My Top Ten Movies

My Top Ten All-Time Favorite Movies: #8

Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980

"You think THIS is hot? Wait'll you see me in my slave outfit."

“You think THIS is hot? Wait’ll you see me in my slave outfit in three years.”

 

Um, it’s Star Wars.

Seriously, do I need to say more? Oh, maybe I do. It’s ORIGINAL trilogy Star Wars. Anything outside of that–OK, I won’t get started. But we all know that this is still the best of all the Star Wars films.

This is the film that gave us dialogue that lives in pop culture history.

“I am your father.”

This is the film that gave us one of the best improvised lines of all time.

Leia: “I love you!” Han: (all together now) “I know.”

This is the film that established Han as a “scoundrel.” This is the film where not much was made of a sister kissing her twin brother full on the lips (we weren’t aware at the time, but I don’t recall hearing any “ewwwws” when Luke and Leia’s kinship was revealed in ROTJ. And don’t try to sell me that this subplot was planned all along). This is the film that introduced us to Boba Fett, and although I wasn’t taken with him, I know my friends, along with legions of other kids, loved the character. The film where we first see Luke and Vader duel! And perhaps best of all, this is the film in the hallowed franchise which proved that sometimes it’s better for visionaries to delegate rather than remain hands on, as George Lucas, for whatever reason, relinquished the director’s chair to Irvin Kershner.

The movie first crash lands on the icy surface of Hoth, where whites and blues mix to create a vast desolate but beautiful landscape.

Gorgeous miasma of blues and whites

 

Then there are arachnid evil probes and impressive elephantine AT-ATs.

Spidery probe

AT-ATs in all their stop-motion glory

New rebel fighter ships retrofitted for the cold.

New rebel fighter ships

Here it is the year 2013 and the Battle In The Snow still does not look dated, at least not to me.

(Bonus points if you can tell me what current insanely popular pay TV show the actor playing the Imperial commander appears in).

Then the movie drops us in the middle of a murky, damp and misty swamp in the Dagobah system, where we meet a diminutive pop culture giant who has a funny way of speaking and is a master of the Force.

Screen Shot 2013-06-21 at 10.41.17 AM

After that, we travel to the beautiful cloud city of Bespin, a warm locale that always looks lit by “golden hour” sunlight.

Bespin

Ironic that the most inviting of the three locations proves to be the most dangerous. I loved how this movie transported me to all these contrasting environments, a theme which continues in the subsequent sequel and the prequels (but we don’t speak of the prequels, ever).

Then there are the visual effects. I don’t care what anybody says…the asteroid sequence in Attack Of The Clones, with all its weightless CG, gargles monkey balls compared to the asteroid sequence in this movie. It is NO CONTEST.

Now, go back and watch that clip again, and this time, listen to the music. Listen to how brilliantly John Williams’s score meshes with the visuals. I contend that when you consider the visuals (which were completely non-CGI!!) as well as the music, the asteroid sequence is the best scene of all the Star Wars films. The score for this film, in my humble opinion, contains some of the best motifs in any of his work. It is absolutely beautiful. Outside of the title march from Superman, this is by far my favorite soundtrack by any film composer. How many times as a kid, when you were playing good guys and bad guys, did you hum this ditty:

And then, there’s the love theme. Williams created different love themes for each of the three original films and they’re all great, but this is one is magnificent. It evokes classic Hollywood dashing heroism, undying love and a touch of adventure. I mean, I cannot adequately express how this piece of music affects me, it does something to me on a genetic level; I melt, I soar, sometimes I well up, I’m taken away with this music. Here’s a clip from the soundtrack, “Rebel Fleet/End Credits,” which is heard at the end of the film; it’s all brilliant, but listen to the movement at :58, then go to 4:45 to hear how absolutely beautiful this theme is:

I mean…wow. Williams’s use of brass, timpani, swelling strings and his signature touch of pizzicato counterpoint, in this case with wind instruments (I’m guessing flute and piccolo) is just–I want to meet this man before I die. I could write an entire article on how John Williams inspired my love of music. The themes he creates for Yoda (heard at 2:28), for Lando Calrissian (heard as the group first meets Lando on Bespin and are walking through the city, right before C-3PO wanders off and gets shot), are all masterpieces.

Then there’s Yoda. Can you even remember a time when you DIDN’T know who Yoda was? Do you recall wondering, who the hell is that pointy-eared green thing that’s stealing Luke’s food? Can we move this along so we can find out who Yoda is? This film introduces us to one of the most well-known, oft-quoted characters in the history of pop culture. And compare the maquette in this film to the fully CG Yoda in Clones and Sith. Do you REALLY want to go there? The Yoda in this film gives a fully realized, nuanced and excellent performance. He comes close to stealing the show from the human actors. It is difficult to fathom that this is merely a puppet that has Frank Oz’s hand shoved up it’s ass. Well, Frank Oz also provided the voice, and he KILLS it. The only performance from a non-human character that is equal to or better than this is Andy Serkis’s Gollum. That’s it. Just like the asteroid sequence, this puppet demolishes the CG Yoda of the prequels.

This movie makes my list because watching it transports me back to 1980 when I was just getting out of grade school, ready to enjoy the summer, completely carefree and eager to see the new Star Wars movie. So many things just blew me away in this movie, most of which I’ve already described. I was surprised at how dark it was; who would have thought we’d see a severed head in a Star Wars film? And I remember thinking, after Lando, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids fail to rescue the carbonited Han from Boba Fett, that the movie must be extremely long because surely, they’re not going to make me wait for another two years to see what happens to Han. And then the end credits came up. And I was FURIOUS! I was LIVID! Oh, HELL NO! I HATED this movie for doing that to me.

But somewhere along the way, I got over it. And I paid to see this movie at least three more times (back then, in a pre-internet, pre-smartphone, hell, even a pre-VCR age, that’s the only way you could see a movie, actually in the theaters). I’m still waiting to see a Star Wars that will top Empire Strikes Back; so far, the only movie to top this one is Empire Strikes Back, the special edition, with re-tooled footage. I don’t mind the tinkering, as a matter of fact, I like seeing more of Bespin. There is one shot that bothers me, where Lando and Leia are running to save Han and they run by these windows which were originally solid walls. But other than that, as I’ve said, this is the best Star Wars yet. If J.J. Abrams wants to match this with his new Star Wars film, he better fire his Star Trek creative team (he should’ve done that already), and bring his A-game.

"Told ya." Ed. note: I was able to flash forward three years to ROTJ and insert this pic, even though it has nothing to do with my review of TESB...cuz it's my blog and I can.

“Told ya.” Ed. note: I was able to flash forward three years to ROTJ and insert this pic, even though it has nothing to do with my review of TESB…cuz it’s my blog and I can.

My Top Ten All-Time Favorite Movies: #9

9) Midnight Run, 1988 

"Make yourself a sandwich, drink a glass of milk... Do some f**kin' thing." - mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina) to his henchman, right before a sit-down

“Make yourself a sandwich, drink a glass of milk… Do some f**kin’ thing.” – mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina) to his henchman, right before a sit-down

I was working as an intern right out of college at WRTV-6 Indianapolis, when someone whom I’ll never remember at this point gave me two promotional tickets to see this movie. I thought, Midnight Run, what the hell is this about? But it was two free tickets, I was broke, so I asked my then girlfriend if she wanted to go. What happened over the next two hours and seven minutes was pure comical magic.

Looking back, I find this hard to believe, but this was the first movie I had ever seen Robert DeNiro star in. I remember telling a good friend of mine how great a performace that Robert DeNiro guy gave. He, being a cinephile, looked at me both ironically and sarcastically and said, ” If you thought he was good in that, you might want to check out his body of work.” Which I did. Which we’ll get to later on in this last, believe me.

What made this movie so great was the chemistry between DeNiro’s bounty hunter, Jack Walsh and Grodin’s mob accountant Johnathan “The Duke” Mardukas. The writing is excellent. The dialogue between these two borders on Seinfeldian, but with more “f**ks.” And the entire cast is spot on. Yaphet Kotto as an incompetent FBI agent, the great Joey Pantoliano as a hustling bail bondsman, a post-Beverly Hills Cop John Ashton as a rival bounty hunter; Dennis Farina as a Chicago mob boss, and Philip Baker Hall as his consigliere; all performances are on point and are hilarious.

Even the actresses who play DeNiro’s ex-wife and daughter are good, no matter that they’re only onscreen for one scene.

With the exception of maybe Meet The Parents, I find that the best comedy is not what passes for comedy today, i.e. shock value, scatalogical references, etc. Not to say that kind of humor can’t be funny, a la Bridesmaids or maybe Horrible Bosses. But the funniest stuff happens when people just simply talk to each other, when they react to each other, the patois of the language they use with each other. Referencing Do The Right Thing, my #10 pick, anyone who’s seen that film must agree that the funniest scenes are between the three guys just sitting on the street corner, talking sh*t (it doesn’t hurt that Robin Harris is one of the three guys). Same here; although the action is exciting and the plot keeps you engaged–will Jack get the Duke to L.A. before midnight to collect the bounty, will Marvin Dorfler grab the Duke from Jack and collect the bounty for himself, or will Serrano wack all of them?–even with all that to keep you interested, it’s the dialogue, the writing, the relationship between Jack and the Duke that make the film totally worth seeing.

My Top Ten All-TIme Favorite Movies: #10

I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ve always wanted to share the movies that I enjoy time after time. Not that anyone should care about my preferences, but hey, it’s my blog, and I felt like sharing…

I compiled a list of my top ten all time favorite films. What makes these films my favorite is that no matter how many times I see them, I will watch them over and over again. Some of the movies on my list are staples of TBS and they’ll play them day after day, or over a weekend. But if I’m surfing channels and I come across them, even if I saw them the day before, I’ll watch them yet again. Maybe a film had amazing performances, an engrossing story; in some rare cases, much like a record, CD, mp3 that no matter where you drop the needle, click the cursor, or hit play on the iPod, the track is going to be bangin,’ so it is with some of these films, where every single scene is perfection. So without further ado, in no particular order (unless I note it), here is my list of my all-time top ten favorite movies:

10) Do The Right Thing, 1989

"D, Motherf**ker, D! Learn to speak English first!" - Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) trying to buy D batteries from a Korean sotre owner

“D, Motherf**ker, D! Learn to speak English first!” – Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) trying to buy D batteries from a Korean store owner

When I first saw this movie, I didn’t like it. I attribute that to the fact that I wasn’t a very mature filmgoer at the time, I was right out of college, I needed a story to spell it out for me in black and white. Who was I supposed to cheer for in this movie? Was it Mookie, a slacker who seems satisfied with his pizza delivery job and rarely sees his kid, and oh yeah, throws a garbage can through the pizzeria window, igniting a riot; Sal, the hard-working pizzeria owner who presents himself as a decent guy, but when pushed, resorts to using the N word (which some people would argue is true for most of the melanin-challenged public). Is it Radio Raheem, the intimidating black man with the boomin’ system who is killed ultimately over a boom box? Is it Buggin’ Out, who acts out to conceal the insecure child inside, possibly representing a segment of black society?

After multiple viewings, I came to the conclusion (and thus, grew as a filmgoer and a human being) that maybe I’m not supposed to cheer for anyone in particular. That things aren’t always black and white, no pun intended. Things are complicated, things are messy. Sometimes there are no heroes, just people who are doing the best they can with the cards they’re dealt. And sometimes they get pushed to the limit. I think the uncertainty of who’s good and who’s bad in this movie is best shown on the special features of the Criterion laserdisc, in a behind-the-scenes segment where Spike admits that he and Danny Aiello (Sal) had a difference of opinion as to whether Sal was a racist or not. But you set these questions against the backdrop of a hot summer day in Brooklyn, which is captured so beautifully by Eric Dickerson, and you have a masterpiece that will make you question the state of race relations even today.

And by all means, “Thank God for the left nipple…thank God for the right nipple.”