Recently, I joined twitter and saw that the hashtag “#Fav7Films” was trending. I took great interest in what people said were their seven favorite films were, and I thought of my own. This inspired me to rewatch my favorite films and decide just what it is that I love about them. I then decided to start what I’m calling my “Personal Favorites” series, taking a look at my favorites, and explaining what I love about them. These posts will probably be intermittent, and over the coming weeks, I look forward to sharing some of my favorites with you.
So, to clarify, these aren’t likely the best movies of all time (though some of them, I would argue, are), they’re just the ten movies I like best. But, before I get into my Personal Favorites, I’d like to briefly mention a few that just barely missed the cut.
The Social Network
David Fincher’s 2010 movie is one of the best in recent years. Common audiences laughed before seeing it; “A movie about Facebook? Ha, that’s ridiculous!” But that’s not what it is. It’s a story about friendship, jealousy, power, all presented in a stylistic and well-directed manner. To refer to it as “the facebook movie” is a criminal understatement of the highest degree. So much so, that I still shudder when I remember that the Academy overlooked this film and other nominees such as Toy Story 3 and Inception, in order to give Best Picture to the fucking King’s Speech. Do you remember that? Because I remember that.
But with a movie this good, it’s easy to forget about the awards. Everything is superb; the performances, the script, the soundtrack, the cinematography. All of it.
One of my favorite decisions the movie makes is the use of the nonlinear plotline. Since we see the deposition between Mark and Eduardo at the very beginning while also seeing them still in college and still friends, we know that we will likely see their friendship come to an end. But by the time we get to this scene in the climax, the five best minutes of Andrew Garfield’s career, it still hits us like a ton of bricks; we can feel Mark’s jealousy and regret, we can feel Sean’s cocky triumph, and we can definitely feel Eduardo’s seething rage.
Once again, I’d like to bring attention to the performances. Everyone’s at the top of their game. As far as popular roles go, this is the best performance each of the leading actors gave – certainly Jesse Eisenberg’s finest performance, as he brings emotion and nuance to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Andrew Garfield beautifully plays the arc of going from contentedly proud to frustrated to furious throughout the course of the movie. Justin Timberlake brings ample character to Sean Parker that even if you don’t know who real-life Sean Parker is, you can get a pretty good idea from Timberlake’s performance. (How about when the nine-time grammy winner got to deliver the line “[I’m] being sued by every artist who’s ever been to the grammys”?) And Armie Hammer, who I’m still hoping will become a big star, wonderfully pulls double duty playing both of the Winklevoss twins. The female parts, though a tad underwritten, still shine through. Rooney Mara wonderfully plays Mark’s frustrated ex-girlfriend, bringing a beautiful and terrible chemistry to the film’s opening conversation. Rashida Jones plays a sympathetic paralegal, and – ah forget it, I could go on and on, but let me put it simply; The Social Network is a great and powerful film, centered around great performances, but also excelling in everything else.
(To clarify; I’m referring to the original film, later retitled A New Hope.) Is there any popular film that better encapsulates the Hero’s Journey? Is there any movie that’s more quoted? (Actually, yes, Empire Strikes Back to name one.) Is there any movie that is such a cornerstone in pop culture and cinema? I’ve written about Star Wars so many times, but mostly in a general sense, like in my post The Force Will be With You, Always: Star Wars as a Cultural Event, but never specifically about the original film. This was the film that started a media empire. It presented a vast and vibrant world created by way of mixing ideas and aspects from various cultures; the Jedi are inspired by Samurai, the Rebel Fleet were inspired by WWII as was their dogfight, the Empire is inspired by Hitler’s Third Reich. But not just the superficial things, there’s the Force, a combination of Christianity, Buddhism, and various philosophies. All these things create a living, breathing story. That’s why we’re still getting sequels and spin-offs and what not today, nearly FORTY years later.
But this specific film has so many amazing moments. When Luke blows up the Death Star, when Han shoots first (or when he doesn’t), Darth Vader almost choking out an officer who disagrees with him during a meeting, Tarkin’s icy command to “fire when ready” and destroy Alderaan, Obi Wan’s noble sacrifice, Han running into a crowd of Stormtroopers, “These are not the droids you are looking for,” it all makes for one of the classic films of the 20th century. And why? Honestly, just because it’s so damn fun.
It does sadden me to write this shortly after the death of Kenny Baker. Baker is truly an unsung hero of the franchise, as he had the presumably difficult job of being the actor inside R2D2. He acted in all of the first six films, and came back to consult for R2D2 during the filming of Force Awakens. And for all that he gave, the world thanks Kenny Baker. He will be missed.
A film like A New Hope gave many actors a wonderful legacy. All of them, Hamill, Ford, Fischer, Guinness, Jones/Prowse, Baker, Daniels, Mayhew, George Lucas. All of them gave us something truly special that will live on longer than any of them, and likely, any of us.
It’s no surprise that in a career that has given us The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and Memento, that a movie like The Prestige could get as overlooked as it has. But let me assure you, this movie is outstanding.
The first line of the film is a whisper from Christian Bale’s character, a hoarse “Are you watching closely?” And that really sets up the tone for the rest of the film; you really do have to pay close attention. I, for one, think that The Prestige has a more confusing plot than Inception, since people get confused with the layers of the dreams in that film, whereas The Prestige has an epic-scale nonlinear plotline which jumps back and forth in time and location.
The story follows two stage magicians around the turn-of-the-century with an Amadeus-style rivalry, with the film starting with Alfred Borden, played by Christian Bale on trial for murdering Hugh Jackman’s Robert Angier. But the audience is clearly shown that Angier drowns backstage, under dubious circumstances. The rest of the film revolves around the relationship between the two magicians: Angier’s thirst for revenge and what he does to get it, Borden’s perfect trick and Angier’s attempts to replicate it, and the thing that pits them against one another in the first place.
This movie is all about the reveals. Every scene is shot as though it moves towards a great climax, and an important revelation. Without spoiling the movie for those who haven’t seen it, every time the story focuses on one of the magician’s lives, the other magician will appear and immediately raise the stakes of what’s happening. Each of these builds up to a satisfying and thrilling ending.
Enough of why it’s great. Just watch this opening scene.
The most beautiful thing about this movie perhaps, (if you haven’t seen it, this could be spoilery,) is that by the end of the film, you find out the entire story itself is, in a way, a trick of misdirection. And for all this and more, this movie is one of my favorites.
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe is done, maybe I’ll look back and prefer Guardians of the Galaxy, or Captain America: Civil War, or maybe Infinity War, but for this very moment, The Avengers is my favorite entry. It was a cinematic achievement, perfectly balancing all the characters that they had been building separately across five previous films, and inspiring one too many subpar copycats.
Superhero movies as a genre have thrived on their own, and within this genre there’s a notable major subgenre: The team-up movie. Films in this genre can be characterized by a few broad strokes; there’s a group of heroes who disagree, they fight, but in comes a villain, who is too terrifying or perhaps kills or endangers someone close to the heroes, and then the heroes put aside their differences and defeat the villain. The Avengers does this better than just about any other, likely because it is centered around a compelling villain. Loki is more interesting than Guardians‘ Ronan the Accuser or Dawn of Justice‘s Lex Luthor, or even X-Men: First Class’ Sebastian Shaw.
But the heroes are what you’ve come for. You want to see Cap in action, you want to hear Tony’s zingers, you want the Hulk to smash, and you want to understand the appeal of Hawkeye. The rotating shot, shown in the picture above, was honestly one of the times I was most excited in a movie theater. Seeing all six Avengers in one quick rotation was a truly amazing moment for nerds and theatergoers. You’ve seen all these characters before, and you finally seeing them together is amazing.
But, at the same time, it works as a standalone film; you don’t have to see the previous movies or know the comics to get a general idea of what Captain America or Thor or Nick Fury are like, but watching this you get a general sense of who these characters are and why you should like them.
As far as Superhero blockbusters go, this was a game-changer. With The Avengers, Marvel Studios’ nearest competitors all found something to strive towards. The Avengers and the movies that come after it will shape cinema (for better or for worse) over the years to come.