. Kirk and the nefarious Khan, but it matters not for this sci-fi classic.  It works on so many levels, from the hell-bent rage of Khan to the overarching themes of birth, re-birth, and death that you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy this, the best of the ‘Trek’ films.

18. The Lion King-  As I navigated my pre-teen and early teen years, I wrote off Disney.  In my eyes, everything was princesses accompanied by radio-friendly adult contemporary tunes.  Then I took a chance and saw The Lion King while I was chasing after a girl (surprise!).  It was transformative, for not only would I never see Disney with a jaded eye again, I kept looking for that next Lion King, that next masterpiece.  It’s both a darker and more beautiful film than Disney had ever attempted, and every single scene is near brilliance.  That soundtrack- not just the well-crafted Elton John pieces, but the Hans Zimmer score as well, just brilliant.  It’s just the best thing that Disney has done before, and may ever do, save for Finding Nemo.

17. Alien- It may not be the original “original” sci-fi horror movie, but nonetheless it’s the modern standard for the genre, and the benchmark of female heroine characters.  Ridley Scott and crew created a claustrophobic, organic/metallic spaceship, and brilliantly made the choice to hire gothic artist H.R. Giger to design the xenomorph and its’ interiors.  Many have imitated, nothing has duplicated, even in its’ own saga.

16. Once- It would be impossible to limit my love of this film to a cell on a spreadsheet.  Once is full of wonderful singer/songwriter music, unspoken passions, unspoken loves, missed opportunities, and incredible “moments in time” that seem to last forever, but are limited to 2 hours.  The final scene is both touching and heartbreaking in a way that no other film has given me, and the soundtrack is pure, original magic.

15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail- Monty Python’s magnum opus of farce is still the funniest film I’ve ever seen.  From catapulted livestock to enchanters named “Tim”, how can one not find this supremely hilarious?  Admittedly, humor can be a tricky subject, and some may not find this brand of English witticism to their liking.  Me?  I think it’s the best comedy ever made.

14. Finding Nemo-  Pixar’s best film, in this guy’s opinion, is director Andrew Stanton’s masterpiece.  Funny, for sure, but sublimely touching, Nemo is also the most beautiful animated film I’ve seen.  Maybe it’s the color of the fish, the interesting way water works with animation, maybe the brilliant Thomas Newman score, I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s that I feel exactly like Marlin in the way I see my own son.  Wow, I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking of this movie.

13. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial- This film has meant different things to me at different points in my life.  At age 3, it was complete wonderment at the sight of aliens, rousing music, and funny moments.  As a teen, I was ambivalent and couldn’t find a copy to watch.  As an adult, I was bummed about the special edition changes, but rejoiced when the original edition became available, and enjoyed it with my child.  It’s a nostalgic, touching film about how children’s innocence occasionally triumphs over adult paranoia.

12. The Dark Knight- There is no doubt that this is the penultimate superhero film.  It’s hard to even consider this a superhero film- it’s more of a crime thriller with a moral center.  With perhaps the most bravura performance in recent memory, Heath Ledger cemented the Joker as one of entertainment’s best villains, and the chaotic nature of the film’s events make this just as much of an experience as a movie.

11. Shakespeare In Love- Despite the clamor to strip this film of its’ Best Picture Oscar, it really is an amazing film, stooped in romance, whimsy, and as Gwyneth Paltrow’s character calls it, a ‘stolen summer’.  It may not be an accurate account of Shakespeare’s life, but who cares.  It’s the most enjoyable romantic drama I’ve ever seen, topping even the material that it apparently inspired, “Romeo & Juliet”.

10. Contact- No film to this date has better encapsulated the hope, spirit, and arrogance of the human race as it relates to space travel and the universe than this film.  Based on Carl Sagan’s novel about first contact, Foster plays my favorite role of hers as Ellie Arroway, a stubborn yet determined astrophysicist.  I watch it every July 11th to celebrate the film’s release.

9. Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope- Although not my favorite, it’s the best film of the saga, and one could argue that modern cinema exists in the fashion that it does because of this film.  It’s constructed so well, and so delightful in every way that we forget George Lucas created it.  It may just be the most popular film of all-time as well.  There’s nothing I could say that would be revelatory.  Everyone already knows Star Wars.

8. Poltergeist- To me, this is the penultimate ‘scary’ movie.  Steven Spielberg’s brilliant mind is all over this project, even if he isn’t credited as director.  The touches of nostalgia, the subtle commentary on suburbia, post-Vietnam paranoia, and Reaganomics, and the graceful way Beatrice Straight explains the possibilities of an afterlife are the hallmarks of this classic.  I watch it every year in October now, and it seems to get better every time.

7. Field of Dreams- Don’t mistake this as being simply a ‘sports’ or ‘baseball’ movie.  While it certainly is both of those, it’s more of a father and son movie, and learning to accept and love who your parents are after you learn they’re real people, and not superheroes.  The fact that the film’s main set piece is still available to visit and play on certainly helps to play up the aura of the film.

6. Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi- Not the best of the saga, but always my favorite.  The nostalgia oozing out of this film always brings out the best in cinema for me, despite its’ obvious flaws.  This film may be the most important to me on this list, simply for the awe factor involved with this being the first real blockbuster saga I experienced.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey- THE quintessential science-fiction film for me.  It holds more sway when taking in the entire story, including the subsequent sequel film and novels.  Groundbreaking for its’ time, but perhaps no longer as relevant due to the lack of wide interest in the space program, it is interestingly the most spiritual story I know.

4. Aliens- Not only does this deliver on thrills and science fiction goodness, but Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is perhaps most enjoyable female role I’ve ever watched.  This is a classic as a sci-fi film, a special effects showcase, a well-honed script, and a blockbuster.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark- A throwback film to a time when movie serials existed, Spielberg’s adventure masterpiece deftly weaves heroism with archaeology, and manages to make history exciting.  Harrison Ford has never really been better, and Karen Allen’s spitfire of a sidekick/love interest is still one of my favorites.

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King- No other film that I’ve watched has combined so many varying emotions into one and pulled it off with flying colors.  It’s an astonishing accomplishment that pushes all of my emotional and technical “film buttons”.  Hard to defend as one of my ultimate favorites, and I just recently unseated it- but I still love it, and the whole series.

1. Cloud Atlas- It took me over eleven years to find a new favorite film, and dare I say that I didn’t even realize it until recently.  From the film’s extra-long final trailer to the end of my first viewing, I was moved to tears by this sci-fi fable.  The tag line of ‘everything is connected’ is far too simple a phrase to explain the emotional impact this had on me.  Sometimes, we ‘put’ things onto a film based on what we want to get from it.  Sometimes, the film not only fulfills what we want, but seems to explain that the filmmakers believe it too.  The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer took a beautiful premise and gave it the respect it deserved, resulting in an honest experience that doesn’t pull punches.  It is a brave film, occasionally gory and violent, moving to abstract and odd, then tender and graceful.  This story blends everything I love about film, and the potential it has to take the fantastic to a higher level of entertainment.  It may be pretentious, but maybe I’m pretentious.  Or maybe I just fill in the gaps well.  Whatever the case is, this is my favorite film.

*honorable mention: Groundhog Day, Casablanca, Seven, L.A. Confidential, Garden State, Ghostbusters, Batman (1989), Pulp Fiction, Fargo.

 

 

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Film Review- ‘St. Vincent’ (***1/2)

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Nothing like a little gambling to really open  a boy's eyes.
Nothing like a little gambling to really open a boy’s eyes.

“St. Vincent”  ***1/2 (out of 5)

Starring: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Terrence Howard, and Jaeden Lieberher

Written and directed by: Theodore Melfi

I occasionally get all bent out of shape when a movie is too easy, or if it feels like the filmmakers are reaching into our eye sockets and milking our tear ducts.  St. Vincent dares to walk that line between schmaltz and smooth, but manages to play it cool in the right moments.  It’s a film that even repeats a story we’ve seen before- a grumpy older man takes a kid under his wing and teaches him all of the life lessons.  However, excellent performances by each of the leads elevate what is normally a milquetoast story, resulting in a fine “dramedy” that confirms Bill Murray is still, well, Bill Murray.

Murray stars as Vincent McKenna, and we’re introduced to him in a most peculiar way- as a lazy, drunken buffoon with a filthy house, a cat, and a nasty disposition.  Well he’s nasty, but not entirely “dangerous”, per se, and thus not a complete miscreant.  It comes as no surprise, however, that he threatens all sorts of lawsuits when new neighbors move in and damage his car and tree in the process.  This brings about a meeting with said neighbors Maggie (McCarthy) and her polite, well-behaved son Oliver (Lieberher, in an outstanding performance).  Maggie has moved to start a new job, in which she will work a ton of hours and not necessarily be available.  That works, since the plot requires an excuse for Oliver and Vincent to begin hanging out.  That they do- Vincent reluctantly agrees to let the boy in one night that he’s locked out, and their odd dalliance begins.  Oliver, so straightforward, respectful, and easygoing, is the perfect foil for Vincent’s tomfoolery.  Vincent takes him everywhere from the horse racing track to his local watering hole, teaching him how to break someone’s nose and familiarizing himself with a wealth of new terminology.

This isn’t simply a film about a miscreant and his protegé, however.  Director Theodore Melfi has crafted a film, and Murray a performance, that progressively leads the audience from a place of dark humor to feel-good conclusion.  Like a cinematic onion, St. Vincent peels away the harder outer layers of the titular character to reveal a softer, resilient core.  The film intends to sell us on his faults for a greater reveal of his strengths.  Mind you, where we arrive at the end is in typical fashion, but it’s the matter in which we arrive that I do not mind.  Vincent has been hardened by a series of unfortunate events, but he keeps going, seemingly brightened by the arrival of his kid neighbor.  Oliver, noticing the potential for greatness in his new-found friend and in himself, changes right along with him.

The film is most impressive in a scene where our two leads visit a nursing home.  Our initial exposure to Vincent’s general disposition reminds us that we’re not sure if he’s there to con some poor resident, hustle supplies, or something else nefarious.  Imagine our surprise when he’s actually there for a positive reason.  Without revealing everything, Vincent dresses as a doctor, as it is the only way a particular patient will allow him access.  This is a revelatory scene, for we start to understand why Vincent does what he does, and why the film as led us to this point.  Subsequently, we begin to understand why Vincent attempts to raise money in the various ways that he does, from gambling to prescription drug theft.  We’re left wondering why anyone would need to resort to crime just to accomplish the simple goal of taking care of someone.

It is possible that Melfi may have had something to say about the state of our health care system, and the extreme sacrifices one must make in the name of Big Medicine, for Vincent’s life is far from what it could or should be (especially as a veteran).  The pains one has to endure simply to care for loved ones and themselves is well, not in tune with our abilities as a species.  Also, by placing a Jewish boy (Oliver) in a Catholic school, and casting funnyman Chris O’Dowd as a priest/teacher, Melfi dabbles in the possibility of a clash of religions, and seems to poke a little fun, but the feeling doesn’t linger.  It’s a wise choice to dabble, for the film would have felt different otherwise.

Instead of laying on the thick, sentimental cheese as it could have, St. Vincent allows the titular character’s actual accomplishments to shine through, and thus the film’s conclusion works.  The film quotes scripture by saying “a person shall not need attention for good deeds”, and Vincent abides by that, for he’s certainly not happy, certainly doesn’t want attention, even though enough has been taken from him.  This is all handled with just the right amount of subtlety and humor- the choice to take down a notch plays up Murray’s strengths and keeps the film from being over-maudlin.  It won’t win any awards, but fans of Murray, Melissa McCarthy, smarter-than-their-age young actors, or fast-talking Russian strippers (Watts) will be satisfied.

*note- make sure to stay through the end credits for a clear homage to Murray’s earlier film Caddyshack.  Those of you that are fans of that film will appreciate this coda.