Let’s not waste any time, here is part two.
20. Drive (2011), Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
One of the current film on my list, Drive is the epitome of cool that captures a dark Los Angeles mystery with stylistic direction and terrific performances. Nicolas Winding Refn makes a dark and brooding effort with interesting dark twists and a killer soundtrack, this film is a throwback to the day of classic noir and chase films.
Following the character simply known as Driver working as a mechanic alongside Shannon, played by Bryan Cranston, by day and taking getaway drivers job in between to get a steady income by night. Driver comes across a new woman living in his apartment building named Irene, played by Carey Mulligan, developing a possible romance. Yet, Driver meets with her husband just out of prison who gets into some trouble and must rob some cash to help him out, but is caught when the heist goes wrong into the dangerous web involving mobsters Nino, played by Ron Pearlman, and the big boss Bernie Rose, played by Albert Brooks in a surprisingly dark turn.
From the first time I watched this film, I was skeptical at first by the concept, yet the execution by Winding Refn is spectacular. The film is a slow burn of a picture taking it’s time to establish the cold dark world of the mysterious driver and what can happen when shit hits the fan when you least expect it. The performances are great with Gosling taking advantage of the small amount of dialogue by taking more of the emotional route. Of course, this performance is out done by Albert Brooks who is an intimidating prick throughout, even if he give a rare chuckle or two out of it. The music and score is terrific with Cliff Martinez creating a John Carpenter-esque score against the elceltic (albeit a bit hipster-ish) soundtrack with selection like College’s “A Real Hero” serving as the Driver’s main theme. Drive is a modern classic that stands on its own in a world of blockbusters and remakes.
19. Big Fish (2003), Directed by Tim Burton
If you can probably guess by the first part of the list, I am a sucker for a great fantasy film and a great love story. Tim Burton got on board to direct Big Fish after Steven Spielberg dropped out, yet I cannot picture another director taking on this one because, to me at least, this is Burton’s signature masterpiece. Burton put his heart into this one with not only delivering his trademark sense of fantasy and wonder, but a film with terrific performances and a beautiful tale to tell.
After three years of not seeing his father due to his “tall tales,” Will Bloom, played by Billy Crudup, returns home to take care of his dad Edward Bloom, played by Albert Finney, as his health is failing and is determined to find the truth behind the stories his father told him as a youth. Through the curiosity of Will’s wife Josephine, played by Marion Cotillard, Edward’s tall tales come to life with young Edward, played by Ewan McGregor, going on an extraordinary adventure with countless characters, meeting the love of his life in the form of Sandra Templeton, played by both Alison Lohman in the stories and Jessica Lange in present day, and his many odd jobs throughout. The nature of Edward’s stories not only make the simple thing larger than life, they exist in a world of their own.
Burton’s direction working with a tight-knit screenplay by John Agusut is superb by capturing the emotion of Edward’s journey and the disconnect between Will and Edward. It’s stunning to see such a film come from a director known for his dark and gothic nature, but the beauty is in how much it stems from classic Burton and sometimes going away from the typical is a great thing. The performances in here are nothing short of amazing with Ewan McGregor as the charming young Edward and Albert Finney as the older being on the same level and giving a weight to the character, both in the fantasy realm and in the reality that he lives in now. The story is a fascinating one and gets me every time, especially toward the end where I do cry as I think about the relationship between myself and my father. Big Fish is a beautiful fairy tale come to life in the best way possible.
18. Fight Club (1999), Directed by David Fincher
Out of boredom and curiosity, I caught this film on TV going “Fight Club sounds like a cool title. Nothing but fighting through out? Let’s do this.” What I got was something that everyone got which was a pleasant surprised. It’s charmingly dark thriller that is very light on comedic moments and focuses on the self-destruction of humanity within someone by how far they are willing to go.
The Narrator, played by Edward Norton, comes across a man named Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt, and they form a fight club. The rest of the story goes int so many dark twisted places that have probably been spoiled by now. From the terrorist organization they create to the evenings with having nothing but pure sex with Marla Singer, played by Helena Bonham Carter, to the now infamous ending, everyone knows this film like the back of their hand by this point. SPOILER ALERT: Tyler Durden is The Narrator and he has been in his mind the whole time. The journey to these twists are interesting and engaging to watch.
Over the years, David Fincher has become a favorite director of mine by taking his time to tell the story and give characters depth. Fincher has a keen sense of pacing and development that helps makes his film have staying power and in Fight Club, he perfects it with phenomenal direction of the chaos going on throughout the film making The Narrator’s former bland world become this downward spiral going down before him. By now, anyone who has seen this film knows that Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are brilliant in this film and, yes, I am part of that group as well. Yet, I always felt Edward Norton’s portrayal was better than Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden. We get the time to know his perspective and know his struggle against the bizarre nature of Tyler Durden, making him not only a great audience surrogate, but makes us trust him enough to make the twist work so well. Fight Club is one club worth becoming a member of.
17. The Lion King (1994), Directed by Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Yes, I know a majority of people consider this overrated and not that great of a film (aka online video reviewers), but yet, I love The Lion King for what it is. The king of all 2D animated films (money wise anyway) is a grand epic filled with drama, humor and an unique variation on the Disney musical formula. It’s a neat retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that almost comes close to be just as complex while retaining the fun of Disney we all watch their animated films for.
The story about the rise and fall of Simba, voiced by Matthew Broderick, and his kingdom at the hands of his bastard uncle Scar, voiced with fiendish ease by Jeremy Irons, after killing his father Mufasa, voiced by James Earl Jones, is now a modern tale that everyone has to known. Hell, I think expected right out of the gate of birth that you have to subject your child to this film in order to love it. As with every Disney film that came out during the Disney Renaissance, The Lion King knows for a fact that it wants to engage as well as entertain the audience.
The animation in this film is stellar with grand landscapes beautifully drawn capturing the epic savanna surrounding Pride Rock to the beautiful oasis of Timon and Pumbaa’s hideaway. In fact, the highlight of animation is at the beginning during “Circle of Life,” giving the grand tone to the film at hand. The music is fantastic with Tim Rice and Elton John giving their all into the musical aspects, but the score by Hans Zimmer outdoes their work with use of chorus and creating a heavy atmosphere that help the story become more than what it should be. It makes the struggle of Simba all the more engaging and the performances are great with the aforementioned Jeremy Irons as Scar being the main highlight. It’s a classic through and through and a part of our vast circle of life for ages to come.
16. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Directed by Frank Capra
The oldest film on this is list is arguably one of the greatest films ever made. Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is a delightful film that holds a very special place in my heart, not only due to the personal struggle of George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, but how much I relate to how he feels. Often considered a Christmas classic, this film goes beyond that sub-genre it was pigeonholed into to become timeless.
As many known, George Bailey is ready to kill it quits from life by offing himself off the local bridge at Bedford Falls, but the heavens say “Screw that, you ain’t dying tonight” and send down Clarence, played by Henry Travers, to help him see how life would be like without him. Before that could happen, the heavens tell the entire story of George Bailey’s life and just how great a life it is, even if George doesn’t realize it. George focuses on the negative aspects such as Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore, coming in to take over the town and scam people, the fact he can never leave town due to everyone’s reliance on him and his marriage and family life that weighs him down. Of course, in the end, he knows it is all worth the struggle because everyone cares for him.
This movie got me through some rough times, like with films soon to follow on part three of this list, by helping me see my own life as more than what it is. I suffered through depression and did have thoughts about offing myself, not realizing how precious life truly is and that one day, every obstacle that came my way would lead to a grander and brighter future. It is also something everyone can see themselves in as down on their luck in the rough patch of their lives and Stewart’s portrayal of the “everyman” is perfect as Bailey’s strives for the perfect life while getting knocked down a couple of pegs. The film provides a great story and a fascinating window into the reality of life, even if the supernatural elements do come into play a little to late in the film.
15. Gorjira a.k.a. Godzilla (1954), Directed by Ishiro Honda
This is another one of those films I talked about at length on this site beforehand (as with a few others on the list), so I will keep this one very brief. Gojira, born from the remnants of atomic radiation that plagued the coast of Japan, comes to town and pratically destroys everything. It is up to a salvage ship captain named Hideto Ogata, played by Akira Takarada, the father of his girlfriend Emiko, Dr.Kyohei Yamane, played by Takashi Shimura, and former lover of his girlfriend Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, to stop the monster.
It’s a dark convincing look at the nature of paranoia, the dangers of the atomic age & technology as it advances and the aftermath of tragedy when it strikes. The effects work is remarkable for its time and the performances all around are great and take the subject matter seriously. If you want to find out why I like it, head over to this link, Film A Week 23: Gojira a.k.a. Godzilla (1954).
14. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2009), Directed by Momoru Hosoda
Ever seen a film that encapsulates all the beautiful nature of young romance as well as give an interesting take on the concept of time travel? No? Well, then look no further than the beautiful anime masterpiece known as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Momoru Hosoda takes the awkwardness of the high school years to set the scene for young Mokoto as she discovers her ability to leap through time after falling on an object granting her this mysterious gift.
Mokoto uses her newfound power to not only arrive early to class or have more time to study, but from being in a situation that proves to be too much for her to handle and avoiding the advances of her friend Chikari. Soon, Mokoto learns the consequences of disrupting time as she soon finds that she is limited on how many times she can jump back in time. This causes Mokoto to try and make wise decisions that leads to a thrilling twist in the story that not only teaches her a powerful lesson, but shows that she might be missing out on what is important.
The animation in this is beautiful as they manage to make a gorgeous canvas of a small city and town with the limited budget that is on par with the animation done by Studio Ghibli. When it comes to anime films, the animation is secondary (in most cases) to the story and the story in this is perfect. Mokoto is naive at what surrounds her and refuses to try to be a part, yet she has to stop and look around once in awhile or she might miss what is there. Sure, it’s a lesson Ferris Bueller taught, but this film exceeds it. The romance, though simple, is there with Chikari really wanting to date Mokoto while we root for him to succeed, which makes the twist a bit of a bittersweet one. If you have yet to see it, I strongly recommend a look at a very underrated gem.
13. From Russia With Love (1963), Directed by Terrence Young
One Bond film on the list simply is not enough. Whereas On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a great action romp, has a great romance and great performances with a lame villain plot, From Russia With Love is a perfect action romp, has a perfect romance and perfect performances with a great villain plot. As this film has been reviewed before on this site, I immediately feel in love with it after watching for 007 in 23 to the point that after all was said and done, I watched this film about three more times because it is that perfect.
Sean Connery is as grand as ever alongside the sultry and seductive Tatiana Romanov, played by the tremendously gorgeous Daniela Bianchi, as the two seem to have a wondrous chemistry. The scene in which she is in bed with nothing on under a sheet is more attractive as it leads the mind to wander and entrances us just as she entrances Bond. The villains are great with Rosa Klebb, played by Lotte Lenya, being a crazy operative for the notorious SPECTRE and the hulking man that is Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw. It also takes the time to create suspense and is a slow burn compare to other Bonds. It is closer to Casino Royale than Goldfinger in many respects.
If you want to read the full review as to why this movie is one of my favorites, head over to this link: 007 in 23: Assignment #002- From Russia With Love. It’s one Bond film that is sure not to disappoint.
12. Pulp Fiction (1994), Directed by Quentin Tarantino
A majority of people pick this as their favorite Tarantino film as it defined the ’90s era of filmmaking as a whole with its slick approach, non-linear story that grabs a hold and never lets go, insanely creative and witty dialogue and a soundtrack that is timeless. Pulp Fiction kicks ass in every way, shape and form.
The story mainly follows Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta, and Jules Winnfield, played by Samuel L. “Motherfucker” Jackson, as they are out to retrieve a briefcase for their boss Marcellus Wallace, played by Ving Rhames, while coming across characters like Marcellus’s wife Mia, played by Uma Thurman, and prizefighter Butch Coolidge, played by Bruce Willis. The non-linear path the film takes makes for a narrative that, while split apart, comes full circle in the end.
What can I say about this film that has not been said before? Honestly, I really do not know. It’s still a tight-knit film, a great performance piece from all the actors and remains Quentin’s calling card from this day. The dialogue is heavy with odd references and such dry wit that every dark thriller in the ’90s. The narrative structure, while nothing new, seems fresh under the direction of Tarantino creating a modern noir classic. The soundtrack that acts as the film’s score is still awesome from Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” to Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” gets you in the groove outside of the film from just how many choices in genres it has. All in all, Pulp Fiction is classic American cinema and is a masterpiece of “cool.”
11. The Dark Knight (2008), Directed by Christopher Nolan
I hate falling into cliches as I hate the concept of being a cliche, but with that said, if I have to fall into a cliche, then putting The Dark Knight
on this list is an exception to those cliches. Director Christopher Nolan takes the classic Batman characters we love and make a dark thriller out of it without totally losing the fun we expect from a comic book film.
When crime starts to take turn for the worse in Gotham, Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale, steps up his game to take down new villain The Joker, played by Heath Ledger, who is running the gambit on local crime bosses in order to test Batman. Bruce also has to come to terms with his vigilantism and heroism when his former love Rachel, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, comes back on the scene dating Harvey Dent, played by Aaron Eckhart, running for district attorney in hopes to give Gotham they deserve. The personal life of Bruce and the hero life of Batman crash into a collision course as he tries to figure out himself and his own being as the Caped Crusader.
Not only is The Dark Knight one of Nolan’s best work, but it is the best comic book film I have ever seen (next to The Avengers of course) that I went back to the cinema I enjoyed more than once. The lengths and twists taken to the characters that have populated pop culture was fascinating as it truly captured the struggle Bruce faces as him and Batman are one in the same. The dark turns are reminiscent of some of the best Batman stories with fantastic performances as Bale stepping up to make the Bat his own, but the best comes from the villains. Ledger’s take on The Joker is brilliant by making him the biggest sociopath who enjoys seeing people get harmed as a joke and the tests in humanity he gives his victims. Eckhart as Harvey Dent is great as both the white knight who promises hope and in his turn (Spoiler to a character from 1942) as Two Face to capture the fall to grace into a cold blooded menace. The film is nothing short of fantastic and knows the true essence of Batman, but you probably know that by now after it made over $1 billion worldwide.
STAY TUNED FOR PT. 3: #10-1