Everybody at some point creates a top ten list displaying the people, art, and so on that they favor and prize above all else, be it a list of favorite movies, restaurants, sports teams, musicians, athletes, and endless other options. Hell, some people make a living off of their top ten lists. The Top Ten is an art form unto itself, a carefully crafted collection of things long-reflected upon by the creator to ensure the highest level of veracity and openness, a painstakingly crafted piece of literature made to signify one’s tastes and preferences in their chosen hobby or passion.
Everyone has a top ten in them somewhere. I am no different. What can I say? I’m just a movie buff like every other movie buff.
10: Leon— Commonly known to many as The Professional, Luc Besson’s hitman film in its uncut form expands on the innocent puppy love Natalie Portman’s Matilda feels for Jean Reno’s superhuman killing machine Leon, and turns that into something much more serious, and subsequently much more uncomfortable. It isn’t an easy movie to watch, especially coming from the cut to the uncut version (which was trimmed down in order to be more acceptable to American audiences who would not abide by the Lolita angle); a scene that takes place just before the film’s violent shoot-out ending gets extremely close for comfort, and it is a wonder that both Reno and Portman are able to make the moment feel natural and alive without ever letting it cross boundaries. Following the tale of a young girl who is taken in by a neighboring hitman in the wake of her family’s mass murder at the hands of corrupt DEA officers, Leon is the story of Matilda’s sexual awakening and Leon’s coming of age, all wrapped up with the stylistic touches Besson is known for and paired with impressively filmed and choreographed shoot-outs. (With a delightfully manic Gary Oldman on top.)
9: The Big Lebowski— A movie that’s about nothing. The thing is, it’s hardly about nothing, but at the end of the film, as our hero, The Dude (Jeff Bridges) idly sits in the same bowling alley he’s been rolling in for the whole film, you get the feeling that nothing that has transpired in his life according to the events of the film actually has made an impact on him. The Dude does not learn. The Dude does not change. (Though if he has done both, then he makes a successful attempt at hiding that fact.) Simply put, The Dude abides. The Big Lebowski is a whodunit comedy, almost a neo-noir with laughter, detailing the life and times of The Dude as he strives (sort of) to get his rug replaced after it is soiled by thugs in a case of mistaken identity. And as much as a mystery is solved, and wronged are righted (and more wrongs are committed), there is an undeniable feeling that what is happening almost doesn’t matter to The Dude, who just wants to live his life of bowling and drinking White Russians; the endless parade of double-crossing, twisting and intersecting plots, severed appendages, nihilists, porn producers, pompous wealthy elite, and sex-crazed trophy wives appears to be no more than a mild nuisance, an inconvenience standing in the way of his vices. This perhaps is the ultimate humor of the movie: At the end of a truly remarkable and bizarre turn of events, all The Dude and his friend Walter (John Goodman at his absolute best) can do is go back to their bowling alley. And in a way, perhaps that makes the film slightly nihilistic itself.
8: Ratatouille— My favorite Pixar film, and my favorite film about the art of cooking– edging out Tampopo— but also primarily a great movie about our inner drive to create. Remy, a mere sewer rat (but a pretty adorable one who sounds like Patton Oswalt), can’t really explain why, but all he’s ever wanted to do is be a chef and break free from his rat pack. (No pun intended.) That Ratatouille may present the most sumptuous depictions of the cooking process and of food in general– and also the best representations of the experiences we enjoy when we eat, shown in how characters see colors when they consume combinations of food– seems to be minor in comparison to its celebration of the inexplicable but utterly essential human (and, in the end, animal) need to imagine and to make. As an eater of food and a lover of art, this speaks to me, but where Ratatouille really hits my noodle is in its examination of the value of a creation, however roughshod, versus the value of the critics who deign themselves fit to deconstruct it. As one who writes criticism for fun, this makes the film an absolutely necessary work to mull over and watch and watch again, for ultimately it is just as important to understand why we create as why we critique.
7: THX-1138— George Lucas’ first film, a dystopian vision of the future in which human feeling (including our sexual desire) is suppressed by government-regulated use of emotion controlling drugs, and the populace is policed by faceless cyborgs. This is a cold world devoid of joy or passion, one where humans truly exist as gears in the machine, grinding industry forward for the purpose of keeping that machine going. Things change when the titular character (Robert Duvall) has his prescriptions inactivated by his female roommate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie), when she becomes disillusioned and ceases her own medication; this of course attracts the attention of the world’s police force, and when the two become separated, THX begins a quest to free himself and escape his captors and the world he inhabits. THX-1138 is almost an oddity in Lucas’ oeuvre; it is a bleak vision of a world where thought and emotion are utterly excised in favor of an emphasis on productivity, a stark contrast to the world full of hope and potential that he showed us in Star Wars. In light of this, it is not surprising that it is so often forgotten in discussions of Lucas’ contributions to cinema; traces of the man we would come to know through his epic, space-faring saga six years later show in the film’s climactic chase sequence. To some, this may be a minor film in a grand body of work, but it heavily informs that work, and stands on its own as a chilling and precise example of speculative science fiction.
6: Army of Darkness— Hail to the king, baby. For my money, the best of the Evil Dead franchise though maybe only because it is the most iconic of the group. This is the movie that added “boomstick” and phrases like “gimme some sugar, baby” to the movie geek lexicon and made everyone who wasn’t previously paying attention realize just what a mensch Bruce Campbell really is. And on top of that it’s maybe one of the best party movies I’ve ever added to my collection, the kind of film that even people who aren’t hardcore into the group movie watching concept or the genre concept can easily rally around and enjoy. Most of all, this is for me where Raimi really struck the perfect balance of humor count and fear factor, presenting some truly creepy moments and disturbing, unsettling beats while also finding enough room for time-swapped hero Ash to lecture on the finer points of shotgun construction to a medieval township. Just a perfect movie that never fails to delight every single time.
5: Pan’s Labyrinth— The picture that introduced the universally lovable and undeniably visionary Guillermo del Toro to the mainstream, and maybe his best film to date, Pan’s Labyrinth celebrates fantasy storytelling from within by being a refined, visually poetic, and utterly magical piece of modern-day fantasy itself. Del Toro’s picture is absolutely gorgeous, even in its ugliest moments (of which there are many), aided by an exultation of practical effects over overtly computer-generated imagery; as the film glides along, all of the strange creatures our heroine Ophelia encounters feel completely organic (even those few that were conceived within the hard drive of a computer). But perhaps the film’s greatest success lies in how perfectly it maintains the balance between the dazzling beauty of its fantasy and the harsh, grim darkness of its reality. Ophelia finds herself on an Easter Egg hunt of sorts for the eponymous Satyr amidst the turmoil of moving to a war-torn Spanish mountainside with her mother to live with her brutal and cruel new stepfather Captain Vidal. If the world he envisions– which he is slowly bringing to life– is tinged with despair, Ophelia’s ability to find joy and wonder in her surroundings stands out as a soaring message of hope.
4: F For Fake— Orson Welles’ film about the often-overlooked and extremely important art and skill of editing. F For Fake is an hour and twenty minute magic trick, even when Orson promises he is telling the truth. Even the film’s opening, the infamous girl watching sequence where the beautiful Oja Kodar walks down a crowded street as a hidden camera immortalizes the cat-calling and staring that follows in her wake is a fake; “Oja” is actually Oja’s sister in several shots. Welles weaves a narrative about two fakers, Clifford Irving (who perpetrated a hoax about interviewing Howard Hughes) and Elmyr de Hory (a gifted forger of great works of art), and while we are focused on their own fakery, Welles takes the opportunity to indulge in some of his own. Notably, a sequence that moves back and forth between Irving and Elmyr suggests the two are having a debate on whether or not Elmyr ever signed his forgeries– but the shots of Elmyr were shot at a totally different time than the shots of Irving. As the accepted story goes, cinematographer Francois Reichenbach originally shot the film as a documentary about de Hory and Irving, and the discovery of Irving’s own hoax prompted Orson to shoot more footage with Reichenbach as his cinematographer. And even this may not be the truth. F For Fake is a movie surrounded by a near-impenetrable shield of lies and deceptions, which only serve to drive home the film’s primary assertion that no one can be trusted, most of all the people who claim authority without supporting their assertions with proof. A dense and dizzying movie, and a testament to Orson’s mastery as a filmmaker and his position as a true charlatan.
3: Brazil– Terry Gilliam’s grim vision of a future dominated by bureaucracy, where dreams are not regulated and controlled but rather frowned upon and overpowered by the crushing advance of paperwork and upward mobility, verges on science fiction territory but ultimately end up in the realm of fantasy. Johnathan Pryce’s Sam Lowry daydreams scenarios where he is an archangel soaring above the world without a single care as he flies to meet his imaginary lover; his flights of fancy are inevitably interrupted by the bookish and boorish nature of his reality, and these sequences slowly turn into battles between his imagination and the machinations of the grotesque designs of the bureaucrats that rule the real world. This is a story about the conflict between a person’s dreams and the obstacles they must overcome to attain them; it is simultaneously a story about their defeat and ultimate destruction, as Terry Gilliam is a two-sides-to-every-coin kind of guy. The film’s bleak finale either ends on a note of hope or nihilism; the beauty of that distinction is that it is entirely up to the viewer to decide. If anything, here, imagination triumphs, as the world of Brazil is a brilliantly realized urban maze of bizarre genius, a concrete jungle defined by its seemingly unending circuits of air ducts populated by dueling plastic surgeons and renegade air conditioning repairmen who operate outside the law. Such things could only come from the mind of Gilliam, who is a testament to the positive power of human imagination, though he would likely point out that human imagination is also responsible for the bureaucracy and air ducts of his cinematic world, reminding us that the power of the human mind is a double-edged sword.
2: 8&1/2– One of the greatest movies ever made about the process of creating art, both the tangible requirements of making a movie and (more importantly) the emotional investment a director must make to bring their vision to fruition. It is about the struggles a filmmaker goes through in bringing something that is personal and profound to life. It is also possibly one of the most meta films ever created; Federico Fellini’s film (so called because he had six features under his belt, plus two short films and a film he co-directed with Alberto Lattuada) is auto-biographical, detailing his own experiences with director’s block as well as his memories of the women in his life. The incomparable Marcello Mastroianni plays beleaguered director Guido, and acts as Fellini’s mirror here (as in other Fellini pictures), and the lines of his reality is often blur as he reflects on his past and wrestles with the complications that arise as he attempts to create a large scale motion picture. It is a magnificently reflexive picture, one that interweaves reality with fantasy both in the plot and out; when does the film stop functioning as Fellini’s memoir and start existing as its own story? The question is difficult to answer, and that is part of the film’s charm.
1: Oldboy— My first viewing of Oldboy left me somewhat cold. My expectations were not met, as the high praise from Quentin Tarantino had planted in my mind a vision of this film as being somewhat in the vein of the director’s own macho, action-oriented tales of vengeance and violence. But instead of that blood-soaked cinematic cheeseburger, I was treated to something very different, much more focused on the delivery and progression of plot; something noir-ish, something that recalls the darkest aspects of Greek tragedy (nobody wins, and everybody is miserable). My expectations defeated, I considered the film a disappointment until I decided, upon reading praise-filled review after praise-filled review, that I should give it another chance– and from there I fell under its thrall. Park Chan-wook’s second entry in his vengeance trilogy is perhaps the most robust, making only a minor distinction between hero and villain, revenger and the revenged upon, as low-level businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) searches for the reason behind his unexplained and abrupt 15-year stint in a private prison, engineered by Lee Woo-jin (Yu Ji-tae). The vengeance picture generally features well-defined lines between the victim and the victimizer, forever setting itself apart from its less morally ambiguous comrades-in-genre; with the hardboiled, detective story/noir narrative of the picture (combined with those elements of Oedipus and Elektra), and Park Chan-wook’s lush, rich, and gorgeous color palette, Oldboy becomes a wholly singular cinematic experience. Perhaps of this list it is not the “best” film, but without a doubt it is the film of my time that has impacted the way I think about the cinema the most.
Very interesting list. You seem to have a very different taste in movies to me. I am into big budget Hollywood films, I have to admit I havent even seen any of your top 10 (I have only seen numbers 7, 9 and 10, which are all great films). I love to see others recommendations so this is great.
I get people to send me there top 10 movies and I post them on my blog so people can comment, check them out – http://ultimatereviews.co.uk/?cat=13.
You can send this list in here if you want to recieve comments on your top 10 here – http://ultimatereviews.co.uk/?page_id=474
Mark, thanks a lot for directing me to your site– I appreciate the compliment. Great site, by the way, I’ll be sure to check in on it often.
I’m as much a fan of blockbusters as the next guy, don’t get me wrong, but each of the movies in my top ten represents what I really look for when I watch a movie.
Great number one. It’s also my favourite film ever. Dawn of the Dead’s a good shout too, although I have such a huge soft spot for the re-make, whcih is phenomenal.
My best recommendation for a film to barge into this list would be “The Fall” by Tarsem Singh.
I love the Dawn of the Dead remake, too– it’s a really solid action/horror romp that does just enough to set itself apart from the original. And I LOVE The Fall! Really happy to see others appreciate it, too; it’s a stunning movie, not just for how visually sumptuous it is but for the moving story and performances. I’m not a huge Tarsem fan but The Fall really worked for me.
Apparently I have missed out by not seeing “Oldboy.” Every blogger who has seen it raves about it, tells me I must see it. I’m adding it to my Netflix list.
I’ve seen “Brazil” crop up quite a few times as well.
Oldboy is tough to sit through; it’s beautiful, aesthetically, but it’s also startlingly ugly, almost without warning. It helps to know what to expect from it.
I’d definitely be interested in knowing what you make of it!
I very much like your blog. I was looking through it to find a good spot to comment about it and decided on the Top Ten because I agree with most of them.
I must say I have owned “Brazil” for nearly 4 years and never find an inspired moment to watch it. But the rest of them I also think are some of the best movies out there.
I’m working on my own movie review blog and once I untangle myself from the WordPress manual I would love to add a link to yours on the blogroll if that is ok with you.
Again, Congratulations on a great blog!
Thanks, Mayhem– sorry I didn’t respond, I often lose track of new comments added to this section. Feel free to add me, and thanks again for the positivity! (Have you seen Brazil yet?)
Wow an interesting mix of films; I’ve been thinking about posting my top 10 (or 20 or 50 or 100, depending on brainflow) but am finding it hard. Have not seen F for Fake so can’t say about that, but I love your other choices especially The Big Lebowski. Cool to see some love for Ratatouille I was very pleasently surprised by it; especially Giacchino’s music is absolutely brilliant.
Cool that you took on an approach that isn’t “which films are considered to be the best ever made” but a personal one, how they affected you. I think a lot of people look for film lists to be “this is the most respected and most popular and most well made” instead of a more original take on a top list.
I think a top ten should be more personal than a lot of people are willing to allow. Anybody can rattle off ten great (as in established, classic, iconic) films and call it their top ten, but that just says they’re aware of influential and important movies and have seen them. It says nothing about who the person is as a film lover. Maybe someone could make the case that their top ten really does consist of Citizen Kane, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, The Shawshank Redemption, and other such movies, but frankly? I don’t believe that person.
For me, a top ten is a lot more about the movies that I respond to the most and that inform my perspective as a cineaste the most. Ratatouille isn’t one of the greatest movies ever made, but it’s certainly an excellent movie and one that always elicits a strong reaction from me. I think that’s what a top ten should be made up of. Can’t wait to see what you come up with when you get around to posting your own top ten!
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Let’s find the common ground. I LOVE Pan’s Labrynth, and it’s also in my top ten.
As a fellow film lover, and someone who holds that movie in high regard… do you feel that movie gets its due?
Its like I barely know anyone who’s seen it outside of the people I made watch it. Has to be the subtitles. Right?
I know more than a few people who are put off by subtitles; the complaint against subs seems to be along the lines of, “If I wanted to read, I wouldn’t watch a movie”, a stand that’s completely appalling in its ignorance. I really don’t think Pan’s Labyrinth gets the amount of respect and love it deserves from the masses, but the consolation is that it’s 95% fresh on RT and often viewed as Del Toro’s best.
At least by me. That and The Devil’s Backbone.
Have not seen that, will put it on my radar.
I might accept “It detracts from watching the visuals”, but outside of that, I have no problem with subtitles.
My biggest problem with foreign movies is that there’s too many American ones to watch.
I love the intro! “An art form unto itself.” I couldn’t agree more.
Glad to see someone else thinks the same as me!
well oldboy it’s a pretty good movie
100% absolutely. It’s still my favorite!
thanks for the reviews ! love your posts on tcgplayer too !!! keep up the good reviews !!!
I could be the only one in the LAMB community who actually didn’t like Oldboy. I’m looking forward to F for Fake and Brazil – the latter of which is a Christmas gift I should hopefully be receiving.
Keep up the good work man.
Thanks Duke– I’ll certainly try my best!
At least LAMB’s not the kind of community to make you feel like a social pariah for not liking a particular film. But Oldboy, it should be said, is a really tough pill to swallow, so I can’t fault anyone for not finding it to their taste.
Hope you do like Brazil and F For Fake, though!
It’s not that often you find THX-1138 on a favorites list. Good show, sir. I have to say, while it wouldn’t fall on my all-time fave list, it definitely left a surprising impact.
Digging the blog, hadn’t stumbled over to your neck of the LAMB woods before!
Well, I’m glad you’ve finally made your way over here!
Thanks for the kind words. THX has been a favorite of mine for some time now, the sort of dystopic sci-fi that really fits into my wheelhouse. Happy I could surprise you with that choice.
Brilliant blog. Would completely agree with number 8, one of my films! Love reading your blogs by the way, always looking for some new films to see!
*one of favourite films 😛
Old Boy is one good film that I never wished to see again after the watching it. Great story-telling with a shocking twist – so sick. But it’s something I highly recommend.
Intreasting! I think ‘visually poetic’ is a great description for pans labyrinth. nice to see a top 10 that doesn’t have pulp fiction or fightclub in it!
I’m not a huge fan of Pulp Fiction, and while I like Fight Club it’s not as important to me personally as the other films on here. Glad you liked the list!
Really brilliant list, I adore Pan’s Labyrinth too. I have Oldboy recorded and keep meaning to sit down and watch it; when I was at uni someone told me the ending so it kind of put me off. Very much need to see it though.
Check out Oldboy anyways; too bad you had the ending ruined for you, but it’s a great movie and I think you should still be able to enjoy it nonetheless.
You have a fabulous top ten list here! I’ve seen about half of the movies you listed (and I love them too, though I must say I’m surprised “Army of Darkness” is on it), but your descriptions of the others are so eloquent that I will definitely be checking the others out. Since you liked “Old Boy” so much, I’m wondering if you have ever seen the Korean movie “Thirst”?
I have indeed. It’s really good, but I think it’ll always be between Old Boy and Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance for me when talking about Park’s films.
Army of Darkness! How awesome is that movie! I would’ve thrown in Real Steel and Infernal Affairs (on which The Departed was based) somewhere in there but neat list. I haven’t seen half of these movies, truth be told but it’s very interesting.
The Big Lebowski is a masterpiece. Haven’t caught Oldboy yet, but was also intrigued by all the hype from Quentin Tarantino (my favourite director).
Also, I was kind of bored after the first 30 minutes of Pan’s Labyrinth, but might give that one another try since, like you with Oldboy, read praised interviews left and right for that movie.
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