- Maria Menounos
“Hi, I’m Maria Menounos and I hope you’ll join me here on the red carpet tonight as Entertainment Tonight covers the most-anticipated movie event of 2010, the long-awaited unveiling of the top three films in the critically acclaimed list, My Top 21 Favorite Movies of all Time. Oh! The crowd’s going wild! Here’s the author now!”
*Maria shoves her way to the front of a cheering crowd just as Mike stumbles out of a long, black limo*
“Michael, hi, I’m Maria Menounos and I’m beautiful and articulate! How about you?” *shoving microphone into Mike’s face*
“Uh, I dunno. What?” *blinking sleepily, perhaps a bit drunk*
“Tell us about your favorite movies! Can you give us a sneek peek of what we’ll see tonight?” *perkily bobbing*
“Uh, I can hardly remember how I got here, let alone what I wrote about these movies. Look, nobody asked me to publish a list of my favorite movies, but I thought, ‘Hey, I like movies a lot, maybe I should publish a list of my favorite movies. I’ll call it My Top 21 Favorite Movies of All Time and people can comment on the reviews, add their own favorites to the list, or ask me what kind of idiot would forget to add Tom Laughlin and Billy Jack to his list of the world’s greatest films.’ ”
“That’s so wonderful, Mike! We can hardly contain our excitement!” *turning to the camera* “Well, our producers are telling me the big show’s about to begin! Let’s head inside and find out what Mike thinks!”
Previously on My Top 21 Movies:
21. Kung Fu (1972)
20. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
19. The Terminator (1984)
18. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
17. Valdez is Coming (1971)
16. The 13th Warrior (1999)
15. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
14. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
13. Blood Simple (1984)
12. Blade Runner (1982)
11. Raising Arizona (1987)
10. Bad Santa (2003)
9. The Killing Fields (1984)
8. No Country for Old Men (2007)
7. Manhattan (1979)
6. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
5. Gladiator (2000)
4. Hero (2002)
My Top Three Picks:
Robert DeNiro plays a Sicilian gangster who finds redemption in "The Mission." Or something like that.
3. The Mission (1986)
The Mission has three strikes against it: First, it’s British, and we all know that low-budget British films are often about as appetizing as overdone peas (rent Gosford Park, one of only two movies I’ve walked out on, and see if you don’t agree); Second, the storyline focuses on Jesuit priests in 17th-century South America, so you know there’s going to be a lot of itchy slogging through the steamy jungle; Third, it’s a film that explores the nature of sin, repentance and forgiveness, and nobody wants to be halfway through a tub of hot-buttered popcorn and a 64-ounce Coke when they figure that one out.
But The Mission also has a few things going for it.
Directed by Roland Joffé, the film’s Academy Award-winning cinematography is breathtaking. It’s haunting soundtrack—one of my all-time favorites—was written by Ennio Morricone, who also penned the unforgettable scores for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Clint Eastwood’s other spaghetti westerns, which are among my favorite films. Also, the acting is as good as anything we’ve come to expect from Robert DeNiro, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons and Aidan Quinn.
Yet it’s the movie’s thematic triptych that moved me so deeply.
Based loosely on true events, there is a panel depicting a Cain-and-Able-like conflict between two brothers, Rodrigo and Felipe Mendoza, which ends when Rodrigo kills Felipe in a duel. That leads to the spiritual reformation of Rodrigo, a slave trader and mercenary soldier, as well as what may be the most powerful visual representation of repentance and forgiveness ever captured on film. And then there is another panel about the conflict between the Jesuits and the government of Portugal, which is out to subdue and enslave the indigenous Indians of the region, the Guaraní. And finally, there is the main central panel describing the climactic philosophical conflict between the worldviews held by the fresh convert Rodrigo, who organizes the Guarani into an army to fight the Portuguese, and his spiritual mentor, a committed pacifist named Father Gabriel.
If I was an art professor charged with leading a discussion of The Mission, I’d unfold this triptych and point out to my students that there are three great themes in literature: Man’s relationship to man, man’s relationship to society, and man’s relationship to God. The Mission attempts to cover them all, and, remarkably, it succeeds.
I won’t tell you how the movie ends because that would be mean, but suffice it to say that it not only greatly affected my view of The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost, but also forever changed my feelings about the necessity of war.
Batman had an anger management problem in "Batman."
2. Batman (1989)
How would you grow up behaving if you witnessed your parents being murdered by a couple of thugs?
It’s hard to say, of course.
But you probably wouldn’t put on an ill-fitting Halloween costume and form a crime-fighting duo with an ambiguously gendered kid wearing pantyhose and a bright-yellow cape. Nor would you ever be heard having conversations like this one Adam West and Burt Ward had as Batman and Robin in the 1966 movie Batman:
Robin: You can’t get away from Batman that easy!
Batman: Good grammar is essential, Robin.
Robin: Thank you.
Batman: You’re welcome.
But that first Batman movie and television series nearly ruined my appreciation for one of America’s great comic-book icons by turning him into a campy parody of himself.
Then Director Tim Burton came along and put together his dark film about a seriously angry, emotionally dysfunctional wealthy playboy named Bruce Wayne, tautly played by Michael Keaton. Disguised as a bat-man, Wayne secretly patrols Gotham City at night avenging his parents’ deaths, and he’s nearly as disturbed as his parents’ killer and arch-nemesis, the Joker. Keaton’s Batman is the polar opposite of West’s Batman, mostly because this script recognizes that to fight evil, you often have to live in a murky zone between good and evil, becoming something you loathe in order to defeat the thing you hate.
Now nobody’s smiling except the Joker, whose acid-scarred face is stretched into a perpetual grin that becomes the on-screen personification of coulrophobia thanks to devilish acting by Jack Nicholson.
Batman isn’t a dashing superhero with superpowers, another invincible Superman with a black cape. He isn’t even an upstanding citizen, a version of Dudley Do-Right or the Lone Ranger on a batmobile instead of a horse. He’s a very mortal, hooded vigilante. He is the Dark Knight, and he scares everybody, from criminals and the police to the general public and a reporter-turned-love interest named Vicki Vale. In one pivotal scene, Vale, seductively played by Kim Basinger, confronts Batman about his increasingly troubled behavior:
Vicki: Some people say that you’re as dangerous as the Joker.
Batman: He’s psychotic.
Vicki: There are some people who say the same thing about you.
Batman: What people?
Vicki: Well let’s face it, you’re not exactly…”normal” are you?
Batman: It’s not exactly a “normal” world, is it?
No, it’s not, and we get that message not only from the angry gaze and muscular actions of Keaton’s Batman and the frenetic chatter and dangerous mind games of the Joker, but also from the grimy art-deco set of Gotham City itself, which oozes mid-1930′s gangsterism. It’s even echoed in the monumental score, one of the most memorable from composer Danny Elfman.
Batman is the pulp masterpiece that spawned a pulp franchise, including successively less interesting films like Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997). Those productions were followed by two excellent films, Batman Begins (2005), a master expansion of Batman’s twisted psychology that rivals the original, and The Dark Knight (2008), which features the late Heath Ledger playing the Joker so convincingly that the movie’s uncomfortable to watch, and arguably makes it a better film than the original Batman.
But it was Batman that resurrected a cultural icon by retelling a mythic story in a way that unveils an uncomfortable truth: That we all live in Gotham City and Gotham City lives inside us all, that however normal we might look in the daylight, our spirits are all occluded–at least occasionally–by the same shadowy darkness that cleaves Batman’s mind and smothers the Joker’s soul.
Elves, it turns out, aren't all fun and games in "The Lord of the Rings." Here, Legolas, played by what my daughters assure me is the dreamy Orlando Bloom, prepares to put out an Orc's eye with an arrow.
1.The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
It’s amazing Director Peter Jackson didn’t destroy his career making The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. So much could have gone wrong, starting with screwing up the script for one of the world’s most beloved books, that Jackson could’ve easily gone down in filmmaking history as the man responsible for the biggest cinematic flop since Director Michael Cimino spent $42 million on Heaven’s Gate, a 1980 disaster that earned $3 million at the box office and destroyed the original United Artists studio.
Instead, the Lord of the Rings turned Jackson into one of the most successful directors in the history of film. Combined, the three films have so far earned nearly $3 billion on an initial investment of about $285 million.
And they should have.
It took English professor J.R.R. Tolkien 12 years to write his literary masterpiece. To do it, he invented languages and borrowed some of the great themes from Christian, Norse, Finnish, Celtic and Germanic mythology. It has sold more than 150 million copies since it was first published in 1954, making it one of the 10 best-selling books of all time behind works like The Book of Mormon, The Qur’an and the Bible.
Many people considered it impossible to commit the book to film, partly because it’s so complex, and partly because it’s peopled with otherworldly creatures like hobbits, orcs, ents, dwarves, elves, balrogs and giant eagles and elephants. And it would’ve remained a pipedream if Jackson hadn’t hired hundreds of computer programmers to create remarkable new advancements in computer-generated graphics. When 10,000 Uruk-hai warriors besiege Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers, for example, the program’s designers were stunned to see that some of the characters were “thinking” for themselves, doing things they weren’t programmed to do by reacting of their own accord to the ebb and flow of the battle.
It isn’t just good computer graphics that make The Lord of the Rings a success, however. Much must also be credited to Jackson’s obsessive attention to every detail of the project, from the superb casting and lush soundtrack to the lavish sets and astonishing cinematography. He also deserves accolades simply for maintaining his focus during the six years it took to film The Lord of the Rings.
But it is Jackson’s faithfulness to the personal, political and spiritual messages of the book that propel the film into the top spot on my list of all-favorite movies (like the book, it’s really one movie filmed in three segments, much as Tolkien’s book is a single tome written in six segments).
Remember that Jackson had only directed six full-length movies when he was hired to direct The Lord of the Rings. One of them was a documentary, three of them were horror films, one was an indie film and one was a puppet show. Incredibly, though, he had the wisdom not to put his own stamp on the story by reinventing The Lord of the Rings for a modern audience, but to let it be what it is, one of the most monumental works of literature in history. In effect, Jackson channeled Tolkien, even though some changes had to be made to the storyline in order to turn the book into a movie.
“We made a promise to ourselves at the beginning of the process that we weren’t going to put any of our own politics, our own messages or our own themes into these movies,” Jackson explains. “What we were trying to do was to analyze what was important to Tolkien and to try to honor that. In a way, we were trying to make these films for him, not for ourselves.”
Today’s Thought Questions: What movies did the idiot you’ve come to know as Mike leave off the list? Which of the following movies were better than all of these picks: Saving Private Ryan, Stars Wars 1-17, Indiana Jones and Endless Quest for Mystical Treasure or Fargo? Do you prefer to watch movies drunk, or blind drunk?