top 25 films

a personal reflection

I'd say it's more than a daunting task for a self-proclaimed movie buff to compile an absolutely finite "Top Anything" list as the medium spans hundreds of years, countries and styles. However, I did my best to relaya list that I personally enjoy the most and take most value in surrounding myself for years and deacdes to come. Enjoy.

 

25. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Originally the brain child of the late, great master high-concept artist Stanley Kubrick, Spielberg collaborated with Kubrick before his death to seamlessly carry out the imaginative visuals and thick themes of humanity, reliant technology, family and moral ambiguity. A futuristic Pinnocchio tale that is emotionally daunting yet a fascinating neon plethora of impressive sets pieces. I knew as a young boy that I was watching something profound upon original release but now the layered, visceral intentions of Kubrick and Spielberg are so much more to me. That ending is brutal. Amazing work.

 

24. The Lion King (1994). Directed by Roger Allers.

A childhood favorite I simply could not leave off the list. I wanted to include an animated film not out of obligation but because I respect the art and the process. The Toy Story trilogy should have a spot as well but the quality of all three make it hard to include all in a list of just twenty five entries. I grew up on The Lion King, even persuading my mother to buy me the sing-a-long soundtrack, telling her it was for Chorus class as a tyke. It has great themes (circle of life) and it's somewhat Shakespearean at it's core. Not to mention, that soundtrack is just as catchy today as ever.

23. The Dark Knight (2008). Directed by Christopher Nolan.

It's rare that a single performance can catapult a film into an all-time favorite list and while The Dark Knight is exemplary in almost every aspect regardless, Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker cemented this selection with a transcendent descent (oxymoron much?) into the madness of a sociopath. It was a game-changer and the theatrics of the characters felt disturgingly real. It is an evocative picture that Nolan and Co. really hit out of the park with the help of DP Wally Pfister's Heat-inspired framework.

22. In Bruges (2008). Directed by Martin McDonagh

This black comedy is unlike anything I've ever seen. Two hitmen encounter an enchanting exile to the serene beauty in one of Belgium's most picturesque cities. Colin Farrell's best role will have you laughing out loud, not to mention amazing outset work by Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. It has heart yet revels and drips in satire. One thing I promise you, you'll never look at little people the same.

 

21. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). Directed by David Fincher.

The cinematography is simply stunning and it comes as no surprise that Fincher is in the top echelon of contemporary filmmakers. F. Scott Fitzgerald's story of a man who ages backwards displays top-notch effects and as mentioned, some of the finest shots of recent memory. The fact that this film got the Criterion Collection treatment upon release solidifies how the scholarly film community felt about a work of art that tugs at the heart strings. The closing monologue of all of Benjamin's influences is one of my favorite sequences of the decade.

 

20. Bicycle Thieves (1948). Directed by Vittorio De Sica.

The social tale of post-Fascist Italy jeers quite a response from the audience. The title alone becomes something more than convention, instead proving a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moral men had a hard time providing for their family, especially in the war-torn domestic turmoil of post WWII Europe. The themes are still applicable to the modern recessions surrounding us worldwide. Needless to say, it's a doozy. Not to mention, the young son Bruno is one of my favorite film characters. This is indeed a very valuable film.

 

19. True Romance (1995). Directed by Tony Scott.

The sharpness of Quentin Tarantino's script mixed the humor, suspense and inspired casting of Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette create a 'love story' unlike any other. Amazing cameos and small roles of veteran heavy-hitters like Gary Oldman (Dexter!), Brad Pitt, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken and Samuel L Jackson further create an intriguing tale of love and criminal business gone wrong. Arquette looks absolutely stunning (as much as any call girl can) and the story keeps you on edge while also infused with Tarantino's staple pop culture references and eccentric dialogue.

 

18. Planet of The Apes (1968). Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner.

A powerhouse social commentary that rocked me to the core when I first viewed it as a 9 year old on an AMC marathon. This film holds up great and Charlton Heston is a bonafide leading man in a film that feels like an extended Twilight Zone episode. This film is rich in sociological undertones and provided one of the most shocking endings in the history of stories. A lucrative franchise was started and thrives into the new age yet it all started with Icarus and Captain Taylor.

 

17. Psycho (1960). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

I also saw this classic American film as a young lad and no growing up was necessary even at that time. Psycho is  a benchmark of filmmaking incorporating all of the elements of suspense, tension, and bleak unknowing horror by the original master of horror- Alfred Hitchcock. The shocking fate of Marion Crane, the creepy innocence of Anthony Perkin's Norman Bates, the isolation of the motel; everything swirls into an absolute masterpiece with a great ending, proving anticipation and grey conclusions define the genre and not blood, gore and high body counts.

16. There Will Be Blood (2007) . Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

Adapted from the novel, Oil! Paul Thomas Anderson directs an instant classic including a haunting Oscar-winning performance by the greatest character actor of all-time in Daniel Day-Lewis as driven oil innovator Daniel Plainview. The story is important to the fabric of American economics yet encapsulates the ambition of greed and the decomposition of one's soul in climbing in the business world. The direction of photography is also pristine and breath-takingly captures oil derricks up in a blaze of glory. The strong critique of clergy is also quite effective and creates a very sinister ending.

 

15. Pulp Fiction (1994) . Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Often regarded as Quentin Tarantino's magnum opus, the fleeting nature of the non sequential plot is a fascinating amalgamation of character study and classic American dialogue. Iconic performances from Jackson, Travolta, Willis, Thurman and Ving Rhames as Marcellus Wallace, with a couple "hard pipe hittin niggas" in his back pocket. This one never gets old and the ending diner scene is about as evocative as it comes. I still believe this or another film higher up on our list deserved to win Best Picture at the 1994 Academy Awards instead of Forrest Gump...sorry Tom.

 

14. No Country For Old Men (2007). Directed by The Coen Brothers.

Filming just up the road from P.T. Anderson and his There Will Be Blood crew was the Coen Brothers crafting another American classic Oscar caliber film. Adapted from the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the execution of this screenplay is glorious. It is artistically woven into a commentary of the human spirit and the dulling of the soul when confronted with the overwhelmingly complicated future. Tommy Lee Jones' character is the voice of the story and Javier Bardem turns in an all-time great performance akin to the essence of The Terminator mixed with Michael Myers as sociopath Anton Chigurh. Just look above. While some complain about the ambiguous nature of the third act, it is easy to deduce that the Coens are making a statement about the future and life in general being a hazy mess for the socially aware.

 

13. Leon: The Professional (1995). Directed by Luc Besson.

Young Natalie Portman makes a grand entrance to her acting career shadowing the suppressed, loner assassin Leon after her entire family is slain by corrupt police Captain Stansfield. Despite maybe hamming it up a little, the great chameleon Gary Oldman is a first rate antagonist the viewer loves to hate. it a very emotional story, with creepy overtones of romanticism between Mathilda and Leon, explored further in the Director's Cut. I do appreciate the nuances displayed and this movie even compelled me to download a Sting song.

 

12. A Bronx Tale. Directed by Robert De Niro

I place sentimentality with this picture because the scenes with 'C' and father Robert De Niro listening to the Yankees on the radio while driving reminded me the times riding to Redskins games listening to Sports Talk Radio. Robert De Niro does a marvelous job in the DIRECTOR'S chair as well as being the moral compass of the film to Chazz Palmieri's gangster influence Sonny. My grandfather was born in Brooklyn so I also was intrigued by the racial circumstances in New York at all time periods. There isn't as huge scope to this film but it has a large heart.

 

11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Directed by James Cameron.

Everybody has seen this movie unless you live in a bomb shelter and most people prefer this over the original. Understand that this is the most watched movie of my life and have been watching it for almost 20 years. I love it. It is the greatest action film ever and revolutionized the industry. That being said, one could say the main plot flow is a re-hash of the 1984 original. Robert Patrick is a classic menacing yet scientifically implausible villain. I think I prefer Arnold as the bad guy. However, Cameron does a marvelous job expanding the Terminator mythos and punctuating what should have been the end of the Terminator story. Crazy how one can feel for a cyborg by the end of the third act. Thumbs up.

 

10. Carlito's Way (1993). Directed by Brian De Palma.

Pacino shines as the criminally reformed Carlito Brigante who looks to start a new clean life after his corrupt lawyer gets him a new lease on life. Sean Penn absolutely disappears as Jewish lawyer Dave Kleinfelt. The suspense is palpable in many scenes, the tension is great, the characters have great chemistry including Penelope Ann Miller and the spiteful little prick Bennie Blanco from the Bronx. Pacino's classical Shakespearean roots shine through particularly at the end after a climactic chase through New York into Grand Central Station that will keep smokers pacing and needing a cigarette after.

 

9. Sling Blade (1996). Directed by Billy Bob Thornton.

Common attributes of my all-time favorite films have are excellent character acting, stories with great interpersonal interaction and solid relationships. Perhaps no movie on my list showcases both these two more intently than when Billy Bob Thornton pulls an Orson Welles: directing, producing and starring in a modest Southern drama about a slow man with a violent past and his re-assimilation into society. The key variable of the film is his close friend ship with country boy Frank played by Lucas Black in his first role. Carl is one the most fascinating characters in film; personally, also one of the most fun to quote, mimic and prank people with voice captured sound boards to boot.

 

8. American Psycho (2000). Directed by Mary Harron

Satire. Black comedy. The examination of the self-absorbed yuppie culture of the 1980's. The screenplay is fantastic as this film also to be one of Rocco's most quoted ever, though not with the tense sarcasm of psycho Patrick Bateman, my favorite role for Oscar winner Christian Bale. Everything about this film works and while VERY dark in superficial nature is also a very smart comedic piece. Just make sure you sway from the Valentino suits and Oliver People's glasses or it's possible you may never eat at Dorsia again.

 

7. The Terminator (1984) . Directed by James Cameron

The time travel paradoxes of The Terminator story used to keep me awake many nights when I was a kid. It's such a smart idea and while not feasible, creates masterfully impossible scenerios. As mentioned, I prefer the original over the larger sequel mainly due to the effectiveness of the somber tone and bleak atmosphere of present day and the futuristic nuclear winter of Los Angeles. I prefer Arnold as the villain as he rarely speaks but demands screen presence. Perhaps that is best. Kyle Reese and his never fleeting love for Sarah Connor creates classic movie drama that shapes mankind in Cameron's vision. Fun fact: O.J. Simpson was considered for the part of The Terminator but was deemed too nice to play a believable killing machine. You can't make that shit up.

 

6. Metropolis (1927). Directed by Fritz Lang.

Not only is this a landmark of cinema, it is one of the most important pieces of ART we have been given in a visual or storytelling medium. Dichotomies certainly exist and as presented by the visionary nature of master filmmaker Fritz Lang, we are given a romanticized version of the industrial working class and the philosophic thinkers that attempt to maintain harmony within society. Of course within the broad strokes of labor and ideals comes the intrusion of science and invention. Perhaps one of my favorite and the most poignant of quotations comes from Maria when she maintains, " There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator." Coming off a tumultuous election year, perhaps these are words to take heed from.

 

5. City of God (Cidade de Deus)  2002. Directed by Fernando Meirelles.

City of God puts on display the favellas (ghettos) and those that dwell just outside the beautiful Rio De Janeiro, a stark contrast from the paradise that tourists flock to. Just as with the film above, City of God is a foreign film that tells an historic account of a list of characters over the years and their survival through what becomes almost martial law. Lil Ze is one of the most ruthless and evil of villains, also at the top of my list in that regard. The photography is warm when it needs to be and stone cold upon certain developments, giving the entire area a legacy of its own. Not enough can be said about this film and the juxtaposition it poses to our worldly perspective.

 

4. Taxi Driver (1976). Directed by Martin Scorsese

Robert De Niro completely sinks into his role in the next two films on the list. Here he carries the film when he assumes mentally fragile nighttime taxi driver Travis Bickle and the festering frustration of a damaged psyche. This is my personal favorite Scorsese film because it's so intrinsic to delve into a guy with loose screws that loosen even further. The city of New York acts as the antagonist in a large sense and while the ending is open to interpretation, the narrative comes along with direct purpose. Young Jodie Foster plays off the title character well and gives Bickle a moral responsibility that he takes to an extreme level.

 

3. The Godfather Part II (1974). Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

A lot of people prefer this one over the original. This is due to the amazing acting (again) by Robert De Niro playing the young, hungry Vito Corleone as he finds in niche in America trying to support his young family. The transformation is uncanny as we really believe Brando's character could have really been this young man that leads a silent powerful walk of purpose with hope for justice and order. Meanwhile, the disturbing descent of Michael as he expands his empire west reveals a true darkness developed in the dealings of the criminal underworld. The two contrasting stroylines and the father-son intentions are extremely effective.

 

2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Directed by Frank Darabont

This film comes on TNT seemingly every month because it is so accessible and an excellent piece of work everyone needs to see. I bet Stephen King never imagined his story could be improved in the film medium but, alas. Tim Robbins' Andy Dufresne is the epitome of resilience while maintaining a calm exterior and noble intentions in a nightmarish scenario that becomes his life. This movie is about survival of the spirit and never letting go of what is the altering world, despite being confined to institutionalized routine. The ending is extremely powerful as Red finally is released on parole and meets his old friend on the beach blue waters of Mexico. Not before Andy pulls off a well sought out escape from Shawshank Prison and exposes the warden and guards for the immoral evils they display in the face of justice and rehabilitation. Anyone at a crossroads in life stuck in dormant apathy, just remember the words of Red when he exclaims, "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'."

 

1. The Godfather (1972). Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Here we are: my favorite film EVER. It should come as no surprise and while it may not be the most inspired selection for top overall film due to it's heralded genius, The Godfather hits on every single level imaginable. Technically, narratively, emotionally, Coppola creates a legacy with just the first entry, as good as the trilogy is as a whole. I could go on and on about the work of Coppola, Brando, Pacino, Caan, Cazale and company but I have written a thorough review of The Godfather  already on Fresh Cut Roc, so if you want to know my TRUE feelings about the film, simply read below....

Just Missed the Cut: Goodfellas, Training Day, Aliens, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Toy Story trilogy, Fargo