Popcorn transfers 1970 Singapore…
50. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
I had to have a classic Trek movie in the Top 50, and this is the most entertaining of the series. Leonard “Spock” Nimoy directs and it’s a wonderful fan friendly, wide-appealing fun movie. It has a socially-motivated film (Save The Whales cos it’ll save the planet) and no real baddie, just a threat. This allowed the cast to have fun, and they gave it a good ol’ go, amusing dialogue and scenes, and room for lots of laughs at the expense of the 1980’s (where they had been sent to gather up now-extinct humpbacks). The screen play was a Nimoy-insisted rewrite, by Star Trek II screenwriter (Wrath Of Khan being the best of the Trek’s to that date) Nick Meyer, and it all worked beautifully, by far the biggest box-office of the Trek movies after the relative yawnfest of the first one. Lots of Trek cameos from the original cast, and all the regulars on board and each getting their moment. I love ’em all, and I’ve sadly only ever caught Nichelle Nichols and George Takei at Trek conventions, but I have to state: up to 1986 Star Trek the TV series was my number one show of all time. These days it’s Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and Brock Peters from that show is in this film so it’s beautifully circular. A fun movie.
49. Toy Story 2 (1999)
Destined (like many part 2’s of trilogies) to be the filling in between the structures, but I actually love this one too. Pixar is always good, this is a great film, full of charm, action and like many older blockbuster movie comedies, chock-a-block with great character actors (albeit voice-only). The plot: Woody gets stolen by perennial tubby villain the fab Wayne Knight (of Third Rock and Seinfeld fame) to complete a collector’s set, and Buzz and the gang save him. New characters pop in, including the fabulously ruthless Kelsey Grammar (Frasier, Cheers, not to mention Sideshow Bob and a Star Trek captain) and Jonathan Harris (Dr Smith of Lost In Space “oh the pain the pain” fame). Pixar make movies for all ages, the old-fashioned way, but cool and modern with it. Fabulous.
48. The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad (1988)
Daft, slapstick, corny, filled with visual gags and one-liners and a fabulous follow-up to the wonderful (and tragically short-lived) TV series Police Squad, this was a welcome bit of cinema fun, and the spiritual sequel to the Airplane movies. That’ll be the Zuckers & Jim Abrahams then! The TV show played with the format a lot, and lead Leslie Nielsen was a treasure as the straight-faced bungling cop. He’s shown what he could do with comedy in Airplane and this movie gave him a whole new career late in life as a comic actor, better reflecting his light-hearted real-life character than po-faced straight men. The supporting cast is great too, Priscilla Presley post-Dallas happy to debunk her image, the reliable George Kennedy, the brilliant Ricardo “Khan!” Montalban, and Nancy Marchand. They even bung the Queen in there. The 2 sequels were much the same, but just a bit less good, but it’s the one-liners that are the genius. I can’t resist a good one-liner:
“I promise you – whatever scum did this, not one man on this force will rest one minute until he’s behind bars. Now, let’s grab a bite to eat.”
47. Red (2010)
As a comic book fan, I’d somehow missed this comic book, but no matter, I LOVED the 2 films, the second one, frankly, is just as good but not quite as fresh as the first gemtastic senior-actor ensemble comic-action spy thriller. Violent (in a comic fashion), ruthless, funny, amusing, endearing, both the script and cast carry it off beautifully. Bruce Willis could feature in so many movies (but almost all of them have just missed the Top 100) he’s been so consistently good since leaving the brilliant and banter-ful Moonlighting TV series, so it’s great that he joined the quirky and fab John Malkovich, the unexpectedly wonderful Helen Mirren as a hitman spy, and Morgan Freeman who’s in everything over the last 10 years, uniformly playing himself and uniformly marvellous everytime, goodie, baddie, President or God. Karl Urban is a great goodie-baddie, following on from Dr McCoy in the JJ Abrams Star Trek’s, and the plotting is great fun, the film is great fun, and seeing a veteran cast having a ball is infectious great fun. Fab!
46. The Iron Giant (1999)
A Brad Bird animated movie version of Ted Hughes story, and a box office flop. Sometimes the world is mad. This movie is brilliant, one of the greatest animated features ever made, and has since won critical acclaim, I loved it from day one. I loved the style, classy and very fifties, the widescreen beauty. I loved the characters and cast: Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston and Harry Connick Jnr were never better in a movie (well, in Aniston’s case not until We’re The Millers, which is a comedy destined to feature in my top 100 revisited in a few years, cos it’s fab). I loved the 50’s Cold War theme, the sci-fi elements, the heartwarming story of love between a boy and giant robot, and a beatnik and the boy’s mom. The military are pigheaded, and love conquers all, not war. Probably the last classic family film of the 20th century, but Brad Bird went on the almost-as-good Pixar The Incredibles, having served on The Simpsons during it’s classic period. Pretty damn good credentials.
45. Carry On Up The Khyber (1968)
How can I rate a piece of British innuendo-laden, pun-tastic, bad-gag-fest 60’s period-piece ahead of a classic animated feature…err because! This is the greatest of the Carry-On’s, a self-mickeying irreverent take on the days of the British Empire and their self-important-England-rules-the-world attitude. That’s not the primary aim, of course, but it doesn’t hurt to see us portray ourselves (or rather the British upper classes) as mad as a hatter, having afternoon tiffin while being bombed by the “natives”. The cast is perfect, the caricatures (as opposed to characters) brilliant, the one-liners hilarious. Utterly non-PC these days, but to be fair, the citizens of the Empire aren’t shown in a bad light, though they are played by the regulars, very much a no-no these days. Who’s brilliant? Kenneth Williams and Sid James sparring, Joan Sims letching, Peter Butterworth’s Brother Belcher nervy and seeing everyone as mad as they are. With character names like Private Ginger Hale, lines like “Fakir Off!” (after a Fakir has performed badly), and just general good-natured having-a-laughness, it’s a film I never tire of re-watching. Low-brow, yes, fun, definitely.
44. Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Dreamworks’ Jack Black-starring vehicle, and Far-Eastern-appealing, animated comedy-adventure of a heroic Panda, is funny and charming. The China setting appeals to me, reminding me of my boyhood in Singapore when Chinese fables and adventures were often on TV, animated or live-action. The cast is great: Jack Black never better, Dustin Hoffman never more likeable, Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Ian McShane all animals of different types, heroes vs villain (McShane of course). Master Ping is my fave, though, Po’s dad (a duck, played by the fab James Hong, a staple of movies like Blade Runner and many a TV show of the 70’s onwards), the scenes between Po and his dad are the funniest and also the most touching. The sequel was also a great movie, and in both I love the martial arts setting, the journey to becoming a hero against the odds plots, and the fabulously beautiful animation, the style is deliberately inspired by Chinese artworks and looks just gorgeous throughout. A modern classic.
43. Calamity Jane (1953)
Doris Day: Secret Love. Just Blew In From The Windy City. The Black Hills Of Dakota. The Deadwood Stage (Whip Crack A Way). Fabulous songs, performed marvellously reason enough to love this film? No? How about Doris Day never better, all Tomboy-ish, but still charming. She has the mannerisms, the attitude and secretly is still a little girlie waiting for a man. Well, that bit’s less believable, but hey ho. A great cast, heartwarming, Howard Keel is a perfect antagonist-cum-lover, and certainly much livelier than Clayton Farlow in Dallas! Secret Love was a huge number one, spine-tingling still in the movie, but The Black Hills Of Dakota is just as affecting. Calamity jane was a real-life figure, though I doubt much of this has anything to do with historical accuracy, but it doesn’t matter, it’s all about the comedy, really, and especially Doris Day the movie personality. Her best film by far, and 60 years on it was great to have another album from her.
42. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford. A triumvirate that could no wrong for me, Spielberg is still my fave Director, and George Lucas is best as an ideas man. This nazi-chasing, Ark Of The Covenant-chasing, fantasy set in 1936 has the bonus of being filmed in the UK, and making use of some familiar UK TV character actors, the advantage of Spielberg’s stylish approach to resurrecting old-time serial adventures, and the supreme advantage of Harrison Ford as the lead. Star Wars made him big, but this made him a Star, the leading action man hero of the 80’s and beyond. Always cool, manly, cynical, wise-cracking, and yet loveable, I’m a bit of a fan of his films and the attitude-free man who sort of became embarrassed to be a superstar. It’s a great action romp (my fave word) and did for the family action movie what Star Wars did for sci-fi: made it fun again! Karen Allen is also great in this, and it was good to have her back in the most recent of the sequels, but all of them are at least great fun, and sometimes very great fun. The original is the best though….
41. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
Another sequel not a million miles away from the oriiginal, but Mike Myers was getting into his stride and there some obvious new bonuses and plot threads to make up for the familiarity of some characters. Plot? Austin is sent back in time to the 60’s, a major plus for me as it’s all childhood nostalgia through rose-tinted whimsical spectacles (and false British teeth). Rob Lowe does a great Robert Wagner impression, as the younger version of Number Two, and Verne Troyer as Mini-me is naughty and funny. Heather Graham is a good new romantic lead, and the guest spots fabulous, what’s not to like about Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello, Woody Harrelson, and of course Clint Howard in yet another cameo. It’s all very silly, the Madonna theme tune (Beautiful Stranger) is one of her best singles and heads a pot pourri of great music (such as REM’s version of Tommy james Draggin’ The LIne), and Will Ferrell as Mustafa is still funny, Frau Barbissina, Scott Evil, Dr Evil are all still fabulous. Groovy Baby, Bondtastic.
40. Airplane! (1980)
From one daft comedy to another. This time it’s the disaster movie cliches that are the main target, but it’s pops into other recent movie and cultural mild-knocking. It’s all very good-natured, and The Zucker’s and Abraham introduce the double whammy of verbal gags and visual gags in the background to actors playing it straight to the camera. A large cast of established actors add to the delight, but newcomers Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty are also great. This was the movie that let Leslie Nielsen show his comic side (“and don’t call me Shirley”), Mission: Impossible’s Peter Graves airplane Captain take an unusual line of questioning to a little boy, Ethel Merman as a psychiatric patient who thinks he’s Ethel Merman, James Hong popping up again in my list as a Japanese General, and other assorted very non-PC one-liners and caricatures. It’s never mean-spirited though, so it carries well. If anything I’ve seen the film too often for it to have the same affect on me it used to, but there are so many hilarious moments (topped by the singing nun Airport 1975 piss-take – maureen McGovern of Poseidon Adventure theme tune fame – repeatedly knocking out the life-support drip to the child she’s singing to) that this and the space-based identikit sequel continue to give joy.
39. The Fugitive (1993)
Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, a great thriller remake of a favourite David Janssen 1960’s TV series of mine, how could it fail? It didn’t, phew! Ford & Jones are great combatants even though the scenes together are minimal, and the plotting is tight, the script punchy and involving, the set piece action sequences thrilling. In short, one of my all-time fave thrillers with two of my all-time fave leading men at their best. The basic plot: Dr Richard Kimble is framed for the murder of his wife, but escapes and searches for the truth (the one-armed man, essentially, played by the great Andreas Katsulas, soon to be the best thing in Babylon 5) while evading justice. That’s the whole series condensed into one movie, but the pacing is perfect, regardless. Tommy Lee won a best-supporting actor Oscar, quite deservedly, Jane Lynch puts in a showing almost 20-years ahead of her Glee-tastic bitchy award-winning Sue Sylvester, and the film was deservedly nominated for Best Picture. Should have won, too.
38. Cat Ballou (1965)
One of the great westerns, incidentally a comedy/drama, and Jane Fonda’s most endearing (title) role at a time when she was also stunningly beautiful and yet to be American public political enemy number one. The real star, of course, is oscar-winning double-roled Lee Marvin, capable of switching from menace to side-splittingly funny wisecracks or visual gags. It’s not all about him, though, Fonda is great, and the young cast-members match her, headed by TV favourite Dwayne Hickman (clean-cut Dobie Gillis, here a likeable rogue). Throw in the Greek-chorus duet singing of the cancer-stricken great Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye throughout the film, and it’s a very re-watchable treat. Reviews were apparently mixed at the time, according to Wikipedia, but I only ever remember word-of-mouth love for the film, and it did Top 10 box office. It’s recently been voted 10th best western by the AFI, and referenced by hot-actor of the moment Bryan Cranston as the film in his life that had the most impact. It was a childhood fave to me too. So “critics miss the point” shocker headlines, eh, who would have thought it….
37. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Spielberg’s follow-up, spiritually, to Close Encounters was a money-making sensation for such a small-budget kids movie, essentially. As always, plenty of people love to brag that they don’t fall for hype and have never seen the film, as if it’s something to be proud of. I call them “people with no imagination and no sense of wonder” co it’s a treasure of a film. There’s enough hard-times/cynicism/laughs in the film to avoid over-sentimentality, but at it’s heartlight it’s a film about love and survival against the odds. There are no baddies, only threat that isn’t what it seems, no-one gets killed, the directing and cinematography is stunning, an extension of Spielberg’s previous David Lean-ist movie style, and should have got him Best Picture, Director and Cinematography at the Oscars, as generously suggested, more or less, by winner Richard Attenborough. Child-star Drew Barrymore was amusing, and a future force in movies, but really it’s a cast of unknowns portraying the Family, and doing it well, especially Elliot (Henry Thomas) and of course ET. The John Williams soundtrack is gorgeous, the now-famous classic scenes in the film retain their charm, and all-in-all it’s just wonderful to re-live on a semi-regular basis, preferably after hopping on Universal Studios ET Ride for a boost to get in the mood. The film, of course, is destined to charm new generations of kids and kids-at-heart in a good way….Hooray!
36. Young Frankenstein (1974)
A Mel Brooks/ Gene Wilder script and movie, a loving parody of 30’s horror movies, complete with black and white cinematography and editing to match the target. It uses the cliches of horror to affectionate affect, the script is witty and packed with great lines, and the cast is top-notch. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder were at the top of their games in this, hot off the back of Blazing Saddles, whatever they did afterwards might have been amusing, but it wasn’t quite as classic as this one. The cast? Oh, that cast! Gene Wilder is perfect as Dr. “FRONKensteen” trying to live down his ancestor’s mad inventions, Marty Feldman transferred from UK TV comic to memorable movie comedian and seemed to be having a ball, and the brilliant and under-rated Madeline Kahn shows herself to be one the great women film comic actors of all-time, her delivery is always spot-on. But there’s more! Terri Garr, of Star Trek, Close Encounters, Tootsie fame, shows she can do broad comedy too, I’d been a big fan of hers since coming across her Shirley Maclaine-esque role in Star Trek, and was very happy to sit in the audience of a 90’s TV pilot show with Burt Reynolds (a movie quiz) after she’d suffered a stroke and en-route to being Phoebe’s mom on Friends. Cloris Leachman, the fabulously bitchy Phyllis of Mary Tyler Moore Show and psycho-grandma from Malcolm In The Middle, has worked consistently brilliantly in character roles over the decades, this one might even be her best (Frau Blucher! – cue horses whinneying). Peter Boyle as the Monster is also great, and he went on to late-life fame and success on TV, his best role was in the X Files and this one though. Then there’s Kenneth Mars, a Mel Brooks regular, also of Malcolm In The Middle, and a great cameo from Gene Hackman, and the musical number (Puttig Ong De Ritzz) and townspeople burning frenzy, Wilder’s wide-eyed on-the-edge calmness, and just so many quotable lines. Fab. U. Lous.
35. Toy Story (1995)
The first entirely computer-animated movie, and the birth of Pixar as movie-makers. It’s also a return to mega-success family friendly, but contemporary, animated films that appeal to adults as much as kids, thanks to the great scripts, characters and cast. How about a list of great things? Randy Newman’s songs. Tom Hanks as Woody, he’s pure Mr Everyman and Mr Nice, even when he’s being envious and selfish. Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen’s first incarnation as spaceman) in tribute to the great Buzz Aldrin. Cowboys vs Spacemen, the two great kids genres of the 20th century, as a fantasy adventure, the other great genre, as the toys have a life of their own when humans aren’t around. Joss Whedon honing the script and adding Rex (Wallace “Grand Negus DS9” Shawn). Cheers’ John Ratzenberger (natch, it’s a Pixar film!), Don Rickles veteran comedian as Mr Potato Head. A great cast of characters/toys. Toy story wasn’t the first of the Toy Story’s I saw (that was 2, which in some ways is funnier), but it’s still a great entertaining film, and gets bonus points for being influential and ground-breaking.
34. Jurassic Park (1993)
Stephen Spielberg. CGI dinosaurs bringing the extinct big reptiles to life in a way that stop-motion movies never quite could, Ray Harryhausen apart, now that science had uncovered so much more about them. It’s very Spielberg-ian as films go, a cast of kids and adults, drama, excitement, human folly, beautifully shot and directed, great John Williams music, and a great cast: Richard Attenborough in his last real memorable acting role, Sam Neil and Laura Dern great leads, Jeff Goldblum being Mr Cynical, as always, Wayne Knight in my list again (Seinfeld/Third Rock From The Sun) as the baddie, and Samuel L Jackson popping up for the first time in a great big-budget movie. Of course no blockbuster is complete without him in the 21st Century (he claims his list of movies have made more money than any body of work by any other actor – and I’m sure he’s right!). There are so many great scenes in the film, the appearance of the T.Rex trapped in cars in the rain, the toilet block, the hunting packs of velociraptors (artistic licence here I think!) and the climactic ending. Florida’s brilliant theme park Islands Of Adventure (Universal Studios) is the best in the world, for me, not hurt by having a whole section devoted to Jurassic Park themes, wet dinosaur rides, and an interactive/dining centre designed to look like the Jurassic Park centre and loads to do for kids, with the theme music constantly chiming out as a backdrop amongst the sprays of cooling mists and foliage. The film is iconic and for a while was top money-maker of all-time. Spielberg at his commercial best, and significantly better than either of the sequels. Hopefully the 4th will be great again…
33. Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott’s tense, brilliant sci-fi horror movie. Design-wise it’s stunning (H.R.Giger’s alien and sets are beautifully frightening), and the Direction is genius, setting and building the tenseness and the horror cliche of victims being picked off one-by-one was never better than in Alien. Done to perfection, and genuinely shocking when it came out. Sigourney Weaver was a revelation in this, a tough, no-nonsense leading “man” role who happened to be a woman (the script had been written for a man), which set her up for a whole career as a goddess of sci-fi. The cast is uniformly brilliant, John Hurt and his chest-burster scene, Veronica Cartwright’s nervousness (later of X Files, earlier of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers), Tom Skerritt’s shock leading-man early departure, Harry Dean Stanton’s “here kitty kitty”, Yaphet Kotto’s lashing out, and Ian Holm’s emotionless android. Not to mention the ultimate cunning monster to beat all monsters, the semi-indestructible and adaptable alien itself. The grim n gritty vision of the mining spaceships was a million miles from glossy Star Trek, but Jerry Goldsmith’s score was the equal of the movie, and Dan O’Bannon’s script. The sequels were variable (see Aliens lower down the list, but none of the others came close), but the memory lingers. In 1979 one of my all-time fave films, I know it too well to watch as often these days, but the recent Ridley Scott prequel Prometheus improves on repeat viewing and may well join the 100 at some stage…
32. The Sound Of Music (1965)
Robert Wise may not have Star Trek The Motion Picture in the list (even though it would have rated higher than this for many years) but the childhood monster musical has legs. The reason it became the biggest musical of all-time (and biggest money-making film for a decade) was because it was so bloody brilliant. Julie Andrews was taken for granted at the time, she was such a huge star, the album topped the charts on and off for years, and songs from the film (and clips on TV) were still going strong well into the 70’s. And what songs, a mix of the catchy and family-friendly (The Lonely Goatherd, Do Re Me – we sang it at school – My Favourite Things) and the dramatic (the spine-tingling Climb Every Mountain as sung by Margery McKay (not Peggy Wood) Edelweiss, as sung by Bill Lee (not Christopher Plummer) and The Sound Of Music (as sung by Julie Andrews, thankfully!). It’s not just the songs though, nor the great dance routines, nor even the great cast – well so many sci-fi links to me! – it’s the script, it’s a proper musical with drama, threat (Nazis and fleeing) and ultimately a love story as the governess marries the Captain. Julie Andrews and icy Christopher Plummer are great. Sci-fi link 1: Star Trek IV movie Klingon = Plummer. The kids are cute: sci fi links: Nicholas Hammond was TV’s Spiderman; Heather Menzies was TV’s Jessica 6 in Logan’s Run; Angela Cartwright was Penny Robinson in Lost In Space (and just pips older sister Veronica in Alien!); Marni Nixon doesn’t have a sci fi connection (she’s a nun here) but her singing was prominent in many musicals dubbed over actors, most famously Natalie Wood in the other great dramatic musical 60’s Robert Wise film, West Side Story. End of the day, though, it’s a feel-good movie, timeless, a bonafide classic and anyone who dismisses it on grounds of “saccharin Julie Andrews wholesomeness”, which it was bombarded with for decades, is missing the point. Just give in and enjoy!
31. Notting Hill (1999)
Highest-rated traditional Rom-com on the list is this one, Richard Curtis’ follow-up to the hugely successful Four Weddings And A Funeral. That’s not to ignore everyone else’s contribution, but it’s all about the script with Richard Curtis TV and movies, and after Blackadder (my own fave Curtis co-scripts) this is far and away my favourite. Hugh Grant is at his most bumbling and charming, Julia Roberts was never more sensitive and likeable, and the supporting cast of British actors is great:
Rhys Ifans comical, Tim “Blackadder’s Percy” McInnerny and other TV Curtis or Ben Elton regulars all great support. It’s had it’s critics (twee middle-class Brit view of the world that isn’t based in reality) but it’s charm over-rides quibbles, and the plot is joyous: famous beautiful actress finds true love with a bookish nerd. Oh please that’s bound to appeal to every bookish nerd. Hello! Nerd here! It’s amusing, clever dialogue, whimsical largely-bitterness-free attitude, and tear-jerking (with happiness) finale is a guaranteed rainy-day-feeling-low boost for me. Its’ optimism and good-will is infectious, and it’s appeal grows with the years. Terrific.
and so to the top 30 fave movies of all-time, starting with a bang:
30. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
It’s James Cameron again, back with yet another sequel that’s bigger than the original – this time an action-packed, time-twisting, apocalyptic, relentlessly pursuing robot-with-a-twist thriller. Arnie said he’d be back…and here he is, this time as the protector of John Connor, future saviour of the human race in the battle against machines. Turning Schwarzenegger into a heroic figure was a stroke of genius, and it suited his acting ability brilliantly, he’s very, very likeable in a ruthlessly macho way. Linda Hamilton is also back, as Sarah Connor, John’s mother, trying to warn of the forthcoming catastrophe and locked up in a mental institution, now tough and utterly single-minded in her mission to look after her son. Still working in sci-fi (great in “Chuck” TV series) Hamilton’s performance is sooo different from the cowering character of the first film. That’s a good thing! Robert Patrick, later of the final X Files seasons, also a revelation here, as a morphing ruthless shapeshifter sent from the future to kill John Connor. CGI state of the art at the time, some of the scenes, like the car chase have since been parodied beautifully by the likes of The Simpsons. There are several different edits of the movie, all are great, and there’s also the little matter of Terminator 2: 3D: Battle Across Time, a mini movie sequel featuring Arnie and Edward Furlong, Linda Hamilton and Robert Patrick, which has been showing at Universal Studios florida for 18 years, to millions of visitors each year. Now that’s what I call an exciting movie (shame about the sequels).
29. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)
The follow-up to blockbuster Jaws, which shocked and startled and became instantly iconic, Steven Spielberg opted for a very different film, and which jointly (with Star Wars) turned around an ailing film industry, sci-fi suddenly meant cash not box-office poison. Special Effects were now advanced enough for aliens and spaceships to look convincing, not laughable, and Spielberg put forward an alternate viewpoint that advanced species would be intent on destroying humanity. There was something magical about the philosophy to me, and the small-town suburban America, and the cast: Richard Dreyfuss was great as the mysteriously-obsessed Roy Neary (he’d talked Spielberg into giving him the role over superstar actors, who frankly wouldn’t have had the right liberal intellectual hippie mood), Francois Truffaut was a bonus, and Terri Garr was terrific as always. The special effects and cinematography, though, were as much the real stars of the film as anything: I had posters on the wall of that breath-taking moment when the giant spaceship dwarfs Wyoming’s Devil Tower, and so many scenes in the movie are magical, the little boy standing shadowed in bright light, the mix of John Williams brilliant theme music with the spaceship communication, and the many false starts and jumps leading up to the climax. For many years it was my all-time fave film, from early 1978 well into the 80’s, and I bought all the booklets, photonovels and eventually DVD’s of the various released versions (Spielberg felt the original needed extra scenes and editing, especially as ILM took off – see George Lucas!). I can see now I was dazzled a bit by the pretty lights a bit, or else I just watched it too often, I know it by heart almost – it’s still the film I’ve paid to see most times at the cinema – but it’s not one I put on as regularly these days. I still love it though, and it kick-started my Spielberg-worship. I “heart” it, smiley face, in short
28. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)
Jerry Bruckheimer reinvented the mega-Disney family movie with this series of films. Pirates had been decidedly out-of-fashion since Disney’s Blackbeard’s Ghost delighted kids of the 60’s, but decades of kids and grown-ups had been on the theme ride at the various Disney parks so it wasn’t THAT much of a stretch really to imagine a film doing well. What sent it mega, though, was the update for the new century in attitude and CGI effects, and most of all Johnny Depp doing an impression of the Rolling Stones Keith Richard and playing it for laughs. He’d always done cult movies, especially for Tim Burton’s most interesting movies, but he’d not really gone comic. Turns out he was a natural. The first in the series is still the best (though all have their moments) and the cast is great – what’s not to like about Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Crook, and Zoe Saldana and others swashbuckling, dashing, falling, swimming, getting captured by the undead, skeletons, and nods here and there to scenes on the Disney ride? It’s a lark, and most of all it’s Johnny Depp having a lark. Fantasy, of course, but pure fun.
27. What’s Up Doc? (1972)
A 1930’s pastiche tribute to screwball comedies from Peter Bogdanovich and a script co-written by Buck Henry, co-creator and co-writer of the wonderful Get Smart TV series with Mel Brooks. Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal are marvellous as the unpredictable force of destruction meeting the nerdy professor and causing chaos. Visual gags aplenty, many of them tributes and variations on cliched trusty or famous movie moments, and the characters and actors are delicious. Streisand was never more likeable, ditto O’Neal (so much so that a rematch was set up for them, but The Main Event didn’t have the same magic), and any film that introduces the fantastic Madeline Kahn on the world as the uptight fiancee has won me over already. Kenneth Mars is also, as ever, pompous and amusing, and Liam Dunn got a great late career out of his judge/father role, in Mel Brooks movies and many a TV show fave, for the next 4 years of his life. How big was the film in 1972? Just behind The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure. Why? Cos they’re great! The Poseidon Adventure was my all-time fave film till Close Encounters, and this one has sort of overtaken them both as it’s still a feel-good film with a great witty script and a film for movie lovers looking for references. It’s also very very funny.
26. Donnie Darko (2001)
A low-budget marginally profitable fantasy drama that sort of owes it’s success to Drew Barrymore backing it (and being in it), it’s a bit of a stunner. Dramatic, haunting and macabre, it made a star of Jake Gyllenhaal (and sister Maggie who’s also in it), and gave Patrick Swayze a post-movie-idol meaty role. Part of the appeal of the film is the brilliant use of 80’s British indie poprock, most notably the awesome Echo & The Bunnymen track, “The Killing Moon” at the start of the movie, part is also down to the building cult following of the very dark and disturbing subject matter and imagery, and working out what is mysteriously going on. It’s a clever movie, tragic but also heroic, and Gyllenhaal is a sensation in the central role. He’s had a few great roles since, such as award winning Brokeback Mountain and the very good Source Code, but this remains my fave, one that grows with time. Just to show how much it grew, 3 years after release Mad World, a cover track featured in the film, topped the UK charts. I caught the buzz, bought the DVD and have never regretted taking a pop. Wonderful. The hardest thing to believe though is writer/director Richard Kelly having no subsequent success. Astonishing!
25. Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (1997)
From the sublime to…the ridiculous? Ridiculously funny, anyway! Mike Myers has British Liverpudlian parents and his upbringing (despite being Canadian) is so obviously rooted in UK pop culture in this film, the love for James Bond, 60’s music and assorted sundry 60’s references is pure delight for anyone sharing them. That’ll be me then. It’s a Mike Myers film, script and most of the great characters from Austin Powers and Doctor Evil to the supporting cast of Carry On innuendo named characters like Alotta Fagina (I still laugh), Scott Evil (the fab Seth Green, and here Doctor Evil’s son with Frau Farbissina, Mindy Sterling doing a sterling job, arf), and Vanessa Kensington obviously based on Mrs Peel from the Avengers (Elizabeth Hurley in this case). Toss in Michael York, Robert Wagner, Rob Lowe, Christian Slater, Carrie Fisher and especially Will Ferrell as the not-quite-dead-yet Mustafa and hilarity ensues. I’m guessing if the references pass you by it may be a bit Whoosh-over-the-head, but Myers and co give it more than enough gusto to be funny anyway. Goodnatured, a large proportion ad-libbed, daft, engaging and knowing, the plot holds it all together enough to flow well without getting any dull bits on repeat viewing. Plot? Brit Superspy with teeth Austin is frozen and reawakened into the 90’s and a new world where he’s a bit anachronistic. Fortunately the world comes to see things his way. Quite rightly too, it’s a very lovable movie!
24. Finding Nemo (2003)
Talking of lovable. A clown fish. Pixar. Parental love. An adventure saga. Whacky aquatic fish characters. The Coral Reef. What’s not to love?! As always with Pixar, the real story is over-protective fathers (following mama Clown fish getting eaten along with all of their offspring bar one partly disabled son). An unfortunate side-effect is the raiding of reefs for the adorable fish after the movie became a huge success. Somehow the other message of the movie (capturing fish from the wild not a good thing) got lost on many selfish child-pandering moronic individuals. Anyhoo, it’s got Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, the fish with the literal short memory, and what a terrific creation she is, utterly utterly free from malice, non-judgmental, funny, and heart-on-sleeve warm-as-toast personality. OK so she can’t remember anything or anyone for long, a real-life trauma for millions and millions, but she has a heart of gold and love to give. The film would be much much less effective without her. Throw in some great supporting actor-fish/birds/whatever, from Barry “Dame Edna” Humphries, Geoffrey “Pirates of the Caribbean” Rush, and of course John Ratzenberger as a shoal of fish. The seagulls are hilarious: “mine”. “mine”. I declare several biases in favour of the film: I kept fresh-water tropical fish (bred not from the wild) from age 12 to ooh, 26 or so; One of the great experiences of my life is snorkeling around Australia’s reefs cos I love coral reefs (I was careful); the movie is gorgeous to look at, beautifully designed; the plot is wonderful (kudos to Andrew Stanton co-writer and Director); did I mention its just so lovable a film? It is.
23. Blazing Saddles (1974)
Mel Brooks first foray into movies (The Producers) is great, but this comedy western was a sensation, and is still critically revered (though as ever sniffed at by some supposed-high-brow critics of the time). I was the right age for the first movie fart gags in a hollywood movie, and the Very-1974 hip and cool dialogue superimposed on an 1874-set cowboy film cliches mickey-take was a blast, as we might have said at the time, man. The Richard Pryor script is hilarious, which comes as a relief as many of the gags would be considered no-no’s in these overly-politically-correct days, and let’s be clear, it was the first not-pro-white film comedy (the whitefolk are largely inbred idiots – the whole town is populated by hilariously named famous people all named Johnson – or villains). The black cast are the heroes, along with the Indians. Mel Brooks is brilliant here, the theme tune alone (sung by Frankie Laine) is genius Brooks, the timing is perfect, Gene Wilder memorable, Cleavon Little as Bart the first black sheriff is enaging, and the supporting cast are pure genius. I’ve waxed lyrical about them already, so here they are again: Madeline Kahn (Best Supporting Actress nominated) as a short-tongued teutonic Dietrich rip-off Lili Von Shtupp; Harvey Korman talking direct to the audience with great one-liners; Alex Karras as Mongo part-man part-monster; Slim Pickens as the ultra-redneck cowboy and his various cronies as dumb as dishwater; Don DeLuise as the film director in the musical sequence when the big fight finale spills-out into Warner Bros studios lots. So many great gags.
Waco Kid: [to Bart, after the old woman insults him] “What did you expect? ‘Welcome, sonny?’ “Make yourself at home?” ‘Marry my daughter?’ You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the New West. You know…morons.”
The final scenes show the actors watching themselves at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, still dressed in Blazing Saddles gear, then it all goes back to the film again. Manic, inventive, irreverent, brilliant. I mention the Chinese Theatre as 5 years later I sat in the same cinema theatre in real life watching a similarly manic, inventive, irreverent, brilliant British comedy (see Number 19, coming soon).
22. Shrek (2001)
Dreamworks Shrek franchise has been a delight. I’ve nominally nominated the original (well, it IS the best of the bunch, still) but they all have their individual charms. Mike Myers has popped up before in my list, so why not again, Shrek’s grumpy, antisocial anti-hero was a breath of fresh air in animated movies. They took the Disney fairytale characters and turned them on their head. Suddenly the ogre was the goodie and the Prince Charming’s, Fairy Godmother’s and the like the baddies. Mike Myers is perfect for the role, it’s impossible to see anyone else being able to do it so convincingly (even though Chris Farley had already recorded most of it before he died, Shrek would have been less cool and knowing if Myers hadn’t stepped in). Eddie Murphy is equally terrific as Donkey, after years being a bit irritating, suddenly Murphy was a bit endearing and very funny. Cameron Diaz also shows off her funny side, ready to give anything a go with the lads, and John Lithgow is just his brilliant Third Rock persona, vain and arrogant and very very funny. The Universal Studios 3D version is set just after the end of the movie, and the ghost of Lord Farquaad (Lithgow) is hilarious in it (along with the rest of the gang). A final treat also, with the voice of Kathleen Freeman in her last movie. Who? Oh just wikipedia her, she’s been in every single movie released between 1948 and 2001, the world’s premier battleaxe (and she’ll pop up again in my Top 20). Just a brief list of films and TV? Singin’ In The Rain, The Fly, Innerspace, Naked Gun 33 and a third, Blues Brothers, I Dream Of Jeannie, Married With Children and many many more. She never stopped working. Shrek, though, fab script, ad-libbed and re-written by Myers, great choice of oldies, Smashmouth’s version of I’m A Believer is fun, the plot is perfect and unusual, and the ending is the real twist: love yourself for who you are, not what people want you to be. Throw in (as so many of my fave films do) references to previous movies and characters and cliches, especially Disney, and it’s icing on the cake. Or Gingerbread Man, at least. Funneeee!
As we move into the 21 most favouritist (made up word) movies of all time, as viewed by me, I see Empire Magazine just HAD to steal my thunder and publish 303 of the readers “Greatest” movies of all-time. I take consolation that to fairly large extent, they’ve just taken my list and shuffled them about a bit, bunged in some Tarantino and a few other darker movies and then gone and ruined the whole credibility of the list by having the Lord Of The Rings movies way high. How high? Way! No way? Way! I remain mystified by their charm, and I’ve sat through them all. This is my train of thought condensing those hours into a few lines…
Hmm good cast. Nice effects, cinema really has come a long way. Lovely landscapes. Love to go to New Zealand one day. Bit slow though.
Hmm not that keen on the characters actually, don’t they go on a bit without saying anything remotely interesting, all pomp and bluster! I’m sure it’ll pick up in the action sequences. Sometime soon. Anytime now. Still dull.
Oh god this dull. Is it nearly finished yet? You’re kidding? Half-way! Oh god this is tedious. I hate them all. Boooooring. So wooden. No personality. I wish they’d all die!
Oh. My. God. I’m going to explode with boredom. Help Me!!! Please!!! Oh kill me now!!! Is it never going to end. Please End!!! Give me a rifle I hate the world!!!!!
That was just the first film:) I’m sure they’ll grown on me one day.
Just missing the Top 20?
21. The Truman Show (1998)
The film that stopped me hating Jim Carrey. Quite an achievement, and to be fair, he gives a great performance in the title role. It’s a unique film, fantasy social-commentary, amusing, dramatic, involving and stylishly clever, with edits and camera angles all brilliantly taking the michael of TV in particular, adverts, reality TV and the dubious morality of those in control of it. Ed Harris, as ever, is great as the manipulative Christoff, and the supporting cast of unknowns (to me) were just perfect, especially Truman’s histrionic “wife” Laura Linney. Oh, plus Harry “Simpsons” Shearer in a cameo. I love the 50‘s look of the film, and Truman’s gradual awareness of how he seems to be the centre of the universe (he is) is engrossing and delicious. There’s no fat in the film, it’s exactly as long as it needs to be, taut, perfectly-formed and self-contained in it’s own little world. Just like a great TV show. There are no other Carrey films on my list, but he’s grown on me over the years since Truman Show with movies like Yes Man, Bruce Almighty and Kick Ass 2, and he’s a bloody good interviewee and a bit of a hero these days. The film was highly regarded on release and nominated for Oscars, but won none, which is shame, at the least the screenplay (Andrew Niccol) and Director (Peter Weir) should have won. I say that knowing my fave Director (Spielberg) got the Oscar for Director that year, and Shakespeare In Love best script. Saw them both, preferred Truman Show to both.
Next up…Top 20!!!
20. Planet Of The Apes (1968)
The debut of a film TV and comics franchise that’s still going strong, but the original is still far and away the best. Charlton Heston giving the role of his life, as astronaut crash survivor Taylor and reinventing himself as a cynical hero for modern (and frequently future) times, as opposed to a biblical hero for olden times. His other films don’t quite make the list, though there is a biblical “epic” coming up next. Of sorts. The recent movies use CGI rather than men in ape masks, but they lack the depth of character and appeal of Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans as Cornelius, Zira and Dr Zaius, and the social commentary on their society and the shock ending where it turns out to be not a Planet of Apes, but a future Earth devastated by mankind. Heston is majestic throughout, but it’s that final scene of the Statue Of Liberty in the sand that is iconic. You know you’ve made it when you become iconic and parodied, and Maurice Evans brilliant performance as the main antagonist even had a song dedicated to him (to the tune of Rock Me Amadeus) inThe Simpsons. Prosthetic make-up was advanced seriously by this film, and the script (by the brilliant Twilight Zone genius Rod Serling) notches up the drama and surprises despite rewrites (his TV scripts needed no rewrites). Budgets got cheaper and scripts less good with later sequels, until the reboots by Tim Burton and the 2011 second reboot boosted budgets, cast and effects, but failed to capture the magic of the original. The film made me a fan of all the cast, except oddly enough Charlton Heston who absolutely dominates the film. A movie classic. The second highest-positioned film of the 60’s.
19. The Life Of Brian (1979)
One of the most controversial films of all-time, as religious groups gathered to get it banned from cinemas across the lands. It’s not surprising really, not because it’s mocking Christianity (Jesus is never mocked) but because it mocks fanatics, be they religious, political or stereotypical. Beatle George Harrison rescued the film financially (and cameos along with Marty Feldman and Spike Milligan), and I saw the film the week it opened in the most unlikely place you could imagine to see a typically British, madcap, shouty, irreverent comedy: Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre, the one with the megastar signatures and handprints in the sidewalk. A student of 21 and having the adventure of a lifetime, but I certainly never saw that one coming. My two Christian friends (of the 5 of us) also saw the film and weren’t offended, it’s too intent on a being a group of comics having a laugh for the accuracy of the material’s targets to have venom behind it. The script cleverly lampoons how quick to follow, and how obtuse to reality, people can be. It’s not a proper film, really, as it’s the same Python team of 6 in multiple ridiculous (and politically incorrect) caricatures (and controlling everything in the film), it’s not remotely heartwarming, though the Bassey-esque theme song and Eric Idles anthemic Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life are needed to lighten the ending a bit. Plenty of gags, and the most rounded of the Python movies, it’s probably one to split opinion – Python were a cult 70’s TV show, but they had a very large male bias in appeal, women and girls not so fussed, and the abstract and bizarre nature of much of the material left many blinking rather than laughing. Me, anyone that can imagine John Cleese dressed as a woman selling ice-creams at the cinema, but with a giant albatross in the tray (shouting “albatross! albatross!”) is going to have me in stitches. To be honest this is not as good a film as the 20 or 30 below, but, hey I saw it in Hollywood and it’s Python! Best bit: the crowd shouting “Yes, I’m an individual” in unison. Oh, and another reason to push it into the top 20: my motto is, if a film’s got aliens and spaceships it gets extra points. This biblical epic has them in it (taking the piss out of Star Wars) and confirms it’s a good motto….
18. Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969)
A comedy western towards the tail-end of the era of the mega-popular cowboy movies, but a warm-hearted, slightly cynical, adorable anti-hero type of western. The hero of this film (James Garner) is very much based on his TV western series Maverick persona – gambler, cowardly, selfish, blunt but so, so charming. He’s also a bit OCD when it comes to disorder and unregulated baddies who think they can do as they like by using fear and the gun. He prefers brains and deceit. James Garner, as I’ve said before, is one of my fave movie stars, he can have any number of bad characteristics to his screen personas and still make them charming and likable. It worked so well here that they did a quick copycat Support Your Local Gunfighter! follow-up, which was nearly as good, and then a couple of years later came the eternal Jim Rockford on the Rockford Files, the best TV detective of all-time. What makes Sheriff! genius though is the supporting cast of familiar movie faces, like the wonderful Jack Elam as his Deputy (previously town drunk), Harry Morgan of MASH & Dragnet TV fame, the fab Joan Hackett as the tomboy love interest, Bruce Dern as baddie spoilt-son, and Walter Brennan, veteran of westerns for 30 years, as the head of the clan battling against law and order. Bung in Kathleen Freeman (again) and it’s my favourite 100% western and my highest-placed film from the 60’s. You won’t find it in many All-Time lists, but it’s good-natured amusing cynicism and playful messing with western cliches just ticks all the right boxes for me. Did I mention James Garner is in it?
17. The Mummy (1999)
Fond memories of seeing this in a fab International Drive, Orlando, Florida multiplex the week of release, and of bits and bobs from the movie being on display at Universal Studios to promote the movie, might have pushed it further up my list. But not that much further up, it’s still a great adventure romp in the old-fashioned sense, swashbuckling, horror, fantasy, bickering hero and spunky heroine, and Brits in the cast to give a touch of class. The CGI is amazing, the cast impeccable, the dialogue snappy and tight, the characterisation spot-on, and Brendan Fraser in the lead was just perfect. Written and Directed by Stephen Sommers, it’s technically a remake, but is actually more a modern re-imagining. Rachel Weisz and John Hannah are great as heroine and sidekick (brother), Arnold Vosloo is perfectly cast as Imhotep/The Mummy, a striking and memorable villain, and Patricia Velasquez a great baddie-ess (a short role, but much more from her in the sequel). Oded Fehr is great, Bernard Fox is great (Welsh actor of many an American TV and film playing stiff-upper-lip Brits types in Titanic, Bewitched, Monkees, MASH and many more), and Omid Djalili takes a break from stand-up comedy and goes all character actor comedy. The various swarms of scarab beetles, sandstorms, life-sucking mummies and more are terrific fun, and the film cracks along at a great pace. Fraser and Weisz are great together too. Love it.
16. Return Of The Jedi (1983)
The 3rd and least of the original Star wars trilogy, it has one main flaw: Ewoks. Cute cuddly diminutive warrior aliens were more to do with merchandise than drama. An edit without would produce a much better and more dramatic, darker finale. The recent CGI additions don’t make a great deal of difference to the original, so I’ll just stick with ratings for all the Star Wars films as the original versions. In a way, Return is Part 2 of The Empire Strikes Back and the cliffhanger that finished on (Han frozen into a giant brick sculpture) is resolved after an iconic battle with Jabba The Hutt, Leia in skimpy outfit and all. The original cast is happily back to gladden the heart-strings, Mark Hamill, Carrie (daughter of Debbie Reynolds) Fisher, Harrison Ford (by now a superstar), Dave Prowse (Darth Vader’s physical being, caught him at Disney MGM studios nearly 15 years ago now in a Star Wars parade), and the evil baddie to beat all evil baddies, Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor, gives a brilliantly sinister performance. R2D2 and C3P0 are still amusing, the in-family soap scenes are good (Luke/Leia the son & daughter of daddy Darth Vader), and the special effects were on a galactic scale at the time. Not any more, of course, CGI has changed movie-making beyond recognition, and all the model-work and alien-suit techniques in use then have moved on to a virtual computer-driven experience. In a way Jedi was almost the end of an era (bar one other trilogy), but that sort of gives it a period charm these days (which is why I’m not keen on CGI tinkering round the edges). I haven’t mentioned George Lucas, yet, head of an Empire of his own, thanks to keeping the merchandising rights. The prequel trilogy started badly (Even seeing The Phantom Menace in Florida with media megahype couldn’t stop it being a) boring b) convoluted plotwise c) Liam Neeson being in it d) Jar Jar Binks ruining it) but the next two were both good, the last one still has a shot of making my Top 100 if I see it some more. I’m looking very much forward to seeing the reunited cast, another trilogy and best of all J J Abrams being in control after his recent Star Trek re-energizing. I wonder if we’ll hear from Lucas and Abrahams higher up the list….Hmmm. Guess!
15. Men In Black (1997)
Barry Sonnenfeld’s best movie, and my favourite Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones roles, and yet another Stephen Spielberg production. Stevie certainly knows how to appeal to me! In this case, it’s another comic-based rollicking, funny, engaging, fast-paced roller-coaster ride, aliens galore, good and bad, hi-tech, brilliant special effects, and a good supporting cast in Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub, and many others. The plotting is fun (the Earth about to blown-up unless a galaxy hanging round a cat’s collar is kept away from a rampaging cockroach. Yes, that old ploy!), the large cast of colourful aliens is hilarious, Will Smith not only had a chart-topper with the theme tune, he cornered the market in blockbuster sci-fi heroes for a decade and beyond. Smith & Jones are a brilliant double-act, and this extends into the sequels – they might not be quite up to the originality of the first, but they are still well worth watching in their own right. The mass appeal of Will Smith is partly down the Fresh Prince TV show and friendly teen rapper background (having hits in the UK from 1986 on), partly down to a winning personality and family-friendly attitude, and not least down to being a great movie star. Box Office megabucks were also now possible for black actors too, worldwide, as lead hero, as opposed to support or comedians, so I see Will as a Sigourney Weaver-type of new role model in movies. I love this film, never get bored with it, cheers me up when I watch it, and is one of that rare breed: perfectly-formed, exactly as long as it needs to be, and no more. The curse of the modern movie (excess padding) not on view here! Actually, now I talk about it, I feel like watching it again – and I only saw it a month ago! Classic!
14. Some Like It Hot (1959)
This is a perfect film, and it’s difficult to imagine a Best, Favourite or Greatest list of films without it in – exceptions granted for those too young to have seen it yet! Billy Wilder’s comedy is regularly acclaimed critically and popularity-wise as the best comedy of all-time, and it’s just brilliant. The script is terrific, but the performances lift it up a notch further, especially Tony Curtis in his light-leading-man prime (doing a fantastic impotent Cary Grant impression on top of his Tony Curtis Brooklyn-charmer), and Jack Lemmon going way over the top in drag. Plot: a historical setting (well, all of 30 years at the time at any rate) as two musicians witness the St Valentine’s Day Massacre and go on the run in drag with a band of female musicians, especially Marilyn Monroe at her breathy iconic best: I Wanna Be Loved By You (poop poop bi do). The Mob (with many a great gangster actor) are out to get them. The gender-confusing cross-dressing plot is a lark (and quite daring for the time) and the sparring between Curtis & Lemmon for Monroe’s affections is great fun. Throw in Joe E. Ross and that perfect throwaway last line to Jack Lemmon’s wig-removing “Aww I’m A Man” after he got swept away being romanced (as a woman) by millionaire Ross: Nobody’s Perfect. But some films are. Top-rated film from the 50’s, top black and white movie, top notch.
13. Gravity (2013)
An Alfonso Cuaron film, screenplay (with son Jonas), Director (oscar winner), Producer, and amazingly a British-American film, filmed in the UK, this film is nothing short of stunning. The most realistic sci-fi film space drama ever, the plot is more a “might have been” than fantasy. OK it stretches quite a few coincidences to breaking point, but life is full of billion-to-one unlikely series of events (marooned in orbit following space catastrophe and the battle for survival against the clock). Even more incredible, there are basically two actors on screen in the whole film, George Clooney who is total hero, in the real sense of the word, ready to risk and sacrifice his life for others, and with a sense of positive optimism in the face of adversity, who wouldn’t just fall in love with him! The centre-piece though is Sandra Bullock, who is simply stunning. Given that for most of the movie she is acting with no-one but herself, and against screens for special effects (stunning Oscar-winning cinematography 3D special effects) it’s criminal she wasn’t the winner of the Best Actress Oscar. Star of a host of pleasing comedies, most recently the fab The Proposal with the marvellous Ryan Reynolds and Betty White, and occasional great dramas like The Net, she conclusively proved she can do drama as well as any actress, and do it brilliantly. Ed Harris, in a nice touch, is there on voice Mission Control reprising that other great space drama Apollo 13. The film has no flab, it’s perfectly-formed and perfectly-edited, inspiring, involving, and for once 3D is totally justified (as opposed to a gimmicky profit-increasing incidental). I’ve only seen the film 3 times in 12 months, but I see this film only going higher in my chart with the years. I. Love. It.
12. Wall-E (2008)
Another Pixar heartwarming tale with a difference – this time the last miniature robot left working on an abandoned planet Earth, environmental catastrophe appearing to have wiped out most life, bar a superfast mutated smart cockroach. It’s a film of 2 halves, the first half almost free of dialogue, full of mystery and engaging the viewer on a tiny l’il robot, still beavering away on his rubbish collecting and saving of souvenirs. Self-aware and curious, and above all lonely, a recurring Pixar theme is loneliness and finding love, and Wall-E finds it in a mysterious visiting probe and a rescued plant, a plant that is the saviour of a space-bound obese dumbed-down race of idiots under the thrall of super-computer in the second-half action-packed space-bound part of the film. There’s a lot of social commentary going on, and it’s certainly ambitious and critically-acclaimed, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t charming in the extreme. It so is. One of the ultimate feel-good films, and just for bonus I’ll mention two names that just keep on cropping up in my list. Sigourney Weaver. John Ratzenberger. Voices. Nuff said. Me, I love the mood change in the film, I don’t think the entire film could have worked focused on one location or the other, it needed both to give it a sense of scale, and the scale is grand. The future of the human race and the planet? Can’t really get more important than that… Brilliant!
11. Galaxy Quest (1999)
I couldn’t quite bring myself to put a daft film into the Top 10, and it DOES parody Star Trek and it’s fandom – but it’s so without malice, and accurate, and funny, and engaging it almost comes over as a mix of Star Trek and the Star Trek actors lifestyles. Alan Rickman is hilarious (as he often is) as the Spock-Nimoy character, Sigourney Weaver is wonderful (yes her again, I wonder if she’s in my Top 10. I wonder if Star Trek is…) as the computer-repeating Uhura-role, and Tim “Buzz Lightyear” Allen as Shatner-Kirk is marvellous. The rest of the cast is equally delightful, including the unknowns, and including the better-knowns such as Tony Shalhoub (see Men In Black) and Sam Rockwell (see Cowboys & Aliens). The script is funny, both for kids and adults, the aliens that turn a sci-fi show into reality are a great invention for the purposes of the laughs, and it’s not afraid to turn geeks into heroes. So I’m bound to love it. It’s fairly well-regarded as a great movie but not a Great movie, but there are few films that just give you a massive warm fuzzy feeling inside after watching it. It’s so damn lovable. It became my mum’s all-time favourite film when it came out on DVD, age 61, one watched with regularity, so that’s good enough for me. She still watches it, and still loves it, even though she has memory problems now (we watched it last week). Anyone mistakenly thinking it’s low-brow can just go and re-assess themselves, cos it’s an under-rated gem. So there!
10. Back To The Future Part III (1990)
The conclusion to the Robert Zemeckis trilogy, it’s part sci-fi Time Travel, part western-romp and re-unites the cast, notably Michael J. Fox in multiple roles, and Christopher Lloyd having a ball as old Doc Brown living in the past with new flame Mary Steenburgen and Thomas F. Wilson, the unsung great baddie of the three movies (Biff), here playing his descendant Mad Dog with nasty gusto, he’s great to watch. Fox is a great hero-with-flaws in these films, his TV days long behind him, till illness cut short his movie career, and Christopher Lloyd had been a major fave of mine since he debuted as Reverend Jim in Taxi. His Doc Brown is one of the great cinema eccentric scientists. As a western movie fan, it was great to have this final box-office hit for the genre (more or less) and having Pat Buttram in a saloon cameo didn’t hurt, star in many a western I was a huge fan of the Simpsons-influencing 60’s sitcom Green Acres, where he played wheeler-dealer Mr. Haney, complete with “has to be heard to be believed” nasal whiney voice. The plot of this film is more coherent than part II (which it quickly followed, as both were filmed simultaneously) and has a much lighter tone to it. Try not to think too hard about all of the time-travel paradoxes that each film creates, I count two past history changes, three 1980’s-present alternates (at least) and two future-possibilities (at least), so it’s better to just enjoy the romp, cos it’s the ultimate feel-good trilogy.
9. Back To The Future Part II (1989)
Sprawling sequel, this was in a way Back To The Future revisited, with it’s revisit of 1950’s small-town america, had most of the original cast return (bar 2), and took things further by going into the far future of 2015, where a lighthearted romp ensues showcasing such ridiculous far-fetched fantasy devices as wall-TV’s, skype, computer-controlled houses, 1980’s nostalgia, real-life celebrities recreated by computers and other stuff. OK, the fax is still about in 2015 (as if!) and the hoverboard and flying car better get going as they’ve only got 6 months now to sort themselves out, not to mention the ending of oil as a fuel. 2115 maybe….! For a long while this was my favourite part of the trilogy cos I loved the future setting followed by the time-travel-caused alternate dystopian future where Biff seems to have single-handedly caused the hope to be replaced with worldwide misery (or at least American). Michael J. Fox as his own daughter looked good, but was probably inadvised after the initial laugh, and Christopher Lloyd playing young and old Doc Brown got over the problem thanks to that rejuvenation treatment that I could do with next year. Looking forward to that coming onto the market! I also love time travel films, and paradoxes, though if you look too closely at it poor old Jennifer and Einstein end up left in an alternate universe 1985 present-day which has always bugged me. My nostalgia for the fifties (to be more accurate, nostalgia for 70’s versions of the 50’s) was still going strong, and I enjoyed the double-take revisit of the events of the original movie. Thomas F. Wilson again gives several great performances as various versions of Biff, the Bob Gale-Robert Zemeckis script is sharp and entertaining, I love hearing Mr Sandman in the film, and there’s a great cliffhanger at the end. In 2014, the 2015 sequences look a bit overly-ambitious technology-wise but they insisted they had to have flying cars, just because. And why not!? Fab.
8. Paul (2011)
OK I said there weren’t any daft films in the Top 10. I lied. This one ticks all the right boxes for me: sci-fi? Tick. Great cast? Tick. Funny script? Tick. References to past movies? Tick. Aliens? Tick. Affectionate pastiche of fandom? Tick. In a way, it does for Close Encounters (even to the same locations), E.T. and X-Files what Galaxy Quest did for Star Trek – takes the piss in a knowing and lovable way. To be honest, I’d not been a huge fan of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost up to this point – I mean, I liked them, but hadn’t been totally convinced till Pegg popped up in Doctor Who and Star Trek (as Scotty) – but their performances, their script, and their obvious love of the fandom/sci-fi stuff won me over. Seth Rogen as smart-assed alien Paul was a good modern-cynical take on the cliche, Jason Bateman is great as CIA baddie (sort of), Kristin Wiig is hilarious as the religious fundamentalist daughter (and opened up a career for her as romcom star of good movies like Bridesmaids), and of course, no sci-fi blockbuster is complete without Sigourney Weaver as a bad-ass bitch these days. Tick! Chuck in great character actors like Joe Lo Truglio (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Jeffrey Tambor (Hill Street Blues among a million TV series, and fabulous The Invention Of Lying among a million movies), Jane “Glee” Lynch, and Bill “Men In Black 3” Hader and it’s one of the most joyous road movies ever made. It should have been a huge hit, but maybe it’s most appreciated by sci-fi geeks like me who juuuuust feel the love in it rather than the mainstream. Plus it has a great oldies soundtrack, notably the brilliant Todd Rundgren’s Hello It’s Me. Classic!
7. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Just voted the greatest movie of all-time in Empire magazine, the second-part (or fifth) of the Star Wars saga is a bonafide classic. Darker than the original (part IV), it has a few advantages over it (special effects are better, it’s on a bigger scale even than the universe-crossing original, most of the cast reprise their roles) but it also has some disadvantages to me (the Yoda scenes are over-long, Lando’s a bit bland) and one major flaw that will always stop it being top-rated: it just ends. OK, Luke gets his hand chopped off and Darth Vader announces he’s his dad, but it’s very much part 1 of 2 parts with Han Solo freeze-dried and the goodies in turmoil licking their wounds. That said, it was of course a joy to have the sequel after the cinema-changing sensation that was Star Wars 1977, and there’s many a cinema memorable moment, the ice-planet, the battle between Luke and Darth, and of course there’s many a great tribute to it, not least the funny Family Guy trilogy. George Lucas had a less-hands-on role in this one, but you wouldn’t notice too much, if anything the actors are better – guiding actors has never been one of Lucas’ strong points, nor has dialogue, here carried out by Irvin Kershner (Director), Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan (writers). I should also mention Pixar-regular John Ratzenberger is in it. I haven’t checked who gets more mentions in my Top 100 films, but it must be Ratzenberger, Ford, or Weaver, just ahead of Will Smith. Ratzenberger though, wins as top supporting/cameo actor. I do enjoy trivia. Great film.
6. Star Trek (2009)
Highest-placed Star Trek film, it’s more of a surprise that it’s been forced out of my Top 5, cos, simply-put, I immediately fell in love with Star Trek the TV series when I was 11, it became my all-time fave TV series – until subsequent Star Trek series, notably Deep Space 9, overhauled it in my affections. I’ve been to conventions, met the stars of the various shows (briefly) and my mum has been a fan throughout too. After all the TV overdose, the franchise needed a rest until it got revitalised. J.J. Abrams did exactly that. He took the original characters, legendary and world-famous, got a perfect new cast of actors to reprise and keep the flavour of the original cast, and then rewrote the premise (time-travel tragedy changes everything that originally happened and this is now a new Star Trek universe where anything can happen and does. It’s obviously geared for modern action-oriented blockbuster-savvy audiences but it stays reverential to the original for the fans, even to the point of having Leonard Nimoy back meeting his new younger self (Zachary Quinto), and Majel Barrett as the voice of the computer two weeks before she died. Chris Pine is brilliant as Kirk, Karl Urban is great as McCoy, Simon Pegg is perfect as Scotty, and all the others actors are equally great in their roles. I love that it has brought classic Trek back to me, and JJ Abrams handling of the forth-coming Star Wars films also promises much (in comparison to the prequel trilogy that never really captured the zest of the original trilogy). OK, it’s not as ideas-based as the TV series, but movies have to appeal across-the-board, and this one bought in the dosh without dumbing down anything, keeping the heart of the show alive – that’s the character-interplay between Kirk and Spock, and all of the rest of the loyal characters – while adding in a new early-life trauma for this Spock (his mother’s death) and Kirk (his father’s death before he was born) to punch up the drama. That I rate it higher than any of the other Star Trek films is a joy!
5. Marvels’ The Avengers (2012)
Outside the UK just drop “Marvel’s” but oldtime TV fantasy fans still love the 60’s TV show of the same name. OK, the most recent of the top 5 is at 5, but it could easily be at 1 in a few years as the film is genius. That’ll be Joss Whedon then, a man who can do no wrong in my book, his scripts are always perfect combinations of humour, drama, invention, character-development, pathos and structure. If he wasn’t working in fantasy (with its sniffy-nosed critics looking down their noses) he would be considered a great, purely because he deals with the eternal human lot of life and death and love – just, in this case, with super-heroes. Whedon dialogue is amazingly concise, beautifully phrased, and the pace is always perfect. From 7 years on Buffy, 5 years on Angel, half-a-year on the gorgeous Firefly and on into the movies he’s never let me down. I’m a fanboy! So…this film hitched up the super-hero movie to a new level, and as a former huge DC Comics fan it’s through gritted teeth that I admit Marvel is the one to do the super-hero team movie right. Near-perfect, in fact, as the large cast is juggled beautifully, the inter-action is engaging, and the villains are an equal part of the appeal (here, Tom Hiddleston is every bit as important to the movie as the heroes – something other films often forget: the better the villain, the better the heroes look and the better the movie). Humour is vital to my enjoyment of any fiction-project, and there’s plenty here. Not to say it will always be appropriate to have humour in a tragedy, but I avoid mega-depressing films like the plague generally-speaking, there’s more than enough trauma in real life to deal with, films are an escape from it, for me.
The cast? Brilliant. The great thing is it’s genuinely an ensemble effort, there is no single star, though the organiser, if you like, is Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, who has popped up (as a character) in so many Marvel blockbusters, and (as an actor) in so many other blockbuster movies, that he lays claim to be the world’s biggest money-spinner star. Might well be too. Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Gwyneth Paltrow and many others (not least Whedon’s fab Agents of SHIELD TV show set-up) shine beautifully and link in to the various franchise spin-off movies for their characters before and following-on, such as the terrific 2nd Captain America movie, which came out too late to feature in my list – but would have! The plot is exciting, the effects fabulous, the pace non-stop: in short a perfect super-hero movie. Happily, the world seemed to agree with me, currently 3rd in box-office gross. Marvel-lous!
4. Up (2009)
After a lot of anguish, and rewatching it last week, I couldn’t quite put this into my top 3 as it’s too soon (at 5 years old!) to rate it properly – but it’s very much on the way Up. Top-rated film of the noughties, top-rated Pixar, top-rated animation, this heart-warming and sentimental film is equally funny, adventurous and gorgeous to watch. The animation is pure Art, by any standard, the fantasy charming in an Oz-fashion, the characters going against stereotypical kids movies and heroes, starring as it does a 78-year-old widower and a semi-abandoned Japanese-American boy, both with dreams of being explorers. The first 15 minutes of the film are both yearningly beautiful and heart-breaking. This grown-man weeps at the sequence where we see childhood sweethearts live out their life through short scenes and photos, until Carl is left a widower, bereft and empty. It speaks to me at my time of life, because I had to watch my grandma learn to live alone and lonely after my granddad died, but it also speaks to the optimistic boy wannabe adventurer in me who lost himself in exciting fantasy worlds created by others, be it books, films, TV or comics. As this film proves, that little boy is still there, live and kicking, just looking a bit more wrinkly these days!
The cast? Perfection: they chose Ed Asner, character actor of many a classic sitcom and drama (Lou Grant, Mary Tyler Moore Show, Roots) of the 70’s, where he played grumpy, lovable heart-in-the-right-place types, there’s no one of that age I can think of better suited to be Carl. The debut movie voice actor Jordan Nagai as Russell is charming, and the film is really about Russell dragging Carl back into the world while on their balloon-inspired house-flight to Peru, both of them finding love and a reason to live life to the max in each other, where a huge lonely gap had been before they met. Baddies: Talking dogs? Hilarious! Christopher Plummer (yet again) in my list, just before showing life can still be full at 82 (winning an academy award for Beginners), is terrific at the paranoid ruthless lost famous adventurer. Of course, there’s John Ratzenberger too. I love the 1930’s styled visuals to much of the film, accurate and charming. Above all though, I love the script/story – kudos to Pete Docter, co-writer of both as well as Director. As a film it’s unique, no Hollywood cliched rom-com adventure here, no brainless kiddie-flick, it deals (as ever with Pixar) with universal human lot issues like loss, living, loneliness, friendship. And it’s got a whacky bird too! What’s not to love. One of the greatest movies ever made, by any standard. Epic.
3. Star Wars (1977)
Shock! The film I generally mention as my fave film of all-time, if asked, and often see listed at 1 on many film polls, is only 3. I just watched it for the umpteenth time (it’s the film I’ve seen more times than any other, by far) and that’s part of the problem – I know it backwards. When it first came out I went to see it 5 times, in itself unprecedented for me, and it became my new fave film till Close Encounters came out weeks later and usurped it. Gradually it pulled back, though and reigned for 30 years because in a way it was the first modern movie and didn’t date quite like most movies. Since it occupied a brand new world of it’s own, it didn’t have a period to sit and be charming in. Is it a great film? Yes and no. If you want to have a laugh at the plot and characterization, and dialogue, and even the stilted acting, I suggest watching Family Guy’s Blue Harvest, which amiably and accurately re-does the whole movie brilliantly, but never loses it’s admiration and love for it. In any case, being Citizen Kane never was the point of George Lucas’ magic creation, the aim was to take the 30’s Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials and gift that pace and imagination, that galactic adventure melodrama and one-liners, with a modern-budget special effects setting. Job done, and then some!
When Star Wars was about to be released in the UK, the hype and word of mouth was intense, I was 19 and at College sharing a bedroom digs with 2 mates who asked me if it lived up to the hype (I went to see it immediately). Easily one of the Top 3 best films ever-made, I opined, thus setting up expectations which is not the best thing to do ahead of viewing! Well, here we are, 37 years on, and I still hold the view that I was spot on, all in all, because the elements of modern action cinema (especially sci-fi fantasy blockbusters) lead back to Star Wars. The editing, manic pace, special-effects led galactic-scale goodies and baddies was pretty influential to put it mildly. I don’t think it’s an over-stating the case that before Star Wars films were more leisurely (to the point of boredom sometimes) and sci-fi was well-known as box-office poison – not least because by it’s nature it needs special effects to not look silly. Everything changed immediately, sci-fi fantasy blockbusters became (and stayed) big business. Star Wars was like a glittering, sparkly, rollercoaster ride for the senses, and ordinary films seemed quite dull in comparison, even the big budget disaster movies, Bond films and the like. Star Wars may not have saved cinema, which was declining disastrously during the 70’s, but it didn’t hurt to have the new biggest-money-maker-film-of-all-time being one you could happily repeat view.
Cast? Do I need to list Alec Guinness, Harrison Ford’s highest-rated of many Top 100 films, Mark Hamill’s energetic Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher’s spunky bun-wearing Princess, the double-act C3PO and R2D2, the whinging butler robot and his short rebellious companion? Then there’s Darth Vader, James Earl Jones hissing evilly, and Peter Cushing (best performance in the movie). Add in John Williams music (and disco spin-off hit covers) which dominated the film and changed movie soundtracks back to the epic full-on strings-heavy drama that they need to be in blockbusters. MGM’s Star Tours ride upped the excitement after the sequels had been and gone (and eventually prequels), and Star Wars was copied and aped on TV and in the movies, none of them managing to kick the film from it’s revered pedestal (by fanboys such as me and Seth MacFarlane), cos George Lucas did it first. The Empire Strikes Back is most-likely a better film, but this one is a complete story, right to the bows and clapping at the end, stating quite clearly it’s old-fashioned roots. Ignore the annoying revamped digital versions though, they look even more dated than the original these days and add nothing much, save the bonus Jabba The Hut scene. I’ll prob give it a rest for a few years now though and let newer films shine through! Hopefully the next installment with Han, Leia, Luke, Chewie, C3PO, R2D2 clanking about with rusty aging bits….
2. Back To The Future (1985)
I love this movie, and the entire trilogy. It’s crept up on me over the years, I mean I thought it was great when it came out, but there’s just something special, heartening, warm and endearing about it that lets me watch it over and over without ever getting bored with it. For a start it’s got time travel and it’s effects, a concept I love, it’s got fifties nostalgia, it’s got 80’s music and 50’s music, it’s got Michael J. Fox as the perfect all-American-Boy (slightly-flawed, but enthusiastic and loyal), it’s got the brilliant Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown in dual roles, without doubt the greatest mad (lovable) scientist ever, shortly after spending a few years as hilarious stoned Reverend Jim on Taxi, and the ruthless Klingon that kills Captain Kirk’s son. The plot is great (Marty Mcfly’s mum falls in love with her own son instead of Marty’s dad, which causes a loop stopping himself from existing unless he changes events back).
The time-travel paradoxes are an appeal of the films, though you have to accept things happen the way they do, cos it’s sort of fated, as opposed to the likely consequences where in the real world, change behaviour of people and you change events in life, change events in life and key moments change, people aren’t born, other people are born who weren’t originally (for instance if George McFly became a famous writer rather than failed insurance salesmen, it’s most likely the kids wouldn’t have been conceived the nights they were supposed to be, events would just change too much), so for the purposes of the film best forget and just enjoy the various different Marty McFly universes, cos they’re all great.
Ultimately, it’s a feel-good family-friendly sci-fi romp, but everything about it just seems to gel perfectly, especially Biff actor Thomas F. Wilson who is everyman school-bully, a type we all know from school, and on behalf of geeks world-wide there’s deliciousness seeing him get his come-uppence. It’s a sweet film, beautifully-imagined by Robert Zemeckis, produced by Stephen Spielberg (outdoing all of his own greats), and it’s now got the added bonus of being it’s own 80‘s nostalgia period-film charm to add to the original 50’s nostalgia period-charm – it was always an idealistic small-town version of both, but that’s not to say it’s fake, it’s just less…horrible than real life. A version I’d like to think existed in some small American communities. Top rated film of the 80‘s. Love it.
So, what’s Number One….? It’s a 90’s movie.
Ready for it? Want to know which is my Top Of The Film Pops..
1. Groundhog Day (1993)
This film is miraculous. It takes what sounds like a boring idea (living the same day over and over for what must be centuries) and turns it into magic. The variations in the possible outcomes of the day are funny, touching, disturbing, and in the end, heart-warming and an affirmation that there is always hope, there is always love, and a selfish person can learn to love and be loved. It’s possibly the most-optimistic film ever, and it’s had such an impact on the world that the title has entered into the English language in it’s own right. What started out as a seemingly inoffensive Bill Murray-vehicle semi-rom-com from his Ghostbusters-mate Harold Ramis had more to it than it appeared. As time passed, the joy of the film became clear and critical opinion changed and re-evaluated it properly, belatedly having greatness bestowed on it. It has the ability to move, gladden the heart and reward familiarity that It’s A Wonderful Life has – it never gets tiring, there’s always something extra there that pops up.
Credit goes mostly to the script, which is almost perfectly-formed, original, chock-full of great one-liners (many of them based on the repeat-themes), but the cast also need applause too. Bill Murray is always Bill Murray, snide, cynical, arrogant, but he’s always managed to get away with it cos the charm and wit pulls through and wins. In this case, his unredeemable weatherman is redeemed when he gives up thinking about himself and genuinely learns to love the small-town cast of many. Andie MacDowell is also vital to the film, she is the moral compass, can spot bull a mile off, and nothing Murray ever does convinces her that he’s sincere – until he is, and the perfect day is the perfect ending. We’re never sure how long he’s been living the same day eternally, but he is accomplished in so many things, and knows everything about everyone in town, and spent so long trying to kill himself in inventive endless way, that it must be centuries at least. It was his own personal hell and it became his own personal heaven. Overstating the case? Nah!
I still love “I Got You Babe”, I love the German-festival-music and the whole groundhog event, I love the sci-fi/fantasy concept of the film, and I love a great rom-com. I love Larry and Ned Ryerson among the rest of the characters in the film, and I love that the Writers Guild Of America voted it the 27th best screenplay of all-time – except that it should have been higher! Not bad for a Bill Murray throwaway rom-com…..
So there you have it. That’s the film I go back to more than any other these days, it lifts me up when I’m down, and gives an optimism boost when I’m feeling jaded and cynical. Thanks for reading and putting up with the looooong wait between reviews!