To celebrate my recent birthday and Oscar Sunday my own way I decided to rundown the scenes, images, shots, characters and movies that have stayed with me the most in my film oriented life. These are the moments that I turn to when I think “film” or “Cinema” or need to be inspired to write about anything or really do anything. So I see it best to pay tribute to these moments as they impacted me more so than most anything else I have come across. Everything important and endearing about life I have learned through those projections on the big screen, and now I can share a little of what those lessons are within these moments.
My Criteria was limitless from any genre, any decade, any filmmaker and any film that has left its indelible mark on me was considered. So here they there in all their glory.
Honorable Mention: The Cinematic Errors of Scorsese, Goodfellas, Casino, etc.
Matin Scorsese is my favorite filmmaker actively working in the business today for many several reasons, the most prominent being his mantra of story and character trumping anything else in his films. It is apparent in Casino as there is a camera bump right in the middle of Sharon Stone’s character breaking down in front of Robert DeNiro, in Goodfellas when Joe Pesci shoots Samuel L. Jackson from behind he fires four shots but when we turn around to see his hauntingly stoic face he fires five, and also in Goodfellas with Pesci’s “Am I funny?” rant Ray Liotta’s glass and cigarette are almost never in continuity with the previous shot. The point being does anyone care about these besides IMDB users? No, we are fixated on Stone’s emotional outpour, Pesci’s cold-heartedness and his scary demeanor to even his fellow gangsters. Nothing beats character and story, not even cinematic faults can deter that and Scorsese is always willing to show empirically time and again.
25). Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy
For my money the best modern tale of love is the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy. In this enigmatic and involving story of relationships, communication and interaction, French acting icon Juliette Binoche and renowned opera singer William Shimell play a local Tuscany art gallery owner and renowned writer respectfully as two strangers (or not really strangers) trying to explain to each other their ideas about what means more: the original art or interpretations of said art. Binoche through three different languages exudes different degrees of wanting, abrasiveness and understanding towards her opposite in Shimell. In a career full of fine work she has never been better here translating the language of reaching out to another, blindly hoping for a connection of any degree.
24). It is a Wonderful Life, It’s a Wonderful Life
I love everything about Frank Capra’s 1946 whimsical and upbeat twilight-zone-esque drama It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart giving, nearly, the best performance of his career, the pitch perfect pacing of George Bailey’s life-story, the folksy small townisms (He Haw!), the perfectly managed shifts in tone throughout and of course the message of the impact one man can while not even getting to follow his grandest dreams. It is the ending scene that I wanted to highlight as one of most gratifying film endings I’ve ever seen, where Bailey finds out just how much he has meant to his hometown and his friends and family throughout the years. Stewart has almost never been better at playing the grounded and insanely relatable and likable Bailey as he comes to realize just how much a kind and caring man’s life can mean to others.
23). Has It Made Your Life Any Better? American History X
If there was any movie made that could change the course of a person’s life decisions and outlook it is Tony Kaye’s American History X. Edward Norton as Derek Vineyard gives the performance of his career as a young Neo-Nazis taking his anger out on the streets of LA. After murdering a black man in cold blood, one of the most vicious and brutal kills in cinema history, Derek is sentenced to three years in prison. While there he finds a group of white supremacists to survive prison life. After a falling out he is brutality raped by the group he once turned to for support, he is visited by his former history teacher played to perfection by Capt. Ben Sisko himself Avery Brooks.The teacher looks upon his former wayward student and asks a simple but loaded question to Derek, “Has Anything you’ve done made your life any better?”, to which he can only answer with sobbing and tears. It is the turning point in his life as he tries to reconcile the anger of a past life, and one that hopefully will make audiences think on their own closely held beliefs on other people.
22). The Passage of Time, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring
Visionary Korean director Chan Wook-Park was once quoted as saying: “I make violent films as a result of my sensitivity to violence – in other words, my fear of violence.” He makes films to try and understand that which scares him the most, which is a common driving force behind most artistic works. I’ll say it here: time scares the living hell out of me, I know of what it will eventually do to me and everyone I know. It has been humanity’s greatest enemy, it robs us of so many cherished things. One of the reasons I’m so draw to film is filmmaker’s ability to control time within the camera. Through cutting, transitions and pacing done in the editing room time is finally conquered by man. Fellow Korean Director Ki-Duk Kim proves this notion in spades with his masterpiece about eastern philosophy, life, time and existence. There is really no reason fro me to go over the plot, because it is not about the characters and their actions it is about the feel of the passage of time. The evolution of the characters in the story guides us on our journey through Eastern beliefs on the cycles of life. The awe-inspiring nature and seasonal photography adds to the themes of constant cycles of renewal and awakening. The greatest thing time will steal from us is the ability to perceive it, our minds can only hold so many memories, but films like this only show how much we must embrace the time we are given. Thus time is and always will be both enemy and companion to all of us.
21). Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange
A Stanley Kubrick film makes its first appearance on the list in the form of the auteur’s 1971 dystopian nightmare A Clockwork Orange. Malcolm McDowell plays Alex DeLarge a youth lost in the excesses of his time and place. A Drooge causing as much of the little Ultraviolence as possible. Remarkable in its time for predicting the rise of gang violence in western culture, today a statement on the psyche of the sadistic and twisted. A ride that is hard to watch but impossible to look away at the fascinating struggle of individuality and establishment.
20). This is the End, Apocalypse Now
Really, Coppola could’ve just made the opening to his Apocalypse Now as a short film and would’ve received just as much acclaim. The unmistakable sound design with the Doors anthem coupled with the sound of helicopters flying over head. The images straight from hell as a Vietnamese forest is decimated by Napalm. Finally to top it all off Martin Sheen, best cinematic voice ever, ends the sequence with the most fittingly appropriate opening line of all-time.
19). Chasing a Dream, Millennium Actress
I’ve been a fan of Anime for years, long live Toonami, I love the expression, themes and stories they are able to convey so beautifully. The crown jewel in my opinion is in Sastoshi Kon’s little seen gem Millennium Actress about a renowned Japanese actress reminiscing about her career to a documentary crew. She relates what exactly has driven her in all those years as a performer, as honestly and candidly as she has ever been in her life. What comes across is the message that it is all about the journey not the destination, the chase not the end of it.
18). Tears in the Rain, Blade Runner
Ridley Scott’s 1982 techno-punk masterpiece sees Rutger Hauer as a rebellious replicant Roy Batty seeking more time from his “Father”. Harrison Ford is the titular Blade Runner Deckard sent after him to ‘retire’ him for good. At the climax of the two’s confrontation is a moment of epiphany for Batty as he saves the life of his would-be assassin, and utters a monologue of eerie and moving force. The replicant has all the fears of a normal human being, that of being forgotten after his life ends. Deckard can only sit and watch as Batty slowly dies, he did a “man’s job” today but he never wanted it this way.
17). “I Could’ve Done More…”, Schindler’s List
In career full of emotional and moving scenes, Steven Spielberg has never made anything more poignant than Oscar Schindler’s last moments with his Jewish workforce he tirelessly worked to save during the Holocaust. Throughout the darkest period of modern history German Business man Oscar Schindler witnessed his own people commit mass murder and cruelty on an unthinkable scale, one day (without any sort of overly-romanticized “seeing the light” moment) he decides to do something about it. He bribes and buys the lives of over a thousand of his workforce, making sure they survive the horror. As he has to run, he shares one last moment with the people he saved from slaughter, the only thanks they can give him is a gold ring inscribed with the old Talmud saying “He who saves one life saves the world entire.” Schindler responds with the realization that he could’ve done more; he could’ve saved more people, sold more of his possessions, bribed more officials to save one more life. There is no hollow job-well-done sentiment here at the end, only we as an audience coming to the horrific truth that 1,100 people lived but six million didn’t. However, as Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s devoted accountant through the ordeal, prophetically sates “there will be generations because of you”, and as the final frames of the film play out we see those generations paying tribute to the man they owe so much to.
16). “Are you alone?” “I am…” Batman Mask of the Phantasm
For myself the single movie that defines Batman as a character and superhero is in the animated classic Mask of the Phantasm. The animated series is a staple of adapting superhero mythology to both the small and big screens. The hardest hitting superhero origin stories ever told is with the Mask of the Phantasm, which finds the caped crusader at a crossroads in his crime-fighting days. He is accused of murdering several former mob-bosses in ruthless cold blood, in actuality done by the mysterious Phantasm seeking cold vengeance. As it is revealed who is behind the killings Batman, voiced to perfection by Kevin Conroy, can only relate to the motive behind them. In the process, he looses his one true love; they share similar needs for retribution but not the same resolve in doing so. Batman is many things, portraying exactly what you give up for your calling is chief amongst them.
15). The Evolution of Malcolm X
Both Denzel Washington’s and Spike Lee’s finest hours are incapsulated in their Masterpiece Malcolm X. An amazingly poignant portrait of one of the most controversial figures in American history. There is perhaps no better rendering of an historical figure on film. We follow the growth of the man from low-life Malcolm Little in Boston to the Malcolm X known around the world today. A remarkable character study of the evolution of a leader of revolution. With Washington giving his best at revealing the several changes that occurred throughout the man’s life. It all goes to show that if someone like Malcolm X could change and evolve anyone can.
14). A Shadow of his Former Self, Lawrence of Arabia
The late great Peter O’Toole’s finest work was his first starring role as the sublime British Officer T.E Lawrence helping to lead the Arabian peninsula to revolt against the Ottoman empire during WWI. Army officer Lawrence is bored stiff at his post in the middle east, so he jumps on an assignment to rouse the waring tribes of Arabia. After setting about gaining the trust and respect of the tribal leaders he gains a towering ego that eventually leads to his demise as well-to-do leader. He is physically and emotionally beaten, humbled and by film’s end left a shell of his former self. Director David Lean decided to show this in as visual and moving as possible when he leaves Arabia for the last time. By Lawrence walking through thin curtains lit by sunlight and having his shadow slowly disappear on them as he walks away from glory. Some might question why show Lawrence’s physical death at the very beginning getting rid of any kind of suspense from the story, put it simply because this is the moment of his true demise, his soul was already dead, it was only his body that followed years later.
13). The House on the Plains, Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick’s stunningly outstandingly beautiful Days of Heaven is a landmark for cinematography. One of best shot films ever period, but the best in a series of lucid and vivid images is that of a colonial style home sitting on the great plains of the mid-west. It is the goal for the main couple, played by Richard Gere and Brooke Adams, to get into the house owned by their migrant worker boss played by Sam Shepard. It is a old-fashioned morality tale done in Malick’s trademark style of poetic imagery and voice-over narration. Malick is as polarizing a filmmaker as they come, vibrant savant of cinema or overly pretentious hollow artist, I choose to take any filmmaker’s message at face value. Hardly any other American director has messages so cinematically alive and moving than Malick.
12). Jennifer Connelly in House of Sand and Fog
Vadim Perelman’s highly underrated emotional master work sees Ben Kingsley as an Iranian immigrant Behrani trying his hardest to reclaim the glory he once had in his native land in America. Jennifer Connelly is Kathy a recovering addict holding on to her family home. A mix-up at a housing agency forces her to be evicted from her home and thus sees Behrani move in to secure a worthy home for his family. It hits hardest in the final scenes with Behrani coming to gripes with a sudden and shocking tragedy in his life. Kingsley was rightfully nominated for his commendable work here, but it is Connelly that I gravitated towards more so because of the task of making such an unstable character sympathetic and relatable.
11). Vibrant Dream to Shocking Awakening, Waltz With Bashir
If there is anything in film made to shock more than the ending to Waltz with Bashir, I don’t know of it. The movie is many things, an animated documentary combining real events with abstract dream, about the first Lebanon war in 1982 and a massacre that occurred during it. Ari Folman creates a documentary confessional about his actions in the event depicted as an Isreali soldier. The animated dream-like atmosphere that is created only gives way to the most shocking and brutal ending I’ve ever seen in any film.
10). Tie: “I’m Sorry Dave I Cannot Do that” and “Daisy… Daisy…”, 2001: A Space Odyssey
The HAL 9000 is a cinematic miracle in every sense of the word. The most advanced computer system to ever grace the screen is also the most enigmatic by far. HAL’s mysteries will continue to inspire debate on Artificial Intelligence and the potential thereof, for myself I like to concentrate on what the Mastery of Kubrick in getting us to sympathize with a machine, a mere tool of humanity. There is no expressions, no inflection just Douglas Rain’s monotonous calming but at the same time eerie voice-over work as the supercomputer provides all the characterization needed. HAL is one of the greatest villains of all-time not just because of his enigmatic actions, but also for what he represents, our greatest fears of machine surpassing man.
9). Boxing Against The True Enemy, Raging Bull’s Opening Title Sequence
The best film opening of all-time is with Martin Scorsese’s rage addiction character study Raging Bull. Boxer Jake LaMotta is the titular character faced with dealing with his enormous inner demons in and out of the boxing ring. The opening provides the thesis of the story to follow so simply and perfectly that it is quite jarring. With LaMotta shadow boxing alone in a ring with camera flashes periodically going-off; he is literally fighting himself only to punch at air. He tries to defeat his enemy time and again in the ring, and domestically with his wife, only to find that the one enemy he could never overpower was himself.
8). “Hello…Hello Dimitri”, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
The absolute funniest movie I have ever seen is the searing but nonetheless outright hilarious Kubrick Cold-War Political Satire Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. An adaption of Red Alert a serious book detailing the events that could lead to a nuclear holocaust, Kubrick decided to put a slightly different spin on the melodrama. Using his trademark against-the-grain style and tone Kubrick paints yet another portrait of inmates running the asylum. In the central phone conversation between the US President, A wonderful Peter Sellers, and the USSR Prime Minister portrays the hypocrisy of having weapons of mass destruction in the hands of these two governments. The script is so good (the Screenplay was written by Kubrick, Satirist Terry Southern and Peter George, the book’s original author)that even with the end of the Cold War the social and political satire is not an ounce less biting or topical. It might be the maestro’s only pure comedy but it is also by no coincidence his most well-known and beloved work.
7). Two Half-Lives, Irene Jacob in The Double Life of Veronique
Krzysztof Kieślowski is one of my absolute favorite directors for depicting complicated and nuanced characters (mostly Women) in lucid dream-like films i.e The Three Colors Trilogy. The best performance(s) in his oeuvre is with Irene Jacob as Veronique, a Polish woman with a double born in France. The two never meet until Veronique spies her doppelgänger briefly in Poland, serving only as a harbinger for tragedy. What follows is an enigmatic and hypnotic journey into desire, communication and emotion anchored by two stellar performances from Jacob.
6). The First Night Visit, Persona
Ingmar Bergman’s 1967 Persona is a masterpiece of both cinema and the mind. What does individuality mean? What do we mean to others? How do we reconcile our need to be unique but maintain relationships with other people? What do we compromise when we reach out to others. All of society’s greatest questions are asked candidly in the performances and haunting Black and White photography. Liv Ullman and Bibi Anderson are otherworldly in their performances as an actress going through a mental breakdown and her nurse care-giver respectively. In a film full of unique imagery and startling revelations I’ll choose to single-out the first night visit that the Actress goes to her nurse. It is, nearly, the most perfectly composed black and white shot ever, with Ullman in the light and Anderson in the dark. Persona is a trip of a film, an experiment whose results are still to be determined to this day.
5). Anthony Perkins in Psycho
Lordy, just look at that face… I have not a clue what kind of direction old Hitch gave to Anthony Perkins in order to get him to render the single-best performance in film I have ever seen. You all know the story, Janet Leigh is the girl on the run, stumbles onto the Bates Motel, meets the sheltered Norman Bates, takes the most famous shower in film and the rest is screen history. We are creeped out, sympathetic, suspicious and finally horrified by what Perkins conveys as Norman; just a few of the reasons why it is the single best acting I’ve ever seen.
4). You Built it Ray and They Came, Field of Dreams
Field of Dreams is a marvel; it is vivid dream-like with it’s feet firmly grounded in truth. It is whimsical, hilarious, and dreams layered in reality. In a word, it is perfect. I know some will disagree with me on this; some see the ghosts of long dead baseball players and others just see the field. Nonetheless I adore this movie, I’ve loved it since I can remember and has not lost an ounce of admiration in my eyes. The last shot that of one Terrance Mann’s prediction coming to fruition is one that I can only say again is perfect; much like the rest of the movie filled with promise, hope and of course dreams.
3). Bathed in the everlasting promise of the green light, Vertigo
Alright I’ll have to stop talking about Vertigo sometime, it was the subject of my first Scenery Theory and was in the Top Ten movie moments that defined the 50’s, but for now it contains one of the finest shots in cinematic history as Kim Novak walks to Jimmy Stewart bathed in green neon light; it is a miracle Scotty’s vision is alive! Vertigo is a marvel of a film and of the mind and this single shot is a microcosm of its many themes.
2). Birth of the Star Child, 2001: A Space Odyssey
So I kind of love 2001: A Space Odyssey… I already mentioned the standout character from the picture. Now I highlight the scene most talked about and resonating, the ending sequence of beleaguered Astronaut Dave Bowman traversing time and space to become… something different let’s say. One of the most technically awe-inspiring sequences of all-time, it is still a marvel of special effects, themes and images. A career for Kubrick defined by redefining cinema is fully encapsulated in the star-gate and the rebirth sequences by the film’s ending. Discovery, time, space, life, death and rebirth are all simultaneously portrayed in absolute perfect visual poetry.
1). The Potential of Charles Foster Kane, Citizen Kane
The single most haunting image film has ever generated simply is of an old man walking a corridor of mirrors in Orson Welles Iconic revolutionary masterpiece Citizen Kane. We see Charles Foster Kane from poverty stricken childhood to energetic youthful tycoon to embittered old recluse, we see the drive in him to have a better life for himself than his humble beginnings. We see the remarkable rise of his status, only to bare witness to the inevitable fall due to Kane’s inability to let go of his past. The most influential movie of all-time gets the top spot here for an image towards the end of the film after Kane lashes out as a lover walks out on him. After an epic room trashing done in frustration as his life falls apart, Kane walks out into his lavish Xanadu mansion to a Hallway of mirrors. Many Kane’s walking in unison like simultaneous lives, there was so much potential in him to be a better man and yet this is where how he ended up. No single movie moment is as haunting and resonating as this simple shot right here, and that speaks so much to the unique power of film. Whether it is the most complex special effects shot of all-time or just a simple black and white static shot, film is as indelible and resonate on a person as anything in a non-fictional world. Here’s to future Movie Moments.