My Top Five Movies Of All Time

For those of you not following on Facebook, about a month ago I started doing a “30 Day Movie Challenge” to help me procrastinate during school, and it was actually a lot of fun. I’m currently at the last day of the challenge , “your top 5 movies of all time,” and figured I needed to do a full on blog entry to do it justice. Here is a recap of the list thus far:

1. Current favorite movie – Inception
2. Favorite cartoon movie – Princess Mononoke
3. Last movie you saw in theaters – The Fighter
4. A movie from your childhood – TMNT: Secret of the Ooze
5. Favorite musical – The Nightmare Before Christmas
6. A movie that makes you sad – The Elephant Man
7. A movie that makes you happy – Shaun of the Dead
8. The most disappointing movie – The Watchmen
9. The weirdest movie that you have ever seen – Beauty and the Beast
10. Favorite male character in a movie – Jake Lamotta (Raging Bull)
11. Favorite female character in a movie –The Bride (Kill Bill)
12. Favorite director – Stanley Kubrick
13. Favorite cartoon character from a movie – Scar (Lion King)
14. Favorite movie villain – Darth Vader (Star Wars)
15. A movie that is a guilty pleasure – Tremors
16. A movie with the best sound track – 2001: A Space Odyssey
17. A movie that you hate – Cloverfield
18. The movie with the worst actors – The Room
19. A movie that you want to see – A Dangerous Method
20. The Funniest Movie you have seen – Team America
21. The movie that scared you the most – The Exorcist
22. A movie that you wished more people have seen – The Fountain
23. A movie with the most surprising ending – The Prestige
24. A movie that blew your mind – The Matrix
25. Your favorite Disney movie – WALL-E
26. Favorite movie that is based on a book/comic – Spider-Man 2
27. The best action movie – Aliens
28. The best remake – The Fly
29. Favorite actor/actress – Daniel Day Lewis/Kate Winslet

So, how does one go about picking his/her five favorite movies? I tried to think of the movies that I most often use as standards of comparisons – the paragons. These tend to be movies that had an immediate impact on me and retained their affect throughout my life. Of course, my approach to these movies have changed over the years, but they always offer up something different. I think that’s the best indicator of good art: it changes with you, and whenever you revisit it, you get something new out of it. Anyways, let’s get to it.

N.B. This list doesn’t follow any kind of hierarchy.

Blade Runner

If you held a gun to my head and demanded, “what is your ONE favorite movie?!” I’d say Blade Runner. I think I saw this first when I was 17, and as soon as I saw the sprawling shot of the cityscape I knew I was going to like this movie. After I watched Harrison Ford administer the Voight-Kempf test, I knew I was going to love this movie. And, after I watched the final scene between Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer, I knew it was one of the best movies I’d ever seen.

Aside from being perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing movie I’ve ever seen, BR’s script is probably the biggest reason I got interested in Philosophy in the first place – although I may not have known it at the time. The movie basically examines the simple question of what is the human condition. Which is to say, what is it to be consciously aware that you are a finite being, inexorably determined to die. Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a film noir style detective who hunts androids (or “replicants” as they are called in the film) who have gone on the lam. Rutger Hauer plays Roy Batty, a slave who escaped his mining function and has gone on a murdering rampage. Batty knows he doesn’t have much time to live and is trying to lengthen his lifespan and make as much of it as he can. He is passionate, violent, philosophical, poetic, and, in the end, forgiving. He’s more human than human. This contrasts against Deckard’s passive lifestyle, who comes across as the more “robotic” and “lifeless” of the two. But, Batty inspires Deckard, whose own humanity is also questioned. The film is ambiguous and isn’t afraid to leave the audience sitting with a few questions and paradoxes.

Favorite scene:

2001: A Space Odyssey

I must confess, the first time I saw 2001, I HATED it. But, as I said in the preface to this entry, it had an immediate impact on me, and, despite being totally turned off by it, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I knew this was a classic and highly regarded film so I didn’t want to dismiss it. I decided to do some research to try and untangle some of the mysteries. I spent a lot of time on message boards discussing it and I also picked up the Arthur C. Clarke novel (it’s difficult to call this movie an adaptation because the narrative was actually developed out of an old short story that Clarke had written, and he and Kubrick basically worked together fleshing out this expanded version). As a result, the second viewing blew my mind.What I take away from 2001 is that it is an updated, sci-fi version of intelligent design. Aliens, or higher order lifeforms, are communicating with humans through these giant Monoliths, and they’re teaching us new ways to approach life. I would say the Monoliths create that separation between the subjective and the objective. With the opening sequence with the apes, we see how they break us from the immediacy of animal magnetism, allowing the early version of man to use tools. Later with Bowman, during the classic “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” scene, we see a reintegration with the subjective and the objective. Bowman is reborn as the starchild, a kind of mindmatter substance. Anyways, that’s a summation of my current interpretation.

Ultimately, I think the biggest lesson I drew from 2001 is that it is OK to feel puzzled and challenged by a work of art. Just because something leaves you bewildered doesn’t mean it failed nor does it mean it’s trying to insult your intelligence. If anything, it’s respecting your intelligence. It’s saying, “I know this is tough and it might require more than 5 minutes of reflection, but I think you’re up for it.”

It’s impossible to pick a favorite scene, so here’s the famous opening title sequence:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

I fell in love with this movie almost immediately. After the first action sequence, when the characters begin floating through the air, I remember thinking this movie had been made especially just for me. I find it interesting that this is actually a divisive element for viewers. I’ve come across a lot of people who say they enjoy the film but found the whole “floating thing” confusing. For me it gives it that fantastical, magical realism flavor that makes it so special. Deep down, I think CTHD is a just prototypical, archetypal fairytale that transcends cultures, epochs, etc. Accordingly, because is so archetypal, the audience instantly sympathize with the characters. But CTHD is not just some egregious, Disneyesque nostalgia; it strives for modernity. We see this predominately in the female characters. Michelle Yeoh’s character is battling against tradition, trying to respect her dead fiance’s memory, but also struggling with her own unrequited feelings for Chow Yun Fat’s character. While  Ziyi Zhang’s character is subverting the patriarchal regime, learning secrets of martial arts that are reserved only for men.

But it is also a heartbreakingly beautiful film. I recently picked this up for Blu-ray and was reminded of the cinematography’s punch. CTHD is one of those movies that makes you want to step into the screen and walk around its settings. The castles and landscapes are just oozing with atmosphere. It has an effortless beauty to it. Everything just seems so smooth and relaxed. The story pours out, rolling along, never spoon feeding you information, but is also somehow deeply suspenseful. Nuance is the operative word here.

I love this scene, but unfortunately the youtube version is dubbed. I highly recommend watching the subtitled version if you intend on watching this movie:

Seven Samurai

This is probably the most obscure, or at least the least mainstream, of my pics. If you’ve never seen or heard of Seven Samurai, or any of Akira Kurosawa’s films, I would describe it as Star Wars in feudal Japan. Of course, this is anachronistic because George Lucas – along with every other director in the 70s – was heavily influenced by Kurosawa, and Seven Samurai in particular. Kurosawa basically birthed modern action and violence in cinema. Watching western cinema from the 50s in comparison to what Kurosawa was doing in Japan is like falling through a time warp. Kurosawa was one of those dude who was light years ahead of his time. He’s up there with guys like Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, and Sergei Eisenstein, who revolutionized cinema in the truest sense of the word.

Seven Samurai is Kurosawa’s magnum opus and it is a sprawling epic. Avatar got nothing on this shit. I think the Criterion version stands at a whopping 207 minutes. And it’s all killer and filler. Basically, it takes place in Medieval Japan, and marauders and bandits roam the countryside, looting and pillaging farming villages. The farmers have no way of protecting themselves, so they scrape together what little money they have to employ a ragtag group of Samurai to help them fight the bandits. Each character is given his due, and every scene and action sequence is meticulously developed. The movie is like one of those ancient figurative sculptures; all muscle with no trace of fat. Fun fact: The Magnificent Seven and A Bug’s Life are both adaptations of Seven Samurai.

Here’s a trailer:


Given my previous choices, this may come as a surprise, but I love this movie, along with most of Clint Eastwood’s films. I love it because it took a tired and worn out genre and revitalized it with a brand new aesthetic. Some people call this a deconstruction of the Western, but I think it’s more so a modern update. Eastwood takes traditional elements of the Western – the outlaw bounty hunter, the totalitarian sheriff, the damsels in distress, the cheating scoundrels – and breathes new life into them with an emphasis on verisimilitude. After all, what kind of person do you think hunts and kills other people to make a living? What does it take to kill a person in cold blood? Not out of an ideological commitment or an act of passion, but just for a pay check? This film dares to gaze into the abyss and deal with issues of nihilism and an orderless world.

The movie also has some of my all-time favorite performances. Along with Network and The Godfather, I think Unforgiven may have one of the best casts ever. Eastwood recognizes this and shoots it with a no frills, raw direction, letting the actors and script speak for itself. I like most of all how it deals with violence. It’s so frank and honest. It’s an obvious predecessor to something like No Country For Old Men. Unforgiven is also endlessly quotable. I think I learned one of the most important lessons in life from this movie: “fair ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.”

A great scene about the existential crisis that comes with taking a life:

There’s obviously much more to be said of these films, but I just wanted to give a quick overview of all five. Someday I may give in-depth analyses of some of these. As always, feedback is much obliged.



~ by braddunne on May 9, 2011.

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