#6 Gone With The Wind

“As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”
Scarlett O’Hara

Margaret Mitchell’s tale of the old south comes to life in Victor Fleming’s “Gone With the Wind.” This four-hour epic broke new ground for what the film industry was able to accomplish, and the technical merits cannot be disputed. The acting was superb, the writing was… authentic, and the direction, which could have benefited from some modern techniques, was good. That being said, I did not enjoy this film at all.

The story centres on what could loosely be called a love affair between Vivien Leigh’s Sacrlett O’Hara and Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler, set to the back drop of the civil war, and the re-building period that followed. This film succeeds in depicting the harsh reality of war, but fails in its attempt to actually make me care. The “love triangle” that serves to drive this story feels forced, and any love that any of the characters feel for each other seems contrived. And, while I do not feel that it is necessary for characters to be likable, none of the characters in this film really allow you to like them. The characters all remain so guarded that any brief insight into who they actually are as people quickly passes, before any clearer picture is gained.

This film’s main success is its depiction of physical actions. Characters show exactly how they are feeling, with out creating any understanding to the viewer of why they feel this way. This is mirrored by the film’s depiction of the war. You plainly see what is happening but you fail to understand why. Because of this the film tends to glorify the south, the side that started the war so that they could keep slaves, and vilifies the north. While I am all for telling both sides of every story, it seems a bit of a stretch that the Yankees were all evil power hungry overlords, while the Confederates were kind hearted people who treated their slaves nicely and just wanted to keep things the way they were.

This film’s biggest failure, in my opinion, was its inability to make me care about what happened to any of the characters. And while it was interesting to see the affect that the world at that time had on the characters that inhabited it, the payoff simply wasn’t enough for me.

Ultimately every film on the top 100 list is going to be a good film from a technical stand point, you don’t need me to tell you that. But not every film will be wildly entertaining. This film is an example of that. The vast majority of people in today’s day and age will not appreciate this film. After sitting through a film that is four hours long, and at times lacks continuous, flow most viewers will be left with nothing more than a sour taste in their mouth.

#5 Singin’ In The Rain

“You can study Shakespeare and be quite elite, and you can charm the critics and have nothing to eat. Just slip on a banana peal the world’s at your feet.  Make em laugh.”

Cosmo Brown

Remember the days before special effects were able to carry poorly written movies?  In these days films relied on strong performances from their leads, well written scripts, and an intriguing story.  Or sometimes they just relied on good-looking people, and impressive dancing.  Thankfully Singin’ In the Rain was not one of  “those” films.  Don’t get me wrong, the singin’ and dancin’ were amazing.  But the truly great thing about this film was that it did not fall back on these two strengths.  Instead the film used its “musical” aspects to heighten what was already a very good story.

Singin’ revolves around the production of a silent film that is being converted into a “talkie” after the overwhelming success of the world’s first feature length talking film The Jazz Singer.  The production quickly stumbles though when it becomes clear that the female lead, Lina Lamont (played by Jean Hagen), has a voice that was meant for the silent film era. It is then that Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) suggests that they dub over Lina’s voice with the voice of Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds).  The result is a blossoming love between Kathy and Don that leaves Lina, both romantically and professionally, jealous.

This story may sound like something you’ve seen or heard a thousand times, and the film is quick to point that fact out, but I assure you, you’ve never seen this story done like this.  Gene Kelly is amazing as the lead.  His powerful voice, and mesmerizing foot work, makes you forget about all the benefits of CGI.

Not to be lost in the multitude of great performances in this picture is Cosmo Brown, who was played perfectly by Donald O’Connor.  Brown’s Chaplin-esque slap-stick style, and seemingly before his time sense of comedic timing, carries the film through scenes that would have otherwise dragged on far too long.  What is truly special about O’Connor’s performance is his chameleon like ability to control the screen one second, and submit to playing the happy sidekick the next.  O’Connor is, by far, the best part of this film.

There were some flaws in this picture.  At times it felt like Hollywood was giving itself a pat on the back, and the film started on the slow side.  These flaws are quite minor though, and after the first fifteen minutes those pats on the back seem more like satirizing daggers than self-righteous congratulations.

This film succeeds in nearly every aspect that a musical can be successful in.  Every note, every step, and every shot may not be perfect, but they all work amazingly when put together together.  This is a must watch for nearly everyone.

#4 Raging Bull

“You didn’t get me down, Ray.”
Jake LaMotta

Coming in at number four is Scorsese’s pugilistic bio-drama chronicling the career, and life, of Jake LaMotta, an ill-tempered boxer whose not-so-loveable personality brought success in the ring, and failure everywhere else.

Comparing this movie to Stallone’s Rocky would be like comparing apples and oranges. Even still the comparisons have to be made. While the downward spiral that is Lamotta’s life was not nearly as entertaining, or as easy to watch, as the inspirational rise of Rocky Balboa’s, there are a few aspects in which this film is superior. The eight million dollar budget, and a superior director (sorry Avildsen), made this black and white picture look far superior to Rocky. Every scene looks like it was story boarded meticulously, and the result is a picture that is visually enthralling.

Like I said though, comparing Rocky and Raging Bull is like comparing apples and oranges. Rocky is a boxing movie, Raging Bull is not. Do not watch Raging Bull expecting a boxing movie. There are no training montages, epic inspirational scores, or fights that last for half-an-hour. Very little time is spent in the ring, and even less training is depicted. What is shown is the complete degeneration of a man that was never that good to begin with, and the affects it has on the people around them.

At the centre of this of this well acted film is the always amazing Robert De Niro. De Niro’s commitment to this role was obvious throughout. Weeks of training with the real-life LaMotta got De Niro into such good shape that LaMotta himself said De Niro could be a legitimate middle weight contender. Even more impressive was the (then record breaking) sixty pounds De Niro put on to portray an aging LaMotta at the end of the film.

Not to be lost in De Niro’s performance was Joe Pesci. This film was his big break, and he broke out hard. Standing toe to toe with De Niro (a feat he had to replicate in Casino and Goodfellas), Pesci at times steals the screen, and at times serves as the perfect support man, Lifting De Niro to greatness.

This film hits every note to near perfection, and while a couple of scenes seem to drag a little longer than they have to, the film as a whole plays out very well. I’m not sure it is as good as Rocky (I’ve seen Rocky roughly twenty times), but like I said… apples and oranges. This film is definitely worth a watch though, if you don’t mind black and white that is.

#3 Casablanca

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

Rick Blaine

Casablanca is quite possibly the greatest love story ever to grace the screen.

I had fairly low expectations of this movie going in and that was a mistake.  Nothing in this film is overrated.  Strong performances by Bogart and Bergman steer this well scripted masterpiece exactly where director Michael Curtiz intended it to go. Casablanca is, at its heart, a simple love story, set during World War II.  Bogart’s character, “Rick,” owns a saloon in the titular Moroccan city.

All seems to be going well for the commanding presence that is Rick Blaine in the first twenty minutes of the film.  That is until the lover that jilted him in Paris (Bergman’s Ilsa) shows up in his “Gin Joint.”  The events that follow cause Rick to choose between love and virtue, the choice that ultimately leads to one of the greatest personal sacrifices in film history.

The choice between love and virtue allows Curtiz to explore the intellectual complexity of his protagonist, and the result is one of the most real, and layered, characters I have ever seen.  Every other character, whether it is Rick’s love Ilsa or his friend/enemy/collaborator/conspirator Captain Louis Renault, serves to further this depth.  Bogart portrays nearly every emotion an actor is expected to have in his arsenal with perfect skill, and the result is a performance that demands attention.

If there is one critique that is can be made about this film it is the timing between some of the support actors and the leads.  This is a minor flaw, and barely noticeable.  C’mon, I had to say something negative about this movie, and this was literally all I could find.  There is so much in this movie that was done right that it was hard to pick anything from it apart.

If you want a testament to just how great this movie is, just look at the writing.  This is quite possibly the most quotable movie of all time, and every one should see it, if for nothing more than this reason alone.

#2 The Godfather

“You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance going to bring your son back to you? Or my boy to me?”

-Don Corleone

Let me start off by saying that I am not a fan.  I know, Pacino! Brando! A dead horse! (Which has been thoroughly beaten by the way.)  I don’t know what to say, I just didn’t like it.  For starters I’m not a fan of the genre.  For that reason alone this movie may have been dead to me before it even started.  I also thought the film was paced kinda slowly.  Half way through I found myself checking how much time was left and cringing at the result.  These things aside though, the movie wasn’t completely bad.

The film was at its best when characters simply sat at a table and talked to each other.  Unfortunately there was far too little genuine conversations, and far to much revelatory statements about the inner-workings of the mob in this film.  Again, I want to reiterate, I am not a fan of the genre.  Nothing about “gangster” movies appeal to me on any level.   I don’t care how families involved in organized crime deal with each other, and i don’t care about this film.

This movie is truly enigmatic for me.  Everyone seems to love this film, and whenever I mention my distaste for it someone corrects me and assures me that I did, in fact, love this film.  I can be in a restaurant talking about it and a person in a different booth will look at me cock-eyed, while listing ten reasons that The Godfather is the greatest film of all time.

To make matters worse I often find myself unable to defend my opinion of this film.  Usually when I hate a movie that everyone else loves I have a reason. (Avatar’s script sucked, and it relied on 3D special effects to distract everyone from the fact that the film was filled with bestiality and the plot has been done a thousand times.  It was a dumbed down Ferngully or Dances with Wolves, but in space.)  With this film though, there is nothing I can point out that is particularly detrimental.  There is no fatal flaw in the film.  I wasn’t a fan of the pace or the story, but neither was bad enough to cause me to hate the movie, and like I said, the film did have some nice conversation.  I just didn’t like the film as a whole.  But what do I know?  I’m not going to tell anyone not to watch this movie simply because I didn’t like it.  In all likelihood you will love this movie.

The bottom line is that a great film should make the viewer ask questions, or have some sort of comment about society, or do something else that makes pretentious people feel good about themselves.  This film, apart from an obvious comment on the corruption of power, did none of these things, and despite my sarcastic comments these things are important.  Sadly, the only question I was asking myself after watching this movie was: Who let Coppola any where near The Black Stallion, after he made this film?

#1 Citizen Kane

Warning: Major Spoiler Alert.

“If I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a great man”          Charles Foster Kane.

What can be said about Orson Welles’ masterpiece that hasn’t been said a thousand times?  It tops the American Film Institute’s list as the greatest movie of all time.  Roger Ebert even sites this as his favourite movie, saying it is the most important film ever.  So what is it about this movie that is so important?  More importantly, why should we care?

Kane takes place over the span of the titular character’s life, with most of the plot taking place in depression-era United States.  This setting provides a vehicle for numerous themes to, blatantly or subtly, take the stage in this film.  The most obvious theme is the battle between communism and capitalism.  When told from the perspective of one of America’s richest men, this works quite well.  The other, and much more subtle, theme of this movie is a satire of yellow journalism.

Charles Foster Kane, among other things, is intended to be a fictional manifestation of Pulitzer and Hearst, the most notorious of  yellow journalists.  In the film Kane’s paper, the Examiner, is responsible, or at least is blamed, for the Spanish-American war.  In this way Kane mirrors his real life counterparts.  How he differs though, is in his intentions.  While, admittedly, I am not to familiar with the motivations for either Pulitzer or Hearst, it would seem that their motivation for stretching the truth and using extravagant headlines was to make money.  Kane on the other hand seemingly couldn’t care less about making money.  While his paper was losing a million dollars a year, he commented glibly, “why at that rate I’ll have have to shut my paper down in,  60 years.” (Or something like that.)  Kane’s sole motivation was to stand up for the “working man” and to, above all else, report the truth.  (He had other, slightly less noble motives for doing this, but I’ll get to that.)  What was truly interesting about this though, was what Welles was saying about journalism.  That no matter how noble one may be, the practice of exaggerating facts and running sensational headlines rarely is beneficial to society.  After all, Kane did these things for seemingly good reasons and it still ended up causing a war (and it forced us to listen to the awful singing voice of Kane’s love interest.)

The not so noble motive of Charles Foster Kane, which is the central focus of the movie, is his desire to be loved.  Stemming from abandonment issues that were developed when his parents sent him away to live with an affluent businessman, Kane needs to be loved.  This is his great vice.  Consequently, he seems incapable of giving love to anyone.  All of Kane’s great accomplishments in the movie, the creation of his media empire or his short lived political career to name a few, stem from this desire.  This finally culminates at the end of his life,  when Kane famously utters his last word: Rosebud.  Sadly Kane’s desire to be loved was never achieved, and he was left to die alone in, “The most expensive monument any man has built to himself since the pyramids.”

So that’s what happened in the movie, and why you should care.  Don’t think that because the  Great Depression is over, the wall has fallen, the Soviet Union is no more, or that they have McDonald’s in China, that these issues are dated, they’re not.  But here comes the important question… Did I like it? (If you are wondering why this is important and you’re thinking to yourself, “Who is this guy and why should I care? I am no one, presumably just like you, and that is why you should care.  Because I am not a film critic, and I don’t refer to movies as “pictures,” I, shockingly, may be able to relate to you, the reader, in a more real way.)  The Simple answer is yes, I did like this movie.  It was well paced, well acted, and well written.  Orson Welles done good.  That being said, I do think it is a slight case of Emperor’s New Clothes, that this movie is considered the, “Greatest Film Ever.”  It is important, and it is entertaining, don’t get me wrong, but i can think of a handful of films that both entertain me more, and have a greater impact on my life.

Because I don’t want to end my review of this movie, which is really good (the movie not the review), in a negative way I will end by saying this: SEE THIS MOVIE.  And do yourself a favour, while watching try not to think of Peter Griffin saying, “It’s a sled, it’s a sled he had when he was a kid.  There, i just saved you two long boobless hours.”  That’s it for Citizen Kane I’ll try not to give so much of the plot away in my review of The GodFather.