Friday, June 22, 2012

#431. My Favorite Movies

As anyone who's visited my Fan Companion blog may guess, I can be a little obsessive about my interests.  I've spent the past decade trying to determine what exactly my favorite films are, and today I discovered that I may have been all wrong!

Let's back up a little.  Over at Stay on target..., Mock posted his current viewing plans, but he kept referencing his flickchart list.  I'd never heard of Flickchart, and maybe that was a good thing, because I just spent all day compiling my own list, which as I've said is something I thought I'd been doing for years.

Maybe it's the way Flickchart randomly populates the options, providing you with two films that you choose your favorite from, and so on and so forth.  Films repeat during this process and new films also pop up.  You have the option to input titles you're specifically looking for, but it just seems a little more pure to let it work itself out.  That's how I got my results.  I also made a list of 1025 films, so yeah, like I said, I'm obsessive, and yes, I surprised myself.

The film that ended up at the top spot was Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino's 2009 effort that postulates an alternate version of WWII where a bunch of Jewish American commandos actually succeed in assassinating Hitler, thanks to a series of convoluted events that hinge on a Nazi's officer's obsessive relationship with a girl who managed to escape him.  No, I'm not really doing it justice in that summary, because everything that makes it great is what has made Tarantino's career so fascinating over the last two decades, only that he seems to have figured out how to make it all work in one cohesive plot.  It'd been on previous versions of the list, but never at the top.  And yet like the rest of the top ten, it seems everything has changed.

For instance, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the 2005 adaptation of Douglas Adams's comic masterpiece, ends up at #2.  I've loved this film to an inordinate degree from the rest of the general public since I first saw it in theaters, but it's never, so far as I considered it, been so far up there in my favorites.  Yet when I think about it again, all the elements that come together so ingeniously, from the "So long and thanks for all the fish" opening song from the dolphins to the brilliant casting and the fact that I no longer care that it's become increasingly unlikely that any of the other books in the "trilogy" will ever be put to film, I can easily see how it wormed its way to the top.

I've known that I greatly enjoyed Zack Snyder's Watchmen from 2009, but I used to believe that I liked its ideological predecessor, The Dark Knight, a great deal more.  Yet there it is at #3.  The casting is another calling card for this one's allure for me, as well as one of the finest pop soundtracks ever assembled for a movie.  I guess it's that the story is completely seamless, mostly because it has to be, since most fans will only care how it compares to the Alan Moore comic book from which it derives (in fact, all three of the films I've referenced so far were adapted from previous material), and most will only find it wanting.  Yet to my mind, Snyder's version perfects the story, and that's what makes it so special.

The biggest surprise was the presence of Juno, released in 2007 (another common factor of this new list is that nearly all of the films in the top ten were released in the past ten years, many long after I started trying to determine my favorites in the first place).  Perhaps it's because Ellen Page has appeared in at least two other exceptional films (Smart People and Inception) since starring in this breakthrough film, which still bucks the youth trend of every popular movie and TV show since unleashed on the public.  Juno's problem is that she's too smart for her own good.  Well, now you have proof.  I had no idea I liked it this much.

American History X, released in 1998, is still the center of controversy for director Tony Kaye and star Edward Norton, neither of whom have yet figured out how to get out from under its shadow.  It's an incendiary drama about skinheads perpetuating their own misery, and finally discovering a way out, but at terrible cost.  It's the best straight-up drama of modern film.

Stranger Than Fiction, released in 2006 and coming in at #6, was another considerable surprise for me.  The movie that used to occupy this spot without question was always The Truman Show, which at one point was my favorite overall film, and similarly takes an actor known for his comedic performances and forces them into a dramatic role in a surreal story that could not have featured anyone else.  In this case, it's Will Ferrell, who I think is one of modern entertainment's greatest assets.  His apparent one note is the most versatile of his day, and it doesn't hurt that this is a metaphysical study of storytelling, because that happens to be one of my favorite things.

If you want to know how much I think about Edward Norton, look no further than #7, 2006's The Illusionist, one of two movies about magicians released that year.  The other one was directed by Christopher Nolan (The Prestige).  Rarely has Norton been given the material he deserves.  This is one of those instances, and a clear indication, at least to me, that given the chance he could clearly prove himself the greatest actor of his generation.

At #8, 2004's Alexander is the standard-bearer for the list, being the former top film on many other versions.  From director Oliver Stone and starring Colin Farrell, the most consistent and because of that my favorite actor of his generation, this one has had a poor reputation since it was released, and I've never understood why, except that it doesn't try to do anything but tackle the tall challenge of figuring out one of the greatest figures in history.  If what you want from a movie is a story that plays by more conventional methods, then I guess you'll be nothing but frustrated by one that does nothing to explicitly explain why we should care, other than that he tried perhaps harder than anyone to make something of himself, and never really got anyone approval.  Well, then I guess it figures that the movie didn't, either.

Some manner of Star Wars had always been a mainstay in my top ten in previous incarnations of the list.  I guess what I finally realized that the essence of that franchise is conveying the best of movie magic.  Since the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest in 2006, I've suspected that I had found a successor.  At first I wondered if my interest in the film needed to be connected with the rest of that franchise, but by the time On Stranger Tides came out, I guess I finally accepted that it wasn't.  Dead Man's Chest is wild and woolly and it's the one where the ensemble around Johnny Depp actually gets to be as interesting as he is, and that's reason enough for me to love it above and beyond my previous standards.

Rounding out the new top ten is Shakespeare in Love, released in 1998.  When it won the Best Picture Oscar, everyone was outraged to think that anyone could believe that it was a better film than Saving Private Ryan, but the truth is, it really is.  It resounds a lot more than even the storming of the beaches at Normandy in an age where WWII is still within living memory, and it's because Shakespeare himself still speaks to us in an incredibly profound way, and even a love story that fudges details and doesn't really capture his ambitions still manages to tell us more about him than all the cockamamie theories about who Shakespeare had to be rather than who he actually was, just some guy who looked far beyond himself and spoke not just for a generation but for all mankind, in all times.

Anyway, you can look at the rest of my list here


Michael Abayomi said...

Great list! I haven't seen American History X or Shakespeare in Love, but I'm pretty sure most of the others would make my Top 10 (or 25). Only one way to find out though. Thanks for sharing this. :)

MOCK! said...

Interesting list with great insight! I can't remember where I first heard about flickchart but it is such fun!

And I agree with you on Hitchhikers.... It has quickly become a family favorite.

Tony Laplume, Sith Architect said...

I literally spent all day yesterday on it, and am now extremely reluctant to get back on...All day!

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

Holy cow that flickchart is a real time waster. I think I could spend weeks on it. I hate though when it asks you between two movies you really like. In one case it asked me Star Wars or Watchmen. Don't make me choose!

Maurice Mitchell said...

Tony, this is a tricky one. I could really get lost on that list.

Spacerguy said...

You've hit the spot with lots of good entertaining movies, Monk. Its really hard to choose.


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