Someone asked me a question today, and I was horrified that I hadn’t really thought of the answer before. I mean, I’m a filmmaker. I’m constantly considering the merits of movies and have even started reviewing theatrical films in my spare time. How could I not already have an answer to this question??
Oh right. The question. What are my top ten favorite films of all time?
I’ve never truly considered the question. I have probably a top 50 that would be more honest about my passion for film. But as I started to put together my list, I found it easier than I would have imagined. Looking back on the films I threw out there, the only thing missing is my love of animation and kids movies. I don’t know why they didn’t crack the top ten. I honestly had no particular criteria in mind.
I suppose, as much as I hate to say it, I’m old enough now to see what has lasted in my own life. I can see clearly which movies have remained in my heart over the years, both as an individual and a filmmaker.
So away… we… GO!
My films are listed in no particular order. Metropolis isn’t my favorite film. But it IS the most meaningful. See, I grew up on romantic comedies and action flicks, all from an edited-for-TV angle. So I was never exactly exposed to the wonderful world of cinema. In the seventh grade, a lot about my life changed. My parents got a divorce. And one particular teacher at school opened up a world of imagination. Mrs. Nall. Honors English. She was encouraging. And expansive. I remember being fascinated by language, the short story, the novel, and the way she was able to bring storytelling to life. But there was one day we were promised a movie. And that movie, which I feel bored and disappointed my classmates, was a silent german film called Metropolis. I was absolutely inspired by storytelling technique used in the film and was shocked when I realized that the total lack of dialogue hadn’t distracted me. Editing, music, and creation of visual worlds was something I learned about that day. And it changed the direction of my life forever. Thanks Mrs. Nall.
I’m going to be completely honest and vulnerable and admit that before I ever saw the original Jaws, I saw Jaws 3. I was a kid. It was one of those edited-for-TV flicks that dominated the networks on Saturday afternoon. I don’t remember how old I was. But I loved it. I was easily scared as a kid and it provided enough hokey entertainment to allow me to watch a “scary” movie without being too awfully scared. But I didn’t want to watch the original Jaws. I mean, look at that poster. Terrifying. When I finally saw it, I was disappointed. It was slower. It was less hokey and fun. Then my heart raced through the final act and I couldn’t wait to watch it again. It’s taken me years to fully appreciate this film. First, I saw the suspense. Then I started to see the filmmaking genius behind it. And I finally decided to call it my “favorite” film because I feel like it does what great film should do. It entertains and tells a story, completely backed by amazing filmmaking technique. An excellent film in every regard.
INDIANA JONES: TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)
I know. The title says one thing. The poster, another. It should be understood that all the Indy films are clumped together here in my favorites. Well, except that last one. But like the rabid Star Wars fan hatred for the most recent Star Wars trilogy, my own hatred for the new Indy film grants it “it doesn’t exist” status in my brain. So out of the Indy films, I’ll choose Temple of Doom to talk about because it gave me so much to work with as a kid. I mean, I loved Short Round. I wanted to be that kid arguing with Indy over a card game in the middle of a jungle. I wanted to have that big-for-my-britches attitude. I loved Kate Capshaw’s character, her girly, princess tastes turned adventuresome survivor in the end. Who can fail to admire the woman that survived the bug tunnel? And I think I loved Indy the most in this one. Because he went dark for awhile. It was realistic in that regard. My hero wasn’t perfect. But I never stopped rooting for him. Indiana Jones is what I grew up wanting my future husband to be. Smart, curious, unintentionally funny, adventuresome, and ruggedly handsome. This trilogy will always hold a place in my heart.
THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997)
If I hadn’t looked up the date on this film, I would have sworn I saw it as a kid. I was overwhelmingly gleeful, like an excited little kid with her favorite Saturday morning cartoon, when I saw this film. I don’t remember seeing it in the theater. I think this one snuck up on me. But it has come to encapsulate everything great about imagination and filmmaking for me. Luc Besson walked through this world, creating as he went. He filled in details no one would ever notice, but made this film more than meets the eye. And frankly, I think I love it for it’s use of practical effects in an industry that was quickly trying to go CG. The Fifth Element has texture, color, and character in a way that continues to capture my attention and imagination every time I watch it. It’s one of the few films that allows me to quote fantastic dialogue and mention an obscure French comic artist (who worked on the creation of the world) in the same conversation. Thank you Luc Besson for continuing to dream.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)
I’ve always loved to read. I read half the honors sophomore reading list by the end of my freshman year because I couldn’t help devouring stories. To Kill a Mockingbird was always a favorite. Atticus Finch was another male figure I couldn’t help falling in love with. He stood for justice in a well-reasoned, forward thinking way. And he seemed to actually spend time investing those values in his kids. Of course, everyone knows that movies usually don’t hold a candle to books they’ve been adapted from. But the movie adaptation of this story blew me away. It captured everything I loved about the story. The mystery. The innocence. The search for truth and justice. And Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. There are rare instances of perfect casting in cinematic history. That was one of them. I’ve been in love with Gregory Peck ever since. The film provided one moment that for me actually out did the original literature. Boo Radley’s first appearance. I had seen him in my mind as I was reading, of course. But to be able to see him for the first time with my own eyes was a magical moment for me. It completed the experience. And it was the great Robert Duvall’s first appearance on screen.
I’ve always had trouble communicating my sense of cinematic humor to people, or to put it plainly, what I think is funny on screen. But Clue hit all the right buttons and now serves as my example. Witty, fast-paced, quotable dialogue. Funny, but not over the top, physical comedy performances and gags. An interesting, but extremely simple plot that doesn’t try to make too much of itself. And an ample quirk factor. You have, in this one film, some of the greatest comedic talent of all time gathered in one place at one time being utterly ridiculous with one another. If that weren’t enough to hook you, the thing actually is a who-done-it mystery with three endings, only one of which is actually plausible if you go back and examine the evidence throughout the film. Yes, I’m the geek that did that. This film is enjoyable on so many levels and one of the few examples that films CAN be adapted successfully from practically anything, including board games. I only hope the impending adaptation of Battleship can accomplish the same thing in the action genre.
I’ve already mentioned that I didn’t really dig scary movies as a kid. I was sensitive. But one way to get around the fear factor was to throw science fiction gadgetry at me. I’d get so distracted, I’d forget to be throw-up-level scared. Alien was the perfect horror/scifi movie for my fragile mind. I loved being in space with the rugged future equivalent of blue collar workers. Things weren’t clean and neat. They were dirty, real, and seemed to bring the future a little closer. Of course, then there was one of the biggest movie badasses in history. And there was the alien, too!! Yeah, the badass was Sigourney Weaver. The only woman to ever face the Alien race multiple times and keep them in check with a good old fashioned ass woopin’. The film itself is pretty masterfully constructed with suspense, plot, and the absolutely incredible built in sense of claustrophobia. Classic horror.
THE PROFESSIONAL (1994)
I’m pretty sure this was one of the many films my co-workers at Suncoast introduced me to. When I started working there at the tender age of 16, I didn’t realize what an education I was in for. The Professional was something I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The very idea of a kid training to be an assassin would have offended my tender sensibilities at the time. But the film is absolutely a character drama that drew me in to a world I would never have ventured into. Jean Reno and a young, incredible Natalie Portman form a bond that stands alone in cinema as one of the few relationships that exists as more than celluloid. It’s tangible. And once again, french director, Luc Besson merits a mention on this list. The patience, the moments captured between these two incredible actors create a story the audience feels privileged to be privy to. You become involved, invested.
REAR WINDOW (1954)
I’m not sure what to say about Hitchcock. I have great respect for the man’s grasp of cinematic language. His films aren’t perfect, but they’re crafted with artistry, detail, and care that most contemporary films lack. I admire and enjoy most of his films. But by far, Rear Window is my favorite. The use of the single apartment building setting, the creation of characters in a purely visual fashion, the psychology, and the intertwining of the Jimmy Stewart/Grace Kelly relationship create one of the most enjoyable, suspenseful films of all time. While I don’t always agree with the ideas Hitchcock expressed about human beings, especially relationships, I can’t help but appreciate how those ideas are fleshed out in character and story and layers. And this particular film taps into romance and adventure with a sweetness Hitchcock usually didn’t allow into his work. It’s one of the softer, less morbid, and lighter films in his collection.
I know many of you won’t believe this but I didn’t actually see Rocky until last year. I had seen Rocky IV and even Rocky V. But I had never seen the original Rocky. I had no idea what I was in for. This film, like The Professional, defies common conceptions. It’s not an action film. In fact, there’s very little fighting in the film. It’s a dramatic character piece that starts with stereotypes, characters that are caricatures of themselves because they don’t actually know themselves that well. As the film goes on, they find themselves, Rocky in fighting and Adrian, Adrian in Rocky and away from her brother. It’s an extremely simple story. But it strikes a chord. It has served to inspire for decades and pushes the viewer to take a closer look at themselves. I happen to believe this particular tale was a fluke in Stallone’s work as a writer. But it’s an incredible fluke, a creation that took on a life of it’s own and consistently melts hearts.