Movies I: The best movies I've ever seen
By Richard Zowie
(Note: This will be the first in a column series on movies. They won't necessarily be run consecutively).
I enjoy watching movies. Good movies can entertain, educate, enlighten and surprise me-sometimes all at the same time. When I watch a film, I want to see things done that haven't been done before (or at least not done to death). Films that employ surprising, not-so-pleasant endings are to be commended for avoiding Hollywood's cookie-cutter, send-everyone-home-happy approach.
I also like films that have good script writing, great acting and character development. These traits can make up for the films with little to no special effects. Take the 1982 film Tender Mercies, for example. It was a drama with little humor, little action and nothing that would rate it as an exciting film. But it was also a character study of a washed-up, alcoholic country singer who turns things around and begins a new life in rural Texas.
Ultimately, films I loved are the movies that are so well done that the actors seem as though they could walk out of the silver screen and live their own lies. Currently, my all-time favorite film is Heat, a 1995 crime drama that starred Al Pacino as a detective and Robert De Niro as a professional criminal. The two dislike for each other's profession is rivaled only by the admiration they have for each other.
Heat lasted nearly three hours, but after it was over I found myself wanting the story to continue. I wanted to see what happened next along with wanting to watch how the characters' lives developed before the timeframe within the movie.
Though I often disagree with Roger Ebert's film reviews, the Chicago Sun-Times film critic once said something about movies I absolutely agree with: "No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough." For any good film, the running time of about 90 minutes offers us only a small, tantalizing morsel of a scenario or of a character's life. Great films make me want to know even more about the character.
Here's a listing of movies I've really enjoyed over the years, both as a movie lover and as one who tries to watch with a critical eye:
· Alien (not as much special effects as Star Wars, but still my all-time favorite sci-fi film. It was made in 1979 and it has stood the test of time)
· Aliens (James Cameron is one of those few directors [such as Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott] who can balance out action and special effects with a good story line)
· Zoolander (many "critics" hated it, including one who incredulously thought the abysmal Scary Movie was funny. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are a great comedy duo)
· Office Space (a witty cult comedy classic)
· The Back to the Future trilogy (in order of favorite: Part One, Part Three and Part Two)
· The Shining (this was the only horror film the late Stanley Kubrick made, but the imagery and sound track make it unforgettable. His cinematography and photo composition skills were second to one)
· 2001: A Space Odyssey (a ground-breaking science fiction film in terms of special effects; the scene where Bowman enters into the vacuum of space without his helmet is very memorable)
· Full Metal Jacket (If I had to rate films based solely on their opening and closing scenes, this would be at the very top)
· The Sixth Sense (I didn't see the ending coming in this masterpiece. What's astonishing is that director M. Night Shyamalan isn't even 35 yet. Haley Joel Osment is tomorrow's Tom Hanks)
· Leaving Las Vegas (want to see what untreated alcoholism will do to a person? This movie answers that question)
· Payback (Mel Gibson as a likeable, surprisingly scrupled criminal)
· The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature role)
· The Empire Strikes Back (my favorite Star Wars film)
What do you think? If there are any films on this list you didn't like, let me know. I suspect The Passion of the Christ will be on this list in a few months: I haven't had a chance to see it but plan to do so once it's on video. I'll let you know.
In the next installation, I'll talk about the worst movies I've ever seen.
Richard Zowie is a reporter/columnist for the Times Guardian. He believes, though, that unless the book is based on the screenplay, the book will always be better than the movie. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your phone number if you want your comments published.