Dan’s All-Time Top 100 – The Complete List

Dan’s Top 100 Movies

The Complete List

(Jan 1 2015)

Happy 2015!!! I am often asked for movie recommendations. Here is a good place to start. There are likely some titles here you have not seen or some that could really warrant a revisit. I will update this list from time to time, probably annually, as new movies come out or as watch older films for the first time or gain a greyer appreciation for them. I also added my “runner’s up”, the last 10 movies I cut, in order. Over time, as I add titles, the Top 100 will grow.

The blog will continue. I will add new movie reviews, essays on older films, more complete reviews of some of my Top 100 films and Oscar commentaries. In addition, I will add film retrospectives by year and decade from time to time.

Completing a public Top 100 has been a long standing goal of mine. Thanks for joining me!

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Dan’s Top 100 Movies (Jan 1 2015)

  1. The Godfather Part II (1974 – Coppola)
  2. Goodfellas (1991 – Scorsese)
  3. The Godfather (1972 – Coppola)
  4. Amadeus (1984 – Forman)
  5. Singing in the Rain (1952 – Donen)
  6. Pulp Fiction (1994 – Tarantino)
  7. Raging Bull (1980 – Scorsese)
  8. West Side Story (1961 – Wise & Robbins)
  9. A Fish Called Wanda (1985 -Chricton )
  10. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001,2002,2003 – Jackson)
  11. This is Spinal Tap (Reiner – 1983)
  12. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1983 – Spielberg)
  13. Citizen Kane (Welles – 1941)
  14. Fargo (1996 – Coen)
  15. Platoon (1986 – Stone)
  16. Casablanca (1943 – Curtiz)
  17. Vertigo (Hitchcock – 1958)
  18. Schindler’s List (1993 – Spielberg)
  19. Apocalypse Now (1979 – Coppola)
  20. WALL-E (Stanton – 2008)
  21. Taxi Driver (1976 – Scorsese)
  22. The Empire Strikes Back (1980 – Lucas)
  23. Tootsie (1982 -Pollack)
  24. Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1974 – Gilliam)
  25. Moonstruck (1987 – Jewison)
  26. Inglorious Basterds (2009 – Tarantino)
  27. All The President’s Men (1976 – Pakula)
  28. The Silence of the Lambs (1991 – Demme)
  29. A Clockwork Orange (1970 – Kubrick)
  30. Patton (1970 – Schaffner)
  31. Mississippi Burning (1988 – Parker)
  32. The Incredibles – (2004 – Bird)
  33. The Color Purple (1985 – Speilberg)
  34. Midnight Express (1976 – Parker)
  35. Being There (1979 – Ashby)
  36. The Searchers (1956 – Ford)
  37. Dog Day Afternoon (1975 – Lumet)
  38. Breaking Away (1979 – Yates)
  39. Some Like it Hot (Wilder – 1959)
  40. Stop Making Sense (1984 – Demme)
  41. Nashville (1975 – Altman)
  42. Smith Goes to Washington (1939 – Capra)
  43. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006 – del Toro)
  44. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962 – Mulligan)
  45. Robocop (1987 – Verhoven)
  46. Young Frankenstein (1974 – Brooks)
  47. High Noon (1952 – Zimmerman)
  48. Jaws (1975 – Spielberg)
  49. Bladerunner (Scott – 1982)
  50. Saving Private Ryan (1998 – Spielberg)
  51. The Third Man (1947 – Reed)
  52. Scarface (1983 – DePalma)
  53. The Up Documentaries (1966 to present – Apted)
  54. Do the Right Thing (1989 – Lee)
  55. The Dark Night (Nolan – 2008)
  56. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb (1964 – Kubrick)
  57. Alien (Scott – 1979)
  58. Aliens (Cameron – 1986)
  59. Duck Soup (1933 – McCarey)
  60. On The Waterfront (1954 – Kazan)
  61. The Departed (2006 – Scorsese)
  62. Glengarry Glen Ross (Mamet – 1992)
  63. Die Hard (McTiernan – 1988)
  64. E. T. The Extra Terrestrial (Spielberg – 1983)
  65. City Lights (Chaplin – 1931)
  66. The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont – 1993)
  67. Gravity (2013 – Cauron)
  68. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Zemekis – 1985)
  69. 2001 A Space Odyssey (Kubrick – 1969)
  70. The Little Mermaid (Clements/Musker – 1991)
  71. Psycho (Hitchcock – 1960)
  72. The Producers (Brooks – 1968)
  73. Hannah and Her Sisters (Allen – 1986)
  74. Hoop Dreams (James – 1994)
  75. Army of Darkness (Raimi – 1992)
  76. The Big Lebowski (Coen 1998)
  77. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Burton /Sellick – 1993)
  78. Bride of Frankenstein (Whale – 1935)
  79. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006 – Eastwood)
  80. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming – 1939)
  81. The Fog of War (Morris – 2003)
  82. Moulin Rouge (Luhrmann – 2001)
  83. Terminator 2 – Judgment Day (Cameron – 1991)
  84. Millers Crossing (Coen – 1990)
  85. 12 Angry Men (Lumet – 1957)
  86. 21 Grams (Gonzales Irraitu – 2003)
  87. The Princess Bride (1989 – Reiner)
  88. The Philadelphia Story (1940 – Cuckor)
  89. Ghostbusters (1983 – Reitman)
  90. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry – 2004)
  91. Juno (Reitman – 2007)
  92. Star Trek: First Contact (Frakes – 1996)
  93. Avatar (Cameron 2009)
  94. Wall Street (Stone – 1986)
  95. When Harry Met Sally … (Reiner – 1988)
  96. Belle Epoque (Treuba – 1992)
  97. Say Anything (Crowe – 1989)
  98. Planet of the Apes (Schaffner – 1968)
  99. The Breakfast Club (1983 – Hughes)
  100. The Blues Brothers (1980 – Reitman)

 

Runner Up List

  1. The Conversation (1974 – Coppola)
  2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982 – Meyer)
  3. Fight Club (1999 – Fincher)
  4. Being John Malkovich (1999 – Jonze)
  5. Rear Window (1954 – Hitchcock)
  6. Minority Report (2002 – Speilberg)
  7. The Sweet Hereafter (1997 – Egoyan)
  8. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951 – Kazan)
  9. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946 – Kapra)
  10. Nosferatu (1922 – Murnau)

Please offer comments, feedback, suggestions….

Dan’s All-Time Top 100 – #1

#1 The Godfather Part II”

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo

Stars: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Lee Strasburg, Robert DeNiro, Michael V. Gazzo, John Cazale, Talia Shire

Original Release Date: 20 Dec 1974

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Oscars: 6 (Picture, Director, Supporting Actor – Robert DeNiro, Score, Screenplay, Art Direction), 6 other nominations

Critics and Users

Rotten Tomatoes: 99%                    Berardinelli: 4.0 , #47 All time Top 100

Metacritic: n/a                                   Ebert: 3.0 original, 4.0 re-review in 2008, Top 10 of the 70’s

IMDB Top 250: #3

 

The Godfather Part II is my single favourite film and has been for over 20 years. It’s a bit of a curious choice because it cannot stand on its own without the original film, whereas The Godfather is a complete film in and of itself. The first film makes the second one great and the second one adds immeasurable depth to the first. (Let’s not mention Part III).

While there is a theme running through my top three films (gangster film, set within a certain era, long running time, sweeping story lines) there is a darkness and sadness to The Godfather Part II that gives it an timeless appeal.

You cannot discuss this film without reference to the first. At the end of Part I, we see Michael, now in iron fisted control on the Corleone Empire, his enemies vanquishes and his power absolute. We have watched him transform from disinterest outsider to a man who will do literally anything to maintain his power.

Robert DeNiro as young Vito Corleone. A brilliant performance, one where we can see the character transformations in his expressions.

Robert DeNiro as young Vito Corleone. A brilliant performance, one where we can see the character transformations in his expressions.

In Part II, we get two intertwined stories. Set in the current time of the late 1950s, we see Michael’s vast empire increase as he takes control of gambling in Vegas and sets in motion a plan to do the same in pre-Castro Cuba. This story is woven with flash backs to the rise of his father, Vito. It stretches a timeline from 1901 when Vito escapes from Sicily, to the final shot of Michael, isolated, in 1964.

 

Robert DeNiro plays Young Vito in an Oscar winning performance that I consider the greatest of all time. DeNiro lived in Sicily for four months to learn the dialect and brilliantly adopts the Bronx accent and penchant to pepper in a little English here and there as well. It’s a school in method acting, subtlety, gesture and character.

 

John Cazale as Fredo. Cazale only ever appears in 5 films,all were nominated for Best Picture and three won. He was engaged to Meryl Streep at the time of his death at age 42 from Leukaemia.

John Cazale as Fredo. Cazale only ever appears in 5 films,all were nominated for Best Picture and three won. He was engaged to Meryl Streep at the time of his death at age 42 from Leukaemia.

In the opening scene, it is the first communion of Michael’s son Anthony and Michael is seeing supplicants in the same way his father did in Part I at Connie’s wedding. Michael is growing paranoid and distrustful of everyone, including his long time consigliore Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). He embarks on a mission to find out who is loyal while expanding his empire. The screenplay gives us little information as we watch Michael joust with the various players in his life. He makes each move having to anticipate endless life or death outcomes.

The cast of this movie is flawless. As Roger Ebert pointed out in his 2008 essay, are there any other films in which you can name 6, 7 or 8 characters 40 years later? Michael V Gazzo as Frankie Penatangali is brilliant, tough, old school; easily confused but in his mind knows right from wrong. John Cazale reprises his role as Fredo, Michael’s witless brother. Pacino and Cazale were good friends and went on to make Dog Day Afternoon together.

"So, I want everyone to enjoy their cake. So, enjoy"

“So, I want everyone to enjoy their cake. So, enjoy”

Lee Strasburg, founder of The Actors Studio, comes out of retirement to play Hyman Roth,. On the outside, he is a soft-spoken even kindly aging Jewish man, but inside, a ruthless criminal with an empire to protect.

As we watch the flash back scenes, we see Don Vito rise from a street thug and killer to the man he became, still a criminal but a leader, a diplomat and a man loved by those around him. We watch Michael, unable to stay in his father’s footsteps, become a man who will do anything and lose everything he loves to maintain power. Vito Corleone’s empire was controlled by love and respect; Michael’s by fear.

What I love about this movie, what puts it atop my list and keeps it just a teeny bit ahead of Goodfellas is the vastness of the story arch and the depths of its themes. To dismiss this movie (and Part I) as glorification of the mafia is to miss the point entirely. This is a film about guilt, the secrets we carry in the deepest caverns of our souls, the transience of power and living in the shadows and expectations of our fathers.

"I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart."

“I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart.”

 

Best Quote:

Michael Corleone: There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

 

Trivia:

Francis Ford Coppola wanted to produce the movie and not direct. He chose Martin Scorsese to direct but was turned down by the studio and took on the project himself.

 Robert Deniro and Marlon Brando are the only two actors to receive Oscars for portraying the same character.

 The word mafia is never spoken in the first film. The Part II, it is spoken three times, each one at the Senate hearing.

 Legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman can be seen as one of the senators.

 Cinematographer Gordon Willis became known as the “Prince of Darkness” for his use of dimly lit scenes in these two movies.

 Nominated for 12 Oscars and winner of 6, including Director, Picture and Screenplay. The first movie sequel to ever win Best Picture. It was made for $13,000,000 and gross a very impressive $58,000,000. However, it never lived up to the expectations set by the original, which grossed $134,000,000 domestic and became the highest grossing movie of all time.

 Today, this movie routinely appears near the top of many “Best Of All Time Lists”. At the time of its release, it received tepid reviews and was considered too long and convoluted.

 

A beautiful shot of Michael, along and isolated. Note the lighting, the use of sepia tone, the point of view and framing. A perfect shot.

A beautiful shot of Michael, along and isolated. Note the lighting, the use of sepia tone, the point of view and framing. A perfect shot.

Dan’s All-Time Top 100 – #2

#2Goodfellas”

Director: Martin Scorcese

Screenplay: Martin Scorcese, Nicolas Pileggi

Stars: Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino

Original Release Date: 19 Sep 1990

 Oscars: 1 (Supporting Actor – Joe Pesce), 5 other nominations. It lost to Dances with Wolves. Dances with freakin’ Wolves. I’m still bitter over that.

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Critics and Users

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%                                   Berardinelli: 4.0 , #39 All time

Metacritic: n/a                                                  Ebert: 4.0, best movie of 1990, #3 of the 90s

IMDB Top 250: #16

 

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster”.

So speaks Henry Hill is his voice-over narration of Martin Scorsese’s 1990 instant classic, Goodfellas. In real life, Hill was born of an Irish Father and Sicilian Mother. Because he was not pure Sicilian blood, he could never be a “made” guy in a crew. An untouchable. A boss. He did, however, at the age of 12, capture the attention of Paul “Paulie” Vario, Brooklyn capo of the Lucchese crime family.

Hill became associated with Jimmy “The Gent” Burke and Tommy DeSimone. The three lead a life of crime, extortion, rackets and drug trafficking. Paulie, Jimmy and Tommy have different last names in the movie and Tommy serves as a bit of a composite character, but the depictions of their real life brutality and lack of respect for anything other than their own gratification is shockingly real.

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No ever asks a direct question : “Whaddya know about that thing?”. Paulie slapping Henry was improvised and Henry’s shocked reaction was very real.

 

Goodfellas is based on the Nicolas Pileggi’s novel Wise Guys, based on Hill’s life has a mid level operative and eventually FBI informant. The movie deals in theme’s often scene in Scorsese’s films, guilt, loyalty and fear. Scorsese’s master stroke is balancing those themes with a movie that also tells longingly of the fun and the good times but at the same time, chokes you with the paranoia of its characters as lives careen out of control and the walls close in.

The Godfather and Goodfellas both are Gangster films, both cinematic classics, both directed by Italian-American Directors. They are both voyeuristic looks inside a closed world and both long films that take time to explore details and themes. But with this much in common, they could not be any more different.

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All mob films prominently feature food. This scene, with Scorsese’s real life mother, is almost entirely improvised and amongst the movie’s best scenes.

Goodfellas is the finest work from America’s best living director. It is a film with no plot but it’s like a live wire. It does not tell a story, it shows us how it felt to be in a crew. The loyalty that is overshadowed by forced laughter. The sense you belong coupled with the sense that you could get whacked at any minute.

Technically, this film is as close to perfect as you will ever see. The choices by Scorsese, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and long time editor Thelma Schoomaker fit the mood of the film at the time. Note for example, how in the earlier scenes, we see cameras breeze lazily across bars and restaurant, introducing us to characters, everyone relaxed and enjoying the fruit of a life they essentially stole. The most famous is the 184 second single tracking camera shot through the back of the Copacabana while Henry and his girlfriend Karen enter for a date. It shows the confidence, power and influence Hill had at 21.

The final set piece, of one the greatest ever filmed, is on the other hand jolted, quick cuts, brightly lit and zooms in and out to match the effects of the drug induced paranoia. As Henry so glibly says, “I was gonna be busy all day”. Gunrunning, dealing coke, running from the feds and shipping “The Pittsburgh stuff” (they never say cocaine) by way of his babysitter all take equal prominence to veal and a good tomato sauce. That scene does not end; it crashes off a cliff.

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“I’m a clown? I amuse you”.

Joe Pesci’s legendary performance as Tommy DeVito (based on real life gangster Thomas DeSimone) deservedly won Best Supporting Actor and is the centrepiece of the film. The movie is peppered with unforgettable minor roles and leads doing some of the best work of their careers.

Goodfellas is an indictment on a life of crime. But it does not stand on a soapbox and point fingers and pontificate. It dives into the trenches of a life a crew and let’s the viewer know the appeal of this life, how it became their norm, why they all did it and why they would all do it again.

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In this scene, as Jimmy grows increasingly paranoid, the camera slowly moves in as the intro to “Sunshine of Your Love” plays in the background. A perfect scene.

 

Favourite Quote

Tommy DeVito: “Oh no….”

 

Trivia

The real life Tommy DeSimone was a large burly man not a short guy as portrayed in the movie. Other than that, Hill said that Joe Pesci’ portrayal was “90 to 95% accurate”.

 321 F-bombs in this movie, ½ spoken by Pesci’s character.

 Many of the events in the movie depict real life events, including the heists of Air France and Lufthansa, the murder of Gambino Family made man Billy Bats, Henry’s first awful date with Karen and the torching of the rival neighbour cab stand.

 Body Count: 10

 Joe Pesci was genuinely shocked and unprepared for his Oscar victory. His acceptance speech “It’s my privilege, thank you” is one of the shortest speeches in Oscar history.

 The “Do I look funny to you scene” was based on a real life experience with Pesci was a young and serving a real life mobster in a restaurant. The scene is largely improvised and Scorsese did not tell the other actors what was going on to get their genuine reactions of shock.

Director Martin Scorsese’s attention to detail included tying Ray Liotta’s ties for him and having his parents on set to iron the gangsters shirts because they would do it properly. His parents both also appear in the film. His father as Vinne (makes the sauce in prison and says to DeNiro over the phone “You know what I mean, he’s…gone”. His mother as Joe Pesci’s mother in the legendary late night meal scene. 

 Casting notes: Original choices for Henry and Karen were Tom Cruise and Madonna. Al Pacino and John Malkovich both turned down Jimmy The Gent Conway. Sean Penn and Alec Baldwin both auditioned for Henry. Robbie Vinton plays his father, Bobby Vinton and lip synchs his father’s singing.

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Even in prison, its about the food. The time the movie takes to describe how Paulie preps garlic is brilliant. A nearly 3 minute scene talking about dinner in “the joint” as “Beyond the Sea” croons in the background.

 

 

 

Dan’s All-Time Top 100 – #3

#3 The Godfather”

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo

Stars: Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Al Pacino

Original Release Date: 24 March 1972

Oscars: 3 (Picture, Actor – Marlon Brando, Adapted Screenplay), 8 other nominations

 Poster from the original release of the film in 1972

Poster from the original release of the film in 1972

Critics and Users

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%                                  Berardinelli: 4.0 , #6 on his top 100

Metacritic: n/a                                                    Ebert: 4.0, #1 movie of 1972, Top 10 of the 70s

IMDB Top 250: #2

(Amongst IMDB users, the #1 ranked film flips between this and Shawhank)

 

There are several strokes of genius in Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar Winning “The Godfather”. Note  how it creates a sympathetic character from the great Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). The Don is a career criminal who has built a vast empire by way or murder, extortion and racketeering, yet the film portrays him as a businessman. We never see the effects of crime on the streets or on ordinary lives. This movie is told from within a closed world.

In a sense, The Godfather is a voyeuristic delight, a film that takes you deep inside a world we don’t see and shows us to it on its own terms. Almost all the characters are criminals, the only main role from a cop is crooked and the wives have all learned to turn a blind eye and not question.

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Kay learning the truth about the Corleones. I love the attention to detail, particularly the jug of wine on the table. In the novel, Mama Corleone never liked her, the “washed-out rag of an American girl” that Michael brought home.

 

The Godfather took the time to be a period piece. Released in 1972, its takes place just after World War II, in a world of big black cars and wide brimmed hats. If you tried to remake this movie now into a world of text messages and modern technology, it simply would not work.

The story is simple and is almost a fable, like a story of a King and his three sons. While the movie moves from story to story, Hollywood, the drug trade, the attempted murder of Vito, Michael in Sicily, the larger story arch of the movie involves the transference of the sweeping criminal empire down a generation. Which son will it be? Santino, the violent, hot-headed capo regime who cannot keep his emotions in control. Fredo, the soft hearted, slightly dim witted middle son who loves his father but does not seem to have the stomach for the business? Or Michael, the cool, detached youngest son who in the beginning shows no interest in The Family Business.

A tour-de-force scene in the family garden, Vito talking about Michael and his life as the new Don.

A tour-de-force scene in the family garden, Vito talking about Michael and his life as the new Don.

Inside this world, there is only one rule; “Don’t ever takes sides against the family”. This is spoken with icy foreshadowing from Michael to his brother. The Corleone family will do whatever it takes to exert its will and loyalty is its most valued commodity. To be in the Don’s debt means you will be called upon, as the undertaker Amerigo Bonisera finds out after pleading for vengeance in the first scene.

The Corleone’s are at the heart of it a large, close-knit Sicilian family and as such, many of the scene of this movie take place with food. Chinese food boxes, large dinners, cooking pasta for a group of button men, the wedding feasts – all part of the large role that not just food, but the breaking of bread together plays in the Italian family. No matter what happens, you must eat. There are in fact over 60 scene involving food or drink. Even when Solozzo kidnaps Tom Hagen, he offers him a drink. It is after all, only polite.

The cinematography by Gordon Willis is brilliant. In the early shots, he uses a great deal of darkness and  wash to give the movie its old feel. There is very little of the movie that takes place in daylight. Most of the shots are point of view, with very little showing aerial.

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Tessio’s fate. Note the point of view. Gordon Willis show this film as if you are on the ground, as an observer. This increases the impression that you are viewing the mob from the inside.

But what makes the movie legendary is the unlikely cast. Brando’s role is arguable the most imitated and quoted character in movie history. The supporting cast of Caan, Duvall and Pacino represent an A-list at the time that proved perfect. And the lesser roles, like Fredo, Tessio, fearsome hit man Luca Brasi – all perfect.

From its opening scene at Connie’s wedding to the gripping, blood curdling climax where Michael becomes The Godfather in the literal and figurative sense, there is not a dull frame or a flat scene in this 172 minute masterpiece. If you have not seen it, I envy the experience you are about to have.

 

 

Favourite line:

Clemenza: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli”

 This is my single favourite line of any film. Like many of the great pieces of movie dialogue, “take the cannoli” was improvised.

 A fearsome Sicilian hitman not worried about the dead body he leaves behind. But Gold help him is he comes home without the cannoli.

And like many great pieces if dialogue its the subtext that makes it great. A fearsome Sicilian hit man is not worried about the dead body he leaves behind. But God help him if he comes home without the cannoli.

 

Trivia:

Al Pacino boycotted the Oscars because he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, despite having more screen time than Brando who was nominated, won and refused the award for Best Actor.

 The cat in the opening scene was a stray found by Marlon Brando.

 George Lucas assembled the “Mattress Sequence” of spinning headlines and scenes of the gang war.

 One of the earliest used of the phrase “bada-bing” by Sonny. James Caan had earlier heard the term used by real life gangster Carmine Persico, with whom Caan was acquainted. Persico is now serving a life sentence for racketeering.

 Director Francis Ford Coppola did his own screen tests at his home in Northern California with Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Diane Keaton. The studio insisted however on full screen tests. Coppola later said that for $400,000 the studio got the cast that he had for four sandwiches and some wine.

Dan’s All-Time Top 100 – #4

#4 Amadeus”

Director: Milos Forman

Screenplay: Paul Shaffer

Stars: Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Berridge

Original Release Date: 19 Sep 1984

Oscars: 8. (Picture, Director, Actor – F. Murray Abraham, Editing, Screenplay, Costume Design, Art Direction, Cinematography)

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Critics and Users

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%                                 Berardinelli: 4.0 , #22 all time Top 100

Metacritic: n/a                                                 Ebert: 4.0 #1 movie of 1984

IMDB Top 250: #90

 

“This movie is on the altar of my love for the cinema”. Dan Burjoski

Well, that was actually Roger Ebert . But the way he feels about The Third Man is the way I feel about Amadeus. I can tell you the story of when I saw it, why I saw and where. I still vividly remember my reaction to the movie: I left the theatre and for the first time thought to myself “this is the best movie I have ever seen”. It has been at or near the top of my list for many years.

Murray Abraham plays Antonio Salieri, court composer to Emperor Joseph II of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The movie starts with the aging Salieri, confined to an asylum, confessing to a young priest. The old man seems hardly insane but he tells the young clergyman that he murdered Mozart. The movie then takes us in flash backs to their parallel lives. Salieri was a man of considerable taste but mediocre talent. He could recognize the genius of Mozart, the ease with which he composes as if “he was taking dictation from God.”

F. Murray Abraham's brilliant Oscar winning portrayal of Salieri. His make up for the scenes of him as an old man took four hours a day.

F. Murray Abraham’s brilliant Oscar winning portrayal of Salieri. His make up for the scenes of him as an old man took four hours a day.

Let’s forget its historical accuracy or lack thereof. The movie is true to the nature of the relationship and is a great historical reproduction of how and opera came to be in Mozart’s time. But moreover, it is homage to a genius and a study of the seething jealousy of a man who can see it but not emulate it. Mozart’s very existence is a reminder to Salieri of his extreme mediocrity.

Director Milos Forman filmed the movie in his native Prague, which better suited the recreation of 18th century Vienna. The movie rightfully swept the technical Oscars as well as the major awards. In addition to being entertaining, compelling, fun and amusing, it’s a visual feast.

 

The attention to detail in the opera scenes is breath taking

The attention to detail in the opera scenes is breath taking

The movie’s title, which is Mozart’s middle name, means From God. It plays into Salieri’s belief that Mozart, a vulgar, perverted, immature man, was God’s chosen composer, while he, a chaste man of deep religious beliefs, was cursed with second rate talent.

Mozart is not portrayed as a burdened tortured genius but rather a fun loving puerile drunkard whose genius comes all to easy to him. When asked where an opera is that is supposed to start rehearsal in a week, Mozart says “Here, in my noodle. The rest is just scribbling and bibbling”. He had it written in his head.

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In the movie’s final climatic great scene, Mozart, ridden with disease lay dying in bed and he is essentially dictating music to Salieri, music Salieri intends to steal as his own for Mozart’s requiem mass. We see and hear the music build, layer over layer and Salieri in complete awe of what is streaming forth from Mozart’s fertile brain. It’s one of my favourite scenes in all of film.

Amadeus holds a unique place in cinematic history. It is a Oscar winning best picture that never cracked the Top 5 in weekly box office. It is at the same time a sweeping epic, but yet approaches comedy at times. It spawned an unusual international #1 pop song and its soundtrack is amongst the best selling classical albums in history. It takes incredible risks and pulls them off with confidence. It could easily top my list.

For me, it represents everything a great film should be.

 

Favourite Quote:

Salieri: Mediocrities everywhere… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you all.

  

Trivia:

The performance of Don Giovanni was filmed on the very stage where it was first performed.

 A young Cynthia Nixon who later gained inter nation fame in Sex and the City, plays Mozart's maid.

A young Cynthia Nixon who later gained international fame in Sex and the City, plays Mozart’s maid.

Tim Curry and Mark Hamill both vied for the role of Mozart. Both went on to play the role on Broadway. Mel Gibson and Mick Jagger were also considered for the role.

 Director Milos Forman chose an all American cast and insisted they do no use accents. This was so they could concentrate on the character rather than the accent.

 Prague was still under communist rule at the time of filming. This made it ideal since things like asphalt and TV antennas were very rare. As a result, almost all sets are Prague of 1984. Only four sets had to be built for the entire three hour film.

 During the Oscar ceremony, an aging Sir Laurence Olivier awarded best picture. He simply read the winners name, Amadeus and forgot to list the other nominees. When he accepted the award, Producer Saul Zaentz, with great subtlety and class, acknowledged the other four nominees.

 

 

Dan’s All-Time Top 100 – #5

#5 Singin’ in The Rain”

Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

Screenplay: Adolf Green, Betty Comden

Stars: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen

Original Release Date: 11 April 1952

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Oscars: None, two nominations . Seriously, only two. WTF.

 Critics and Users

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%                              Berardinelli: 4.0 stars (#44 All time)

Metacritic: n/a                                               Ebert: 4.0 (Called it the best movie musical ever made)

IMDB Top 250: #86

 

Singin’ in the Rain is pure cinematic joy. It’s the ultimate feel good film; funny, sad, corny, sappy, peppered with the greatest song and dance routines ever committed to film. I am often asked what movies are close to the top of my list and when I mention this one, I am stunned how many people have not seen it. Here is a great film to see for the first time on Christmas Day.

At the time of its release in 1952, SITR was a moderate hit, receiving decent reviews and box office success. It was not hailed as a classic. But over time, it has aged perfectly and continues to entertain. It has become the defining movie of its genre.

"Good Morning" - Debbie Reynolds matches steps with Kelly and O'Connor.

“Good Morning” – Debbie Reynolds matches steps with Kelly and O’Connor.

The movie takes place in 1927 at the dawn of the talkie, the greatest revolution ever in film. Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a former vaudeville performer who has made it big as a romantic silent film lead with Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). Don is slick and polished and cool and Lina is smart as a ham sandwich. The big problem is that talking films are coming and Lina, when she speaks, sounds as pleasant as a dental drill.

The film was pieced together and plundered from songs and sets in the studio’s archives and many don’t realize that most of the songs, including the title are reworks of earlier songs.

Gene Kelly and co-star Donald O’Connor were veterans of Song and Dance, but the demure, perky Debbie Reynolds as the love interest Kathy was not. She trained with the her male leads for months, only 19 at the time, and was soon able to go toe to toe with them, especially in the number “Good Morning”.

The breath taking, break neck tap of Moses Supposes.

The breath taking, break neck tap of Moses Supposes.

The dance routines are breath taking and to this day, awe-inspiring. Fit as a Fiddle, Moses Supposes and Good Morning are a combination of jaw dropping tap and acrobatics that have never been duplicated. But it’s Kelly’s splashing heedless joy of the Singin’ in the Rain and Donald O’Connor’s Make ‘em Laugh that are arguably the two best song and dance routines every filmed.

Make’em Laugh is O’Connor singing, dancing, contorting his face, climbing walls and pulling off tricks that defy the imagination. Its one of those scenes that you can watch 10 times in row and never it will never grow old. As Roger Ebert pointed out, it was painstakingly rehearsed but it looks like he is making it up as he goes along.

The endearing love story is timeless. But the laughs come from the movie within a movie and a desperate Lockwood and hapless Lamont try to make their first talkie. Lina is so unskilled that she cannot remember where microphones are hidden.

I went back and forth a lot on which musical I wanted to place higher on my list, this or West Side Story (#8). My attachment to West Side Story is largely sentimental. It is by all measures a great film but takes a back seat here.

If you are a lover of film, song, dance, comedy, romance or just feeling good, then this is your movie.

 

One of the most iconic images in all of cinema.

One of the most iconic images in all of cinema.

 

Favourite Quote:

Cosmo: “Lina, she can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat.”

 

Trivia:

Donald O’Connor was a four pack a day smoker at the time this movie was filmed. Make ‘em Laugh was such an exhausting experience he was bed ridden for three days. Technical problems led to the destruction of the film and the scene had to be reshot. O’Connor said that by the end of the second shoot, “my feet and ankles were a mass of bruises”.

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 The dance sequence for Singing in the Rain took an entire day to set up. Gene Kelly who was sick at the time, insisted on doing a take. He improvised almost all it and that first take was the only one shot and it is what you see in the movie.

 Voted 4th greatest film of all time by Sight and Sound Magazine (considered the definitive 10 Best list) and 5th by the American Film Institute.

 Only two songs, Make ‘em Laugh and Moses Supposes were written for the film. All others were pulled from archives and the screenwriters wrote the story around the existing songs. Even Make’em Laugh is largely considered a re-write of “Be a Clown” from The Pirate (1948).

Largely unappreciated at the time of its release, it was nominated for only two Oscars and it did not appear on any critics Top 10 List of 1952.

Dan’s All Time Top 100 – #6

#6 Pulp Fiction”

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary

Stars: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, and Christopher Walken

Original Release Date: 14 October 1994

Oscars: 1 (Best Original Screenplay), 6 other nominations

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Critics and Users

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%                                      Berardinelli: 4.0 stars, #81 all Time

Metacritic: 9.0                                                      Ebert: 4.0 stars, #3 of the 90s

IMDB Top 250: #5

The key to the triumph, legend and longevity of Pulp Fiction lies in the dialogue. Note the second scene. Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are mid level hit men on their way to do a job. And its just that to them, a job. So as they prepare, they chat, they gossip about other gangsters (co-workers), hash bars and Quarter Pounders. You see, this is what people do when they are at work. Small talk. Never do the characters talk about what they are going to do, or why. The script is far to clever and releases information only as the natural dialogue of the characters allows.

Pulp Fiction is pure fun and entertainment. It is, at the exact same time, violent and disturbing. Only Mr. Tarantino can pull that off. Upon its release in 1994, the movie was almost instantly launched into mythical status for its violence. Roger Ebert said “I have either seen the best or the worst movie of the year”. Its that kind of film. Like or dislike it, it will invoke a strong response.

Pulp-Fiction_Ving-Rhames

“Step aside, Butch.” The Gimp. A truly disturbing yet fascinating sequence.

Its reputation for violence is unfounded, especially by today’s standards and much of the violence is inferred or takes place off screen. For example, when Butch kills Maynard, we get gory sound effects but do not see what is happening.

Pulp Fiction is most famous however for its non-linear story. Telling three separate tales to their completion but not in an overlapping linear fashion. The three tales all end in redemption for their main characters (Jules, Vincent and Butch) but the way the events fold out, if you watched chronologically, it would not have the same effect.

The prose in this film is witty and clever. It invokes laughs but does not ask for them. It overlays incredible seriousness with cheekiness. From his entrance, Harvey Keitel’s Winston Wolf has a serious matter at hand. Dispose of a body, clean up a blood soaked car and two blood drenched gangsters , dispose of the car and the body, all in 40 minutes before Jimmie’s wife gets home for work. The dialogue is painfully funny because this entire time, this crew of murderers and gangsters find their common fear: the wrath of a woman.

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Christoper Walken as Captain Koons. One of the great cameo roles in film history.

Could anyone in the movies, living or dead, portray Captain Koons and give the speech on the history of the gold watch any better than Christopher Walken. I think not. And if you doubt that Bruce Willis can act, then give this film a second look.

Legendary Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers said “Do you self a favour with Pulp Fiction. Don’t just watch, listen”. That is some good advice. It’s a movie of relentless action made for a paltry $8 million. It’s a rare achievement.

Pulp Fiction established QT as a force in film and revitalized several careers. Its as fresh an influential today as it was in first release 20 years ago. It stands today as one of the greatest films ever made.

 

 

Favourite Quote:

Jules: “That is one tasty burger”

Pulp-Fiction-Burger

 

Trivia

There are 265 F-bombs in this film with a 153 minute run time.

Chronologically, the last line of the film is Butch saying “Zed’s dead baby. Zed’s dead”.

 The movie never mentions what is in Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase. The screenplay originally had it full of diamonds but writers QT and Roger Avary felt that this was too mundane. They left it up to the viewer’s imagination.

 The t-shirt given to Jules by Jimmie to wear is from the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs.

 Mickey Rourke passed on the role of Butch. Daniel Day Lewis was turned down for Vincent. Jules wa written specifically for Samuel L. Jackson.

Something bad happens in this film every time Vincent Goes to the washroom. 

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A brilliant shot from the opening scene. Jules and Vincent prepping for a hit from the PoV of the trunk of the car.