Let’s Go to the Movies
This is filmcache – a blog dedicated to all things movies and what we love about them. I will periodically update the site with posts, reviews, lists, etc, but in the meantime I thought it best to introduce myself by sharing a list of my ten favorite films in order for you to get a sense of my sensibilities. I’ll admit, this list is entirely subjective and by no means comprehensive. It does not reflect those films that I feel are the best of all time, just my favorite…titles that for some reason or another just stick with me and that I often revisit. I look forward to sharing and discussing the gift of moving pictures with all of you. Without further ado..onto the show!
(In chronological order)
- Taxi Driver (1976) – dir. Martin Scorsese
As you’ll quickly notice on this list, I have a soft spot for well made character studies – that is, a movie where the central character’s personality is more important than the plot. That being said, Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is the greatest character study of all time. De Niro single-handedly carries the entire film and elevates the story to surreal heights. As the story unfolds, I find myself paradoxically cheering for Travis Bickle, then condemning him, and then back to lauding him. Just watching Travis operate in a world he views with contempt and seeing what makes his internal clock tick makes for fascinating cinema. The scary thing that puts Taxi Driver over the top is that we all can see a little piece of ourselves in Bickle. He is an identifiable character, albeit a deranged one. Anyone who’s felt isolated, alienated, and frustrated with the world around them can relate to his cynicism. And relation is the crux of any great work of art.
- Pulp Fiction (1994) – dir. Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino’s masterpiece. Easily his best script (and probably best he’ll ever write), Pulp Fiction is the benchmark for cinematic screenwriting. The greatest thing about this movie is that the more you watch it, the fresher it becomes; more modern, as if it were just released. I cannot say enough about the progression of the scenes and the flow of dialogue radiating from every single one of the characters, who appear to be simply speaking rather than reading or acting (look no further than Christopher Walken’s “Gold Watch” scene to guarantee a smile on my face). Of course this formula of filmmaking would go on to inspire countless ripoffs and shameless attempts to capture the same “coolness” of Pulp Fiction. But to steal a line from Ordell Robbie in Tarantino’s follow up Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction is “The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherf***** in the room, accept no substitutes.”
- The Big Lebowski (1998) – dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
The timeless one. His Dudeness or El Duderino for those of you not into the whole brevity thing. The Dude is an embodiment of the everyday lazy man that spans multiple generations. The poster child for general indifference, The Big Lebowski speaks to the passive hippie in all of us (quick glance at my username is a not-so-subtle approval of that sentiment). Lebowski is one of those rare films that is a culmination of every detailed idiosyncrasy that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Fresher after every viewing, Lebowski benefits from a surprisingly pinpoint accurate script and the natural bravado of The Dude and his confidants. Special mention must go to John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak who absolutely steals the show. Every scene he occupies is a guaranteed laugh and not just because of his robust stature, but because of his rhythmical, almost poetic back-and-forths with his bowling buddies. Walter really “ties the movie together” with its concurrent plot lines, wacky characters, and stylish subtleties. Just like The Dude himself, the Coen Brothers (once again) have fashioned a classic that is ahead of its time.
- Fight Club (1999) – dir. David Fincher
My favorite movie. Ever. Period. I’d love to tell you more but the first rule is I’m not supposed to talk about it. And the second rule is: I’m not supposed to talk about it.
- Snatch (2000) – dir. Guy Ritchie
If there’s one thing Guy Ritchie knows how to do well, it’s profiling London’s worst and lowest in the world of underground crime. Snatch is his pièce de résistance. Ritchie humorously and stylishly ushers in the decade with a film that spans the Atlantic, involves a diamond heist, a spunky dog, and man aptly named Boris the Blade. With its wacky narrative structure (lifted straight from an aforementioned film on this list), ne’er do well criminals, and Brad Pitt sporting the greatest on-screen accent ever, Snatch never fails to make me laugh out loud, or want to fly across the pond just to maybe catch a glimpse of this exciting life.
- Ocean’s Eleven (2001) – dir. Steven Soderbergh
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, and Casey Affleck are off to rob a bank. Well not just one bank, but three. Sounds like the beginning to a bad Hollywood joke, I know. But this comedic caper not only brings laughs to the table that you’d expect from such big name actors, but it does so with a profound sense of individual flare and intimate touch. Steven Soderbergh is in his element when directing scenes for these guys because you can tell they’re just having fun on screen. And when they’re having fun, I’m having fun. Not to mention Ocean’s Eleven produced two of the finest sequels in recent memory. Here’s to hoping the all-female led reboot continues this franchise’s great legacy.
- No Country for Old Men (2007) – dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
It’s a shame that I only have two Coen Brothers films on my list. If I could, I would include all of them but I made my choices based on what I think best represents their style of filmmkaing. If The Big Lewboski is the pinnacle of their comedic genius, then No Country… is them at their most philosophically contemplative. Interestingly enough, it’s the films that they adapt from other people’s novels that tend to be the most commercially and critically successful, this being one of two examples (True Grit being their highest grossing film). The only Best Picture winner on my list, No Country… is also unique in that it’s a modern day western disguised as a chase film. As for rivals go, this film has few and far between. Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem represent two of Hollywood’s smartest on-screen characters, meaning they are constantly one step ahead of the audience..surprising us with their cleverness and doing things the viewer would never think of. With its resonating on-screen sequences and pitch-perfect cast (Tommy Lee Jones was born to play Sheriff Ed Tom Bell), No Country… teaches us, among other things, a valuable lesson: “You can’t stop what’s comin’.”
- Zodiac (2007) – dir. David Fincher
With Zodiac, we depart from the abstract and surreal nature of cinema to the sharp, hardened, exhaustive perils of reality. More than just catching the famed Zodiac Killer, this is a tale of obsession. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Robert Graysmith is so determined in finding the true identity of the killer that it consumes every aspect of his life, much to the neglect of his family and friends. David Fincher captures this mania so craftily and transcends this fixation to the point that it projects onto the audience who, by the movie’s end, are just as involved as the on screen characters. Every scene shot, every spoken line, every prop in place is meticulously crafted to deliver a tense experience like no other. Zodiac gives a whole new meaning to phrase “based on true events.” After every viewing I’m compelled to do some research of my own in hopes of discovering some long lost piece of evidence that will bring some sort of closure to this borderline mythical case. I adore Zodiac and admire a filmmaker as daring as Fincher who thrives on not only pushing the envelope…but signing it, sealing it, and delivering it.
- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) – dir. Andrew Dominik
2007 is by far my favorite year in movie history (1999 and 1976 aren’t too far behind). With four films in my initial top ten and one in the honorable mention section (along with several under-the-radar gems like Michael Clayton, Gone Baby Gone, Sunshine, and Eastern Promises just to name a few), 2007 in film was nothing short of marvelous. Sadly however, there is no greater overlooked film than The Assassination of Jesse James. Andrew Dominik’s sophomore effort delves deep into the heart and mind of America’s love for celebrity and the devastating consequences behind all exaggerated tales of legend. This is a patient movie. By foregoing trite horse-and-saddle action beats and instead examining the psychology of the notorious gunslinger, we are witness to the gradual descent into madness that Brad Pitt elegantly portrays.The movie’s poignancy doesn’t arrive by way of Jesse living up to his status as a legend of the Old West, but of how he tragically fails his naïve protégé, the young Bob Ford (played to a tee by Casey Affleck). Unforgettable performances across the board and one of the greatest film scores ever committed to film ensure this modern classic will endure the test of time and not suffer a similar fate as its principal character…a shot in the back.
- There Will Be Blood (2007) – dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
There Will Be Blood is omnipresent. Its universal themes draw on all aspects of modern day life including greed, family, religion, and capitalism. Documenting the rise of the oil industry during the formative years of the 1900s, TWBB serves as text to the foundation of the American Dream as we now know it. Paul Thomas Anderson tells the story of the genesis of the oil companies with as much perceptive cunning and self confidence as his protagonist Daniel Plainview. The beauty of TWBB is that it operates on two completely independent but contingent levels. The story works well as a standalone, but the concurring plot line is Daniel Day Lewis’s haunting portrayal of Daniel Plainview. Easily my favorite lead performance of the past 20 years, Daniel Day’s acting is more of an embodiment than a performance.
Some Honorable Mentions:
- Quiz Show (1994) – dir. Robert Redford
The other 1994 film not named Shawshank Redemption or Forrest Gump. This Robert Redford drama places the viewer into the heart of the 1950s quiz show scandal and forces them to choose a side. Anchored by tremendous performances from John Turturro and the magnificent Ralph Fiennes (look out for cameos by directors Martin Scorsese and Barry Levinson), this powerhouse of a movie will always grab, and hold, my attention. Creating characters that are heartbreakingly real and telling a story that is all too distressing, Quiz Show makes me do what all great films do…care.
- Se7en (1995) – dir. David Fincher
A twist on the overplayed serial murderer plot, Se7en is a dark parable of the seven deadly sins. Dredging alongside Detective Mills and Somerset over the course of a rainy week, we watch as they (unsuccessfully) try to play catch up with the mysterious John Doe – who I might add, is never actually shown killing anyone on screen and is only physically present in the final act of the film. Book-ended by the most dramatic reveal of a villain in Kevin Spacey, Se7en benefits from a slow, meticulous pacing that builds to a crescendo of a climax. Morgan Freeman is tact yet patient while Brad Pitt serves as his energetic, brazen counterpart. Although it features, personally, one of the most heartbreaking scenes in movie history (SPOILERS: Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box), Se7en reminds me of that that all too important reality: the good guys don’t always win.
- Oldboy (2003) – dir. Chan-Wook Park
Chan-Wook Park’s immensely powerful action/suspense film shields its perturbing message of revenge and familial betrayal under its veneer of violence and rivers of blood. As we follow Oh Dae-su on his dangerous quest to find out the identity of his captor who imprisoned him for 15 long years without explanation, it’s hard not to anticipate the amount of pain he will inflict on his enemy once he meets him face to face. That’s where Oldboy separates itself from countless other revenge thrillers. Not only was the entire movie a buildup to the tense climax, but it made me uncomfortable watching it, in a good way. At the end of the day, Oldboy is as shocking as it is thought-provoking.
- Kill Bill Vol. 1/2 (2003/2004) – dir. Quentin Tarantino
To preface, I’m treating both installments as one collective film, for the two were shot back to back and the story meant to be seen as one continuing narrative. That being out of the way, Kill Bill is nothing short of a triumph. One big bloody, witty homage to old school karate flicks and Spaghetti Westerns, Kill Bill shines through the clouds armed with nothing more than a simple revenge plot. That and a man named Tarantino behind the camera. Supplementing its gratifying and far-fetched violence with even more satisfying dialogue, Kill Bill ends on a high note, leaving me begging for more…and more and more.
- Lord of War (2005) – dir. Andrew Niccol
Lord of War is a movie I instantly fell in love with. Say what you want about his inconsistent track record and suspect choice of roles, Nicolas Cage is one of our finest working actors. He reminds us of it here in one of his finest performances as the ambitious gunrunner Yuri Orlov. His rags to riches story quickly turn him a profit, however the gun smuggling business proves too much for Yuri and his brother Vitaly (played tenderly by Jared Leto) who is WAY in over his head. Money, drugs, family loyalties, greed, and the law all prevent him from realizing his greatest dreams. There is something subtle working for Lord of War. Dramatic, yet humanly subtle. Cage is extremely honest and vulnerable in his portrayal as the dealer of death. But after the murder of his brother and the departure of his wife and kid, Cage carries a quiet despair on his face throughout the movie that makes the moniker “lord of war” not as enviable as it initially sounds.
- Bronson (2008) – dir. Nicholas Winding Refn
Like I said, I have a thing for one-man shows. And Bronson is the show to end all shows. Tom Hardy gives his ballsiest performance as Charles Bronson (born Michael Peterson), “Britain’s most violent prisoner.” Yes he’s gone on to amass quite the public following but Bronson is where Hardy first truly entered the actor’s club. Because he completely loses himself in the role, so can I. Forget the fact that this is one helluva movie, more importantly its one of the most entertaining biopics of recent memory, if you can even call it that. Stylized visual tricks, POV shots of Bronson recalling his past exploits on stage to a vague audience, and narrative drift just surreal enough to be called art house, Nicholas Winding Refn was sowing the seeds here for his eventual masterpiece in Drive (2011). That’s where the film strikes gold. Bronson doesn’t focus on the life of the real imprisoned Charlie Bronson, it examines the concept of him; the essence of him. “All my life I’ve wanted to be famous” Bronson tells us from the film’s opening moments, and he spends the rest of the movie trying to accomplish just that. I smile and I laugh every time I see this tour de force. What more can you ask from a movie?