Tag Archives: Films

My 50 Favorite Films, 2018 Edition

It feels like it’s been too long, but really, it’s only been two years since my last 50 Favorite Films. This is my biennial tradition that, honestly, I’ve been doing offline for about 30 years, but now is available for online navel gazing. You can check out the 2012, 2014, and 2016 editions should you care to. For those who are interesting in how I sort films based on criteria of quality, watchability, and personal resonance, I have a post about that too.

This year I went through over 570 films in the sort, though importantly, I did not bother to do a detailed sort of all of the films, just what turned out to be about the top 100 or so. That saved tremendous time.

All the films sorted with the top 50 in the stack on the right.

Boy howdy was there a sea change in the ranking versus 2016. No less than 19 films in the Favorite 50 were not in the 2016 edition. Pretty much all of the “new” arrivals have been in the sort before and many have been in the top 50 before… and then there was the shakeup to the top 10 itself.

I always knew you’d come back one day…

Hush! I don’t want any spoilers. I do, however, have some ground rules: 

  1. These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
  2. Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
  3. TV movies can be included (I don’t think any are in the top 50)
  4. TV mini-series are not included.
  5. Regular TV series are right out.
  6. These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
  7. There is no rule # 7.

Not stated in the ground rules is the obvious note that this list, like all subjective lists, is incredibly well-reasoned. So, without further ado, counting down from 50:

50) Die Hard
49) A Few Good Men
48) The Namesake
47) Memento
46) Heat
45) Breaker Morant
44) The Godfather, Part II
43) The Bridge on the River Kwai
42) Aliens
41) The Incredibles
40) Big Fish
39) The Court Jester
38) Midnight Run
37) Never Cry Wolf
36) Galaxy Quest
35) The Count of Monte Cristo
34) Minority Report
33) Star Wars
32) Arrival
31) The Princess Bride
30) Citizen Kane
29) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
28) The Lives of Others
27) Sullivan’s Travels
26) Airplane!
25) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
24) To Kill a Mockingbird
23) Cinema Paradiso
22) Sense and Sensibility
21) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
20) Saving Private Ryan
19) North by Northwest
18) Rob Roy
17) Unforgiven
16) Children of Men
15) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
14) Das Boot
13) The Shawshank Redemption
12) Field of Dreams
11) Once Upon a Time in the West
10) 2010
9) The Empire Strikes Back
8) Singin’ in the Rain
7) Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
6) Black Hawk Down
5) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
4) Schindler’s List
3) Casablanca
2) Ran         
1) Raiders of the Lost Ark    

And, as before, here are some…

Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)

  • Total Comedies: 7
  • Total Dramas: 23
  • Total Action-Adventure Films: 23
  • Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 18
  • Total Westerns: 2
  • Total War Movies: 17
  • Total Musicals: 2
  • Total Animated Films: 1
  • Total films with Liam Neeson: 2
  • Mean average year of the 50 films (rounded up): 1986
  • Decade with the most favorites: 1980s (15 films), followed closely by the 2000s (13 films)
  • The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: Edge of Tomorrow

Viscerally, it feels like a huge shake-up — and seeing it laid out makes me realize a few things…

It’s an altogether grimmer list
There are less comedies, less animated films, and less musicals. Yes, those last two categories aren’t always lighter fare, but the musicals and animated films that left the list definitely were. There’s more war films on the list — I even have two military courtroom dramas for crying out loud! (That’s A Few Good Men & Breaker Morant, for those keeping score at home.) Just about every film in the top 10 either has war either overtly throughout or peeking obtrusively around the corner. Well, except for…

Singin’ in the Rain
My #1 film since at least 2008. It had a good run. Maybe it’ll return, but when we got to that part of the sort, I just knew it wasn’t going to claim the top spot this year. Instead, that distinction went to a film that hasn’t claimed that spot since it was first in theaters in 1981.

An Adventure for the Ages
I mean, Raiders has been a favorite since ’81 (along with many other great films from the year. Seriously, check out some of the top-grossing ones that were in theaters in 1981). It was a good year. It could be that I’m busy writing adventure stories myself and it could be it scratches that itch many of us are feeling of late to see Nazis punched, but regardless, it’s a rattlin’ good yarn.

I noted a few other trends or tendencies. While the top 50 remained at the average year of 1986, the top 100 averages to 1989. I’m pretty sure my favorites are getting newer overall.

I’m thinking that many a film is played out for me. This isn’t unprecedented as I noticed that with music ages ago. Some films may still be just as objectively good, but I’m not getting as much as I once did on repeated viewings. It’s also the best reason I have for Rogue One thundering in ahead of the original Star Wars. (The next highest film new to the sort was Spotlight, which came in at #55). Franchise films also did not fare as dismally as they did in 2016, though I noted the Marvel films did not do well (Guardians of the Galaxy did the best at #61).

So, there it is. A fun list… that hopefully has a couple titles you’ll want to watch or re-watch. For 2020, I’m probably going to see which of IMDb’s “top 250” I haven’t seen or haven’t rewatched in a while as well as whatever else filmmaker friends recommend. Happy Boxing Day! Hope you’re spending some of the next week in a cinema watching a damn fine film or two.

What does the fox say? Die Hard is a Christmas movie

I mean, yes, they’re biased, but 20th Century Fox knows their back catalog of movies and they know Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Behold!

Admit it, you’ll watch this before you break open the myrrh. 

Sorry Cinema Scrooges: Die Hard is a Christmas Movie

Now I have a Christmas ornament: ho, ho, ho…

It has come to my attention that some people out there on the Interwebs still cling to the notion that Die Hard, the celebrated action film starring Bruce Willis, is not a Christmas movie.

Look, Gremlins counts as a Christmas movie, Edward Scissorhands counts as a Christmas movie, and  –Lord help us all– Santa Claus Conquers the Martians counts as a Christmas movie. So yes, “the Christmas episode” of action movies does indeed count as a Christmas movie.

Consider the following:

  • The protagonist is there because he’s trying to re-unite with his estranged wife at Christmastime.
  • The antagonists are specifically there at the Christmas party because the Christmas party helps their plans.
  • “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (aka “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) is recited with alternate verses.
  • Halls, people, and pretty much everything gets decked.
  • Santa hats are used for great comedic effect.
  • The end of the film reunites the protagonist with his family, whom he now values more than ever, and they spend Christmas together.

Friends, there are many pressing questions about the holiday season from what the deal is with the Feast of Seven Fishes to the order to light Advent candles. Die Hard‘s place in the Christmas movie canon should not be one of them. Watch it with Yuletide joy… perhaps after the younger ones are in bed (there are some violent bits, after all). Twinkies are appropriate.

Yippee ki yay to all and to all a good night!

But, you know, maybe make sure to wear some shoes. Trust us on this.

My 50 Favorite Films: Prep for the 2018 Edition

The holiday season is upon us and, since it’s an even year, it’s almost time for the biennial ranking of my 50 Favorite Films.

For those of you obsessed with processes or those of you waiting for an appointment and have exhausted old magazines in a waiting room, read on!

You have no idea how many bad films I’ve seen. So, so many…

I’m a lifelong movie buff and have watched literally thousands of movies. Not all of them are good. Some of the good films are, nonetheless, not my favorite films. As I discuss elsewhere, I rank the films by the criteria of quality, watchability, and resonance.

Ideally, I’d see all the “must-see” films of a given year that year. By “must-see,” I’d include the blockbusters and awards bait films that capture some pop culture consciousness — along with my personal druthers (I generally catch most sci-fi flicks and anything with a submarine, because come on! Submarines!).

Unlike one of my brothers, who is a fellow cinemaniac, I am not able to catch every film out in the theater — or even when it’s first out on video (e.g. DVD, BluRay, streaming). So that means I may go a couple years before seeing all of the a “year’s best.”

Some of these films will, under no circumstances, crack my top 50. They are Gallipoli-like machine-gun fodder for the sort.

But, he said we were going over the top into the sort…

It’s about as cruel to abstract concepts as you can be, but if you think this ain’t fair, you should see some of the films. All get their chance, but some are going to fall to the bottom. As you may recall, to save time on the sort, I don’t actually sort all the films in the bottom half because after 150 or so, the rankings really lose all meaning unless I were to include every film I’ve ever seen –or at at least a disproportionate number of them. For both my and my family’s sanity, that won’t happen. Still, adding new films with every sort, including films I know I don’t love, helps get the sort going as they contrast well with films I do love.

Here are the films that came out or I’m just first watching or I’m first adding to the sorting list:

The Adjustment Bureau
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
American Gangster
An American Werewolf in London
Ant-Man
Apollo 13
Avengers: Infinity War
Bait
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Beetlejuice
Bend it Like Beckham
The BFG
Big Hero 6
Black Panther
Blade Runner 2049
Bridge of Spies
Captain America: Civil War
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Coco
Conspiracy (2001)
Deadpool
Doctor Strange
Downfall
Dunkirk
Extinction
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Fiddler on the Roof
Finding Dory
The Finest Hours
Fury
Ghostbusters (2016)
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
The Girl on the Train
Godzilla (2014)
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
The Good Dinosaur
Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2
Hail, Caesar!
Hidden Figures
Incredibles 2
Infini
Innerspace
Ip Man
Ip Man 2: Sadly Not Wing Chun Boogaloo
Jason Bourne
John Wick
John Wick: Chapter Two
Kung Fu Panda 3
The LEGO Batman Movie
The LEGO Ninjago Movie (can you tell I have kids?)
Logan
London Has Fallen
Looney Tunes: Back in Action
Meet the Robinsons
Millenium
Moana
The Monuments Men
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Northern Limit Line
Outlaw King
No Escape
Paddington
Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Shooter
The Siege of Jadotsville
Sing
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Spotlight
Spectral
Spectre
Spy
Star Trek Beyond
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
Thor: Ragnarok
Train to Busan
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
The Wave
The Wolverine
Wonder Woman
X-Men: Apocalypse
Zorba the Greek

You can safely assume some of these are the aforementioned canon fodder films. They’re never going to be my favorite films, but can serve as a comparison for how much I like a particular film. For example, I have seen every cut there is to see of Apocalypse Now, usually in theaters with nice prints. It’s critically acclaimed and technically masterful in many respects.

It’s never going to be one of my favorite films.

So if I don’t like a film better than Apocalypse Now, how much do I like it, really?

On that note, and as I mentioned for the 2016 list, I’m dropping some films from the sort because they’re just not going to rank highly. That includes The Exorcist.

So are there some films I absolutely, positively must fit into the next two weeks? Let me know in the comments.

An Infinite Number of Shark Films

Since it’s “Shark Week” here on my blog, I thought it would only be appropriate to share this wonderful retrospective from Aja Romano over on Vox about our ongoing love affair with all manner of shark movies.

I mean, you may recall that I love creature features and shared an excellent resource with which to follow up on them. Therefore, I offer this article as a targeted way to catch up on your movies with killer sharks.

TCM’s Verklempt Video, 2017 Edition

Turner Classic Movies (TCM), always releases their end of year remembrance a couple weeks early. Then they update it in case someone passes near the end of the year. I don’t care. I watch both versions.

Even if you don’t recognize everyone, there’s always plenty to make you wistful… and remind you that a certain film or three is worth re-watching.

Verklempt, right? And of course, they nailed the landing.

You Don’t Know How Good Every Painting Is Until They’re Gone

They say all good things come to an end. In the case of podcasts and online video series, I suppose you don’t know how good a thing is until it’s gone.

So it was with some sadness that I took the time to read the postmortem by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou explaining how their YouTube series, Every Frame a Painting had come to an end. A friend and fellow fan of the series sent the essay to me and I had to pause before going through it in depth.

Yes, this is still a “Motivation Monday” post. Stay with me.

If you haven’t stumbled across this series before, it’s a lovingly obsessive look at the craft and technique that goes into making movie magic done by some lovingly obsessive creative folk.

I first got to know about the series with their piece on Akira Kurosawa:

 

Another favorite is about the “Spielberg Oner.”

Even though I’ve been a cinematographer for only a few projects, I know how much work can go into making moves like these look so organic and effortless. That makes me love them all the more.

And it also motivates me to go out and make something extraordinary. If you’re a filmmaker, go on and watch a few yourself. See if it doesn’t inspire you to approach your next project with more verve.

But don’t forget to read through the postmortem. It shows what level of love and dedication it took to make what these “nutrient-rich” videos packed full of insight. And it explains why they decided to move on.

But the motivation remains. Kudos to Taylor and Tony — and I know I speak for many when I say I hope we see you online again sooner rather than later.

This Summer Means Hollywood is Doomed…. Again

Every summer –for at least a decade or more– the Hollywood film industry has been doomed.

I would imagine they must get sick of all the doom, what with being doomed with the advent of television, the disintegration of the studio system, the rise of VCRs and video stores, online streaming, streaming services like Netflix making their own content — and possibly avocado toast.

Nevertheless, within the traditional ‘doom’ narrative, there may be trends, so I read a recent piece by David Sims in The Atlantic with interest about Hollywood’s “bad movie problem.” Just like last year, there seem to be a slew of high-profile blockbusters that underperformed domestically. This year, however, Sims hypothesizes that executives are running out of gas with their strategy of mining known IP for all its worth regardless of demand. He bases this not a generic “doom” observation, but that the studios are using tactics internationally, specifically the Chinese market, that are netting less overall profit. Oh, and the films are still doing bad domestically (ahem: bad movies).

Indeed, over in the Hollywood Reporter, Scott Roxborough and Patrick Brzeski detail the wave of political slings and arrows that may sour all the Chinese-American film synergy. Moreover, several of the media monoliths now owned by Chinese concerns are experience firsthand on their balance sheets what it means for North American box office revenues to slide. In fact, John Nolte over at The Daily Wire suggests that, yes, it really is a bad movie problem. The American viewing public has figured this out and both box office and home video revenues are slumping accordingly.

So is this the Final Doom?

I mean, Spielberg released the BFG, so maybe…

It strikes me that movies and related “more passive” visual entertainment are still a potent pop culture delivery device. They’ll be around for quite some time until companies figure out how to make virtual reality more economical and interwoven with our habits like turning on the TV in the evening or going to films on weekends. If or when that happens, expertise in films and such will likely pour into those interactive productions. The companies that exist today could definitely transform into interactive powerhouses through building up their own capabilities or through acquisitions.

Though, frankly, I love films and TV as-is and hope there’s always going to be a place for them (same with books as my bulging bookshelves can attest). And I hope some of the studios pick up on what Sims pointed out in his article: that some of the best grossing films so far this year have been non-franchise original works… that not coincidentally didn’t cost as much to produce.

Tune in for a similar article next summer!

The VHS Tapes We Left Behind

Growing up a cinemaniac, there are, quite naturally, a number of actors and directors and screenwriters I would like to meet. However, I daresay I would not shake the hand of any of them so vigorously as I would the hand of film historian and critic, Leonard Maltin.

Maltin’s indispensable and always entertaining movie guide was a fixture in our household. Not only did we get each annual edition, but we held on to the old ones, noting the films that were added and removed… and occasionally the edits to the various capsule reviews. Prior to the Internet, this was an invaluable resource for all sorts of films, including knowing whether they were available on VHS, DVD, or even laserdisc.

Time marches on, of course, and the guide bowed out in 2014, as the print reference guide just wasn’t the go-to reference for a generation raised on checking for info online. I made the switch too. So did Leonard Maltin: he’s found new ways to talk about films and introduce people to all sorts of cinema they might not otherwise learn about.

But it’s in that spirit of wistful remembrance that he writes about the energy put into various VHS movie collections… and how many of the offerings coming out on DVD or Blu-ray are not nearly as artful, comprehensive — or even exist!

I imagine many of us have a treasured film or series that has yet to make the leap to a more modern format.

Feel free to mention any collections of films you’d like to see break out of the “only available in VHS” in the comments.

RIP, Robert Osbourne

Growing up in the DC area, my dad made full use of all the free film series places like the National Archives, Library of Congress, and East Gallery would provide. And, of course, he’d take us along. It was at these places that I first saw such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird, Fort Apache, and Gone with the Wind.

“It was TCM before TCM,” I explained.

Earlier this week, the man who epitomized Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Robert Osbourne, passed away at the age of 84.

Online, I commented that it’s hard to think of him as 80-something. The energy and enthusiasm he brought to his film intros leapt off the TV screen. The joy he exuded while sharing cinema minutiae made you feel you were in for something special — even when he cautioned you that the something special was not the best of films.

Another film historian, Leonard Maltin, has a great remembrance of him. And writer and pop culture historian, Mark Evanier, has a nice anecdote too.

I like what Maltin said that Robert Osbourne was “on a mission.” He will be missed, but I daresay he succeeded in his mission.