Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bill's Top 40 Films of All Time

Because I'm a filmmaker, people always ask me what my favorite films are. Typically they are surprised to hear me mention anything mainstream (apparently filmmakers are supposed to like unknown art house films...). I grew up enjoying works of cinema that had invaded the mainstream and I still enjoy them today (within reason). So if you're expecting to find a list of pretentious art house dramas with no clear storyline, you've come to the wrong place!

This is a list of films that I absolutely love, both as a filmmaker and a regular audience member. Everything listed is completely my personal opinion. The list has a tendency to change over time as my tastes in films change. Reflected are my all time favorites as of the end of 2011. Enjoy!



40. "Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland" (1989)- This film has to be one of the most underrated and overlooked animated films ever made. It's a film about a boy who enters an enchanted and dangerous dream world when he falls asleep and is then chosen to defeat the evil Nightmare King. The story and characters are based on the early 1900s comic strip of the same name by Windsor McKay, who was one of the earliest animation pioneers. The animation is top-notch and the film itself carries a dark and mysterious undercurrent. The script was written by American filmmaker Chris Columbus, with the entire film being produced and animated by TMS; the Japanese animation company responsible for animating "Batman: The Animated Series" in the early 90s. Sadly the film was largely overlooked and forgotten because it was eclipsed by the Disney resurgence with "The Little Mermaid" that came out around the same time.


39. "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust" (2000)- I promise you this isn't a top animated films list... I feel like I've long been on a search for the perfect vampire movie. I've never been a fan of the gory b-movie depictions of vampires nor the sparkly disgrace that the "Twilight" series birthed. This film is by far the closest to my idea of what a great vampire movie is. The film follows half-vampire/half-human D as he journeys to rescue a young woman from the clutches of a vampire nobleman. The animation style is rich with a lot of attention given to the dark and detailed gothic imagery. Action, adventure, romance, thrills, you name it. The Japanese have created a wonderful piece of vampire art with this film. It's a great watch for Halloween.

38. "Taken" (2008)- As a guy who is extremely protective of the women I love, this film was like a fulfilling 3-course steak dinner. Liam Neeson plays a retired CIA agent who travels across Europe to rescue his teenage daughter who has been kidnapped by traffickers. The body count Neeson leaves behind is somewhere in the 30s +. It's a fantastic action/thriller written by French filmmaker Luc Besson. It also has a very rewarding ending that makes the entire ride well worth it.


37. "Edward Scissorhands" (1990)- I have a great appreciation for Tim Burton. It's not even his filmwork that I really appreciate. It's his art and his stylistic vision. This film is a fantastic representation of classic Burton-esque style. A strange gothic man with scissors for hands (Johnny Depp) struggles to fit-in in a cookie cutter pastel-laden suburban environment. It's a great story of a lonely outsider trying to find acceptance. It is by far one of my favorite Burton-directed films where I truly think his artistic vision was very accurately and explicitely put on display. Haunting and fantastic!


36. "Minority Report" (2002)- Steven Spielberg's futuristic action/thriller inspired by a short story from sci-fi author Philip K. Dick. The film follows John Anderton (Tom Cruise), a police chief working for the Department of PreCrime; a department that relies on precognative abilities to predict upcoming murder. Anderton is eventually framed for murder and must fight to survive while unraveling a conspiracy within the department. Spielberg takes us to a very dark future that feels cold and visceral, yet full of thrills and excitement. It could've possibly been a bit shorter as it feels too long in some areas, but it still rocks!


35. "RoboCop" (1987)- The campy 80s sci-fi action extravaganza from Paul Verhoeven about a cop in future Detroit who is brutally murdered by thugs only to be reborn as the cyborg RoboCop (Peter Weller). The film of course seems absolutely ridiculous, but that's the charm of it. I first saw "RoboCop" at my older cousin's house when I was seven. It frightened me to the core, specifically Kurtwood Smith's twisted depiction of the main antagonist Clarence Boddicker. I wouldn't face the film again until I was 21, which was when I discovered the strange and cheesy charm of the whole thing. Plain and simple, it's just a fun and campy 80s action film that can be appreciated on that basis alone.


34. "Rush Hour 2" (2001)- Yes, I like the "Rush Hour" sequel more than the original. I'm honestly not sure why. This film is a fun action/comedy with just enough variety (locations, comedy, action, characters) to keep it entertaining from beginning to end without overdoing it. Detective Carter (Chris Tucker) and Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) team up again to take out a counterfeit scheme involving the Chinese Triads. The film is just a good time. That's right, I'm a filmmaker and I can like a film for being a "good time". That might be a little too much for the hipster to swallow.


33. "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (1991)- Following my rabid fandom for the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" as a child, I began to adopt a fandom for "Star Trek". A lot of Trekkies would consider me a blasphemer for favoring this film over "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (aka. the one considered the "Citizen Kane" of Trek films). Sorry, but yes. "VI" is my favorite of the films starring the original "Star Trek" cast. I like films that feel like a full meal. This film is a full meal with a vast variety of plot points and adventure. The film is also an allegory for the Chernobyl disaster and subsequent fall of the Soviet Union, which makes it a lot more intriguing thematically. Plus, you really can't beat Christopher Plummer as the antagonistic Shakespeare-quoting Klingon with an eye patch bolted to his face. Yes, bolted.


32. "House of Flying Daggers" (2004)- If I could sum up this film from Chinese director Zhang Yimou in one word it would be "beautiful". This is honestly one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Not only is it a fantastic martial arts film, but it is a deeply tragic love story with ridiculous and almost painterly cinematography. It's simply a story of two men fighting for the love of the same woman (Zhang Ziyi). Yes, the entire film is in Mandarin Chinese, but it's just so freaking beautiful! I really can't emphasize that enough.


31. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (1990)- Yep, you read that right. Since I was the target audience for the turtles as a child, I most definitely saw this film in the theater when it came out. Admittedly I would go on to favor the second film over the first, although in the last few years I have come to appreciate this film more. It's the classic retelling of when the turtles first meet April O'Neil, Casey Jones, and their nemesis the Shredder. It is definitely a darker approach more in-line with the original comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, yet it still contains some of the kid-friendly elements that had been birthed by the 80s cartoon series. It wasn't until later that I would discover that this film was produced by an independent production company (Golden Harvest) for a lower budget. This came as a surprise since the film never feels low budget. It's gritty, it's awesome, it's the turtles! I'll go ahead and mention Elias Koteas' portrayal of Casey Jones as being one of the best and most underrated characterizations ever. Ever!


30. "The Lord of the Rings" Trilogy (2001-2003)- I'm grouping this entire trilogy together because I can. While the word "epic" seems to be tossed around a lot lately, all three of these films certainly embody it to a great degree. The adaptation of the series of novels by J.R.R. Tolkien is a long and magnificent fantasy/adventure that follows a number of different characters, most importantly Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) as he journeys to rid himself of the all-powerful Ring. The detailed sets, effects, and grandiose score from Howard Shore are just some of the many reasons why this trilogy truly defines the word epic. Sure the acting can be a bit cheesy at times, but the phrase "who cares?" comes to mind.


29. "The Departed" (2006)- I've never been much of a Martin Scorsese fan, but this film changed my feelings. It's a clever cat and mouse crime thriller about Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) operating as a mole for the Irish mob inside of the Massachusetts state police while simultaneously Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is operating as a mole for the state police inside of the Irish mob. The film very colorfully showcases the city of Boston and Irish American culture. It's refreshing to see a film with mobsters that aren't Italian for once. The film also has some of the best, albeit profane one-liners of any movie in the last 20-years.


28. "Casino Royale" (2006)- The James Bond franchise is not without its duds. This film is not one of them. I've been a Bond fan for a while and "Casino Royale" is by far one of the best. The film was Daniel Craig's first outing as 007. He introduced audiences to a meaner and blunter Bond that we hadn't previously seen. I talk about loving films that feel like a full meal. This film was definitely a full meal, plus desert. Exotic locales, beautiful and complex women (Eva Green), action, adventure, etc... Nothing is really missing. Director Martin Campbell rocked it both with this film and "GoldenEye" back in 1995.


27. "Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi" (1983)- Traditionally I've favored "Star Trek" over "Star Wars", although I appreciate them both. While most "Star Wars" fanboys and girls speak at great length about how "The Empire Strikes Back" is the greatest film of the franchise, I beg to differ. "Jedi" is my favorite of the lot. George Lucas' storytelling genius was the creative force behind this, but the film itself was written and directed by folks other than Lucas, making it easily better than the three prequels. Yes, the Ewoks were interesting to say the least, but they just added to the tons of variety and story development. Plus there's an epic climax to tie-off the series. What can I say, I like resolution at a story's end.


26. "Iron Man" (2008)- The trailer for this film was awful. It was awful to the degree that I didn't want to see the film, despite liking Iron Man as a kid. After hearing rave reviews from my peers, I went ahead and saw it... and now it sits in my top 40. Robert Downey Jr. delivers a fantastic performance as the douchey but lovable Tony Stark; an eccentric playboy who dons the Iron Man suit to stop the violence and injustice fueled by the products of the company he inherited from his father. Amidst all of the high-tech action is Downey Jr.'s flirty rapport with Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts, which is both brilliantly written and acted. It's a face-paced action/adventure with enough light humor peppered throughout to make the film feel like a complete and satisfying experience.


25. "The Rocketeer" (1991)- Wow... Two films in a row about comic book heroes that can fly with the use of machinery. I swear I didn't plan this... This film has become a forgotten classic as of late. Stunt pilot Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) discovers a rocket pack and uses it to perform various heroic acts, all while being pursed by the mob and Nazi spies who want the pack for their own fiendish schemes. I absolutely loved it when I saw it in theaters as a kid and even today it still holds up as a fun World War II-era action/adventure with a wide variety of elements and excitement. Jennifer Connelly as the love interest and 80s James Bond Timothy Dalton as the villain? I think yes! People should really do themselves a favor and discover or re-discover this film. Despite its poor box office performance, the stylistic direction of Joe Johnston gave Johnston "Captain America" in 2011.


24. "Hook" (1991)- Another film that has become largely overlooked these days except for an enormous cult following of former 80s and 90s kids, myself included. The film tells the story of the legendary Peter Pan (Robin Williams) that had left Neverland and had grown up to become a corporate yuppie and horrible father to his two children. His children are kidnapped by Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), forcing Peter to return to Neverland and become "the Pan" again to save his children. It's a great adventure story about recapturing one's youth and imagination. Hoffman's performance as Hook is so incredible, I didn't realize it was actually Hoffman until years after I saw the film in theaters. Critics hated the film and consider it one of Steven Spielberg's failures, but those of us who were kids during its release know how awesome it is, and that's all that matters. Bangarang!


23. "The Little Mermaid" (1989)- It takes a real man to admit that he enjoys this film. After all, it's an animation masterpiece. This film had such an impact that it began Disney's animation renaissance in the late 80s. It represents an art and a craftsmanship that has sadly gone by the wayside thanks to Pixar. Sure it has a girly little love story about a mermaid who wants to be human in order to be with her prince charming, but it also contains really dark Faustian themes like selling your soul (or voice) to the devil (sea witch) to get what you desire. And let's be honest, the musical numbers by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are top-notch and unforgettable. Nothing puts a smile on my face like the "Under the Sea" sequence. Let's not forget that Ariel sparked in-depth discussions amongst pre-pubescent boys over the fact that she is only wearing shells to cover herself. Classy Disney! Classy, and I love it!


22. "Inception" (2010)- It's difficult for me to accept a newer film into my top 40. This film blew me away to such a great degree and on so many levels (no pun intended) that it has been given a place here. "Inception" is a wonderfully imaginative film about entering and manipulating one's dreams. Combine that premise with the style and swagger of a great Bond film and you have a winning formula. This "pet project" of Christopher Nolan's gives writer/directors like myself hope that someday I can turn a pet project into a well-crafted success. The explosive box office earnings of the film also give me some indication that the American movie-going public may not be as stupid as they oftentimes seem to be. That makes me happy.


21. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000)- The trailer for this film used to play continuously on a rotation in the lobby of the movie theater I was working at in 2000. In all of that time I never once grew tired of hearing the bluegrass tune of the Soggy Bottom Boys. This film is fantastic on so many different levels. It's strong southern flavoring made me proud to be from the south at a time when I was living in the north. The film is a dusty and almost cartoonish telling of Homer's "The Odyssey", an interpretation that Homer himself could've never imagined. The clever mythological interpretation mixed with old bluegrass music, comedy, and adventure make this film ridiculously entertaining and interesting. In college I found a paperback version of the Coen Brothers' script in the school library and read it from cover-to-cover in one sitting and found it just as entertaining as if I had I been watching the film.


20. "Jurassic Park" (1993)- You can probably start counting how many Spielberg films end up on this list now. I almost didn't get a chance to see this film when it came out in theaters because of my age. It's adapted from the Michael Crichton novel of the same name about an island where dinosaurs have been brought back into existence using fossilized DNA and the chaos that ensues as a result of "playing God". The film is an exciting and sometimes intense action/adventure featuring some of the first hyper-realistic CG animation ever done in cinema, blended seamlessly with animatronics from effects master Stan Winston. The dinosaurs are both terrifyingly believable and awesome. Suspense, cutting-edge special effects, and shock and awe all accompanied by a memorable score from John Williams. This film is definitely a classic adventure movie. It's also the first time I ever saw Samuel L. Jackson. "Hold on to yer butts!"


19. "Collateral" (2004)- It should come as no surprise that Tom Cruise is excellent in his portrayal of a psychopath. This film takes place over the course of one night during which hitman Vincent (Cruise) holds reluctant L.A. cab driver Max (Jaime Foxx) hostage, forcing Max to drive to various "hits" before Max finally reaches a breaking point. It's a dark and gritty action/thriller from director Michael Mann. One of the first major motion pictures to be shot in HD video, adding to the overall visceral and atmospheric feel of the film. Foxx delivers a fantastic and believable performance, making it easy to empathize and cheer for his character. Cruise is a stone-cold killer. One of the most genuinely exciting and suspenseful films I've seen. You don't fall asleep during a film like this.


18. "Aladdin" (1992)- Another Disney masterpiece released during the animation renaissance. My sister and I liked this film so much, we dragged our poor dad to the theater a total of 6-times to see it. It's the classic Arabian tale of a peasant who finds a lamp and is granted three wishes from a genie during which he finds romance with a princess and has to battle an evil sorcerer. Like "The Little Mermaid", the animation is stunning. One cannot forget the brilliant voice performance of Robin Williams as the Genie and of course the wonderfully catchy musical numbers by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. It's just a great well-rounded animated film. My dad was relieved when the film finally exited theaters. His relief, however, was short-lived once my sis and I obtained a bootleg VHS copy of the film.


17. "Happy Gilmore" (1996)- This film is one of my favorite comedies of all time. The film follows rejected hockey player with an ironic name Happy (Adam Sandler) as he enters a golf tournament to save his beloved grandmother from eviction. The film has all of the elements I look for in a comedy. A relatively grounded story, goofiness that isn't too over-the-top, colorful characters that aren't overkill, and dozens of hilarious and quotable lines. Yes, it does tend to walk the line of ridiculous, but it doesn't quite reach that point, keeping it somewhat grounded in reality. There's nothing I hate more than unbelievably ludicrous comedy and characters that are complete overkill (ie. most Will Ferrell "comedies"). "Happy Gilmore" is balanced and that's why most people don't just like it, they LOVE it.


16. "The Secret of NIMH" (1982)- A somewhat overlooked masterpiece by renowned American animator Don Bluth. This film was Bluth's first outing as an independent filmmaker after quitting his work at Disney in the 70s. Based on the Robert C. O'Brien novel "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH", the film follows a widowed mouse who seeks the help of genetically engineered rats to help her relocate her family before it is destroyed by humans. "NIMH" can definitely be cited as the start of Bluth's wobbly walk between the kid-friendly and the darker more adult-themed (something he has continued to do throughout his career). When I saw this film as a child I was shocked to see blood and violence. These mice bleed, get stabbed, killed, etc... It shocks you as a viewer, yet has a sense of allure and intrigue behind it that stands out amongst even the most polished Disney fare. This isn't Saturday morning fluff and there are no musical numbers. It's dark and the peril is real. The characters just look cute.


15. "Aliens" (1986)- This is a relatively new film for me. "New you say?" Yes. The first time I saw this film was in 2009. I wasn't allowed anywhere near the "Alien" franchise growing up, and it's a good thing I wasn't considering the effect "RoboCop" had on me... So 23-years after the film's release I found myself blown away. James Cameron adds a louder, flashier, and more violent chapter to the "Alien" saga kicked-off by Ridley Scott in 1979. A group of future marines with Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in-tow answer a distress call on a distant human colony only to be viciously attacked by the frightening alien creatures from the first film. It's a great sci-fi survival film with one of the most legendary ass-kicking female characters in cinema. "Aliens" also has a fantastic "you think it's over, but it's not over" ending climax. It rocks all around. It's disappointing that the "Alien" franchise has never been able to top or even match this film's greatness in the years that have followed.


14. "The Land Before Time" (1988)- Yes, this is the first film that came out long before the 200,000 straight-to-video sequels. In my mind, it's the only one that really exists. The film was produced by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and was directed by Don Bluth following his success with "An American Tail". "The Land Before Time" is simply put, animation art. It is comprised of layer upon layer of detail and depth as well as some of the most organic and warm hand-drawn animation I have seen. In the film, a group of young dinosaurs band together to find their family after being displaced by a devastating earthquake. Like most of Bluth's work, the film is colorful and kid-friendly with dark and very adult elements at its core. Some elements were so dark, Spielberg requested that an entire sequence be cut from the final version of the film, much to Bluth's disdain. No musical numbers here. Just a wonderful score by James Horner. Because of its box office success, the "suits" in Hollywood found it necessary to create hundreds of brainless, heartless, sing-a-long sequels that aren't worth the cheap white DVD cases they're packaged in. Of course this film will always stand out as a beautiful example of the finest in American traditional animation.


13. "Gladiator" (2000)- Ridley Scott's epic sword and sandal masterpiece. The story of Maximus (Russell Crowe), a respected general for the Roman Empire who is cast out and who's family is murdered under the orders of the psychopathic Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Maximus fights as a gladiator in order to work his way back into Rome and exact his revenge. If the opening battle between the Romans and the tribes of Germania doesn't get you into this film, I really don't know what will. Historical action and excitement combined with breathtaking set pieces and a punishing score by Hans Zimmer make this film seriously epic. You genuinely want to hate Phoenix's Commodus and hope he gets a good death, not only for Crowe's Maximus, but for you as an audience member. It's all very exciting!


12. "Saving Private Ryan" (1998)- Another historical epic, this time from Steven Spielberg. A company of American soldiers led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) trek across war torn Europe to find Private Ryan (Matt Damon), the last surviving of his brothers, and bring him home. The film opens with one of the most visceral and heart-stopping "war is hell" sequences I've ever seen. The shaky and bleached-out cinematography of Janusz Kaminski, combined with an overload of sound effects gives you a seriously raw feeling of what it would've been like as a soldier during World War II. The entire film is engaging and leaves you with an appreciation for what those who served during WWII had gone through.


11. "Mission: Impossible" (1996)- Tom Cruise again?! What can I say, he's been in some good movies. This film is Brian De Palma's Hollywood adaptation of the popular 1960s spy series of the same name. IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is falsely accused of disloyalty and must discover and expose the real spy without the help of his organization. Unlike the sequels, "Mission: Impossible" is a smart and entertaining spy film. One of the best in its genre in my opinion. It's not an effects extravaganza with off-the-wall action from beginning to end. While it is secret agent fantasy, it's grounded enough in reality to be believable, even if it has one of the greatest ending action sequences ever involving a helicopter, some rope, and a bullet train. "Red light! Green light!"


10. "Star Trek: First Contact" (1996)- As I mentioned earlier, there was a time when I was a rabid "Star Trek" fan. This film came out during the height of my fandom. Even though I have been "Trek" sober since 1998, this film still stands out as an amazing piece of dark sci-fi adventure. I remember anticipating its release like an absolute crazy person. Fortunately it didn't disappoint. The Enterprise crew from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" travel through time to battle the Borg (who are basically twisted cybernetic zombies) in order to save Earth and history from being assimilated. It's one of the darkest in the "Trek" film franchise and one of the most entertaining. It's a very solid story that only serves to fulfill without ever dragging along the way. You get epic space battles, horror, action, humor, drama, you name it! You even get to see Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) step into a 1940s holodeck simulation and kill Borg drones with a Tommy gun. Yes! All of this excitement is accompanied by an epic and beautiful score from the late Jerry Goldsmith. Even non "Trek" fans can appreciate the awesomeness of this film. It rocks hard!


9. "GoldenEye" (1995)- Years before the groundbreaking Nintendo 64 game, there was the film from which it was based. This film was Pierce Brosnan's first outing as James Bond, as well as the first Bond movie I ever saw. In it, Bond has to stop an old colleague (Sean Bean) from using an electromagnetic satellite as a weapon against Western civilization. "GoldenEye" was my first taste of not only 007, but the spy/action genre in-general. I was immediately enamored by the action/adventure, romance, exotic locations, and secret agent swagger of the film. It's definitely one of the more satisfying and complete Bond movie experiences, despite the slightly disconcerting musical score from Eric Serra. It was the first Bond film directed by Martin Campbell, who would go on to direct the aforementioned "Casino Royale". Campbell has proven that he definitely knows how to handle a Bond movie.


8. "The Dark Knight" (2008)- A newer film in my top 10?! Yes, I know. It's worthy though. Assuming the upcoming "Dark Knight Rises" is as amazing as its two predecessors, I will probably group Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy together as one. Batman has been my favorite comic book character ever since I was a child, so naturally I would have high expectations for any media connected to him. I hadn't been as excited about a film coming out since... "Star Trek: First Contact". And like "First Contact" I was not disappointed. The story, the technical craftsmanship, the performances... While certainly no film is perfect, this one is as close as it gets. It's Batman (Christian Bale) facing off against his arch-nemesis the Joker (Heath Ledger) as the Joker throws Gotham City into anarchy and chaos. I was absolutely mesmerized by Ledger's performance as an inconsistent nihilistic madman. Watching the film was like being on a ride. I was never certain what was going to happen next to the point where I began to get nervous while watching. It's the kind of film that made me want to be a better filmmaker and performer. Aside from Bale's overblown guttural Batman voice, "The Dark Knight" is an example of what great modern cinema should be.


7. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977)- Hello again, Mr. Spielberg! I first saw this film on HBO when I was around the age of four. Watching it was honestly the first time I remember being awestruck by the magic and power of movies. I couldn't follow the story at the time, but I'll never forget the way the film made me feel. After having a "close encounter" with alien life, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and a group of others obsessively search to find answers. In the process, Neary leaves his family behind and travels to Devil's Tower, Wyoming where first contact is made. This film is one of the only films that Steven Spielberg had actually written himself, the basic premise inspired by a film he did in high school called "Firelight". Yes, the film is paced rather slow and drags in a lot of places, but it was the 70s. Attention spans were longer back then. All of the madness and the mystery leads up to one final climax at the base of the oddly shaped Devil's Tower mountain where the alien mothership descends and has an epic musical face-off with government scientists. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but I still get goosebumps when I watch that scene. I sometimes wonder if I would've ever been intrigued about movies enough to enter the industry had I not seen this film as a small child.


6. "Back to the Future" Trilogy (1985-1990)- I hesitate to group this entire trilogy together just because I'm not fond of the third installment, but whatever. First of all, the plot: An 80s teen (Michael J. Fox) with the help of an eccentric scientist (Christopher Lloyd), goes back-in-time to the 1950s where he accidentally meets his mother (Lea Thompson) as a teenager, subsequently leading her to fall in-love with him, threatening his very existence. Just the creative and whimsical madness of the plot alone makes this film awesome. The second film was just as great, giving the audience a glimpse of an 80s-style future and a revisiting of the events from the first film, including an alternate timeline. If we don't have flying cars by 2015, I'm going to be very disappointed! It's colorful fantasy adventure like this that I feel is missing from movies today. There are no great comedic villains like Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) anymore. Director/Co-Writer Robert Zemeckis was at the top of his game with these films. No time traveling film since "Back to the Future" has been able to duplicate or even come close to the greatness of this franchise. Is it weird that one of my dream cars is a DeLorean? No.


While most of my top 40 may shuffle around over time, my top 5 have remained fairly concrete over the years. These are the films that I love and cherish very deeply and that have influenced me to a great degree as both an artist and a filmmaker.


5. "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993)- With "Edward Scissorhands" I mentioned that I am a fan of Tim Burton as an artist more so than as a filmmaker. This film is the artistic vision of Burton come to life. Although Henry Selick was the director, the entire film was visually conceptualized by Burton as well as its story elements while Burton was working for Disney in the early 80s. Selick was essentially taking what was inside of Burton's head and putting it on-screen. Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon/Danny Elfman), the king of Halloweentown, decides to put his own twist on Christmas which has nightmarish consequences. For someone who very much enjoys the atmosphere and the imagery of Halloween, this film is the holy grail. From Danny Elfman's eccentric music to the groundbreaking stop-motion animation, the film stands alone as a wonderful piece of entertaining visual art. And while it only had modest box office returns, it's influence and cult status have subsequently entered the public consciousness at-large. It isn't easy to bring your inner-most artistic visions to life. Selick/Burton have done this and I strive to do the same in my own work.


4. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (1988)- Director Robert Zemeckis was still on a roll following "Back to the Future" with this film. Produced by Steven Spielberg (no way!), this film is a loose adaptation of the Gary K. Wolf novel "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?". The film is about Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer), a cartoon star in 1940s Hollywood that is framed for murder and must rely on alcoholic detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to unravel a conspiracy and clear his name. I feel fortunate to have witnessed such a creative film in the theaters when I was five. It was the first time a feature-length film had been created that almost seamlessly blended live-action with traditional cel animation, years before computer assistance was possible. In the world of this film, cartoon characters are real and live side-by-side with humans. It's the only time in cinema history that you will see Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny alongside one another, not to mention a piano duel between Donald Duck and Daffy Duck. All of these goofy and colorful elements are combined with the class and style of a film noir from Hollywood's Golden Age. As a child, I enjoyed how colorful and imaginative the film is. As an adult, I came to understand that the film is peppered with clever sexual innuendo and other adult humor. This goes to show that it can be enjoyed by both children and adults, allowing it to withstand the test of time. A true classic!


3. "An American Tail" (1986)- To me, this is the greatest animated film ever made. Don Bluth was asked by Steven Spielberg (again!) to helm this film after Spielberg had seen his work with animated mice in "The Secret of NIMH". It's the story of Russian-born mouse Fievel Mousekewitz (voiced by Phillip Glasser) who is separated from his family as they immigrate to America to escape cats at the end of the 19th century. Fievel must journey the dangerous streets of New York in the hopes of being reunited with his family. I had seen this film in the theater when I was four. After seeing it, I became obsessed with it and tried very hard to draw Fievel and all of the characters from the film on my own using only a crayon and some notebook paper. Because of that, I credit this film with heavily influencing my current drawing style. The animation is top-notch and filled with beautifully painted backgrounds of Victorian-era New York accompanied by a great score from James Horner. As is a signature in Bluth's work, "An American Tail" is a family film with dark undercurrents. The cats in-particular are depicted in a manner that could potentially scar small children for life. I have a very deep love for this film and will still watch it today with as much enthusiasm as I did when I was kid. In 2011, I purchased an original animation cel of Fievel that was used in the film and now hangs framed in my office.


2. "Indiana Jones" Trilogy (1981-1989)- Again, I'm grouping an entire trilogy into one. We'll go ahead and disregard the fourth film. Steven Spielberg, a big 007 fan, had always wanted to direct a Bond film. To his displeasure, Bond film exec Albert R. Broccoli had rejected his bid to do a Bond film. Fortunately Spielberg's buddy George Lucas had created a character that he deemed was "better" than James Bond. That character was Indiana Jones. The rest, as they say, is history. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is by far one of the greatest and most iconic characters in cinema. He's a college professor who often takes extended absences to travel the world looking for legendary artifacts while getting into action-packed scuffles with tribal folk, Nazis, and sometimes the supernatural. And of course somewhere in-between he always gets the beautiful girl. It's wildly entertaining and over-the-top action/adventure that makes archeology look like the most exciting career choice on the planet. Ford's grumpy yet charming characterization of Jones makes the character very likable which is undoubtedly why he remains one of the most iconic hero figures. I can watch all three of these films back-to-back and never tire of the adventure and excitement. These films are true classics. In another life I would've definitely been an archeologist, but not nearly as cool as Dr. Jones.


1. "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982)- And we have finally arrived! Steven Spielberg has made a number of iconic films in his career, but "E.T." will always stand out as the film that defined him as a director and catapulted him into being a household name. The script was a first draft written by Melissa Mathison, after having story discussions with Spielberg. It's the story of Elliott (Henry Thomas), a lonely boy who befriends an alien that has been stranded on Earth. When I was growing up, my family had a VHS copy of the film that me and my sister would watch repeatedly and get lost in all of its magic and wonder. It is one of the few films that I get goosebumps from just speaking about. "E.T." is an amazing and imaginative film that even after watching it hundreds of times, will still grab your heart in a merciless grip. It's the kind of film that makes you honestly wonder whether or not its detractors actually have souls. Ordinary characters placed in extraordinary circumstances is a theme that has pervaded most of the films in my top 10, this one more so than others. As a child, I wanted to believe that I could befriend life from another planet and experience the same adventure as Elliott did. I will always watch "E.T." with a profound fondness and childlike excitement the likes of which I don't fully understand. It reminds me of my childhood and that movies have the power to literally reach into our spirits and touch us with a tremendous and lasting effect. Just listening to the iconic score from John Williams is enough to transport me into the world of this film. It has been my goal with anything that I create, whether it be film or otherwise, to reach the viewer on a deep and very personal level and leave them with an impression they will take with them forever, much like this film has done for me. For me, "E.T." will always be one of the greatest films ever made.


And there it is ladies and gentlemen! My all time top 40! Take it or leave it, these are the films that I love! You like how my rundown of each film seemed to get progressively longer the further down the list? Couldn't help but to gush more the closer I got to #1.

Make your own list!

2 comments:

Christof Penwah said...

I agree with many on your list. Now, sir, you have inspired me to do the same thing! Happy New Year!

Mickie Shaun Andrews said...

Many films that are in my personal list... a big fan of the Hook love on display here.