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My Five Favorite Movies
Published on May 21, 2013 by guest author: Steve LeBlanc

These are my five favorite movies and why:
 

5.  Wild Strawberries (1982, Ingmar Bergman)


 It would be  difficult for me to not include at least one Bergman film.  The question is, which film?  Other strong candidates are "The Seventh Seal," "Through A Glass Darkly," "The Silence," "Shame," "Fanny & Alexander." Bergman was an amazing filmmaker in multiple ways. He dealt with deep religious and philosophical questions head-on. He was great at exploring daily life and personal relationships. He demonstrated a deft comedic touch. As strong as he was as a scriptwriter, his films at the same time are remarkable for their striking cinematography. He was a tremendous director of actors and actresses (he was very involved in Swedish theater). He filmed the acting of actors and actresses as well as any director I have ever seen (refer to "Scenes from a Marriage"). Most importantly, his films are machines through which we can consider the questions most fundamental to human existence.


I settled on "Wild Strawberries" as my favorite Bergman film. Why?  Because it works so well as a cohesive whole, yet at the same time offers a sampler of the Bergman goods. It includes surreal scenes brimming with symbolism. It includes realistic scenes of the affairs of everyday life. It is a beautifully shot film, with a variety of locales and imagery. And it is a moving story of an old man attempting to reconcile himself to both his past life and his future death.


 4.  War and Peace (1967, Sergei Bondarchuk)


 How do you film an adequate adaptation of the great and immense novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy? With the full support and cooperation of the entire Soviet state, that’s how. While it is difficult to obtain precise budget figures, at the time of its release it was certainly one of the most expensive movies ever produced, if not the most expensive. Bondarchuk was granted access to all of the historical sites/artifacts necessary for the telling. When you see icons, emperor’s crowns and churches in the movie, they are likely the same icons, emperor’s crowns, and churches utilized by the real protagonists of the acutal war against Napoleon.


This all helped to make the adaptation adequate. Bondarchuk went further and made a magnificent film. In large part this is a result of the fact that his directorial impulse was to utilize all these resources to create a film that was as true to the original novel as humanly possible. Now this is something that is almost never done. Read any great book and watch a filmed version of it, and you almost always can find multiple instances where the director has taken liberties. This film however treats Tolstoy’s novel as absolute gospel, as if it is worried that knowledgeable Russian readers will revolt at the slightest deviance. Only it doesn’t feel like a forced limitation. Rather, the film rejoices in illuminating the great stories, truths, and moments found in Tolstoy’s seminal work. Specific areas to praise: the acting is fantastic, the slightly hazy feel of the film is intoxicating, and the battle scenes are perhaps the most amazing I have ever seen (it is incredible what a master director can do with an unlimited budget and tens of thousands of extras…). To give this film the highest praise, for me watching it provides the same intellectual and emotional sensations as reading the novel it is based on.

 


3.  The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston)


 I won’t say much about this film, because it is so well known.  One interesting fact about the director: How unlikely is it that his first movie was The Maltese Falcon, and his last film of note was Annie (1982)? Regardless, what a directorial debut. I know this movie didn’t create the film noir private investigator genre, but for me at least it defined it. Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, Huston was working with good material. Throw in a truly classic leading performance by Humphrey Bogart, and an incredible cast (Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Mary Astor) and the material is fully realized. The final scene between Bogart and Astor is perhaps the best scene in film noir history.


4.  Stalker (1979, Andrei Tarkovsky)


Andrei Tarkovsky is my favorite director. It would not be difficult to make a five favorite films list comprised solely of Tarkovsky’s work. Other favorites include "Mirror," "Nostalgia," and "The Sacrifice." Whereas Tarkovsky is not especially well known by the public, to filmmakers he is a towering figure. For instance, my second favorite filmmaker, Bergman, considered him the most important filmmaker of all time. Bergman can describe the experience of watching a Tarkovsky film better than I ever could. He says: “My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease. I felt encouraged and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how. Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”


Out of all Tarkovsky’s films "Stalker" is my favorite. It is a story of three men who journey to a place called "the Zone." The Zone is an abandoned, overgrown formerly industrial location safeguarded by the government from intrusion. Each man has his own reason for wanting to go to the Zone. What the Zone signifies is largely left up to the interpretation of the viewer. The film is easily my favorite work of magical realism.


5.  What’s New Pussycat (1965, Clive Donner)


OK—I’ll admit that this appears to be an unlikely candidate for favorite movie ever. After all, a 60s sex farce?  However, it does have a lot of things going for it (at least for me), such as:

 


I think one of the reasons I enjoy this movie so much is that the manner in which it was produced caused it to be influenced equally by three of my favorite movie personalities (Sellers, O’Toole, Allen). I am a huge fan of each of these actors separately, and it really is just circumstance that caused the film to not be dominated by either one of their personalities or by the hand of a separate director. If you think about it, virtually every movie can be viewed as a project dominated by a single vision. There are movies that reflect the vision of a director, such as movies by directors like David Lynch, Bela Tarr, or even someone like James Cameron. There are also movies that are dominated by a star’s vision or personality, such as most movies starring Peter Sellers, Mike Meyers, or Jim Carrey.  There are movies that have multiple stars, but in almost every case either one star or a director defines the proceedings.


This didn’t occur with "What’s New Pussycat," and I’ll explain why. Woody Allen wrote the screenplay. It was his first screenplay made into a film, and what a screenplay it was (I say was for a reason). Allen had been working in comedy I believe for over a decade before this film came out, and it is obvious that he had been saving up material and that he poured his best into his screenplay. All the classic early Woody Allen characteristics are in the finished product: psychiatry sessions, multiple neuroses, great slap-stick comedy, incredible one-liners. Even though Allen’s part in the film is not as large as Seller’s or O’Toole’s he can be felt throughout the film. However, at the time Woody Allen didn’t have much clout, at least none compared to the two Peters. The story goes that Woody didn’t get along with the two Peters, but that the two Peters got along splendidly. The direction from Clive Donner was loose and the production was apparently very chaotic. The two Peters found great fun in re-writing and essentially directing large chunks of the film, just putting in whatever they thought might be fun. So you end up with Peter Seller’s character (a psychiatrist with a hilarious Austrian accent and an even funnier Richard III wig) spouting off all sorts of things (mostly inappropriate) that would never have been found in a Woody Allen movie. You find a psychiatric session scene that revolves around the game of cricket (a game Peter O’Toole was and is obsessed with). Sellers and O’Toole also improvised quite a bit on set, most notably in the scene where they are both tanked and at a bar; this scene Sellers and O’Toole filmed by getting drunk and improvising on camera off a loose script).


So…you end up with an early funny slapstick Woody Allen movie filled with genius comedic improvisation by Sellers at his best and Peter O’Toole along for the ride while having the time of his life on screen.  It’s also, once you’ve seen it once or twice, the most quotable comedic movie in existence.  If you don’t believe me, click here.


I do have to admit that the film is extremely chauvinistic, silly, and inappropriate, but then again (to quote Peter Seller’s character)… "nobody’s perfect." My only caveat — only attempt watching this movie late at night, preferably under the influence of lack of sleep or something else. In those conditions, for me there is no better film.

 

Steve LeBlanc lives in Lebanon, N.H., with his wife, son, daughter and two cats. His many interests include philosophy, theater, music and writing.

 

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