Top Ten List for My Birthday #3

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.

#3 Lawrence of Arabia

Next to my Number Two choice, this may be the film I have written about the most on this site. I first saw it in a truncated form on an ABC Sunday Night Movie, at least I think I did. For me though, the film came to my consciousness in the 1989 restoration. I took my father to see it in the old Century City Mall, he was a big fan of Doctor Zhivago. We drove across the county in the middle of a weekday to get to a screening because it was not widely released. A couple of years later, I owned a beautiful Criterion Laserdisc of the restoration that I must have played a dozen times.

One of the reasons that this has become a top three film for me is that my youngest daughter has embraced it wholeheartedly. Her first viewing was in ideal circumstances at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. She has made me take her to see it whenever we have found it presented on a big screen in a theater. Those opportunities have continued even though we are now far away from Hollywood and the American Cinematique.  Last October was our most recent theatrical visit. 

I try to see something different in the film every time I watch it. That is not hard to do. There are so many interesting choices made by director David Lean. From the title sequence to the end, there are clever edits, sound design, action scenes and dialogue. The cast, all men in the speaking roles, is as deep as you could get. Newcomer Peter O’Toole is sharing screen time with Claude Rains. Alec Guinness would never be given the role today, the brown face casting could not fly in these times, but the performance that he gives in a supporting part is subtle and note perfect. 

Previous Posts on Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence 2019 Again
Lawrenceapalooza
Lawrence End of Summer 2019
Lawrence of Arabia Austin Edition

Lawrence of Arabia 70mm at Egyptian Theater

Lawrence of Arabia at the Cinerama Dome  

Lawrence of Arabia/Vertigo Double Feature Vlog  

Top Ten List for My Birthday #4

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.

#4  The Godfather/The Godfather Part II

I freely admit that I have cheated here. This is two films not just one. They are inextricably linked to one another however, and the idea of separating them from each other and elevating one above the other is abhorrent to me. A little bit like Alien and Aliens, the question of which one of these two films I think is better, depends entirely on which one I have seen most recently.

Art is a bit subjective. and as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yet these two films transcend the subjective. I believe they objectively are two of the finest motion pictures ever to come out of Hollywood. The original Godfather, takes what could have been a simple mob movie and turns it into a family tragedy that will haunt our memory. Captain Michael Corleone, a war hero, has returned to the family he is holding at arms length, with the intention of declaring his independence from them by marrying the Waspish Kay. Yet, when his father is gunned down, the family loyalty takes over and he is drawn into the business that he wished to avoid. 

As the reluctant savior of his family, Michael has to reject the life he was planning and put his emotions under control. The problem is that every time he gets emotional, the tragedy gets deeper. The more he tries to grip his passion and hold it down, the greater the sacrifices he makes. Not only does he murder his enemies, he takes out family loyalists who have betrayed him, including his brother in law, and ultimately his own brother. Vito Corleone was a man who followed a code of honor, ruthless as it was, to achieve family security. Michael however becomes a monster of dispassionate violence, who wants to remain all business but like his brother Sonny, can be influenced by his emotions. When Michael feels betrayal from anyone, it leads to further destruction.

The construction of the second film as both prequel and sequel simultaneously, is an amazing innovation that allows the second film to be part and parcel of the first while still standing on it’s own as a piece of art. The production design between the films shows a progression not only of the family but of America in the 20th Century. The critique of soulless capitalism is complete as a metaphor when the corporations cut up  the cake with the image of Cuba on it. The question of what cost comes from success is answered by the hollow posture of power that closes the second chapter of this story. 

My personal history with the film includes one of my favorite stories about dating my wife. I took her to a double feature playing the two films, and when the first one ended, we began to stand to take a break and use the facilities, but instead of an intermission, the lights went down immediately and the second film began. We both sat back down immediately and waited another three hours and twenty minute to relieve ourselves. The fact that she was willing to do that, sealed her fate, I had to marry that woman. 

Previous Posts of The Godfather


The Godfather Live


TCM 45th Anniversary of the Godfather

Top Ten List for My Birthday #5

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.

#5  Singin’ in the Rain

I have always been a classic movie fan. Sunday afternoons in Southern California were filled with Sherlock Holmes movies staring Basil Rathbone. Weekdays, after school, before the idea of afternoon strip talk shows sucked up all the air time, local stations would fill the day with edited versions of classic films, and I would put off my homework to watch. In 1974, my best friend Art Franz and I went to see “That’s Entertainment”, an MGM cornucopia of musical sequences from the golden age. One of the films heavily featured was “Singin’ in the Rain”.  Now I had seen that movie a couple of times on TV, put when I later found it on a pay channel, there were sequences that I never knew existed. 

Some films are intellectually challenging. Some films break your heart emotionally or make you question right and wrong. “Singin’ in the Rain” doesn’t really do those kinds of things. This movie is an emotional injection of joy that celebrates some great entertainment traditions, singing and dancing.

Watching Donald O’Conner and Gene Kelly performing their routines on the vaudeville stage is simply wonderful. Gene and Donald and Debbie Reynolds singing Good Morning, would be the greatest way to start the day ever. The famous title song performed on a soundstage that looks like a Los Angeles street and features rain on the pavement and in puddles, this was simple movie magic but it was still magic. 

Let’s not forget that the story of the film is also the story of films. The transition from silents to sound changed movies forever. Today we see similar sorts of changes although primarily the delivery systems. The only thing constant is change, if only this kind of entertainment could be constant as well. I don’t think I ever turn down a chance to watch this when it comes up on TCM. 

Previous Posts on Singin’ in the Rain

TCM Presents Singin’ in the Rain

TCM The Essentials  

Top Ten List for My Birthday #6

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.

#6 Casablanca

All of us are influenced by where we come from. My parents were interesting people from the greatest generation. My Dad fought in WWII, my Mom was his High School Sweetheart, and they both had a favorite movie. They loved this movie so much, they named me after the lead character. Although with most people these days I go by Richard, when I was a kid, it was Rick. My Mom only called me Richard when I was getting middle named also, in other words when I was in trouble.

The story of the movie Casablanca is complex and surprising. It’s based on a play, was cast multiple times, started shooting without a complete script and still ended up perfect. This may be the most romantic film ever made, and the romance does not end happily ever after like most romantic comedies. This is a story of sacrifice, made by people who were in the midst of one of the greatest historical calamities ever. Rick says it in the movie,  “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”, but of course they do. Individual actions are what make the difference. 

I think this may be the most quoted movie in history. There are so many lines that work in just the right situation, that it will inevitably come up at some point. Myself, I have been shocked to find that there is gambling going on in here, on a weekly basis. And if I gave you any thought, I would probably despise you. 

I make no secret of the fact that I am a sentimentalist. When Victor Laszlo commands the band to “Play the “Marseillaise.”… Play it!, and the whole club stands and out sings the Nazis, I get a lump in my throat that takes five minutes to subside. As Rick laments the fact that his is the gin joint she has found, my heart is breaking. When Captain Renault utters the line “round up the usual suspects” indicating he has found his spine once more, all of our characters are redeemed. Hell, I am tearing up as I write this. 

All of the cast is spot on, and every supporting player feels essential to making the movie work. The Max Steiner score, and the song “as Time Goes By” will thrill you and break your heart. I’m not one of those movie snobs who believes if you don’t agree with me that you are automatically wrong. However, if you don’t love this film, I do think there is something wrong with you and you probably need medication.

Previous Posts on Casablanca

TCM/Fathom 70th Anniversary Casablanca  

Top Ten List for My Birthday #7

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.

#7 Amadeus

When I was a kid, I took piano lessons for two years, and classical music was at the heart of what I was learning. That endeavor has been largely wasted in the subsequent time. I can’t remember anything about playing, I can’t read music, and for a long time I was ignorantly avoiding that style of music. I college I did take a class in concert music, but I skated by with as little effort as I could put into it. In 1984 however, my love of this genre returned with the release of this film. 

I’d seen the stage play of this story earlier in the year, but it did not prepare me for the onslaught of beauty and awe that Mozart’s music is. The film wallows in it. The opening use of music from Don Giovani sets the stage for everything that happens later. It is dramatic, closely tied to the visuals and it moves the audience in the way the director intended. There are a dozen moments like this in the film, and the music is as big a co-star as any of the actors. 

Of course the actors are not too shabby either. Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham dance a duet of acting performance that may never have been matched since. Mozart is a callow self centered genius who is only appreciated to the degree he deserves by the resentful mediocrity Salieri. Every time Hulce laughs, we are amused but also indignant. Why is this master at music so awkward at life in the court? Salieri allows jealousy to spoil his pious and grateful love of God and turn him into a smooth monster, determined to stifle the greatness that he himself lacks.

No one should take this as history, it is a fiction using real characters but everyone can see how it might have been this way (it wasn’t). The production uses Prague as a substitute for  Vienna, and it works for me. The costuming is amazing and there are musical moments in the film that you might wish to have as a complete concert or opera. Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields supply the music and there were two double albums released to allow us to celebrate it. 

Anytime someone has a top twenty list of films, and this does not appear on it. I doubt their credibility or taste. I am still not an classical music connoisseur, but I am a fan, and this film brought me back to that world. I wish I could sit in the theater again, waiting for the first time to see this film.  The moment of euphoria it provided has led me to decades of pursuing the same high in movie theaters and concert halls. And that is something a film should aspire to do.

Previous Posts on Amadeus

30 Years On: Amadeus  

Movies I Want Everyone to See: Triple Scoop of Westerns

This post Originally appeared on the defunct site “Fogs Movie Reviews” in the Fall of 2014.

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The western as a film genre went from being the most popular form of film making in the early days of Hollywood, to one of the least seen forms of story telling in contemporary times. Part of the reason was that television drained the western of new ideas and stories. In 1959 there were 26 western themed shows airing in prime time. Those are the days of three networks and three hours a night. Today they have been replaced by crime procedurals and reality shows. As the decade of the 1960s wore on, the western film began to collapse. Sure there were successes and and surprises but by the late seventies, only Clint Eastwood appeared interested in fashioning films centered in the traditional American Western period. Westerns rally every few years and achieve moments of greatness or nostalgia. In the year 1969, three westerns managed to make an artistic achievement, a populist surge and a satisfying trip down memory lane. From the final year of the most turbulent decade in American history, I want to share Three Movies I Want Everyone to See.

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We begin our journey with the most revolutionary of the Western films of 1969, “The Wild Bunch”. This Sam Peckinpah splatterfest begins with a robbery gone wrong. An entire small town gets shot to hell as a group of bandits make their escape from a hired posse that had set them up. Dozens are killed in the slow motion mayhem and the hired lawmen turn out to be worse scum than the bad guys. The old ways are dying and old loyalties die hard as well.

This is a mediation on masculine values. What really makes a man a good friend, when is the right time to fight, what sacrifices are you willing to make, and how reckless can you be and still thrive? The story focuses an a group of hardened men who are aging and still living life as outcasts and criminals. They have each others back for the most part, but sometimes they are capable of betrayal as well. “The Wild Bunch” is filled with macho posturing and is frequently broken up by scenes of hearty male laughter, signifying a grim but understood humor.

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William Holden stars as the leader of the bunch, Pike Bishop. The rest of his gang consists of some of the great character actors of the 60s and 70s. Ben Johnson and Earnest Borgnine go back to the 50s. Warren Oates is a treasure that we should have had for a lot longer. Edmund O’Brien drops in as a mentor/passive partner of the gang. The band of mercenaries hired to get them is led by Pike’s old friend and partner “Deke Thorton” played by longtime movie vet Robert Ryan. He can barely tolerate the low lifes that he has been given for the task and would much rather be riding with his old cohorts. The two most recognizable vermin on his crew are “Coffer” and “T.C.” played by gritty western stalwarts Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones.

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A big chunk of the plot of the movie was improvised after the first set piece. It was pretty amazing that the train hijacking looks like it was so well planned when it actually was designed on the day they shot it. The violence in the film is straight Peckinpah, frequent, bloody and often played back in slow motion. The inevitable conclusion of the film brings galleons of fake blood to the set and an outcome that will surprise no one given the lead up. These men are not willing to take the easy way out when it is offered to them, especially when their peculiar sense of loyalty and friendship is on the line.
Holden and Borgnine form the nucleus of the film and their mediations on the changing ways of the world hold the key to the point being made here.
Pike Bishop: What would you do in his place? He gave his word.
Dutch Engstrom: He gave his word to a railroad.
Pike Bishop: It’s his word.
Dutch Engstrom: That ain’t what counts! It’s who you give it *to*!
The final walk to the confrontation to rescue their captured friend is a moment of macho swagger that was added at the last minute but has survived for an eternity since then.  If you think the line walking, laid back attitude of the hoods in “Reservoir Dogs” is cool, take a look at this image and remember that what follows was the most bloody and controversial moment of violence ever shown in a mainstream film up to that time.

Part two of our post today is almost a mirror image of the story from “The Wild Bunch”. We still have two main outlaws who trade philosophical dialogue, they are part of a dying breed and time, and they are pursued by a relentless posse. In the reverse image however, the stars are not hardened aging men but handsome  young guys. The posse is not made up of ragged scum but rather well trained professionals who are dedicated and law abiding. Instead of masculine posing we get a light hearted bromance with a dash of clever adventure thrown in.

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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is an Academy Award winning script by the talented and prolific William Goldman. It has the advantage of mostly being true. The lives of the real outlaws were very much as depicted in the film. The romantic interest played by Katherine Ross was a real but unidentified woman and the “Whole in the Wall Gang”  (in real life referred to as The Wild Bunch) did exist and carried out robberies of trains and banks across the west. The end of the story in real life took place in Bolivia, just as it was located in the film.
Unlike “The Wild Bunch”, most of “Butch Cassidy” is charming rather than grim. Butch appears to be able to talk himself out of having to resort to violence most of the time. His cleverness becomes a running gag because his plans often are fouled up despite how intelligent they seem to be. He literally cannot believe that the posse can keep following them after a half dozen tricks he uses to throw them off the track. The famous scene of Newman and Redford jumping off the cliff is a result of necessity when his ingenuity leaves Butch and Sundance with no alternative.

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There is a lot of humor in the film. As the characters migrate to South America, they struggle with the language differences and resort to using crib notes when holding up a bank. In order to throw off pursuers, they take legitamate jobs as payroll guards but are mocked by their employer for being so alert and trigger happy before there is any payroll for them to guard. Strother Martin appears once again, as the mining engineer Percy Garris, who hires the two to watch his back in retrieving the payroll for the mining operation. His character is also based on a real life acquaintance of the two outlaws.
The chemistry between the two leads was so strong, and the work that they did with director George Roy Hill so successful, that the three of them teamed up again just a few years later for the Academy Best Picture of 1973 “The Sting”.  Hill also worked separately with each of the stars in later films (including the greatest sports movie ever “Slap Shot”). When you hear the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts” it might be hard to believe about this movie since so many elements were there to start with. Casting was right, the chemistry of the actors was wonderful and the story is delightfully told, but small touches and luck often elevate the film above its audience pleasing front. The montage of photos showing the three principles stopping off in New York before boarding a boat to South America, was created by invention when the film makers were denied the ability to shoot on the neighboring sets of “Hello Dolly”.  So the actors posed for still shots on those sets and the photos were mixed with actual shots of New York at the end of the 19th century.
There are a lot of modern film goers who don’t seem interested in westerns. This is the western made for them. The plot is not based on a traditional showdown between the good guys and the bad guys, there are no Indian sub-plots, and the movie is funny as all get out. It is difficult to imagine a more mainstream film that will satisfy non-traditionalists as much as this movie does.

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If you don’t mind the traditional or the sentimental, then the last of our 1969 treats is a good way to finish up. Western fans all need to acknowledge that the King of the genre was John Wayne. For nearly fifty years, the Duke was the star of countless classic western adventure stories. The list of his films includes the star making “Stagecoach”, the amazing and somber “The Searchers” , the deconstructionist “The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance” and the elegy “The Shootist”.  Wayne earned his long overdue and only Academy Award for this Hal Wallis production.
Most of you have probably seen the Coen Brothers version of “True Grit”. While the Coens dismiss the idea that their version is a re-make, it has the same plot line and character arc from the book it is based on as this one does. The difference is that their film is a lot less sentimental and Rooster Cogburn is not nearly as charming, although he still has grit. I love both versions of the film but being an old guy, John Wayne is going to be my favorite.

TrueGrit

There are several wonderful scenes that have much of the same arcane dialect found in the Coen film. There are also some amazing character actors in the film that should be noticed. Robert Duvall was not a star at this point, and he plays Ned Pepper as an ornery crook without much charm. His defiance of the Marshall at the end leads to that great showdown on horseback that everyone probably knows:
Ned Pepper: What’s your intention? Do you think one on four is a dogfall?
Rooster Cogburn: I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned. Or see you hanged in Fort Smith at Judge Parker’s convenience. Which’ll it be?
Ned Pepper: I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.
Rooster Cogburn: Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!

True Grit (1969)

Jeff Corey was a familiar face playing Tom Chaney, the man that Mattie Ross is pursuing. He was a well known acting teacher in the Hollywood film community. Also present in a small role was the unlikely Dennis Hopper. He spent more than a decade playing small parts on film and television, he even worked with Wayne once before on the “Sons of Katie Elder”.  This film came out the same year he broke out with his directing and starring triumph “Easy Rider”.  Talk about a pair of opposing films. “True Grit” is a western from an old studio and a producer who was legendary since the thirties. “Easy Rider” was a rejection of almost all that was standard in film making and it’s loose narrative, freeform shooting style and heroic drug dealers were the antithesis of just about every convention that this John Wayne picture represents.
It is also fitting to note that once again, Strother Martin appears in a 1969 western. This time he is Col. Stonehill, the horse trading merchant that Mattie Ross trades barbs with as she prepares to follow the two lawmen in pursuit of Tom Chaney.

True Grit (1969)

Mattie Ross: Do you know a Marshal Rooster Cogburn?
Col. G. Stonehill: Most people around here have heard of Rooster Cogburn and some people live to regret it. I would not be surprised to learn that he’s a relative of yours.

Martin completes this triple play of western roles with a third, completely different characterization. He delivers the lines with exactly the tone required to get that Charles Portis dialogue to crackle.
Late in the picture John Fiedler shows up as Lawyer Dagget, a name Mattie has bandied about like a Colt six shooter and he is nothing that anyone would have expected. Looking at IMDB, it seems Wilfred Brimley has an uncredited role in the film as well. One of the great joys in westerns are the supporting performances that help make a story more interesting and realistic. It is not always the Sheriff facing down the bad guy in the last reel that makes the film work. All three of these films have unconventional stories, great supporting performers and completely different voices in describing the western experience. Whether you prefer the gritty violence of “The Wild Bunch”, the romantic nostalgia of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, or the sentimental traditional western take of “True Grit”, it was clear that 1969 was stocked full of western movies that everyone should see.

Richard Kirkham is a lifelong movie enthusiast from Southern California. While embracing all genres of film making, he is especially moved to write about and share his memories of movies from his formative years, the glorious 1970s. His personal blog, featuring current film reviews as well as his Summers of the 1970s movie project, can be found at Kirkham A Movie A Day.

Top Ten List for My Birthday #8

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.

#8   2001: A Space Odyssey

Since the first time I saw this film when I was just ten years old, it has burned brightly in my mind. The fact that I saw this with my family at a young age is surprising, since it is not the kind of film my folks would probably like. My father had a friend who was a projectionist and he worked at many of the big movie palaces in Hollywood back in the 60s. We saw this at the Pantages Theater at my father’s friends invitation, and the precocious kid that I was, thought he understood it.

Viewing the film many more times over the years, I have grown to understand how the film can be processed by the viewer in many different ways. It is speculative history, prescient science fiction, horror film and spiritual journey all wrapped up in an enigma that pleases me each time.

The most overwhelming aspect of the film is it’s visual accomplishments. Stanley Kubrick is considered by many to be the greatest film director ever, but the only Academy Award he ever received was for the visual effects in this movie. That seems appropriate because he set the standard and inspired the visual artists who have followed and everyone working in those fields today owes a debt to this groundbreaking visionary. His story telling style is not for everyone. My wife and daughter often have reservations about his films (my love loathed Clockwork Orange). His pacing and the acting styles often result in an impression of cold detachment, but that is the perfect atmosphere for this movie.

Music and sound have as much to do with the impact this movie will have on audiences as the story itself. Kubrick famously dropped the score he had commissioned for the movie by Alex North, and replaced it with carefully selected source music that today is inseparable from the films visual images. This is not a film that I make an annual event, like many of the other films on this list, but when I do watch it, it is with a degree of focus and attention that I rarely devote to other movies. This is a masterpiece that you can find in the brushstrokes of film directing and Kubrick clear is the master. 

 Previous Posts on 2001

2001 A Space Odyssey  

Top Ten List for My Birthday # 9

 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. 

Previous Posts on Once Upon A Time in the West
Once Upon A Time in the West

Top Ten List for My Birthday #10

 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.

#10  Goldfinger (1964)

There may be bigger James Bond Fans out there than me, but I have yet to meet one in the flesh. Since I was six years old, the idea of 007 has been in my head. The first Bond films I saw were the first four that were made, and that was enough to imprint on me for a lifetime. 

Other Bond films may have more spectacular stunts, or complex plots, or may be speaking to our times in some way that is important, but no 007 film has had the power that Goldfinger has had, both on me and the world we live in. 

The plot of the movie is pretty simple, James Bond must stop a raid on Fort Knox. The process of discovering the plot and meeting the antagonist tales up the first third of the movie, and it introduces us to some of the most iconic elements of all the James Bond Films. The AstonMartin DB 5 is introduced in this film. The dangerous henchman became a trope as a result of Odd Job as seen in this movie. After the famous line where Bond introduces himself, the one quote that most people can recall from a Bond film is Goldfinger’s retort to Bond when asked if he expected 007 to talk, “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”

Shirley Eaton sprawled on the bed in gold paint, Shirley Bassey belting out the theme song and Sean Connery at the apex of his time as 007, complete the significance of this film on my list. It is the Bond film I have seen the most, and I think you will discover that most 007 fans see it as the best of the franchise. Who am I to deny this type of acclaim? Why would I want to? Goldfinger is cinematic perfection. 

Previous Posts on Goldfinger

A Double O Blast from the Past  

007 Double Feature at the Egyptian Theater  

007 Countdown: Goldfinger  

Countdown to Skyfall Part Six  

the little things

Crime procedurals are a dime a dozen on television. In forty minutes we can get a set up, surprise reveals, a fake lead, a new piece of evidence and the case wrapped up with a soul searching song over the titles. So why do we need a movie like this? There are a couple of reasons and they start with the main leads. You have three good actors who can make the story work without feeling as if you are being rushed through things. These three men bring something to the table that you will not get in episodic television.


The main star is Denzel Washington, who adds gravitas just by showing up. Of course Denzel never just shows up, he invests himself in his roles. Here he is playing a pretty conventional character, the world weary detective who is burned out by the years of exposure to the horrors of the world. Writer/director John Lee Hancock adds an ambiguous backstory to layer the morality of Officer Joe Deacon’s mission. On the same track but many years behind, hotshot homicide detective Jimmy Baxter overlooks the warnings he gets from former colleagues of Deacon’s, in order to get a handle on a case that has him stymied.  Rami Malek is all wide-eyed intensity as he starts to see the case from the old timer’s perspective. The third side of the triangle is provided by a suspect, who screams his guilt without ever providing any evidence. The way Jared Leto smirks as Albert Sparma, the suspect who denies killing anyone but acts as if he knows everything about what is happening, make you want to punch the character yourself.


Our story opens with a crime being executed but blocked along the way. That sequence is suspenseful and pulls us in, but in the big picture it has little to do with the main process. It comes up at one point, mainly as another complication for the investigators rather than a piece of the puzzle that will answer their key questions. That sort of thing is the main thrust of the story. Lots of little things point to the involvement of the subject,  but all of them leave the case short of a definitive outcome. The leads are not false, they simply stop short and that is what is driving the two investigators to the edge.

There is a turn, with the last act, that requires a huge suspension of disbelief. Up to that point, there were plenty of standard moments to draw us in, point at guilt, and start to care about the characters and their past and future selves. However, when the plot device shows up, it smacks us in the face to remind us that this is a work of fiction. Characters can be made to do something that any rational person would know is not a good thing. The trap has been set but I did not think that the need of the target had been built up enough to go for the bait that was being offered. If we decide to go along with what occurs, the movie ultimately works at fleshing out the moral struggle of the police officers. If we keep thinking about what happened and we can’t accept it, the whole thing falls apart. I was willing to accept it but it did diminish the film in my eyes and I wish the resolution could have been arrived at without resorting to the theatrics of that last plot deviceAs in all films of this type, the “criminal” is smarter than he would ever be in real life. The politics of the police department are impenetrable. The main detectives are flawed in ways that undermine their position but also makes them good cops.  Once again, my hometown of Los Angeles, provides an atmospheric background for the story, with assists from Kern county, Ventura, and one wordless shot at an Alhambra restaurant, that fills a modern story (one set in 1990) with depression era noir tones.  In the process of baking this, the cake fell and it doesn’t come out as well as it should, it is however still tasty.