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 include Jessica Simpson and The Dukes of Hazzard on his list of the world’s greatest films.”
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)
In the future, the world will be dreary, gray and threatened by genetic engineering and computer technology. No, we’re not talking about Seattle and Microsoft here, but that’s how eerily this film—loosely based on a 1968 Philip Dick novel called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—predicts the moral and ethical quandaries our modern, technologically oriented society now faces.
Directed by Ridley Scott and starring a young Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Darryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer and Edward James Olmos, Blade Runner’s gloomy look and relatively slow pacing met with mixed reviews from critics and languished at the box office, in part because it was released the same month as the much peppier and infinitely more palatable smash hit, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. But the complexity of Blade Runner’s plot and themes helped make it a cult classic, and now many sci-fi fans, including me, consider it one of the best films ever made.
Blade Runner’s plot is hard to summarize in few words, so let’s just say it’s about a group of sentient, biologically engineered humanoid slaves who rebel because they want to live regular lives—God knows why given the state of the world as it’s portrayed in the year 2019—and the people called Blade Runners who are paid to hunt and kill them. In true film noir style, the climactic fight scene between Hauer, a dying humanoid, and Ford, a physically and perhaps intellectually outmatched Blade Runner, takes place at night in the rain on a city rooftop.
I won’t spoil the movie’s ending, but Hauer delivers the best lines of his career, lines he apparently helped write, when he tells Ford, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe: Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion; I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time; like tears in rain. [pause] Time to die.”
I’ve never felt so much empathy for a humanoid as I did in Blade Runner, or worried more about the troubling questions raised by scientific progress.
11. Raising Arizona (1987)
Capturing a person’s voice—the cadence, accent and word order that distinguishes one individual from another—may be the single most difficult task a script writer faces. Do it well, and your movie feels genuine. Do it poorly, and the silver screen’s other-worldly illusion becomes a stilted mess, leaving viewers with nothing but plot and pretty pictures to hang their hopes on.
I first started noticing dialogue in Woody Allen’s movies, including tour de forces like Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). Allen’s a master—some say the master—of both writing and directing conversations that feel real, as are writers and directors like David Mamet, Quentin Tarantino and Francis Ford Coppola. In Allen’s films, characters stumble over their own words, interrupt one another, and raise and lower their voices exactly like real people do it, instead of delivering sentences one at a time in clearly annunciated tones so that they can be heard by the people sitting in the back row of the theater. They sound so real, sometimes you forget that you’re watching a movie, and start to feel like you’re eavesdropping on other people’s lives.
That’s hard to do in Raising Arizona because it’s an improbable comedic tour de farce, but it was Joel and Ethan Coen’s script that showed me it’s possible to use dialogue to create distinctly drawn characters that feel as solid as the floor you just laughed yourself onto. The plot here is almost unimportant, spinning wildly around the antics of a desperate couple’s attempt to kidnap a baby.
But this movie is so outrageously literate—think Shakespearean comedy with a Southern accent—you could almost close your eyes and just listen to it. I wouldn’t do it, though, because then you’ll miss a lot of terrific acting from Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman and others that was stylishly shot by cinematographer-turned-director Barry Sonnenfeld.
10. Bad Santa (2003)
Nothing brings families together at Christmas like an uplifting, comedic holiday movie. But I can’t recommend Bad Santa to families because it’s so sick-and-twisted. In fact, I don’t recommend it to anybody because it’s so foul, I’d feel guilty if I did. Still, it’s an extraordinarily funny—and in its own peculiar way, poignant—story about the power of true dysfunctional love to inspire repentance and redemption. And that makes it perfect holiday fare as far as I’m concerned.
Most redemption stories start out by presenting characters at the tops of their games, then following them into the abyss before we get to see their triumphant returns to success. Think Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in the 1949 classic It’s a Wonderful Life, and you’ll understand what I mean by that. But we’re introduced to Bad Santa‘s main character—a narcissistic, suicidal, alcoholic womanizer who works as a mall Santa Claus to help a gang of thieves rob stores—when he’s already hit bottom. Then we get to watch as he’s dragged even lower, stopping just short of going to straight to hell without passing go before his life turns around just enough to experience a barely detectable uptick that I found wildly uplifting.
Billy Bob Thornton plays the part of Bad Santa so believably, and is surrounded by such a superb cast of perverse misfits, this film would be painful to watch if it weren’t so damn funny—and truer to real life in many ways than any other on-screen tale of personal deliverance I’ve seen.
But again, and I want to be perfectly clear about this, I don’t recommend Bad Santa at all.
Today’s Thought Questions: What are some of your favorite movies? Do you think President Obama is an American citizen, or a subversive Kenyan Muslim actor brilliantly portraying an American citizen? If you could be an actor or actress, who would you want to be?