Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Top 5 of all time

I was sitting around picking my butt the other day, idly considering what my top five favorite films of all time were and you know what I realized? Well, for starters, I needed to take a shower, so I did. Soon after, I realized I couldn't come up with just five. It was too hard, nigh impossible. So I cheated.

Instead, I came up with six, sue me.

I like lists, you see. I like to order things. That's most of the reason I have this blog, to put random weird things into a personally agreeable order and to occasionally write up lists of stuff that pretty much no one but me will care about. Things like this, for example.

What exactly does it mean when I say: Favorite of All Time?

Well, they have to be great. They not only have to be great; but they have to be good. Understand? They have to leave a mark that you want to revisit. They have to be unimpeachable, at least to me. But what are the criteria? That question rolled around my head. I had to decide which ones were all around excellent. I had to look for the ones that excel in vision, in imagination, in script, in ability, and in performance. I had to find the distinct ones, the bold ones that entertain so easily. The ones that have stayed with me forever.

This is intended to be a list of the films I love, wholly and completely, and also admire for their ability and incredible craftsmanship. These are the films I will watch over and over again, whenever they are on and never get tired of them, because they are so good, all around good.

To say it more succinctly: These are my All Time Favorites.

Which is why it was so damn hard to whittle down to just five. There are so many that almost made it, climbing the jagged mountains of the criteria, clinging to precarious precipices. Most were found lacking, so they fell. I tried to be brutal. I tried to be harsh. I tried not to double up on categories and genres. Tried, and maybe failed. Admittedly, this is a list of "boy films", but whatever... it's my list, I'll put on whatever films I want. Still, I tried to ensure that none of them could too easily be dismissed as "Guilty Pleasures". And finally--perhaps most importantly--I also tried to pick out films that, despite any genre trappings or stigmas they may be hung with, they are still simply and undeniably brilliant.

So, without further adieu and in no particular order, the list no one asked for...

(In case anyone ever asks you...)

The Empire Strikes Back

At first glance, you might scoff. "Of course," you're saying, all smug and jerk-like know-it-all-esque, "Star Wars. Of course, what a surprise... pppphhhhbbbbttt." Well, first off: Up yours. Secondly: This is one of the best examples of what I'm talking about, the pure entertainment, the strong and well-made product teeming with thrills and daring-do. This is a film of inspiration and escape. "But why not Raiders?" you ask, "Why not the first Star Wars for that matter?" Valid questions, all. Raiders was close, oh so close, but I have to ask myself: What's the root of my Raiders love? Beyond the obvious answer of the entire super awesome film itself, where did it start initially? Where did it all come from? The answer is: It started with Star Wars. So why not the first Star Wars then, with its simple and straight-forward tale of classic heroism and its groundbreaking, trendsetting status? Those are also good points, but you have to understand, Empire is all of what Star Wars is and more. It's shocking and exciting, thrilling and scary. It takes you to whole new worlds. It's iconic. And best of all, Empire takes all those classic adventure expectations you got from the first film and subverts them. It shocks you in ways you will rarely ever and probably never find in a movie again. Everything from the lesson of Yoda's size not mattering when it came to his power, to the gut-punch dark ending and the fact that sometimes the good guys lose, to the big one... Vader is Luke's Dad, the one that is forever etched in our brains. It is the definition of iconic. And this movie is the perfect sequel. It delivered more, just like it's supposed to, but better. And different. Out of all of the Star Wars movies, Empire is the true gem. It is awesome and unforgettable.

The Wild Bunch

Simple fact: Peckinpah went there before anyone else. Tarantino, Eastwood, the Cohen Brothers, they all followed the path Sam Peckinpah blazed. The ultravoilence. The myth deconstruction. The gritty realism. The Wild Bunch was everything that a Western of the time was supposed to be, but it was also suffused with the melancholy tinge of the End of an Age. It was grimy and dirty. And it was mean, too. It talks about the value of brotherhood, about having a code and sticking to it no matter what. It talks about how that code can destroy a person. It talks about the inevitability of the World moving on. There's a savage nobility to these broken down old outlaws trying to get out with one last score, along with a sadness because they all know that their stories are only going to end one way. They see it coming. The audience sees it coming. And when they walk out to face it? It's terrifying and exhilarating. It is awe-inspiring. It's kind of funny to think about now, but back in the day, the big final showdown was something that sent audiences reeling from their seat, staggering away from the "real" violence on screen, all shown to them like they never imagined in the Roy Rogers, John Wayne worlds. Now, well.... maybe the special effects don't pack the same punch like they used to, but those fantastic moments still do. This is a film about the last stand of the myth. It is great.


I'll admit something here. My love for this movie started with my Dad. This is his favorite movie. This, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Also, Smokey and the Bandit. We watched that one on TBS a lot. And those are both great movies, they almost made the list, but they're no Chinatown. There's a lot of shit you can talk about Roman Polanski, a lot of it well deserved, and I'm with you a hundred percent, but Chinatown? It's a perfect movie, folks. Perfect. Brilliantly designed, shot, and performed. The music. The feel. And the script is pure genius. Yeah, yeah, Robert Mckee, Robert Mckee, blah, blah, blah. Forget that shit. Forget Robert Mckee and Roman Polanski and all that and just watch the film. It's amazing. Everything happens in a neat narrative line, it all feeds itself, it all comes back and ties together. It's just so tight and so perfect and absolutely noir. If you don't know why to love Jack Nicholson (and I have no idea why you wouldn't, but whatever--) then this is the film that should explain it to you. This one and Five Easy Pieces. And Cuckoo's Nest. But I digress... Look, you should watch this film if you haven't. You should study it, if you want to write films. Not to try to copy, of course, but to see and to understand. It's perfect. Plus, my Dad loved it, so...y'know... It's great. Forget about it, it's Chinatown

The Road Warrior

For all the shit George Lucas talks about Campbell and the hero's journey and all that crap, this is actually the movie that is the most firmly rooted in the Hero of 1000 faces. Max, a man broken down both physically and emotionally, a Masterless samurai wandering out of the desert, finds a town beset by murderous outlaws and helps to defend its inhabitants. For a price... at first. "You want to get out of here? You talk to me." It's so simple. So pure. So classic. And so iconic. It's straight out of Campbell whole. The story just tells itself. And because of that, it's one of those movies where, even if you've never seen it (Congratulations on having been rescued from that desert island, BTW), you've certainly seen moments. Like Empire, bits of this film are burned into our brains. Like I said, iconic. Plus--a big plus--you have to love the practical effects on display here. It's just a bunch of crazy-ass Australians out in the desert, going at it. They crippled stuntmen during filming and those very stunts are still in the movie. That's insane! The last fifteen minutes is a big running battle, a freeway chase between dozens of cars and a semi and a gyro-copter. And it's a real chase. With real crashes. Down a real highway. You just don't see that anymore. Incredible. Completely entertaining. And the best part? It's all of that pure entertainment, but with a good, well-told story and real, honest characters to boot. Another thing you hardly ever see anymore.

Children of Men 

Oh, a pseudo new choice... how daring. This movie popped up on my radar out of nowhere. I'd heard nothing about it, had no idea it was coming, had never read the book (which is almost nothing at all like the movie) but I went and I loved every moment of it. Is it sad and gray? Yes, terribly, terribly so, of course it is, it's about the sad, slow fizzling end of the world, its all about society weakly slipping beneath the surface of its own tepid bath water and drowning. It is sad and dark, really sad and dark. Some people can't handle that. But it's not without hope either, a great big bloom of hope, and that motivation is so clear and perfect and it just drives the whole film. You never question it. What a great script. Not only that, the world building is so impressive, there are so many small details--horrifyingly plausible details--going on in the background and that is what makes this film so frightening. Yes, it is science fiction, but it could happen tomorrow. Its ugly reality is so easily recognizable. Between that and the camera work too, this is an intense and brutal film, a fantastic and emotional film. It grips you. And that's why I love it.

Pee Wee's Big Adventure

Maybe you wouldn't expect this one. Maybe you laugh at the thought. I understand. Sure, the world went through the big Pee Wee blitzkrieg years ago, I know what you're saying. Come on, that's what you're saying. Right? Hey, I'm with you, the thought of all that old shit--the 80's...ugh--how generally horrible they were for everything, especially pop culture. It's better left in the past. You'd think it's all played out and cliche now. And how shocking is it to see some of the worst bits of it coming back, right? Fucking Jordache? Really? Gross. Movies like this are the cinematic equivalent, right? Built off a flash bang nothing of a comedy fad, a now nearly un-understandable product of a shallow time, they age poorly and rot quickly. Their laughs break apart like smoke and vanish, impossible to recapture (RIP comedy aspect of Wayne's World). But the thing is, like Back to the Future (another film from that time that almost made the list), everything in this film still works. Totally. Completely. It's still funny. Francis. Amazing Larry. Dottie. Mickey. Simone's big but. Large Marge. The bike chase. The movie of Pee Wee's life. The whole thing still works. It's happily surreal and absolutely still hilarious. It's from a time when Tim Burton and Danny Elfman still seemed odd, but audacious and daring at the same time. It's signature work from everyone involved, but you almost don't recognize them. It still seems fresh. Decades later, it's still fun. That's why it's great.

There you go. What do you think? Do you have a list of five... six favorites of all time?

Let me know,


John Connor said...

Ooh, nice list. Still haven't seen The Wild Bunch, you've just moved it towards the top of the (never-ending) pile.

My 6 (in case you care): Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Children of Men, Reservoir Dogs, Die Hard, The Shining, Lawrence of Arabia.

Jon said...

Awesome, I hope you enjoy it. Reservoir Dogs is one of the films that almost made the list. That, and Aliens and Godfather. It was a tough call.

the library bird said...

love you. love your list! gotta see children of men.

Jon said...

Love you too. You haven't seen it? You have to make it a priority. It's great. Talk soon.