And your favorite films are…?

By Caitlin Kelly

Watch a great movie!
Watch a great movie!

They used to be so long there was an intermission — with a word on-screen saying “Intermission.” One even had an overture, Dr. Zhivago, as if the audience were seated at the opera or a classical concert.

Today we watch movies in the palm of our hands.

My father made documentary films for a living and one feature film, King of the Grizzlies, for Disney. (How do you control a grizzly bear? Jelly donuts and electrical wire lining the path you want him to walk.) So I had been on-set as a little girl and when we went to the movies we usually walked in half-way through. It was years before I saw a film as it was meant to be seen.

You know, from the opening credits.

I also grew up with very little access to television, between boarding school rules and life.

So if I wanted — and who doesn’t? — to disappear visually into another world for a while, movies were it.

The two films then that left the most powerful impression on me were two I still happily re-watch, Dr. Zhivago and 2001.

images

Dr. Zhivago, all 3 hours and 20 minutes of it, was directed by the late great British director David Lean (who also directed the classics Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai) and featured Omar Sharif, Geraldine Chaplin (grand-daughter of the great comic Charlie Chaplin), Rod Steiger, Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie.

It’s the eighth-highest grossing film, nominated for 10 Oscars (and won five.)

There isn’t a thing I dislike about this film. I love its specific color palette — grey, black, white, red, lavender and bright yellow. I love the extraordinary panoramas of landscape (Alberta, Finland and Spain subbing for Russia), the music, the underlying love stories.

Despite one online critic calling it “cinematic comfort food” I still think it’s worth a look if you’ve never seen it.

Stanley Kubrick is better known for his films like The Shining, (which I still haven’t seen!), but 2001 is, for me, a 50 year old film that still offers fresh ideas and stunning visuals. One major difference from later films is its pacing — there are long scenes literally silent or without dialogue — the film’s first and last 20 minutes, for example.

I wonder how many of today’s viewers could tolerate that.

Inside the spaceship -- filmed in a British studio
Inside the spaceship — filmed in a British studio

The film posits the existence of a black monolith that reappears after millennia, its role unknown, and focuses on a space mission to Jupiter controlled by the spacecraft’s computer, Hal 9000. I won’t explain the whole thing (the Wikipedia entry is super-detailed) but I never tire of it, especially the final scenes, filled with dazzling color and a trip to the edge of infinity. (It was made in the late 1960s — very much of its times.)

I’m in awe of the many talents and skills it takes to create a film, from the book or musical (or original screenplay) to the Foley artist, (the geniuses who find and create sound effects), to make-up, hair, lighting and cinematography.

While directors (still overwhelmingly male) and actors get 99% of all our attention (except for cinephiles and Oscar night), making a film is truly a team effort.

My dream movie job? Location scout!

A brief and selected list of my favorites below, which somehow includes no films from the 1930s, ’50s or ’90s.

Some other films I love:

The Devil Wears Prada

So fun! Younger viewers may think the main character is a total bitch. She is, but with a purpose. Older viewers might find her younger assistant a bit whiny, and she is, but she smartens up. I love the snappy dialogue, the astonishing clothes and accessories, the journalistic ambition that underpins the whole thing. Besides, any movie with Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci gets my vote! 2006

Notorious

I mean the 1946 version, starring Cary Grant and Ingmar Bergman, who travels to Brazil to infiltrate a gang of Nazis. That’s enough for me.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Paul Newman and Robert Redford, pure eye candy, play these real-life 19th century bank robbers, and Katharine Ross (better known for her role in The Graduate) plays their sidekick. Gorgeous scenes of galloping across Western landscapes, humor and drama and a final scene that gets me every time, partly because I recognize where it was filmed, with the distinctive twin volcanoes that mark it as Mexico. I was living in Cuernavaca then, where it was partly filmed, so there’s some serious nostalgia in it for me. 1969

Three Days of the Condor

Robert Redford again. Nuff said! OK, it’s about a guy working for the CIA who comes back to work to find all his colleagues have been killed — and has to figure out how and why. 1975

Jason Bourne
Jason Bourne

The Bourne films (Identity, Ultimatum, Supremacy)

Crazy, right?

I love how these films create a world where a solo actor, played by Matt Damon, races across the world fleeing execution by the agency that created him as a murderous monster. These films have it all: fantastic scenery (Thailand, Tangier, Berlin), lots of action and insanely complicated chase and fight scenes, and a love story. Not to mention their pure escapism — Damon never does anything vaguely normal and boring, like laundry or grocery shopping or sitting in a cubicle. Nope, it’s one desperate dash to a plane/boat/train/ferry after another.

Casablanca

If you’ve never seen this one, rent it this very instant! Starring Ingmar Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, it’s a love story complete with Nazis, Paris, trench coats, that song (“Play it, Sam”) and flashes of delicious humor and pathos. 1942

Aguirre, Wrath of God

If you’ve never seen any films by the great German director Werner Herzog, make time to explore a bit of his oeuvre. This 1972 film stars the wild man Klaus Kinski as Aguirre, in one of his five (shouting, screaming, exhausting) collaborations with Herzog. Filmed entirely on the Amazon in Peru, it’s a lush, crazed story of a 16th century conquistador. The final scene is unforgettable.

The Motorcycle Diaries

Based on the true story of Che Guevara’s ride around South America with his best friend, a once-wealthy medical student, it shows his transformation and political awakening. Starring Gabriel Garcia Bernal, this 2004 film is moving, beautiful to watch and a powerful insight into a legendary figure in history.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

This Western film, made in 1971 by American director Robert Altman, was shot in Vancouver and Squamish, B.C., starring Julie Christie and Warren Beatty.  Although it sounds seedy and weird — a pimp sets up shop in a 1902 town — it’s well worth seeing for the plot, characters, cinematography. The final scene…The soundtrack features another Canadian, Leonard Cohen. In 2010, McCabe & Mrs. Miller was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.

Spotlight

As a career journalist, I love films that explain what we do and why it still matters a great deal. This fantastic 2014 film — partially shot in my hometown, Toronto — details the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigative team, Spotlight, into Catholic priests’ sexual abuses. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Jon Slattery (of Mad Men) and Toronto actress Rachel McAdams, this is a must-see. I blogged about it as well; here’s the post.

Blade Runner

One of those films whose every visual reference — like 2001 — informs many later works that are better-known. Based on a Philip K. Dick story, this futuristic dystopian love story features Harrison Ford, (long before his breakout roles in Star Wars and Indiana Jones) as a “blade runner”, a retired cop charged with running down wayward replicants. Directed by Ridley Scott, (later famous for his Alien films), it’s a cult classic, with all the Scott-isms we’ve come to know and love — sudden terror, lots of bright lights and dripping water, dark crevices filled with menace. 1982

250px-Original_Rocky_Horror_Picture_Show_poster

Rocky Horror Picture Show

Oh, yes!

“It’s just a jump to the left…” This 1975 piece of insanity stars Susan Sarandon as Janet, lost on a dark road with her fiance Brad. Arriving at a castle filled with (at the time wildly transgressive idea) transsexuals and transvestites, they quickly lose all control. It’s a musical with classics like Time Warp. Tim Curry, in corset, plays Frank N. Furter, with sidekicks like Magenta, Riff Raff and Columbia. You either hate it or love it.

Bridesmaids

Too funny. 2011

The Heat

Even funnier, pairing Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. A 2013 buddy cop movie, it should be stupid but is funny as hell and occasionally even moving. 2013

Which films do you love most and why?

 

 

37 thoughts on “And your favorite films are…?

  1. I loved the original Goodbye Mr Chips and also The Inn of the Sixth Happiness both for their superb acting but also for staying so close to the storyline. I love most films with Katharine Hepburn or Spencer Tracey but especially those where they play opposite each other.like Pat and Mike. I enjoyed the spectacle of Braveheart and of Gladiator. I also enjoy some of the romcoms like Four Weddings and Notting Hill. But like you, special reverence is set aside for classics like Casablanca.
    xxx Huge Hugs Caitlin xxx

  2. Jan J

    One of my favorite movies is “Gone With The Wind.” No, not (just) for the clothes, and obviously I’m aware of the disturbing sanitized representation of the “happy darkies.” And yes, you see what’s probably the birth of the Klan. But what I like about GWTW is that it shows how different people respond when their entire way of life is destroyed. Rhett maybe doesn’t change that much, he’s always been rather amoral. Scarlett turns out to be very much like Rhett, after having been coddled and never having to l lift a finger to do anything. That scene where she is desperately digging carrots out of the ground with her fingernails, and she says “I will never be hungry again! As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again!” gives me goosebumps just to recall.. Melanie, the absurdly passive, agreeable woman, when she (and what’s left of her family) is threatened by a Northern soldier coming up the stairway of Tara in the darkness – she does what nobody thought she was capable of – she raises a rifle she had hidden in her skirt and blows his brains out. And Ashley, the gentle idealist, ends up with his spirit completely broken. I remember all these scenes so vividly, even though it’s been many years since I’ve seen the movie.

    1. That carrot scene!!! Indeed. My mother took me to see it when I was maybe eight or nine, and it was always her favorite film. I’m not sure I’ve seen it since, but that moment is indelible, for sure.

      I love how well you remember it all. 🙂

  3. Bond: Spy Who Loved Me, Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Politics: American President (Schlamme & Sorkin at their best) Romcon: Emilie, Sliding Doors, Notting Hill, Barefoot in the Park. Epic Drama: Dune, Zhivago, Larry of the Sands. Musical/Dance: Sound of Music, All that Jazz. Animated: Ponyo, The Incredibles, Despicable Me II. Pure stupidity, funny but will always watch if on TV: Blades of Glory…..And…..drum roll please….One of my favorite movies of all time, the nuanced characters, the originality, the silliness…The Life Equatic.

  4. debra

    Don’t get me started! I love: Life of Brian, A Room with a View, Sophie’s Choice, Pride and Prejudice (KK version), The Big Lebowski (anything by the Cohens), Laura with the divine Gene Tierney, Exodus, Gladiator, any Hercules movie with Steve Reeves, the original Gidget, Notorious (pretty much anything with Cary Grant), The Bishop’s Wife, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Others, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Swept Away (NOT the Madonna drech), Reality Bites, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and loads more!

    1. That’s some list! 🙂

      I loved Swept Away — which is VERY un-PC to admit these days. (The Wertmuller one.) Sixteen Candles — and, God, yes. Breakfast Club (now deeply hated because the cast is all-white.) I still love it anyway.

      Also — Say Anything with Lloyd Dobler and the boombox in the backyard…

  5. Children of Paradise one of the most beautiful and well acted films you will ever see. As love stories go it is a bittersweet romance full if right and wrong where you end up cheering for the criminal and understand that acting is a rare art that can speak without words and yet voices true love as a tragedy due to a lack of understanding in an empty world.

  6. we share a love for ‘dr. zhivago,’ and i also love: ‘the graduate’, ‘hugo’, ‘beasts of the southern wild’, ‘napoleon dynamite’, ‘the english patient’, nightmare before christmas’, and ‘rear window.’ it’s a bit of a mix )

  7. I watch so many movies, that it’s hard to find a favorite. And if there are ones I really like, I usually wait a couple of years before I see it again. So while I don’t really have favorite films, I do have a few that leave impressions on me: one is I Am A Ghost, which is an artfully done indie film done on a budget of ten grand, and masterfully mixes horror, the supernatural, and mystery for a stunningly visual delight of a film. Another is The Babadook, a psychological horror film that makes you wonder what is real and what is madness (I still can’t tell). And finally there’s the Studio Ghibli film When Marnie Was There. I feel like that one is really underrated. It’s such a simple story, but it’s so beautiful, and it really hits you emotionally. In fact, I’m getting it from the library so I can see it again.

  8. Julia Grant

    I love movies! And films, and especially cinema!! (I am being cheeky of course). Making lists is hard and all depends on context. (my apologia). Movies you see when you are young and impressionable make a mark. In that context I nominate Whistle Down the Wind (1961) “The plot follows the lives of three Lancashire farm children who discover a fugitive hiding in their barn.” It was the first movie I saw and it left an impression.

      1. Julia Grant

        AND, if you want a recommend for a new movie, “45 Years” with Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.

    1. Oooooh, Out of Africa. I was incredibly lucky when it first came out — I had the $$ and the time — and booked a safari there within a month of seeing it. Best trip of my life.

      Too funny that you also liked Bridesmaids and Heat. 🙂

  9. GILDA! I’ve become addicted to this film, starring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford, when I saw it for the first time exactly one year ago. I was stuck in bed with the flu and went on a marathon movie binge watching only “films noirs” from the 1940s and ’50s. They were so young and beautiful in that film and the sexual chemistry between them just sizzled off the screen (in real life they become lovers even though each of them were married to other people.) The dialogue in the film is also terrific.

    I basically watch and rewatch old films now (like Humphrey Bogart, In A Lonely Place and another huge favorite is ALL ABOUT EVE with Bette Davis), however I just watched the new Far from the Madding Crowd with Carey Mulligan and really enjoyed it.

  10. I love The Devil Wears Prada too. Meryl Streep is fabulous!

    I saw a preview for Spotlight when I went to the movies to watch Joy at the weekend — it looked like a powerful film.

    I liked Joy more than I expected, considering its mixed reviews in the media. It was refreshing to watch a movie with a strong, smart woman as the protagonist and with an overall message of female empowerment. I published my review today.

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