Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Top 100 Films of the Last 50 Years (1960-2010): Part IX

19. A Clockwork Orange (1971) - I think I have a thing for both Kubrick and Spielberg (as you shall see below), and while some may scoff, or call me a populist, I don't think there is anything wrong with that. And if you want any further proof, then look no further than Kubrick's 1971 controverisal thriller, A Clockwork Orange. Commenting on a devastating future, which in the midst of the Cold War was a perfect anti-Communist commentary, A Clockwork Orange is a striking and scary, but not in the conventional gotcha! kind of way, but in an oddly creepy potential for a world just like this one. Malcolm McDowell definitely shocks the audiences, and like many of Kubrick's films, he is not afraid to bend the rules of cinema, to make the audience uncomfortable, yet still combine great acting, a sharp storyline, and an entertaining experience. In my opinion, that is the perfect combination.

18. Jaws (1975) - I know you are looking at this via a computer screen, but I want any of you reading this to raise your hand if you still have trouble going back in the water because of Spielberg's 1975 horror classic Jaws (and yes like an idiot, I too raised my hand, which confused by roommates). So many horror films nowadays reduce themselves to idiotic and gross exercises that shock the audience, not with real fear, but with blood and guts. Spielberg takes what could have been a conventional scare story, and with visual enticements, crackling chemistry between the cast, a score that still sends shivers up my spine everytime I hear it, and some nice movie magic, transforms it into one of the greatest horror films of all time. More importantly, for me however, is that in 1975, Spielberg was not the legend he was today, this was before Indiana Jones, ET, Close Encounters, Schindlers List, and Saving Private Ryan. Jaws was not only a movie masterpiece, but it launched the career of one of the most popular and greatest directors in film history. And we can't thank it enough.

17. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) - Magical is a word that is seemingly used to often to describe films that simply don't deserve that recognition. But Steven Spielberg's 1982 classic E.T., about a cute alien who befriends a young earthling, Elliott, is, in my humble opinion, the perfect example of movie magic. On the surface, this is a nice fantasy/science fiction film about a boy helping an alien escape out of Earth and back to his home planet. But Spielberg manages to dig so much deeper than that, pull at our heartstrings, and make you laugh, cry, and fall in love with no only the adorable alien, but the everlasting friendship that is formed between two individuals who wouldn't fit in. E.T. is a story of bravery, friendship, and adventure that never pushes the sentiment, but never remains to lightweight either. It is a stunning technical achievement and tells a beautiful story, which is why it has become engrained as one of the most iconic films of contemporary pop culture. Yes, it is in fact a truly magical experience.

16. The Social Network (2010) - I know some of you may scoff at the notion, but it is hard to deny the social impact and film brilliance of last year's The Social Netowrk. It will most likely go down as one of the films that defined and perfectly captured the culture and socialization of the Facebook era. Maybe twenty years from now, people won't appreciate it, as I'm sure Facebook will have then become completely obsolete. But for those of us who grew up in the social networking era, who have cleverly divided our different groups of friends into "Facebook friends" and "real friends", The Social Network represents who we are, and why we are the way we are. On a simplistic level, The Social Network is a brilliantly written, impreccably acted, and stunningly directed modern drama, with so much zip and sharpness, that the film flies before your eyes, and you are so sad when the impeccable thrill of the ride is over. Simply put, The Social Network will go down as one of the greatest films of all time. Until then, go check your Facebook.

15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Stanley Kubrick was known for creating controversial, yet vibrant and thrilling films, never listening to convention, but instead creating a style entirely on his own. And his filmography is proof that the method to his madness was a success. And Kubrick was never better than in the 1968 classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Brilliantly commenting on the growing fear of machines, and is able to create one of the most terrifying villains in film history, with just a voice. But unlike modern thrillers and horror movies, that ruin the thrill with cheap dialogue and gimmicks, Kubrick avoids much dialogue, allowing his audiences to figure it out for themselves. In this way, Kubrick was a revolutionary, a visionary, who was willing to take risks for the sake of art. So 2001, with its incredible technical elements, its incredibly frightening premise, and its bravery is simply one of the best.

14. Chinatown (1974) - Say what you will about Roman Polanski, but there is not doubt that the man knows how to make incredible films, and he has never been better than in the 1974 classic thriller, Chinatown. It takes a lot of effort to make a story about corruption and water seem interesting. But Polanski's brilliant allegory about Los Angeles in the 1930's was so thrilling and so compelling that it puts away any previous doubts. His masterwork behind the camera (and in front of it for a brief cameo) exerts passion and tenacity which is aptly displayed on the screen. The beautifully dreary cinematography not only enhances the murder and corruption of the story, but also paints an accurate picture of LA. It also didn't hurt that some of the greatest actors of the time gave sizzling performances including the always good Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and a particularly noteworthy John Huston. What makes Chinatown so damn good and so lasting however, was its breathtaking way of knocking the audiences on its ass, reinventing his horror roots into a sleek thriller, and beautifully capturing the history and noir of a classic time period. It turns out Polanski's film was the real classic.

13. Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001/2002/2003) - It is a true tell of how great these films were, that each one of them was nominated for Best Picture, and that the last installment actually became the first, and currently, the only, fantasy film to win Best Picture. The Academy has never embraced the genre, and for them to award it with such heft shows the power behind it. A perfect translation from the wonderful mind of J.R.R. Tolkien, I can't think of any modern director that would have handled this sacred material with the care and passion of Peter Jackson. Add in a wonderful cast, including standouts such as Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Cate Blanchett, and Ian McKellen, and in any genre, this would have been a great movie. But then you add in the vision of Jackson's world, the technical achievements, the mystical creatures, the stunning cinematography, and this simply tale of good and evil is simply brought to life in an extraordinary way. To this day it will go down as one of the best film franchises in movie history, and considering how each one was an excellent film on its own (compared to some series, where certain ones are less than stellar), and it is quite possibly the best.

12. Saving Private Ryan (1998) - In 1998, the world was introduced to the what has quickly become one of the greatest war films ever created, particularly its opening scene of the invasion of Normandy. It was praised by critics for its intensity and grittiness, and most importantly, praised by World War II veterans who where on the beach, as one of the most accurate depictions ever seen on the silver screen.  From the first triumphant scene, many directors and screenwriters might have lost their steam and failed to live up to its initial hype. But the combined talents of Steven Spielberg and Robert Rodat, take their explosive first segment, and translate it into a heartfelt, warm, and sad film about the horrors of war, the brotherhood that develops between soldiers, and the lengths that soldiers will go to to protect and save one of their own. For me, it was a true travesty when this film did not win Best Picture. No offense to Shakespeare in Love which was a fine enough movie, but the fact that pure brilliance of Saving Private Ryan was ignored to me is unforgiveable.

11. Star Wars (1977) - In my college apartment, I have a Star Wars poster hanging in my room, which is a tribute to the cultural impact that this 1977 classic has had not only on cinema, but on American society in the last 34 years. It was a high-concept movie from the brilliant mind of George Lucas that was so original, so daring, so far ahead of its time, that its hard to believe that it was ever made in the first place. It wasn't the creation of a story or a film, but rather the creation of a whole new world (no Aladdin puns intended). It was movie magic unlike anyhing that had ever been seen, and it spawned the most sucessful movie in human history (until Harry Potter came along). It is sometimes hard to remember that behind all of this hype and praise is a singular film. So when you boil down this game-changing talk, you'll see that Star Wars is first and foremost a great film. It has great actors, a wonderfully entertaining storyline of love, loss, and triumph, and is a visual treat even in 2011 for the eyes and the ears. A winning achievement to say the least.

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