If you've been following along here (of course you have), or have ever met me in person, you have probably guessed what my all-time favorite movie is. You may have been curious what the other members of the top 9 are. Now's you're chance to learn!
To heighten the “interest” or “excitement”, I've decided to “build up” to the “climax”.
The newest movie on this list, Pixar's “Cars” hit the theaters in the summer of 2006. I remember going with a group from our adult Sunday school class to see a flick that (like all Pixar movies), had been advertised with a trailer that told us nothing as to what the movie would be about. So I went because friends had invited me and … the next day I took my sons to see it. And then I think I saw it at least one more time in the theater and bought it the day it came out on DVD. The visuals were (and still are) amazing, there were a slew of quotable lines (of both the pithy and humorous variety) but it was the story that really won me over. Self-centered Lightning McQueen gets stuck on Route 66 in Hillbilly Hell and finds humility, friendship and—except that they're all cars—humanity.
“I'm a pre-cision instrument of speed and aeromatics.”
Am I saying there hasn't been a movie this good in the last 11 years? Yes. Yes I am.
9. The Great Waldo Pepper
Directed, produced and co-written by George Roy Hill (who actually has another movie on this list: “Funny Farm” [#50]), it's the story of the second-best pilot to come out of World War One. When the movie starts, we find Waldo hopping from town to town in his bi-plane, giving rides to locals (for cash) and telling stories of what it was like to fly in the great war. He especially likes to tell about the time he had Ernst Kessler—the greatest German pilot—in his sights, but his guns jammed. Meanwhile, Waldo and his friends (and competitors) are determined to be the first pilot to complete an outside loop—if the newly formed FAA will let them stay up in the air.
Look for a very unconvincing mannequin to make a cameo appearance as a young Susan Sarandon.
“Go get 'im Waldo!”
8. Jeremiah Johnson
This movie only has about fifty lines, but almost every one of them is quotable. “March is a muddy month down below.” “Winter's a long time goin' this high up.” “Elk don't know how many feet a horse have!” and “Some say you're dead because of this. Some say you never will die, because of this.” I could go on and on. “I told my mam and pap I was gonna be a mountain man. They acted like they was gut shot!” See? Once started, I can't stop. Another one of those movies where there's hardly a wasted shot. And so much beautiful scenery it's like taking a 2 hour vacation just to watch it.
“Hawk, headin' for the Musselshell. It'd take me two weeks ridin' to get there and he'll be there in … hell, he's there already.”
7. Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back
Very few sequels live up to their progenitor, but “Empire” came closer than any other sequel in movie history. From the snow-covered plains of Hoth to the snake-infested swamp of Dagobah and the wispy clouds of Bespin, this one picked up right where the first one left off stylistically and action-wise (give or take a few years, not like the fifteen minute gap between “Rogue One” [#15] and “A New Hope” [#4]). Rather than just recreating the characters, “Empire” allowed the characters to grow and change.
Now, why was Luke any competition at all to Vader in their lightsabre duel? Did the light side of the force exude some kind of dampening field that slowed Vader down? Was Vader just getting old? Or maybe, deep down, Vader didn't actually want to kill his son?
6. Snowball Express
My favorite Disney movie ever! Dean Jones plays Johnny Baxter, a New York insurance guy who inherits a hotel in Silver Hills, Colorado (portrayed by Crested Butte, CO) so he quits everything in NY and heads west, reluctant family in tow. Once in Silver Hills, they find that the hotel is just above a shambles and the local banker would—for reasons unknown—like to get the hotel from Baxter. Even though this movie was made after Walt himself passed away, it's filled with the humor he was famous for. A chase scene, a couple tear-up scenes, a family that sticks together. You could call it formulaic, but this is one of those cases where the formula comes out just right, like that one “cake from a box mix” that turned out better than all the others.
“I need a bank loan.”
“You caught me at a bad time.”
5. The Natural
Robert Redford's third movie in my top ten and my second-favorite baseball movie of all time. Roy Hobbs, “the best there ever was”, gets sidetracked on the way to greatness by a crazy lady with a gun. Years later, before he's too old (a marker he has already passed in the minds of the coaches) Roy shows up in the dugout for the New York Knights, a “dead from the neck up ball team”. It takes a while, but eventually the coach is reluctantly forced to put Roy in the lineup and history is made. Loosely based on the Bernard Malamud book by the same name, but with a way more upbeat ending, my wife and I watch this movie every year, usually near World Series time.
Randy Newman (“Short People”) composed the score for two of the movies in my top 10: this and “Cars”. Both are soundtracks I listen to frequently—especially while driving.
“Don't look back, Max! You should never look back!”
“I think we all have two lives: the one we learn with, and the one we live with after that.”
4. The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring
When this movie came out, I was 36 years old and had read The Lord of the Rings probably ten times. I didn't think any movie could do justice to the books, but I decided to give it a try. The only actor in the movie who looks anything like how I pictured him in the books is Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee, and Frodo is no where near what I pictured, but THIS MOVIE BLEW ME AWAY!! I still love it and I still watch it at least once a year (as well as read the books approximately every other year)—which then leads to watching the other 5 movies, usually within the next 5 weeks.
There are some changes from the books, but it's also amazing how much of the books Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens included. So much of the dialogue in this movie (and the other two in the LOTR trilogy) is directly from the books—even if sometimes it's lifted from a different part of the book from where it appears in the movie(s).
“I don't suppose we'll ever see them again, Sam.”
“We may, Mister Frodo, we may.”
3. Star Wars – A New Hope
1977 and I went to see this movie I had never heard of on the first day it appeared in Abilene, TX, because my sister and her husband had seen it a couple days before in California and told my parents they thought I would like it. Like it? I was enthralled! I ate it, slept it, breathed it. I've read most of the “Star Wars” novels, all of the making of books, hundreds of the comic books, watch the other movies (and TV shows) regularly … but the first one is still the best.
For better and worse, this movie changed the movie-going experience in a myriad of ways. The special effects, the toys, the first run that stayed in the theater for a year in some places. All things we're used to now (except for lasting that long in the theater), but were a new phenomena back then. And it all comes down, really, to the story: Young man makes his way into the world, meets some unlikely friends, and deals the decisive blow in the battle against evil.
I would also like to point out something Lucas and company did here (that I should have mentioned in conjunction with “Return of the Jedi”) that so many other sci-fi franchises have never caught on to: Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) was presented as smart first and pretty second. Didn't even get around to sexy until the third movie. A standard (and annoying, to me) trope of almost all other sci-fi franchises is to establish the females as sexy first, then surprise us later with smart. Kudos to George and Carrie for doing it right.
“I think you overestimate their chances.”
2. Field of Dreams
When I heard that a movie was coming out based on the book Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella, I called my then-fiance and said we ought to go see it. She had never heard of either the movie or the book, and when I described it to her she was pretty dubious. “A guy builds a baseball diamond in his corn field and dead ball players come back to play on it?” But she went (probably just because she loved me) and we both fell in love with the 2nd-greatest movie of all time. I would see it several more times in the theater (at least once more with her, and once with my best man on the night before my wedding) and I couldn't wait to buy the VHS tape, and then the DVD.
I think of movies in terms of color palates somewhere in the back of my mind, and “Field of Dreams” moreso than most: green. But not just any green. The green of an outfield on a summer's day. The green of cornstalks taking the place of an outfield fence. The green of spring and renewal itself.
An almost perfect movie that some have tried to read deep spiritual meaning into, I think it clicks for me because it's really just about fathers and sons playing catch. All else—what's in the corn? Is it heaven?—is subsumed to the simple picture of a father playing catch with his kids.
“You guys are guests in my corn!!”
1. It’s a Wonderful Life
THE greatest movie ever made and the only item that deserves consideration if a new Council of Nicea ever convenes to discuss adding to the canon, “It's a Wonderful Life” is Frank Capra's and Jimmy Stewart's masterpiece (heck, it's cinema's masterpiece). What can I tell you about it that you don't already know? George Bailey (Stewart) is the brightest young man in Bedford Falls, but it looks like he'll never get out of his hometown. Every time he tries, he gets sucked back in. He's got a great (and beautiful) wife (Donna Reed), four sweet kids, and a house that barely leaks anymore, but he feels like a failure. Intervention of the divine nature comes George's way one Christmas Eve and George finally realizes just how much his life—and any life—is worth.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, this movie had fallen through the cracks as far as copyright renewal so any channel could show it any time they wanted. This led to its being broadcast almost 24 hours a day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This was not good for me because I could hardly stumble across it but what I would stop and watch to the end. I still watch it at least once a year—usually in the week before Christmas, but sometimes elsewhere in the year as well—and the ending still makes me mist up.