As a film critic, its perhaps best to let other people understand and evaluate for themselves one’s taste in movies. To understand some critical responses to certain films (say my response to the film “Chronicle” which came out a few weeks ago (though I haven’t posted it on this blog yet)) it’s important to understand what exactly the critic is looking for. As a favor to readers I figured I would go ahead and share, my Top 10 Favorite Films, so as to establish a good understanding of what I look for in any and all movies to give me.
Before getting to the actual list, I’d like to mention two films that are being given an Honorable Mention. How honorable can a blog list be? Well, very honorable since you ask… okay not really, but lets just get this out of the way.
HM #1 – We Own the Night – Dir: James Gray / Wri: James Gray
We Own the Night is such a strange movie for me. As a man with taste for films, I really feel like I shouldn’t like this movie, whether its because the plot is typical without being too new or innovative, or whether its because Mark Wahlberg is in this movie, but We Own the Night is one of, if not absolutely, my favorite mobster/cop dramas ever.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as the owner of one of New Yorks many Night Clubs. He pushes drugs for the Russians, but whenever Joaquin’s cop brother and father crack down on the Russians, Joaquin has to choose whether he’s going to join the fight against the Russians to protect his family.
This film excels in terms of filming. Each shot is fantastic and shows the dark undercurrent of betrayal and personal sacrifice going on in this movie. Add to that Joaquin Phoenix’s great acting abilities, and you get a movie that’s not exactly top 10 material, but easily one of my favorites of the genre.
HM #2 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Dir: Michel Gondry / Wri: Charlie Kaufman
I co-wrote this list with my Father, Chris Degginger, and I offered him his own Honorable Mention. Since we couldn’t decide exactly which Charlie Kaufman should be on the actual list, Dad backed off on his personal favorite to make it an honorable mention instead.
The story revolves around Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet falling in love with each other, before the movie jumps to a point where Jim Carrey is getting his memory erased so he can forget about Kate Winslet. The story goes from the perspectives of the people erasing Carrey’s memory to Jim Carrey’s as he’s dreaming and reliving the last memories of Kate Winslet.
Here’s what my father had to say about why this movie is his honorable mention:
“This movie has great story, great acting by Kate Winslet, great cinematography (transitions within dreams that show off Director Michel Gondry’s manipulation of special effects styles), great everything really. But what I like about it most is that it does such a great job of capturing…well, we all go through relationships in our lives and everybody has had a moment where they felt bad about something that happened in a relationship, something they said or something they did, that they wish they could just go back and take away that moment. The film’s story does a great job of exploring those possibilities, of what would really happen if you could take those moments away, and what could possibly happen in a world where people can forget the bad.”
Now then, without further ado,
#10 – Synedoche, New York – Dir: Charlie Kaufman / Wri: Charlie Kaufman
If you haven’t heard of Charlie Kaufman, well… to be honest I wouldn’t be that surprised. No doubt most people have probably seen one of the movies he’s written (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Pi: Faith in Chaos, Adaptation) and deciding which movie I wanted to represent him on a Top 10 List was a matter of many grueling hours discussing these films with my father. In the end it was chosen that his first directorial debut was probably the best bet.
Synedoche follows the life of a playwright (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) as he attempts to construct the most realistic play ever, an entire city sized stage of people playing out normal people’s life. He even casts some actors to play as himself directing the play within the play. It’s a movie that is essentially a huge gigantic metaphor for life, and doesn’t give it up even in the very end. It’s very much worth watching, and easily the best example of Charlie Kaufman’s crazy original stories. If ever there was a man for which professional jealousy exists, it was for this man.
#9 – The Godfather – Dir: Francis Ford Coppoloa / Wri: Mario Puzo – Based on Novel by Mario Puzo
Do I really have to describe this one to you? Among the many movies that I have no doubt most everyone has seen, Godfather is perhaps the most prolific. If you haven’t seen the Godfather then your either just a kid, or you haven’t been living your life to the fullest. Godfather is an older film, but its lauded as one of the best ever (obviously not exactly high on this list) and its there for many reasons.
First cinematography and set pieces are great and realistic for an old school New York. The subtle strength of every actor is present in just about every scene. The story itself is about the slow breakdown and fullfillment of family corruption and stereotype of the man who tried to get away from it all, and the change in Al Pacino is so small from his performance that you can hardly even see the difference in the man, and must judge him from his actions. This. Film. Is. Great. Bottom Line.
#8 – Fargo – Dir: Coen Brothers / Wri: Coen Brothers
We come to the first of three of the Coen Brothers’ films to make it on to the top list, and anyone familiar is probably trying to understand just which films could possibly be on the list higher than Fargo. Lauded as one of the best films of all time, Fargo is a good example of what the Coen Brothers’ do best, and this is make high character pieces revolving around people making stupid decisions for the sake of greed, and then the consequences of said actions.
Fargo specifically is about a used car dealer (who may be one of the most sociopathic characters in film (yes moreso than Steve Buscemi’s character in this movie) who hires two men to kidnap his wife so that he can extort one million dollars from his father-in-law under the guise of it being a ransom. Needless to say, things go wrong, but as the Coen Brothers do, they twist in the dark comedy aspects of their past.
This film is often lauded as their best, perhaps because it is one of the most dramatic of their films. Fargo is set in the snowy landscapes of the Dakota’s, and doubtless you’ll want and or have to see this film multiple times.
#7 – Burn After Reading – Dir: Coen Brothers / Wri: Coen Brothers
The second of the Coen Brothers films, and no doubt probably the one with the best acting. Burn After Reading is more of a straight comedy movie than most Coen Brothers films, and so it is almost odd to applaud it for the strength of its actors. Irregardless of gags, comedy movies just aren’t well known for having the best acting in the world. Even when acting is given a bow, its typically styled for the comedian who is acting in the film. That just isn’t the case in Burn After Reading.
George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, and many other greats star and bring some of the darkest humor the Coen Brothers have ever written into a script. Similar to Fargo, the plot concerns Frances McDormand and her co-worker Bradd Pitt finding a CIA tape that they believe contains confidential information and attempt to hold it for ransom from John Malkovich. I can’t begin to express how hilarious this movie is, and it has one of the most hilarious and shocking scenes in my entire viewing history. Without a doubt, the Coen Brothers earn their comedy kicks with this one.
#6 – The Crucible – Dir: Nicholas Hytner / Wri: Arthur Miller
For me, Plays are a bit difficult. It’s hard for me to see what the blank dialogue on the script is supposed to mean without seeing it acted out. This has made it a bit hard to be such a Literary Nerd, considering I can’t really get the play part without seeing the acting. This all sets up how amazed I was when I saw this movie.
Daniel Day-Lewis is one of my top favorite actors of all time (maybe a list I’ll write in the future) and I’m fairly certain his very best role is in this film. The whole film works similar to its plot. It’s a story of the Salem Witch Hunts from the sixteen-hundreds, only it captures the spirit and essence of the film in the best possible manner, by showing you the complete corruption of the church and the courts of the age and how that corruption, fueled by the vengeful spirit of a seventeen year old girl (Winona Ryder performing at her best) against her lover, the married and spiritually lacking John Proctor.
As I said, DDL’s best moment of acting comes in the climax of this film and I challenge you not to cry manly tears of manliness when this film reaches its last moments. I sincerely do not believe any other version of this play can be better than this film. This is precisely what Arthur Miller must’ve imagined when he wrote it.
#5 – Shawshank Redemption – Dir: Frank Darabont / Wri: Stephen King
Where to start. Well first I should probably explain why this film is only number 5 on a top ten list anywhere. It’s considered by IMDB vote to be the best movie of all time. There can certainly be an argument for a higher spot, but compared to the last four movies on this list, I think spot five is the only one that makes sense.
Shawshank Redemption is about Andy Duphrane (Tim Robin) who is sent to Shawshank Prison under the accusation of having murdered his wife and her lover. There he meets Red (Morgan Freeman, in the role that made his such a resolute narrator) who builds a friendship with Andy quickly. Together they go through the trials of being in prison and find themselves knee deep in a corrupt system that doesn’t serve to redeem, only to criminalize, and they have to fight to keep their humanity.
What Shawshank does is present a fantastic look at an extended metaphor for life. The final narrations in the movie mark a landmark moment of emotional discovery, and just represents everything as grand as possible and as small as possible (a la 2001 a space odyssey, but with words rather than images). It leaves you thinking, but all the while it still manages to catch you off guard. The acting is great, the lines are memorable, the cinematography is perfect, and all that from a Stephen King book. Guess all those academic minds are right when they tell me he’s a crappy writer. Who’d of thunk it?
#4 – Pulp Fiction – Dir: Quintin Tarintino / Wri: Quintin Tarintino and Roger Avary
Pulp Fiction is widely considered Tarintino’s masterpiece of the referential film, the ultimate example of pastiche, and easily the most retro modern movie ever made. But beyond all the film geek references and the bad ass cameos and style plays, Pulp Fiction is still easily one of the best action movies ever made (if not THE best action movie ever made) and one gigantic snowballing film that only gets more and more intense the further it goes.
Pulp Fiction concerns itself with the lives of mobster hitmen, Vincent (Travolta) and Jules (Jackson) as they retrieve a briefcase for their boss Marcellus Wallace (Rhames) and several of their mis-adventures on the way to giving it back. It also incorporates the story of Vincent and Marcellus Wallace’s Wife (Uma Thurman) as they go on a date, and boxer Butch Coolidge’s (Bruce Willis) journey to retrieve his father’s gold watch from the middle of a potential warzone after he rips off Marcellus Wallace.
What the film essentially does is take on the idea of showing everything the average mobster movie doesn’t show. What do the mobsters talk about before they get to the apartment where they have to get the briefcase? What happens on the way to delivering said briefcase? What if you had to get a family heirloom out of the worst possible place for you to go? All while weaving together humor, style, pizazz, and intense scenes where the film maker remembers that its not action that rules an action movie, its wondering just what action is going to happen.
For anyone who thinks Transformers was an action movie, watch this movie, and learn.
#3 – Doubt – Dir: John Patrick Shanely / Wri: John Patrick Shanely
Doubt is a story about a Catholic School in the mid-60s during the days of Civil Rights and Feminism surrounding the characters of a Nun (Meryl Streep at her most cynical) and a Priest (Phillip Seymour Hoffman at his most mysterious). The Nun, Sister Aloysius (pronounced Aloe-icious) begins to suspect Father Flynn of having inappropriately touched one of the alter boys. At this invocation Sister Aloysius begins to take measures to have Father Flynn exposed, and the search for proof or confession is on.
At once historical and modern day, Doubt is one of the absolute best movies ever made. For reasons not quite explainable within this passage, the film does its very best at making the viewer go through the same emotion brought about in its title. Father Flynn seems to be such a nice pastor who does nice things for all the children in the school, but what if he did molest the boy? Meanwhile, Sister Aloysius is a cold-hearted harpy with a rosary, but what if he did molest the boy? That would make her his last defender and surely her suspiscions are correct.
The nature of this film is going to be discussed in a coming article of mine, which I’ll be posting here once its finished. Until then, make absolutely sure that you check out this movie not once, or twice, but three or more times and see what your conclusions are.
#2 – Pan’s Labyrinth – Dir: Guillermo (Gie-yer-mo) Del Toro / Wri: Guillermo Del Toro
Pan’s Labyrinth is the story of a young girl who, along with her pregnant mother, are bunkered down in a small house in the Mexican countryside during the Mexican Civil War during the 1940s. While the mother’s health fluctuates, and her step-dad pays little to no attention to her, Ofelia finds a Labyrinth in the woods nearby and begins to see creatures who claim that she is a long lost princess of a fantasy world.
Pan’s Labyrinth has a story that seems like a kid’s movie. However, the film establishes exactly how graphically brutal it will be within the course of about three seconds about twenty minutes into the movie, all while setting up the main antagonist. I won’t spoil it here, but lets just say this film is anything but kid-friendly.
As comes with Guillermo Del Toro’s work, the creatures shown in the fantasy sequence range the gamut from creepy to terrifying, but all are portrayed with the best non-computer special effects seen in film anywhere. While they’re supposed to be friendly and benevolent something about the creatures leaves you not wanting to trust them at all. But in a world at war and with spies all around you, how can you trust anyone real or anyone imaginary?
#1 – No Country for Old Men – Dir: Coen Brothers / Wri: Cormac McCarthy
And here we are, the combination of my favorite directors and one of my favorite writers. No Country for Old Men finally got oscar wins for the Coen Brothers, and damn did they deserve it. As far as qualities for liking a film (acting, cinematography, storyline, depth for analysis and discussion) no other film stands up there with No Country.
The story is, not at all that far from other Coen Brothers films. Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds the remains of a drug deal gone wrong. Following the carnage he comes across a suitcase stuffed with at least a million dollars in it and proceeds to make the decision of keeping the money. His journey takes him all over the Texas-Mexico border and finds him in the cross hairs of a veritable grim reaper in hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who may be the greatest antagonist of all time. All the while humble cop Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to put the clues together in time to help Llewellyn keep himself alive.
What No Country presents is what every Coen Brothers film has been about, greed and consequence. Backed by the excellent writing and story planning of one of America’s best authors, Cormac McCarthy, the manage to create a film that has the correct balance of dialogue, action, story, acting, characters, and darkness, tied together with its fantastic film work and this is absolutely the greatest film I have ever seen.
As a recap here’s the entire list.
#10 – Synedoche, New York
#9 – The Godfather
#8 – Fargo
#7 – Burn After Reading
#6 – The Crucible
#5 – Shawshank Redemption
#4 – Pulp Fiction
#3 – Doubt
#2 – Pan’s Labyrinth
#1 – No Country For Old Men