“It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.””–Roger Ebert
Exactly. That Roger Ebert quote is a quote I often extend to all art. Since I personally consider films art, I thought I might post my top 10 films of all time–you know–for the record, and all. I do this because I’m often fascinated what other’s favorite films are, and why. I think it helps me understand a person by having an appreciation of the type of art they like, and why they like it. I’m guessing if you are reading this, you are wondering why I chose these top 10 films.
Selection wasn’t easy–and though I’ve seen about 60% of the AFI top 100 films list, I only wanted to include films that have had a lasting emotional impact on me over the years. Some great films are noticeably missing, of course, and it’s not because they are not great movies. If I could only take 10 movies to a desert island, it would be these 10.
Most of the world agrees with me about Casablanca. Casablanca is really about what one is willing to sacrifice for someone they love. Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart, may have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the woman he loves in two ways–but I won’t reveal either here, in case you haven’t seen the movie. It’s the kind of film that sticks with you forever, and for 20 years it’s been my film that defines true love.
Maybe nowadays it would be considered the ultimate “Chick Flick?” Well, heck. It’s got NAZIS!
I’ve always loved the film noir genre of film, and my favorite of that lot is Polanski’s Chinatown. One of my favorite aspects of this film is the title: It’s got almost nothing to do with Chinatown. What it does have to do with is the water wars of Southern California near the beginning of the 20th century. But, oh, like every good gumshoe noir film, it’s about a lot more than that. This is a very dark film, and has deep meanings that go off in several directions. Still, a consistent plot, crafty storytelling, a best screenplay nod to Robert Towne, Nicholson’s best role and a great 10 day soundtrack composed by Jerry Goldsmith makes this my second favorite of all time.
What could be better than a movie about an adman? North By Northwest is one of the best “mistaken identity” films ever produced. It stars iconic Hitchcock actors Cary Grant and Eva Marie-Saint in a thriller that is all over the map both in story and geography. I love that there’s a murder at the UN headquarters in New York City, a now famous crop duster looking to dust off Grant in Indiana, and an escaping sequence across Mt. Rushmore. Don’t forget the great score by Bernard Hermann.
So, back to the “chick flick” genre. My favorite film of the last few decades is the beautifully shot independent film “The English Patient.” This film, to me anyway, is one of the most romantic films of the 20th century–perhaps after Casablanca. If that makes me a fan of that genre, so be it.
This film has to be seen to be experienced–I remember seeing it in theater after another film I wanted to see was sold out. I hadn’t read any reviews, or even knew who was in it. I think Roger Ebert had declared it one of the best of the year. Watching it generated a lot of questions that I pieced together at the end, which is the intention of the scene. Also–there’s a scene in this film that very nearly drives me to tears every time I see it. You’ll know the one when you get there. Features beautiful cinematography, great performances from Fiennes, Thomas, Binoche, Dafoe, Firth and less-known actor Naveen Andrews. I remember I bought and listened to the soundtrack for years after I saw the film.
I guess I’m a sucker for the adventure serial. Basically, Raiders Of The Lost Ark is an extended and well-produced adventure serial, with top quality direction, storytelling and acting. Yes, acting. Friends who know me know my feelings about the overdramatic Harrison Ford, who appears or even stars in some of my favorite movies: Star Wars, Raiders, Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now, The Fugitive, and Mosquito Coast. So, maybe I secretly adore his cardboard-cutout acting style. I’m not sure. Anyway, he’s perfectly cast in this film.
And like Casablanca, it has Nazis. Nazis that melt.
This film features the dynamic duo of film: Director Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams. Fairly difficult to go wrong there, unless you are watching the fourth installment of the Raider’s series: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. So terrible I don’t even consider it a part of the series.
It may be surprising to some to find the sequel to Godfather on this list and not the original Godfather. I was thinking I should only choose one of the two, and in choosing one, I find Godfather II to be a better overall movie. I have similar criticism towards Pacino as I do Ford; they are basically the same actor in every film, with a different costume. Fortunately, this film fits Pacino’s persona perfectly.
I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart!
Dynamic duo again in Schindler’s List. It’s all about the little girl in the red jacket. I’ve always argued that any film about something as heart-wrenching as the holocaust will already have that emotional context to work with. Tugging at your heart is a great way to make someone like a film. This film, however, is not at all about that. This film is /how/ it is about the Holocaust, which is gripping, exciting, fascinating and terribly tragic. This film is made with all the greats of our time: Spielberg, Williams, Fiennes, Neeson, Kingsley, Steven Zaillian… I like that it gets to the heart of what made the Nazis so evil. One of Spielberg’s best films.
Okay…so, yeah. Star Wars. Not much I can really add about this film, except that I remember seeing the trailer when I was about 6 years old, and simultaneously scared and excited about what it would contain. My older brother told me he’d take me, and he did that following summer. I think Star Wars changed me and initialized my interest in film. Big deal, I suppose–true for a lot of people. It’s fun to look at the trailer now and see how hokey it is.
What’s still /not/ hokey, though, is an alien bursting through John Hurt’s abdomen in “Alien.” This is still a very uncomfortable horror film. Well, it’s science-horror, I suppose, but it’s definitely the most intense film on my list. I remember when it came out in 1979, I was already living in Sacramento, CA, and no one would take me to see it as I was only 9 or 10 years old at the time.
Fortunately, and weirdly, Macy’s department store was showing the entire film on VHS tape as a demo in their stereo section in about 1980-1981. So, as a 10 year old, I stood there and watched the entire film in Macy’s. Yeah. Weird. It didn’t make it any less scary or intense, even with the sales guy constantly asking me if “I was okay.”
There’s a science end of this “science horror” classic that intrigued me for years. Where did that /other/ alien craft come from? Why was the alien shaped like a human? What was the real mission of the Nostromo, and what was the corporation’s intent on bringing the alien on board? All of these are answered later in the film, or subsequent films, which stirred more fascination until the fourth installment, Alien Resurrected–which royally sucked in my opinion. In space, no one knows that a fourth sequel sucks, apparently.
Finally, Rear Window. Remember Ebert’s quote from the beginning? This film has one of my favorites in Jimmy Stewart, and my favorite director in Hitchcock. Rear Window proves you can do a lot with very little. It’s basically a one-scene film, with Stewart looking out his back window with a broken leg the entire film. It works, though, and has all of the Hitchcock drama and thrill as his other films. It’s a film that’s very good in how it’s about it. Also has the only blonde woman I’ve ever loved: Grace Kelly.
And now, the shocking statistics:
- 3 of my favorite films of all time are directed by Steven Spielberg. 2 are directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
- 2 star an actor who I might typically considered “sub-par” in most other films.
- 7/10 films were produced before I was 10 years old.
- 2 of my top 10 star or co-star Ralph Fiennes.
- Only 2 are not in the AFI’s top 100 of all time list. Alien and The English Patient.