Friday, June 17, 2011

All time top five: Movies

I've always been a big John Cusack fan. I identify with his persona. Not just in paleness either but even general disposition. And, as much as I hate to admit, Cusack movies have influenced my development a bit. Better Off Dead is the reason why I name the Camaro my dream car. Maybe part of me hopes that it will help me win the love of a French foreign exchange student or finally beat those Asian brothers that always try and race me at the intersection. The fact remains that I owe part of my personality to what I stole from Cusack. Cusack is the reason why I have ever fooled any girl into dating a schmuck such as myself. Anyway, it is because of High Fidelity that I've gotten into the habit of making everything into Top Five listings. It's just simple and easy to organize. While my music Top Five is a bit more fluid (since I'm not as secure in my musical taste), my film Top Five is rock solid. So, for lack of a better topic for tonight, here is my all time, Top Five list of films. Please watch every one of them. For the sake of drama I'll list them in reverse order.

5. Trainspotting (1996)

This poster is currently hanging in my room.

The fifth spot has always been one of internal debate. All the other listings are set in stone, but the fifth spot has shifted over the years. When I made the listing, I stuck Wristcutters: A Love Story in there. I enjoyed the film's message and production. I also enjoyed watching Shannyn Sossamon. Wristcutters' is a charming film. It's a feel-good film about suicide. And I don't think any movie has made me smile coming out of it as much as Wristcutters did. Then I saw 500 Days of Summer and fell in love with it. To me it is one of the top cinematic displays of love. It doesn't hurt that I am fans of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel either. But after further soul searching, I wasn't happy with 500 Days on the list either. It was a film perfect for me when I watched it but I needed to pick a movie with more staying power in my life. Then I looked up on my wall and saw Ewan McGregor staring down at me.

Trainspotting is the kind of film that changes cinema. People argue that Tarantino brought style back to movies in the 90s, but Danny Boyle made it look much more effortless. And though I have no desire to even think about heroin, I find this story of Scottish heroin addicts addicting (see what I did there?). My brother lambasted the film for not having much of a plot, but that's where I found it refreshing. It does more than tell a story or give you a moral to take home, it shows you into the lives of some major screw-ups. I can pop the DVD in anytime I want and still be entertained. Also the book was enjoyable too. As I was reading it I liked to hand the book to my friends at the lunch table and see if they could look past the dialect. It's a charming story of characteristically uncharming people.

4. The Graduate (1967)

Mr. Feeney playing Ben's father still creeps up on me every time I watch.

It's almost cliche to say that The Graduate is someone's favorite movie. It's comparable to naming Catcher in the Rye your favorite book (or, more recently, cliche to hate Catcher). But The Graduate really does sum up every person that's ever felt lost in life. In at least one point of our lives we feel as Ben does. And though we don't have as nice a car as Ben, we feel his pain. Watching him become a man, not because he nabbed a cougar, but because he truly learned how to be an adult, empowers all of us to grow up. The generational divide is also perfectly illustrated in this classic. It's almost sad that the generation that grew up with Ben as a hero fail to realize that they are the Mr. and Mrs. of the world now. But even though it's more than 40 years old, it still speaks to every person that's watched it. That and the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack helps.

3. Network (1976)

Such a good flick.

Network is considered to have one of the greatest scripts in cinema, and rightfully so. Paddy Chayefsky's words explode out of the screen with the fury of Mohammed Ali's jabs. The story of a news anchor's nervous breakdown could of been easily mishandled, resulting in a tepid, toothless movie. Network is pure satire yet one can't help but be drawn into the character drama. Instead of an easily forgettable farce about a fledgling network station, we ended up with a prophetic view of media and the fourth estate. Network makes one both hypnotized by the dialog and acting and horrified by the message. A message that becomes more relevant with each passing business quarter. The film is expertly handled by the recently deceased Sidney Lumet. Yes, I am a bit biased because I am a wannabe journalist, but Network is undeniably a memorizing film. And to be that engrossing yet only be dialogue-driven is a feat.

2. Brazil (1985)

It's only a coincidence that four of my top five represent a different decade.

Brazil isn't a film so much as it is an experience. When my local video rental store closed down, unable to compete with Blockbuster (it is dramatic irony that Blockbuster is now bust), I picked up a armful of cheap cassettes to add to my collection. The beauty of cassettes were how they forced you to watch trailers before the feature. That and the whirl of the turbo-rewinder were my favorite memories of the now dead format. It is because of these trailers that I learned about Brazil. Because of my childhood obsession with time travel, I decided to buy 12 Monkeys (I was aware of Terry Gilliam's work and was already a fan). The trailer for Brazil came on before the feature and I was amazed by it. I rewound it three times before I decided enough was enough.

Brazil is distinctly Gilliam in both style and substance. The battle between reality and imagination is always interesting. And as a young Orwell fan, the 1984-like setting was inspired. Brazil even out Orwelled the previous year's adaption of 1984. However, just like all other Gilliam films, Brazil is uneven and unwieldy. But, to me, that only gives it charm. And the story is a perfect blend of paranoia and liberation.

1. The Third Man (1949)

I've spoken about this poster before.

Ten years from now, I may look at my Top Five in disgust. As we grow older our taste changes. Whether our taste becomes more refined or not is a matter of debate. But even if I gut my list completely, The Third Man will always be the pinnacle of cinema to me. Finding one's soul mate in this life is tough, but I honestly think I found my cinematic soul mate in Third Man. It's a film about a man who travels to post-war Vienna to see his best friend, only to find that the man died shortly before his arrival.

To call Carol Reed's masterpiece a noir film is not doing Third Man justice. In actuality, it's quite funny. Not only is it funny but it's also suspenseful, ponderous, whimsical and depressing. Just like Network, Third Man was ahead of its time. One can't watch the film without being amazed at how modern it is. And not just because of its pioneering camera angles, but also with its story about loyalty and morality. And it doesn't hurt that the film hinges on Orson Welles during his most charming years. Free from having to direct, Welles is almost weightless as the endlessly endearing Harry Lime. Welles makes his character both lovable and despicable. Not just Welles, but every cast member and facade of this under-appreciated masterpiece shines brightly as each year goes by. Third Man is my favorite movie of all time, and I will fight anyone that doesn't agree with its perfection.

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