I have been writing this blog for over ten years now, and I have resisted putting up a list of my favorite films for that whole time. As the Borg say “Resistance is Futile!”
This year I am marking another year in my sixth decade of life. I did several birthday posts in the past and enjoyed them immensely. The last two years my heart has just not been into it. This year however, I am trying to push my way back into normalcy, but I don’t have the energy to generate 63 things for a list. So what I am going to do is a ten day countdown of my favorite films.
Every year when I have posted a top ten list, I always point out that it is a combination of quality and subjective enjoyment that creates that list. Those are the guiding principles here as well. I will not claim that these are the ten greatest movies ever made, although I know several of them would be deserving of a spot on such a list. Instead, these are my ten favorite films as it stands at the moment. In a month, I could reconsider or remember something that I have tragically left off the list, but for this moment here is how they rank.
#9 Once Upon a Time in the West
I love John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and Gary Cooper and a dozen other stars of the Western Genre. It just so happens however that my favorite western isn’t directed by John Ford, Don Siegal or even the accomplished western director Eastwood . It comes from Clint’s collaborator and directing mentor Sergio Leone, but it does not star Eastwood. Instead, it features another tough guy actor who has a face as iconic as Wayne’s voice or Clint’s stare, Charles Bronson. It is also a western of the Italian variety, though populated with American actors, and it is directed by Leone himself.
To some degree Leone follows the template he set up in “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”. We have three primary characters that we are following. Two anti-heroes and one very bad man. The most unique thing about the film cast is that this bad man is played by an actor who is famous for portraying decent men on screen, Hollywood Legend Henry Fonda. The character of Frank is an irredeemable murderer who shows a sadistic side as he kills most of his victims in this story. Jason Robards is Cheyenne, a desperado, known to lead a gang of robbers, who turns out to have some interesting and maybe noble characteristics. Bronson is the mysterious stranger known only as “Harmonica”, who is set on a path of vengeance that crosses with the other two.
With a music score by maestro Morricone, it is amazing that the most impressive scene in the film is the opening lead up to a shootout, that features no music but rather just ambient noise to build the tension. In this ten to fifteen minute segment, film students will learn all of Leone’s tricks of the trade. There are sweaty close ups, silent stares, long pauses and lighting that makes the environment in which the scene takes place, into another character.
Leone is widely loved for the “man with No Name” trilogy, but this is a movie that is art. It is richer in character and setting than Good,Bad,Ugly , and it is more morally ambiguous and splendidly detailed than any other film he made.
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Once Upon A Time in the West