By Nick Maylor
Welcome to the third installment of our weekly series wherein our staff names their respective choices for the ten greatest films ever made. As John and Alan have already mentioned, this task comes with the inherent disadvantage of being completely impossible. Narrowing the playing field down to just TEN entries is just not something anyone who seriously loves film is capable of doing. Some people use dishonest and sneaky tactics to avoid these inevitable pitfalls. I happen to be one of those people (more on that later). The task is also inherently absurd and arbitrary due to the fact that we have to deal with those pesky numbers. There are some things about this gig that can be frustrating. One of them is having to LIST things in terms of being better than other things. I will adhere to the standard of counting my ten entries down from 10 to 1. Make no mistake: this does not serve to concretely declare that my number 4 is ABSOLUTELY better than my number 5. You know what I’m trying to say
I will play the game. I will write my list.
I will also however, irreverently mock the very idea of this article, throughout. How can you narrow it down to ten? How can one be intellectually honest in doing this?
I know how:
I’m going to cheat…..
CHEAT, I TELLS YA!
That’s right. How do you like me now, internet? *maniacal laugh*
Seriously, though: I decided to use my unorthodox format to change things up a bit. I’m sure you’ve read lots of top ten lists. This is something you probably haven’t seen quite so much. I think it makes the game a little more interesting. I may be wrong. Humour me.
I have selected 10 entries for my list. Each entry will include two films. The pairings will share some overarching theme (at least on the surface) but the “how” and “why” I paired these films together, I will fully admit, is inherently subjective, accountable only to my personal, arbitrary and opinionated “rules”.
There will be no honourable mentions. There should/could be many.
Please enjoy. It’s all in good fun!
10. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) / THE GREEN MILE (1999)
Common threads: Frank Darabont directing his own screenplay adapted from literature by Stephen King.
Who would have thought that Frank Darabont would have knocked it out of the park with both of these movies? The Shawshank Redemption (1994) was Darabont’s first feature film and it is consistently listed near the top of many “best movies” lists. The master of horror, Stephen King has had several of his writings adapted into films but as far as heart-wrenching dramas go, these two are the cream of the crop. Featuring brilliant performances from iconic actors, these compelling character studies are both set in and around prison and the penal system. Both feature innocent men who become locked up for violent crimes. The Green Mile (1999) features a sublime performance by the late Michael Clarke Duncan, the crown jewel of his tragically shortened career. Tom Hanks is also on par with his greatest work here, never being selfish enough to steal the thunder from his brilliant costars. Both films are endlessly quotable and put a spotlight on the triumph of the human spirit. Both are watchable no matter how many times you’ve seen them already.
9. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) / SKYFALL (2012)
Common threads: Legendary hero of modern folklore. The villain (a dark mirror of the hero) becomes incarcerated as part of his grand scheme. Epic scale. Cross-influence. Ultimate male fantasy.
From Hercules to Thor (not the Marvel one), down through Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Zorro and Superman; little boys’ fantasies have been realized since time immemorial by these types of heroes. Crime fighters and detectives; virtuosos and warriors. Batman was created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Ian Fleming’s James Bond/Agent 007 came into existence in 1953. SInce then, both have been immortalized on film, but never better than in these two standout epics that got everything right. There had been several Jokers before Heath Ledger was cast in Christopher Nolan’s follow up to Batman Begins (2005); but his is so powerful that the moment he appears on screen as the clown prince of crime, it feels like he is the sole and quintessential example of the character. Sam Mendes has admitted taking cues from the films of Christopher Nolan when making his Bond films. This combined with Christopher Nolan’s inspiration taken from the Bond films of yesterday, has made these two characters forever linked by the fact that they have both taken inspiration from, and inspired, each other. Christian Bale’s Batman and Daniel Craig’s Bond are also two of the most noteworthy examples of a character that has been “rebooted” on film successfully.
8. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) / INCEPTION (2010)
Common threads: Genre. Zero gravity. Ambiguous ending. Mind blowing capabilities.
Stanley Kubrick’s vision set the standard for Star Wars (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kingd(1977) and every science-fiction film that came after it. Christopher Nolan recently supervised new 70mm prints of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) using printing elements made directly from the original film negative for the film’s 50th anniversary. A limited worldwide release of the film at select 70mm-equipped theatres has been announced. Nolan’s influence taken from Kubrick is evident in this psychological thriller that explores many of the same ideas such as; the nature of reality and perception. Both films have endings that leave the viewer to decide the outcome. However Kubrick’s film leaves open many questions whereas Nolan’s leaves only one, a choice between two possible outcomes.
7. THE LION KING (1994) / ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (2007)
Common threads: Music from British rock ‘n’ roll icons. Protagonists searching for insight about parentage and legacy; each becomes “fish out of water”. Romance. Julie Taymor.
The Disney Renaissance was loaded with hits but none was more spectacular than The Lion King (1994). A live-action remake is coming out next year. Directed by Jon Favreau, the film brings back James Earl Jones as the voice of Mufasa with an entirely new (more racially appropriate) cast. Elton John composed music with the lyrics of TIm Rice for the emotional tale of a young lion cub based on Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet. A successful broadway adaptation of the film was directed by Julie Taymor, who also directed Across the Universe (2007). The jukebox musical masterpiece is peppered with the songs of The Beatles and tells the story of Jude; a young dock worker from Liverpool, England who ventures to America in search of his father. Featuring mind-blowing sets, choreography and musical arrangements of many classic Beatles numbers.
6. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988) / THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004)
Common threads: Sandals. Beards. Both films made lots of people VERY upset.
From an intense character study rife with conflict, to a Biblical epic unlike any other, these films both explore the psychological, philosophical, moral and theological issues surrounding the most famous person/character to ever exist. Scorsese’s character study is based on the highly controversial novel of the same name written by Nikos Kazantzakis in 1955. It explores Jesus as a man, frustrated and torn between his human desires and instincts, and his divine obligations. Featuring a brilliant performance from Willem Dafoe, Scorsese’s passion for religion’s eternal questions is exemplified in this film he spent years getting made.
Interesting observation: It’s kind of curious that of these two films, the Martin Scorsese one contains (by far) the least amount of bloodshed.
Mel Gibson found the key to his epic with the perfect combination of otherworldly ambience (due to the dialogue being spoken in dead languages) and relentless, excessive and unrestrained violence. Mel drove the point home by peppering his tale of Jesus’ Passion with blood, fleshwounds, brutality and shock. The most violent film ever made, The Passion of the Christ (2004) will likely remain so until Gibson releases his planned sequel. In interviews he has suggested other “realms” and states of reality. There’s really only one conclusion here. Jesus (post-crucifixion) goes to hell for the weekend before coming back from the dead. That’s right, folks. We’re going to get us some FIRE and BRIMSTONE, SUPERNATURAL torture this time! Put the kids to bed.
5. BEING THERE (1979) / FORREST GUMP (1994)
Common threads: Brilliant lead performances. Protagonists unwittingly become involved with powerful people and events. “Fish out of water” (there’s a lot of that here)
Hal Ashby’s brilliant 1979 film starring Peter Sellers as Chance the gardener (who erroneously becomes known as Chauncey Gardiner) contains a brilliant performance from the legendary comedic actor. Sellers often considered himself a blank; one upon which he could paint and create the various characters that made him famous. Chance was like that, a man with no real identity. Sellers subdued performance as the naive man-child should have won him an Oscar that year, but the “gag reel” outtakes that show over the film’s closing credits are considered by many to be the reason he lost to Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). The film also features great and touching performances by Shirley MacLaine and Melvyn Douglas as Eve and Benjamin Rand, respectively. Douglas went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Rand, the dying tycoon and friend of U.S. President “Bobby” (Jack Warren). Much like Chance, Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) is a simple minded American man who unwittingly becomes involved in great and significant circumstances. Venturing away from his Alabama home, Gump becomes a war hero, football star, ping-pong champion, shrimp boat captain, international celebrity and White House guest to three different U.S. Presidents. Hanks won his second consecutive Oscar for Best Actor for his role in the film. Although these two films did not make the top spot on this list, I will say that one of them serves as my “desert island” movie; a film that I would choose if given only one to watch (as many times as I wished) for the rest of my life. There is hope and optimism here that qualifies my choice; something that isn’t shared with the objectively superior, but significantly darker entries at the top of this list.
4. SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) / JURASSIC PARK (1993)
Common threads: Steven Spielberg. 1993. Literally nothing else.
I want to make something very clear here (amidst all my cheeky banter): I am not comparing these films because they are comparable in terms of IMPORTANCE. I love Jurassic Park (1993) like few other films. I’ve seen it more times than I could count.
Schindler’s List (1993) is a heart-wrenching masterpiece; one that is difficult to watch, even once. It certainly isn’t something to be taken lightly. It is to be experienced. It is the more important film here. If some Apocalyptic scenario arose where I was in the unfortunate position of having to choose one of these two films over the other (let’s say there’s one print left of each and both films are about to fall into a lava pit and I can only save one), without hesitation, I would disregard my love of dinosaurs and everything that I love about Jurassic Park (1993). I would save Schindler’s List (1993). If grouping these two films together genuinely causes any readers to be upset, I swear that it was never my intention and I do apologize.
These films are here together because they are both gems from a master filmmaker. They also highlight the great and vast spectrum of Steven Spielberg; a man who is bound by no limits and is capable of making masterpiece after masterpiece, regardless of how dissimilar one may be from the last.
3. GOODFELLAS (1990) / THE DEPARTED (2006)
Common threads: “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones appears in both films.
Martin Scorsese is the quintessential auteur. He consistently makes some of the most daring and exceptional films audiences have ever seen. From his character studies like Taxi Driver (1976), The King of Comedy (1982) and The Aviator (2005) to his violent gangster sagas like Casino (1995) and Gangs of New York (2002), he demonstrates that he is more than just a master of his craft, he regularly challenges himself to do the best work he can, regardless of his age or reputation. Hugo (2011) is the single most visually stunning film I have ever seen. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Silence (2016) are profound theological studies that stay with you for years after seeing them. Scorsese simply rules. His two films highlighted here represent the greatest crime films of the modern age. The earlier film based on the true story of mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) should have won Scorsese Oscar gold. The latter film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and a slew of A-list talent, finally won Scorsese the Academy Award for Best Director, something that had eluded him for far too long.
2. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1938) / THE LORD OF THE RINGS (2001-2003)
Common threads: Fantasy. Epic journey. Fish out of water (again!) protagonist must pursue enchanted artifact with aid of newly found friends (who are distinct from one another, based on cultural archetypes). Desire to return home.
Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books is placed here as one, single film. Although broken into three parts, The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) really only makes sense as the sum of its parts. A visually stunning epic saga that features major breakthroughs in filmmaking technology, Jackson’s masterpiece also introduced the world to Andy Serkis, the greatest actor working today. It is paired here with The Wizard of Oz (1938), a film that has stood the test of time for the pure and simple reason that the wizard relayed all those years ago: how much it is loved by others. It never gets old. It’s pure cinematic magic.
1. THE GODFATHER (1972) / THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)
Common threads: Oranges.
Raise your hand if you’re surprised.
Didn’t think so.
The Godfather (1974) has become such an iconic film that all others all measured against it. Is it as good as The Godfather (1972)? Not likely. Francis Ford Coppola nailed it throughout the entire decade in the 1970s. He was that good. His films remain so. The only thing more masterful that The Godfather (1972) is the stunning sequel The Godfather Part II (1972), a movie so good that it’s better than its predecessor; the film that everyone knows is the “Best EVER MADE.”
If you want to argue the significance of this cinematic saga’s genius, hear me out…
In an episode of Family Guy, the whole Griffin family is about to drown in a panic room. Before their demise, Peter confesses a dark secret of his: He “didn’t care for The Godfather“. As you can see here, the subject is a touchy one.
I rest my case!
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor