Serg Beret’s 30 Favorite Films Pt. 3: #10-1

And now the final part.

10. Once (2007), Directed by John Carney

The second to last film on this list I already talked to death about due to Film A Week, Once is a musical like no other taking the trappings of what we see in most musicals and deciding to say “no, let’s make this real and natural,” leading to a wonderful small experience. With a budget of only $160,000 (€130,000 for those in Europe), director John  Carney delivers on that promise to make a sweet experience.

Guy, played by Glen Hansard, meets Girl, played by Marketa Irglova, as the walk around Dublin, converse and make sweet music together. It’s a slice of life musical examining lost love, the end of relationship and the start of a possibly a new one through the power of song. The songs are all original with a soundtrack of great folk rock and even some moments of poppy vibes with the highlight being the Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly” as the two share an immediate connection and “The Hill” where Girl finally tells the story of what happen to her in love.

For the full review with reasons why and the whole soundtrack for you to listen to, head over to this link: Film A Week 10: Once (2007)

9. Shaun of the Dead (2004), Directed by Edgar Wright

Edgar Wright is the best director of modern genre cinema we have in modern cinema. Yes, I already said that in The World’s End review, but I wanted to say it again and Wright would be nowhere today without Shaun of the Dead. Even after watching his other features, his first effort still remains my favorite. The humor is still clever, the premise still works and the fact that zombies are still popular makes this film not so dated as other comedies out at the time.

Shaun, played by Simon Pegg, is a down-on-his-luck man working a crappy electronics job and living in a flat with his mate Ed, played by Nick Frost. After a devastating break-up with Liz, played by Kate Ashfield, Shaun wakes up one day to realize the dead have risen and now Shaun must save Liz, save his mom Barbara, played by Penelope Wilton, possibly kill his stepfather Phillip (sorry!), played by Bill Nighy, and head to the Winchester for a pint and wait for it to all blow over. It turns out it is easier said then done having to deal with the naive Diane, played by Lucy Davis, and the asshole with glasses David, played by Dylan Moran, coming along the journey with laughs had, blood everywhere and a great heart beneath it all.

Everything about this movie not only screams awesome, but blends the romantic comedy concept with zombie horror to a tee by making them work seamlessly together. The ensemble cast is terrific playing off each other with their personalities clashing against each other making for both moments of great humor and fantastic drama. If there is one thing Edgar Wright does well in his comedies, it is the human element which never gets overshadowed and helps make us care about the situation at hand.

One of my favorite scenes involves Shaun and David arguging over the situation of being stuck in the Winchester knowing they may be screwed, but then it go to the whacked out craziness of smacking down zombies while Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” starts to play. Shaun of the Dead is just plain fun with its heart in the right place and hitting the marks every great horror comedy should.

8. West Side Story (1961), Directed by Robert Wise

I like musicals. There. I know it is a crime as a man to like them, or even love them, but I really do and the musical I always come back to is West Side Story. I watched this film back in 5th Grade in order to give us an idea for storytelling in cinema. What I got was an experience in return that made me both happy and sad to see it in all its glory.

The film follows two star crossed lovers associated with local street gangs with Tony, played by Richard Beymer with vocals performed by Jimmy Bryant, as part of the white American gang the Jets and Maria, played by Natalie Wood with vocals performed by Marni Nixon, from the Puerto Rican gang known as the Sharks. These two decide to fall in love as Tony’s friend Riff, played by Russ Tamblyn, and Maria’s brother Bernardo, played by George Chakiris, start to assemble a brawl with Bernado’s girlfriend and Maria’s pal Anita warning Maria of the dangers of what she is causing. What this sets up is a musical filled with fantastic song that move the story along rather than interrupt it.

The score and music to this film is nothing short of perfection with the music of Leonard Bernstein and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim coming together to create classics with the romantic “Tonight,” the intimidating breakdown in “Cool” and a overture to die for that sets the tone of the film. It gives the film a more epic scope than it already has. Every performance is great with Natalie Wood’s Maria being a strong highlight going from the naive girl to a strong woman by the film’s end that is nothing short of brilliant. Yet, George Chakiris as Bernardo is pure awesome.

This guy comes off as not only a worried brother, but a strong leader and figurehead that has a cooler mindset than the hotheaded Riff. Maybe I am bias since it is based of Romeo & Juliet and Tybalt is my favorite Shakespeare character, but I digress. The dramatic moments that start to turn in the film’s second act is fantastic and makes me quite teary eyed by the twist on the source material it takes. West Side Story defines what Broadway musicals can do on the big screen and the impact it can create.

7. Up (2009), Directed by Pete Doctor

Pixar did something rare that no other animated film has done by making a whole audience shed tears within the first ten minutes and it is only something a great story can do. Up is a perfect animated film (even if #2 is my favorite) by setting up a great tale of adventure and reasons for the main character Carl, voiced by the great Ed Asner, to go on his quest to Paradise Falls filled with laughs and thrills for all.

78 year-old Carl Fredrickson is reeling from the loss of his wife Ellie and coping with the fact he may end up in a retirement home alone. Carl decides to live on the promise he had for Ellie to head to Paradise Falls to live out the rest of their lives together by turning his house into a flying one via balloons. As Carl enjoys his travel, he notices a young boy named Russell, voiced by Jordan Nagai, a Wilderness Exploer scout ready to help Carl on his adventure. What happens is a great comedy filled with a mysterious bird named Kevin, talking dogs like the hilarious Dug, voiced by Bob Petersen, dog fighting dogs (see what they did there?) and having to face Carl’s childhood hero, Charles Muntz, voiced by the incredible Christopher Plummer.

The beauty about Up is its nature to find comedy and action beneath Carl’s personal quest to find relief from his strife. It’s an adventure about having to deal with the loss of the one who had a grand adventure with you by conquering an unexpected new one. From the first ten minutes capturing the voyage of Carl and Ellie’s love is a beautifully crafted romance told in silence with the gorgeous score by Michael Giacchino accompanying this seamless and haunting montage. In fact, this part makes a part a little bit later in the film during on of Carl’s private moments all the more powerful. I cry even thinking about that scene and it gets me all the damn time with Carl having a realization that the reminder of his life may not be so bad.

The comedy is very old school with slapstick, visual gags and comic delivering on par with classic Disney shorts and Warner Bros. cartoons. One joke involving the dog alpha having a squeaky voice is, for lack of a better word, fuckin’ hysterical. Every time he came on screen, I was rolling with laughter. Russell is naive and a perfect foil to Carl’s straight man role making Russell the perfect companion for him along for the trip. Dug is fantastic by coming on screen as a bit of a dumb dog, but you just love him by the film’s end. This film is one of the best theater experiences I ever had with the 3D being spectacular and nothing has truly come close to it. It is an animated classic and a true cinematic classic in every way.

6. The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Directed by Frank Darabont

The Shawshank Redemption came out in the year I like to call the “Gamechanger of the ’90s” that was 1994. In fact, it is the third and final entry on this list from 1994 with Pulp Fiction and The Lion King before it, both game changers in terms of storytelling and animation for me, respectively. Shawshank changed the way I think of drama by telling a great tight-knit story through its strong connections, its ability to not shy away from the details and showing us the humanity behind each of the prisoner’s lives. It is a dark, but powerful film with moments that do have a light at the end of the tunnel.

Andy Dufense, played by Tim Robbins, is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and is sentenced to two life sentences at Shawshank State Penitentiary. From here, the life of Andy proves difficult which has him being assaulted by the leader of the gang of “Sisters,” dealing with the asshole guardsman including Bryon Hadley, played by Clancy Brown, and attempting to figure out how to get out of the hellhole. Luckily, Andy becomes pals with Ellis “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, who helps support Andy by providing tools for chess pieces, friendly advice for everything going on at Shawshank and a helping hand in some of Andy’s plans against Warden Samuel Norton, played by Bob Gunton. It plays out over a twenty year period, but does not feel like it takes twenty years to get to a conclusion.

The film is timeless and the feeling of time not really being quite known makes it that way. Darabont’s pacing and direction help deliver a story by highlighting the key moments in Dufense’s life rather than pad it out with needless scenes. Nothing feels wasted and everything seems essential to the plot at hand. The drama behind Andy’s harsh reality within the walls of Shawshank is heartwrenching yet triumphant. Andy somehow maintains his human nature and sense of hope despite the years that should have weighed him down. The scene where Andy provides music for the prison over the loud speakers in the form of an excerpt of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is brilliant showing that Andy can provide hope within everyone else, even if the warden is a prick about the whole ordeal.

The connections Andy makes through out are wonderful to from Red to Brooks, played by James Whitmore, to Tommy, Gil Bellows, are also fascinating by examining their hardships as well, making it all the more bittersweet when Brooks and Tommy have to leave Shawshank, either dead or alive. I watched this movie for the first time on a whim with my best friend Jerry in pure silence and it was the first time a film had ever done that to us. Even when we spoke, it was not about our lives, but about the film and the story. We held back tears from this film and it was a gorgeous experience. It moved me and my friend and it was worth it. Shawshank will make you experience drama like never before and that is one experience worth taking a chance on.

5. Star Wars [Episode IV: A New Hope in Later Releases] (1977), Directed by George Lucas

Anyone that knows me knew this was coming. I do not care if it is cliche, childish or frowned upon (fuck you George Lucas for ruining the legacy) to like Star Wars, but the film was not only the one of the precursor for the summer blockbuster, but also one of the first introduction to science fiction everyone has (even if it is more science fantasy than fiction). Picking one out of the original trilogy is hard, but out of all the ones that I watched the most, I always go back to the first one. The Empire Strikes Back is brilliant in its own right, but Star Wars started this whole story and worth mentioning.

The story (as if you need a refresher by now) follows Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, wanting to be a Jedi like his father before him. Luke wants more out of life and wants to help the Rebels lead the charge against the evil galactic empire and the Imperials lead by Darth Vader, played by David Prowse as the body and voiced by James Earl Jones, and possibly rescure a princess named Leia, played by Carrie Fisher. As Luke ventures off after the death of his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, he comes across Old Ben Kenobi aka Obi Wan Kenobi, played by Alec Guinness, who know Luke’s dad personally during the Clone Wars. Obi and Luke, with trusty droids R2-D2, played by Kenny Baker, and C-3PO, played by Anthony Daniels, team up with bounty hunter Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford, and his partner Chewbacca, played by Peter Mayhew, in the Millennium Falcon and…well, you know the rest.

It’s a fantasy adventure at its finest, yet now in space, but delivers a fantastic space opera. The effects at the time are great and hold up, which is shocking that George Lucas would go back and put CGI in to replace it because it looks just fine (not that I mind the Special Editions, I watch them whenever they are on television). The characters are all likable with Luke’s naive yet hopeful sense of life, Leia’s strong ambition underneath the tragedy of her planet getting destroyed, Han’s dry cool nature and wit, Obi’s wise old man role and Vader’s dark and always looming presence. It is a nice small simple adventure that happens to be a grand one at best.

It never tries to be more than it should or be better than anything out there in cinema, yet it decides to entertain with a not-so complex tale (where the prequels, you know, fucked up on) and gives focus more on the character’s journey. The action is great fun with all the spaces battles you want, blaster shooting and even a quick calm and quiet lightsaber duel (where, once again, the prequels fucked up on, but I digress). Lucas’ knows how to direct action and grand set-pieces without wasting a single frame.  Star Wars may be seen as a nerd franchise now, but back then, everyone loved Star Wars and it was event. Over the year, the popularity has diminished due to Lucas screwing his franchise over and now Disney has a hold of the rights to the franchise, which is a nice change of pace. Star Wars’ legacy is unmatched and we will always have the first film to start off the craze.

4. A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Directed by Richard Lester

I love The Beatles with their music that ranged from classic pop sounds, rhythm and blues, folk and psychedelia. I love every member from the soul of John Lennon, the spirit of George Harrison, the heart of Paul McCartney and the drummer that is Ringo. The fact that the Fab Four decided to make a film is spectacular and luckily, that film is comedic faux-documentary joy of A Hard Day’s Night with all the fantastic music of the group and the zany craziness they come across waiting to start their concert.

The Beatles, which are Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Geroge Harrison and Ringo Starr, head out to London in order to perform a concert. the Beatles are confined to a hotel by their managers Norm and Shake, played by Norman Rossington and John Junkin respectively, but of course they are having on of it and go off on their own adventures. Paul has to deal with his villain and real clean mixer of a Grandfather, played hilariously by Wilfrid Brambell, Geroge gets into a modeling agency on accident, Ringo tries to find himself in the concept of “parading” alone and John is being a dry sarcastic smart ass with the mind of a child. They rehearse with the overbearing television director, played by Victor Spinetti, deal with press by mocking them and not caring and run a muck.

It plays out more like a slice of life than anything and it is beautifully done. Director Richard Lester and writer Alun Owens capture The Beatles in a neat time capsule them just casually going about their day. As actors, The Beatles are not bad and naturally fit in with the others. We know they are playing themselves, but during some moments when jokes have to be delivered like a professional, they hit the mark just right. Ringo actually comes out as one of the best among the group due to having the most character to him in terms of plot as we see him go from the butt of the joke to a sympathetic hero.

The music is incredible as the music comes from, well, A Hard Day’s Night. It fits the tone of the film and filled with classics such as the title song as the boys run away from fans with George falling flat on his face, “Can’t Buy Me Love” as the boy escape to have fun outside in the field and “If I Fell” as John sings his heart out with George falling…again (seriously George, what the hell?). It is The Beatles at their finest in their early years by balancing both folk vibes and pop sounds and remains my favorite album by them outside of this film. A Hard Day’s Night is a brilliant look at the boys from Liverpool in their prime of youth and a delightful comedy I always put on in a good mood.

3. Back to the Future (1985), Directed by Robert Zemeckis

As a child of a mother who was a teenager in the ’80s, I assume it was basic birthright to see Back to the Future and enjoy the zany journey of Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, getting stuck in 1955 and having to deal with the aforementioned back to the future situation with his pal Doc Brown, played by the always magnificent Christopher Lloyd. It is one of the many marvels of ’80s cinema that made me love films of that decade and stands the test of time with quick pace, humor and being a great story.

In 1985, Marty McFly is a slacker teenager with a great girl named Jennifer, played by Claudia Wells (suck it, Elizabeth Shue), and pals around with his scientist friend. One day around 1 am, Marty and Doc are at the Twin Pines Mall testing out his latest invention of the Time Machine in the form of the DeLorean because according to Doc, “If you are going travel, why not travel in style?” It turns out the invention works, but Doc is shot and killed causing Marty to go back in time to 1955 meeting his mother Lorraine Baines, played by the gorgeous Lea Thompson, who starts coming onto him and his dopey father George McFly, played by Crispin Glover, who peeps on Lorraine. This causes a rift in the space-time continuum as Biff, his father’s bully played by Thomas F. Wilson, starts to come after him for Lorraince. Marty must sort out the mess he created by convincing the Doc of that time to help him head back to the future and get his dad to fall for his mom. What you get is the perfect film for any teenager in the ’80s.

This movie is just fun as hell and that is what cinema is all about. In fact, this and the last two films on the list all provide the perfect escape from reality in my opinion, but I am getting ahead of myself. Zemeckis’ direction and style is fast and quick, but does have quiet moments of subtlety when the story calls for it during the scenes between Marty and Doc. Zemeckis makes the unlikely friendship between these two real and it is perfect. Marty sees Doc as the father he never had and likewise with Doc seeing Marty more as a son. It is a great relationship that cannot be match. I also love seeing Marty interact with the world of 1955 through conversing with his parents knowing they are know in the age where he can understand them and getting used to the atmosphere of the simpler time while still making some references during that time no one will get. I love when Marty invents skateboarding a little too early, but also makes Chuck Berry inadvertently find his sound by playing “Johnny B. Goode.”

As luck would have it, this film lead to a trilogy with Back to the Future Part II, which was picked as the first film for Film A Week. Honestly, I enjoyed the entire trilogy and love the hell out of it for the humor that writer Bob Gale and Zemeckis brought through out it (and yes, I am including Part III in that statement even if it is more hit-and-miss). Back to the Future makes the concept of time-traveling timeless and a fun one and that is worth going where we do not need any roads for.

2. Sleeping Beauty (1959), Directed by Clyde Geronimi

Yes, I spent a whole Film A Week proclaiming my love for this film and I cannot lie, I wish I didn’t. Since I am nice, I will post what I thought here from that review rather than make you click a link.

From Film A Week 24: Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty ranks up there with Fantasia and Snow White in my mind when I think of Walt Disney masterpieces. As a kid, when the first sequence started after the classic storybook opener, I knew I was in for a marvelous experience and it did not disappoint.

The story starts with the king and queen of a unnamed kingdom giving birth to the new princess, Aurora, named after the dawn. As the kingdom celebrates, three fairies by the name of Flora, Fauna, and Merriwhether bare gifts to the newborn with Flora baring the gift of beauty and Fauna baring the gift of song. During Merryweather preparation to give a gift, the evil fairy, Maleficent, interrupts to deliver death upon Aurora at age sixteen, if she should prick her hand on the spinning wheel. Merryweather counteracts by baring a gift of making the death become sleep that can be cured with the power of true love’s kiss. The rest a majority of people reading this probably already know.

The film itself is a piece of art capturing the feel that you are watching a medieval tapestry come to life as it goes beyond the regular aspect ratio of previous films to a fully colored and fantastical Technirama widescreen presentation, adding more depth and detail to the various landscapes and locations. The colors are lush and vibrant and pop in every scene, even the dark scenes involving Maleficent. The use of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet as the score bring the brilliance and wonderment of the simple story to life, even giving words to the Waltz with the gorgeous ‘Once Upon a Dream’. The characters are design with love and passion, from the beauty of love that is Aurora, the hilarious yet caring fairies, the handsome hero in Prince Phillip and the elegance and grace of evil of Maleficent.

The film truly shines throughout from the forest sequence as the two lovers meet, the sleeping spell being placed upon the great kingdom, and the most climax with Prince Phillip racing on his gallant steed to defeat the wretched Maleficent as she unleashes the powers of hell in its full glory in the form of the mythical dragon in a battle of ultimate good versus evil. Sleeping Beauty plays like a true cinematic experience, harnessing all the powers of animation and film to make the ultimate fairy tale film. Maybe I’m in the minority who thinks very highly of this film as if I was bringing it up alongside the greats of The Godfather, Citizen Kane and Casablanca, but to me, I feel it deserves to be seen as what it is: An absolute classic with all the majesty of a ballet and all the wonder only Disney animation can provide.

And the Number One Favorite Film is…

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Directed by Steven Spielberg

Only once on this site did I briefly mention this as my favorite film of all time and it was in the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie review. I love the hell out of Harrison Ford and I love the hell out of Steven Spielberg, but put them together and you make smagic in the great start of the Indiana Jones series, Raiders of the Lost Ark. This movie is what I think captures everything I love about cinema and what it brings to the table. It captures the fun escape of adventure, the drama of emotions as Indy fights for his life, the romance between him and Marion, but I am getting a little too ahead of myself.

Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. aka Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, is out in Peru getting an idol from a temple (one not of Doom of course), until he face the booby traps and confronts his rival Belloq, played by Ivan Ooze himself, Paul Freeman, who promptly takes it. Did I mention this is not even have much to do with the main plot of the film? It is just to introduce the tension between the two characters. The adventure truly begins when he gets word from Marcus Brody, played by Denholm Elliot, that the Nazis are looking for his old friend Abner Ravenwood to find the Ark of the Covenant in order to gain occult artifacts and powers (not going to lie, that is pretty badass). Indy heads over to Napal to find Ravenwood, but finds Marion, played by the beautiful Karen Allen, Ravenwood’s daughter who joins indy after her tavern gets raided and destroyed. They head off to Cairo to encounter that bastard Nazi in glasses named Arnold Toht, played by Ronald Lacey, the asshole Belloq and hang out with the always-a-delight Sallah, played by John Rhys-Davies in order to recover the artifact and send it back to be examined by top men. Who exactly? Top. Men.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a joyride and a head rush that is beyond perfect. Spielberg not only made an ambitious action romp, but quite possibly a masterpiece (Schindler’s List is still his masterpiece, though). On terms of why it is my favorite is because it manages to get everything into a neat package in a good pace. The action never dulls, but does break when it needs to in order to forward the story. Hell, even just talking about what the artifact can do and the mystery of where it is is exciting as a bit of a history nerd I am. The set-pieces in here are to die for with the great opening in the temple and the unbelievable chase where Indy is hanging onto truck and knocking guys out just to save the day. If I had to go into detail, we would be here all day.

The chemistry between Marion and Indy is priceless as Marion seems to both love how amazing this man is, but would turn in a single second to kick the living shit out of him. Marion is one of my favorite women in film for this reason by proving that women are better if not greater than whatever a man is capable of. The villains are fantastic by always retaining the idea they can have the upper hand. After all, we are dealing with Nazis here, one of the greatest evils to ever walk the face of the damn Earth. The story is great too by taking the old school route with adventure and focusing on the mystery behind what is going on, rather than just focusing on the action (young writers in Hollywood, take note). It tells an epic tale that stretches across from Asia to Africa and it is massive how much is done. Of course, Harrison Ford is such a dynamo in this role that he makes it with his smug charm, his intelligence and his power to hold himself in a fight all for the sake of history and research. Raiders of the Lost Ark is perfect and I enjoy every minute of it and remains my favorite film of all time.



6 thoughts on “Serg Beret’s 30 Favorite Films Pt. 3: #10-1

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