A slight deviation of subject matter for me, but I enjoyed putting together my top ten games enough to decide to do the same thing with films. I spend most of my time on this site talking about games and indeed I spend most of my time actively in that community, but film is very much my second passion. I have a pretty extensive DVD collection (growth has stalled slightly since I started saving for Japan, but at one point I was spending most of my income on it) and I see most of the big theatrical releases on opening night.
My enjoyment of games and movies ebb and flow together, and when I’m tapped out on one the other inevitably provides my entertainment fix. Like games, I try to enjoy the classics as much as the modern stuff and I like to think that my favourites strike a nice balance, even if I do have a weakness for creative direction.
- Trainspotting – I said I liked creative direction, didn’t I? What I’m not usually a fan of is dance music and narcotics which Trainspotting is full of, but I still enjoy it more than any other film because of how well the aesthetics gel to create something that never gets tired to watch. It also deserves credit for its protrayal of the drug culture: it tackles this touchy subject in a totally non-judgemental way, really showing all sides of it. You see Renton’s lows but also, perhaps more uniquely, his highs, showing that for all their bad parts you can have a good time on drugs. It’s not glorified (he does crawl down a shitty toilet, after all), but it’s given a fair crack.
- Pulp Fiction – The first of the directors who has to be on everyone’s favourites list (™), this is still Tarantino’s best. Everyone knows what makes it so great – Tarantino dialogue, the music, effortlessly cool performances from the whole cast, and some good old fashioned violence. It’s totally entertaining every time you watch it and has completely permeated the same culture that it analyses, teaching most of us what a gimp is and what they call a Quarter Pounder in France.
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day – T2 made two significant contributions to the Hollywood blockbuster. Firstly, it showed how CGI could be use to accomplish things that simply couldn’t be done with any other media. I could probably write pages on how good a thing that was, but T2 itself is up there with Jurassic Park and Lord of the Rings as examples of how it should be used. Secondly, it showed that a movie could have bombastic and thrilling action scenes, big guns, chases, and quotable catch phrases but still be intelligent. The first two of the Terminator series, like James Cameron had done with the Alien series with Aliens, showed that similar material could be done in totally opposing ways and still become defining examples of the genre.
- Fight Club – The direction thing strikes again. Riding 1999’s wave of millennial paranoia into one of the best modern movies around, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are absolutely blinding form as the unnamed narrator (did I spoil something there?) watching as a simple alternative therapy morphs into the destruction of civilisation as we know it. Most people remember the first time they saw this, when either the fact that it wasn’t just bare-knuckle brawling disarmed them and the ending delivered the killing blow, and repeat viewings are an absolute must so that you can see just how obvious it was all along. The second time it’s a whole different movie, changing Marla from a clingy neurotic to someone who was just as confused as we were.
- Jaws – Following Quentin comes Steven as the one who has to be on the list. With Jaws he managed to crash the economy of various beach resorts and, more importantly, almost create the modern summer blockbuster. Arguably he’s done nothing better since, either. Everything Jaws does is done nearly perfectly, and so much of it can be seen in every monster movie since – you barely see the thing that you’re scared of until the end, the characters have great rapport which makes for one of the best third acts you’ll ever see. You know that a film is good when something that, in my opinion at least, was very much inspired by it, Alien, almost makes it into the top ten itself.
- The Lion King – Disney have animated films that are considered better, but in my opinion The Lion King is their absolute best. It’s just Hamlet mixed with Bambi (maybe a dash of Jungle Emperor Leo, depending on who you ask), but in a mere 80 minutes it takes you on a wonderful journey through the whole spectrum of emotions, put onto the screen via some of the most beautiful hand-drawn animation ever. I don’t think that CGI or live action could make Africa look this beautiful in a film of this kind. The score also deserves mention, as I consider it Hans Zimmer’s best – it never fails to give me goosebumps during Simba’s ascension at the end.
- Spirited Away – I don’t know anyone who’s seen this and not loved it, even those who claim to hate anime (isn’t that like saying you hate live action films?). This is proof that traditional animation isn’t dead, and I don’t believe that Disney can distribute this and still want to close down their own animation wing. Miyazaki takes a basic shell of a story and fills it out with almost nothing but spectacle – you can’t find a common thread to the design at all – without making it seem pointless. It just takes you back to being a kid again when the plain weird stuff just seemed to make sense.
- The Empire Strikes Back – Who hasn’t seen this? Every list needs a Star Wars and unsurprisingly I think this is the best. It’s just plain better than the other two in the OT and is leagues ahead of the shitty prequels, just by taking everything you love, making it much darker (when that was a good thing; not an excuse for a crap comic adaptation), and then putting all the characters into a worse situation than you’d ever think they’d dare to. No happy Hollywood endings here – Han’s gone, Luke’s had his universe shaken to its foundations, Yoda and Obi-Wan think that their last hope is gone, and for a while it looks like the Empire might actually win. It really shows how utterly crap I-III were.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail – No question, this is the funniest film ever made. Some people seem to think that Life of Brian is better, but they’re wrong. This one just makes Arthurian legend into a total joke with barely any possible gag missed. Get together two people who’ve even only seen it once and watch them spend hours just quoting lines and laughing themselves silly at their favourite scenes – The Black Knight, The Knights of Ni, Tim the Enchanter, the killer rabbit, the French insults, and even the opening credits. Pure comedic brilliance.
- The Truman Show – You either love Jim Carrey or hate him, but whether you enjoy his rubber-faced mugging in his usual comedies you have to give him credit for his more serious performances, both in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I think Truman is the better of the two because I love the premise which is perhaps more pertinent today than it was back in 1998 as reality TV becomes ever more widespread and more invasive. I always seem to be able to find something in the movie that I missed the last time, from a new product placement to creative camera placement. And who can forget the ending? It’s hugely emotive and, like when you watch Apollo 13 and wonder if they’re going to appear through the clouds at the end, you can’t help but wonder if he’s going to stay or go.
So there you have it, about three days after I started writing it. Once again I welcome your feedback.
In case I don’t see you…good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight.