People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
  My 10 Favorite Movies: Part 1
I recently turned 31, and like most people, a birthday gave me cause to reflect a bit. I’ve been watching movies for a long time, and they’ve been a big part of my life for just about all of it. And as someone who loves movies to the point where I’ve finagled a gig writing about them, I’m often asked what my favorite movies are. Naturally, this is not an easy question to answer, as I’ve always found that no self-respecting movie buff can honestly offer a simple reply. So between the fact that I don’t have much to write about for the next couple of days and that I’ve been constantly referring to my favorite movies in passing on this blog since it started, I figured now’s as good a time as any to get into my favorites. So for the next two days, I’ll run down my 10 favorite movies, in no particular order.

Keep in mind, this is a list of my favorite movies. That’s not the same as “the best” movies; I’m not trying to argue that Kill Bill is a better film than The Godfather or Citizen Kane, just that I have a special place in my heart for that movie that I don’t have for those classic films. (Both of which are brilliant and deserve their places in history, for the record.) These are just the movies that remind me why I love movies in the first place. I can watch them over and over again, any time, sometimes finding new stuff to love each time, sometimes just curling up with them like an old sweater.

Some of you will also probably notice that these are relatively recent movies. It’s not that I don’t appreciate older classics, but I didn’t grow up watching them and therefore they’re not as crucial to my development as a movie geek. So yeah, most of these films were released within my lifetime. Regardless of their genre or their place in the annals of cinema history, these are the movies that always do it for me no matter how many times I watch them (and most of them I’ve been watching regularly for years, even decades).

So without further ado, for those who care, my 10 favorite movies of all time.

Blade Runner
If I had to pick one film here as No. 1, it would be this one. I realized a few years ago that Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic has been creeping up my ever-shifting mental top 10/20/50/100 list consistently for some time. I didn’t really like Blade Runner very much at all the first time I watched it; I was too young to appreciate it and I was disappointed there wasn’t more “action.” But I got into it a few years later and have been watching it regularly ever since. I realized it was probably my favorite movie, period, when I noticed that, unlike all the other movies mentioned here (and in history), I fall in love with Blade Runner more each time I watch it. There isn’t anything about this movie that I don’t love, from the story to the production and set design to the music to the acting and the characters (Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty is easily one of my favorite movie villains of all time) to its central theme of what makes us human to just the overall feel, Blade Runner is, for me, just about as good as movies get.

Kill Bill
For a while after this movie came out, it was the one I mentioned when asked for my favorite, but I always sort of cringed when I answered, as I felt like there were some important caveats that were difficult to explain. (I always think it’s sort of lame when people cite such a recent movie their favorite; films have to marinate in the psyche, I think, before they can honestly be called a person’s favorite.) But seeing Volume 1 for the first time in the theater remains one of the most mind-blowing movie experiences I’ve had. My love for Kill Bill (specifically Volume 1; it’s the one with all the martial arts, after all) is intensely personal; I wouldn’t even argue this is Quentin Tarantino’s best movie, but I grew up a geek for much of the same stuff he did, so his mash-up of samurai movies and kung fu movies and spy movies and westerns, as well as a lot of weird European movies I’ve never seen (with Sonny F***ing Chiba and an anime sequence tossed in for good measure) felt like someone made a movie just for me. I love martial arts movies, and the House of Blue Leaves fight scene in Volume 1 remains the most incredible on-screen fight I’ve seen. Things slow down a little for me in Volume 2, as there’s less fighting and more talking (though I love David Carradine’s performance, and it’s all in the second one), but Tarantino’s take on hardcore action flicks still turns my crank like few other movies ever have.

True Romance
I’ve never really considered myself that much of a Quentin Tarantino fan, but he’s connected to two movies on this list, so I guess I should reconsider that stance. He only wrote True Romance (it was directed by Tony Scott, who has another movie on this list), but I’ve been a freak for this movie since I first saw it as a teenager. I’ve seen this thing dozens of times, but I still get goosebumps during the scene near the beginning where Patricia Arquette’s Alabama confesses to Christian Slater’s Clarence that (1) she’s actually a call girl hired by his boss to show him a good time on his birthday and (2) she’s in love with him. Throw in flat-out brilliant supporting performances from Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini and Gary Oldman (reigning King of Movie Villains), and what is still my favorite Brad Pitt performance ever, and I almost stopped writing this to watch it again.

Boogie Nights
I guess this is the only movie on this list that isn’t really a genre movie in the traditional sense, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic about the golden age of the porn industry is one of the few three-hour-long movies that I can watch over and over and over again. This movie manages to be sad, hilarious, uplifting and terrifying at various points (occasionally all at once), and no matter how many times I watch it, I’m still amazed how well Anderson (and his fantastic cast) pulls it all off. Boogie Nights came out during a crucial stage in my development as a film lover; within about a year or two, this, Three Kings, Fight Club and Rushmore all came out, all of them blowing my mind, and it felt like a mini-renaissance was taking place in American film (and the directors behind all of those movies are still filmmakers whose careers I follow closely up to this day), but Boogie Nights was so audacious and unlike anything I’d seen up until then (I’ve subsequently seen a lot of the movies Anderson was drawing from, but it doesn’t change how much I love this film) that it's permanently etched into my mind. Anderson has yet to make a movie I haven't liked (I even dig Magnolia), but this is still the movie I think of when I think of him and his work.

Out of Sight/The Limey
At my old job, working at a music magazine, my editor would ask us all every holiday season to compile a list of our favorite albums and singles of the year, and every year I’d try to cheat by putting the last one on my list as a tie. I never managed to slip this past him – he always made me discard one – but this is my list, and nobody edits this blog but me, so eat it Steve, this one really is a tie.

Actually, the real reason I included these two films together – made by my favorite director, Steven Soderbergh, within a year of one another – is that they’re so similar in many ways that I can’t help but associate them. Out of Sight was the movie the movie where I fell in love with Soderbergh’s movies. I love how it veers from being as funny as any comedy one moment to being tense and scary (like any good crime movie) at its climax. (I gather this is actually common to many Elmore Leonard’s novels, and it seems to be a balance that few filmmakers who’ve tried to adapt his stuff can pull off.) It’s also the first movie in which George Clooney truly was a movie star (and the last time I took Jennifer Lopez seriously as an actress), and it’s filled with crackerjack supporting actors like Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames and Steve Zahn. And the bit between Clooney and Cheadle in the prison library may hold the record (in my head at least) for the most great lines in a single scene.

The Limey sees Soderbergh taking many of the vaguely arty editing tricks he played in the more commercial, studio-produced Out of Sight (like cutting to shots of characters just staring at each other while dialogue plays out, as if they’re communicating with their minds) even further with this low-budget riff on revenge movies. Terence Stamp is simply amazing as Wilson, a British ex-con trying to get to the bottom of his daughter’s mysterious death in L.A., and Peter Fonda is equally brilliant as a slimy record producer who played a role in her demise. (Fonda also manages to be a great movie villain without ever really doing anything particularly villainous on screen; he just feels evil.) The Limey manages to be artful and sort of experimental while still working as a satisfying genre movie; the scene where Stamp walks back into a building after being roughed up by thugs to kill a whole bunch of people (none of which we actually see) remains one of the most supremely badass sequences I've ever seen in a movie.

Tomorrow: The final five movies in my Top 10 (which the more astute among you have realized is actually a Top 11), including a few movies made before I was born...!

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