Feature Blogs

My Top 50 Films As A Critic - Part 2


I wasn’t aware of it last week but ABC TV conducted a national poll for Australians to name their favourite film. The results were announced on Sunday in a show hosted by Margaret Pomeranz. It’s coincidental since I’m naming my own top 10 films in this week’s issue. The only difference is that I’m only looking at the past 10 years whereas the ABC list includes all films ever made.


You’d hardly think it though when you see the ABC list. As is the problem with any net voting system, there’s a leaning towards more recent films and towards cult films. Here’s my thinking as to why…


Firstly, cult films are films which many people love but few people have seen. Fans of the film see it as their job to promote it and get others to see it. They are more likely to vote for such a film than a universal favourite. They want the film to appear on the list to have people think “wow, haven’t heard of that one! I will have to see it.” For example, American Beauty (released in 2000) is an amazing film and everyone agrees. Donnie Darko (released in 2002) is an equally good film but have you seen it? Probably not. If you look at the ABC list, American Beauty finished in 16th place but Donnie Darko finished in 5th place.


Secondly, people have short term memories. Also, since it’s a younger demographic that uses the internet, they vote for films which are more recent to them. Of the top 100 films on the ABC list, 35 have been released in the past 10 years. It’s well regarded that films aren’t as good as they used to be so it doesn’t make sense to see such a high percentage of recent films on the list.


Here’s a look at the ABC’s top 10…


1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy

2. Amelie

3. Blade Runner

4. The Shawshank Redemption

5. Donnie Darko

6. Star Wars

7. Pulp Fiction

8. The Princess Bride

9. Gone With The Wind

10. Fight Club


I like every single one of these films but apart from Shawshank, I don’t know if I’d have any of them in my own top 10 of all time.


Here’s my commentary on some of the others from the list –


14. Casablanca - My favourite film of all time. How could this not be higher?

23. The Matrix - This is a joke, right?

24. The Castle - The highest ranked Aussie film. It’s great but I’ve seen better.

38. Serenity - It was released only a few months ago and wouldn’t feature in my top 1000 of the last 10 years.

44. The Big Lebowski - Dude, it may be a cult favourite but it’s a great choice.

48. The Usual Suspects - Glad to see this one in the list.

53. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl - Um…

58. Love Actually - I’m insulted by this inclusion. It is, and always will be, a C+.

63. The Fifth Element - Did people just vote for this because it was on TV the other night?

67. Napoleon Dynamite - Good but not this good.

80. Garden State - Was this a typo?

85. Chocolat - I will never forgive this film for stealing Billy Elliot’s best picture nomination.


Ok, let’s get back on track and look at my top 10 films of the last 10 years.


If you weren’t here last week, I have gone through every film I’ve seen in the 10 years since I’ve been dishing out my Film Pie grades and ranked the top 50 in order. Tonight, I reveal the cream of the crop – the top 10.


In case you’re wondering why I haven’t looked a films released prior to 1996, it’s because (a) I haven’t seen them all and (b) it’s hard to give a retrospective grade. Older films come with a reputation and whilst I adore Casablanca, it’s hard to include that considering I wasn’t around in 1940 to see it and didn’t see most of the other 40s releases.


I am fanatical about all of these 10 films. I own them all on DVD and have seen them many times. If I come across them on TV or see someone else watching them, I am instantly drawn in and have to start watching. We all have different tastes and everyone’s top 10 films are different but this is well and truly the list for me. Let’s get to it…


10. Mulholland Drive (2002)


A concussed woman stumbles into the house of a young Hollywood actress. She doesn’t know who she is and the two begin a search to find the answer. Mulholland Drive is an historic, landmark film that will be studied for years to come. The more you think about, the further you are from understanding it.


Writer-director David Lynch is very secretive about what it all means and I’ve read essays on the internet which go through every single scene trying to interpret what is going on. Lynch won the best director gong at the Cannes Film Festival and was also nominated for an Academy Award. The film also helped launched the international career of Naomi Watts. Her performance is incredible.


Once you’ve seen it, let me know and we’ll debate it for hours.


9. Requiem For A Dream (2001)


They say a picture paints a thousand words. I've always believed film is an art form and anyone who thinks otherwise, needs to see Requiem For A Dream. Some movies are about more than big stars, popcorn and happy endings. Some movies leave you thinking for a long time.


The film looks at four people who want more out of life and have turned to drugs to do it. Unlike many other films on the subject matter, the whole "drugs are bad" theme is not obviously stated. You watch these four and watch what becomes of them and you can decide for yourself the effect that drugs have. The star of the cast was 68-year-old Ellen Burstyn who should have won the Oscar but lost to Julia Roberts (Erin Brokovich).


Requiem For A Dream is an emotionally draining experience. With an intense music score repeating over and over, it takes you from reality and into a crazy, unexplored world.


8. Being John Malkovich (1999)


With hundreds of films churned out each year, it's become a lot harder to shock or surprise an audience. They’ve seen these twists before and have a fair idea how a film will end. Just when you think you've seen it all, along comes a truly gifted individual who crafts something which you could never imagine.


Being John Malkovich has more twists, turns and shocking surprises than in any film I’ve seen in the past 10 years. The premise itself is truly brilliant - there's a door into the brain of actor John Malkovich that people can travel into for 15 minutes.


It’s amazing how much writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze have made of this concept. It’s rich in originality and the perfect ending is the icing on a very sweet cake. Kaufman has since written Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and is now Hollywood’s best writer.


7. Leaving Las Vegas (1996)


Nicolas Cage won the Oscar for his performance as alcoholic Ben Sanderson. After being sacked, he cashed in his life savings and went to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. In Vegas, he became close friends with a prostitute (played by Elizabeth Shue) and they shared some good times but it was all on one condition – she could never, ever ask him to stop drinking.


Ben’s alcoholism provides so many funny moments (like when he goes shopping for booze) but it’s ultimately a very sad story. The film was directed by Mike Figgis (who earned an Oscar nomination) on a very small budget (of about $4m). The Vegas visuals are stunning as is the jazzy soundtrack. Movies don’t get much better than this.


6. The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1997)


I love this film because of what it stands for. It’s the true story of Larry Flynt (played in the film by Woody Harrelson), creator of the pornographic Hustler magazine. In the 1970s, his magazine was taken on by religious groups and he spent time in jail. The most famous case saw him sued by one of America’s most respected religious figures, Jerry Falwell. It went to the High Court and Larry Flynt won thanks to the help of lawyer Alan Isaacman (played amazingly by Edward Norton in only his second film role).


There are quotes from this film I am always speaking of. At a political rally, Flynt explains one of the strange double standards we have in this world. Sex is legal and yet to show the act sex or anything pornographic is illegal. Any movies with this material are usually branded with an R-rating. Violence though, is illegal and yet we show it all the time in movies, in video games and on television. The recent Saw 2 is as violent as a film can get and yet it only received an MA rating. No one has been able to explain to me why this inconsistency exists.


The People Vs. Larry Flynt highlights this issue as well as that of free speech. I’ll finish with one of Alan Isaacman’s great lines from the film – “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have heard a lot toady, and I'm not gonna go back over it, but you have to go into that room and make some decisions. But before you do, there's something you need to know. I am not trying to suggest that you should like what Larry Flynt does. I don't like what Larry Flynt does, but what I do like is the fact that I live in a country where you and I can make that decision for ourselves. I like the fact that I live in a country where I can pick up Hustler magazine and read it, or throw it in the garbage can if that's where I think it belongs.”


5. Magnolia (2000)


Magnolia is pure art and it is why Paul Thomas Anderson is my favourite film director. There are many storylines and a huge cast (including Tom Cruise, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore) and it all comes together at the end. I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker and I am incredibly jealous of Anderson and his imagination. My favourite Anderson trait is his use of a single camera to film a length scene (with no edits). He also has an amazing way of weaving music into his films - the soundtrack is my all time favourite.


I can’t spoil anything when it comes to Magnolia because it’s the work of a genius which you have to see to appreciate. Everytime rewatch it, I pick up something new. It’s deep and open to wide interpretation but there’s a religious aspect evident for those who pay close attention.


Just remember, we may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.


4. The Ice Storm (1997)


American Beauty was a fantastic film but a film which looks at similar themes and was made several years before was The Ice Storm. Set in the 1970s, it’s the tale of a dysfunctional family who are about to see their lives change over the course of a winter weekend.


The cast includes Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Sigorney Weaver, Joan Allen and Kevin Kline. It was beautifully directed by Ang Lee who is in strong contention to win this year’s best director Oscar for Brokeback Mountain.


I’ve never forgotten this film and my own way of promoting it is through my email address.


3. Romeo & Juliet (1996)


Australian Baz Lurhmann is a great director. We’ve all seen Moulin Rogue and Strictly Ballroom but I believe Romeo & Juliet is his finest work. He took Shakespeare and found a way of modernizing it without losing the value contained in the language. Others have tried to copy his style without as much success. Ten minutes into seeing this film for the first time, I was blown away – an incredible, incredible opening. I had to see it three times at the cinema!


There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the magnificence of the soundtrack, the sets, the costumes, the editing, the writing, the acting and the directing. Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes starred in the leading roles and it’s hard to believe the film is now a decade old. It hasn’t lost any of his soul and I think I might go and watch it again right now…


2. Titanic (1997)


For all you Titanic bashers out there, I don’t care what you think. This is one of the best motion pictures ever and 8 years on, it’s still the highest grossing film of all time. The tale of two doomed lovers aboard the famous sinking ship melted many hearts and reduced many to tears. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were ideally cast by director James Cameron but it’s the sheer magnitude of this production which should be savoured. It cost $200m and was many thought it would be a box-office disaster but Cameron pulled it off.


Ironically, Cameron has released a four DVD special edition of the film which includes commentaries, deleted scenes and all the other cool stuff you find on DVDs. It was released last week and I’ve already got my copy.


1. Billy Elliot (2000)


This is my number one choice and it was not a hard decision to make for me. I wanted everyone to see it when it was released and ended up seeing it five times in the cinema (with different people each time). I’ve seen the musical version in London which is just as good.


It’s the story of a young boy named Billy Elliot who develops a love for ballet. He trains secretly behind the back of his father and brother and reaches a point where he will audition for the Royal Ballet School. There’s more to it but I’ll let you discover it all for yourself (if you haven’t already). Some scenes will stay with me forever.


Jamie Bell plays Billy in a role which won him the British Academy Award for best actor. Who did he beat that year? It was Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas, Geoffrey Rush and Russell Crowe. How about that! The film earned Oscar nominations for best director, best screenplay and best supporting actress (the great Julie Walters).


It’s hard to describe my admiration for the film and all who are behind it. The best I can do is give it the honour of being my choice for the best film of the past decade.