Friday, May 27, 2011

Writing Is Re-Writing

I recently finished a first draft of my screenplay and now I’m faced with the question: What do I do next?

I’ve heard several idioms and quotes about what it is to be a writer, but the one that has always stuck with me is that a script is never finished, it is rewritten.  This has always been the step I have feared the most.  It takes so much work and effort and time to finish a script, and once your done it’s time to do it all over again?!?!  But where do I start?

I know there are lots of areas of my script that need reworking, but just the thought of having to go through it all again is extremely daunting.  Do I completely restructure my script? Is it just characters that need more developing?  Do I just redo all of the dialogue?  Or is it all of the above?

Seeking some motivation I decided to read some older drafts of some recent films and compare them to the final film to see what changes they made and why.  I’ll be discussing some areas of the stories that might be considered spoilers so read on at your own risk.

The first script I read was “Source Code” by Ben Ripley.

I got a hold of this script over a year ago after seeing Duncan Jones’ first film “Moon” and learning that this would be his next project.  The script had been reviewed on a couple of other blogs I read and was featured on the 2007 Screenwriting Black List as a highly regarded unproduced script.  The copy I have is undated but it is definitely not the shooting script.  I held on to the script and did not read it until after seeing the film so I wouldn’t be spoiled.

“Source Code” tells the story of a military captain named Colter Stevens who is transported into the body of another man who is a passenger on a train that will be exploding within moments.  Colter is sent back repeatedly to try to find the person responsible for the attack so that they can prevent a second attack.  The film is a fast paced thriller that keeps you guessing with a clever take on time travel and alternate parallel universes.

The script is a fast read, especially through the first act.  The plot moves along fast with wonderful descriptions and detail.  A lot has happened by the 30 page mark and the story is in full swing at this point.  It tends to slow down a bit, taking time to let things play out before coming to a quick end.  The script is  120 pages, far longer than the final 93 minute run time of the final film, but a lot of that could be from the long descriptions of fast action sequences.

For the most part the story is exactly the same from the script to the final film.  The structure is in tact, and many scenes that take place in the film are in the script, but there are details that are changed.  First, let’s focus on the characters.

There are essentially four main characters to the story.  Colter Stevens is the main hero of the story.  Then there is Christina, the girl on the train with him.  Goodwin is the main controller at Beleaguered Castle, the unit in charge of running the Source Code mission, and there is also Rutledge, the inventor of Source Code and the man in charge.  Colter remains the same from script to screen.  His goals and arc are pretty much in tact with perhaps some fleshing out of his relationship with his father in the final film that was sort of passed over in the script, but for the most part he remains untouched.

The other characters, however, go through some changes, especially Christina.  In the film, Christina and Sean, the man who’s body Colter is occupying, are acquainted.  In fact there seems to have been some flirting but it hasn’t materialized into anything yet.  In this earlier draft they don’t know each other, or at least they haven’t spoken before, but there has been some quiet attraction.  In the earlier draft Christina is also portrayed as an angry goth girl who is an aspiring artist, not much like the final take on the character.  Not having Sean and Christina really know much about each other makes things harder for Colter to gather information since he’ll have to work harder to help convince her to help him, which is good for conflict.  Having them know each other some, though, helps raise the stakes for Colter.  In the early draft he begins to feel for this character and thus want to help her, but it seems a bit forced and happen kind of quickly and suddenly.  In the film there is an obvious relationship developing and she wants to help him.  Colter is hesitant at first but after a while warms to her.  His wanting to save her seems a bit more realistic, especially since she is invested in him already.  He now has a reason to want to complete the mission: to save the girl of course.  The relationship between them is more fully developed in the final film.

Goodwin and Rutledge have some minor changes to them as well, but it’s mostly in fully developing them into more full characters.  For one, Goodwin is a male in the script but female in the film.  Goodwin’s sex doesn’t really play a part into the story, so that might have changed mainly for casting reasons.  The character’s tone changes some though.  In the script he’s pretty cold and strictly there to do the job.  His sudden change and sympathy towards Colter’s situation is a bit sudden at the end and felt forced.  In the film Goodwin is there to do the job, but it seems she’s uncomfortable with the situation, and feels for Colter and would really like to help him.  She’s in a tough spot, stuck between doing her job and doing the right thing.  This is an improvement by far for the character.  Rutledge on the other hand felt like the more sympathetic character in the script and suddenly turned cold at the end.  In the film he’s pretty mean and driven throughout.  He’ll do whatever it takes to get his goals which makes him a pretty formidable antagonist for Colter. 

There are more minor characters added to the train in the film that add more suspects for Colter to investigate.  In the script it’s pretty much just Guzman the middle eastern guy, the college kid, Derek the stock broker, and the computer engineer.  In the script there is no comedian riding along on the train, which is fine because I didn’t feel his character was really necessary in the film.  There is no office manager, the lawyer angry about being late, the older nurse on the upper deck, and a few others.  Adding more characters, and more for Colter to suspect, increases the conflict and mystery of who is guilty.  Derek the stock broker is actually split into two characters.  Derek, the normal looking guy that leaves his wallet behind, and the stock broker who is always on his computer and phone and a general dick to everyone.  In the script his character seemed a bit obvious, and splitting him up and making Derek a character that just blends in and seems oblivious to everyone else is a much better choice.

Aside from the characters, there are location changes and minor plot details that are deleted or improved for the final film.  The story is moved from New York to Chicago.  New York has had enough terrorist attacks and would have seemed in bad taste.  Chicago is fresh and different and makes for a pretty good choice.  Colter’s time in the source code is also shortened from seventeen minutes in the script to eight minutes in the film.  Shorter time means faster pace, more tension and conflict, which makes for better drama.  There is a scene where a video is shown with a terrorist group taking claim for the terrorist attack that seemed a bit cliché.  It’s far more scarier thinking that a normal looking American is responsible for the attacks.

There are also some changes to some of the key action scenes.  For example, in the film Colter gets off the train to confront Guzman with Christina, where as in the script it’s just him.  Having Christina there trying to stop him helps with the tension.  Again when Colter confronts Derek off the train Guzman is there and Christina is not.  The scene in the script was quite sudden, and it served the purpose of showing who’s behind the attack, but having Christina there added to the tension, especially when Colter see’s what his actions have done to her.  That scene in the film also revealed the twist of the two cell phones on the bomb, which was not present in the script.  And Colter’s final confrontation with Derek in the end is far different.  In the script, Colter calls 911 and the police are there waiting for him at the first stop, and Colter saves the day.  He’s not really involved though in it, where as in the film his confronting him on the train, locking him to the train, and showing him the phones and his plan has been foiled and he’s lost is more of an active role for Colter.  As a rule, the hero should always be active rather than passive.  He should be the one doing what it takes to save the day, rather than standing back watching it happen and smiling at his good deed.

There are a few other minor changes.  For example, his discovery of what really happened to him, his conversation with his dad, and the use of the source code itself.  The film explains it and uses it more as parallel universes being created each time, where as it seems more like plain time travel in the script.  Especially with the scene of Colter speaking to Goodwin within the source code and Goodwin being fully aware of it when he returns back to the main reality.  There is a similar scene in the film, but Goodwin is not aware of it because it happens within a different reality.  It’s a more clever and appropriate take on the concept in the final film, especially in relation to the ending.  All of these scenes exist in the script and make it into the film, they are just developed more and improved for the film.

Overall, comparing script to film the thing I noticed is that the plot and structure are intact.  Characters were better developed and dialogue and scenes were polished to make it more tight and suspenseful, but the basic skeleton of the story remains the same.  Many teachers and authors of screenwriting preach on the importance of structure.  Screenwriting is structure.  Once you have that figured out, the basic outline and plot of your story, than the rest will fall in place.  “Source Code” had that figured out, it just needed some slight improvements, even though the script was a really well written story, but the improvements served the story much better and made for a strong film.

The second script I read was a much different experience, and that is Mark Protosevich’s draft of “Thor”.

The draft I read was from April 2007.  Protosevich is the only credit listed on the draft, and he is one of five writers credited on the final film, and he’s only credited with story, which is about all this draft has in common with the final film.

Thor is the God of Thunder, son of Odin, and heir to the throne of Asgard.  He’s an arrogant egomaniac with no discipline, and he’s cast out of Asgard and sent to Earth as a mortal where he must learn humility before regaining his powers and allowed to return to Asgard.  That summary quickly sums up the story of Thor, and that is where the similarities between this first draft and the final film end.

One thing to consider with this draft is the date it was written.  It was dated more than a year before the first “Iron Man” was released which was the first film to set up the bigger plan Marvel had with wanting to do an “Avengers” film.  Any solo hero film that came out after “Iron Man” would have to be set up in the same universe that was created and established in that first film.  So that means you would have to include S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as references to the other characters that would be appearing together.  I’m not familiar with the origin story of the character of Thor in the comics, and this first draft might be more accurate to the comics, but it would not work to help set up an Avengers film.

The main aspect that comes up between this draft and the final film is the portrayal of Earth.  In the film we have a quick exposition set up of the Gods and how their worlds relate to Earth and then we quickly begin in modern time on Earth.  We meet Jane, played by Natalie Portman, who is a brilliant scientist who has discovered a possible worm hole event in the dessert of New Mexico.  While investigating it and witnessing the event first hand she runs into Thor, who has just been banished to Earth.  We then go back to see how Thor came to be outcast and quickly return to Earth for the rest of the story to take place.  The tone, characters, and goals are set up quite quickly with good action and pacing and we know where things are heading.  It’s a strong first act that never confuses.

The beginning of this first draft of the script is quite long with exposition, going back to the beginning of time, showing the various worlds that were created, and the Gods created for these worlds.  There are quite a lot of complex names introduced, and it tends to be bogged down in it’s  own weight of self importance.  There is way too much information that is being given to us that really isn’t relevant to the story other than trying to set up the world.  It felt like way too much information and I was quickly confused as to who was who and why I needed to know that.  What really stood out to me, and what I kept waiting to see, was how they incorporated Earth.  My first read through I did not notice it’s mention until much later when I realized that Earth was being called Midgard.  When I realized the new name that was given to Earth I went back to read the beginning introduction to see if it was mentioned, and it was in passing, quickly passing over that the Gods created man and woman, giving different names than Adam and Eve, and how Midgard wasn’t as important as the other realms and the inhabitants, the humans, weren’t worthy of the Gods.  Then it quickly moves on.  Not knowing the origin, and the names of the various Nordic Gods and myths, I was really lost in this history that was being piled on.  When the story finally does move to Earth, or Midgard, it’s about 46 pages into the script.  If we follow the rule that one page equals one minute of screen time than 45 minutes is far too long before we finally get to Earth and finally get to the main bulk of what the story is and will be taking place.

Now that we’ve finally gotten to Earth it’s time to bring up Jane again, who was one of the main focal characters in the film, and I know was a main character in the comics.  Jane is not present at all in this first draft.  In fact, she probably won’t be born for another thousand years or so.  When Thor arrives on Earth, he lands presumably in Scandinavia around 1000 A.D. during the time of the Vikings.  This would probably most definitely work with the history and myth of the character of Thor, but not in our modern day comic book universe.  The tone of the story in this script was more along the lines of films like “Lord of the Rings”, “Braveheart”, or “The 13th Warrior”.  Not bad movies at all, just not what I was expecting from a comic adaptation.

Once Thor is on Earth, he is taken in as a slave for the main governor of a local village.  When the village is attacked by enemies known as Berserkers and Thor kicks butt, some see him as different and special.  Soon word comes from some of the clerics that they’ve had a vision of the weapon of the God of Thunder is on Earth, and anyone who finds it will take on his power and become a God.  Thus begins a long chase between the governor, some local men, some of the Berserkers, and Thor in a quest to be the first to find the weapon and become a God. 

Once we got to this section of the script I was finally getting involved.  It was fast paced, action packed, and full of tension.  My main problem is that it takes too long to get there.  Up to this point I was having a hard time staying focused and interested in the story.  In the first act there is the set up of Thor by his brother Loki which leads him to being outcast.  It’s pretty similar situation to what happens in the film just handled much differently.  In the film Loki already seems to have his plan in motion, just his motives not revealed until much later.  In the script he finds out about his past in the beginning, struggles with what to do about it, and decides to exact revenge against Odin and the people of Asgard.  It takes a long time to set up and was quite boring.  There are more characters involved and in his way than in the final film, and that helped to weigh things down.  Overall it still plays out with him waging war with Thor eventually returning to save the day.

As a stand alone film this version of “Thor” could have made an exciting movie with some tightening of the plot and focusing the story more on what is needed, getting rid of some of the heavy exposition.  Trying to fit it into the “Avengers” universe however would not work, and the changes that wear made were necessary.  I strongly prefer the final film version to the first draft of the script.  The basis for the story is present in this draft, it just needed to be fleshed out more.  And that is what the rewriting process is for.

So did I learn anything from reading these early drafts?  I’ve read in several books on the process that screenwriting is structure.  Once you have the structure figured out, the rest will work itself out.  For the most part, both these drafts had their structure figured out.  More so for “Source Code” than for “Thor”, but the skeleton was there.  The flesh just needed to be massaged and tightened to make it work properly.

It took me a really long time to figure out the structure of my own script, but I think it works for the most part in my first draft.  A few scenes will need to be added to clarify some things, a couple that just don’t work will need to go, but for the most part the important part of the script, the structure, is there.  Now I just need to keep developing the characters some more and improve the dialogue and improve the scenes.  Easier said than done. 

Reading these drafts has just reinforced that notion that Structure is the most important part to writing a script.  Once that is figured out, the rest will come together.  A script is never done until it is being projected up on the big screen.  Until you get there, as someone once said, a script is never finished, it’s rewritten.  And then it’s rewritten.  And then it’s rewritten.  And then it’s rewritten.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Unwatched Movie Pile: Dexter – Season 1

A good portion of my unwatched movie pile are TV sets.  Most our shows I’ve either wanted to watch or were recommended to me and so I just picked them up blindly at various sales.  Now that I have some time on my hands I decided to dive into a season of something I hadn’t watched before, so I began with season 1 of Dexter.

It seems most of the good shows on TV these days are on the paid cable channels, especially HBO.  However, Showtime has made a big push with their programming as well.  Not having any of the paid channels I’m forced to wait till DVD release.

Dexter had been recommended by several people so I picked up the first two seasons and just sat them on the shelf figuring one day I would get to it.  After finishing the first season I’m ready to get the rest of the seasons and quickly catch up with what I’ve been missing.

The premise is pretty unique.  Dexter, played by Michael C. Hall, is a forensic officer that specializes in blood splatter.  During the day he investigates murders, but at night he’s a serial killer that uses his psychotic urges to hunt and kill bad people.  Dexter is a very complex character and needs to walk a fine line to balance his two different personalities.  Hall does a great job portraying the title character.  He puts on the facade of a normal person with just the right amount of oddness and calculating persona to hide his true nature.  And when he switches roles into his true personality it’s a frightening portrayal.

Within the first season Dexter has to investigate a new serial killer that wow’s him.  He is truly impressed with his technique, which quickly turns to jealousy and feelings of inferiority.  Soon the killer begins to leave clues specifically for Dexter, letting him know that he is aware of his true nature.  He is teasing Dexter, and this drives him nuts.  It also puts him in a very complex situation because to reveal the true nature of the clues would require Dexter to reveal his true nature to his colleagues at the police force.  The storyline makes for some very compelling drama with lots of tension leading up to a very tense conclusion as the game of cat and mouse between Dexter and the Ice Truck Killer intensifies.

The supporting characters for the most part and pretty one dimensional and offer enough to further along Dexter’s story line.  This doesn’t make them bad, there are plenty of interesting stories to be told, but none of them seem as fully developed as Dexter.  The look and direction of the episodes doesn’t offer anything new or unique as well.  In some ways it almost looks like something made by a film student, but again it doesn’t detract enough from the episodes.  The real reason to watch is simply for the character of Dexter and the performance of Michael C. Hall.

The episodes weren’t as graphic as I thought they would be, but there is still plenty of blood and gore that could be tough for the squeamish. 

Once I started I really didn’t want to stop and I got through the first season pretty quickly, and I’m ready to start the rest and get caught up.  Dexter is simply a fascinating character and fun to watch.  I’ve had a few elements of future seasons spoiled for me so I have an idea where it is heading, but I’m still ready for the ride. 

If you haven’t seen the show I would highly recommend checking it out.  If you are interested in purchasing it you can click on this link to Amazon to purchase it:Dexter: The First Season

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Favorite Films of 2010

It's been a while, but it's a new year and it's time to get back up on the horse.  But before we move forward, it's time to take a look back.

I enjoy and hate doing top 10 lists.  They are fun to do because it creates a snapshot of what my tastes were like at this given moment of me writing this.  I hate doing them because my tastes are constantly changing.  There is still quite a bit of movies released in this last year that I still need to see, which could dramatically change my list.  My list has already changed quite a bit over the past 4 weeks.  If I were to look back at some of my previous lists I'm sure they would be totally different if I were to write those now.  That's the nature of film.

Last year was the first in a while I didn't write a list.  Mostly because I didn't see much, and from what I did see I couldn't come up with five films that I really liked, at the most there were maybe 3 looking back that I still feel are pretty good films.

This year, however, there were quite a number of good films that I saw that I wish I could have made room for them all.  It wasn't a particularly strong year in terms of films that could be looked back at down the road as classics, but there were a number of really good well made entertaining films.

With that let's jump into my list of my favorite films of the year.  These are by no means the best of the year, just the one's that left a strong impression on me, that I will watch or have already watched multiple times, and that I would personally recommend to all of you.


This film took a lot of grief for it's portrayal of violence,  especially with regards to kids, but that was sort of the point of the film.  It's a fresh take on the superhero genre with over the top gratuitous violence and vulgar language.  It is extremely graphic, but it's also really funny.  If it were adults that were doing all of the action in the story the movie would have just been a tired rehash of things we see at the cinema every summer.  When the words come out of the mouth of a 12 year old girl while she's beating up thugs to a bloody pulp, that is where the movie finds it's charm.  I'd be interested in a sequel to see what directions these characters go in, and apparently that's what is in the works.


Two teenagers with lesbian mothers seek out their biological sperm donor father and forever change the dynamics of their family structure.  How can you not find humor in that?  The movie's a great character driven story lead by fantastic performances from Julianne Moore and Annette Benning in Oscar worthy performances.  There is a great blend of humor and dramatic tension that keeps the plot moving fast and feeling fresh which is a wonderful relief for a character piece.  A great independent film.


Colin Firth gives a great performance as King George VI during the period of his ascension to the throne while dealing with a crippling speech impediment during the breakthrough of radio.  It's a wonderful look how technology was effecting the way the people are governed, and still does to this day.  If FDR had to appear on TV he would never have been elected president, and that's just a shame and the reality of our time.  Having to speak to the people of England during the threat of war over the radio with a bad stutter must have been humiliating and Firth's performance shows the agony he dealt with.  Just as good as Firth is Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist.  The real heart of the film is the relationship between these two men, a commoner and a member of the royal family, and the dynamic of their relationship is what drives the film.  The two performances drive the story and make for a wonderful film.


This film really surprised me and deserves to be set beside some of the great gangster films of all time like Goodfellas.  The story centers around a young Arab man who is sent to a French Prison and must find a way to survive.  He doesn't fit in with the Arabs that have their own gang, and he doesn't fit with the old time Mafia types.  He soon finds himself being used by both sides and must find a way to adapt to get by, but ends up doing so much more.  It's a great story with fine acting, and some really tense action scenes.  The ending created some great points for discussion that is just fascinating.  Truly worth searching out.


Ben Affleck is creating a great career for himself with his directing.  I really liked his first film Gone Baby Gone, and his follow up is even better.  He probably knows Boston better than anyone else and uses the location as an important character to the story.  The story is a fresh take on the bad gone trying to go good formula.  There's a strong supporting cast including Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm.  Renner's character in particular could have been a stereotypical thug but he brings some quiet complication to the motives of the character that helps push the drama.  Affleck has created a thrilling and action packed film and he's left me wondering and waiting for whatever he does next.


Another Boston based film, this is the true story of brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund and Ward's rise through the boxing ranks with the help of his brother.  As far as boxing films go, or sports films in general, it really doesn't do anything new or fresh to reinvent the genre, but it's the performances of the cast that make this film so wonderful.  Christian Bale is amazing as the crack addicted burn out that keeps his family down.  The whole cast in general is really strong with stand out performances all around, but it’s Bale that drives this movie with a strong counter balanced performance from Wahlberg that really makes the movie work. 


I wrote a review about this movie when I first saw it.  I’ve seen it several more times and I still don’t have ending figured out.  I’ve heard several different theories about the movie and what it’s about, and what happens in the end, and all of the theories can be strongly supported.  That is what I love about this film.  It’s a strong original concept that is wonderfully photographed.  I love that the stunts are done in camera without hardly any CGI.  The hallway scene alone is just amazing.  I love smart original work that makes you think and Christopher Nolan has definitely supplied that.  This is a film you need to see with others so you can have a long philosophical discussion afterwards about what it all means.  Hollywood needs to make more of these.


I have no problems admitting that I cried with this movie.  If you didn’t then you have no soul.  This movie made me want to go to my parent’s house and dig out my old toys from the garage and play with them one last time.  I’m always weary of sequels, especially to films where the original is so well done that it would be nearly impossible to replicate.  In the hands of a lesser studio it would be a recipe for disaster, but Pixar continues to impress and push the boundaries for great film making.  Woody, Buzz, and the entire gang are my favorite characters from the Pixar universe, and the final film is a worthy addition to the series, if not maybe the best entry. 

There is plenty of laughter, thrills, and tears to fill several movies.  And of course the animation is so detailed and amazing.  The trash compactor scene is some of the best photography of any film this year, live action or animated.  And the final scene shows where the real heart of this franchise lies. It’s a moving scene and a worthy closure to one of the best film series of all time.


Some people worship invisible beings, or cows, or short fat bald men, or science fiction writers.  I worship the altar of the Coen Brothers.  If I could write, or direct, or just be like any one film maker, it would be Joel and Ethan wrapped into one genius artist.  The dialogue they create, the performances they get from their actors, and the look they create on celluloid is always far better than anyone deserves.  I hadn’t seen the original since I was a kid, and I barely remember it, and I’ve never read the book, and I didn’t want to before seeing this film.  I wanted to see it with fresh eyes so I could not judge it against any previous version.  It’s a great looking film and stands as a solid depiction of the old west.  Jeff Bridges is solid as Rooster Cogburn, as is Matt Damon and the rest of the supporting cast, but it’s Hailee Steinfeld as the young girl desperate for revenge that steals the show.  True Grit is a film worthy of the Coen Brothers fantastic catalog that keeps growing with masterpieces with each subsequent film they make.


My love for this film can be summed up pretty easily: it’s the writing of Aaron Sorkin.  One of my favorite writers, he’s done some great film and television work, but his writing on my favorite TV show The West Wing is some of the best dialogue and characters ever created.  Sorkin’s dialogue has a certain rhythm and pacing to it, mixed with a certain amount of wit and sarcasm, that just flows so brilliantly and is appeasing to the ear.  The opening scene in the film is a fine example of Sorkin’s writing, and it does so much to set up the characters and the tone and premise of the movie without having to spell anything out. 

David Fincher get’s great performances out of the entire cast and is especially innovative with his choice for the Winklevoss twins, using one actor and lots of camera and CGI tricks that I never knew until afterwards that it was the same actor playing both roles.  A story about some guys creating a website doesn’t sound like it would make for an entertaining movie, but there is plenty of tension and intrigue that makes the film entertaining and never boring.  Part of that is the editing back and forth between various law suits and the act of the characters leading up to the law suits, and the other is that the characters are just so entertaining.  I’ve seen the film several times and have enjoyed it each time, a sign for me of a very good film.

Well there you have it, my ten favorite films of the year.  Honorable mentions go out to The American, Black Swan, and Exit Through the Gift Shop, 3 films I really loved but just could not find room for on my list.  A dishonorable mention goes to The Last Airbender, by far the worst film I saw this year, and I saw quite a few bad films.  I really do hope Shyamalan can redeem himself because he’s a filmmaker I really enjoy, and his last two films have been really bad.

Well that’s all for now.  Here’s to hoping for an even better 2011.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Start of Movie Night

For a while now I've been wanting to start a movie night group. A bunch of friends get together once a month to watch an old film and discuss it all the while just hanging out and enjoying each other's company. I tried to start one a couple of years ago but it didn't last very long. Now that I have my own place and better viewing equipment I'm more determined to get this off the ground and keep it going.

The first time I really had no plan. I figured I'd just randomly pick films I was wanting to see and we'd go from there. We pretty much covered a wide range in the three films we watched. We started with City Lights, then Spartacus, and finished up with The Usual Suspects. All three great films from different periods in film history, but no real connection.

For the new and improved movie night I've decided to start by focusing on the films included in the AFI's list of 100 greatest American Films. Looking over that list pretty much all of the American classics are covered. Many I've seen, but quite a few important ones I actually haven't seen. And by talking things over with friends who are wanting to participate there is quite a few classics that they haven't seen as well. The whole point of doing a movie night is to expose each other to different films that we haven't seen but probably should see at some points in our lives if we want to be considered film lovers. Eventually I'd like to get into more obscure classics and into some of the foreign masters, but for now we will stick to the American classics. The AFI list covers a wide range of popular and important films. I plan on alternating between older and newer films and trying to hit a different genre each time so we aren't watching serious dramas month after month. I'm really excited about the potential of this "club" and I hope others will get involved.

For our first night it was a pretty obvious choice as to which film to start with. If we are going to watch films from the AFI list then we might as well start at the top, so we watched Citizen Kane.

When AFI first did their list in 1997 Citizen Kane was chosen as the greatest American film of all time. When they revisited the list ten years later it held on to the top spot. In fact it was one of only two films from the original list not to change positions, the other being Best Years of Our Lives at #37. It has for years been considered the best of the best and a widely heralded film by film critics and fans alike.

The story behind the film is just as entertaining, if not more so, than the film itself. Orson Welles was a highly sought after talent. He made his name in theater and on the radio, famously convincing half of the east coast they were being invaded by Martians in his radio play adaptation of H. G. Wells War of the Worlds. He was brought to Hollywood by RKO and given full reign over any project he wanted to do, a power that in those days was unheard of for a director. The result of his first film at the age of 25 was Citizen Kane.

The story focuses on the world's richest man, a newspaper tycoon who had it all and lost it all. He dabbled in politics and entertainment, and built himself the greatest mansion known to man. He died alone and broken, and left this world with his final words "Rosebud", the McGuffin of the story. A reporter sets out to interview the people from his past to discover what the meaning of that word is, to which he never discovers but the audience does and it's all we need to know who the real Charles Foster Kane was.

The life of Kane hit a bit close to home to William Randolph Hearst, who felt he was being mocked by the film. Hearst was a newspaper tycoon that could easily influence public opinion in any of his numerous news papers. He dabbled in politics and had a relationship with a Hollywood actress. He built himself an elaborate mansion in central California that is a tourist hot spot today. He tried hard to get the film blocked from release and set out to ruin the reputation of Welles. The film was released and a critical success but it was a box office failure. It managed nine Academy Award nominations but it only won one, for the screenplay. Welles struggled to get films made after Citizen Kane, often having them taken away from him or changed against his approval, and thus his career for the most part was ruined by his first film. Citizen Kane was rereleased in the 1950's and had much better box office success, but by then the damage was done. Over time it's status has grown and is now considered one of the best of all time, a stark contrast to how it was originally received.

Before watching the film I gave a little bit of this background information to put the film in context to how it is perceived, and after we watched the film I presented this question to the group: is it the greatest American film of all time?

Everyone in attendance liked the film. They all thought it was a really good movie, but did not understand why it's considered the greatest film of all time. Other suggestions were thrown out as films that they would consider better, such as Casablanca or The Godfather. Based on the films they had seen they had a hard time placing it at the top as the best film of all time, and I tend to agree.

I appreciate the technical aspects of the film, and I think it's an enjoyable film, but I also feel it's a bit dated. I still strongly prefer The Godfather and would put that movie at the top of any list. It's hard to watch Citizen Kane today and realize all of the technical achievements the film made and think of them as fresh and innovative after we've been exposed to decades worth of films that has borrowed heavily from the movie and even pushed things forward.

A lot of the techniques used in Citizen Kane weren't entirely new, some had been tried before, but none had worked quite as effectively in assisting the story like they did with Citizen Kane. When talking about the films achievements most people point to the cinematography. The use of deep focus, keeping characters in the background and foreground in focus, helped create a sense of voyeurism, like we are there watching things unfold. The use of sharp angles helps to establish the power of the characters. Kane is often photographed from low angles making him seem tall and menacing while weaker characters like Susan are photographed from above to make them feel small and vulnerable. There is a lot of use of shadows that would go on to heavily influence Film Noir. It is without a doubt a well photographed film.

For me it's the screenplay that stands out and deserves admiration. The film is not a straight narrative told from A to B. We see the title character die in the very beginning, and his actual life is told through nothing but flashbacks. The story jumps around to different time periods based on who is telling the tale. This technique also establishes the unreliable narrator. Each character that knew Kane is telling their story of the time they knew him, and it is from their perspective of the events. If they did not look at Kane favorably then the story they were telling made Kane look to be in a negative light. Nobody really knew Kane but everyone tells their version of him. The only true glimpse we see of Kane is in his dying words Rosebud. The revelation of what Rosebud is tells us everything we need to know about Kane and is the only reliable truth of what Kane was really like. Point of view narration has been used extensively in literature but hadn't really been experimented with in film up until this point. It opened the door to explore all sorts of new and different narrative techniques in future films. For this alone it deserves plenty of recognition.

These are the reasons that Citizen Kane is so widely hailed as the greatest film of all time. It's definitely worthy of the praise and recognition it receives for it's innovation. I certainly have an appreciation for the film but I have a hard time calling it the best ever. Everyone in attendance seemed to agree. It was fun to see the film through fresh eyes and get their perspective on what they saw and how they perceived and understood the film. It was also fun to share what little knowledge I have on the film and it's history with them and to see if that changed their opinion. We have a lot of films yet to watch, and maybe over time as we see a wide variety of films and learn about their history and innovations their opinions might change and they might see this as truly the greatest American film of all time. I might learn a few new things myself through this group and maybe my opinions will change over time as well. Exposure and experience is the goal of movie night and I'm really excited about the upcoming journey.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Unwatched Movie Pile

So I've been MIA for a while once again. Quite honestly I just haven't watched any movies recently, and what few I've seen haven't really gotten me all that excited. I used to go to the theater all the time, now I've been maybe five times this year. A lot of it is time, and a lot of it has to do with the quality. I also haven't really watched much at home. My Netflix movies still sit around for months before I get to them.

I did finally move though and I've just about gotten settled into my new place. I have an office now with a brand new desk set up to start focusing on my writing. And even though it might not show up here on the blog, I have started to write more, which is a good thing. Another benefit of the move is that I've finally gotten all of my DVDs out in the open. Most of my collection has been boxed up and buried in the garage for over a year, but now they are all out and organized and ready for me to start watching, and I have a lot to watch, which brings me to this article.

A couple of years ago a writer on another website wrote about his DVD collection and the amount of titles he owned that he had never watched. He set out to watch one movie a day everyday until he got through his collection, and it took him over a year to finish. That got me to thinking about my own DVD collection.

Having worked at various movie stores I've picked up quite a bit of movies over the years, many that I have seen and love and want to own, but many that I've always wanted to see so I've bought in the anticipation of watching one day, and many that were pure blind buys, knowing nothing about the movie and taking a risk at purchasing. There are some that I have no idea why I bought, maybe because they were used and cheap and now it sits on the shelf collecting dust.

I decided to compile a list of what I own that I haven't watched and the numbers are staggering. I could watch a movie a day and it would take me well over a year to finish. I'm close to 400 DVDs that I need to watch, and some of those are box sets with several movies, so the actual amount of movies could be closer to 450. Some of these on my list I have actually seen before but it's so long ago I don't remember it and I'm due for a rewatch, but most I have never seen before. Pretty impressive huh?

So to get myself writing again I've decided to devote an article a week to my unwatched movie pile. Unfortunately I don't have the time to watch a movie a day, so I'm only going to hold myself to one a week. Maybe I'll have time to slip in a few more, but if I can get through one a week I'll be happy. It's all about the baby steps. I'm not sure how long each post will be, I guess it all depends on what I thought of the movie. I'm going to title this series The Unwatched Movie Pile report, or UMP Report for short. Together we can discover some interesting and exciting movies, or perhaps some real duds. Either way maybe I can finally make a dent into this large stack of movies that have been begging to be watched for far too long.

For my first venture into the pile I've decided to go with something a little more commercial than I'm used to but with some interesting back story, which lead me more than anything to pick this up used and give it a try, and that film is The Golden Compass.

The movie is based the series of books His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I'm sure it was New Line's hope that this would turn into a new franchise for them after being done with the Lord of the Rings series and the success of other children's franchises like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It is the connection to the Narnia series that got my attention for this film.

The Chronicles of Narnia has been widely praised by religious organizations for it's strong Christian values, as the story is a blatant allegory for the Christ story. They organized viewing parties and rented theaters for church groups to support the film. The amount of effort they put into supporting that film is the same amount of effort they put into trying to get people to avoid The Golden Compass because of it's strong anti religious themes. I had never heard of the series of books prior to this film, and based on the trailer I wouldn't have been that interested in seeing the film, but add controversy to a situation, including anything dealing with religion, and my interest is peaked. So if anything, their protests got someone who wouldn't have watched this film to buy it and check it out.

The movie follows a young girl named Lyra who journeys into a parallel world to find her friend who has been kidnapped. Many children are being kidnapped and taken to this world to be held prisoner and experimented on. In this world every one's soul takes the shape of an animal that is with them at all times, connected by a bond. The leader of this group, played by Nicole Kidman, is trying to find a way to separate the children from their souls. It is up to young Lyra to stop her and rescue the children. I think there was more to the story, but frankly I wasn't all that interested.

Other than the soul aspect of the story, I really didn't get any anti Christianity or religion from the material. There was perhaps a theme of anti establishment or authority, which I suppose can be substituted for religious groups since they hold power and authority. Maybe that theme is more prevalent in the books, having not read them I can not tell, but I don't think director Chris Weitz really tries to play that up. It's basically your typical good versus evil story, a theme older than the Bible itself, except this has lots and lots of special effects.

I really wasn't moved one way or another by the story. It relies a little too heavy on CGI effects. There is an armored polar bear that was visually distracting, but it did have going for it the fact it was voiced by the great Ian McKellen. In fact there are a lot of great actors in the film, including Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, Ian McShane, and Eva Green. The story is geared towards children, and although some of the scenes might be intense for really young ones, I'm sure kids would really enjoy this film, but it didn't really do all that much for me and I'm not surprised that we haven't heard too much about the following books going into production. I like to think that the story just wasn't there enough and the controversy really didn't have much to do with it's successes or failures.

In fact I was pretty let down by the controversy. The things I was reading while this was in production I was expecting long monologues about God being evil and little kids should be burning their Bibles, but there really isn't anything like that at all. If these groups hadn't protested the film I would never have gotten anything remotely close to the themes they had been suggesting. Again, I'm not familiar with the source material, but it's definitely not in the film.

So I'm not disappointed I dropped five dollars on a used copy, but I probably won't watch it again. It doesn't do anything to stand out from the hundreds of other special effect driven adventure stories that are out there, whether they are geared towards kids or not. For my money neither do the Narnia films, and I've read those books and enjoyed them as a kid, but the movies feel lifeless and sort of like a paint by numbers assembly of a film. Kids enjoy them however, and I'm sure kids would enjoy the Golden Compass. It's not Harry Potter, and it's not Lord of the Rings, but then again hardly any film can aspire to that. Hopefully the next film I choose from the pile will be a bit better, for now this goes into the viewed section of my collection where it will sit until someday I have a kid who is bored and has seen everything else, maybe I'll pull this DVD out to distract him or her. I could do far worse. Until next time...

Sunday, July 18, 2010


In a summer full of traditional Hollywood tried and true retreads, it's nice to see an original be given a chance to succeed. Inception, the new film from Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, is definitely an original by today's standards. It's a thoroughly engaging and entertaining film that leaves a lot to admire, even if it's far from perfect.

There is no real easy way to summarize the film. To say the story is about a group of thieves that infiltrate their targets dreams to steal information is doing a disservice to the several layers of plot that is going on in the film. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, the leader of the group who is plagued with a lot of guilt from his dark troubled past. His past is starting to creep it's way into his work which is making things difficult for the team. Because of his past he is no longer able to return home to see his kids, he is forced to go on the run in order to avoid extradition back to the states. Ken Watanabe plays Saito, a powerful business man looking for help with his competition. Saito hires Cobb to do the opposite of their extraction process, he wants them to plant an idea into the mind of his lone rival Fischer, played by Cillian Murphy, to disband his father's empire and sell it off. Implanting the idea will require diving deep into the subconscious of their target by forcing dreams within dreams. If they are able to succeed than Saito can guarantee Cobb his freedom and the opportunity to return home to his family. Sounds simple enough right?

Inception is playing with multiple genres. Where Blade Runner combined Science Fiction with Film Noir, and The Matrix combined Science Fiction with Martial Arts, Inception is combining Science Fiction with a heist film, but mostly it's a character driven melodrama. It isn't the action or special effects that drive the film, it's the characters and the dialogue, and there is a lot of dialogue. Cobb is a complex and broken character. There is a lot going on under the surface, and in a line of work that deals mainly with what is going on under the surface this is a dangerous state of mind to be in. The danger and threat to the characters comes from Cobb's demons. If he can't come to terms with his past then it could kill his entire team. It's a fresh approach for a summer blockbuster and a nice change of pace.

It's a long film but it rarely slows down to make you notice. The third act does run a bit long and that is where a majority of the story happens, but it's engaging the entire time and it keeps things tense. The first half of the film is entirely set up. Lots of exposition with plenty of dialogue and explaining of the world and the upcoming assignment, but it never feels forced, but rather necessary. Nolan has created a complex plot that is extremely detailed, every step must be performed perfectly, and the entire process must be explained to the team, and in a sense the audience, in order to pull it off perfectly without not only failing, but getting themselves lost in the multiple dream worlds so as not to wake up a vegetable.

By the end of the film I found myself questioning what I had just seen. Did all of this really happen or was it in itself just a dream? It's totally left for interpretation and that is how I like it. The film is asking you from the very beginning to pay attention and it doesn't try to dumb things down to make you understand by pandering to the lowest common denominator. There are plenty of other films out this summer that take care of that for you. The movie doesn't apologize for it's intelligence, and I wish more filmmakers would follow suit.

Inception is a remarkably engaging story, expertly filmed by one of the best working today. I was truly amazed by the film and I will definitely need to see it again to try and catch some things I might have missed to help solve the ending a bit better. But as much as I loved the movie it is far from perfect. I would have loved to have seen some more crazy and outlandish scenarios in the deeper dream sequences. I loved the scenes in the hallway with Joseph Gordon-Levitt fighting while they are falling in the first dream and that sense of falling is implanted on their next level dream, causing a sense of weightlessness while he fights the bad guys. I would have liked to have seen more of that in the third dream state during the snow fight. Nolan has created a world where anything is possible and he has shown us as much during the training scenes with Ellen Page, I would have liked to have seen the stakes raised during these later scenes.

In the grand scheme of things these complaints are minor and they don't detract from the overall enjoyment of the film. It won't go down as a game changer like films such as Blade Runner and The Matrix may have, but it is a really good and well made film. Compared to what is out in theaters now this film is darn near masterful and it's just refreshing that in a season long parade of intellectually insulting garbage passed along as the best Hollywood has to offer, it's so refreshing to see something written with intelligence and thought that is also entertaining. The movie going experience would be so much better if all filmmakers and producers took as much care and craftsmanship into their product. If more people see more films like this and less of what is already out there than perhaps that would be the case. For that reason alone I can not recommend enough to see this movie, you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Favorite Films Part 6: #1-10

Finally, after all this time, we have made it to the final ten. It’s my ten favorite films of all time. As usual let’s refresh on the titles that got us to this point.

#100) His Girl Friday (1940)
#99) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
#98) Adaptation (2002)
#97) Being John Malkovich (1999)
#96) Groundhog Day (1993)
#95) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
#94) Boogie Nights (1997)
#93) Apocalypse Now (1979)
#92) Barton Fink (1991)
#91) The Big Lebowski (1998)
#90) Breathless (1960)
#89) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
#88) Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
#87) Apollo 13 (1995)
#86) Rashomon (1950)
#85) Pink Floyd’s the Wall (1982)
#84) Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
#83) Rope (1948)
#82) Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
#81) Wild Bunch (1969)
#80) Do the Right Thing (1989)
#79) Dr. Strangelove (1964)
#78) Unbreakable (2000)
#77) Miller’s Crossing (1990)
#76) Matrix (1999)
#75) There Will Be Blood (2007)
#74) Fargo (1996)
#73) This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
#72) Toy Story (1995)
#71) The Sixth Sense (1999)
#70) Dogma (1999)
#69) Die Hard (1988)
#68) Equilibrium (2002)
#67) Some Like it Hot (1959)
#66) Jurassic Park (1993)
#65) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2003)
#64) The Fountain (2006)
#63) Young Frankenstein (1974)
#62) Children of Men (2006)
#61) North by Northwest (1959)
#60) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
#59) Braveheart (1996)
#58) Unforgiven (1992)
#57) Three Kings (1999)
#56) Rounders (1998)
#55) The Prestige (1996)
#54) South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999)
#53) Garden State (2004)
#52) Office Space (1999)
#51) Once (2007)
#50) A Few Good Men (1992)
#49) Saving Private Ryan (1998)
#48) Galaxy Quest (1999)
#47) Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
#46) Rushmore (1998)
#45) Blazing Saddles (1974)
#44) The Thin Red Line (1998)
#43) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban (2004)
#42) To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
#41) The Maltese Falcon (1941)
#40) Leon – The Professional (1994)
#39) Pulp Fiction (1994)
#38) Out of Sight (1998)
#37) 12 Monkeys (1995)
#36) Cinema Paradiso (1988)
#35) O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
#34) Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
#33) Almost Famous (2000)
#32) The Princess Bride (1987)
#31) Schindler’s List (1993)
#30) Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
#29) Memento (2000)
#28) Shawshank Redemption (1994)
#27) Silence of the Lambs (1991)
#26) Network (1976)
#25) Narc (2002)
#24) Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
#23) Raiders of the Lost Arc (1981)
#22) Reservoir Dogs (1992)
#21) Dark City (1998)
#20) Goodfellas (1990)
#19) All the President’s Men (1976)
#18) Star Wars – the Empire Strikes Back (1980)
#17) American Beauty (1999)
#16) Requiem for a Dream (2000)
#15) Clerks (1994)
#14) Swingers (1996)
#13) L.A. Confidential (1997)
#12) Heat (1995)
#11) Chinatown (1974)

And without further ado, the final ten films.

#10) Se7en (1995)

It’s dark, it’s original, and pretty damn spooky. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play off each other with great chemistry as detectives with completely different methods trying to solve a twisted crime. Freeman is the detective on his way out, and Pitt is his incoming replacement. Together they have a short time to find a serial killer that is using the seven deadly sins as his muse. Director David Fincher creates a very dark and somber mood that enhances the theme of society gone to hell. The methods and inspiration for the killings are extremely clever and original. It keeps you guessing through the entire film. There comes a time when the film makers could have taken the predictable Hollywood way out to end it but instead they stick to their guns and keep it dark all the way through with no real happy ending. This story is a great testament to writer Andrew Kevin Walker, who showed great potential with this film and then just disappeared for a while, although he is making a come back with the upcoming Wolf Man film. Everyone involved in this film is at the top of their game. It is truly one of the best crime dramas of all time.

#9) The Insider (1999)

There are so many great performances in this film, but none better than Russell Crowe. His role as a former tobacco executive turned informant is probably the best of his career and deserved an Oscar, more so than his performance in Gladiator. Many say that his win for Gladiator was really a delayed reward for this film. The film is an epic tale of greed and corruption told with great style from film maker Michael Mann. What makes the story even more upsetting is that it’s completely true, based on an article and interview from a 60 Minutes segment in the mid 90’s. Whether you believe in a coverup by the Tobacco industry or not, the investigative process that film focuses on to uncover the truth is truly captivating and entertaining. Just a fantastic film.

#8) The Usual Suspects (1995)

The sad thing about my first experience with this film is that I had the ending spoiled for me before I had a chance to see the movie. I went over to a friends house where a bunch of people had gotten together to watch a movie, and I just happened to arrive during the final ten minutes of the film. When the reveal happens, and I asked who was Keyser Soze and everyone realized I hadn’t seen the movie they all screamed at me to get out, but it was too late, I knew who Keyser Soze was. But you know what, it really doesn’t matter. Although that twist and revelation is one of the biggest surprises in film history, it’s the process of getting there that makes the film so exciting. It’s a brilliantly crafted script that keeps you guessing, and even at the very end, we have no idea if what we’ve seen and been told is really true. The entire story could just be that, a made up story to not only fool the cops, but to fool us, the audience. There are so many possibilities with this story, and that is what makes it so good.

#7) Fight Club (1999)

I love a good message film, and that is what Fight Club really is. Never mind the graphic senseless head bashing and adolescent debauchery that our characters thrive on, what the film is really commenting on is our society’s addiction to materialistic possessions. We are all defined by our stuff. It’s a damning trait that our culture has taken on to an alarming level. Behind the adrenaline fueled fights, what is really at the heart of Fight Club is destroying the institutions that fuel our materialistic addictions. It might be a theme that was lost on some but it is really what feeds the motivations of our heroes Tyler Durden and our initially nameless narrator played by Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Based on a book by Chuck Palahniuk and expertly and stylistically directed by David Fincher, Fight Club is a smart and entertaining film that gives a big middle finger towards the establishment.

#6) JFK (1991)

As much as I like a good message movie, I love a good conspiracy even more. And for me, there is no bigger conspiracy than the assassination of President Kennedy. I truly believe that there was more than one shooter, and Oliver Stone’s film presents enough evidence to make you think. Based on real events and a real trial, the film is effective as a great detective mystery story. Oliver Stone’s style of quick edits with random footage spliced in is at full effect, but unlike some of his later work it doesn’t overwhelm; it in fact enhances the story being told. There are many great performances throughout the film, but it is the story that fascinates me. I can’t say that the people accused of being involved in the film are the true criminals behind one of the most tragic moments in American history, but there is no denying more than Oswald being involved, whether he was involved at all. It’s a remarkable film and a mesmerizing look into one of the great conspiracies of all time.

#5) Magnolia (1999)

And as much as I like a good conspiracy, I love me a good character driven film as well. Do character driven films get any better than Magnolia? There are so many well developed characters that drive the heart of the story. At its core, the film is about a group of people, many have no connection, but some do, that are concurrently experiencing the worst day of their lives. And then it starts to rain frogs. The point is that these things happen, and it is how you handle the situation and come out the other side that defines who you are. Paul Thomas Anderson directs a great cast to several strong performances, but ultimately it’s his script that makes this a remarkable film. Each story is strong enough to warrant it’s own film, but put together as a collective story and you witness each character experiencing the same struggles it makes the theme even more powerful. From the writing, acting, direction, cinematography, and the score, it is a masterfully great film.

#4) The Godfather Part II (1974)

It’s not very often that a sequel is considered greater than the original, but in many circles The Godfather Part II is considered far superior to the original. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it comes awfully damn close, but I’ll get into that later. As a stand alone film it really is a great movie. Part II delves more into the history of the Corleone family to explore deeper the themes of fathers and sons. We get to see both generations of father and son and the paths that lead them to the life they have lead. The father Vito is successful and happy with his power and family, while the son Michael is the conflicted one who tries to bring legitimacy to the family business but ends up doing more of the same and isolating himself from everyone he loves ending up alone. It is a work of mastery from Francis Ford Coppola and it should have just ended there instead of the horrible third film. The final shot is all we need to know what happens after the film ended. It is a fantastic work of art.

#3) Taxi Driver (1976)

To me, Travis Bickle is one of the great characters in film history, if not the greatest. The emotional and psychological journey he goes through during the course of the film is truly fascinating and haunting. The way that Robert De Niro plays him leaves the character open to interpretation. Is Bickle really sane or completely crazy? Is he trying to do good or bad? What does he say about the veterans returning from Vietnam? What effect does the decay of the big city and society in general have on him? There are a lot of layers to Travis Bickle that are open to interpretation and that is due not only to the great performance from De Niro but the brilliant direction of Martin Scorsese. It’s an iconic role and one of the best films of all time.

#2) Jaws (1975)

A few years back I had a chance to see a screening of Jaws at the Arclight Theater as part of their AFI screening series. I had seen the film so many times before, as I’m sure many in the audience had, but I had never seen it screened in a theater before with a large audience. Three fourths of the way into the film we get our first look at the shark. It’s the famous scene where Roy Scheider’s character Chief Brody is dumping fish guts into the ocean to lure the shark out so that they can capture it and kill it, and while yelling back at Quint and Hooper the shark pokes it’s head out of the water to take a giant gulp of the guts before dropping back under the water. At that one moment the entire audience let out a scream and simultaneously lifted their feet from the floor into the air for fear of being bitten themselves. Thirty years after the film first appeared and it still had the same effect of fear on its audience, even when most of them knew the scene was coming. I can’t think of a better way to describe the power this film has had, not only on audiences all over but on me as well. I had seen the film so many times, yet I was one of those that had that same reaction.

Waiting to show the shark so late, and so little in the film, was more fortunate luck for the film crew out of the technical issues that caused them to change their approach than it was planned out. It’s a lesson that has served Spielberg tremendously throughout his entire career, learning the lessons of Hitchcock that anything our imagination can conjure up is scarier than anything they could show. It is a truly frightening yet thoroughly entertaining film. It’s the film that created the summer blockbuster, put Spielberg on the map, and began the long successful collaboration between Spielberg and composer John Williams. Would Jaws have been so successful without the iconic music created by Williams? It’s an important film as far as the history of cinema goes, and it’s a well crafted film, but more importantly it’s a very entertaining and fun film. It continues to hold up to this day and I imagine it will for generations.

#1) The Godfather Part I (1972)

When I first set out to make this list I tried to take every aspect of film making when ranking my films. To me, The Godfather is the most perfect film. From writing, directing, acting, set design, costumes, cinematography, and musical score, every aspect of the film is perfect. Like I said earlier, some people think that the second film is better, but for me it’s close but I prefer the more linear storyline of the first film. It’s an epic tale of family, loyalty, and power. It’s the story of a father trying to make a life for his family. There is the son who yearns to be different, who doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps, but the more he tries the more he realizes he’s the same. No matter how hard Michael tries to do good, he can not resist his calling. It’s a deep complex story with lots of multidimensional characters that is extremely entertaining. It is probably one of the most quoted films of all time as well, with so many great lines that have many meanings to one’s life, as was humorously pointed out in the film You’ve Got Mail. I’ve seen it so many times, from VHS, DVD, on the big screen, and now on Bluray, and it never gets old. It is quite simply the greatest film ever made.

And there you have it. My list is finally complete. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found some films you may have never heard of. It took a while to get through but I’m glad I did. Now it’s time to move on to some other lists. See ya next time.