Monday, August 06, 2012

BFFs (Best Films Forever, No Takebacks!)

I always have a hard time picking a "ten best" when it comes to movies, because I see how I end up scoring other people's lists and then realize that I'm probably missing something. Like the BFI list. I take issue with replacing Citizen Kane with Vertigo. Did I miss something? Vertigo is a fine film, but it's not Citizen Kane. And it's not close to a best ten films. It's not even Hitchcock's best film.
Most of the BFI top ten I can either agree with (see below) or understand. A couple, notably La Règle du jeu and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, I've not seen yet. The trouble with American television is...and yes, IFC, I'm looking squarely at you...there's no outlet for films like these except the rare retrospective.
Also, I should note that the BFI is currently running a Hitchcock retrospective. I smell a rat.

But I digress...

So for this exercise, I decided to split my list in two, and pick my five favorite films, followed by the five films I think are the best ever made, and why.

My five favorite films are those movies that I will always make a point of seeing, even if it's only snippets, whenever I see they are on the TeeVee. These are films that evoke a strong emotional reaction in me, that allow me to escape the drudgery of daily life and live in someone else's world for a while.

In other words, these are films that are great books. 

1) Star Wars (parts IV, V, and VI) -- Yes, it's a Saturday morning cowboy serial writ large with technology. And yes, it evokes not only the emotions of the story-- who doesn't grin at the denouement?-- but the environmental memories of the first time you saw it, either in the theatre in 1977 like me, or sitting in your living room likely with family or friends. The mythological themes of good v. evil and redemption, a son's search, the hero's quest, the protective deity embodied in the kindly wizard, these are all as powerful and timeless today as they were 35 years ago. 

2) Love, Actually -- If you have not seen this film, rent it. In my opinion, it is the greatest Christmas movie ever made. It is certainly the greatest romantic comedy ever made, with nary a Ben Stiller or Cameron Diaz to be found. The laughs here are not broad, but pointed and pointedly about people you know and the dilemma that faces all of us at various times in our lives: where is love? I happened to see it, again, the other evening and by the credits, I had tears of joy running down my cheeks. Again.

3) Animal Crackers -- The great tragedy of film is that it's static. You get to see the director's idea of the best performance. The wonder of Animal Crackers starring the Marx Brothers is that they rehearsed this play for months on Broadway before they decided to film it so the entire cast knew exactly which lines would get the best reaction from the audience. You know just about every line of dialogue from this film and despite being 80 years old and containing topical humor of the day, it holds up pretty well into contemporary times. Still, it makes you long for a time machine to go back and watch this show over and over again live.

4) Citizen Kane -- Orson Welles' attempt at political mockery of William Hearst is one of the most scathing and subversive films ever made. The cinematography is to die for and makes the movie screen become a character in the film, not just a simple palette for the story as with so many film noir movies.  Indeed, Welles' use of camera positions makes us feel like voyeurs and Citizen Kane may be the first and best Lifetime Original Movie ever made.

5) Casablanca -- What can I say about this film that you don't know already, except that there isn't a man alive who doesn't want to be Rick Blaine and not a woman alive who doesn't want to be Ilsa Lund. By the end of the movie, I want to run out and buy a trench coat. 

And now, for the best films ever made. I'm leaving two obvious ones off the list, Citizen Kane and Casablanca, because that would be cheating. Let me preface my list by saying these are in no particular order.

1) The Godfather-- Specifically, part 2 (let's just forget the third film, shall we?) Tracing the rise of Vito Corleone from young and presumably illegal immigrant to boss of his own mob, and paralleling that to the successes and personal failures of his son Michael as a reluctant crime boss was a stroke of genius. They say it's lonely at the top and with this movie, we understand why. 

2) Seven Samurai -- I could have made this list with nothing but Kuroasawa films-- Ran, Rashomon, Yojimbo-- but Seven Samurai is the most accessible movie for Western audiences. Indeed, this movie was remade as The Magnificent Seven. It is a parable of self-reliance and fallen heroes, and while it contains every archetypal character in moviedom, Kurosawa never allows them to slip into caricature. 

3) Rear Window -- Hitchcock makes this list as well, but with a far more powerful and far less cartoonish film. Rear Window is a claustrophobic monster film that takes place entirely within a hundred feet of the protagonist, L. B. Jeffries (played by Jimmy Stewart), who is wheelchair bound after breaking his leg on a photographic assignment. His apartment is not ADA-friendly, so he cannot leave his house and must rely on his girlfriend (Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly) and his nurse Stella, played by Thelma Ritter. He believes he has witnessed a murder, but cannot prove a thing because, hello, wheelchair. 

4) Singin' In The Rain -- This is the movie that should contain the line "You're going out a youngster but you've got to come back a star!" Sadly, someone else beat them to it.

5) 2001: A Space Odyssey -- The single most visually stunning movie of all time. Made in 1968, before the advent of CGI and digital imaging, 2001 will blow you away.