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.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” **1/2 (out of 5)
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, and Benedict Cumberbatch
Written by: Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, & Guillermo Del Toro (screenplay); J.R.R. Tolkein (novel)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
How can a film like this be boring? I love the previous four films (yes, four, since the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy is so clearly connected to this), so what possibly could go wrong? Is it conceivable that I try harder to be ‘critical’ now that I’m writing about these things I love? Sure. Is it also conceivable that the bubble finally burst, and Peter Jackson delivered a bloated, plodding, nearly joyless Middle Earth film that actually feels three hours long before we even meet the marvelous titular character? Absolutely.
Up to this point, these ‘creatively adapted’ four films have given us visual splendors as well as soulful performances. Jackson and crew have no equals as it pertains to technical brilliance, and they have such an outward passion for the material that it has shown on-screen. His indie sensibilities paired with his keen eye for ‘dirty worlds’ have been a natural fit for J.R.R.Tolkein’s material, and I do not believe there is another filmmaker working today who could have come close to what he’s accomplished.
So, what is “The Desolation of Smaug” missing? To begin with, it lacks the sincerity and heart of the previous films. Perhaps it’s the lack of whimsical, wispy musical overtures like the ‘Shire’ theme. Perhaps it’s the lack of hobbits in general. Perhaps it’s the newfound toy Bilbo has that draws his darker side out. Perhaps it’s a creative choice to show all, or most of the main characters allowing their negative traits to shine through, leading them on dangerous paths. By themselves, all of these reasons would be solid markers to prove the lack of heart in the film, but together it snowballs into an unenjoyable conglomeration of CGI set pieces and choreographed battles.
Even the lightest part of the film involving the elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) had no resonance once I learned that she was a completely fabricated character. I made a point not to read The Hobbit, as I figured that three films totaling 8 hours would probably provide all the narrative I needed. Finding out after the film that Tauriel was invented for this film was disheartening- after all, if Tolkein’s work alone, and Jackson’s prowess aren’t enough, why would we be interested? I think the answer lies in a cynical place- Tauriel exists to soften the edges, to attract more females to a film with a predominantly male cast, and mostly, to bring in more money.
Thus far, Jackson has been able to deftly navigate the muddied waters of studio interests, rights issues, fanboys, and casual viewers. Choosing to include a character not previously established, combined with the need to stretch this material into three films, disappoints me. I guarantee it has been difficult for Jackson to satisfy everyone, but I cannot deny the negativity that has now gathered around what had been a relatively pure experience for me. Call me naive, but that’s where I stand.
If there is one thing that works extremely well, it’s certainly the realization of the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) on-screen. If Smaug were in the rest of the film, I’d have to reconsider my overall opinion. Sadly, he’s only part of roughly 45 minutes, and it’s clearly the high-water mark for the film. Smaug’s slithering, booming voice strikes an excellent balance as he exchanges witty repartee with Bilbo, and his movements are so cool yet menacing that I can’t help but think of him as one of the better ‘villains’ of recent age. It should come as no surprise that he’s the best dragon we’ve ever seen in movies, with respect to Draco of “Dragonheart”, and the Hungarian Horntail of “Harry Potter” fame.
I imagine that the last entry for Middle Earth, next year’s “There and Back Again” will be a better film than this. One can only hope that Jackson has remembered what made these films the experiences they are as he finishes the editing process- they are deeply rooted, beautiful to look at, and strong with emotion and heart. The first two things are abundant in “The Desolation of Smaug”, but the heart is sorely lacking, turning this into an exercise in action choreography and CGI set pieces, nearly redeemed by a scaly talking monster.
*note- I saw this in 2D instead of the ‘groundbreaking’ High Frame Rate 3D format introduced with the last film. While I slightly regret this after taking in Smaug’s antics, I still don’t know if the HFR format is a thing or not. If you’ve seen it in HFR 3D, please, please let me know what you thought.