Monday, April 25, 2016

100 Must-See Films! -- Sanity

"Sanity" is a very interesting word if you really look at it. It suggests a level of clarity which I rarely witness. Indeed I don’t perceive that the infantile state of human consciousness allows for legitimate sanity, (or perhaps not without a lot of work and good fortune) despite how much the instinctive mind goads us to believe otherwise. I don’t perceive that the human being is a sane creature; not even remotely close. I gather this from the way people talk and how it demonstrates the way they think. I see it in most normal behavior and all that we inflict as a society. And I see my own tenuous dance with sanity, or at least the shadows thereof, when I immerse myself in solitude and penetrate my internal mind to a degree I have only learned to do in the last nine or so years, and which I very easily might never have learned to do without good fortune.

Let us explore the slipperiness of the ever-struggling human mind:

70. Happiness (1998, USA)
Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Camryn Manheim, Dylan Baker, Cynthia Stevenson, Jon Lovitz, Louise Lasser, Ben Gazzara, Molly Shannon, Elizabeth Ashley, Jared Harris

Ten minutes into this film I was glaring at my partner demanding to know how this perverse material had entered our home.

“I don’t know! It was in the comedy section!”

Soon though, I caught on that the comedy was dry and dark and yet, ultimately refreshing. A lot of buried baggage gets dragged up from a lot of deeply developed characters in a way that bears some honesty and responsibility and artfully lights it in a way that we can safely deal with it - unless you bear some specific traumas perhaps? And are prone to the trigger concept?

Todd Solondz is one of the best character-driven movie makers out there and this one is a bold example.

Its themes, while very important and under-represented, caused havoc for the project in terms of marketing and accessibility while the excellent Roger Ebert ranked it the fifth best film of the year, stating, “...the depraved are only seeking what we all seek, but with a lack of ordinary moral vision... In a film that looks into the abyss of human despair, there is the horrifying suggestion that these characters may not be grotesque exceptions, but may in fact be part of the mainstream of humanity....It is not a film for most people. It is certainly for adults only. But it shows Todd Solondz as a filmmaker who deserves attention, who hears the unhappiness in the air and seeks its sources."

Writer/Director: Todd Solondz (Storytelling)
Budget: $3,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.8

71. Heavy (1995, USA)
Pruitt Taylor Vince, Liv Tyler, Deborah Harry, Shelley WInters

And here’s another low-budget masterpiece of singular vision which delves deep into the human psyche with startling realism and which again, will probably, tragically, be hard to find:

The deceptively simple tableau concerns a diner where ordinary people work. The magic of the film reveals there is nothing ordinary about ordinary.

Says Kevin Thomas of the L.A. Times: "…a small, quiet miracle of a movie in which tenderness, compassion and insight combine to create a tension that yields a quality of perception that's almost painful to experience." Well said. This patient, integral film bled buckets of empathy out of me.

Ebert called it “extraordinary.”

Writer/Director: James Mangold (Walk the Line)
Budget: unknown (independent)
IMDB rating: 7.0

72. Black Swan (2010, USA)
Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Benjamin MIllepied, Vincent Cassel

Watching this film was like handling dynamite. It’s a spring-loaded cerebral thriller.

To capture and maintain the penultimate role: the Swan Queen of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, is life or death to a young ballet dancer, and what she experiences is… compelling to say the least. The layers of duality richly explored here: black swan versus white swan; instinct versus consciousness; person versus artist, and in a strange particular light: primary dancer versus understudy, make for an almost psychedelic viewer experience.

I suppose that officially, this was awkwardly crammed into the horror movie genre but I don’t personally see it that way, and if you bear any allergy to the horror genre, I suggest it should not apply here.

Portman won Best Actress Oscar; one of five nominations for the film.

Writers: Mark Heyman (the Skeleton Twins), Andres Heinz (Love Written in Blood)
Director: Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream)
Budget: $13,000,000
IMDB rating: 8.0

73. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005, USA)
Documentary by Jeff Feuerzeig starring Daniel Johnston

I believe this is honestly the most fascinating and deeply moving true story in the history of music. There is no doubt at all that Daniel Johnston’s story is thrillingly unique.

What would cause a major record label to enter a mental institution and offer a patient the most generous, forgiving, open-ended multi-album recording contract in the history of lawyers? I will surrender no spoilers. You’ve got to see this to believe it.

The film takes us deep into the realms of mental illness, of the beast called fame, and of the critical value of music and the arts well beyond the commercial.

Johnston came into this world with every deck stacked against him and in a rigid society driven by contrived false-drama-building structures, he cut straight through the whole mess, and leaving his own messes in the wake, granted, he forged a life of legitimate adventure and almost inexplicable success. Stunning, truthful, painful and beautiful.

A lot of people are understandably at a loss; who can’t understand why other people regard Johnston as a genius. Of course, genius is a totally subjective word, but I am immovably one of those other people.

Writer/Director: Jeff Feuerzeig (Half Japanese: The Man That Would Be King)
Budget: unknown
IMDB rating: 8.0

Short List:
Bill (1981, USA) Mickey Rooney, Dennis Quaid
Of Mice and Men (1992, USA) John Malkovich, Gary Sinise
I Melt With You (2011, USA) Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe

Friday, April 22, 2016

100 Must-See Films! -- Road Trip!

Okay, I’m two days behind but determined to catch up by Sunday! I’ll be trying to keep it short.

I love road trip stories. Such an excellent tool for throwing characters into whatever environment they require along their journey, that they might learn something about the world, and more significantly, about themselves. Here we catch heroes at pivotal moments of their own lives; their greater journeys, with the opportunity to grow.

66. Sideways (2004, USA/Hungary)
Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh

Everyone raves about this best-pal California wine tour movie and it can be hard to know why. It seems like such a simple affair. But there is something really magical in a subtle, witty, down-to-earth  comedy that is really genuinely funny while remaining genuine in every other way. It reflects our most common dealings with friendships and intimate relationships in a way that is penetrating but ultimately a celebration. Sandra Oh is gorgeous with a spot-on performance and Paul Giamatti is dynamite as the struggling everyman with fears and insecurities we have all known too well.

Very special and re-watchable. Deliciously funny and the perfect movie to watch with five friends and twelve bottles of wine. Yes, if you’d like to know how to host an Official Interactive Sideways Night at your own home, I am the original architect! just shoot me a message, and plan on a lot of sleeping bags!

Dozens of accolades include nominations for five Oscars including best picture. It won for best adapted screenplay. Ebert called it “the best human comedy of the year.”

Writers: Rex Pickett (the novel), Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor (Jurassic Park III) 
Director: Alexander Payne (About Schmidt)
Budget: $12,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.6

67. As Good as it Gets (1997, USA)
Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr.

Master actor Jack Nicholson was born to portray every possible variety of off-balanced character. This role required a softer touch than usual and Nicholson responds with subtlety, taking the Oscar for lead male. Hunt took the counterpart Oscar and Kinnear’s supporting role was one of five additional nominations for the film. Hunt and Nicholson also won the matching Screen Actors Guild awards which I personally consider of more integrity and substance than the Acadamy Awards.

Of course these performances could not have reached this apex without the sensitive writing and brilliant arsenal of laugh-out-loud one-liners provided by writer Mark Andrus.

Struggle, redemption and an excellent lesson in the joy that can be had while living within our limitations. Sweet, endearing and damn funny!

Writer: Mark Andrus (Life as a House)
Director: James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment)
Budget: $50,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.7

68. Goonies (1985, USA)
Sean Astin, Jeff Cohen, Josh Brolin, Martha Plimpton, Kerri Green, Corey Feldman, Jonathan Ke Quan

I’m not sure any actual roads appeared in this movie but it strikes me as having that sort of adventurous plot structure.

The magic here is in the style which is one that mesmerises me: from the film’s beginning to end it is a frenetic  jumble of conversation which miraculously pours out smoothly. It’s like every character is lit up and  naturally bursting out without queues and yet somehow not tripping over one other. It appears as meticulously aligned, inexplicably genius acting across a wide group of actors, yet how could such a jackpot occur? And among children no less! This is so rare to see and I can only assume the genius lies in the script (adapted by Chris Columbus from a Spielberg story) and in some brilliant director’s process which I cannot imagine! and still requiring a set of actors all running at top form. Even though it is supposedly just a kids movie, I am in awe of that accomplishment.

Pure magic for the kid in all of us!  

A sometimes-possible-sometimes-probable sequel exploration has been bantered about for what seems like forever. Astin has been quoted saying, “It’s definitely going to happen!” but I really have my doubts. Too much time has passed which only snowballs the difficulties, and I doubt it would garner a budget suitable to such aspirations as would naturally arise out of the surprise success of the original.

Perhaps some magic is just not meant to be worn thin.  

Writers: Steven Spielberg (Poltergeist), Chris Columbus (Gremlins)
Director: Richard Donner (The Omen)
Budget: $19,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.8

69. Rain Man (1988, USA)
Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino

I can think of no better performances in the careers of either of these actors: Here Cruise and Hoffman portray such warmth and pain and persistence in this conflict of priorities. It is a testament to the power of love and the gravitational pull of family; a finally crafted emotional ride on the path of self-discovery, intentional or accidental. Hoffman and the film ran rampant over the Oscars and two dozen other award enterprises.

Always a special experience to watch this every five years or so. Kleenex alert!

Writers: Barry Morrow (Bill), Ronald Bass (Snow Falling on Cedars)
Director: Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam)
Budget: $25,000,000
IMDB rating: 8.0

Short List
The Hangover (2009, USA/Germany ) Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha

100 Must-See Films! – Queens?

Let me be perfectly clear: I am dreadfully tentative and apologetic for using the term Queens as a substanceless introduction to today’s theme. It is really a challenge to divide a compulsory body of material into twenty-six chapters with a heading for each, in perfect adherence to the alphabet. Of the two transcendent  films below and four honourable mentions, only the two primary casts might embrace the term queen. To the others: Please please forgive! The only consistent theme here is transgenderism of which there are many distinct types. But “T” was critically required for another chapter!

New Day Rising

64. The Birdcage (1996, USA)
Robin Wiliams, Nathan Lane, Dan Futterman, Calista Flockhart, Dianne Wiest, Gene Hackman

This is my favorite straight-up comedy film not made by Monty Python. And it’s almost enough of a slapstick farce to qualify for Python except just grounded enough to stay plausible while also kind of sweet! Personally I find this American remake of the 1978 film La Cage aux Folles (itself adapted from the stage) much improved; about one hundred times funnier. It’s clear that director Nichols was wise to know when to turn Williams loose and when to reign him in!

Nathan Lane in the supporting role created one of the most memorable characters ever. His every moment on screen was a delight. Hank Azaria and Dianne Wiest also knocked their roles out of the park. And of course the late Robin Williams was never less than brilliant.

The film was uniformly praised by mainstream critics and gay organizations. I’ve probably seen it close to ten times and still howl out loud with great frequency. Wonderful stuff.

Writers: Jean Poiret (La Cage aux Folles), Francis Veber (Dinner for Schmucks), Elaine May (Primary Colors)
Director: Mike Nichols (The Graduate)
Budget: $31,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.0

65. The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994 Australia)
Hugo Weaving, Terrence Stamp, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter, Sarah Chadwick

How does Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Lord of the Rings) manage to find his way into three of the most special film enterprises ever; three of the closest to my heart; all of them high on this April list, plus a few more flicks that almost made it onto the list? He’s a magnet for genius!

This is a huge movie: authentic adventure, layers of tensions, reams of falling-down laughter, wrenching emotions, courageous insight, a surprisingly touching story-line and some of the most invigorating music ever! It was a landmark accomplishment for the Australian film industry and gets name-checked among the favorite movies ever among more of my friends than I can count. And it took the Oscar for costume design.

Writer/Director: Stephen Elliott (Easy Virtue)
Budget: $2,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.5

Short List:
All Men are Liars (1995, Australia) Toni Pearen, David Price, John Jarratt
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985, Brazil/USA) William Hurt, Raul Julia, Sonia Braga
Tootsie (1982, USA) Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Bill Murray
Transamerica (2005, USA) Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

100 Must-See Films! -- Politics

Yikes! I’m running a day behind! In the interest of time I shall decline an introduction to today’s topic other than the following warning: If you are a devout Republican and like yourself that way, you may not wish to read any further! You will find no sand below in which to bury your head.

59. Thirteen Days (2000, USA)
Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp, Dylan Baker, Shawn Driscoll

This is a hugely engaging dramatization of the Cuban Missile Crisis based on book The Kennedy Tapes (1997) by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow, and, to clarify, not on the book Thirteen Days by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (played here by Culp), which spawned a previous Missile Crisis docudrama called The Missiles of October (1974) which lacked the benefit of declassification of materials over the intervening decades.

Forgivable liberties are apparently taken in order to give Costner’s character (O’Donnell) key access so that he may serve as narrator in essence. While potentially awkward, I think it works well to provide the viewer with an edge-of-the-seat vantage to one of the most frightening and potentially impactful events in human history including a very privileged look into the troubling inner politics of politics and then the added human perspective via the Costner character’s somewhat Cleaverish family.

Excellent performance by Greenwood as JFK. Intensely suspenseful and highly re-watchable. 

Writers: David Self (Road to Perdition), Ernest R. May
Director: Roger Donaldson (The Recruit)
Budget: $80,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.3

60. Fair Game (2010, USA/UAE)
Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sonya Davidson

This is the theatrical version of the well-documented story of CIA agent Valerie Plame whose life was nearly forfeited, intentionally so, along with many of her associates in the field, when the Bush government leaked her identity out of spite when her husband outed Bush’s treachery in the New York Times with regards to the Iraq oil invasion and the twisted fairy tale of weapons of mass destruction which we should all know by now were never remotely possible.

The tone is perhaps a bit light given the outrageousness and maliciousness of the conspiracy for which none of Bush’s creepy pals ever suffered a shred of judicial accountability. Another heap of evidence on the mountain of it which damns the white house for its increasingly untouchable deviousness, elite-serving agenda and their devout enmity with the American public who suffers their tyranny under the threadbare guise of public service.

Writer: Jez Butterworth (Spectre), John-Henry Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow)
Director: Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity)
Budget: $22,000,000
IMDB rating: 6.8

61. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006, USA/UK)
Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian

Master troll Sacha Baron Cohen endeavors to take a page from documentarian Michael Moore’s playbook, offering interviewees the chance to hang themselves with their own words, but not through Moore’s ambiguous approach but rather through deliberate masquerade, creating utterly ridiculous scenes which are falling-down hilarious and absurdly incriminating in terms of the barely-veiled tribal insanities and narcissism present in some of the American victims he targets. That said, it is rarely clear in each case, to what degree these subjects are being authentically outed or to what degree they are playing along.

This project was an all-out comedic riot the first viewing and still wildly funny on subsequent views but increasingly disturbing. 

Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen and Anthony Hines (Bruno)
Director: Larry Charles (The Dictator)
Budget: $18,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.3

62. The Corporation (2003, Canada)

Is the insipid and illegitimate nature of the corporation construct now common knowledge in today’s society, and thus it is for some blend of fear, paralysis and guilt that we allow it to go on existing, to our terminal detriment? Or is this only a perception within specific social circles including my own? Back in 2003 I was still relatively clueless about many things and this film was a startling wake-up call.

This is a valuable tool in terms of understanding both the genesis of the corporation structure and its all-pervasive role in defining our society, and makes a good start in terms of its troubling implications for the future.

This is a deep, highly-regarded documentary, nominated for dozens of awards internationally and featuring eminent scholar Noam Chomsky whose every word always compels. It piles a lot of information into a small space. Highly re-watchable.

Writers: Joel Bakan, Harold Cooke (Surviving Progress), Mark Achbar
Directors: Mark Achbar (Manufacturing Consent), Jennifer Abbott (A Cow at My Table)
Budget: unknown
IMDB rating: 8.2

63. Farenheit 911 (2004, USA)
Documentary by Michael Moore

Here’s a documentary film, undisguisedly opinionated but factual, concerning the Bush administration; apparently one of the singular horrors of the modern age, largely examined in the context of the 9-11 attacks and the subsequent, very lucrative “War on Terror” enterprise. Perversely entertaining, darkly funny and even heart-wrenching at times.

It was the most commercially successful documentary of the decade if not all-time, receiving the longest standing ovation in memory at the Cannes Film Festival where it took home the coveted Palme d’Or. And precisely as Moore predicted, corporate American news, where freedom of speech routinely means freedom of ignorance, jumped all over that, claiming, “What do you expect from the French?” despite the panel of nine containing one single French juror and four Americans! Yeah. Business as usual. 

Writer/Director: Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine)
Budget: $6,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.5

Short List:
Food Inc. (2008, USA) documentary with Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998, USA) Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Tobey Maguire
Not Without My Daughter (1991, USA) Sally Field
The Pelican Brief (1993, USA) Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington
If a Tree Falls: The Story of the E.L.F. (2011, USA/UK) documentary with Daniel McGowan
Fast Food Nation (2006, UK/USA) Greg Kinnear, Bruce Willis

Monday, April 18, 2016

100 Must-See Films! -- Odyssey

“Getting there is half the fun!” That was the very famous slogan of Cunard cruise line of England/America; a subsidiary of Carnival.

Of course journeys are not always fun and games. After all, Cunard is a descendant of White Star Line, famous for one ship in particular whereon getting there was most certainly the only fun, and temporarily so, because it never did get there. Thanks to a certain pesky iceberg...

55. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001, New Zealand/USA)
Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Christoper Lee

I can’t possible speak objectively about this film and its two sequels (which are technically not sequels just as LOTR is literally not a trilogy). This is one single story separated into six books, traditionally published in pairs. I’ve adored this work of Tolkien above all else, since the dawn of adolescence and the movies, well worth the twenty-year wait,  literally blew my mind.

The dedication, investment and sacrifice by all of its major stakeholders, from investors to the writers, director, cast, crew and myriad of technicians and designers, were possibly unparalleled, as were their unbending loyalty to Tolkien himself.

The film was a technical masterpiece, a serious achievement in adaptation and there were no complaints about the acting that I know of!

And it ran over the Acadamy Awards field like a herd of Oliphants.

Writers: J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit), Fran Walsh (Heavenly Creatures), Philippa Boyens (The Lovely Bones)
Director: Peter Jackson (King Kong)
Budget: $93,000,000
IMDB rating: 8.8

56. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, UK)
Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin

And… this is the film which the Lord of the Rings filmmakers had to be very careful to not resemble! Dwarves and hobbits and such, on the big screen, are never more than two baby steps away from unintentional comedy.

The comedy here though, is very intentional, very ridiculous and falling-down funny. This is the Monty Python gang at their very best. I’ve watched this film more times than I can count. I’ve also listened to the audio, verbally acted out the script with friends, adapted it in its entirety in prose form (when I was in grade school; it was confiscated by a pal’s bitch of a mother!)

But of course I recognize that not everyone finds the Python humour the funniest damn thing ever. Some people are just fundamentally broken!

Writers: Graham Chapman (The Meaning of Life), John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda), Eric Idle (Splitting Heirs), Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Terry Jones (Labyrinth), Michael Palin (The Missionary)
Directors: Terry Gilliam (Brazil), Terry Jones (Life of Brian)
Budget: £229,575
IMDB rating: 8.3

57. Time Bandits (1981, UK)
Craig Warnock, David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Malcolm Dixon, Mike Edmonds, Jack Purvis, Tiny Ross, Sean Connery, Shelly Duvall, John Cleese

Terry Gilliam (Jabberwocky, Brazil, Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Brothers Grimm, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Zero Theorum) must surely be the master of imaginative fantasy adventure films of every possible setting: classical, contemporary and future. I call this one, crafted with fellow Monty Python alumnus Michael Palin, his best, certainly for kids (of all ages).

It’s a non-stop romp through the ages, brimming with weird characters, close encounters, misadventure, bickering, humour and general chaos. The six dwarven bandits are almost certainly avatars of the Monty Python gang themselves.

Enormous fun.

Writers: Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam
Director: Terry Gilliam
Budget: $5,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.0

58.  2001 A Space Odyssey (1968, USA/UK)
Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester

The most startling and captivating opening to a film I’ve ever witnessed. The subtlety of sparse dialogue. The operatic dance of spacecraft. The constant peculiarity of unfamiliar images. Such prescient oddities as computer tablets and skyping - in 1968 no less. The haunting ambiguity, most severe in the sinister black monolith.

This has got to be the opus of Kubrick’s legacy of theatrical visual masterpieces. It’s so full of mind-bending clues and wide applicability that people can read a wide range of messages in it. Myself, always fascinated by the gap between instinct and consciousness and the ubiquity of its illusions, I see the monolith as the advent of self-awareness or in essence, the illusion of consciousness. It has been suggested that the object’s aspect ratio matches that of a movie screen which I presume possibly consistent with that theory, but which also supports the most obvious explanation; that the monolith is a sort of von Neumann probe; an extra-terrestrial monitoring device, since both the film and the Arthur C. Clarke novel share obvious roots in Clarke’s 1948 short story The Sentinel.

But I’d be very interested to hear other ideas!

The film took many awards and nominations and appears on a plethora of Best Films/Top Films lists of major periodicals. Even the Vatican named it in their Best 45 Movies Ever Made and Top Ten Art Movies.

Writers: Arthur C. Clarke (2010), Stanley Kubrick
Director: Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket)
Budget: $10,500,000
IMDB rating: 8.3

Short List:
2010 (1984, USA) Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren

Saturday, April 16, 2016

100 Must-See Films! -- Nazis

"One of the struggles of art, in dealing with the holocaust is that the reality exceeds the capacity of the imagination. Had it not really happened, no novelist, writer, thinker could have ever touched this experience without somehow exceeding any bounds of the capacity for art."—Alan J. Pakula, Director

51. Valkyrie (2008, USA/Germany)
Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Carice van Houten, Terence Stamp, Christian Berkel, Kenneth Branagh, Kevin McNally

This captivating film of historical intentions celebrates the story of hero Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and his high-ranking co-conspirators in their hugely perilous, selfless and sacrificial attempt to bring down the most diabolical monster in modern (if not all of) history. Political and financial barriers hampered the effort to produce this film as did Germany’s heightened mistrust of star Tom Cruise’s religious ties. Nevertheless, privileged filming locations were achieved and the quality of this film, and certainly Cruise’s performance, emerged top-notch in every aspect.

It’s a thrilling, tense, suspenseful ride, in some ways despite, and in some ways, because of, our foreknowledge of how it didn’t all work out.

It’s a comfort to be reminded that there were plenty of German good guys in all of that tragedy; including some of mankind’s bravest heroes.

Writers: Nathan Alexander, Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) 
Director: Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects)
Budget: $75,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.1

52. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Spain/Mexico/USA)
Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López

A young girl must navigate the creepy unnatural circumstances at a remote mill-come-military outpost in Nazi-occupied Spain in addition to the landscape of a creepy unnatural fantasy world. A sinister presence pervades. Danger lurks at every turn. Where will she find safety? This film drags you into her harrowing journey with deep-chilling button-pushing intimacy. I only saw this intense, visually enchanting film once; nine years ago, but I will never ever forget it.

“Beautiful and exhilarating;” says Ebert, “a fairy tale for grownups.”

Writer/Director: Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim)
Budget: €13,500,000
IMDB rating: 8.2

53. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, USA)
Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman

Here the Nazis are little more than caricatures, as perhaps the whole cast is. I consider this one of the earliest and most influential flicks that turned the B-film tradition into a mainstream big-budget industry. Did a sinking sophistication of the average movie-goer demand this innovation or did the innovation drive the evolution of mind?

Most unfortunately, the multi-film Indiana Jones enterprise then went on to embrace the celebration of civilization-wide ADHD, dumping loads of subtlety faster than a Boston Tea Party in order to craft a succession of 2-hour action scenes where the climaxes are indistinguishable from any other stage of the so-called-story; the hallmark of the shallow frenetic modern action movies which now clog theatres with lemmings but which put me to sleep.   

Raiders remains magic for sheer fun and for occupying that historical sweet-spot!

Writer: George Lucas (American Graffiti), Lawrence Kasden (The Big Chill), Phil Kaufman (The Right Stuff)
Director: Steven Spielberg (Jaws)
Budget: $18,000,000
IMDB rating: 8.5

54. Sophie’s Choice (1982, UK/USA)
Meryl Streep, Peter MacNicol, Kevin Kline

Sweet, unsettling and finally harrowing. This lead role, among all roles conceived, must be among the most challenging ever to portray. This character has baggage coming out her ying-yang. But along comes Meryl Streep who delivers the most moving and convincing performance I have ever personally acknowledged. Stunning and unforgettable.

The film’s title is a double-blind pit trap. The obvious choice in terms of present circumstance pales in comparison to the real choice, an existential one. But finally revealed is the choice from the past; that which lies at the root of everything; that which can never be recovered from; that which is distressing to ponder: that any human could have imagined it.

Writers: Alan J. Pakula (The Pelican Brief), William Styron (Shadrach)
Director: Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men)
Budget: $12,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.7

Short List:
Fateless (2005, Hungary/Germany/UK/Israel/France) Marcell Nagy, Béla Dóra, Bálint Péntek
Lore (2012, Germany/Australia/UK) Saskia Rosendahl, Kai-Peter Malina, Nele Trebs
Island on Bird Street (1997, Denmark/Germany/UK/France) Patrick Bergon, Jordan Kiziuk, Jack Warden