My favorite parts in many movies don’t speak, are delicious and are highly paid…Junior Mints, popcorn and chocolate covered almonds. Given my penchant for supplementing mediocre Hollywood offerings with indulgent, albeit unhealthy fare, it’s remarkable that I’ve paid enough attention to take note of my favorite movies which I’ve listed below in honor of Oscar night. The criteria is simple, I like them.
10. Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally,…I know, that’s three movies. But they all star Tom Hanks/Billy Crystal paired with Meg Ryan and have happy endings and are interchangeable. So there, I have a weakness for romantic comedies with Meg Ryan.
9. To Kill a Mockingbird: In the history of making movies from literature, this is a rare exception to the rule, “The movie is never as good as the book.” While the movie based on the book by Harper Lee and starring Gregory Peck is not better than the book, it may well be as good. It conveys the value of human beings without preaching. And while it doesn’t end happily, it does end hopefully and true to life.
8. Saving Private Ryan: The most gut wrenching opening to a movie I’ve seen and a prescriptive to any notion that war is all about glory. In truth, war manifests the absolute polar opposites of horror alongside courage…all in the same arena and sometimes in the same scene.
7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: There isn’t a bad scene in the entire movie. My favorite begins with Paul Newman (Butch) riding a bike with Kathryn Ross (Sundance’s girlfriend) on the handlebars while Butch sings, “Don’t ever hit your mother with a shovel, it leaves a dull impression on her mind.” I have no idea why that rings funny to me. Then the entire bike scene is played out to the song, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”. A wonderful mix of acting, music and cinematography in an age before anyone knew what a music video was.
6. Sound of Music: My parents took me to Tulsa to see this movie in 1965. When it came out, the old Osage theater downtown didn’t have a large enough screen, so we had to drive to Tulsa to see this movie. I’m a sucker for Rodgers and Hammerstein including Oklahoma!, South Pacific and Carousel. But this is my favorite. I still get goose bumps during the final scene “Climb Every Mountain.”
5. Cool Hand Luke: I certainly lean toward happier endings, but this ending isn’t happy. Luke is ruthlessly gunned down by prison guards in a church house after he attempts to contact the “Old Man”. I watch this movie late at night for at least twenty minutes anytime I discover it playing.
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark: Talk about your opening scenes. The first ten minutes is an adventure movie unto itself. Part comic book, part history, part mythology, part evil versus good…it’s the books I read growing up…along with Spielberg, about the world being set right in a cool kind of way.
3. Okay, I’m running out of space so I’m cheating here, but wanted space for less serious movies that I like just because I’m odd: Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, The Blues Brothers, A Christmas Story, The Breakfast Club and one I’m throwing in because James Garner stars, Support Your Local Sheriff!
2. It’s a Wonderful Life: Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorites and I just finished reading his biography which was fascinating. The final scene still manages to buoy your spirit and hope for humanity.
I cheated here also…one dark movie and one happy movie.
1.a Godfather I & II: Robert De Niro, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert DuVall. That list alone tells of the wonderful acting which is never overwrought and always compelling and believable. Evil is often conveyed in film as something unchanging and static, attributable to the antagonist in monochromatic shades of darkness. We don’t often see vividly the fall of humanity within one character like we see in Michael Corleone. Watching Al Pacino transform Michael Corleone from idealistic youth to pragmatic patriarchal ego consumed by hubris is beyond fascinating. It’s like watching the places inside your own soul that could be turned given different circumstance and rationalization. The photography, if that’s the term, is remarkable also.
1.b. Field of Dreams: This is a second exception to the rule about books being made into movies. The book is titled, “Shoeless Joe” and is a great read. As I watch this movie, there is a sense of the sublime and transcendent…even the notion that the story is unbelievable. Yet it’s filled with such warmth and grace that you are overwhelmed with the wonder of the narrative. And I would watch just to hear the sound track…Willie Nelson singing “Crazy”, “Daydream” by The Lovin’ Spoonful, “Jessica” by The Allman Brothers Band, “China Grove” by The Doobie Brothers played while Ray Kinsella is driving an old VW van cross-country from Boston to Minnesota…cool highway song. And, I’ve never watched the end without tearing up when Ray calls to his Dad who’s miraculously young again, “Dad…you wanna have a catch?” And the camera pans progressively back and up revealing the lighted field and the road leading to the field lined with thousands of cars. Sometimes the arts, including film, best convey those moments of visible grace and miracle we long to live out in our own lives. I guess that’s why we keep watching?
Pass the popcorn!