By Calvin Maynard
What happened, Hollywood? You were doing so well. Silver screens used to make us laugh, cry, tremble or sweat. Screenwriters wrote sheer poetry, and actors delivered them with superhuman levels of aplomb. Then something went wrong. Instead of Cary Grant, we got Adam Sandler. Instead of Steve Martin, we got Kevin James (I admit there are things less funny than Kevin James, like sewage and crop failures). All is not lost, though. If we can get back in touch with what movies used to be, maybe we can make some new classics, because what we have now isn’t cutting it. So here they are; the top 5 movies of all time, separated by category.
The Godfather: Part II (Paramount Pictures, 1974). What else could it have been? At once a prequel and sequel to its immortal predecessor, The Godfather, this masterpiece of cinema tells the story of Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) as he founds one of America’s largest Mafia syndicates in the early 1900’s, and of his son, the Machiavellian Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), as he navigates a mob war, investment in the dying Cuban regime and a police investigation. Its dark tone lends itself to a deep investigation of family, friendship, and what people will do to each other just to keep their heads above water. And remember, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Capisce?
THE RUNNERS UP: In no particular order, The Godfather, Part I (It’s a movie you can’t refuse), Scarface (say hello to my little film!), The Departed (I’m not a cop!), Pulp Fiction, Ocean’s 11 (the 1960 Rat Pack version), North by Northwest and Rear Window.
Some movies just get it. Every line demands to be quoted daily. Inconceivable, you say? I direct you to The Princess Bride (20th Century Fox, 1987). Columbo reads a story book to Kevin from The Wonder Years (wait a second. I’m being told they have real names). Make that Peter Falk reads a book to Fred Savage, and that’s just the beginning. Within the book, the dashing Wesley (Cary Elwes) tries to rescue his love from a group of nefarious and idiotic criminals employed by the wicked Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon). Along the way, they must battle a giant, a Spaniard, Wallace Shawn, six-fingered Christopher Guest and Rodents of Unusual Size (no, I don’t mean the CNN news team). And who doesn’t love Mandy Patinkin? His name is Inigo Montoya. You killed his father. Prepare to die!
THE RUNNERS UP: Grease, Grease 2 (at least a thousand times better, and maybe more), The Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, Scrooged (the only retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that got it), Duck Soup (starring Goucho, Harpo, Karl, Sleepy, Doc, and Dopey Marx), His Girl Friday, Spaceballs, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (a very close second in comedy).
If this were written in any other nation, this list would not include Westerns. After all, why should they care about our Westward expansion? But this is America, so it does. Something about exploring, carving order out of chaos, lone gunmen loping into saloons and getting to wear leather chaps places that are not a Judas Priest concert is a key part of the American psyche, and no movie better captures that than The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (United Artists, 1966). The Bad and the Ugly seek a fortune in hidden Confederate gold after the Civil War, but what chance does anyone stand when the Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood) is around. After all, there are two kinds of people in this world: those with loaded guns, and those who dig. Clint did not dig.
THE RUNNERS UP: Serenity (the world’s greatest space western), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart vs Lee Marvin hardly makes for a fair fight!), The Searchers, Django Unchained (even with the anachronistic sunglasses), Wild Wild West (AKA, the Fresh Sheriff of Bell-Air), and Straight to Hell (starring ex-Clash frontman Joe Strummer, Elvis Costello, and a young Courtney Love at her most annoying).
Topping this category is one that very nearly counted as a Western — Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (20th Century Fox, 1980). George Lucas hit his stride with this one, telling the story of how Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) learned more of the Force from Yoda (whom I have just been informed was totally not space Kermit. Not even a little bit). Meanwhile, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) get trapped on an ice planet, then inside an asteroid worm, then a sky city, by Imperial forces lead by the villainously awesome Darth Vader (James Earle Jones). SPOILER ALERT! Darth Vader is Luke’s father.
THE RUNNERS UP: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (a point by point retelling of King Arthur when you think about it), Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (just don’t mention the Ewoks. Just don’t), Stardust, the Matrix (It’s like Plato with guns!), The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Jackson did as good a job with the books as could be expected. The Hobbit trilogy? Not so much), the Harry Potter series (where we see Ron Weasely as the first ginger to ever escape the friend-zone), and the Hunger Games series (Oh my Lorde!).
George Lucas again gives us another home run series, which he then retroactively screwed up with remastering, editing, and stupid sequels, but even he cannot ruin the awesomeness that is Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Paramount Pictures, 1981). The perpetually cool Harrison Ford stars as globe-trotting adventurer and archaeologist Indiana Jones as he races Nazis for a powerful artifact that could change the future of the world. This movie has it all: sparkling dialogue, fantastic chemistry between Ford and Karen Allen as Marian Ravenwood, Nazis (who make the best bad guys ever), and an epic John Williams soundtrack. If it ever seems cheesy, just remember “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.”
THE RUNNERS UP: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (turns out age only made Sean Connery cooler!), the Mad Max series (Mel Gibson versus hordes of post-apocalyptic metalheads), Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket (wherein R. Lee Ermy gives the best cussing-out of all time), Apocalypse Now (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”), All Quiet on the Western Front, and the Great Escape.
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