Friday, August 12, 2011

My top ten films and why

Want to get to know someone?

Do you have a need to explore below the surface, dig deeper, and find out what emotional conflicts are lurking below the surface and driving their actions? What motivates them? What drives their passions and  fuels their angst?

Ask them for a list of their favorite movies.

You can tell an awful lot about a person by taking a close look at their favorite films.

There are some very distinct common themes and obsessions at work here on this list.
Perhaps in the near future I will do an in depth essay blog analyzing this further.
In the mean time...

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle and characters created by Paul Dehn

I’ll tell you how much film affected me. I insist on having a Hall of Fame like waiting period of at least five years before a movie can even be eligible for consideration to be on this list.

Well, that rule has been waived for the first time ever for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes".

Not since "A.I Artificial Intelligence" in 2001 have I thought this much about a film after seeing it. Caesar is an unforgettable character and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is not just a well crafted, expertly paced, exciting blockbuster. It is full of iconic moments including an emotional finale that will be etched into cinematic history.

At its heart Rise is a coming age of story that resonates with deep emotion. It is a film about family, home, tragedy, separation, finding one's place in the world, and so much more.

Videodrome (1983)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Screenplay by David Cronenberg

Describing "Videodrome" to the uninitiated is difficult, because in some ways this is a difficult film. Or as the lead character Max Renn played by James Woods says at one point, “I am having trouble finding my way around.”

A screenwriting logline might read:
A contemporary erotic science fiction film noir about a right wing conspiracy using video signals from S and M underground broadcasts...

Okay maybe this is not the kind of film that can be accurately captured in a logline or marketing catch phrase.

But I do know of a few phrases that can help give a few hints as to what it is; strange, erotic, hallucinatory, prophetic, hypnotic, and just plain insanely brilliant.

This film had a tremendous influence on my book She and the spinoff Video Noir.

Falling Down (1993)
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Screenplay by Ebbe Roe Smith

If ever there was a relevant time to rediscover a film, the time is now, and the film is 1993’s "Falling Down". An insightful masterwork of well executed, stirring set pieces tied together by a haunting (and underrated) performance by Michael Douglas as Bill Foster, "Falling Down" is a film that provokes strong polarizing reactions.

Like several of the main characters on this top ten list, Bill “D-Fens” Foster just wants to find a way to go back “home” and recapture a past that no longer exists.

"Falling Down" tells the story of a distraught and recently displaced loner. The movie shares a similar structure and nihilistic tone to the book Action Figure.

JFK (1991)
Directed by Oliver Stone
Screenplay by Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar
Based on books by Jim Garrison and Jim Marris

The conspiracy, the history, the spooky men in the shadows—"JFK" is the best X-file ever made.

One of two Oliver Stone movies on my list, it is the last great film Stone made before he seemingly lost all story telling sensibilities.

"JFK" is the most fascinating real life inspired film ever made.

This movie is also an example on how to brilliantly use cinematography, different film stock and formats, and editing techniques to enhance the storytelling and atmosphere—as opposed to the frenzied over directed mess most films are today.

Empire of the Sun (1987)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

One of two films from 1987 on my list and one of several about family, tragedy, separation, and the journey of a character struggling to find their way home.

I remember seeing "Empire of the Sun" at a 10PM showing on the Friday night it opened. I literally staggered from the theater breathless from the haunting dreamlike imagery and the soul stirring score by John Williams.

 I much prefer this criminally underrated masterpiece to Spielberg’s other much lauded WWII films he won Oscars for.

Planet of the Apes (1968)
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling
Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle

The original "Planet of the Apes" struck a chord with audiences of 1968 in much the same way Rise is connecting to moviegoers in 2011. Both films have strong performances, innovative special effects, exciting set pieces, and terrific musical scores.

But what sets both Rise and the 1968 original apart from other well crafted genre fair is the way both films have created memorable characters and a rich thematic subtext on the issues of the day. Rise is about family, healthcare, aging, animal welfare and the environment. In 1968 Apes took on civil unrest, racism, war, and nuclear armageddon, but like Rise, never at the expense of story, character, and pacing.

Wall Street (1987)
Directed by Oliver Stone
Screenplay by Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser

I was a stockbroker for fourteen plus years and was literally studying for my Series 7 exam in December 1987 when I first saw this mythic film at a run down General Cinema in Plantation, Florida. It became a bible to young stockbrokers who were “poor, smart and hungry” desperately trying “stake their claim” in the Reaganomics world of the 1980's.

The money culture, the classic dialogue, the clothes, the slang, the attitudes, the cinematography, the rise, the fall, and most of all—Gekko. "Now if you do good sport, you get perks. Lots and lots of perks."

One of three Michael Douglas films in my top ten.
His body of work from 1987 to 1993 is simply mind blowing.

The Bear (1989)
Directed by Jean-Jaques Annaud
Screenplay by Gerard Bach
Based on the novel by James Oliver Curwood

I usually try to avoid animal movies at all costs because quite frankly they just make me sad. And the animals are rarely treated with respect not only as creatures, but as characters.

There are some upsetting parts in this movie to be sure, but they are not forced or contrived. The storytelling is completely honest about things that could and often do happen to bears in the wild when they are just being bears. They are treated with respect as wild animals, and as truly memorable characters we become emotionally involved with.

An almost totally silent movie, "The Bear" tops "Born Free" as the best movie about animals ever made. It is simply a beautiful film.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Steven Spielberg
Screen Story by Ian Watson and Stanley Kubrick
Based on the short story by Brian Aldiss

This is a dark, complex, sentimental, and haunting film that polarized critics and turned off audiences who were expecting a feel good film in the spirit of "ET".

This movie actually does have a lot more in common with "ET" and "Close Encounters" than one might think. But this time the questions posed are not always answered. And the emotional payoff is far more complex.

The film is a technical marvel on every level.

The hyper-real stylish cinematography of Spielberg regular Janusz Kaminski manages to convey the look of both a Kubrick and a Spielberg film at the same time. The mix of cold Kubrickian existential bleakness and the warm Spielberg spirituality of his trademark "god light" is what makes "A.I." such an utterly fascinating experience.

Maestro John William's emotional score infuses the movie with deep sense of sadness as the main character searches for a lost childhood he can never have.

Basic Instinct (1992)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Screenplay by Joe Eszterhas

I love John Dahl’s film noir trilogy ("Kill Me Again", "Red Rock Wes", "The Last Seduction"), but "Basic Instinct" with its "Vertigo" inspired San Francisco locations is my favorite neo-noir.

Michael Douglas is at the peak of his leading man, bad boy, troubled anti-hero form. Sharon Stone is in the prime of her alluring femme fatale sexual charisma. Director Paul Verhoeven, writer Joe Eszterhas, cinematographer Jan DeBont, composer Jerry Goldsmith–every one involved is at the peak of their creative powers in this provocative neo-Hitchcock classic. The most daring (and best) mainstream commercial erotic film ever made.

One of two San Francisco based films on my list (along with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes").

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