Yes, I’ve changed the title. The first post, a few weeks ago, was “Ten Plus One”, and now it says “Ten Plus Two”. That’s because I realized there was a film I’d left out of the original list that had to be there. The five films I mentioned previously were:
1. Doctor Zhivago.
2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
3. Star Wars (the original trilogy).
Now, before I continue, I want to reiterate that this is a list of my personal favorites, chosen because they have resonated with me. Perhaps none of these would be on your list, or perhaps your list would include these and more. Let me know; I am always on the lookout for good movies. As I said last time, these are not in order of quality but roughly in the order I encountered them for the first time.
6. Modern Times. This is the oldest film on the list. Hollywood was transitioning to talkies when it was made, and it is Chaplin’s last mostly-silent film. There is very little dialog; it is almost purely visual. That doesn’t matter, because Chaplin was a master of the visual, and never more so than in this picture. As far as I’m concerned this film is his masterpiece. It has everything: social commentary, romance, uproarious comedy, adventure, tragedy, triumph. It even has the melody to one of the greatest songs ever written (by Chaplin himself): “Smile”. He was a one-man show in a sense, as he produced, directed, acted, and wrote the music. But the supporting cast, especially Paulette Goddard, who plays his romantic interest, are superb as well. This film bears watching again and again and again, and every time it is as fresh as the first. I would venture to say it even has relevance to our own modern times, when so many are out of work, disillusioned by the system, and seeking for real values in life.
7. Chaplin. I’m a fan of Richard Attenborough’s work: this film, “Gandhi”, and “Shadowlands” especially. I find this movie immensely intriguing. Chaplin was a genius, of that there was no doubt. He came into film in its infancy, intuitively realized what could be done with it, and had the talent and business acumen to exploit it to great effect. The story of his life is fascinating, to say the least. The directing, supporting actors and actresses, photography, and so on, are all superb, but there is one thing that raises this film to mythic status: Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Chaplin. It is one of the greatest acting triumphs of all time, and he should have won the Oscar for it. As it was, Al Pacino took home the prize for his awesome performance in “Scent of a Woman”. That’s a tough call. Sometimes they should hand out two awards and be done with it. Anyway, awards aside, Robert Downey Jr. owns the character of Chaplin; I don’t think there’s another person on the planet who could have played him so effectively.
8. Flashback. Okay, okay, this is my guilty pleasure. I know this movie doesn’t come up to the brilliance of the others on the list, but I love it anyway. I watch it frequently and always have a great time. As an old ex-hippy myself it touches my heart. When near the end Kiefer Sutherland breaks down and cries as he watches the home movies of his hippy parents it gets me every time. And that psychedelically-painted bus bursting out of the garage to the tune of “Born to be Wild” is a tremendous scene. I like the music too; it’s replete with great songs from the sixties. Whenever I want to just kick back and relax and have a fun cinematic experience, I can always count on “Flashback”.
9. American Beauty. For social drama this one can’t be beat. When I first saw it I was stunned. It is amazing how the characters are built up so brilliantly throughout the film, and then in the end one by one they are exposed for who they really are, shown to have all been covering up, living a lie, deceiving themselves and everyone around them. Except for Lester, that is, played with unerring brilliance by Kevin Spacey, who has broken out of the rut in which he had been entombed, has been making a bid for freedom, and is killed for his trouble. But at least he dies happy, which is more than one can say for those he left behind. And to top it all off, during the end credits one of my favorite Beatles songs, “Because” is played, and it fits it all perfectly.
10. The Lord of the Rings. I include here the trilogy which includes “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Two Towers”, and “The Return of the King”. Each is a brilliant film on its own, but together they comprise one incredibly long film with a continuous story line. I heard about this film years before it was released and anxiously awaited its coming. The books are at the top of my all-time reading list; I have read them over a dozen times. I never intended, nor do I now, to compare the films with the books. They are different experiences. If I had to choose I would take the books, but thank God I don’t have to have one or the other; I can have both. From the first moment of the first film I was in awe, when the haunting music begins and the elvish voice speaks. I would have thought it impossible to do justice to the story on film, which makes Peter Jackson’s achievement remarkable. True, there are some things I would have done differently, deviations from the storyline in the books I would not have made, but the pluses far outweigh the minuses, and overall I have to say that the films are a resounding success.
11. The Last Samurai. I didn’t have much of an idea of what I was in for when I went to see this film, but I was immediately enthralled. It is not only full of visual beauty but of the values of honor and courage and friendship. It is a classic story of a man starting out as the enemy of a culture he does not comprehend, but once within begins to appreciate its value and eventually is willing to fight side-by-side with his former enemies to preserve it. Tom Cruise gives one of his greatest performances; he is completely credible from beginning to end. Though I do not believe in the degree of violence the story espouses, still it inspires me, makes me want to be better, to stand up for what I believe in, to act honorably and courageously myself.
12. The Namesake. Ah, this is a beautiful film. It is based on a novel by the Bengali-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri, and it tells the story of a Bengali couple, after an arranged marriage, who move to the United States and raise a family. It shows the woman’s initial culture shock and homesickness and eventual adjustment; the raising of their children in the new land and the children, as they become teens, absorbing the contemporary American culture and becoming alienated from the customs of their parents; the father’s death and how the family copes with it; and the mother’s eventual return to the land of her birth. The actors who play the parents are famous Indian actors, and they break your heart with their subtle, heartfelt performances. Kal Penn plays their son, caught between two cultures, and he turns in a brilliant performance too. Perhaps it resonates in a special way with me because I lived so long in Bangladesh and in West Bengal in India. I was able to follow most of the Bengali dialog in anticipation of the subtitles, which was fun – but it was not only my past experience in West and East Bengal that caused me to love this film. It is a one-of-a-kind experience, a thing of beauty.
So those are some of my favorite films. What are yours?