You can always find “best” stories somewhere and anytime on the internet. Among the most popular has to be a list of the “greatest films.” Well, I can’t do that one, but I’ll do an “either or” review of the best that I would watch if I could. Today, I’ll go with the major categories (drama, comedy and horror) but in a future review I’ll toss in my own sub-categories of ones such as “little remembered” and “crap like you cannot believe.” Very few will probably agree with my choices, but, hey, it’s the internet and to each his (or her) own.
‘The Godfather’ | ‘The Godfather: Part II’ | ‘The Deer Hunter’ | ‘American Beauty’
‘Animal House’ | ‘Caddyshack’ | ‘The Hangover’ | ‘We’re the Millers’
‘Halloween’ | ‘Friday the 13th’ | ‘Scream’ | ‘Zombieland’
NO MATTER WHICH YOU CHOOSE, YOU CAN’T LOSE
I started thinking about this review because I’m currently re-reading Mario Puzo’s bestseller “The Godfather.” Of course the film franchise jumps immediately to mind. The first two “Godfathers” are simply American cinema at its best, but there is other drama efforts that you could say, “… or I’ll watch this.”
So, here we go with a little bit of “either or” for a variety of movie genres …
FOR THE BEST IN DRAMA …
Either “The Godfather” (1972) | “The Godfather Part II” (1974)
or “The Deer Hunter” (1978) | “American Beauty” (1999)
I believe deep drama needs to be emotionally harrowing. In my opinion, both “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II” are simply the best American films ever. They both are pitch-perfect on screen and a case can be made for each because they are a bit dissimilar (the original is essentially sequential while Part II bounces around chronologically). Each offers acting at its finest from the top to the bottom of the large casts; each is flawless in its pace, scope and storytelling; and neither one pulls any punches – in fact the original had the horse’s head in a bed that had people literally fleeing theaters (compare that scene to watching “Sinister” and its sequel).
However, the film with the most visceral effect on myself is “The Deer Hunter.” Framed by the war in Vietnam and the subsequent fallout among a group of friends, it is only a miniscule amount less than the “Godfathers.” It, too, has pitch-perfect acting; even better casting; and a sledge hammer shot to the conscience of the nation. I’ll go “or” for “The Deer Hunter” since it is so powerful that I haven’t been able to watch it from beginning to end since I saw it in a theater in (and I had it on VHS and have it now on DVD).
Running an almost indistinguishable amount behind “The Deer Hunter” is “American Beauty.” I have to say it ticks me off when critics said it shows the dark soul of the United States (through the eyes of an English director) as if it accurately portrays a mid-life crisis or is somehow the story of modern-day America, but there’s no question that this one is as good as it gets. Like the other sensational dramas mentioned here, “American Beauty” has as perfect casting as you could ever find; wonderful work by the actors; and a jab to your emotional solar plexus.
You’ll notice I haven’t reviewed any of these films. They are each too complex, layered and the best of the genre for an amateur critic to review. I’ll mention them in general terms such as I do here, but I won’t review them individually.
Oscar count: “The Godfather” (3, plus 8 other nominations); “The Godfather: Part II” (6, plus 5 other nominations); “The Deer Hunter” (5, plus 4 other nominations); and “American Beauty” (5, plus 3 other nominations)
FOR THE BEST IN COMEDY …
Either “Animal House” (1978) | “Caddyshack” (1980)
or “The Hangover” (2009) | “We’re the Millers” (2013)
My “either or” here splits generations. From the first two, it’s either “Animal House” and “Caddyshack,” where you have the late-1970s to early ’80s efforts influenced by a new wave of bold comedians, most of whom came up though improvisation with a heavy dose of television influence. Or, you have the other two, “The Hangover” (click here for my look at the three-film franchise) and “We’re the Millers” take advantage of puerile cinema pioneered by “Porky’s” (click here for my review) and its ilk but go to a comedy level undreamed of by what came before.
I’ll have to say that “Animal House” wins out, hands-down, as best comedy … ever. Yes, I know that there has been great comedy from Laurel and Hardy to Martin and Lewis, but “Animal House” is a different animal entirely and it has stood the test of time better than any other comedy (yet, “Caddyshack” may be its equal on this count). “Animal House” came out while I was in college and it spoke to a generation coming out of the dark, post-Vietnam and post-Nixonian days. Plus, like “Caddyshack,” it has the National Lampoon influence (for those not in-the-know, the Lampoon was America’s funniest humor publication at the time) that made the difference from a knock-it-out quickie comedy and the classic that it is.
“Caddyshack” is simply the best-ever golf movie and lines from it are quoted daily on golf courses across the globe (“Noonan! Noonan!”). It has the (then) emerging superstars of comedy – Chevy Chase and Bill Murray – as well as stand-up legend Rodney Dangerfield, TV great Ted Knight and a supporting cast of unknowns who knock it out-of-the-park in every scene. Although the acting is good in “Caddyshack,” it loses out to “Animal House” in this respect. Still, if I was forced to choose which one to watch RIGHT NOW, then I’d take “Caddyshack” in a heartbeat. It’s not that it’s better than “Animal House” (it’s not), but I’d just rather watch it again … and again and again and again.
If not “Animal House” or “Caddyshack,” then I’d go with “The Hangover” or “We’re the Millers.” Both are in the vein tapped so effectively by “American Pie,” but both take comedy to a new level – I’d call it the “potential for a stroke” level. You laugh so hard watching either one of these that you nearly have a stroke. Both are tremendously creative – “The Hangover” for the mystery of the characters finding out what happened to them and “We’re the Millers” for the characters’ interaction – and benefit from terrific casts – although “Millers” wins out with the biggest name doing the best work as Jennifer Aniston just kills in this one.
In the end, though, I’ll go with “The Hangover” as third best of the four comedy movies I’m writing about here. It has an outstandingly creative plot and while “We’re the Millers” is good (especially the scene where “mom” and “sister” are caught kissing the “son” or the “baby” that’s a bag of marijuana), it’s just a smidgen behind “The Hangover.”
FOR THE BEST IN HORROR …
Either “Halloween” (1978) | “Friday the 13th” (1980)
or “Scream” (1996) | “Zombieland” (2009)
The category of horror is much tougher to make a selection for than either comedy or drama. Much tougher. From back-in-the-day efforts like “The Birds” or any one of Vincent Price’s specials that you can name, Hollywood morphed into more blood-drenched version horror including even a sub-genre of “slasher” films, much less the soul-sickening dismemberment special effects of the past decade, than those that rely on scary surprises of earlier flicks. While there were TV movies that were tremendous horror efforts (take either “The Night Stalker” from 1972 – click here for my review – or “Salem’s Lot” in 1979 from the Stephen King vampire novel – click here for my review), horror didn’t really become BIG until Jamie Lee Curtis burst on the screen in “Halloween” in 1978. She became the “Scream Queen” and launched a revitalized horror movie industry, whose previous best was “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” from four years earlier.
Both “Halloween” (click here for my review) and “Friday the 13th” set a new standard in horror cinema and, surprisingly, both original films were not as gory as what followed on the trail they blazed. Of course both have murders and sicko behavior by the killer, but also they both rely more on suspense to nail you than trying to gross you out (say like any of the “Saw” movies). They’re a little different in that “Halloween” leaves audience with an identifiable heroine in Jamie Lee, while “Friday the 13th” has an identifiable bad guy in the guise of “Jason” (even though he wasn’t the killer in the original). Despite both being the foundation for respective franchises, director John Carpenter’s “Halloween” is simply classic, iconic and perfection in horror. “Friday the 13th” doesn’t manage this trifecta of excellence and so it rides shotgun (not the backseat) to “Halloween” as the best of horror.
Jump ahead a few years and you get Wes “A Nightmare on Elm Street” Craven counterpunching Carpenter with “Scream” (click here for my review), which is another truly classic horror flick. Its cast is better and deeper than “Halloween’s” but Neve Campbell can never do a better job in horror than Jamie Lee. Close, but … never. Also, “Scream” is gorier than “Halloween,” but it is more current to the eye than the 1970s scenes from its competitor. In the end, “Scream” actually finishes ahead of “Friday the 13th” for second place in this four-movie race.
As for “Zombieland” (click here for my review), it has the best cameo of any film I’ve mentioned in this entire review (of course, the dramas had no cameos) and is simply the best zombie movie ever – although both “Shaun of the Dead” from 2004 (click here for my review) and the original “Dawn of the Dead” from 1978 are really close – and therefore lets it challenge in this category. However, “Zombieland” is a clear fourth here despite its wonderful story, creative killing of zombies and the “rules” of surviving the zombie apocalypse and an outstanding cast (in which I’m not disgusted by the effort by with the lack of talent of Woody Harrelson).
So, there you have it. Drama. Comedy. Horror. The best. Well, at least in my opinion.
© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2016.
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