Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Favorite Movies, A to Z

The A to Z idea comes courtesy of Tom the Dog, but rather than general obsessions or albums I decided to give movies a whirl. There were some tough choices, and on some letters, very slim pickings. Here goes:

American Graffiti – Watching this movie makes me wonder what happened to George Lucas’ ability to work with actors. The performances are all so natural; so believable. Of course, the real star of the movie is the soundtrack, which remains the best available compilation of late fifties/early sixties rock ‘n roll.

Blade Runner – Amazing when it was released, even better with the tweaks that have occurred over the years on various VHS and DVD editions. Harrison Ford is excellent, but the movie’s strength comes from the performance of Rutger Hauer.

A Christmas Story – I’ve never gotten tired of it, and never will. Every year, it feels like we find a new favorite moment. But the all-time highlight has to be Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon as the parents.

The Dead Zone – Still one of the best movie adaptations of a Stephen King novel, and my favorite performance from Christopher Walken. The scene where Tom Skerritt tells Walken that his power is a “gift from God,” and Walken's reaction, never fails to send chills down my spine. And a truly chilling performance from Martin Sheen, as a very different presidential candidate from the one he would go on to play 20 years later.

The Empire Strikes Back – Hands down, the best of the Star Wars films. I saw it, either alone or with my brothers, 8 times during the summer of 1980. Favorite moment? “The force is with you, young Skywalker…but you are not a Jedi yet.”

Fargo – Just thinking about William H. Macy’s performance makes me want to stick binder clips on the ends of my fingers. And yes, Frances McDormand deserved her Oscar.

The Godfather – Perfection in every frame.

Hannah and Her Sisters – My favorite Woody Allen movie. Wonderful performances from Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Dianne Weist, Barbara Hershey, and Allen himself. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that the story is built around Thanksgiving, and I always try to watch it in November.

The Incredibles – This isn’t just a great Pixar film – this is a great film, period. Maybe you have to have grown up reading comic books to think so, but I hope not.

Jaws – When this came out, who knew what was to come from Steven Spielberg? But the moments are all there; little ones, like Brody making faces at his young son, who knows that daddy is upset but is not sure why. And…Robert Shaw!

Kill Bill, Vol. I – Truth be told, I don’t even think this is Tarantino’s best film (Pulp Fiction wins that contest, hands down), but it’s included here because it filled a very special need at a very important time. I was going through a particularly frustrating and depressing time at work, and skipping out and taking a long lunch to watch Uma Thurman wreak havoc on the world was just the medicine I needed.

L.A. Confidential – One of my all-time favorite books, and even though the movie made some very important deletions and changes, it was absolutely true to the Ellroy spirit. Coming generations who watch this movie and see Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce will be envious of those who saw the movie when those two were but little-known actors.

Moulin Rouge – Incandescent; transcendent; wonderful. The moment when Nicole Kidman is lowered, seemingly from the heavens, and the camera zooms in on her face is one of the great moments in cinematic history.

North by Northwest – Cary Grant, at his most debonair. Need more be said?

Ordinary People – Great performances all around, but especially from Timothy Hutton. I’ve seen this film scorned because it “robbed” Raging Bull of a Best Picture Oscar, but that scorn is wholly undeserved. This too is a great film.

Prince of the City – It kills me to leave Pulp Fiction off, but I’ve got to go with my heart – This is the great unsung American drama of all time, and thankfully it is now available on DVD. Incredible, incredible cast, and masterful film-making from the great Sidney Lumet.

Quiz Show – With a performance from John Turturro that rivals William H. Macy’s “Fargo” turn in its twitchiness.

The Right Stuff – It’s two completely different movies rolled into one – the Chuck Yeager sections are completely different in tone and feeling than the Mercury astronaut sections. But it all works, and in the end they all feel like heroes.

Some Like It Hot – Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, and Billy Wilder; all at their best. A perfect movie.

To Kill A Mockingbird – An iconic performance from Gregory Peck, and from Mary Badham, the all-time best performance by a child actor. Elmer Bernstein’s beautiful score should also be lauded and appreciated.

The Usual Suspects – Contrived? Sure. Fun? Absolutely.

Victor/Victoria – Blake Edwards was on a roll when this one came out, and in my mind it is much underappreciated by the masses. A great comedic performance from James Garner.

Working Girl – There are so many great lines in this movie, it’s hard to know where to start. Who would’ve thought that Harrison Ford could pull it off? But he does, and Melanie Griffith is just as good.

X-Men 2 – The best comic book movie ever made, with the possible exception of Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins.

The Year of Living Dangerously – You don’t hear people talk about this movie much anymore, but I stand by my original opinion that it’s a great movie.

Zelig – Sorry, folks. I just haven’t seen that many movies starting with “Z.” But I really did enjoy this one.


TheCarlsonCrew said...

The Usual Suspects is a great twisty-plot movie! I may have to dispute which is the best Star Wars movie, but to each his own!

D. Prince said...

I'm doing my list right now!

S.O.L. said...

Jeff - I'm a huge fan of L.A. Confidential. I think you're absolutely right about how well it was adapted to the screen.

Interesting note about the film: Curtis Hanson had to convince the producers he was the guy to direct the film, believe it or not. When he met with them, he brought along a folder of old postcards, tabloids and pictures of L.A. during the time period of the film. A lot of those ended up getting into the film for the opening sequence.

I love your taste in music. Are you going to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this year? You should check out the lineup -- right in your wheel house.

Jeff said...


I have to admit that when I first read that Curtis Hanson was directing the film, I was skeptical myself, based on his body of work. But when I read that Ellroy had "blessed" the screenplay, that was good enough for me.

Thanks for the tip on Hardly Strictly Bluegrass - you're right, that is a dream lineup! If possible, I'm going to try and get there.