Sunday, December 8, 2013

My Top 50 Favorite Movies: Part III (#30-21)

In case you would like to play catch-up, here are the first two posts of the series:

Part I: #50-41
Part II: #40-31





30. Seven Samurai (1954)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa



A long time ago, my eldest brother informed me of how much he wanted to see this movie. He told me a few things about it, and I shrugged it off. Being the type of person that I was, I replied with something appropriately idiotic about how he only wanted to watch it because it was Japanese and he was "supposed" to like it, or some silly nonsense like that. Then, I actually bothered to watch it. Low and behold, it's one of the greatest films ever made, and one of the best possible ways a movie buff could think to spend 200 minutes of their life on. And guess what? I acknowledged my stupidity and didn't hide behind a lie or delusion to justify myself: it was incredible, and we all knew it. Great character development, slick cinematography, and incredible performances (most notably Mifune and Shimura) all packed into one of the most well-paced epics imaginable. So, apart from despising myself for being ignorant, I came away from my first experience with this movie a changed man. Kurosawa has since become far-and-away my favorite director, and Seven Samurai is a good reason for that.





29. City Lights (1931)
Directed by Charlie Chaplin



Although my first exposure to silent cinema was at a relatively young age (probably around 10 years old), I didn't watch any silent comedies until much later on. The first actual clips I saw from one, I believe, was Chaplin in the boxing scene from this film. I couldn't stop laughing; I guess it didn't occur to me that a silent movie could be funny and not just, well, really creepy. Then, based solely on the strength of that single scene, I watched City Lights. I think, judging by its placing on this list, you know the result. It was hilarious, touching, memorable, and pretty much everything I possibly could have hoped for from it. I watched The Gold Rush, Modern Times, etc. later on, and as much as I enjoyed those, none of them could even come close to matching the wonderful experience I got from this movie. The ending, being one of my all-time favorite movie moments, still gives me the chills, even as I type this up. My favorite silent film ever, and I doubt anything could ever top it.





28. American Beauty (1999)
Directed by Sam Mendes



Before I ever knew anything about this movie, I knew that my parents didn't like it. So naturally, it took me a while to get around to watching it, because I felt like if they didn't like it, I probably wouldn't either. Once again, I was wrong. Beginning to see a trend here? Everything about this movie is fantastic. From beginning to end, Kevin Spacey totally nails it in the best performance of his career, with great support from the entire cast. For a straight-forward drama, I was pretty surprised at how great it was from a strictly visual standpoint. Though there are a few fantasy scenes (some of the most iconic moments of the film, in fact), a large amount of this movie is grounded in reality, and it all feels totally natural and human. It's pretty incredible that this was Sam Mendes' directorial debut, with all the style, depth and maturity of a much more experienced filmmaker. It's one of the greatest Best Picture winners I've ever seen.





27. The Lion King (1994)
Directed by Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff



One of the most emotionally satisfying movie-watching experiences of my entire life came within the past year or so, when I re-watched The Lion King with my family for the first time in years. When you're young (or just not into such things), you don't see all the different artistic elements on display in the movies you watch. You're just there for entertainment - and as entertainment, I've always enjoyed this movie. It wasn't until this last time that I realized how much I love it. The animation is, of course, beautiful, the music is probably the best I've heard in a Disney movie (the songs being catchy and effective, but sporadic enough to not be distracting), the voice acting is spot-on: everything comes together here, and the effect is unforgettable. I cried nearly a half-dozen times, and was given goosebumps at least twice as often. Not only as a one-time experience, but as a movie itself, few can match the rush of emotions I get from The Lion King.





26. The Fountain (2006)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky



First time I watched The Fountain was on a screen about the size of...well, it was on an iPod. Though I certainly don't recommend watching a film of this magnitude in such an unglamorous way, it didn't even matter to me at all: it was so mesmerizingly beautiful, I didn't even notice the screen was so small. It was one of the most fantastic-looking movies I'd ever seen in my life, and certainly one of the most thought-provoking as well. Though a lot of people would prefer 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Tree Of Life, for this basic style of film (if you choose to categorize them like that), this one is easily my favorite. Everything, from its performances, to its style, emotional resonance, attention to detail, musical score and great usage of CGI and other visual tricks make this movie wonderful. It's hard not to appreciate how ambitious this film is; I will never understand why critics didn't fall in love with it. Not only one of the best films of the last 10 years, but one of my personal favorite - and most unconventional - science fiction movies ever.





25. Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Directed by George A. Romero



Night Of The Living Dead may have been the movie that brought zombies into the modern era of film-making, but this is the one that really nailed how they needed to be made. Without wasting any time, the movie establishes the setting, its characters, and the atmosphere and weight of their whole situation. What comes next is violent, gory, and often quite hilarious. I don't believe it's possible to come up with a better setting for a zombie apocalypse than the one they chose for this movie: a massive shopping center. Though it's by no means the scariest movie out there, for pure entertainment, few horror movies can beat this one out. I had never been much of a fan of zombie movies until I watched this, and although I have grown a little tired of zombie-mania, I have to say I totally get the appeal. No other movies before this were so successful at blending horror and comedy together so well. The first movie of its kind (that I'm aware of), and still one of the very best.





24. The Godfather (1972)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola



If I had been asked what was the greatest movie of all-time several years back, this would have been the answer I would have given 9 times out of 10. And honestly, I don't think I ever heard a single person give a decent argument against that answer. And here is why: it's one of the most flawless films ever made (with the exception of the atrocious "punching" scene, of course). Packed with iconic scenes, great characters/performances, and an unforgettable musical score, this movie both summed up and perfected the gangster genre in one swoop. Marlon Brando's performance as Vito Corleone is one of the all-time greats, totally blurring the line between hero and villain. In fact, the same could be said for almost every main character in the movie. I first saw this movie when I was about 12, and ever since then I've totally loved it. It's always been and always will be one of the best movies I've ever seen, and will stay a favorite of mine until the end of time. Or until my opinion becomes uncontrollably awful; unless that's already happened...if it has, don't tell me. I prefer to be in denial.





23. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Directed by Joel (& Ethan) Coen



I went into this movie the first time with relatively few expectations, as at that particular time in my life, I wasn't what one might describe as a "movie nerd" -- despite the fact that I had exposure to some great, off-the-beaten-path movies at that point in time. Based solely on the image I'd seen on the DVD cover, I assumed the movie was something like Boondock Saints, so I was expecting a relatively enjoyable action-comedy (for some unknown reason). What I got was certainly not what I was expecting, but instead far more rewarding. Within minutes, I was laughing at the oddball wit and charisma of Jeff Bridges as The Dude, and the effect only continued as John Goodman's Walter Sobchak made his appearance. A non-stop barrage of hilarious and endlessly quotable lines, insane plot developments, and one of the best leading men you could ask for in a comedy. By the end - though I'm not quite sure what exactly had just happened - I was pretty much in love with this movie, and have been ever since.





22. It Happened One Night (1934)
Directed by Frank Capra



Despite being one of only three movies in history to with the "Big 5" Oscars, I still went into this romantic comedy expecting, well, just another romantic comedy. I enjoy a decent amount of rom-coms that I watch, but they are often very forgettable and pretty predictable as a whole. And this being a romantic comedy, why would I expect it to be any different? And being totally honest, it really isn't that much different. So why exactly is this so movie so high on my list? It's all because of how well it's done. A movie doesn't have to be mind-blowingly unique for me to love it; as long as it takes what it has and entertains me this much, I couldn't care less whether or not it was different, unique, or original. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert have some of the best chemistry I've ever seen on-screen, and the writing totally nails it. Extremely witty, sharp, and charming to the point where it's impossible not to root for a happy ending. Pretty much the first movie of its kind, and still the best.





21. The Decalogue (1988)
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski



I almost feel like cheating by putting this epic on my list, considering the fact that it was made as 10 individual hour-long episodes/films that are only loosely tied together by being based on each of the Ten Commandments (and a few recurring characters/themes), but I don't really care, because as a whole, this is one of the most fantastic film experiences I've ever had. I had to watch it in chunks (seeing as how 10 hours is fairly difficult to get through in one sitting), and with every gap of time in between, I found myself dwelling on the previous story, and its effects on me still haven't let up. Usually with episodic work like this, the results are a bit rocky, but that is absolutely not the case here. With the exception of one segment (which I still thought was good), I loved every single chapter of this film series. Apart from walking away from this realizing that Kieslowski is probably one of my new favorite directors, I was absolutely moved by the whole experience in a way that very few works of art have ever affected me before.
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