After seeing far too much of the world in far to short a period of time, I am back with with final few entries in this part of my blog. Thank you to all readers for your comments, interest and feedback.
As I enter the Top 20, I am going to talk more about each film and provide a little more information, including where they stand (stood) with some of my favourite movie lists and critics. In addition, I will provide my favourite quote and piece of trivia from the film.
I will do #20 to 11 in two groups of 5, then the Top 10 films will get individual treatment.
All that said, here are the first 5 entries in my Top 20. Enjoy!
Director: Andrew Stanton
Screenplay: Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter
Stars: Ben Burtt, Jeff Garland, Fred Willard and Sigourney Weaver
Original Release Date: 27 June 2008
Oscars: 1 (Animated Feature), 5 other nominations
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% Berardinelli: 3.5 stars
Metacritic: 96% Ebert: 3.5 stars
IMDB Top 250: #60
Of all the entries in my top 20, this is sure to raise the most eyebrows. There have been four or five occasions in my life that I have walked out of theatre in awe, believing fully that I had just seen a future classic. This is one. I feel my awe for this film is justified by the fact that New York Times film critic A.O. Scott ranked this as the #1 movie of the decade. I had it as #2.
WALL-E is a WalMart parody, space opera, environmental cautionary tale, robot love story. There is no dialogue in the first 22 minutes. Where else other than Pixar could such a film ever be made?
WALL-E takes place in a futuristic Earth, which has been rendered uninhabitable by garbage. WALL-E is a small, square, rustic yet adorable robot, the last of his kind, whose job it is to collect and compact trash so that one day Earth can be fit for humankind. Humans have spent now hundreds of years orbiting in space ships and have become motionless gastropods.
WALL-E longs for a companion. In his collection of artifacts, he watches an old VCR tape of Hello Dolly! and longs for the feeling of holding hands. Enter EVE, a robot with obvious female qualities sent to scan for life signs.
The remainder of the plot entails the relationship between the robots and WALL-E willing to do anything to keep his new found love. The movie contains great sight gags, breath-taking imagery (the scene where they dance in space!), biting social commentary and the right amount of excitement. Children will love the big-eyed robots and simple story arch. Adults will love the many layers of underlying themes touching on everything form pollution to big box stores to corporate corruption to young love.
WALL-E was the most critically acclaimed film of 2008, named to more Top 10 Lists than any other movie that year. It is my choice (despite its newness) for the best animated film ever made.
Captain: “So, be sure next mealtime to ask for your free sep-tua-centennial cupcake in a cup. Wow, look at that.”
The first dialogue between WALL·E and EVE begins 22 minutes into the movie. The first human dialogue begins 39 minutes into the movie.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: John Millus and Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Marlon Brando
Original Release Date: 15 Aug 1979
Oscars: 2 (Sound, Cinematography), 6 other nominations
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 99% Berardinelli: 3.0 stars
Metacritic: 90% Ebert: 4.0 stars, Top 10 of the 70s, Top 10 of All Time
IMDB Top 250: #44
This review is based on the original release, not the 4 hour Redux version.
Filmmaking does not get much darker than this. Apocalypse Now has stood for over 30 years at one of the greatest of all war film. It has been dogged by myth, rumour and conjecture. There is even a fascinating documentary about its making. But for the patient and open-minded, it’s a trip.
Set in Viet Nam, a group of American Soldiers let by Captain Willard (Sheen) is sent into Cambodia on a dangerous and officially non-existent mission. They are to track down Colonel Kurtz (Brando) a brilliant soldier who has made himself a god with a local tribe.
As the movie builds, there are exceptional scenes of battle, some of the best ever filmed. As they travel down the river closer to their mission, the myth of Kurtz grows. When we finally see him on screen, we realize that Brando is not only the right choice for this character, but the only one. There was great controversy over his casting, a million dollar paycheck for a small amount of screen time. But it’s a brilliant and important performance.
Apocalypse Now is sprawling, even a bit meandering. But Coppola’s intention was to recreate the chaos of the Vietnam war on screen. He succeeds in spades.
Kurtz: “We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won’t allow them to write “fuck” on their airplanes because it’s obscene!”
The shooting of this film was scheduled for 6 weeks. It took over 16 months.
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Screenplay: Steve Zallian
Stars: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley
Original Release Date: 25 Dec 1993
Oscars: 7 (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Editing Score), 5 other nominations
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 97% Berardinelli: 4.0 stars, Top 10 of the 90s, #5 Top 100
Metacritic: 93% Ebert: 4.0 stars, Top 10 of the 90s
IMDB Top 250: #7
Schindler’s List is a movie that almost falls outside the realm of critical viewing. It is such an artfully made, heart crushing yet uplifting tale of the events in Nazi Poland during WWII, that it sort of stands by itself. I have seen every movie in my Top 20 at least 10 times except this one. I have seen Schindler’s List a total of once. That said, its images are burned in my brain and it was once of the most moving, memorable and horrifying movie experiences of my life.
The film chronicles the story of Oskar Schindler, as well connected businessman in World War II. In the beginning he sees only opportunity and buys a factory, which is staffed by Jewish slave labour in Poland. This story is cut in with Amon Goeth, brilliantly portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, the sociopathic, murdering Nazi commander of the slums of Krakow. What makes this film great is Schindler’s transformation from profiteer to saviour. There is no speech, no “a-ha” moment. Over time, through his relationship with his accountant Itzhak Stern (played with magnificent understatement by Ben Kingsley), he slowly changes his view of the Jews. They go from slave labourers to people who need to survive. There is a key moment in this black and white film, involving colour and the coat of a young girl. I will not describe it here, but it will rip your heart out.
Today, over 6,000 “Schindler Jews” are alive around the world. It lends credence to the quote from the movie, “whoever saves one life, saves the whole world”. This is an important, heartbreaking film that is still laden with good, with hope and with a sense of humanity.
Oskar Schindler: “My father was fond of saying you need three things in life – a good doctor, a forgiving priest, and a clever accountant. The first two, I’ve never had much use for.”
Steven Spielberg refused to be paid for directing this film.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Alec Coppel and Samuel L. Taylor
Stars: James Stewart, Kim Novak
Original Release Date: 21 Jul 1958
Oscars: None, 2 nominations.
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 97% Berardinelli: 4.0 stars
Metacritic: n/a Ebert: 4.0 stars, Top 10 of All Time
IMDB Top 250: #66
Notorious? Rear Window? Psycho? When picking the best of “The Master”, for me it’s Vertigo. Hitchcock has a way of making fear, apprehension and unbearable suspense emerge out of nowhere. No other Director in history has been able to mimic this skill in this way. Otherwise normal scenes turn sinister. Otherwise banal dialogue becomes in a way, evil. Vertigo is compelling, spellbinding, shocking, and creepy and one of the greatest films ever made.
The plot of Vertigo is equally complex and simple. Scottie (James Stewart) is a former detective with back problems and acrophobia. He is approached by an old friend, now a wealthy man, to spy on his wife Madeline, who’s behavior is growing odd and worrisome. Scottie does not just fall for Madeline, but becomes obsessed with her.
Vertigo is not the fear of heights, but the dizziness and spinning sensation that can be triggered by the fear itself. Such a great play on words for this movie’s title. It touches on human fear, greed, lust and phobias. It is likely on the list of best movies you’ve never seen and has just gotten better with age.
Scottie: And then what did he do? Did he train you? Did he rehearse you? Did he tell you exactly what to do, what to say? You were a very apt pupil too, weren’t you? You were a very apt pupil! Well, why did you pick on me? Why me?
In 2012, Sight and Sound Magazine named Vertigo the greatest film of all time in its survey done every 10 years of critics and filmmakers. This is considered by most to be the definitive “best movie list”. It supplanted Citizen Kane, which had been #1 since the 1962 survey. At the time of its release, it was both a critical and commercial failure. Hitchcock blamed this on Stewart being to old for the part and never worked with him again.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Julius Epstein & Phillip Epstein
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Raines
Original Release Date: 23 Jan 1943
Oscars: 3 (Picture, Director, Screenplay), 5 other nominations.
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 97% Berardinelli: 4.0 stars, Top 100 #7
Metacritic: n/a Ebert: 4.0 stars
IMDB Top 250: #28
Casablanca is arguably the best screenplay and the most quotable film of all time. Casablanca has rightly become one of the most beloved films ever made, a movie about scoundrels and low-lifes that eventually choose to do right. The man who says “I stick my neck out for nobody” is in fact one of the noblest men in film.
To watch Bogart in his legendary role as Rick Blaine is to capture the very embodiment of acting. Blaine is a sharp witted, drunken, self loathing rogue , but he has such a sincerity and honesty to him that we love him from top to bottom.
Roger Ebert likened this film to your favourite album. You can view it over and over, year after year, and like it more and more. The plot, dialogue and production are all sparse, but every line and scene is filled with purpose. When the movie was being made, no one knew it was going to become the classic it has.
No film on my Top 100 is more driven by character. They are all deeply flawed and all have secrets. We actually never know why Rick cannot go back to America. That’s left for us to decide. But on the first viewing, we care about them. After multiple viewings, they become part of our own memory.
Favourite Quote (so many in this film):
Renault: What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Renault: The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.
In one of the great movie misconceptions of all time, Bogart’s character Rick Blaine never says “Play it again, Sam” as is widely believed. Ilsa says “Play it Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’ “. The closest Blaine gets is “You played it for her, you can play it for me. If she can take it, I can take it so play it!”