I’ve had a lot of people ask me over the years what movies I have in my Top 10 (or Top 5 or Top 3) list. There’s a lot of good movies out there, and a number of them definitely get listed among my favourites.
But make no mistake, I have no actual Top Whatever list. I rarely ever rank movies because that suggests that I place one movie over another. Which I don’t and can’t. There are some movies I watch because I’m simply in the mood to watch them. Others remain special for me, even if I haven’t watched them in a long time.
The key thing of every movie in this list: I’ll watch it if I see it on TV, and if someone hands me the DVD, I’ll be happy to sit down to watch without a second thought.
And now, in no particular order...
(This appears first because I’m watching Die Hard 2 at the moment.) Not only was Die Hard the prototype for the "ordinary guy caught in extraordinary circumstances", it made Bruce Willis a movie star. The second movie, though not as good as the first movie, still holds its own as an action movie. The third — Die Hard With A Vengeance — could very easily hold a position in this list on its own. I’m not totally thrilled with Live Free or Die Hard. It’s a good movie, but I don’t think it quite holds up to the first three.
The Hunt for Red October
I still remember the first time I saw this movie in the theatres. Not only does it have excellent pacing, good special effects, solid dialog, but it has the best hair Sean Connery has in his post-Bond work. The last 30 minutes of the movie are so well-executed that I totally forgot the popcorn I had been eating during the movie. If I had an actual Top 3 list, this would likely be in it.
A lot of people look at The Mummy as a big ball o’ fluff: no substance, nothing special. But this movie — and its first sequel, The Mummy Returns (the second sequel, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, was an utter waste) — are pure fun. These are the kind of movies that Brendan Fraser does well — they suit his style of bravado and self-mockery. (That, and the first two feature Rachel Weisz.) These are not movies that invoke thought — they allow you to sink into campy fun, not unlike the Indiana Jones movies. Speaking of which...
I grew up to these movies, and it was a very happy day when I realised that, yes, classic movies were being made in my lifetime. The first three movies are cinema gold for me, supplying that sense of adventure that only comes from serial-inpired plots, characters, and dialog. (I have yet to see Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, however.)
Star Wars (Eps 4-6)
Here we enter the dilemma. I need not reason why Episodes 4 (A New Hope) and 5 (The Empire Strikes Back) are on this list. If you’re not sure why, go watch the damn movies. I include Episode 6 (The Return of the Jedi) because it does a nice job wrapping up the original trilogy, even if the Ewoks are a little irritating. However, I do not include the three prequels because, as a collected group, they are far inferior to the original trilogy. Technically, I could include Episode 3(Revenge of the Sith) as it is a good movie, but then I have to acknowledge the bantha poodoo that are Episodes 1 and 2.
The big dilemma? What will I show my children — the entire saga, or start with just A New Hope? (This is a question friends of mine and I have debated for a while.) My answer: just the original trilogy. I’ll certainly allow my kids to watch the first three, but with the caveat that it’ll possibly ruin the original trilogy.
Star Trek II, IV, VI, and First Contact
You’ll note that I’m leaving out several of the Star Trek movies. I leave them out because they’re inferior. Grossly so, in some cases (cough Star Trek V cough). For me, these are the classics, and Star Trek II stands above them all as one of the finest pieces of science-fiction filmmaking. It is, quite simply put, nearly perfect as a movie.
The Lord of the Rings
In principle, this is a trilogy. In reality, it’s a 12 hour epic that’s been conveniently cut into three pieces to allow easier viewing. If you view it only on the herculean effort it took to make the movie, the leap of faith it took from the production companies to willing make it into three movies (instead of one). While I will watch any of the three (even out of sequence) willingly, I really do need the time — the shortest of the three is 3 hours and 28 minutes.
The Bourne Identity
I’m a sucker for spy movies. Always loved them, and I’m not really sure why. Either way, the premise has always fascinated me. While Bourne himself isn’t a spy per se (he’s an assassin), it’s still along the same lines. The action is solid, and it has some of the best vehicular action scenes in recent movies. No, Matt Damon is not the best actor, and his performance can be criticised as being a little two-dimensional. But I also think that’s what makes the character work a bit more — Jason Bourne doesn’t have a lot of substance, since he doesn’t even exist.
Like I said, I’m a sucker for spy movies. And I’d be remiss to mention the James Bond series. And yes, I still think Sean Connery makes the best Bond. Goldfinger rides very high on the list as my favourite. Timothy Dalton, sadly, rides lowest on my list for best Bond. And while I think Daniel Craig has far exceeded all expectations of being an adequate James Bond, the latest Bond movie — Quantum of Solace — isn’t really a James Bond movie. It’s a (damn good) spy action flick with some Bond elements.
Possibly Pixar‘s best movie, even considering Wall-E. Excellent story, great voice action, amazing soundtrack, and they were willing to put the time in to tell the story as it needed to be told, and not cut it short. That said, I put pretty much any Pixar movie in with The Incredibles, and am willing to watch pretty much any of them without so much as a second thought.
Big Trouble in Little China
This is one of those classic cult movies from my teenage years. It’s Kurt Russell in one of his best roles, playing a totally campy, over-the-top egotistical, bombastic buffoon who yet somehow still turns out to be a hero. It’s all in the reflexes.
Army of Darkness
When my friend Chris took me to see Army of Darkness when we lived in Ottawa, I’d never heard of Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, or The Evil Dead. We saw the movie three times that week, and by the end were quoting lines along with over half the audience. We’d quote lines for another 3 months afterwards. And still do.
A lot of people give me grief for this one. It’s too American flag-waving, it’s too silly, too unrealistic, too bla bla bla. I’ll tell you what this movie is: pure fun. It’s 2 hours of Michael Bay at his best when it comes to glorious camera angles, cinematography (the sequences towards the end of the movie are stunning), and the characterisations are nearly perfect. Incidentally, most Michael Bay movies fall into this category, including Bad Boys I and II, The Rock, and Transformers. But not Pearl Harbor. Sorry, Mikey, but I can’t hack that one.
The Great Escape
One of the Steve McQueen classics. A fictional version of a true story, it’s a beautifully-told story, combined with comedy, drama, and a bit of action. Even though McQueen went diva during production (where do you think the motorcycle sequences came from?), the end result is still and endlessly-watchable film. In a similar vein is Bridge On The River Kwai, though that one I don’t watch as much, mostly because I think of the lack of comedic sequences.
First off, I love vampire movies. I have for years. I can watch all manners of vampire movies without much pause. Blade in particular is a wonderful movie because of the Blade character, and Wesley Snipes‘ portrayal. I don’t dig the sequels as much, though I’ll watch Blade II fairly readily. I won’t touch Blade: Trinity — there’s a number of plot points that bug the crap out of me, and Ryan Reynolds‘ character is just plain annoying.
See above note about vampires. (The same applies to werewolves, for the record.) Add to that Kate Beckinsale in skin-tight leather and laytex. Um. Yeah. That makes up for stinkload of acting issues (someone tell me how Scott Speedman keeps getting major roles?) and plot issues. Same applies for Underworld Evolution. (I haven’t seen Rise of the Lycans yet, however.)
The first rule of Fight Club is ... tell everyone to watch the movie. I’ve said this many times, but Brad Pitt needs to do roles where he has a slight out-of-balance character, otherwise he’s just window dressing and really dull to watch. This is a movie where he excels, and Edward Norton really balances out the roles. That, and when I first saw this movie, I really identified with Edward Norton’s character.
I was fascinated with space every since I was a kid, so I knew the story of Apollo 13 before the movie was made. But there’s the documentary version of the story, and then there’s Hollywood’s version. And frankly, accuracy notwithstanding, I much prefer this telling. It’s not a significant difference — it’s the little things that make it truly sing.
Amélie (Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain)
If I had a Top 3 list of movies, this would be in it. And not just because Audrey Tatou creates perhaps the single cutest character in the history of filmmaking. It’s because of the story it tells — the need to help people find balance, the need for one to find the perfect love, and the playfulness one can find in life. The only thing I wish this movie had is complete English subtitles on the DVD release — they’re crap, and my French is still too weak to handle the movie without them.
Emperor’s New Groove
I didn’t see this in the theatres, but bought the special edition DVD on a whim. I watched it that afternoon with Chris, Calvin, Doug, Adrian, and a couple of other friends, and we all nearly pissed ourselves laughing. Eartha Kitt creates — without any doubt or question — the best Disney villian. She was a perfect voice actor, and her loss is a dreadful shame on the industry for not using her more.
Wallace and Gromit
This (currently) comprises four films: the three shorts (A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, and A Close Shave) and the full-length feature film (The Curse of the Were-Rabbit). I was introduced to Wallace and Gromit by my friends Brenda and Marek when I was working in Toronto back in the mid-late 1990s, and have loved them ever since.
Aside from the fact that I love Robert Rodriguez‘s films to begin with, this is one of those opus works that will be hard for Robert to outdo. (Though I eagerly await the chance that he might.) It’s a tough movie to have filmed, and the resulting work is outstanding. It’s exceedingly violent, so it’s a movie I need to watch on my own, or at least with someone who also loves the movie.
The original Matrix movie was a ground-breaker. I still remember walking into the theatre with my coworkers from Radical Entertainment, thinking I wasn’t going to like it. It was a Keanu movie, after all, and I didn’t have a heap of faith given that the trailers didn’t really say much. My eyebrows raised when Trinity did that first bullet-time leap at the beginning, and I was sold when Neo wakes up in the power tower. After that, I was all over it. And while I do accept Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions as sequels, there were a number of issues I saw that prevented them from ever equalling the original.
I am serious. And don’t call me "Shirley". It’s a real classic. I could watch this movie repeated for a week and still laugh at it. It gets better with age.
I’m still not sure which version I like more. Although the Director’s Cut is extremely good, there is something about the voiceovers I’ve always liked.
Batman Begins / The Dark Knight
I don’t separate these movies for two simple reasons: First, they both did extremely good jobs at making Batman "real", and The Dark Knight made The Joker into a villian worth of an Oscar performance. Second, because there’s enough intelligence that it’s not just fluff. One day, I’ll convince Alex to watch them. I hope...
Pirates of the Caribbean
Two words: Jack Sparrow. I could give a crap about Will Turner, myself. (I could almost not care about Elizabeth Swann, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s Kiera Knightley.) Performances in this movie redefined the pirate genre for me. I remember the first time I saw the movie, when my friend Adrian and I weren’t entirely certain if it would be any good, but didn’t care. Afterwards, we couldn’t stop talking like pirates, much to our friends’ annoyance.
Before I get too much into this movie, I pretty much include anything made by Hayao Miyazaki. The man is a genius when it comes to story-telling, and his artwork is utterly fantastic. This, in my opinion, is his best work. Story-telling aside, I think it really brings out some of the great parts of Japanese mysticism, the needs of children to know when to grow up, and even a nice little view on the evils of greed.
Anyone who’s ever worked in an office laughs at this movie. It’s hard not to. It’s brilliantly-written and performed. About the only wrong thing with it is Jennifer Aniston — I’m not entirely sure why she’s in the movie. It could be any other actress and it would be just as good.
John Frankenheimer left us the best cinematic car chases ever filmed. Yes, even better than Bullitt. It’s a complex story, and the MacGuffin actually gets distracting. Some people don’t like it on the first watch. But watch it two or three times, and you’ll see what an excellent piece of work it really is.
Not the Sinatra version — I mean the 2001 "remake" with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, etc. Aside from the fact that it’s a heist movie (and I love heist movies), it is the definition of "cool" in filmmaking. I don’t mean "cool" as in "boy, isn’t that cool", but in being suave, collected, having an amazing attitude and behaviour. If I had a Top 3, this would likely be in it.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
I went to the University of Waterloo. If there were an official movie for the school, this would be it. When I was there, it was shown regularly in the Campus Centre, and pretty much every residence on any given weekend. It was an unwritten requirements to be able to quote most of the major scenes, especially if you were in the Mathematics faculty.
V for Vendetta
Alan Moore might be a whiny little twit about this movie (if you’re going to whine about how people interpret your work, don’t sell the right in the first place), but I felt this was beautifully executed. I think when I die, I want my corpse detonated to the 1812 Overture. And I’m amazed at Natalie Portman‘s English accent.
The Shawshank Redemption
This is a bit of a weird one for me. Not in that it’s not an outstanding movie (it’s been at the top of the IMDB lists for years), but in that it’s a movie I own, but I’ve not gotten around to watching on DVD. Yet I’ve watched the movie about two dozen times on TV. There are few perfect movies out there, this would be one of them.
I’ll watch nearly any Tim Burton movie without a second thought, but this one in particular stands out for it’s characterisations (Johnny Depp is a brilliant actor, no two ways about it) and it’s sheer creepiness (the adaptation of the story is very intelligent). And it’s got Christina Ricci. I mean, c’mon...
Guy Ritchie makes a good movie, especially a good heist movie. Jason Statham might be no Shakespearean thespian, but he delivers probably the best performance (so far) of his career. That, and it’s one of Brad Pitt‘s weirdest roles (which thusly makes it one of his best, as well). There’s not a single "good" character in the entire movie, which is why it’s just plain dirty fun.
Hey, what about...?
Yes, there’s a whack of other movies that could easily be in this list. There’s even a few I cut out (The Fifth Element, The Muppet Movie, The Princess Bride, to name but a few) that nearly made the grade, but were dropped for one reason:
When I made this list, and flipped through my pile of DVDs, I zipped past them without a thought. That for me suggests that they’re as watchable as the others.