We are in the internet age of lists, especially Top 10 lists. What are the Top 10 burger restaurants? What are the Top 10 pro plumbing tips? Who are the Top 10 biggest idiots you see on the internet each day? Well, I’ve already reviewed how Hollywood has handled my favorite books (click here to read it), and today I’m going to list my Top 10 list of my favorite films. As if it really matters!
My Top 10 list has entries from genres to just great cinema to two that I just truly enjoy watching over and over (and I’ve done that for both for nearly 40 years) and those are not award winners. I can watch nine of the ten any day or any time – read No. 3 to understand this number. The list runs the gamut from my early 20s until today. So, of course everyone has their favorites and here are mine …
|1. “The Godfather”
1. “The Godfarther: Part II”
3. “The Deer Hunter”
5. “Animal House”
|6. “L.A. Confidential”
9. “Kelly’s Heroes”
10. “The Gumball Rally”
So, let’s get to a look at each …
1-2 IT’S A TIE!
“The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II”
In “The Godfather” (1972) and “The Godfather: Part II” (1974), you have American cinema at its best. Of course they are mob movies, but they’re just at heart a family story. A somewhat dysfunctional, homicidal family, but a family nonetheless. Well, there’s really nothing to say about either one other than perfection. From acting to directing to cinematography and writing, you’ll find it here. Intricate plot twists? No problem. Achilles heel? Not here.
I know the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 U.S. films has “The Godfather” at No. 3 and mistakenly has the sequel too low at No. 32, but even the AFI can make a mistake. Not only are both films cinematic perfection, but the original even established iconic lines used up to today in film (“leave the gun, take the cannoli”). If forced, I’d say the original is best, but the sequel in some ways surpasses it but not in toto. The two films won a collective nine Oscars (each earned best picture; and three were for the original and twice that for the sequel) and each should have won more.
So, nothing more to debate here and now let’s move on …
3 “The Deer Hunter”
Although I’ll write about dark drama with my number six favorite film, my No. 3 is “The Deer Hunter” from 1978 and it is just that – a dark drama – but it is so much more. “The Deer Hunter” is a penetrating look at what the war in Vietnam did to the psyche of the United States both from military and civilian sides to both men and women and with the main characters being both. Damn!
Forget “Apocalypse Now,” “The Deer Hunter” is a complete, bludgeoned, frank reality about Vietnam, whereas “Apocalypse Now” is pretty much a creative dream on acid. “The Deer Hunter” is the only great film I have been able to only watch once. It is such a visual and emotional shot to the gut that there is just no way I’ll experience it in full again. “The Deer Hunter” has actors (all young then) who work well together and are the result of perfecting casting.
“The Deer Hunter” won five Oscars, including best picture, and it has some of the most chilling, dark moments in cinema history with Russian roulette sequences that define more than a few moments in the film. It’s impossible for me in this brief space to describe how “The Deer Hunter” conveys the poison introduced into each character by the war.
A lot of humor contained within No. 4 brings more than a little levity after my first three favorites. “Caddyshack” from 1980 is simply THE golf movie. Of course there have been others (and a few good ones like “Happy Gilmore” – click here for my review), but absolutely none (not even the uneven “Tin Cup” – click here for my review) even get on the same nine as “Caddyshack.” It has it all: big comedy stars from an established veteran in Rodney Dangerfield to the then new-age stars of Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. Also, it is the brainchild of the best comedy minds of the day, with National Lampoon editor/writer Doug Kenney as the key writer and soul of the film.
I cannot say that “Caddyshack” is perfect or even great cinema, but it is pitch-perfect golf, near-perfect comedy and has established itself as the film seen and quoted (“Noonan!”) by virtually every person who plays golf across the globe – and there’s a reason they do.
5 “Animal House”
“Animal House” from 1978 is the seminal comedy of my generation that was coming of age in the late 1970s. As a 22-year-old at college, I howled. Of course “Animal House” is the story of a wonderfully party-oriented fraternity in the early 1960s that’s about as far away from “American Graffiti” youth as you can get. It has John Belushi; it has pranks; it has drunken escapades; and it has nudity. Yes, this one covers all the bases with its heart and soul being the heart and soul from the National Lampoon – which, for those old enough to remember, was the pre-eminent humor magazine of its time.
With the exception of a young(er) Donald Sutherland, you didn’t know many in the cast – although Belushi’s meteoric rise was beginning and you certainly awaited the next appearance of “John ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky.” Plus, director John Landis, who would go on to other great films (just take two: “An American Werewolf in London – click here for my review – and the magnificent “Trading Places” – click here for my review), knew just how to handle this group of young, energetic actors. Oh, yes, you get Kevin Bacon in his first movie (“Thank you sir, may I have another?”).
“Animal House” was adapted from by a story by Chris Miller, another Lampoon alumnus, and who, along with the magazine’s editor Kenney and Harold Ramis (who would go on to direct “Caddyshack” and co-star with Bill Murray in “Stripes”), would be the epicenter of new-age comedy of its day. “Animal House” was credited with a resurgence of Greek life on college campuses across the U.S. and holds up perfectly though it is going to celebrate its 39th anniversary this year on July 28.
6 “L.A. Confidential”
My sixth-favorite film is from 1997 and it is the noir crime classic “L.A. Confidential” (click here for my review). This one has it all: a big cast; A-list stars; an Oscar-winner; and, most of all, everyone doing his or her job to near perfection. “L.A. Confidential” is more an indictment of corruption than it is a story of two cops and their separate paths to an intersection of corruption and violence. The result is a film that is a punch to gut and an emotional elevator on the fast-track to humanity’s basement.
I am most impressed with Russell Crowe as the menacing, tough-guy cop who bulldozes his way through every situation. But it is difficult to say he is better than any one of the other stars from Kim Basinger, who won her Oscar for it, to the always-excellent Kevin Spacey and even to Danny DeVito. Let’s not forget the superior work of veteran character actor James Cromwell and Guy Pearce, who plays the foil to Crowe’s fog of misery.
In the end, the most impressive thing about “L.A. Confidential” is that the late Curtis Hanson as director, co-writer and producer managed to make a film worthy of the epic novel of the same name. The novel spanned decades, but the film compresses it. Hanson, who died last year, won his Oscar for the adaptation of the novel and was nominated as director and as producer for best film. It should have won best film. In the end, it got the two Oscars and had seven other nominations.
At my age I’m not enthralled too much with dark drama. However, while comedy can knock you over (take “American Pie” – click here for my look at franchises – or “The Hangover” – click here my look at that franchise), it is dark drama that makes a lasting impression. After my top three films, the dark drama I like best is “Panic” from 2000 (click here for my review). It is the story of a hitman in life crisis and the poison perpetrated by his father that has penetrated his soul.
It’s no surprise that the outstanding talent of William H. Macy is showcased as the headliner in “Panic.” He’s perfect for the main character: just made hangdog enough by life, but at the same time engaging and vulnerable despite his trade. He plays off well with Donald Sutherland as his father and the surprisingly deep turns by co-star Neve Campbell as a young woman who becomes of the object of Macy’s attention and Tracey Ullman as his wife confused by his recent behavior. I can’t find one lapse in any of the work of any of the actors and you won’t either.
Now, “Panic” doesn’t have the ultimately deep dark drama of, say, another Macy film called “The Cooler” or the brutally visceral and emotionally disturbed story of “Leaving Las Vegas,” but it perfectly conveys an analogy to those suffering along with dreary doldrums in their lives. You won’t soon forget “Panic” after watching it. However, although there are films so powerful I haven’t been able to watch them through again, I’ve seen “Panic” quite a few times.
I’ve gotta have a horror flick in my Top 10 and anyone who knows me would most likely say that it would be “Halloween” from 1978 with Jamie Lee Curtis (click here for my review). Well, “Halloween” is great and Jamie Lee is Jamie Lee and there’s no one to compare to her, but there is one film even better: “Zombieland” from 2009 (click here for my review).
“Zombieland” edges out “Shaun of the Dead” (click here for my review) for pure snarkiness and a much better cast. Best yet, “Zombieland” has the greatest cameo in cinema with Bill Murray since Brigitte Bardot did a quickie in “Dear Brigitte” (click here for my review). “Zombieland” has it all: gore, suspense, hilarity and, most importantly, creativity. Plus, it has an actually worthy effort by Woody Harrelson, who is basically your talentless hack who typically delivers a horrid, not-watchable performance.
All in all, “Zombieland” is watchable – even with the extreme gore – and you’ll learn the “rules” of surviving a zombie apocalypse. I didn’t believe there could be a better zombie flick than the original “Dawn of the Dead” in 1978 from that horror legend George A. Romero, but the “Shaun of the Dead” all too easily eclipsed it 26 years later. However, in 2009, “Zombieland” set the new gold standard for zombie flicks and is at even-par with non-zombie horror classics such as “Halloween” and the most-excellent “Scream” (click here for my review), but gets my nod for my Top 10.
9 “Kelly’s Heroes”
There are certainly much better war productions than “Kelly’s Heroes” with Clint Eastwood from 1970 (click here for my review). Take “Saving Private Ryan” or the HBO series “Band of Brothers” or even big-screen spectacle films such as “The Great Escape” (click here for my review) or “Battle of the Bulge” (click here for my review) or “A Bridge Too Far” (click here for my review). You’ll even find better in espionage thrillers such as “The Guns of Navarone” (click here for my review) or even “Where Eagles Dare” (click here for my review). However, only “Eagles” has Eastwood and while it is a much better motion picture, it is not “Kelly’s Heroes.”
“Kelly’s Heroes” has Don Rickles and Telly “Kojak” Savalas joining Clint on a World War II adventure to rob a bank (behind enemy lines – making it the “perfect crime,” according to Rickles). It is neat to watch and actually has some surprisingly realistic battle scenes and the faux German Tiger tanks (dressed-up T-34s) are as accurate as any in film. Plus, you get to know a slew of characters in ways more than stereotypes in other war films. All in all, “Kelly’s Heroes” is fun to watch and you always know they’ll prevail in the end – plus you get great work from a pre-“Archie” Carroll O’Connor.
Just like my No. 10 favorite film, “Kelly’s Heroes” isn’t great cinema, but I like it truly and completely. “Kelly’s Heroes” is the oldest of all my Top 10 favorite films and if I had to guess, I’ve sat down at watched it straight through at least 40 times. Parts of it? Dozens and dozens more. I guess I don’t have to write that I’ll be watching it again … and again! Now, on to No. 10 …
10 “The Gumball Rally”
Now we come to my tenth-favorite film of all time: “The Gumball Rally” from 1976 (click here for my review). Like my No. 9, “The Gumball Rally” is just a fun movie that I’ve enjoyed over-and-over again. It’s the story of a coast-to-coast race of the hottest cars. However, the plot is thin; the actors don’t really do much; and the cinematography is pretty basic. Still … say, “Gumball!”
“The Gumball Rally” is the weakest of my top ten. Clint Eastwood’s “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (click here for my review) is a far, far superior motion picture. However, I have to say that I enjoy “The Gumball Rally” just a smidgen more. It’s a car flick and I like cars – especially the ones found in the film.
The cast is just so-so (especially you consider that Michael Sarrazin and Tim McIntire are the headliners) and the only interesting casting was a young(er) Gary Busey. So, there’s little more I can say about “The Gumball Rally,” other than I hope you enjoy it … if you can find it.
© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2017.
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