I have often wondered, what are my favourite films of all time. I managed to get 55 of them. I would like to share this list with you.
Here’s the earlier lists:
And now…the first half of the last ten. Whoa.
10. STRANGE DAYS (1995)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writers: James Cameron & Jay Cocks
This is that James Cameron flick that he did not direct. His wife (at the time) Kathryn Bigelow was given the director duties, and holy smokes does she deliver. The films revolves around former cop Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) who now works as a street hustler, selling data discs (SQUID-discs) containing recorded memories and emotions. The murder of an influential rapper triggers a chain of events that throw Lenny and his friend Mace (Angela Bassett) in the midst of police corruption and conspiracies. Lenny’s problems pile up when it seems that his ex-girlfriend Faith (Juliette Lewis) is mixed in the shenanigans and his strong feelings toward her make him incapable to turn away from the darkness that awaits him. Mace tries to be his moral backbone, but will that be enough? Like I said, Kathryn Bigelow directs James Cameron’s text very competently and Cameron writes (with the help of the screenwriter of The Age Of Innocence, Jay Cocks) his best script his ever done. Lenny Nero is (in my humble opinion) one of the best (anti)heroes on celluloid; complex and flawed. His arc is well handled and the superb performance by Ralph Fiennes makes him perfect. He beating the odds is not given and it’s nice to see a character who constantly gets his ass handed to him (even from a girl). He is sort of the flipside to Ellen Ripley in Aliens. Speaking of strong female characters, Angela Bassett follows her strong performance in that Tina Turner biopic (Tina:What’s Love got To Do With It, you should also check out that film because it’s great) by giving a nuanced, sensitive but strong-headed performance in this film. Their characters compliment each other beautifully and their onscreen romance is the best example of interracial love on film. Their kiss at the end (yeah, spoilers to an almost 20 year-old film) happens without even a smallest remark at their race. In fact the race issue comes almost only from the authorities (especially the corrupt ones) and the characters themselves don’t seem to be bothered by racial issues. That’s very cool, Cameron. However, if I had to nitpick about something, it’s the fact that the kid who comes to help Mace at the end is African American. It would have been a stronger moment when a white kid would put himself on the line for a black woman he doesn’t even know. But that’s highly forgivable. The ground breaking camera rig designed by DOP Matthew F.Leonetti enabled the crew to shoot some amazing POV shots emulating the experience of the SQUID-discs, and those scenes are spectacular to look at. Granted, it’s easy to shoot similar scenes nowadays with the flimsy GoPro cameras, but the weight of and texture of a real film camera express commanding authority to make those POV scenes feel all the more real. A precursor for the found footage genre, this film exceeds them all with a handful of Point Of View scenes. Also, before I forget, I really dig the supporting cast here. Vincent D’Onofrio, William Fichtner, Tom Sizemore, Glenn Plummer and goddamn Michael Wincott all do stellar work here. Technically the film is pretty much flawless, looking and sounding great. Bigelow makes the action scenes thrilling and the drama work and she should have won (or should have been even nominated, at least) an Oscar for her efforts here. Strange Days is one of my all-time favorites. Do yourself a favor and see it on the biggest screens you can find. It’s easily worth the admission.
What I love About It: Ralph Fiennes, doing what I think his best work here. That soundtrack. Those awesome B/W still shots during the end credits. Michael Wincott’s line delivery (“Hap-py neeew yyearr!”). Those POV scenes.
Best Quote: “This is your life, right here right now!” (Haven’t I heard this exact line in Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now”? Yep, that’s the one.)
9. MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978)
Director: Alan Parker
Writer: Oliver Stone
If there’s one prison movie that’s better than the Shawshank Redemption, it’s Midnight Express. Telling the true (if slightly exaggerated) story of an American Billy Hayes, who got imprisoned in a Turkish prison after a failed attempt to smuggle hashish out of the country. The condition of the prison is medieval and the brutality of the guards is tasking Billy Hayes’ mental condition. The insanity of the ward is catching on to Billy and he has to find different ways to keep his humanity intact. After failed appeals in the court for his release Billy’s only chance for a life is to attempt a daring escape, slanged as The Midnight Express. Based on an excellent book by William Hoffer and Billy Hayes himself, Oliver Stone adapted the material well. The scene where Billy Hayes (played by Brad Davis, who in real life perished way too soon) berates the judicial system in front of the Turkish court is really emotionally packed and is filled with powerful personal thoughts mr. Hayes contemplated during his incarceration. Many have complained (even Oliver Stone himself in his later days) that the film depicts Turkish people as unsophisticated animals and monsters. And while I agree that the characterization goes overboard sometimes, I also believe that it makes the movie more powerful. Because we see the movie through Billy’s character, who’s to say he didn’t see the Turkish people around him that way? His experiences are overblown for the very reason that he is a stranger in a strange land, which is kind of the point of the film. Director Alan Parker wisely embraces the sheer brutality of the story and makes the film dirty and an unpleasant experience. If this movie has taught me anything, it’s that smuggling is a risk that offers little reward compared to the severe penalty that might lie ahead. So the dehumanization of Turkish prisons and people affected me (and probably others as well) in a way I believe the filmmakers wanted me to. Remember kids: drugs are bad, m-kay?
What I Love About It: That super-tense airport scene. Alan Parker. Giorgio Moroder’s electronic score. Oliver Stone’s ballsy script.
Best Quote: “I just wish for once that you could be in my shoes, Mr. Prosecutor, and then you would know something that you don’t know: mercy! That the concept of a society is based on the quality of that mercy; its sense of fair play; its sense of justice! But I guess that’s like asking a bear to shit in the toilet. “
8. LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) / DANCES WITH WOLVES: DIRECTOR’S CUT (1990)
Director: Arthur Penn / Kevin Costner
Writer: Calder Willingham / Michael Blake
It feels like a cop out to make the no. 8 spot a tie between two films, but if there’s ever two equally great movies made from similar premises it’s these two epic films. Both films depict a white man’s journey to the lives and culture of Native American tribes and the decimation of their harmonious ways with the nature by the brutal and ignorant white people. And in both films the lead character Jack Crabb / John Dunbar learns to embrace the ways of the red man. However the tone of the two films differs greatly. Whereas Little Big Man opts to be a tragi-comedy, Dances With Wolves goes for the more familiar western drama route. But both films are successful in what they aim to be. In Little Big Foot, Dustin Hoffman’s Jack Crabb bounces back and forth between the Indians and the white men, and it makes an insightful journey between the two cultures. The way the film mixes real people of the time and historical events resembles greatly the structure of Forrest Gump, but this film packs more dramatic weight. No scene in Robert Zemeckis’ otherwise competent epic is more gut-wrenching than the scene where a cavalry raids an indian village killing women and children. Terrifying stuff. In Dances With Wolves, the white men are also greedy assholes leaving ravaged wildlife in their wake. And they inevitably inch closer and closer to the indian village where John Dunbar has made a strong connection to the people living there. Both films depict the Native American culture with appropriate humility and respect and are remarkable films by that standard alone. But both films boast such competency in front and behind the camera. Both leads, Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Costner are in top form and carry the film with impeccable on-screen presence. Both films also have stupendously excellent roster of supporting cast. Though divided by a 20 year gap, both films are still great examples of how Hollywood is capable of telling humane stories about the magnificent culture that was all but wiped out during the blackest times of the American History.
Oh yeah, both titles are the indian names of the lead characters. What a coincidence.
What I Love About It (Little Big man): Chief Dan George as the chief of the indian tribe. Dustin Hoffman. That awesome horse wagon action scene.
What I Love About It (Dances With Wolves): Kevin Costner. Graham Greene and Rodney A. Grant giving terrific support in the acting department. John Barry’s sweeping score. That wolf.
Best Quote (Little Big Man): “Today is a good day to die.”
Best Quote (Dances With Wolves): “Tatanka!”
7. THE DOORS (1991)
Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Randal Jahnson & Oliver Stone
I have two films focusing on a band (one real, one fictional, but I’ll get to that other one shortly) in my top ten. This one is about The Doors, or even more so about its troubled lead singer Jim Morrison. Morrison’s stint in the band was relatively short-lived (from the years 1967 to 1971), but he made a huge influence on the whole rock scene and he manages to inspire musicians and artists even today. Oliver Stone made a film that simultaneously demystifies bits of his personality but at the same lifts his stature to mythical proportions imagining him as an artist larger than life. Morrison’s rebellious nature put him at odds with authorities, the record label, with the rest of the band and even his wife. A hard man to get along with but arguably a genius in his own right, Jim Morrison, a singer and a poet, had a character that lends itself well for film. The film is visually stunning, recreating concert sequences from the pages of history and including Terry Gilliam-like hallucinatory images (which Oliver Stone continued to use excessively in Natural Born Killers). One of my favourite DOP’s, Robert Richardson (there is a reason why Stone, Scorsese and Tarantino choose to collaborate with this guy) does superb work here, taking the viewer convincingly back to the L.A. scene in the sixties. The music is used well here and sound mixing has necessary balls in the concert sequences. The technique where the sound mixers combine Jim Morrison’s actual singing with Val Kilmer’s own vocal work is seamless and it’s hard to tell which is which. Speaking of Kilmer…oh man. He is flawless here. Amazing. I cannot emphasize this enough. I need to caps lock this: HE IS PERFECT. Val Kilmer is so good here that I’m pretty sure he stayed in the role after the film. It’s a shame that a guy with a track record as good as his was in the nineties has turned into an obscure DTV actor in the noughties. That guy shouldn’t be doing films in east Europe with the likes of Steven Seagal and Eric Roberts. But I digress, back to the film. So yeah, the film is really great. A few pacing issues (especially in the second half) aside, The Doors is a near perfect biopic, and the best Oliver Stone film in my books.
What I Love About It: Val Kilmer. And you should too.
Best Quote: “ I am the Lizard King!”
6. ALMOST FAMOUS: UNTITLED (2000)
Director: Cameron Crowe
Writer: Cameron Crowe
It just occurred to me that Cameron Crowe’s semi-autographical film Almost Famous is the only film made after the turn of the new millennium that reached my top ten on this list. After the critical and box-office success of Cameron Crowe’s previous film Jerry Maguire, he was encouraged to do a film that was loosely based on his experiences as teenaged journalist touring with the Allman Brothers Band. Here, the band is renamed as Stillwater and the director’s alter ego is William Miller (played by a newcomer Patrick Fugit) who gets a job working for a journalist for The Rolling Stone Magazine. He is assigned to accompany himself with Stillwater while they tour around U.S.A. Inexperienced William is quickly overwhelmed by the chaotic adventure that is the rock scene in the seventies. The band’s leading member Russell Hammond (awesome Billy Crudup) sees William as a mean to further advertise the band and takes poor William under his wings. William falls for a groupie named Penny Lane, who is Russell’s main squeeze while touring. Penny has strong feelings for Russell, who only treats Penny as entertainment while touring. At the end of the tour all cards are laid on the table and the friendship of that trio is put to a test. Cameron Crowe has proved himself as a solid screenwriter, but he really knocked the script out of the park with Almost Famous. Rarely has a film worked so well as nostalgia trip, a growth story and a rock and roll band flick. Almost Famous does all this and more with flying colours and the film is always a joy to revisit. Fugit, Crudup and Kate Hudson as Penny Lane do most of the heavy lifting, but the rest of the cast is equally awesome: Fances McDormand, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor and the great (and now also unfortunately late) Phillip Seymour Hoffman give great support. Infinitely rewatchable, Almost Famous is an awesome film with an awesome soundtrack. Be sure to check out the Bootleg version on the DVD called Untitled, it makes the experience even richer and more rounded.
What I Love About It: That teenage feel that the film nails perfectly. Also, it’s a good thing that Lester Bangs didn’t write The Doors.
Best Quote: “Let’s deflower the kid.”
What are you waiting for, go on to the top five: 5-1