Sunday, December 2, 2012

TOP 20: #502 - #601

I think, by now, we all know the basic drill for these TOP 20 lists. I present to you a list of the twenty best films I saw from the last 100 movies I watched (plus ten honorable mentions). This last one hundred films was, perhaps, the worst set of one hundred yet, but that won't stop me from presenting a pretty kick-ass TOP 20 list to you today. Before I get into it, I just want to give a little detail about my process, when making a TOP 20 list.

When I make a TOP 20 list, I sit down with a list of all one hundred films. From there, I begin eliminating films, one by one. When I've eliminated about fifty contenders, I then start to think about what definitely must be included and make a list, of to the side, on a separate piece of paper. Usually the first ten movies I write down on the "must include" list, are the TOP 10...usually. After I have twenty films listed on the "must include" list, I have my TOP 20...albeit out of order. Then I go back to my original list and start to think about the ten honorable mentions. From there, I eliminate movies until I have only ten remaining and those ten are my "ten worth mentioning". All that's left to do at that point is put the TOP 20 in order and voila, my TOP 20 list is made.

So for anyone new or anyone who didn't already know, that's my grand process for compiling one of these things. I really try to put a lot of thought and effort into getting it just right and it usually takes the better part of an hour before the list is just right. A lot of times my ratings do end up changing when I put a TOP 20 list together too, because I'm looking at the grand picture, with a lot more perspective. This time around I'll just be presenting the list, including excerpts from my original reviews - no extra added comments. Anyway, enough jibber-jabber, let's get down to business.


Note: I've revised some of the ratings for the following 20 films, as some of them needed a bit of tweaking.

20. Secrets & Lies (1996) dir. Mike Leigh 8/10
I think the film says that EVERY family has their secrets and lies and that sometimes they come out and sometimes they're kept behind sealed lips, never to be mentioned. But the real focus here isn't necessarily on the secrets and lies, but rather the characters, their interactions and their personalities. Mike Leigh gives us characters that we can easily become interested in and always leaves us with one or two questions, just to keep our umbilical chord to the screen intact. The acting is as top notch as you'll find and could be held up against any one of the other 1000 movies in THE BOOK.

19. Brazil (1985) dir. Terry Gilliam 8/10
But why did I really like "Brazil"? Because it is simply a near perfect mixture of so many genres and elements. You've got sci-fi, of course, but you've also got a lot of comedy. The comedy never dominates the sci-fi element and vice versa, but instead they blend kind of perfectly. You've also got elements of film-noir (certain government officials in fedora's, lurking in the shadows), you've got plenty of fantasy (the beautiful dream sequences with Sam and Jill) and plenty of action and mystery. If you tie all that up with a twist ending, then you've got the recipe for a great movie.

18. Fatal Attraction (1987) dir. Adrian Lyne 8/10
I still think this film has that feeling of a little hole in the wall thriller, that you stumble across in the back corner of your local Mom & Pop video store (when those still existed). The film is slow to start and actually as I was watching it I started to think of why this film was so appealing to me, when I bought it on DVD many years ago. On the surface, the entire film hinges on this affair between Dan and Alex and the consequences that follow and really doesn't sound like it would be able to fill out a two hour length. However, Lyne knows what he's doing and is able to add moments of suspense, sometimes with the smallest of details, like a ringing phone and the look on Dan's face when he comes to the realization that it could be and probably is Alex. It didn't take long for the film to swallow me back up into it's world, get me on the edge of my seat and leave me with the feeling that I was watching this film again for the first time.

17. Murmur of the Heart (1971) dir. Louis Malle 8/10
It is quite obvious from the beginning of this film that Laurent has feelings for his mother and not just the normal feelings that a son has for his mom. So why wasn't I disgusted by the act of love that is committed between Laurent and his mother? Well, the film is executed so well that it literally plays with your emotions and the act is hinted to so heavily throughout the film that when it finally happens, you aren't THAT surprised by it. It's actually quite the beautiful scene, one that will stand out among millions of other scenes that THE BOOK has introduced me to.

16. Dawn of the Dead (1978) dir. George A. Romero 8/10
No one can deny that Romero found his niche when he ventured into the world of undead cinema. It's also interesting to note that I never look at Romero's zombie movies as horror films. Even when I saw this film as a kid, I didn't walk away frightened. Instead, I view them as survival films that just happen to feature intense scenes of gore. The movies, for me, aren't really about zombies, but rather about shit going down and a group of people banding together to survive. This movie is a REALLY easy one to like and even people who aren't really into horror movies should still be able to find something to enjoy here. I mean, come on, who doesn't dream about running rampant through a shopping mall and hunting zombies?

15. Paris, Texas (1984) dir. Wim Wenders 8/10
The film is a fine film, one that could easily be picked apart and contemplated over or one that you could just leave alone and take for what it is: a simple story about a man trying to reconcile and come to terms with his past, reconnecting with his estranged family. I kind of wish they had left the character of Travis a little more mute throughout the film, so that when he finally delivers his grand finale speech, we're hearing him talk for the first time. Not totally mute, just thinning out his dialogue a bit more than it was. The big speech at the end, when Travis finally tells what happened to him is pretty great stuff and a credit to Dean Stanton.

14. The Decline of the American Empire (1986) dir. Denys Arcand 8.5/10
I had a really good time with this one, I was drawn to the script, to the characters (despite their unlikeable characteristics) and the barely there plot. The film also reminded me, very much, of "The Big Chill" except with a lot more talking, a lot less plot and more devious characters. The other interesting facet about this movie is the title and how it relates to the characters. The characters, throughout the film, tend to discuss the decline of the North American society. The ironic thing is that these characters are actually perfect representations of that decline, the fact that people like this exist in our society and how despicable of human beings some of them actually are.

13. The Killer (1989) dir. John Woo 8.5/10
This movie was like eating a big piece of chocolate cake in the midst of a diet. It was indulgent! I'm not going to be able to say enough good things about this movie, so I better start now so I don't risk writing too much. From the word "go", John Woo doesn't let his foot off the accelerator, handing us action packed scene after action packed scene, not to mention some pretty kick ass cinematography. The greatness of the photography actually really surprised me because to look at the film, it really looks low budget and maybe it is. However, Woo and his cameraman got dozens of memorable shots (not gunshots, although there are plenty of those too) on their seemingly shoestring budget. Honestly, this kind of thing usually isn't my cup of tea. Hollywood produces mass amounts of high body count movies each year and I've never gotten into that sort of thing. However, if well made, I can literally go for ANYTHING and this is an straight up, very well made action movie.

12. A Clockwork Orange (1971) dir. Stanley Kubrick 9/10
Honestly, after re-reading that plot synopsis, I don't do this film justice in the slightest. "A Clockwork Orange" is a film that cannot be told about, but rather, one that must be experienced. There's a plot and apparently it's a satire, but the thing that really strikes me when I watch "A Clockwork Orange" is not the story or the social commentaries, but rather, the colors, the numbness of the characters and the hint of a frightening aura. Much like the sun, "A Clockwork Orange" is so bright and rich with color, that staring at in excess might just cause damage to your retina's. It's such a bright picture that you can't help but take notice when the reels are rolling and your attention cannot help but be drawn to the screen. Then there's the characters and their complete lack of emotion, devoid of human qualities, as if they're aliens on another planet. There isn't one character in the entire film that you want to know better and in fact, the entire cast is a of characters are miscreants. In saying that, there's also just a hint of horrific tones in the film - seeing the droogs, their shadows stretching across the pavement, preying over an old man, much like a pack of lions prey over a wildebeest or watching Alex's eyes pried open with lid locks as he's forced to watch films of a particularly violent nature. Those are the three elements of this film that really made it unique to me, that and the fact that Stanley Kubrick had a vision, a vision that only a mastermind could reflect onto the screen. It took a special director to create the images and colors and the sometimes skin crawling feelings that the film forces upon it's viewers and after watching this, it's hard to deny the talents of Kubrick.

11. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) dir. Jonathan Demme 9/10
The haunting thing about "The Silence of the Lambs" is that it's about men - evil men. The film takes about ten - eleven minutes before it introduces us to Hannibal Lecter. In that ten - eleven minutes, it spends about four or five detailing what a monster he is and building him up as the villain to end all villains. In fact, they build better than any film has ever built up any monster or villain. And when we finally see him, do you know what we see? A man. Just a man. THAT'S why this film is so scary, because it doesn't present us with supernatural beings or any of the things I mentioned above; it presents us with men that COULD, HAVE and probably do exist.

10. Terms of Endearment (1983) dir. James L. Brooks 9/10
I'm not one who cries that much at movies anymore. Sometimes it even bothers me that I can't be bothered to shed a tear, even under the most tragic of cinematic circumstances. Sometimes, I've encountered moments on film where I just wanted to stick myself with a pin, so that I'd cry for the characters that deserved to be cried for, but for whom my eyes just wouldn't well up. I've often wondered if I'm capable of crying during movies anymore and last night, "Terms of Endearment" answered my question.

09. The Vanishing (1988) dir. George Sluizer 9/10
It's always fun, for me anyway, to watch remakes (whether you see the original or the remake first) and see where the two versions differ and the varying approaches taken by each filming. In this case, both renditions were directed by George Sluizer and it's obvious that he got it right the first time. What can I say, I'm a sucker for a sad ending and it doesn't get much more bleak than the ending to Sluizer's original "The Vanishing". In fact, there's not a lot to dislike here, as the film is easy to follow, exciting, gripping, interesting and intriguing and packs quite the punch, be it for movie snobs or casual movie goers. The leads are magnificently cast, especially Donnadieu who stole the show and almost had me rooting for him.

08. The Wicker Man (1973) dir. Robin Hardy 9/10
It surprised me to see how odd this film was and realize that Hollywood actually attempted to remake this one, starring Nicolas Cage. I'd actually like to see that version, just to witness the inevitable car crash that it must be. This will not be an easy film to forget. Certain scenes were more shocking than scary - naked women crying and having orgies in the cemetary, Britt Ekland dancing naked in her bedroom, festival goers wearing animal heads as symbolism.

Note: I don't really have an excerpt where I gush about this one, because I didn't gush about it at first. "The Wicker Man" really grew on me over time and as it got closer to list time, all I could think of was "I hope I can fit in Wicker Man somewhere!" Turns out it fit quite nicely into the #8 spot. 

07. Rain Man (1988) dir. Barry Levinson 9/10
I mean, seriously, who the fuck doesn't like Rain Man? The first time I saw "Rain Man" I caught it near the end (somewhere around the hearing at the end, when the doctor asks Ray if he wants to return to Wallbrook or go with Charlie) and just by seeing that little bit, I knew it was something that I'd end up loving, if I ever got to see the whole thing. I eventually did see the whole thing...many times and enjoy it every time I watch it. Why? Mostly because of Dustin Hoffman's performance as Raymond Babbitt. I mean, when you can completely transform yourself into a totally different person, with absolutely no traces of your real self to be found, it's uncanny and amazing and after watching this, there's no denying the abilities and talents of The Hoff. But you know what? I also really like Tom Cruise in this. He, without a doubt, holds his own next to the superstar Dustin Hoffman, knows his part and plays it well. In fact, I just like Tom Cruise - call it a guilty pleasure if you want, but there's just something about the guy that makes me want to pay attention to him.

06. Barry Lyndon (1975) dir. Stanley Kubrick 9.5/10
There are three things, in my opinion, that really contribute to the success of "Barry Lyndon": the story, the cinematography and the score. The story here isn't really what I expected. I'd seen tidbits of "Barry Lyndon" before and all I had really remembered from those quick glances was guys in red coats marching into battle. So, of course, my mind went immediately to war movie. However, "Lyndon" is much more than a war movie and in fact, I wouldn't even categorize it as such, as it just happens to take place during a particular war and the entire film isn't totally centered around a war. No, the story of "Barry Lyndon" is, in fact, the story OF Barry Lyndon, a penniless man who rose to fortune and wealth and the path he took to get there. The story is filled with small anecdotes of Barry's sometimes accidental rise from Redmond Barry to Barry Lyndon. It's a story that doesn't let up and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I could've sit right in that same spot, in front of my television, for another three hours, as long as the action proved to truck along at the same pace. Sure "Lyndon" is long, but trust me ladies and gentlemen, it certainly doesn't feel like three hours. It's one of those long films that really breezes by because it presents you with interesting material, the kind of stuff you really want to see unfold.

05. Dear Diary (1993) dir. Nanni Moretti 9.5/10
In "Dear Diary" I found something unlike anything I'd ever seen before. The film blends together, using it's music, imagery, subject matter and the talents of Moretti, to create something very unique and very original, something that I took to almost immediately. Nanni Moretti has been dubbed the "Italian Woody Allen" and I guess that's a fair statement, although I'm really not sure if it fits. The two are alike in that this film was sort of similar to something you'd see from Allen, although Moretti seems to be less concerned with comedy than Allen. At first glance, I didn't view this film as a comedy, even though it kind of was. Instead, I just viewed as this new and unique genre, something like a fictional spin on an autobiographical account - I can't stress enough how original this picture was. I took to Moretti right away and immediately after my viewing of "Dear Diary" I found myself on IMDB looking up further recommendations for his films. He had a presence on the screen that was warm and inviting and that welcomed you to take part in his picture, to enjoy it and to try and connect with it.

04. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) dir. Charles Crichton 10/10
There are many comedies that walk a fine line between comedy and drama, but if you're looking for a straight, out and out comedy, there is perhaps none better than "A Fish Called Wanda" and I'll boldly stand behind that statement. What you have here is an absolutely incredible group of talent, working together like a well oiled machine to produce a movie that is GUARANTEED to make you bust out laughing at least once, if not dozens of times. With not one, but two Monty Python alums (Cleese and Palin) and an on fire Kevin Kline how could this movie not be a laugh out loud time at the movies? And yes, Kevin Kline actually took home an Academy Award for his performance here and it's unbelievable because how often do you hear of comedies even getting Oscar nods, let alone winning? You also have an outstanding script, written by John Cleese and Charles Crichton (who also directed), with intricate details, running gags, well developed characters who have quirky, hilarious traits, one-liners and a movie that never lets up from the word "go". There is no downtime here and every scene proves to be worthwhile, noteworthy or just flat out funny. "A Fish Called Wanda" is one of those films that would be easy to watch over and over again, reliving the humor, laugh after laugh. And did I mention that Jamie Lee Curtis looks stunning as ever, sporting dozens of costume changes, each one sexier than the last.

03. Fargo (1996) dir. Joel Coen 10/10
"Fargo" does a fantastic job of mixing genres and smearing together elements of comedy, noir, thriller, murder mystery and drama. It seems like every time the scene changes, so does the mood of the film and you really have to be a versatile movie watcher to be able to keep up with the different elements. Take, for instance, the scene where Wade and Carl meet for the exchange - a really gritty, noir-like scene that utilizes music and atmosphere to their fullest advantages. That look on Wade's face after he's been shot is priceless and the music perfectly in sync. Then you get scenes with Buscemi and Stormare arguing in the car about what they're going to eat for breakfast - one wants pancakes, the other wants a shot and a steak - a very comedic scene.

02. Drugstore Cowboy (1989) dir. Gus Van Sant 10/10
I remember seeing "Drugstore Cowboy" for the first time, probably about ten years ago or so and thinking that I'd stumbled upon a hidden gem. I hadn't heard much about the film to that point and really only rented it based on my appreciation for Matt Dillon as an actor and because the title intrigued me. I remember buying it soon after and loving it ever since and going on to become somewhat of a fan of Van Sant. However, I never found another Van Sant film that was as good as "Drugstore Cowboy" and that's because there aren't any. This is another one of those movies that I'll have a hard time telling why I like it, because I've liked it for so long that it's just become a personal favorite and that's pretty much the reason why I like it so much. It's funny how we, as film fans, will almost take on an adoptive parent role when we find movies that we think no one else has heard of. They almost become our movies, the ones WE found and the ones WE appreciated before anyone else knew they existed. I realized that I'm not the first one to have found greatness in "Drugstore Cowboy", but I saw it under the recommendation of no one and simply picked it up for myself and decided to try it out...and I loved it.

01. Stranger Than Paradise (1984) dir. Jim Jarmusch 10/10
"Stranger Than Paradise" is a hole in the wall movie and it's not hard to see that it was filmed on a shoestring budget. However Jarmusch's talents shine as he presents an interesting film that is primarily about loneliness and isolation, or at least that's what I took away from it. When Willie gets the news of Eva's staying with him for ten days, he puts up a fight, a fight that he ultimately loses and is forced to play host to his Hungarian cousin, whom he's never met before. When Eva arrives, Willie is very stubborn, proving to Eva and maybe even himself that he would preferably be alone and that he doesn't need or want a roommate. He is very short with Eva, griping at her about everything he possibly can and making her feel as unwelcome as possible. When the time comes for Eva to leave, Willie stares blankly as she packs her bag, asking her to leave him a few packs of Chesterfields. He gives her a new dress, which he picked out personally and sends her to Cleveland. Willie is now alone again and he realizes that being alone isn't all he originally made it out to be. He realizes that his dumpy little apartment isn't much of a life and that at least with Eva around, he had a companion. One year later, Willie still realizes that loneliness isn't an option and convinces Eddie to borrow a car so that the two can go to Cleveland. Willie is at his happiest during the car ride, playing little games with Eddie, calling his name and then turning away, realizing that soon he'll have not one, but two companions, more than he's ever had. When they arrive at Aunt Lotte's house, Willie is even happy to see her, accepting her home cooking graciously and scarfing it down with a smile on his face, realizing that it's good to be around other people. When he finally reunites with Eva, he treats her better than he ever did in New York, being appreciative of her company and even holding conversations with her. In Florida, he starts to take the companionship for granted again, wanting to break out of his rut and go gambling, forcing Eva to stay behind. When Willie loses his money, he flies off the handle, yelling at both Eva and Willie. In the end, they're all left alone again, traveling in different directions, destined to be alone.

TEN WORTH MENTIONING: It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Loulou (1980), The Shining (1980), The Last Battle (1983), Manhunter (1986), Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Do the Right Thing (1989), Say Anything (1989), Safe (1995), The White Balloon (1995)

Well folks, there she be! I hope you enjoy reading it over, deciding whether you agree or disagree with my choices and hopefully making the decision to leave me a comment on it. I never beg for comments, but I do encourage them at TOP 20 time. I'm eager to hear your thoughts and I'll never judge your opinions. I'll be back later in the week to talk about the next season (batch of 100) of movies and give you a more in-depth look at what I'll be watching when I get back from my eventual hiatus.

December 2, 2012  9:34pm


  1. I love these TOP 20 lists! It was interesting to read about the process making them.

    I'm especially glad that your number 1 is "Stranger Than Paradise" since this is still my favorite movie ever. -Sandra

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by Sandra. I had a feeling I could count on you for some complimentary words.

  2. You're welcome. Enjoy the hiatus and don't forget to come back :). -Sandra

    1. Oh I'll be back! Don't you forget to keep coming and commenting!

  3. I love these lists; thanks for doing them! I am too lazy to do them on my blog haha. Fargo and Barry Lyndon were awesome. I hated A Clockwork Orange though. It ruined Singin in the Rain for me haha.

    1. Thanks Amanda. I do enjoy the Oscars thing you do on your blog though, that's also a great idea. I peruse your blog often and unfortunately, am just too lazy to stop and leave a few words. I'll have to change that.


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