I’m an art and film nut. I own over a thousand films and seen many more. And then there’s the countless hours spent studying them for the writing, cinematography, and acting. So, for fun, I wanted to share a small selection of some of my favorites. They’re not necessarily the best films ever made, but rather, they represent films that have had a huge influence on me as an artist and as a person, and carry with them a quality that makes me come back to them over and over again. Some are groundbreaking in theme or execution, while others have incredibly memorable moments characterized by superb acting or indescribable choreoraphic beauty. All of them carry with them a resonating quality that I believe will never be replicated ever again. You might be familiar with these titles but I suggest re-visiting them as they get better with each viewing.
Since there are just far too many excellent films to share, this series will be split over several posts.
The Godfather 1 & 2 (directed by Francis Ford Coppola)
In my humble opinion, Francis Ford Coppola’s two Godfather epics are the greatest films ever made. Based on Mario Puzo’s deeply penetrating novel about the rise and fall of the Corleone’s ascension to the throne as America’s most powerful Mafia family, the film is a complex and involving web of action, dialogue and scenery that pulls the audience deep inside the closed world of crime and the world inside the mind of its main character, Michael Corleone, played with immense power and restraint by Al Pacino. Along the way, we witness the erosion of a man who seems helplessly pulled towards evil and the consequences it has on his family and his soul. Despite riding along with the violence, tragedy and “bad men,” the film sucks you in, as you helplessly sympathize and even root for its characters. Loaded with standout performances (including that of Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton) and numerous iconic moments, The Godfather is film-making at its absolute best. Complemented by the masterful cinematography of Gordon Willis and Nina Rota’s simple yet mesmerizing score, it’s a film that never grows old.
Vertigo (directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
When one thinks of Alfred Hitchcock, one thinks of consistency and excellence. There are so many films to like: Rear Window, North by Northwest, Psycho, Rebecca, Rope, To Catch A Thief, Notorious. But my all-time favorite remains his remarkable 1958 love-story/tragedy, Vertigo. Set in the backdrop of the most visually-cultural city of America (San Francisco), the story is one filled with mystery, beauty and sadness. It’s also a film that is both visually and emotionally enveloped by madness, as depicted perfectly by one of America’s most beloved actors, Jimmy Stewart (who plays Scottie, a retired cop). Falling is the theme here; to fall for a con, to fall in love, to fall to one’s death. Complemented by a beautifully subdued performance by the lovely Kim Novak (who plays the mysterious Madelaine), the storytelling is as hypnotic to the viewer as Madelaine is to Scottie. You find yourself riding along with Stewart’s character, as he turns from honorable man of humor, kindness and nobility to one who is filled with lust, obsession and control. No one does suspense like Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann’s chilling score complements the mood perfectly.
Chariots of Fire (directed by Hugh Hudson)
When I need to be inspired, I watch Hugh Hudson’s 1981 classic, Chariots of Fire, a film about Britain’s participation in the running events of the 1924 Paris Olympic games. It’s a seemingly simple film but one that makes a huge statement about human nature and the power of will. The main characters Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) create a wonderfully contrasting pair — two men in their physical prime who carry opposing beliefs and personalities but have an identical goal; to be the fastest man on the planet. Buoyed by Vangelis Papathanassiou’s magnificent score and a marvelously sincere and subdued performance by Ian Holms, the story that unfolds grabs you tightly across the heart; you find yourself cheering wholeheartedly for both protagonists. There are many films that show characters that try to prove themselves and define their worth but few do it as convincingly as Chariots of Fire.
The Thin Red Line (directed by Terence Malick)
There have been some really great war movies made in Hollywood each one worthy of the heavy weight title for the category: Oliver Stone’s Platoon is a harrowing account of the director’s own personal experience during the Vietnam War; Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket captures, what my Marine Sargent friend tells me as, “the most accurate portrayal of military training ever depicted”; Steven Spielberg’s WWII epic, Saving Private Ryan, is the most visceral and spellbinding experience of real military combat I’ve ever witnessed on film. But it is Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line that captivates me over and over again. There are no good guys or bad guys here — only the inescapable and wholly encapsulating experience of living inside of war. The contrast of the senselessness of war in the backdrop of the incredible beauty of nature make the point of the film remarkably clear. In the midst of both sensually depicted memories and beautiful abstractions of reality, we slide effortlessly inside the mind of the soldier trying to make sense of our actions and our very existence. Complemented by Jim Caviezel’s soulful performance and Hans Zimmer’s poetic score, the film is fine art dissecting the horrors of man’s violent intrusion over nature and his own soul.
Jaws (directed by Steven Spielberg)
Like many of the directors listed here, Spielberg has made many fantastic, even iconic films: Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, E.T., The Color Purple, Munich, etc. But Jaws, made when the director was only 27 years of age, still holds for me a most special place among his legacy of films. In his hands, the classic “monster in the house” story becomes something much more than just a film about a very large shark. It’s a character study of men; our need to protect those we love, to live up to our word, and to face the demons that haunt us. In this case, we have three richly developed characters in Brody (Roy Schneider), Quint (Robert Shaw) and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) who not only have to battle the shark but each other. The visuals and editing are inventive and many sequences marked what would become Spielberg’s trademark as a filmmaker — excellent pacing complemented by moments of brilliant imagery and careful character development. Nothing is rushed and always more is hinted at than what is seen. I love Jaws. There’s a reason why it scared everyone from going to the beach when it first came out in theaters. Unlike the films of today, special effects are not the star here. Instead, the spotlight belongs to the actors and a story whose mood is perfectly augmented by John Williams’ renown piano score.
Stay tuned for more!