IMDB’s top 20 films – my thoughts

Below is the current list of top 20 films (as of 6 December 2007)as voted by IMDB users.  Except for "No Country for Old Men" which was only released recently, I have all these titles on DVD.

IMDB Top 20

The Godfather (1972)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Buono, il brutto, il cattivo, Il (1966) (The good, the bad and the ugly)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Casablanca (1942)
Shichinin no samurai (1954) (Seven Samurai)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Star Wars (1977)
12 Angry Men (1957)
Rear Window (1954)
Goodfellas (1990)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Cidade de Deus (2002) City of God
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
C’era una volta il West (1968)     (Once upon a time in the west)

Of these, I’ve watched 15 of the films.  Movies I haven’t seen yet (besides the new release) are Goodfellas, 12 Angry Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and City of God.

Now of the films I’ve watched, I’m going to talk about which ones I think are most worthy of viewing (if you’ve never seen them before) and which ones I think are less worthy.

Disclaimer: These are all great films.  However, one might consider requiring films in the top 20 to be iconic, rather than simply great.

The Top 4 Worthy (in no particular order)
Seven Samurai
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Shawshank Redemption
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The Top 4 Less Worthy (in no particular order)
Rear Window
Pulp Fiction
Once upon a time in the west
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Special Mention
Star Wars/Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

The Reasoning

Worthy.  Four films which I think are a must see. 

Fans of "The Magnificent Seven" would do well to see the original inspiration – since few realise that the aforementioned film was a western adaptation of Akira Kurasawa’s acclaimed "Seven Samurai".  Following the success of Rashomon, Seven Samurai presented an original film premise with epic proportions.  It essentially put Kurasawa on the map and opened the western world to the brilliance of his films which later became adapted into films like "A Fistful of Dollars".  Yes, it *is* best viewed in the original Japanese with English subtitles!  Try and obtain a copy of the "Criterion Collection" version.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" represented a breakthrough for blockbuster films and set the tone for a decade (the 80s’) of big films.  It had it all and was a real thrill ride from start to finish.  The film has been parodied more times than I can remember and made archaeology cool – no mean feat.  One of my all time favourite films.

Since this isn’t a comparison of ‘greatest films’ but rather a list of films you should see – Shawshank had to be included.  This is the first film to so completely fool me.  If you haven’t seen it then do yourself a favour.  This is probably Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbin’s best work ever, and is simply brilliant.  The supporting cast did a brilliant job and the cinematography and direction are first rate.  How a movie managed to capture the soul of a prison we’ll never really understand.

Whether you’re "down with the trilogy" or not, the final instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy must rate as one of the best book-to-film conversions in the drama/scifi/action genre.  Managing to fulfil the imaginations of millions of fans worldwide, this film tied the other two together.  Admittedly the ending was probably too drawn out, and didn’t end at the logical conclusion point (anytime within 5 minutes after the final battle).  See it with or without the other two films.

The Less Worthy

This isn’t a list of bad films.  All four are brilliant.  However, stacked up to the others, I’d say there is cause to debate whether they should be in the top 20 or perhaps that other films might deserve greater preference.

Rear Window is a great film and one worth watching.  However I’m a bit at a loss to understand how some of Hitchcock’s earlier films didn’t score ahead of it.  Rebecca, Spellbound, the 39 steps and Notorious were all probably at least on par with Rear Window.  It’s hard to pick ad hoc films from Hitchcock’s vast array of brilliant films, I just can’t see Rear Window topping the others.

Quentin Tarentino came along and established himself early with a film called "Reservoir Dogs".  He followed up with a number of good films, one being "Pulp Fiction".  This is a great film to watch, but I can’t say that it stacks up well against the others in the top 20.  It’s very compelling and graphic and deserves a large cult following.  However, it’s not a movie I think I could watch again and again and draw additional inspiration from.

"Once Upon a Time in the West" represented some of Sergio Leone’s finer work, however I found it a trifle bit too drawn out (and long at 165 minutes) between action even though the material deserved the respect.  Henry Fonda was brilliant in an uncharacteristic role as a villain.  For me, if the film had been a little faster paced it would have been a more enjoyable experience but I found myself more entertained by "The Magnificent Seven" or a number of other westerns.  Still very compelling viewing especially for the direction, Fonda and the cinematography. 

Lastly, a poke in the general direction of the first Lord of the Rings film, "Fellowship of the Ring".  I’m sorry.  I know it is very important to set the tale up properly, but this film bored me to tears!  Fans of the original book version will likely have enjoyed the (tenuous) detailed book-to-film adaptation but it didn’t make for very compelling viewing.  It seemed to take a long, long time for any decent progress in the story line.  If it had been cut to about 100 minutes (it clocked in at a whopping 178 minutes for the theatrical release!) it would have sufficed.

Special Mentions

Casablanca is the oldest film in my list, and it is included for special mention because of the iconic status of the film and the fact that even after 50+ years, it still holds up as a memorable film.  Bogey is the best.

Star Wars + Empire Strikes Back.  These two I’ve included together since Empire has slightly less impact without the first instalment.  Both films represent triumphs in film making and also in helping to extend science fiction to a far wider audience than ever before.  Perhaps the greatest villain in film history, Darth Vader, drove all three original films into iconic status and left us with perhaps the best science fiction trilogy of all time.  No, lets not discuss those ‘other’ Star Wars films.

Anyhow, those are my thoughts.  Please discuss by adding a comment.

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