January 21, 2010

What are your top five movies (and why)?

For no particular reason - other than the fact that I wonder if anyone will rise to the challenge - I want to share my top five movies and why, with the hope that you will respond in the comments with yours.

1. The Godfather:

A classic of modern cinema  Powerful in the way modern movies tend not to be. So many memorable scenes, from the horses head in the bed through 'Luca Brazzi sleeps with the fishes', Sony's death at the toll booth,  Michael assassinating the cop and the don in the restaurant, right up to the finale montage of Michael settling all the family debts as he becomes godson to his sister's son. This is also a movie that set the tone for the definitive gangster flick. Elements of this movie were taken later by Scorsese and used in Goodfellas as well as any number of pastiches and rip offs. The language itself has fallen into the vernacular. How many times have you heard someone say 'I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse?' or the aforementioned 'sleeps with the fishes'?

This was, of course, the movie that brought Brando back from the wilderness. In a role he studio didn't want him the play he created one of cinemas most memorable characters and deservedly won an Oscar for it (one of three the movie earned along with nine additional nominations, although Brando refused to pick his up sending instead an actress playing a Native American in his place).

From first frame to last this is an absolute pleasure to watch and stands up very well to repeat viewings

2.The Shawshank Redemption: 

A severely underrated movie on it's release, Shawshank has developed a cult following which currently puts this 2 and-a-half hour long movie at the top of the IMDB poll of favourite movies of all time. Based on the Stephen King short story 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption' it makes for grim viewing potential. A movie about a wrongly convicted man and the life he leads with the inmates and wardens at the Shawshank prison, somehow it rises up above the limitations of the premise to deliver a movie which is both entertaining and uplifting. And it does all of this with virtually no sentimentality or saccharin. For a movie costing $25m to make and earning only $787,000 on its release weekend this has defied all expectations to become a seminal movie. And an absolutely superb one at that.

3. Alien:

"In space no one can hear you scream." So said the poster when this movie was released back in 1979. Audiences flocked to see this small movie and were blown out of their seats by the whole affair. From a pure scriptwriting point of view it is a shocker. Based on the old staple of a few people trapped in a confined place with a scary and deadly adversary, it is a plot which has been attempted many times since and not always with the same level of success. The beauty of this script is that the top billed people in the movie - people such as John Hurt and Tom Skerrit - were killed off early on in the action leaving you to wonder whether anyone was safe in this movie. When you were finally left with the relatively unknown Sigourney Weaver to save the ship (and the cat) it became something a little different. It added a frisson of excitement to the whole movie.

The setting itself is novel (for it's time). The spaceship was beautifully done and - with the help of H R Giger to create the alien and the look of the film - it became an instant classic. Why do I like it? It is well written, looks great and always entertains me when I watch it. What more can you ask for?

4. When Harry Met Sally:

This is a fairly controversial movie to have on the same list as 'Alien' and 'The Godfather'. After all it is a slight and light romantic comedy of the 'boy meets girl boy loses girl boy finds girl' variety. But where it distinguishes itself from the pack - and merits a place on my list - is through the writing and the peformances. Based on the lives of the director Rob Reiner and the screenwriter Nora Ephron it is a delicately balanced tale which carefully balances each side of the male vs female equation. The lovely little vignettes which separate the various scenes are all genuine stories gleaned throgh interviews with the Director although they are played by actors. Couple this with some great performances by the two leads (Who can forget Meg Ryan in the Deli? - "I'll have what she's having") and you have a heart-warming movie that isn't sentimental but warm and lovely.

5. Toy Story:

From the guys at Pixar who have yet to produce a bad movie my personal favourite is Toy Story. When it was first released almost 20 years ago it set the standard for computer generated animation. And - while the state of the art has moved on considerably since then -  Pixar have proved the old maxim that it's not what the movie looks like that counts, it's the story that really matters. The simple conceit of toys that come alive when the kids aren't looking and try to welcome a new Space Ranger toy who thinks he's real is an absolute classic.

This is another film which stands up to repeated viewings and it also added something which - to me anyway - is an absolute classic touch - the end-credit bloopers. Treating the animated film as if it was live action they had characters fluffing their lines, missing marks, running into the camera and dropping out of character mid-sentence. It was so successful a gimmick that they even created a separate set of bloopers to go onto later reels to encourage folks to go see the movie a second time. As with all the best animations the movie can be watched by children and adults alike, both of whom will read different things into the script. ('Laser envy' anyone?)


Having looked back at my list one thing that stands out is that three of the top five are movies where the immediate sequel is widely regarded as being as good as - if not better - than the original. But as with all these movies the problem with sequels is they they don't have what the original had - originality. I loved 'The Godfather II', 'Aliens' and 'Toy Story 2'. They were all excellent films and fully deserve to be on my list of top movies. But they don't make the top five for that reason.

Honourable mentions: The Lord of The Rings Trilogy. The Terminator Movies (1 and 2 only). The Usual Suspects. Goodfellas, Fight Club, Leon, The Matrix, Some Like it Hot.

Over to you folks....

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