What? Another Favorite Flicks List? (Part I of II)

I know it’s somewhat trendy lately to downgrade Monty Python and the Holy Grail, an inclination I frown upon, given its groundbreaking nature and manner in which many of its scenes and lines have become part of a collective consciousness. Nowadays, even kids who have never watched the film shout out such classic lines as “And I shall taunt you a second time!” or “What’s your favorite color!?”

So I agree with cultural observer Adam Blampied when he talks about a film with imaginative conceits as a large part of what shapes one’s sense of humor. We may continue to grow and love other movies, or have seen Holy Grail so many times we need a break, but to suddenly begin talking about it as a less than worthy flick is simply not honest. Plus, Medieval Literature in university would just not have been the same without our professor spouting such iconic quotes as, “I’m not dead yet!”

With that said I’ll add that Blampied inspired me this morning. I’ve seen his Top Ten Films video before and got excited over his comments about how mood as a factor dictates favorites. For ages this emotion has also been what kept me from creating my own favorites list, for it is constantly shifting (apart from the reality that I typically write the most about books). Except for number one, my top ten (or twenty, in this case) is almost always dictated by mood at the time of contemplation, and could be in a very different order on any other day. When completed at various times, the list does tend to consist of the same films, although I have noticed some slipping to the honorable mentions side for a movie here and there. Still, they are shows that consistently, as movie reviewer John Flickinger also says, mean something to me. They have a story behind why I like them and contribute to my growth as a human being.

So without further ado, may I present Part I of my top twenty films of all time—at least as of September 2, 2018. I hope you enjoy them.

(Note: Header links of movie titles go to each one’s IMDb page and all blurbs come from there. All movie posters from wiki; click image for more information on each. Movie titles linked within the text lead to my own reviews from my Movies by the Minute series.)

20. Molly’s Game (2017)

The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.

A movie I saw somewhat by accident, Molly’s Game quickly thrilled and had me talking for weeks. Turtle, whose birthday we celebrated at the cinema, also aimed for the book and we both were eager to own the Blu Ray. With stellar performances, wit and poignant moments that shine, this is a winner flick. (And the callback to The Crucible doesn’t hurt, either.)

19. I, Tonya (2017)

Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband [Jeff Gilloly] intervenes.

Personally, I’m mostly done with the Oscars, politicized as they have become (or perhaps always were?). However, that Margot Robbie didn’t win for her magnificent leading role is a disgrace. Presenting events from Harding and Gillooly’s opposing and unreliable points of view was a fantastic choice that seamlessly incorporates drama, comedy and heartbreak.

18. Steve Jobs (2015)

Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.

With Michael Fassbender, where can you go wrong? The movie gets even better with an exceptional performance from Seth Rogan, who usually appears in raunchy comedies. The cherry on top is the passionate performance of the English Winslet, who does a killer Polish accent and whose character skillfully manages Jobs and soothes our own ruffled feathers at the way he behaves as the film showcases his genius and achievements with a revolutionary product.

17. The Apartment (1960)

A man tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue.

Billy Wilder directed, Jack Lemmon starring, this romantic comedy-drama showed me a bit of a different side to 1960s staff of a fancy high-rise office building. Though this sort of space-borrowing may or may not occur nowadays, plot-wise, The Apartment remains relatable as the hijinks and tangles of life create hilarity and drama in the lives of the everyday.

16. Carnage (2011)

Two pairs of parents hold a cordial meeting after their sons are involved in a fight, though as their time together progresses, increasingly childish behavior throws the discussion into chaos.

I’ll be honest with you here: I’m not in love with promoting a Polanski film, so I confess my weakness in naming what otherwise is a story of such delightful extreme: the absurdities recognized by some and given credence by others, ongoing role reversals in terms of sympathetic characters, and the expected scene stealing by Christoph Waltz. The movie opens with what one might think is a miscast; by the end you realize it couldn’t have been anyone else to play that role.

15. Léon: The Professional (1994)

Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl, is reluctantly taken in by Léon, a professional assassin, after her family is murdered. Léon and Mathilda form an unusual relationship, as she becomes his protégée and learns the assassin’s trade.

I completely fell for Léon as well as the actor, Jean Reno, who plays him. His facial “language” is wide ranged and articulate, and he handles Mathilda in a manner bearing a bit of innocence as well as adult rigidity. As the little girl learns her trade and the pair move often by necessity, we see links to a previous Reno film, La Femme Nikita, which features a character similar to Léon, shadow government agents and the development of  loyalty, betrayal, fear and love. The amazing Gary Oldman also stars in a story in which you know you shouldn’t like the protagonist, but you do.

14. Stalag 17 (1953)

When two escaping American World War II prisoners are killed, the German P.O.W. camp barracks black marketeer, J.J. Sefton, is suspected of being an informer.

Sure, The Great Escape has the “What do you call a mole in Scotland?” exchange and fabulous performances, but I think the reason I prefer Stalag 17 is the film’s treatment of imprisonment with more humor, which surely must  have existed amongst guards and POWs alike—for the sake of both parties. Here it serves the Americans well as they try to root out the informer, keep their sanity and stay true to who they are. Self-effacement exists alongside sexual, personal and other frustration as we watch characters try to distract themselves and the guards to achieve relief and escape. But first they have to get the rat, and the clues provided present from multiple points of view, fabulously woven together by the talented Billy Wilder.

13. Jaws (1975)

A local sheriff, a marine biologist and an old seafarer team up to hunt down a great white shark wreaking havoc in a beach resort.

If you can believe it, this blockbuster film—which coined the term—nearly didn’t get made. The animatronic shark kept breaking down, necessitating changes in the script, they went 100+ days over schedule and director Spielberg, whom we know today as an accomplished and multi-talented movie mogul, feared he might never work again after this, his first substantial job. But production eked through and the movie hit audiences like, well, a shark in a pond. Now, more than 40 years on, Jaws retains its thrill and ability to draw viewers in to the anxiety and chase as the main trio seek out the shark ravaging the small-town beach. With amazing character depictions, including the quirky Quint, who defies the political establishment and mainstream attitudes of the townspeople, this action-packed thriller manages to make us fear a creature who actually rarely ever appears. The status of Jaws in popular culture is cemented and its impact—note the recognizable theme music even those who never saw the film know—inescapable. Especially with lesser-known scenes that expand character dimension, and use of the ideal that less is much more, this is a top-notch tale not to be missed.

12. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.

In this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: those who have seen The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and loved it, and those who haven’t yet watched. Like the above entry, the theme song for this Sergio Leone-directed masterpiece is so embedded in our collective consciousness, we recognize it the moment we hear it, even if we don’t know the movie it comes from. This was the case for myself for many years, until recently when I began to watch and be seriously drawn in by the story, set during the American Civil War—indeed, Turtle once dubbed it “your favorite movie that you’ve never finished watching.” I finally did wrap it up, and by that time had long been imitating scenes and quoting lines. Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name—nicknamed “Blondie” by Eli Wallach’s Tuco, a Mexican bandit also evading the mercenary Angel Eyes—seeks a bounty whose location is revealed in two clues, only one of which he knows. As Tuco, who knows the other, and Blondie compete for access to the site, amidst mutual trickery and cruel setbacks, they encounter various obstacles that serve to tentatively unite the pair along the way. With stark and forbidding scenery host to directorial nightmares that Leone manages with aplomb, the film has earned a righteous place in cinematic history, despite the critical backlash it initially received. With a jaw-dropping finale that holds the fate of all in question, Leone and his actors keep our eyes riveted to the screen from start to finish in utter anticipation, a feat even more admirable given that the Italian-speaking filmmaker had to direct the English-speaking Eastwood via translator. You see, in this world there’s two kinds of of great directors, my friend: those who do it well, and those who do it well even when they don’t speak their star’s language. You dig?

11. The Social Network (2010)

Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg creates the social networking site that would become known as Facebook, but is later sued by two brothers who claimed he stole their idea, and the co-founder who was later squeezed out of the business.

This Aaron Sorkin-written film accomplishes the impossible: engages viewers in the story about a real-life protagonist that millions of modern people loathe. If they see him as anything more negative, it won’t be because he’s an anti-hero, or any kind of hero. To lift the words from Erica Albricht’s lips: “It’ll be because [he’s] an asshole.” He created—or stole, depending who you believe—an overwhelmingly useful product that even now continues to be questioned over new angles. However, back in the day, as the movie portrays, Zuckerberg faces litigation via an alternating timeline, referencing events that are then drawn out in scenes detailing those just discussed. Jesse Eiesenberg’s Zuckerberg is a man easy to hate; his portrayal of the social network tycoon is solid and complete. Andrew Garfield, in the role as co-fouunder Eduardo Saverin, is equally intense and he owns several scenes, particularly a smashing one in which he confronts Zuckerberg with a deadly serious promise. (You see what I did there?)

Sorkin’s writing is so superb that any given scene contains multiple themes, and through the movie we see those examining the meaning of friendship, betrayal, of success and failure, popularity, acceptance and greed. Zuckerberg’s product has changed the landscape of society, and we see in the film what it cost him, but a wider examination also implicates ourselves and what friending someone really means. The Social Network‘s closing scene encapsulates so many of the above-mentioned themes into one moment, a turn in tone that rivals The Godfather‘s haunting ending as we recognize distance, regret and loss, though it remains to be seen if Zuckerberg himself does. As psychological study or sheer entertainment, this is an exquisite film about Facebook that really isn’t about Facebook at all.

*********

Don’t miss Part II! Top Ten coming up along with some honorable mentions. 

For some great top movie videos, click Turtle’s link here.

 

I’m also on Letterboxd!

Follow me there and check out movies I’ve seen as well as want to watch

 

One of my favorite favorite movie compilations. I loved it so much I may want to do one myself. Thanks, BHL Hudson!

 

 

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