My Favorite Films

There are so many movies I've loved that the entire list would be nearly book-length. It's tough to pick just a few, but I'll give it a try.

The actual list below is more or less in order, and some of them may change depending on my mood. I'll try to provide quotes and commentary for all of them eventually; in the meantime, here's da list:

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
    (Britain, 1968) Directed by Stanley Kubrick
    "Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?"

    This, I believe, is the greatest film ever made. Incredibly innovative in terms of cinema, science fiction, philosophy, science itself ... with a depth that has yet to be entirely explored even 50 years later. Mere words fail to describe this film. See it if you haven't, and prepare to have your mind blown. As one commentator said, "it is a film that sort of encompasses art as a whole rather than just utilizing the cinema. It is a movie, it is a painting, it is a philosophy book, and finally a musical symphony. What a triumph." Do try NOT to watch it on video unless it's a properly letterboxed version, or you'll miss 2/3 of the images ... see it on the big screen if at all possible. Try to see it on the big screen FIRST. Despite all the advances in modern film technology and effects, motion control, computer-generated images, etc. ... Douglas Trumbull, Con Pederson, Wally Veevers and the entire crew of marvelously talented and ingenious people who brought Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick's vision to the screen set a standard of visual effects that's still hard to beat, even with the advent of CGI. It remains astonishing

    I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophical content...I intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does. You're free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film.
    -- Stanley Kubrick, 1968

    Other honorable mentions by this director: Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon and Full Metal Jacket. In memory of Stanley Kubrick, 1928-1999.

  2. Serenity
    (USA, 2005) Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

    "But it ain't all buttons and charts, little albatross. You know what the first rule of flying is? ... Love. You can learn all the math in the 'Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurtin' 'fore she keens. Makes her a home."

    My absolute favorite film of all time. (There's a difference between the film I think is the greatest film ever made and my favorite film, and they can both be favorites.) I'm a huge Browncoat -- "Firefly" is my favorite television show of all time (yes, more so than "Star Trek," which will always hold emeritus status), and after the show's mid-first-season cancellation (perhaps the greatest injustice in the history of television -- at least "Freaks and Geeks" got a full 22 episodes) I was astonished and delighted that the Powers That Be (Universal in this case, not Fox) saw fit to take a failed half-season TV series and make it into a theatrical release, perhaps the first time that's ever happened. We were going to get our Big Damn Movie.

    Joss Whedon masterfully created a story that continued things for longtime fans of the series, but that would also be accessible to those who were coming to the Firefly universe for the first time. Action, humor, emotion, giant stakes, a gripping plot ... it's just perfect. There are those who criticize Whedon for killing off characters, but even if he does it on a whim (which he doesn't) or has to because of the studio's requirements, he makes it work for the story. And what a story.

    I always cry at the end of Local Hero, but I cry harder at the end of this one, and that's one of myriad reasons why it bumped the aforementioned to #2 on this list. They each have something in common, though -- a strong sense of home. In Local Hero Mac felt as if Ferness was becoming home for him, not his high-rise condo in sprawling Houston. Serenity is home. I mentioned "Star Trek" earlier, and there's a great relevant quote from a Firefly/Serenity podcast called "The Signal" that perfectly sums up for me why "Firefly" and Serenity mean more to me than "Star Trek":
    "Serenity is just about the most beautiful ship ever seen. I.d like to make some comparisons with some of the other ships we find in science fiction. Captain Kirk's Enterprise felt rather like a battleship. Captain Picard's Enterprise felt more like a comfortable office building. Captain Archer's Enterprise felt more like a submarine. But only Serenity feels like home, like someplace you'd actually want to live."
    I'm not sure we'll ever get a Big Damn Sequel but we can keep hoping, and keep flying. In the meantime, if you haven't done so, watch "Firefly" -- 11 hours of 15 minutes of the best television series ever, then watch Serenity. You're so very welcome.

  3. Local Hero
    (Scotland, 1983) Directed by Bill Forsyth
    "You're my eyes and ears out there, McIntyre ... I want reports!"

    This was my absolute favorite film of all time, and after 22 years (and then some) was usurped by the above. It still has a very large place in my heart, though, and is a close second.

    Peter Riegert plays a Texas oil man who's sent to a stunningly picturesque Scottish fishing town to gingerly negotiate with the locals to buy the whole town, so that his company can raze it to build an enormous oil refinery. Meanwhile, the townsfolk with whom he's supposed to be so delicately negotiating are quietly holding out so that they can become as rich as humanly possible. Then, after a few days, he slowly begins to fall in love with the place ...

    This film, while being warm and hilarious, is also one of the most subtle films I've ever seen. The humor of some of the scenes can slip by if you're not paying attention; in fact, the first several times I saw it, I picked up more and of its subtleties with each subsequent viewing. If you've ever loved a place and longed for it after you've left it, you'll be bawling at the end, just as I always do. Fortunately, it's a happy bawling.

    Gorgeous cinematography by Chris Menges, hilariously subtle humor, great performances from Riegert, Burt Lancaster (one of my favorites), Denis Hunt, Peter Capaldi and Jenny Seagrove. And I always cry at the ending.

    Here's a terrific article about some of the locations where the film was shot, plus a biography of the writer-director, Bill Forsyth. Other honorable mentions by this director: Comfort and Joy, Gregory's Girl

    By the way ... I have had 42-year-old Scots whisky (well, one 32-year-old and a 10-year-old), and the number for that phone box is 44 3466 210.

  4. The Godfather, Parts I and II
    (U.S., 1972-1974) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
    "It's not personal, Sonny ... it's strictly business."

    Coppola and Mario Puzo's saga of the Corleone Family is one of the best American films ever made, I think. And these films mesh together so well, I tend to think of them as one. The baptism/assassination sequence in the first one is stunning and chilling. And "Part II" is perhaps the only sequel ever to equal or even surpass the original. "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!"  Brrrrr.

    Second runner-up: The Conversation, which is under-known and absolutely brilliant.

  5. Blade Runner
    (U.S., 1981) Directed by Ridley Scott
    "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost... like tears in rain."

    Really great science fiction. Thoughtful, literate script based on Philip K. Dick's novel, great atmospheric direction by Ridley Scott, and a beautifully designed future world of cultural mishmash, high-tech and urban squalor. Rutger Hauer's great in this; too bad he ended up doing B-films. And I refer here to the Director's Cut, of course.

    This film is rare in the annals of sf cinema, because it's intelligent and thought-provoking, and not just a bunch of spaceships flying around. It all starts with a great script -- read the film's script, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples.

  6. La Jetée (The Jetty)
    (France, 1962) Directed by Chris Marker
    "Ceci l'histoire d'un homme marqué par une image d'enfance..."

    One of the most amazing, brilliant, poetic and emotionally powerful films ever made.

    It's in black and white, it's in French, it's only 30 minutes long, and except for one briefly moving image, is told entirely in still images. After the destruction of Paris in World War III, a man obsessed by an image from his childhood is sent by the rulers of the survivors as an emissary to the past, in search of food and medicine, precisely because this image seems to be the only thing keeping the journey through time from failing. There, he falls in love ... but what will become of it?

    This film was the loose basis for the film "12 Monkeys", which did have its own merits but wasn't 1/100th the film this is.

  7. Days of Heaven
    (U.S., 1979) Directed by Terrence Malick
    "Me and my bruddah ... it just used to be me and my bruddah ..."

    The most beautifully photographed film I've ever seen, shot by the great Cuban cinematographer Nestor Almendros, sensitively directed by the vastly underrated director Malick. You must see this on the big screen.

  8. Closely Watched Trains (Ostre Sledovane Vlaky)
    (Czechoslovakia, 1966) Directed by Jiri Menzel

  9. Big Night
    (USA, 1996) Directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci.

    An absolutely beautiful, marvelous movie, the best film of 1996 that got completely screwed by the Academy ... phooey on them! This warm and funny character study of the relationship between two brothers from Italy, fiercely dedicated to fine cuisine but struggling to keep their restaurant afloat, is also a celebration of the joys of cooking and eating, and much much more. It also has one of the most extraordinary endings of any film I've ever seen. See it. Invite people over for dinner first, and make timpano.

  10. Victor/Victoria
    (U.S., 1982) Directed by Blake Edwards
    Norma: "I think the right woman could reform you." Toddy: "I think the right woman could reform you!
    Norma: "Oh, I just love Frenchmen!" Toddy: "Hehee, so do I!"

    I adore this movie. Everything about it is wonderful -- the writing, the acting, the humor, the songs. Robert Preston performs what's perhaps his best role ever, and Julie Andrews is fabulous as a down-and-out singer in Paris in the Twenties, who becomes the toast of Europe as "Victor", a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. See it!

  11. Ratatouille
    (U.S., 2007) Directed by Brad Bird
    "If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff."

    This is the first film to be added to this list in nine years. It is, in a word, perfect.

    It's the essence of "cinematic" -- beautifully "photographed" (it's entirely computer-animated), amazing fluid, sailing, flying camera movement, wonderful storytelling, endearing characters and acting, and it's all about the love of food and finding the artist within yourself, being true to yourself and your abilities and passions. I absolutely adored this film and hope to see it again and again.

  12. Being There
    (U.S., 1981) Directed by Hal Ashby
    "I like to watch, Eve."

    Hal Ashby's last film, Peter Sellers' last major performance, Jerzy Kosinski's novel and script, and pure brilliance in the story of a sheltered, simple-minded gardner unleashed upon the world of Washington, who embrace him as a visionary. Touching, wildly satirical and wickedly funny.

  13. Bedazzled
    (Britain, 1969) Directed by Stanley Donen

    Peter Cook as the Devil (AKA "George Spiggott"), and Dudley Moore as the poor sap who's sold his soul in exchange for seven wishes. Quite possibly the funniest movie ever made. At the first shot of the scene of Dudley's final wish, I was laughing so hard I was afraid I'd stop breathing.

  14. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes)
    (Germany, 1973) Directed by Werner Herzog

  15. Breaking Away
    (U.S., 1978) Directed by Peter Yates
    "That's ini food. I want some American food, goddammit, I want French fries!"

  16. The Wicker Man
    (Britain, 1973) Directed by Robin Hardy
    "Come, Sergeant Howie ... it's time for you to keep your appointment with The Wicker Man."

    Brrrrr. Amazing, utterly original, very eerie and atmospheric movie with a stunner of an ending. The film is the tale of a straight-laced, Puritan policeman who goes to a remote Hebridean island to investigate the alleged disappearance of a young girl, and finds that the inhabitants are all practitioners of a pre-Christian paganism ... and are up to something. It was involved in various litigation, and was cut to pieces in its various releases. There's an excellent web site about the film's different versions. Nobody I know seems to like this movie but me. Bah. See it anyway, it's terrific. And it's the best performance of Christoper Lee's entire career

  17. Paris, Texas
    (U.S., 1984) Directed by Wim Wenders
    "I knew these people. These two people. They were in love with each other. The girl was very young, about 17 or 18, I guess. And the guy was quite a bit older. He was kind of raggedy and wild. And she was very beautiful, you know. And together they turned everything into a kind of adventure. And she liked that..."

    Great writing and acting, a great Ry Cooder score, and one of the most memorable scenes of any film I've seen -- the nearly ten-minute monologue from Harry Dean Stanton, all one shot, near the end of the film.

  18. Touch of Evil
    (U.S., 1959) Directed by Orson Welles

    Everyone talks about "Citizen Kane", but this is my favorite Welles movie. You'll almost believe Charlton Heston as a Mexican cop, too.

  19. Fiddler on the Roof
    (U.S., 1971) Directed by Norman Jewison

    One of my favorite musicals, a marvelous play, great characters, acting and storytelling. Plus, the rabbi of Anatevka provided a morsel of wisdom that I've adopted into my life, as my way of dealing with people I don't like: "Rabbi, do you have a prayer for the Tsar?" "A prayer for the Tsar? Oh dear ... (*thinking*) ... May God bless and keep the Tsar ... faaaaar away from *us*."

  20. Matewan
    (U.S., 1987) Directed by John Sayles

    As much of a Sayles fan as I am, I came to this film fairly late. Better late than never. It's a marvelous portrayal of the coal mine wars in West Virginia in the early part of the 20th Century, set to great local mountain music by the likes of Hazel Dickens. In addition to the fine writing, directing and general acting, Will Oldham (currently of the band Palace) gives a tour de force performance as the boy preacher.

  21. The Gold Rush and Modern Times
    (U.S., 1925 and 1936) Directed by Charles Chaplin

    Charlie Chaplin is one of my favorite directors, and it's hard to pick only one of his films for my list ... in fact, it's hard to pick only two. Forced into the "pick two" corner, though, I'd go for these two. "The Gold Rush" is still one of the funniest films I've ever seen. "Modern Times" I've seen time and time again -- it's hilarious, touching, and has biting social commentary that appeals to me as well. I still wanna learn that song he sings at the end.

In addition to the actual numbered not-necessarily-in-that-order list, I have to include one film that ... well, it'd be unfair to call it (them, really) my favorite film(s), as they float in the stratosphere aside from anything like a numerical favorites list. While I'll still refer to #1 on the list above as my favorite movie of all time, this has a special place and must be mentioned:

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King
(New Zealand/U.S.A., 2001, 2002, 2003) Directed by Peter Jackson
"We hatess them ... we hates them forever!!

Peter Jackson's achievement, along with all the actors, artists and technicians who worked on these films, is one of the greatest in the history of world cinema. There have been whole books written on this and days worth of extra features on the extended edition DVDs, so I'll just shut up now and recommend that you learn more about the films from those sources. Thank you, Peter.

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Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)