As was my tradition several years ago, I am issuing my 2013 Top Ten films list. Remember: (a) this is all a matter of opinion, so if you disagree that’s fine, and (b) I post them in no particular order. The ordering part is extremely annoying, which is why I avoid them. I like posting my favorite films because, although it’s toned down quite a bit of late, I consider myself a film buff. Anyway, here’s my list.
A true American classic, Casablanca is one of those films where there isn’t a bad scene. Nothing drags, nothing is slow, and every character is perfectly developed. Despite the behind the scenes friction between the actors, the performances are perfect, hitting every note and beat right as they need to. The historical framework, including discussions regarding the Nazis, concentration camps, and freedom, only adds to the greatness and epic scale of the film.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Arguably the best comic book film ever made, The Dark Knight has an amazing cast, an amazing story, and most importantly, does not botch the character of the Joker, who can be played for humor too easily, or taken way too seriously. The discussions regarding how far Batman can go, how far Bruce Wayne can take him, demonstrate Batman’s humanity in a world devoid of compassion and decency. Christian Bale, far better suited to the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman than John Connor, is superb, and Heath Ledger deservedly won a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of Batman’s arch-nemesis.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
One of the most quotable films ever made, Pulp Fiction is an American epic gangster picture, except that it is not a traditional epic. The film that proved Quentin Tarantino’s genius in filmmaking, it stars an incredibly diverse cast, led by John Travolta and the living legend that is Samuel L. Jackson, has witty dialogue that is very catchy, and enough philosophy to fill a college classroom.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
If you want a semi-accurate, action filled, mind warping adventure in Vietnam, this is your movie. Francis Ford Coppola’s epic, complete with a three year production, numerous behind the scenes issues, and casting issues galore, is replete with iconic imagery, music, and excitement. Numerous scenes depicting the insanity of war, the path of war, and the effects of it on the psyche make this a stunning triumph.
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
I prefer the second Godfather for the following reason: the dueling performances of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro; that sharp contrast makes the film a worthy contender by itself, but that’s not all. With most of the cast returning (hell, James Caan has a cameo), the story goes into deeper and darker places than its genuinely illustrious predecessor, letting us see not only the rise of a great mob boss, but the costs that the life has upon his sons. Set not only in the 1950’s, but in the midst of the Cuban revolution, a U.S. Senate investigation, and power struggles in the criminal underworld, the film presents a world that we don’t really want to live in, but don’t mind visiting from time to time.
Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Keep your Death Stars and stuff your Ewoks; happy endings are for people who are maladjusted and can’t appreciate good cinema. Yes, Star Wars is an epic and a classic popcorn Hollywood blockbuster, but it was with Empire that the fantasy gained a little humanity and maturity. Luke is not as idealistic, Han is a bit warmer, and Leah doesn’t have her hair tied in those space-buns. The humor is more developed too. Perhaps most importantly, the film is better directed under the tutelage of Irvin Kershner, who worked better with the actors than Lucas had, and that made a ton of difference.
The Town (2010)
In terms of gritty crime films, The Town is a great example of balancing the characters with a great plot. The rough nature of the crimes (bank robbery, armored truck heists) is not downplayed, but it avoids being overly violent. The characters are there, perfectly casted, even the smaller, non-speaking parts; the tension is just right, and the conflicts are handled perfectly. Ben Affleck does a magnificent job of portraying crime as a job, as opposed to being something glorious, thus showing why it is so difficult to get out of the life, and why it is so dangerous.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
A great send up of the “buddy cop” genre, and taking aim at pretty much every other cop cliche while they’re at it, Hot Fuzz delivers a stream of laughs, which only slows down to set up even more laughs. The cast, led by Simon Peg and Nick Frost, is a who’s who of great British actors, including Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent, Paul Freeman, and Bill Nighy. The strength of the script, which takes the satire and the content just as seriously as it has to, as well as the great performances add up to comedic gold.
Blade Runner (1982)
A film that, even today, still divides people, Blade Runner, to me at least, is a great sci-fi detective story that delivers on that exact promise. What makes it work, though, is the great performances of Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young, as well as a stellar supporting cast. Being a Ridley Scott film, the visuals are outstanding, and he did everything to make the future look bleak. The implied environmental disaster preceding the events of the film made this one of the first films to carry an environmental message as well.
The Shining (1980)
For a romping good time, complete with scares and mind warps, watch Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. A film that is nearly completely dependent on the work of four actors, it excels at providing the creepiness the story needs. The Overlook Hotel, which is implied to be alive, and malevolent, is a scary place to be by oneself, and is the fifth character of the film. The film’s last fifteen minutes are a true thriller, and make the film, but the buildup to it is great piece of work.