My Top Five Films... and why

Friday, 5 June 2009

I often quote my top five favourite films, however rarely do I justify my reasoning behind them, so I thought that I would here say a short bit about each (I could say a lot more I promise), what I like about each film and therefore why they are five star films, and why they are in the ‘top five’.

Just for the record this list is alphabetical, mainly because I can’t make my mind up on the order of the top three! Also there are many films that could be in this list and they do rate in my favourite films, however these listed below are the films that I really rate!

The List

One brief warning, there will be spoilers below!

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly - 2002)

First off; the plot! The film is centred around the character of Donnie Darko being told by Frank, a six foot bunny rabbit, that the world is going to end in 28 day, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, whilst at the same time saving his life. Over the following 28 days the film follows him as he begins to learn about some of the things that govern his reality which ultimately lead to the destruction of the universe.

I always find placing things into genres, however if I was to with Donnie Darko I would say that it would fall into the fantasy genre, with a hint of science fiction with a smidgen of mystery. The thing with this film is that it took me a while to get my head around it, I really liked it the first time I watched it through, however it wasn’t until I had watched it through a couple of times did I begin to understand it. So, if you are the kind of person who doesn’t like to think in a film, this really isn’t for you!

With this film the is a complex story running through it which is enhanced by the acting, music, production, special effects, etc. This makes a change, as many of the films that have been made recently that have a really lame story line, however are made popular by either the actors chosen or the special effects that were used.

Donnie Darko is a film that mixes a really interesting, deep, story line, with expressive characters. A lot of time and effort went into creating the story, that mixed with the stunning film work, editing and post production comes together to create an amazing film that you can watch over and over again and find something new in it each time.

Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson 2001-2003)

If you have missed this film then I have to ask “have you been of this planet in the last years?” In summary the story follows the quest to destroy a ring in which is contained all of the evil in Middle-Earth. The main character is that of Frodo Baggins who accepts the task of going to Mount Doom to throw the ring into the lava from where it was forged. Meanwhile the rest of Middle-Earth is plunged into war around the rising dark forces.

I think the only way to describe these films is epic. Just the shear size and scale of what goes on within the film, how it is put together, et al is just impressive, and therefore to go through each film individually briefly would just be impossible. However I’ll include some of the highlights across the films.

Firstly to the musical score behind the film. The music, composed by Howard Shore, is up there in one of the most well known composition of late. The music conveys perfectly what is happening on screen and rather than distracting or going unnoticed in the story it complements the action happening on screen.

Secondly a small bit of trivia (shamelessly ripped from IMDB) the first film in the trilogy had 540 computer-generated images, Two Towers improved on that and had 799 while Return of the King almost doubled that with 1488. Seriously the effects in this film are really really well done. There is a whole combination of effects, spanning from very impressive CGI, right the way through to oversized models which look absolutely stunning

In regards to the adaption from the book Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have managed turn an absolutely stunning book, packed with really detailed description and convert it into an amazingly visual film that sticks (more, rather than less) to the book, something that is to be commended. Even parts of Tolkien’s humour is taken across into the film and put into the dialogue between characters. Genius!

The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont - 1994)

This is quite possibly the best film ever… not to win an Oscar. The story focuses around Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins. Dufresne is wrongly accused of the murder of his wife and her lover. His punishment is to serve two life sentences within the Shawshank Prision. Through the film we see Dufresne adapting to the prison life, form friendships make enemies, build a library, make a chess set, and eventually make his escape from the place that stole 25 years of his life.

This is, again, a film that you cannot switch off for, actually four out of the five films need concentration for. Each element of the story is gone through in great detail, things that appear as subplots are all woven into the main plot. This film stands upon its plot, it has a really thought out story line running through it, all elements of this are masterfully created by the actors.

Both Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman give a superb performance in this film, they really flesh out the characters and make you really get emotionally caught up with the characters, something that is challenging in any role.

There are no special effects in this film, aside from some well placed lightning, but that is because it is simply not required. The story line, acting, voiceover (from the voice of Freeman’s character) and the setting give all the special effects required for it to be up in my top five films.

Stardust (Matthew Vaughn - 2007)

This is the turn your mind off film in the list. Based upon the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman it follows the general gist of the book, however deviating from it in many places. This in my humble opinion is a good thing on the basis that I found the book really dull after the first third, it was almost as if Gaiman got bored writing it, harsh comment, however I think it is fair!

I’ll be honest this film is a fairy story. I cannot say otherwise, but it is beautifully done. It follows Tristan Thorn as he follows in his father footsteps by crossing the gap in ‘The Wall’ from England into the magical kingdom of Stormhold. The quest leads him in search of a fallen star to give as a gift to his one true love (fairy story)! There he gets more than just a lump of celestial rock, rather the character played by Clare Danes; Yvaine - the star. With Yvaine in tow Tristan heads back to The Wall to present her, however following them are princes and witches all after Yvaine. Did I mention it is a fairy story?

Firstly, the plot… it just works and fits with the traditional fairy stories, the climax being; the wicked witch being killed by love… awww. No seriously, the progression from the start of the film all the way through to the end just flows perfectly. There was a suitable amount of action, the romance that every five year old boy hates is there… but not overdone, plus there is a suitable amount humour mixed with suspense built in, it just works!

The editing is the next thing that I want to make a point of. There is this really well done cut in the film that I through was shear brilliance. It starts with one of the princes, at the edge of a sea, throwing runes into the air at the camera. Then as they twist and turn in the air at the camera they cut to the witch doing a similar action, however the wooden runes change into her black, polished, runes as they fall back into her hands. I haven’t done justice in explaining this cut between scenes, however it is beautifully done.

Finally, I want draw attention to the CGI used in the film. There is one sequence involving miniature elephants that was really poorly done, however the rest of the film has just some unbelievably well done animation. The creation of the witch’s inn was absolutely stunning created from nothing with green fire, watching as an old inn is created is just awesome, and surprisingly believable! It is also just the touches that are created to make Yvaine glow are very subtly done, however really add to the content.

Don’t let the idea that you are too old for fairy tales put you off this film, it is a well designed and well crafted film that draws together an amazing plot, actors, special effects with a very good soundtrack!

V for Vendetta (James McTeigue - 2005)

This film is based off of the Alan Moore and David Lloyd graphic novel. The novel was written in the 80’s and painted a picture of the future looking at England run under a tyranny and the story of two vigilantes rising up to combat the leadership.

The film takes this story and updates it, the biggest change being moving from radio to television! The film tells the story of Evey Hammond who is rescued by a masked man who calls himself V. As Evey learns of his past and what the current government did to him, she ultimately causes the destruction of the Houses of Commons to send a message of the destruction of democracy into tyranny.

The character of V is played by Hugo Weaving, you will either recognise him as Elrond in Lord of the Rings or as his role as Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy. Expressing the emotions of a character is a hard job, however it is even harder to do when your character has no face. Constantly covered in a Guy Fawkes mask, relying only on voice changes and movement, Weaving makes this role his own and proves himself even more as a diverse actor. This, accompanied by the acting of Natalie Portman, Stephen Fry, John Hurt and Stephen Rea, just made a set of solid actors who really made the roles their own.

The story line is deep and complex, much like the other films on this list. Also while the film is an action movie, it has a really well written script that brings out the story line, almost word for word taken from the novel. Both of these elements are perfectly recreated by the actors.

Despite being a fictional film, there are references to current events during 2005. The film is all about the lengths that V goes to in order to fulfil his vendetta against the government. Through this it casts a light on the lengths the government goes to cover up information, and to gain information. It is a warning to modern societies showing how the oppression started and where it went, a lesson to prevent it from happening now.

One of the things that is repeated (and also echoed in another comic and film) is that V not a person, rather a symbol of hope over the oppression, as a person he is weak and frail, however as V he becomes more like an icon, looking to the idea that he conveys, rather than the person behind the mask. The film is challenging to watch, and will probably be one of the first to be banned, should the government that is portrayed come into power.

The film is ones that will leave you thinking, whilst entertaining you with a well designed story, captivating actors and elegantly choreographed action scenes.

This list was expanded on the 8th January: The Five Become Six: Bridge to Terabithia.

As you will note there is a distinct lack of SciFi in that list, Donnie Darko vaguely fits into that category, however it isn’t true SciFi in the sense of Star Wars or Star Trek. As such there are a couple of films that need to be mentioned as being really good films, however don’t quite make it into my top five films.

Honourable mentions (five star films):

Films that don’t quite make it (four stars… just)

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