Best of the Best – On Movies and Writing

August 18, 2010

While sitting around a campfire with good friends, the conversation turned to our individual lists of top ten movies of all time. Lots of gems were tossed around from all genres.  Classics such as Casablanca, romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle made the cut for some.  My husband listed action flicks such as Terminator.  We mused about what qualified a film for a top ten ranking. One criterion was whether you would watch the movie again.

The topic followed me into the next few days.  I began to see some patterns in my choices that related to qualities of well written novels      good story-telling, memorable characters.  Often the films included a quotable line that seemed to sum up the entire movie.  I don’t think my list is complete, but here is a good representation, in no particular order.

1). Forrest Gump- For its universal appeal. This movie has something for everyone. Amidst a sometimes nostalgic and often humorous historical backdrop, we view a tender romance, wartime drama and memorable characters.  And who would ever forget the line, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”  

2). Terminator – Not only does this movie offer a tension-packed thrill ride, but the line, “I’ll be back” has withstood the test of time for quotable movie quotes.  On a personal note, I went to see this film when I was overdue with my first child.  The heat in our house was unbearable, so we escaped to an air-conditioned theater for a matinee viewing.  Unfortunately, the nail-gripping action did not induce labor.

3). The Birds – I knew I had to include a Hitchcock film and I debated this one or Vertigo.  In the end, I’d have to say “The Birds” was just more memorable. 

4). Gone with the Wind – This film is just plain epic.  It’s got truly unforgettable characters. My favorite line?  Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

5). It’s a Wonderful Life – I love the shift in reality, the development of characters, and an all around great plot.  I always feel a twinge of nostalgia with each viewing.  This is a movie that I can watch over and over again.

6). Toy Story – I love the creative storytelling in this film.  If toys can talk, isn’t anything possible?  Who knows, maybe someday I’ll travel… to infinity and beyond. 

7). Sliding Doors – This film might not be familiar.  I picked it for plotting and use of devices and because I love time travel.  I admire anyone who can keep two worlds distinct enough so we know where we are in the world.  This film is about what happens to a woman if she makes the subway train and what happens if she doesn’t.  The filmmakers had her get a drastic haircut so we, the viewers, knew which scenario we were following.  An easy, but brilliant technique.

8). The Sixth Sense – I saw this film weeks after the opening.  Somehow I’d managed to avoid hearing about the twist and I was taken completely by surprise.  Brilliant, memorable storytelling.  I see dead people.  Doesn’t this sum up the movie nicely?

9). Terms of Endearment – Superb acting results in memorable characters and a heart-wrenching story of love and loss.  There isn’t just one moment in this film, there are moments after moments.  One of my favorite scenes is when a dying Debra Winger is telling her son that she knows he loves her.  For the last year or two, you’ve been pretending like you hate me. I love you very much. I love you as much as I love anybody, as much as I love myself. And in a few years when I haven’t been around … you’re gonna realize that you love me. And maybe you’re gonna feel badly, because you never told me. But don’t – I know that you love me. So don’t ever do that to yourself, all right?

10).   Duel – Like Hitchcock, Spielberg had to make the grade.  Schindler’s List came to mind as did ET, but in the end I chose Stephen Spielberg’s 1971 action-packed, tension filled Duel.   This movie is about a man and truck-driver engaged in a test of wills on a deserted stretch of road.  You don’t ever get to see the identity of the driver which adds to mystery of this compelling tale. 

What are your favorite films?  Are there any that stand out because of character development?  Plotting?