top 20 films (10-1)

September 10, 2008

see the list of 20-11 here

10. my neighbor totoro (hayao miyazaki, 1988)

for my money miyazaki is the best animator working today.  my neighbor totoro is a film that i watched when i was very little.  i would rent it from the movie store or get it from the library and watch it 3 or 4 times in a week.  the film has so much heart that it stands in stark contrast to almost all other film (including almost all animation).  it dips itself in to so many categories perfectly.  it’s small parts comedy, small parts scary, small parts sad, and beautiful to watch.  it doesn’t overwhelm the frame with as much information as it can cram in, but creates beautiful landscapes and characters.  it creates a world in which i want to live in.  i want to run around in the field and chance little white totoros and ride on the catbus.  the scene referenced in the picture above has to be one of top 5 most transcendental moments.  it’s beautifully creative, funny, and heartfelt.

9. pulp fiction (quentin tarantino, 1994)

quentin tarantino’s second feature is his best.  the way he is able to create dynamic characters and story lines that intertwine, but don’t feel contrived, is amazing.  his stylized dialogue and action is at its best in this film, and every performance hits pretty well (except maybe qt’s).  it’s the film that made me love film.  after watching tarantino’s catalog i was inspired to dig deeper into film history.  it (and this may sound corny) opened my eyes to films that i would never have seen had i not seen it, and i probably wouldn’t be writing this blog right now if it weren’t for qt.  it seems to be sheik now to rip on tarantino, but he is and always will be a legend in my book.

i love ya quentin.

8. manhattan (woody allen, 1979)

i can’t honestly say why i like this one more than annie hall.  it’s been about a year since i last saw them both, but i watched them both pretty much back to back, and i just remember liking manhattan a lot more.  i thought it was funnier, i thought it emotionally involved me more, i thought that the cinematography was gorgeous, and it just made for a better film.  ask me again after i watch them again back to back and they could possibly switch spots, but they both definitely make the top 20.

7. m (fritz lang, 1931)

a film that gets better and better the more you watch it.  i love dissecting the various aspects of the film; the way lang parallels the police and the mob using a sort of soviet montage style editing, the use of (what i think was the first) leitmotif, the way the film doesn’t show any actual on screen violence, and the way the viewer starts out hating the peter lorre character and by the end of the film we’re empathizing with him.  it prys at some really profound ideas, who deserves justice, how can we as humans judge the fate and morality of others, what causes us to act on certain things.  all ideas that could be further explored and dissected in a much longer post.  the final scene of the film, when lorre gives his final speech, it is the biggest character turn around i have ever expierenced.  the whole film i wanted the mob to catch the bad guy and kill him, and when you finally hear him speak your shamed that you ever thought that.  and it’s exactly what lang was going for, to get at human judgement and preconception.

6. bottle rocket (wes anderson, 1996)

wes anderson’s greatest film was also his first.  i think these are the most heartfelt real characters that anderson’s created, and the funniest.  the way that owen wilson is so earnest and supportive of his friend cracks me up every time.  it doesn’t feel like a contrived crime comedy, but more like a slice of life meditation on two friends who with crime is just an exciting easy job.  anderson’s characters are great because they are not too quirky.  where steve zisou and royal tenenbaum fall a little short is they don’t feel real.  you know they are made up quirky characters in a made up quirky world.  bottle rocket takes place in the real world, with people that feel real.  i feel like i’ve known dignans.  i feel like i’ve sometimes been a dignan.  it makes his character more resonant with me and all the more sympathetic.

5. rear window (alfred hitchcock, 1954)

i love that hitchcock never tells you exactly what’s going on.  we’re piecing together the information at the same time jeffries (jimmy stewart) is piecing it together.  there are moments when we’re certain that thorvald has comitted murder, and moments that we think jeffries is going a little crazy.  since we never see any sort of action all we have to base things on are what jeffries sees and the characters assumptions.  sometimes jeffries arguments make the most sense, sometimes they don’t.  the way hitchcock sets up the suspense in the film is amazing.  he puts a character on the screen who is exactly in the same position as us.  viewing possibly life threatening events, but really helpless to do anything about them.  i think it’s one of hitchcock’s most suspenseful films, and one that has the most to say about human condition.

4. my own private idaho (gus van sant, 1991)

i remember watching this in high school and just being blown away by river phoenix’s performance.  the way the character just seemed to envelop him and transform him was astounding.  i love the contrasting environment with the psyche of river’s character.  it’s one of the more tragic love stories i’ve ever seen.  river’s hoplesness in trying to find companionship with his best friend, who is never going to be in a place where he can return those feelings.  the film by the fireside when river confronts keanu about his feelings is one of the most heartbreakings scenes i’ve ever seen.  the way river plays it is so honest and true, it’s so sad to see the way he gets treated throughout the film.

3. magnolia (paul thomas anderson, 1999)

an absolutely beautiful film. there is just so much to the film that it will be impossible to sum everything up that i love about it in one paragraph (or two).  if i had to single one thing out though, it would be the way anderson gets at human connection and interaction, and the barriers we set up in our worlds to shield us from hurt.  i love that anderson is able to really develop the characters through the film.  it feels like we’ve really gotten to know the character intimately and we only spend a little amount of time with each one.  i think it’s because anderson is great at getting across information very subtly.  just the way a character delivers a line, or the way they look while doing it divulges volumes about them.

anderson knows characters that alienate the people close to them and themselves from the world.  whether it be frank tj mackey or daniel plainview.  they are so distrubed by their own realizations of themselves and, in mackey’s case, their past that they alienate those around them and themselves from the world.  mackey is so shut off from the world that he uses degrading women as a way of distancing himself from intimacy, which clearly pained him in his childhood.  if we look at one of the more interesting, and astoundingly heartbreaking, relationships in the film (johnny c and melora walters) we see a couple that are so wounded by the world that they grasp at some form of happiness, even if that happiness would be more destructive than good.

i could honestly write all day about this film.

2. eternal sunshine of the spotless mind (michel gondry, 2004)

if there’s a central theme to my top 5 it would have to be tragic love stories.  films that are about characters who want to seek out love and companionship, but only find heartbreak and turmoil.  i’m not sure what that says about me though…

this is one of those films that just struck a chord with a generation.  one of those films that seems to speak for a distinct age group, and speaks to “us” in a very stylized way.  at the core of the film is a very human story, two people seeking companionship in each other trying to find happiness.  the only question is have they already tried it before but just can’t remember because their memories have been erased?  and that’s what makes it strike a chord with a generation i think.  it’s relatable in many ways, we see ourselves in the pain of the characters and in their joy, but the film can distance itself to a point where we can sort of just sit back and take it in.  the visual style of gondry and the creative genius that is charlie kaufman take the film to a level that’s cinematic yet very realistic, because the story is grounded in relationships.  jim carrey and kate winslett both take the film seriously enough (in the moments that need it) to keep the film grounded.  and jim carrey is really great.  it makes me wish he picked more interesting things to do.

1. all the president’s men (alan j. pakula, 1976)

i think if you know me, you saw this one coming.  this is, without a doubt, the greatest film ever made (though i probably haven’t seen nearly enough of them to make this outrageous claim).  i think that there’s nothing more exciting then being on the edge of a great story in a newspaper newsroom.  i think that the excitement of investigative reporting translates perfectly to the screen, and i just get caught up in it every time i watch the film.  the pacing of the film is perfect.  there’s a real motion and fluidity to the way the film moves along as woodward and bernstien uncover more and more about the scandal. the film doesn’t resort to any tricks to enhance the excitement, but lets the real story stick up for itself.  redford and hoffman are both really great, and there’s a real sense of presence that the film creates.  you feel as though you’re tagging along with two of the greatest journalists in american history.


so that’s my top 20. it pains me that a lot of films i love didn’t make the list, but i’m actually pretty happy with the 20 that i listed.


i was surprised at how laughably bad some of the moments are in both this and heat.  those unintentionally funny bits where a line of dialogue is so out of place, so ridiculous, that you can’t believe kurt russell just said that.  and there’s not just one of those moments.  they’re scattered through out the film, and take moments where i felt like was getting sucked into the story and just completely throwing me off.

i’d like to praise some things firstly though, and mainly i just want to say how good val kilmer was.  he was actually having fun with the role, and delivering lines in a way that kurt russell could never do.  he doesn’t let them hang out to dry but always seems to be in motion or active.  after seeing him just look ridiculous in heat, it was surprising to see him be the best thing in the film.

the plot felt a little all over the place to me.  we start out with them wanting to start a new life, now they’re sheriffs, now they are at war the cowboys….it just felt like they wanted too many plot points in the film.  and the whole kurt russell’s love life aspect to the film was just awful.  we get the film trying to be a hard nosed western with gruff language and violence, and then moments just dripping with cheese.  and why does kurt russell need to have a wife to begin with?  she literally serves no purpose in this film in my eyes (accept to annoy me every time she opens her mouth).

it felt very uneven, with long stretches of what felt like nothingness.  moments where the plot just remains stagnant and nothing the characters do move it forward or devulge information about themselves.  maybe i’m just remembering it that way because i was bored in parts, i don’t know.  but the film could have benefited greatly from better pacing.

a lot of the action is pretty entertaining on face value, but what i think the film tries to say about violence pretty much falls flat.  we get kurt russell trying to tell his brother that killing a man is not something you ever want to do, but ends up killing around 50 more by the end of the film.  it tries to have this message that violence as a response to violence just begets more violence, but it seems to revel in it by the end of the film.

kurt russell’s performance just seems really odd.  i don’t know if it’s the way he talks (he sounded like a 5 yr old school boy next to val kilmer), or just the way he carried himself, but it just didn’t feel authentic.  this guy is supposed to be one of the most famous law enforcement figures in our nations history and i didn’t buy it for a second.

what i thought were going to be two hallmark films of the 90s ended up being two pretty big disappointments with few highlights between them.

top 20 films (20-11)

September 1, 2008

20. children of men (alfonso curaón, 2006)

for my money, the best science fiction film of the last 30 years or so.  the way the film was able to depecit the state of the world felt a hundred percent authentic, which i think makes it resonate so much more than say blade runner or star wars.  i can’t see myself in the world of luke skywalker, but i can see myself in this dying world that alfonso curaon has created.  add to that some of the most spectacular truly cinematic moments (in the history of cinema!) and it makes for one of my favorite films of all time.

19. elevator to the gallows (louis malles, 1958)

louis malle’s directorial debut is wrought with suspense and has one of the best scores of any film.  i love that the film doesn’t spell anything out for the viewer.  you are piecing together the relationships of the characters, their motives, and just basic plot points from the begining.  the way the murder is plotted out and filmed is perfect.  malle takes care in setting up exactly how someone would go about undertaking this murder, and the way things go wrong feels totally authentic as well.  some  really beautiful shots and interesting parallel story lines make the film great.

18. annie hall (woody allen, 1977)

i love woody.  what many consider his greatest film is one of my favorites as well (though possibly not my favorite from him).  it’s histarical, it’s structurally one of the most original films ever, it’s about new york, it’s got woody at the age when it was fun to see him act.  it’s great.

17. in the mood for love (wong kar wai, 2001)

wong kar wai has one of the most lucious visual styles of any working director, and this film might be his most visually arresting.  wong kar takes an very unconventional approach to the romantic film, where we have a romantic film between two characters who’s respective spouses are having an affair with each other, and the two characters of the film end up striking up a relationship of sorts.  but they’re never able to commit to each other for different reasons every time.  as i was reading up on some of the reviews for this film i found this comment by roger ebert….

“instead of asking us to identify with this couple, as an american film would, wong asks us to empathize with them; that is a higher and more complex assignment, with greater rewards”

i think that perfectly sums up the film (which is why he makes money writing reviews and i don’t).

16. his girl friday (howard hawks, 1940)

i love this film.  to see how much, just read this.

15. city of god (fernando meirelles, 2003)

it’s been a while since i saw the film, but i remember being completely taken aback after i saw the film.  i was speechless.  it is one of the saddest, yet enthralling films i have ever seen.  you quickly get drawn into the films setting, and the lives of the characters.  so when characters make difficult decisions, or ones that lead them down the wrong path, it takes a great toll on you as a viewer.  the film has a lot of style and creative film techniques, but is reall grounded by a story that even though takes place thousands of miles away, resonates with the viewer.

14. reservoir dogs (quentin tarantino, 1992)

this film holds a very special place in my heart.  it is the movie that made me want to make movies.  this film literally changed my life.  after i watched quentin tarantino’s directorial debut, i decided that that was what i wanted to do with my life.  i’m not sure i’ll ever be able to make the stylized language and storytelling style come to the big screen, but i can try.  it made me enroll in film school, and really did open my eyes to a whole world of film that i had never seen or heard of before.

not to mention that it is just a brilliant film.

13. psycho (alfred hitchcock, 1960)

the scariest movie i’ve ever seen.  mostly because there’s only really three moments in the film that are horrifying, and they are done to the most horrifying soundtrack ever.  we don’t need knife going into body sound effects when we’ve got the shreeking of the violins.  hitchcock is truly the master of suspense, and he conveys that into a true horror film, where he uses all of his mastery tricks to play the audience right were he wants them.  his slow reveal of information and use of selective shots make the suspense all the more unbearable, and when we see norman bates run into the basement in full outfit…….the scariest moment i think i’ve ever seen ever.

12. a clockwork orange (stanley kubrick, 1971)

a terrifying look at what evils lurk under the surface of our society.  some of the most disturbing scenes of violence ever committed to celluloid, and one of the most intriguing performances ever turned in by malcolm mcdowell.  it’s stanley kubrick so you know that you are going to get very interesting visuals, and some really memorable shots and sequences.  a clockwork orange is one of my favorite books, and i think the film does a good job of conveyng the books idea of violence and the punishment of that violence with more violence.  not to mention those eye lashes…….creepy.

11. 12 angry men (sidney lumet, 1957)

the greatest courtroom film of all time, only spends a few minutes in the real courtroom.  the film is full of amazing performances from seasoned verterans and some crafty character actors.  lumet is able to create the setting of the film perfectly, making the viewer feel like they are living in this city in the 1950s.  i love the way the film moves from juror to juror and we learn something about each of the jurors by what stirs their emotions, and what ultimatly changes their mind.  i love that the film never gets preachy, and i love that it’s able to still get across a politcal statement about prejudices.  for more of the same, go here.