100 Memorable Movie Characters – The Top 10

The most amazing thing for me is that every single person who sees a movie brings a whole set of unique experiences. Through careful manipulation & good storytelling you can get everybody to clap at the same time, to hopefully laugh at the same time, and to be afraid at the same time. – Steven Spielberg

“Stay tuned for the Top 10…coming…soon-ish.” That’s what I said at the end of the previous installment of this series…a little over a year ago. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, but this isn’t the time to dive down that rabbit hole. At this moment I just want to finish what I started way back in October 2019. As I’m sure you’ll want a little refresher please check out how we got to this point by going here, here, here, here, & here. It’s good to be back.

10      Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)

An unnamed person, in a conversation with legendary college football coach Bear Bryant, describes the titular character in 1994’s Best Picture simply & succinctly as “a local idiot”. Of course he is so much more. It is my understanding that the film is significantly different in tone from the book it is based on, but either way it is a flight of fancy in which the aforementioned idiot finds himself in a number of inexplicable situations, from playing college football at Alabama to becoming a war hero to blowing the whistle on Watergate burglars to owning his own shrimping business. Forrest isn’t completely oblivious, and he has a level of common sense that would be the envy of many real life individuals nowadays. He loves his Mama and meets his girl Jenny in grade school, although it takes her a few decades to return his affection. Those two ladies are all he really cares about until he gets to Vietnam and meets his buddy Bubba, whose life is cut tragically short, and Lt. Dan, who eventually becomes his best friend & business partner. Tom Hanks won his second consecutive Academy Award for Best Actor for the role, and we all should be thankful he got the part after John Travolta, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Sean Penn all allegedly passed on it.

Quotes

“Mama always said ‘Life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get’.”

“Jenny and me was like peas & carrots.”

“Mama says stupid is as stupid does.”

“I never went back to work for Lieutenant Dan, though he did take care of my Bubba-Gump money. He got me invested in some kind of fruit company. And so then I got a call from him saying we don’t have to worry about money no more. And I said ‘That’s good…one less thing’.”

“I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.”

“I don’t know if Mama was right or if it’s Lt. Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I think maybe it’s both happening at the same time.”

9        Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz)

Judy Garland was 16 years old when she portrayed Dorothy in the 1939 classic, which was an annual television tradition when I was a kid (a quaint notion these days). Garland starred in dozens of films in a career that spanned four decades (remarkable when you considered she passed on at the young age of 47), but she’ll always be remembered as Dorothy, a Kansas farm girl who gets caught in a tornado and either has a really cool dream or actually goes to a fantasy land called Oz, depending on one’s interpretation of the movie. L. Frank Baum wrote 14 novels about Oz, which means that we missed out on a bunch of potential sequels. I guess Hollywood did business a whole lot different back then. At any rate, Garland’s talents as a singer & actress, as well as her youthful innocence, made her the perfect choice for the role.

Quotes

“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

“Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh my!”

“There’s no place like home.”

8 Batman, Superman, & Spider-Man (various films)

I’m not a comic book guy…never was, even as a little boy. However, superheroes are such a ubiquitous part of the pop culture landscape that there are plenty of ways to become familiar with and be entertained by the plethora of adventures they engage in. Though it might be a fun debate I am fairly certain that most would consider the Big Three superheroes to be Batman, Superman, & Spider-Man. My particular favorite has always been Batman, precisely for the reason that some question his status as a superhero at all. He’s not an alien. His body hasn’t been genetically altered in any way. He doesn’t have any kind of magic powers. Batman is simply a mega rich business mogul who has dedicated his life to vigilante justice because he is psychologically damaged after watching his parents get murdered when he was a little boy. I dare you to come up with cooler origin story. Superman is an “undocumented worker” from the planet Krypton whose spaceship lands in Kansas. After growing up on the farm he becomes a big city reporter, but when he takes his glasses off & uses a phone booth to change into his red caped costume he becomes indestructible, has x-ray vision, and can fly. Spider-Man is a typical American teenager who is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops all kinds of cool powers, including the ability to shoot webs from his wrist that help him to scale tall buildings & fly. He decides to use his unique skills to bring bad guys to justice after his Uncle Ben is shot by a street thug. Our three superheroes have starred in dozens of movies & TV shows. My favorite big screen Caped Crusader was portrayed by Michael Keaton in the late 80s Tim Burton films. As far as I’m concerned the late Christopher Reeve will always embody Superman. And though I am pretty fond of Tobey Maguire’s version of Spider-Man from a couple of decades ago I have to say that the current incarnation as presented by the Marvel Cinematic Universe is quite entertaining.

Quotes

“Maybe that’s what Batman is about. Not winning, but failing and getting back up. Knowing he’ll fail, fail a thousand times, but still won’t give up.” – Batman

“No matter where you go in life there’s always going to be the one person that wants to bring you down, so stay strong and face your problems instead of running away.” – Superman

“Not everyone is meant to make a difference. But for me, the choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option.” – Spiderman

7 Gordon Gekko (Wall Street)

Gordon Gekko represents a moment in time, or atleast some people’s perspective of that particular era. Were the 1980s a Decade of Greed, wherein the populace engaged in intense levels of conspicuous consumption?? Certainly pop culture embraced that mythology, with TV shows like Dallas & Dynasty and movies ranging from Trading Places & Arthur to Scarface & St. Elmo’s Fire. Yuppies drinking Perrier on their yachts while constantly checking in with their stock broker were a popular stereotype. Class warfare was encouraged. Did any of that have a legit connection to the real world?? Certainly the economy was robust in the 80s, but as a kid in small town West Virginia I never encountered those kinds of people. Unlike preconceived notions of Appalachia our family wore shoes, had indoor plumbing, & didn’t have vehicles on blocks in our front yard, yet we definitely weren’t wealthy. At any rate, even if folks like Gordon Gekko were rare Michael Douglas made him seem very real, sort of cool, & really interesting. His return in the 2010 sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps probably came about a decade too late, but it was still fun to see him onscreen again.

Quotes

“The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”

“What’s worth doing is worth doing for money.”

“Gimme guys who are poor, smart, & hungry. And no feelings. You win some, you lose some, but you keep on fighting. And if you need a friend, get a dog.”

“I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies & gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

“It’s a zero sum game. Somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another. Like magic.”

“You got 99% of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it.”

6 Marty McFly & Doc Brown (The Back to the Future Trilogy)

I don’t think there’s any way to separate the pair. They are peanut butter & jelly, Bert & Ernie, peas & carrots…one without the other just isn’t right. I am a huge fan of the Back to the Future Trilogy. I assume most people have some level of familiarity with the franchise, but just in case I’ll refresh your memory. Marty is a typical California teen in the 1980s with a family that he finds slightly embarrassing. Dr. Emmett Brown is an eccentric scientist who builds a time machine out of a DeLorean. Marty accidentally gets sent back in time to the 1950s, inadvertently screws up the space-time continuum, jeopardizing his parents relationship and therefore his own existence. It’s pretty heavy. Throughout three very entertaining films Doc & Marty take us from the 1980s to the 1950s to the 21st Century and even the Old West. Michael J. Fox wasn’t even the original Marty, but when actor Eric Stoltz just didn’t click in the role he was replaced, and thank God for that. BTTF is just the right mix of fun, adventure, suspense, & romance, and Doc & Marty are the centerpiece.

Quotes

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.” (Doc)

“Whoa, wait a minute, Doc. Are you trying to tell me that my mother has got the hots for me?” (Marty)

“Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?” (Doc)

“I guess you guys aren’t ready for that, yet. But your kids are gonna love it.” (Marty)

“Great Scott!”  (Doc)

“So, you’re my Uncle Joey. Better get used to these bars, kid.” (Marty)

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” (Doc)

“Time traveling is just too dangerous. Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women.” (Doc)

“Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.” (Doc)

5 Rocky Balboa (The Rocky Series)

When ranking my favorite sports films several years ago I opined that Rocky redefined the genre. It was the first sports movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (only two others have achieved that feat since) and was actually written by Sylvester Stallone. Hollywood power brokers wanted a known entity like James Caan or Burt Reynolds to play the lead because at the time, in the mid-1970s, Stallone was a nobody. The fact that Stallone not only got the part but received an Oscar nomination and created an iconic character in the process actually mirrors the plot of the film. I like the other actors considered for the role just fine, but Stallone portrays Rocky in such a way that we see ourselves in him. He’s not rich or successful. He isn’t a well-spoken intellectual. He’s just a guy from the neighborhood doing what he can to get by and chasing a dream in his spare time. The fact that he succeeds (eventually) and builds a great life for himself & his family gives the rest of us hope that we can do the same.

Quotes

“She’s got gaps, I got gaps. Together, we fill gaps.”

“Yo Adrian! I did it!!’

“If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”

“The world ain’t all sunshine & rainbows. It’s a very mean & nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

4 Darth Vader (The Star Wars Series)

Has there ever been a more iconic cinematic badass?? The costume. The mask. The voice. Put Vader in a cage with Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and any other lunatic in the history of film and I’m guessing he’d hold his own. The question is, did the prequels ruin his story?? Aside from the weak writing and poor casting that lessened the impact of the prequel trilogy I’m going to say no…Darth Vader is still Darth Vader. I view Anakin Skywalker as a different character altogether. At the end of Rogue One (a criminally underappreciated film that’s better than any of the prequels) Vader has a brief yet effectual appearance that’ll make the hair on your neck stand up, but nothing beats that moment in The Empire Strikes Back when he drops the biggest truth bomb ever on Luke Skywalker. That scene is still quoted & parodied more than four decades later, which is quite a legacy.

Quotes

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

“Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy.”

“I am your father! Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father & son!”

“Obi-Wan has taught you well.”

“You under estimate the power of the dark side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny!”

3 Rick Blaine (Casablanca)

Do men like Rick even exist anymore?? Cool. Smart. Pragmatic. Mysterious. Debonair. A rare mix of romantic & jaded. He’s the kind of guy that makes women swoon yet men can’t help but respect & admire. His aloof demeanor hides a principled heart of gold. He owns a nightclub in Morocco that people flock to during WWII to forget about war for awhile. People from all walks of life & all nationalities (including Nazis) are welcome at Rick’s Cafe Americain because he’s a businessman who’ll gladly take anybody’s money. Perhaps men like Rick don’t exist anymore because they never did in the first place. Rick Blaine is an idealistic notion of what a man should be, and there are worse characters one could emulate.

Quotes

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“I stick my neck out for nobody.”

“When it comes to women, you’re a true Democrat.”

“I don’t mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one.”

“I’m not fighting for anything anymore except myself. I’m the only cause I’m interested in.”

“If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life. We’ll always have Paris. I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

2 Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)

It is rare that an attorney is viewed as a role model even in fiction, but Atticus Finch is the ultimate quixotic fantasy. Not only is he the most virtuous lawyer ever, but he’s the epitome of a perfect father. Modern audiences tend to prefer anti-heroes, or atleast a flawed protagonist in which we recognize our own imperfections and soothe ourselves with the notion that it’s okay to be a little messed up. We scoff at ideals like integrity, honor, ethics, loyalty, & altruism. That being said, is it really that bad to have such a measuring stick in our fiction?? On top of all that let me remind you of something I stated two years ago when we began this journey: “the value of a character’s name cannot be overstated”. How cool & memorable is the name Atticus Finch?? As usual I urge everyone to read To Kill A Mockingbird. It is one of my favorite books and most agree it is amongst the finest novels ever written. But we are discussing movie characters here, right?? The book had already won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize, so adapting it into a film just a year later had to have been a daunting task. Gregory Peck had already been nominated for four Academy Awards in the 1940s, so the powers-that-be knew what they were doing. It turned out better than anyone could have ever dreamed, with Peck beating out Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon, & Peter O’Toole to win his only Oscar.

Quotes

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

“In this country our courts are the great levelers. In our courts all men are created equal. I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system…that’s no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality.”

“I remember when my Daddy gave me that gun. He told me that I should never point it at anything in the house, and that he’d rather I’d shoot at tin cans in the backyard. But he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted, if I could hit ’em, but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. Mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in the corncribs. They don’t do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.”

1 Michael Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy)

We’ve reached the pinnacle, and I am contradicting myself one last time…or am I?? When discussing Pacino’s portrayal of Lt. Col. Frank Slade I opined that, while The Godfather is his best film, Slade is his best performance. I stand by that because there is a difference. Michael Corleone is a much more memorable character, especially since he has an entire trilogy to impact our pop culture consciousness. That influence is made all the more impressive when considering the fact that Pacino shares the screen with Marlon Brando & James Caan in the original film, Part 2 is focused on Robert Deniro’s depiction of young Vito Corleone, and so many people despise Part 3 (I don’t hate it). But the one constant flowing thru all three Godfather films is Michael Corleone. He is introduced as a young war hero in a new romance, then reluctantly gets pulled into the family business. Finding that he has a knack for ruthlessness Michael evolves into a stone cold killer and merciless husband, even having his own brother murdered. As he grows old & ill he becomes consumed with regret and concerned with his legacy, his story ending with one of the more depressing deaths in cinema. The evolution of Michael Corleone is well written & performed and remarkably sad. 

Quotes

“My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Luca Brasi held a gun to his head and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract. That’s a true story. That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.”

‘It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.’

“Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again, ever.”

“Today, I settle all family business, so don’t tell me you’re innocent because it insults my intelligence. It makes me very angry.”

“I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!”

“My father taught me many things here. He taught me to keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

“You’re nothing to me now. You’re not a brother, you’re not a friend. I don’t want to know you or what you do. I don’t want to see you at the hotels. I don’t want you near my house. When you see our mother, I want to know a day in advance so I won’t be there.”

“Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.”

“I command this family, right or wrong. It was not what I wanted!”

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

Superfluous 7…..Great Movie Scenes Part II

When I did the initial list of great movie scenes a couple of weeks ago I warned you that, in true cinematic tradition, there would be a sequel. As with the previous list I tried to find the best possible video but wasn’t successful in all cases. I hope these bring back good memories and remain optimistic that Hollywood, despite being a liberal bastion of questionable ethics & moral decay, will provide more of these moments in the future. Until then, The Manofesto proudly presents…..

 

 

from the home office in Horseheads, NY…..

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Great Movie Scenes Part II:

 

 

 

7 The Deli in When Harry Met Sally

I am secure enough in my machismo to admit that I like a good romantic comedy, otherwise known as a rom-com or a chick flick. Among the best of that particular genre is 1989’s When Harry Met Sally, starring Billy Crystal & Meg Ryan (back when she was cute & perky and not a science experiment gone horribly wrong) in a story that asks the much debated question of whether or not men & women can simply be friends. Early on in the film, while having dinner at a deli, the two

debate the concept of women faking…pleasure, with her stating that most women have done so at one point or another, and him confidently declaring that no one has ever done so with him. She decides to…ummm…demonstrate, which is amusing enough. However, what boosts the scene’s notability factor is the very end, when another customer at the eatery nonchalantly quips to a waitress that “I’ll have what she’s having”. Hilarious. Interesting trivia: that patron is portrayed by director Rob Reiner’s mother Estelle. I guess we all really do have our 15 minutes of fame.

 

 

6 The Motel Room in Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

The best…maybe only…Thanksgiving film is 1987’s Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. The ingredients of this movie are almost perfect: a buddy/road trip comedy with a holiday motif written & directed by the sublime John Hughes and starring comic geniuses John Candy & Steve Martin. With a recipe

like that it’d have to be darn near flawless. Midway thru there is a scene where Candy & Martin are sharing a motel room with only one bed. The two wake up and Candy believes that one of his hands is between two pillows. Unfortunately for both men his hand is actually…elsewhere. It’s a really funny scene in a really funny movie that I look forward to seeing annually at this time of the year.

 

 

5 Sonny’s Death in The Godfather

Nearly every scene in The Godfather is memorable and pitch perfect, which is why a few of them have made these lists. One of the more violent scenes (especially by 1972 standards) is the death of Don Vito Corleone’s eldest son Santino, played by the incomparable James Caan. Anyone who has watched The Godfather knows that Sonny is a bit of a hothead, and when he races off in the midst of

a mob war with no protection to confront his malicious brother-in-law Carlo (who is physically abusive to his wife, Sonny’s sister) he pays the ultimate price for his recklessness. If you have ever watched Santino Corleone executed firing squad style in a hail of gunfire then it probably runs across your mind whenever you have to pass thru a tollbooth. I’ve always heard that actors are attracted to a really good death scene, and I think Caan has the honor of starring in one of the most extraordinary ones in the history of cinema.

 

 

4 Tom Hanks Gets Emotional in Forrest Gump

There are two scenes in Forrest Gump that I believe clinched Tom Hanks his second Academy Award for Best Actor. Gump is one of those hybrid dramedies that I absolutely adore. There are moments of laugh-out-loud conviviality, but they are almost always followed by a sober moment that lets you know that this isn’t a traditional comedy. Toward the end of the film nearly all vestiges of amusement are put aside and the story becomes quite serious. The best scene in the film, in my humble opinion, is when Forrest Gump catches up with his love Jenny sometime in the early 80’s

and he finds out that he fathered her child. Forrest physically recoils in horrific shock and poignantly asks Jenny “Is he smart or is he…??”, and we can fill in the blanks. Forrest wants to know if the boy is…oh, I don’t know what the
proper terminology is…dumb, slow, retarded, mentally challenged?? It becomes clear that the supposedly dimwitted Forrest is acutely cognizant of his low IQ, and it is a powerful moment not only due to his self-awareness but also because of his selfless concern for the child and the possibility that he may have inherited his father’s shortcomings. The second scene is after Jenny dies (ostensibly of AIDS) and Forrest talks to her grave. Hanks conveys Forrest’s sadness & emotion in such a way that we feel his pain & grieve Jenny’s death as well, even though she hasn’t exactly been a model citizen throughout the story.

 

 

3 The Hospital in The Godfather     

I sincerely believe that this is one of the most criminally disregarded scenes in cinema. It is so overlooked that I couldn’t even find a clip (but please enjoy Francis Ford Coppola on Inside the Actor’s Studio). As I said earlier, The Godfather is overflowing with fantastic scenes, but unlike the grandiose virtuosity of the more acclaimed scenes this one is more subtle, even though it is dripping with dramatic tension. When one considers the fact that the whole Godfather trilogy essentially centers around the rise & fall of Michael Corleone it becomes clear that what takes place in the

hospital is a linchpin. Michael goes to visit his father, who has been shot. Finding the building all but abandoned, Michael quickly assesses the situation and figures out that The Don’s enemies are on their way to finish the job. We see that Michael, who heretofore has not been involved in the mafia, is the direct opposite of his older brothers Santino & Fredo. Santino angers easily and acts before he thinks…Michael is cool as a cucumber. Fredo is a slow witted bundle of nerves…Michael is fearless & sharp as a tack. Basically we learn that, as opposed to the traditional hierarchy, it is the baby brother who is absolutely perfect to take over leadership of the family empire…not his elder siblings. Michael was born to lead. As he & a nurse move the ailing patriarch to another room to hide from the would be assassins Michael bends over and softly whisper’s into his semi-conscious father’s ear “I’m with you now…I’m with you”. It is the moment that Michael Corleone crosses over to the dark side.

 

 

2 The Big Reveal in The Empire Strikes Back

Speaking of The Dark Side…

One of the most infamous scenes in one of the most beloved film trilogies of all time is the moment

when our hero, Luke Skywalker, learns his true parentage…that he is the son of the story’s evil villain Darth Vader. This of course was decades before The Internet and our collective obsession with spoilers. Since George Lucas only let less than a half dozen people in on the secret it was a genuine shock to moviegoers. It’s a shame that such an amazing moment would be almost impossible to pull off today.

 

 

1 The Indianapolis in Jaws

When the triumvirate of Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfus, & Robert Shaw set out to catch the shark in Steven Spielberg’s magnificent 1975 epic Jaws, the three men spend some quality time in their boat waiting. During that time they are shown drinking a bit, which prompts them to break into a rousing rendition of the British folk song “Show Me the Way to Go Home”. Unfortunately that’s when the shark decides to show up and end their merriment. But before that we are given a real gem

and one of the best soliloquys ever on film, when Shaw’s shark hunter Quint relays the chilling story of being on the USS Indianapolis, an American warship that was sunk by the Japanese in the summer of 1945, causing the single greatest
loss of life at sea in the history of the United States Navy.  The Indianapolis delivered the atomic bomb that would eventually be known as Little Boy to an air base on The Tinian Islands just weeks before it was dropped on Hiroshima, but was then lost on its return trip. Nearly 1200 men were on board and only about a quarter of them survived. In Jaws we are told that Quint was one of them, and he relays, in mesmerizing detail, how a great many of those that died were eaten by sharks.

 

 

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..#1

Your Humble Potentate of Profundity has been very sick. I have been battling a kidney infection and probably waited a few too many days to go to the doctor. When one has been involved with the medical establishment as much as I have over the course of these 38 years the compulsion to shake things off and treat one’s self with over-the-counter remedies is overwhelming but not always wise. At any rate, I am happily on the mend and slowly but surely beginning to regain a sense of normalcy, which means the desire to write is coming back as well. The truth is I have probably a half dozen things in the hopper but just haven’t had the energy or mental acuity to make it happen. That ends now.

 

I can think of no better way to get back in the saddle than by finally, at long last, finishing The Top 100 Favorite Movies series with the top of the heap, the cream of the crop, A number 1.

 

I began this endeavor with a short intro on April 11, 2009 in which I stated my belief that “greatness takes time”. The funny thing is, out of all the films in this list the #1 spot belongs to the one movie to which my logic probably never applied. Its gravitas and superiority have been recognized almost since the day of its release and a tremendous reputation has just grown over the past four decades. I have seen it called “the perfect movie”, amongst a plethora of other accolades and complimentary reviews. When I take into consideration my own tastes…the penchant for comedy, a general aversion to violence, and gravitation toward lighter fare…I am, quite frankly, shocked that I ever fell in love with this movie. I lay all the blame on my Dad, who had me watching our subject du jour from a very young age. So I suppose it is apropos that we reach the top of this very long trek just a few days after Father’s Day. Thanks Dad.

 

As if anyone who has been following this series has not seen it coming from miles away, it should surprise no one that the film in question is 1972’s Francis Ford Coppola/Mario Puzo magnum opus The Godfather.

 

The Godfather is similar, in a sense, to Field of Dreams, in that Field of Dreams is often lazily painted as “a baseball movie” when in fact it is so much more, while The Godfather is too easily pigeonholed as “a gangster movie” but is far more…far better…than that simplistic definition. And while some have been critical over the years that The Godfather glamourizes mob life, I couldn’t possibly disagree more. The truth is that Coppola glamourized movie making again, and the subject matter just so happened to involve The Mafia.

 

I cannot imagine that there are many amongst us that have not seen The Godfather. Maybe it isn’t necessarily your cup o’ tea, but you have seen it.  It is the story of the Corleone family in New York…patriarch and mob kingpin Vito (played by the legendary Marlon Brando), hothead oldest son Sonny (played by James Caan), dimwitted middle son Fredo, and youngest son Michael (played by Al Pacino), who has stayed out of the family business and served his country as a Marine in WWII. Vito also has a daughter, Connie (played by Talia Shire, better known as Adrian in the Rocky series), and an honorary son, his consigliere (counselor) Tom Hagen (played by Robert Duval). When Don Vito refuses to get into the narcotics business he is nearly killed, and not-ready-for-primetime Sonny takes control of The Family. Unfortunately he is murdered as well, which means that eventually Michael steps in and proves to be even more cool and calculating than his father.

 

Is there a lot of gunfire and bloodshed in The Godfather?? Yes, there is. But unlike so many movies today, the violence doesn’t seem to be superfluous. We understand why these murders are taking place and it all seems to fit well within the context of the story. And while I don’t agree with the sentiment that the movie glorifies the mob, I do think it looks at it in an unflinching, no holds barred, non-watered down manner, which I feel is the appropriate way to go. If the violent content had been sanitized or lightened up then I think that would have been more veneration of organized crime than anything. As it stands I do not know how anyone can watch The Godfather and say to themselves “Now THAT is what I want to do with my life!!”. I suppose maybe the haters think that the movie tries to justify the criminal activity of the Corleone family by painting them as honorable men who have their limits and are just trying to make their way in the world. I guess I can see a bit of logic in that, but even then one really needs to pay more attention. Vito Corleone is clearly conflicted, even though he says “I work my whole life, I don’t apologize, to take care of my family. And I refused to be a fool dancing on the strings held by all of those big shots. That’s my life, I don’t apologize for that.” We learn later on in Part 2 of the trilogy of Vito’s humble beginnings in Sicily, his arrival in America, and how he first got involved in La Famiglia. But he wanted more for his family…especially youngest son Michael. And the entire trilogy itself is in large part about the fall of Michael Corleone and his struggle to become “legitimate”. Far from glamourizing anything, The Godfather is a melancholy tale of bad choices, wrong turns, and flawed logic mixed with good intentions. However, it is just so well written and well-acted that somehow it ends up being an enthralling entertainment experience rather than a depressing one, like Leaving Las Vegas or anything starring David Arquette.

 

Even the supporting characters in The Godfather are a rich tapestry woven into the story in such a way that they are far from excessive. There’s Diane Keaton as Michael’s girlfriend/wife Kay, bitter film director Jack Woltz who wakes up with a shocking bedfellow, caporegimes Clemenza and Tessio (played by Abe Vigoda), Vegas impresario Moe Greene (a character based on real life gangster Bugsy Siegel), crooner Johnny Fontane (widely assumed to be based on Frank Sinatra), “Turk” Solozzo the drug dealer who begins the war between the families, infamous Corleone enforcer Luca Brasi, and Connie’s husband Carlo who is famously beaten to a pulp by Sonny and later eliminated on Michael’s orders. I could go on & on. No wonder it took Coppola nearly 3 hours to fit it all in. Oddly enough though, few people complain about the extensive length of the film. I suppose folks only do that when it’s not a very good movie.

 

Everything about The Godfather is nearly flawless. The music is minimal but vital. The cinematography is masterful. The acting…especially when one considers that Pacino & Keaton were complete unknowns, Duval & Caan were only slightly more experienced, and the studio wanted Danny Thomas instead of Marlon Brando…is superb. Coppola has a real eye for talent. There are so many scenes that are nothing short of legendary – The Baptism…the death of Sonny Corleone…the beating of Carlo by Sonny…”Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes”…Michael’s assassination of Solozzo & McCluskey…the horse’s head. There aren’t that many memorable scenes in the average lot of 10 movies nowadays, let alone just one. My own personal favorite is the hospital scene where Michael’s quick thinking saves his wounded father from being finished off and the prodigal son softly whispers to his father “I’m with you now”. It marks the turning point and the beginning of the ascent…or descent, depending on one’s perspective…of Michael Corleone.

 

There are actual management and philosophy courses taught at universities based on The Godfather. It is well known as a great source of wisdom for all types of life situations. “It’s not personal, just business.” “Never take sides against the family.” “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” “Never let anyone outside the family know what you are thinking.” “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” “Women and children can be careless, but not men.” “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” “Gambling…they consider a harmless vice. But drugs, that’s a dirty business.” “I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I spoil them. They talk when they should listen.” “In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns.” “My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator. – Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed. – Oh. Who’s being naive??.” “I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom but I taught her never to dishonor her family.” “A refusal is not the act of a friend. Certainly he can present a bill for such services; after all… we are not Communists.” “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” “A man in my position can’t afford to be made to look ridiculous.” “I don’t like violence. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.” “We don’t discuss business at the dinner table.” Either Puzo or Coppola are geniuses. Maybe both. One thing is for sure though…The Godfather is that rare movie experience during which one can be entertained and educated.

 

I would be remiss if I did not mention that The Godfather is based on a book of the same name, the author being the aforementioned Mario Puzo. The book actually covers events in both of the first two Godfather films, and even expands on certain storylines such as Johnny Fontane’s career and connection to the Corleone family, Sonny’s sexual exploits, and Fredo’s adventures in Vegas. I very much enjoyed reading the book and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a great novel, but I cannot go so far as to say it is better than the movie. That is not so much an indictment of the book as it is a testament to the immense quality of the movie.

 

So now we come to the end of the journey. I hope my readers have enjoyed the trek through these 100 films and may even check out some that they haven’t had the pleasure of seeing. We all have our own trials to bear in life, and we cannot always escape from the real world. But every once in awhile I believe it necessary to temporarily get away from our daily aggravations and hardships. Whether it is a good book, a long hike, good music, or an entertaining movie, we need those little mini-vacations from stress & discord. These 100 movies always provide me with that much needed respite, and I hope a good portion of them may have made your lives a bit easier on occasion as well.

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..6-10

Finally. After over a year we have entered hallowed ground…The Top 10. This will be the last group of five, as I will give each of the top five movies their own entry. Part of me is actually a little sad that this series is almost over because I have had so much fun writing it and doing a self-examination of my own tastes. We’ll do it all again in one form or another in a few years, but until then enjoy the remaining entries, and as always thanks so much for visiting my little corner of this wonderful thing we like to call The Info Superhighway. Fear not, because I have much more to say on a variety of topics.

 

 

 


10 The Godfather Part II

As we have covered a few times in this series, sequels are often a very risky proposition. From a business perspective I understand why they are made, but from a creative standpoint and through the prism of the viewing public it is difficult to not fall into the trap of being lazy, repetitive, and uninspired. Too often we see sequels that are just retreads of the original…same stunts, same gags, same jokes, same effects. Or worse yet, the powers-that-be try to make a sequel where few of the original actors or characters remain and they are only borrowing a broad concept or theme with very loose ties to its predecessor. The Godfather Part II is not a victim of any of these issues. It is quite possibly the greatest sequel ever made. It was the first sequel to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, a feat that has only been matched once since with 2003’s third part of the epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Return of the King (movies that will likely make it onto this list next time around). Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel The Godfather is the source material for both the first and second movies in this trilogy and is a great read. I recommend the book to anyone who enjoyed the movies. However, this is a rare case where I must say that the greatness on film exceeds what one finds on the written page. Part II is fascinating, as it shows us two different stories at the same time. We follow Al Pacino‘s Don Michael Corleone as he moves the family business to the left coast in the 1950’s, making his home in Lake Tahoe while simultaneously trying to become a major player in Vegas, which of course mirrors the real life exploits of infamous gangster Bugsy Seagal. Meanwhile, in turn of the century Sicily we see little Vito Corleone‘s parents killed and his escape to Ellis Island. The adult Vito is then played by Robert DeNiro in a performance that won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the only time that two different actors (Marlon Brando got the nod for Best Actor in the original film) have received Academy Awards for the same role. Vito gets married, has a family, meets new pals Tessio & Clemenza, and quickly rises from small time NY City hood to nationally known, feared, and respected organized crime boss. Flash ahead to the 50’s and we see Michael’s attempt to bring his empire to Cuba, his double cross of rival gangster Hyman Roth and Roth’s henchman The Rosato Brothers, United States Senate hearings with Michael as the chief target that mirror the real life Kefauver investigation of the mob, and the revelation that Michael’s older but dimmer brother Fredo betrayed him which resulted in an assassination attempt and ultimately ends up with Michael having his own brother murdered. I love love love Al Pacino and this movie is neck & neck with Scent of a Woman as his best role. In the original Godfather film he shares the spotlight with Marlon Brando and James Caan, but here he goes toe to toe with DeNiro in what may be his best role as well. The supporting cast is superb, with Talia Shire, Robert Duval, and Diane Keaton returning from the first film and acting legend Lee Strasberg coming out of retirement to portray Hyman Roth. My favorite character though might be Frank Pentangeli, a Corleone family caporegime who replaces Clemenza, a development dictated by a dispute with the actor who played Clemenza. Frankie Five Angels is just tremendous…funny, ham-handed, erratic, and most of all unique. I am not sure Part II would have been quite as good with Clemenza as it ends up being with Pentageli. The flashback sequences with the younger Vito are done completely in Italian, a risky move by director Francis Ford Coppola that pays off. Emulating real events like the coup in Cuba, U.S. Senate hearings, and the mafia infiltration of Las Vegas is a nice touch. There are a significant number of people who rate the The Godfather Part II above its predecessor and say that it is the only sequel in movie history that is actually better than the first film. I can’t go that far for reasons which I will eventually explain. Nevertheless it is an extraordinary achievement and those responsible for it…Coppola, Puzo, Pacino, DeNiro, and many others…can be very proud of what they were able to accomplish. The story arc of the rise & fall of Michael Corleone is truly one of the most inspired ideas in cinema and has been endlessly entertaining for me and millions of others for over 35 years.

 

 


9 Die Hard

I know I have said it before but it bears repeating…I am not an action flick aficionado. Most anything starring Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Seagal, or Chuck Norris just doesn’t frost my cupcake. I have never seen a James Bond film in its entirety. Indiana Jones has never graced a screen big or small in my presence. But as with any rule there are exceptions, and this is the biggest one of them all. 1988’s Die Hard finds Bruce Willis starring as John McClane, a NY City cop whose marriage is on the rocks because his wife took a corporate gig in Los Angeles and now lives there with the kids, estranged from her husband. She invites him out to the Left Coast for Christmas to visit the children and maybe smooth things out. However, upon arriving at the wife’s company Christmas bash near the top of an unfinished skyscraper McClane finds himself the lone wolf fighting against a contingent of foreign terrorists who invade the party, kill the CEO, and hold everyone else hostage. The bad guys are unaware of McClane’s presence and even when he does make himself known he does not reveal that he has the skills to fight back. Soon enough the LAPD and the FBI are involved. There is lots of shooting and explosions, but thankfully they are accompanied by a good story and surprising levity for an action movie. I think maybe that’s why I like it…the humor sets Die Hard apart from others in the genre, who tend to take themselves too seriously. Don’t misunderstand…Die Hard is a serious movie about terrorism and one man’s battle to save the life of his beloved wife, but along the way we get airheaded FBI agents (agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson), a limo driver that personifies the generation gap between himself and McClane, and the Dad from Family Matters, an 80’s sitcom best known for its nerdy star Urkel, who bonds with McClane over the two-way radio. We also get Hans Gruber, one of the most memorable villains in movie history. Gruber is portrayed by Alan Rickman, who is widely known today as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. But in 1988 he was an unknown who ended up creating such a great character. It is implied that Gruber is a ticked off German who has taken over Nakatomi Plaza for political reasons. However, we eventually learn that he is nothing more than a thief whose goal is to steal a half billion dollars worth of bonds, destroy the building making everyone think the terrorists perished as well, and escape with the loot. It is an ingenious plan, and Gruber seems to know everything that will happen. He especially knows the playbook of the police and the feds, who are portrayed as predictable buffoons. But what he and his men don’t plan on is the “fly in the ointment” named John McClane. Willis was a television star at the time, coming into our living rooms each week alongside Cybill Shepherd in the detective rom-com Moonlighting. He had done a few forgettable films, but it was Die Hard that made him a star and he has continued to ride the wave for over 20 years. Die Hard, in my opinion, is the gold standard of action movies. It has just the right mix of drama, action, humor, suspense, good writing, and excellent performances. It is not gratuitously bloody, and it is just plausible enough for the viewer to suspend disbelief and become engrossed in the story and characters. 1988 was, of course, long before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and for that I am thankful if only because Die Hard would likely never get made in a post-9/11 world. McClane has resurfaced in three sequels with plans for yet another, but those efforts have been hit & miss. I keep using the phrase “lightning in a bottle”, and it applies here as well. Countless films have borrowed elements of Die Hard in the last two decades, and I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But I have yet to stumble upon a knockoff that comes anywhere close to being as good as the original.

 

 


8 The Star Wars Trilogy

Yes, I know…I am kinda sorta cheating just one more time. In pondering the three original Star Wars movies…Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi…I just couldn’t find a sensible way to justify any type of separation. It is true that most fans of the trilogy will say that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the three and that Return of the Jedi comes in third. But I cannot look at these three films as separate entities. The story is an arc with huge themes of good vs. evil, destiny, vengeance, justice, fear, anger vs. patience, self-sacrifice, and betrayal. There are elements of religion, philosophy, and mythology so intertwined yet so subtle that the films may be enjoyed as simple popcorn entertainment by some and appreciated on another level by those who like to ponder life with a deeper, more esoteric thought process. Writer/producer/director George Lucas was heavily influenced by a number of sources, including the Flash Gordon comic books and movies of the 1930’s, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, and Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. I am making the assumption that most adults have seen the trilogy and know the basic story, but…just in case…allow me to summarize. Star Wars and its sequels is the story of Luke Skywalker, a young man of meager means who is thrust into an ongoing adventure involving the battle between The Rebel Alliance, a resistance group that desires to restore The Republic, and The Empire, which is what has become of The Republic under the tyrannical rule of Emperor Palpatine. One must remember that this story was written and the movies made in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, so there are obvious parallels to The Cold War and the ongoing battle between The United States and The Soviet Union. Throughout the trilogy we are exposed to a plethora of memorable characters…Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Pricess Leia, Chewbacca, R2D2, CP30, Hans Solo, Jabba the Hutt, Lando Calrissian. I could go on and on. I have never been a big fan of westerns, but what Star Wars does is take many of the elements of the typical western and utilize them in a futuristic space motif. It is a concept brilliant beyond comprehension. Lucas has done some other notable films…The Indiana Jones Series, American Graffiti, Hook, Howard the Duck (well…okay…maybe that isn’t such a great example)…but his crowning achievement is most certainly The Star Wars Trilogy. Over 30 years since the story was first introduced to the public these three films are still among the world’s most popular. They pop up on television all the time and people like me, who have seen them dozens of times, still watch. Earlier this decade when Lucas was preparing to launch a new prequel trilogy…Episodes I, II, and III…the excitement and anticipation reached a fever pitch. People waited in line days in advance for tickets. Unfortunately the prequels did not live up to their predecessors, but honestly how could they?? They aren’t really bad films, especially the third, but there was no way they could possibly approach the greatness of the original trilogy. Every new generation that is introduced to The Star Wars Trilogy embraces it which is a testament to the timelessness and superb quality of the story. And make no mistake…it IS the story. Are there any truly special performances here?? Not really. The only acting that was ever critically recognized was Sir Alec Guinness’ Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV: A New Hope, and even that was likely more a function of his legendary status. Most of the other actors involved have had middle-of-the-road, mildly successful careers but are still primarily known for their roles in the trilogy. The only exception is Harrison Ford, who over the course of the past three decades has become one of the biggest movie stars in the world. So one must conclude that the enduring appeal of these movies is the epic nature of the tale itself.

 

 


7 Apollo 13

This is what NFL scouts might call at quick riser, a movie that has improved its stock the most in the shortest amount of time. Released in 1995 and based on the true story of NASA’s 1970 “successful failure”, Apollo 13 is a film that I honestly didn’t pay that much attention to when it first came out. Looking back I have to assume that is due to the timing. June of 1995 was a bad month, one that I look back on almost daily as a negative turning point in my life. So I guess I was engrossed in my own drama and didn’t make it a priority to go to the theater and pay money to watch tragic events of others’ lives. But over the course of the past 10 years I have discovered its greatness and become familiar with the real life situation. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton as astronauts whose planned mission to land on the moon goes horribly awry, Apollo 13 is just the sort of movie I can truly embrace. It is beautifully written, has understated, moving performances, and the direction by Ron Howard is magnificent. I don’t usually recognize the function of the director because honestly I am not familiar enough with what a director really does and what his/her role is in the final product. But here one can easily see that this story, in the hands of someone else…maybe James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic), Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2), Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), or God forbid as a Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer production (Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor)…would have been completely different and likely lacked the subtlety and class brought into the mix by Howard, aka Lil Opie Cunningham, who turns it into something better than a cookie cutter action flick. Two supporting performances, Ed Harris as flight director Gene Kranz and Kathleen Quinlan as astronaut wife Marilyn Lovell, were nominated for Academy Awards. The film itself was nominated for Best Picture and Howard for Best Director. Somehow all four of these awards went to others. Braveheart won Best Picture and its director, Mel Gibson, won that award. Kevin Spacey was Best Supporting Actor for his role as Keyser Soze/Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects. And Mira Sorvino was Best Supporting Actress in some movie no one remembers. I suppose many may disagree, but it is my contention that Apollo 13 was robbed and should have won atleast 3 of these 4 awards. Harris’ performance is especially exceptional and cemented his status as one of Hollywood’s most underappreciated actors. Various television stations show Apollo 13 quite often, and I almost always stop whatever I am doing to watch, which in my mind is the mark of a really good movie. There is a scene near the end of the film where the fate of the astronauts is in question for about 3 minutes. This plays out in real time and is very dramatic. Since this is a true story I know what happens, and even if it wasn’t a true story I have seen it enough times that I know how everything plays out…yet every single time I watch I get goosebumps and am on the edge of my seat. Now THAT is a great movie.

 

 


6 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

This is an oddity simply because it is the third movie in a series, and while traditionally the third movie in a series is better than the second (which is usually a poorly written, hastily produced money grab in response to the public’s love of the original) it is unusual that it would outrank the first. I suppose on most lists the tradition would hold true here, as the vast majority of folks would likely opine that 1983’s Vacation, where we first meet The Griswold Clan, is the best in the series. But by now loyal readers know of my fierce passion for Christmas movies, and that is why Christmas Vacation ranks higher than its parent film, which is 13th on this list. Clark, Ellen, Rusty, and Audrey don’t actually go anywhere this time. They stay home to host a good old-fashioned Christmas for the extended family, which includes Clark’s parents, Ellen’s parents, and the elderly Uncle Lewis & Aunt Bethany, though their exact relationship is never explained. Showing up unexpectedly is cousin Catherine and her redneck husband Eddie, along with two of their small children. Fans of the Vacation series will recall that Catherine & Eddie and their brood make a memorable appearance in the original, and Eddie turns out to be the big star of this film. There is too much goodness for me to go into detail here, but suffice to say that Clark proves himself to be as big of a buffoon as usual, all the grandparents are nuts in that special grandparent way, and Eddie’s antics are the icing on the cake. Virtually every scene in this move has become legendary, from the oversized Christmas tree that Clark stubbornly determines is going in the living room, to Eddie cleaning out his RV’s toilet in his bathrobe, to the 25,000 lights with which Clark adorns the house. As a matter of fact, every December channels like HGTV and The Travel Channel have shows featuring wacky, over-the-top, gaudy Christmas light displays from across the country, and I’d be curious to know whether those kinds of garish exhibits were always around or if Christmas Vacation was the impetus for an odd new holiday tradition. I remember the first time I ever saw this movie, and there is a scene where Clark crashes a saucer sled oiled up with some sort of food varnish that he supposedly invented straight into a WalMart. At the time we did not have a WalMart in my hometown and it was just becoming a big deal. I remember thinking “Man, I wish we had a WalMart”. I laugh at that thought now since WalMart has become such a ubiquitous part of every day life. At any rate, Christmas Vacation has quickly become part of the pantheon of great Christmas movies, one of the half-dozen or so that everyone watches annually. It isn’t high art and it isn’t supposed to be. It is fairly innocuous entertainment, and that’s just fine by me.

 

 

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..76-80

Today’s selection is pretty…..dramatic. Even the lone comedy in the bunch is more of a poignant “dramedy”. There are a couple 90’s movies, one from the 70’s, one from the 80’s, and one from the 50’s, before I was even born. No one can ever say I discriminate in my movie watching. If it’s good I don’t care when it was made or who is in it, as long as it makes me laugh, makes me think, or both.

 

 

 

80 Big

In yet another example of divine timing I caught this movie on HBO just as I was ready to write about it. I love it when a plan comes together. It seems like eons ago that Tom Hanks was a relatively obscure TV star on Bosom Buddies. Flash ahead nearly three decades and he is among the most famous and successful movie stars in the world and has two Best Actor Oscars sitting on his mantle. Though the 1984 mermaid flick Splash was Hanks’ coming out party as a major movie star, 1988’s Big cemented that status. It tells the story of a 13 year old boy who is the wimpy type that gets picked on and overlooked. He goes to a carnival where he uses a fortune telling machine to wish he were big. Lo and behold the next day his wish is granted and he’s been transformed, atleast physically, into a 30 year old man. I state it that way for a reason. Hanks’ performance in Big is brilliant (it earned him his first Best Actor nomination) because he makes it clear that although the character is 30 years old on the outside, on the inside he is still a little boy. His mannerisms, the things he says and the way he says them…..it’s a spot on interpretation of a child by an adult. Able support is given by Robert Loggia and Elizabeth Perkins (a smoking hot, underrated, underutilized actress even now), but Big is all about Hanks. Funny and touching without being overly sweet and sentimental, Big hits exactly the right note, the rare “fantasy” film that is utterly believable.

 

79 Saving Private Ryan

Back to back Tom Hanks?? You bet. Although this is a completely different Hanks vehicle. You won’t see very many war films on this list. I’m just not a big fan. I prefer to laugh rather than do the whole blood and guts thing. But Saving Private Ryan is so powerful, so raw, so realistic in its portrayal of the World War II D-Day Invasion that it simply cannot be overlooked. The cast is stunning…..Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel (showing that he has legit acting chops), and Adam Golberg star, and small cameos are made by Ted Danson, Dennis Farina, Paul Giamatti, and Bryan Cranston. And oh, by the way, the film is directed by Steven Spielberg. The opening scene hits you like a sledgehammer to the nether region, and things don’t really let up after that. The conclusion is so potently memorable and emotional that it takes the movie to another level. Irrespective of the war motif, Saving Private Ryan forces a self evaluation of one’s life, making a person really examine if they’ve made a difference and earned the right to take up space on this planet.

 

78 The Godfather Part III

Many many people disregard this third installment of The Godfather franchise. It’s like the crazy uncle that you keep locked in the basement and pretend doesn’t exist. But I think that’s unfair. First of all, it is the conclusion to one of the all time great movie trilogies. The first two films are generally considered to be among the finest ever made. Secondly, III still stars Al Pacino, and anything that is graced with the presence of Pacino cannot be all that bad. The legendary supporting cast from the first two films is nearly all gone…..only Talia Shire and Diane Keaton remain. In the absence of Brando, Duvall, and Caan we get Andy Garcia and Joe Mantegna, which isn’t necessarily as bad of a trade off as it may seem. Garcia is among the most underrated actors of his generation. The plot is a bit hard to follow and mirrors real life eventsinvolving the Vatican and papal murder & mayhem. Repeated viewings are almost a necessity to really have all the intricacies of the story really sink in, and that may be the biggest mark against III. One really has to invest some effort into completely understanding the story, and only big fans of the first two will likely have the inclination to undertake that endeavor. I personally believe it is worth the time. The Godfather Part III really grows on you and it becomes much clearer how it fits with the first two films. I have come to see it as a logical and almost necessary conclusion to Michael Corleone’s story, although director Francis Ford Coppola has stated that it was not originally intended to be so. He has been up front in saying that the only reason that he made the film was due to the box office failure of Tucker: A Man & His Dream. In other words, he needed the money. It is interesting to note two things about this movie. First, Robert Duvall was supposed to reprise the character of consiglieri Tom Hagen, but didn’t because he wanted a bigger payday. The character had to be rewritten as having died. Also, the character of Mary Corleone was orginally to be played by Julia Roberts and then Winona Ryder. Sophia Coppola, the director’s daughter, got the part only as a last resort after Ryder dropped out. Ms. Coppola’s performance is almost universally at the top of the list of reasons why some dislike The Godfather Part III. So imagine if Duvall had taken part and if either Roberts or Ryder would have played Mary. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but if those two things would have occurred the third installment may possibly have become as beloved as the first two films. As it is, I like the film. I love Pacino, I dig Andy Garcia, and I see the tragic conclusion to Michael Corleone’s tale as being well written and the only logical way it could have ended.

 

77 Rocky II

When people think of the Rocky story I sometimes think they get things a bit mixed up. They forget that at the end of the first Rocky film the titular character lost the fight, the point being that he had gone the distance which was a moral victory in and of itself. It’s not until the end of the second fight that Balboa wins in a dramatic near double countout. I’ve always believed that having Rocky lose at the end of the first fight only to have him actually win at the end of the second was a brilliant idea. I’m not privy to inside information, but I suspect that unlike how things work today, back in 1979 a sequel was not assumed or planned. So one can make an educated guess that the whole moral victory angle was Stallone’s original intent. After the enormous success of the first movie a sequel was demanded, and there’s no way on earth the audience would have stood for the underdog losing again. It is somewhat surprising that this foregone conclusion does not diminish Rocky II’s quality, which I suppose can be attributed to the fine writing and performances. Unlike The Godfather films I do not believe a third (or 4th, 5th, & 6th) movie was necessary to elaborate on Rocky Balboa’s saga. I would have been okay with forever remembering him as the imaginary World Heavyweight Champion and skip seeing him lose everything, fight the Russians, and not-so-gracefully grow old. I suppose we can blame George Foreman for the last two sequels and the Cold War for one of its predecessors. I can think of no logical reason why anyone thought Rocky III was a good idea.

 

76 Twelve Angry Men

Here in 2009 we have short attention spans, and we have been poorly conditioned to expect the wrong things from our movies. Dramas are oftentimes needlessly violent, and comedies constantly try to outdo each other with ever increasing offensiveness. Almost every movie of any genre is fast paced, shallowly written, and an all out assault on our eyes & ears and Hollywood seems to make the assumption that it needs to continuously ramp up the foul language, sexual content, blood & gore, and unrealistic death defying stunts. They are right of course, but onlybecause they have dictated the rules. Most anyone who doesn’t have any grey hair on their head has spent their lives going to movies replete with brutality and debauchery to the point that a film without it is deemed tedious. I say this as a basis for bringing up just such a “boring” movie, 1957’s Twelve Angry Men, a film that comes across more like a play because it was in fact adapted from one. It stars Henry Fonda as the one dissenting voice of a jury that is deciding a murder case. There are no car chases, no explosions, not hot and heavy sex scenes. It is simply 12 men sitting in a room arguing about the case they’ve just heard and whether or not the accused is guilty or not guilty. In my youth I talked of one day becoming an attorney. Though I strayed from that path the law is still something that interests me, which in some small way explains my interest in this film. The other thing that captivates my attention is its simplicity. I am a minimalist, and Twelve Angry Men is the ultimate testament to minimalism in moviemaking. There are no gimmicks…..everything, the whole roll of the dice, rests on the shoulders of fine acting and writing. I only wish that contemporary filmmakers were willing to gamble like that, and even more that modern audiences were capable of appreciating that type of quality.