Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Greatest Movies Ever?

My friends and I often discuss movies, and argue over which we consider to be the best. More often than not, I seem to be on the losing end, having my opinion shot down as 'obscure', 'weird' or sometimes 'absurd' (generally followed by a flurry of comments on my other likes and dislikes, which also suffer a similar fate).
Which brings me to the crux of my argument. Can there really be an absolutely complete, universally accepted list of 'The Greatest Ever'?. In a word, no. There will always be polarised opinions. People will always argue whether The Dark Knight or the Prestige deserves to be higher, or whether Casablanca should trump both. So you may ask-why another list? Why not just leave it to the folks at iMDB? Well, because fortunately or unfortunately, people's opinions are based on other people's opinions. It's not fashionable to dislike Inception, it's not acceptable to prefer Steve Martin over Peter Sellers as Clouseau. So, here are my contributions to the unending argument, my attempt to polarise opinions and get at least a few more votes in my favour.

The list is divided by genre, so that there is no controversy regarding comparing genres. Within each list, there are three movies, which I consider to be the best (in no particular order amongst themselves), and the reasons for doing so.


1) The Pink Panther (2006): Right from the absurdist beginning of a France vs China football match, the movie is one rollercoaster ride of laughs. Some of the scenes are fairly well known comic set pieces: the destructive rolling globe, Clouseau's attack on Dreyfus thinking he is an intruder, the disastrous date and so on. However, most of them are executed so well that you can't help laughing. The acting is also brilliant, with Martin nailing down the annoying Clouseau and Kline perfect as the ever-suffering (but extremely ambitious) Dreyfus, and Jean Reno as the deadpan assistant Ponton.

2) Johnny English (2003): Spoof movies are very easy to make a mess of, especially when what you are spoofing has degenerated into a farce itself. Released soon after the amusingly horrible 'Die Another Day', Johnny English lampoons everything that James Bond does, and makes you roll on the floor laughing while doing it. From the villain's crazy scheme, to the chase sequences and the whole MI setup, Johnny English makes everything from the James Bond universe laughable. Rowan Atkinson, the master of the goof-up, is a natural for the man who knows no fear, knows no danger, knows...nothing!

3) Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993): Woody Allen's movie isn't much of a murder mystery, since we all know what has to happen. Woody, as usual, is neurotic, with more disorders than you would believe. Diane Keaton is brilliant as his wife, who is convinced that her friendly neighbour is too good to be true, and hence, has murdered his wife. Alan Alda manages to play the 'charming' friend pretty well, and seems to be the only person in the whole movie in control of the situation. The set-pieces are hilarious- like Woody Allen (afraid of open spaces, closed spaces, darkness, and of course dead bodies) being stuck in an elevator with a dead body, a dead body that keeps vanishing and reappearing, and Diane Keaton getting locked into the murderer's house. Sometimes, being in the wrong place at the right time can be very funny!

1) Charade (1963): Romance, suspense and laughs in beautiful Paris, a star cast that includes Cary grant, Audrey Hepburn and Walter Matthau, a Henry Mancini score and a movie that Hitchcock himself loves. What more can you ask for? The mystery is brilliant- not only is it difficult to guess who is the killer and what is the mysterious object (no spoilers here) but even Cary Grant's character is questionable (yes, he is the hero, but this movie keeps you on edge). Brilliant performances, a great story and great cinematography. Too good to miss.
2) Vertigo (1958): James Stewart is the acrophobic detective who finds himself getting obsessed with the very subject of his case, a very alluring Kim Novak. Right from the beginning, with the rescue from San Francisco Bay, to the unforgettable climax, Vertigo makes you shudder and gasp at every twist. Every scene has a purpose, with no time wasted getting into the mystery. The cinematography is so good, that it alone scares you very often. 

3) The Third Man (1949): When Joseph Cotten starts his search for Harry Lime (Orson Welles), little do we know what is in store. The chases through the sewers, the policeman who always seem like they are hiding something, the mysterious death of Lime and one very, very persistent friend. Add it all up, put in a haunting Zither theme and you have a thrilling mystery on your hands. The movie is short, sharp and powerful. As for the ending, it is simply a triumph of acting, dialogues and cinematography.


1) Skyfall (2012): I don't like Daniel Craig as Bond, but Skyfall was arguably the best Bond film of all (fyi, the other options from the Bond series for this list where The Spy who Loved Me and Casino Royale). It took over a franchise that was beginning to look jaded and had just lost a lot of fans with the abysmal 'Quantum of Solace'. To say that Skyfall rejuvenated the series is an understatement. The beginning is thrilling, with Bond 'dying' (it's just 20 minutes in, so we aren't particularly surprised when he returns), the villain is scary in his simple agenda, the action is brilliant and the cinematography exquisite. The fact that Judi Dench (who is a wonderful actress), finally gets a part worthy of her stature is alone a testament to the writers and director. The film dismantles many of the cliches surrounding Bond, but at the same time seems like a loving homage to the series- not an easy feat!

2) Mission Impossible (1996): Ethan Hunt may not feature on lists of greatest characters ever, but he is definitely a force to be reckoned with in this film. With a few wonderful twists, this movie can surprise you just when you feel that it's degenerating into another run-of-the-mill action movie. Tom Cruise is an entertainer, and that's precisely what this movie does- entertain.

3) Patriot Games (1992): Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan is just another analyst, until he becomes a front-page hero and gets an IRA bounty on his head. This movie is in this list simply for the brilliant action sequences, which seem so apt for the situation. The editing is brilliant, and a movie that could easily have becoming boring in the middle remains thrilling throughout.


1) Dirty Harry (1972): Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry is one of the greatest characters ever. This is the movie that started the series, and is an amazing tour-de-force. The story keeps you on the edge, right from the cafeteria scene in the beginning to the bus scene at the end. San Francisco is shot brilliantly, and the editing is taut. Eastwood is brilliant as the tough guy cop who shoots first and asks questions later. And need I mention the dialogues? Go ahead, this movie will make your day!

2) Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995): Bruce Willis' John McClane is also a tough guy cop, though of a different type from Harry Callahan. When Bruce Willis and Samuel jackson team up, you know the movie will be brilliant. The plot is pretty standard- a villain intent on revenge creates a series of challenges for the hero, and a simple, innocent guy (never thought that'd be Samuel Jackson did you?) gets caught in the midst. This movie keeps you entertained and hooked right through. You know that in the end McClane is going to win, but the fun is in watching how, and cheering the Yippee-ki-yays.

3) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989): Why Crusade over Raiders? Well, because Crusade is more of an entertainer, with a lot of humour added to the usual action-adventure that you expect from Indy. Add Sean Connery and you have another powerful performer who can keep your interest. Some of the scenes are brilliant- like the scene where Indy and his father are imprisoned in the German castle, or the scene where they are forced to escape in an ancient aircraft. Watching Indy with his father is fun, and thrilling too!


1) Casablanca (1942): Humphrey Bogart is Rick Blaine, arguably one of the greatest characters ever. This movie is exceptional in every department- the dialogues are brilliant, the actors are stupendous (not just Bogart and Bergman, but even small characters like Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre), some of the scenes are unforgettable (the La Marseillaise scene, or the superb finale) and the story is so good, that even though it seems dated and cliched now, it still keeps you riveted throughout and when it ends, you have a great feeling. We will always have Casablanca!

2) Serendipity (2001): Romance movies are all about the feel-good factor you get at the end, and this is one of those movies that warms you once it's done. Another important factor for a romance film is that it should not drag on, and once more Serendipity seems just the right length, neither too short nor too long. The premise is a fairly cliched one- lovers who are meant to be together, but rely on Serendipity. I'm not a fan of mushy romance films, but this one goes easy on the mush. It makes you laugh a bit, makes you think, and makes you believe in the power of Serendipity.

3) Walk Don't Run (1966): Of all my choices, this is probably going to be my most controversial. However, I stand by my choice. Walk Don't Run is an unheralded masterpiece. Cary Grant gives one of his best performances ever, and Jim Hutton and Samantha Eggar are worthy supporters. The premise is wonderfully absurd- a sportsman who is embarrassed of his sport , an English businessman and an American girl sharing an apartment in Tokyo during the olympics. The love story is well handled, and Cary Grant remains the star of the movie. A movie that makes you laugh a lot, but remains a romance at its heart.

First up, this is more than three, simply because of the vast number of genres to be covered.

1) The Godfather (1972): Brilliant acting, superb dialogues and a great story. An institution in itself. Enough said.

2) Where Eagles Dare (1968): Brilliant actors and a war thriller that takes your breath away. There's a brilliant twist in the end, but there is enough before that to keep you more than entertained. The action is good, the suspense is strong and the dialogues are pretty good. 

3) The Dark Knight Rises (2012): Again, I must first defend this over 'The Dark Knight'. Yes, this doesn't have anyone as memorable as the Joker, but it is a more complete story unto itself. Both are superb action adventures, but this Batman is more human, and hence provides more room for suspense. Michael Caine has a larger role this time, and he definitely doesn't disappoint. The story is thrilling and you can't help but cheer for the 'rise'.

4) The Italian Job (1969): The heist film to beat all heist films, The Italian Job has it all- comedy, thrills, a memorable character in Charlie Croker, great dialogues, brilliant filming, a larger than life storyline and an ending that leaves you wanting more. It has a good score too, and is a perfect entertainer.

5) The Maltese Falcon (1941): I'll be frank. This movie is here because of Sam Spade, or to be more accurate, Bogart's portrayal of Spade. The character is brilliant enough to sustain pages and pages of praise. This movie adds a good storyline, an alluring woman who knows more than she reveals and wonderful dialogues to the mix. Neither a mystery, nor a thriller, this movie is a genre of its own-the stuff that dreams are made up off.

6) Top Gun (1986): Fast planes, a decent love story and a great soundtrack. This is one of Tom Cruise's finest, most mature performances and the other actors are good too. The filming of the aerial fight sequences is brilliant and they are definitely unique. There are raw emotions as well in the movie, and it is a movie that can make you smile, shed a tear, feel the power of love and gasp in awe at the Top Guns.

That's my list then, waiting to be attacked. Now, I'll pick up my popcorn, rev up the VLC player and embark on another journey into the wonderful land of films.

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