Great Cinema: 19 family picks for the best movie ever

great-cinimaMarch 6, 2017 — Ask your family to pick their favorite movie of all time, and if they can do it, you’re bound to get a variety of selections from several different genres. At a recent family get together, I posed that exact question, and although none of us chose the same movie, there are definite patterns that emerged, including movies from the David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino film libraries.

It’s not easy to narrow your favorite movie down to ONE, so I thank my family for participating. It’s also a lot more difficult than picking the worst movie of all time, which we did back in September.

Casablanca. My Dad’s choice for favorite shows up on many “best” lists. Casablanca, released in November 1942, tells the story of an American bar owner (Humphrey Bogart) in Morocco during the early days of World War II, and the woman who broke his heart (Ingrid Bergman). The Bogie/Bergman classic is one of my faves, too, and has given us some of the best quotable lines ever: “We’ll always have Paris,” “Here’s looking at you kid,” “Round up the usual suspects”, and “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” That’s just a few quotable mentions, which is impressive for a 75-year-old film.

My Fair Lady. My Mom passed away two years ago, but I can safely say her favorite was the musical classic from the 1960s My Fair Lady. She loved the music and the story, and of course, Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle. Her favorite scene by far was when Professor Higgins, played by Rex Harrison, takes Eliza to a horse race to test her newly acquired language skills. All is well at first as he glows with pride, but it soon turns to embarrassment when Eliza slips back into Cockney while cheering on the horse. Sure, Mom thought it the language was “fresh”, but she laughed just the same.

Moonstruck. My sister, Linda’s favorite is the charming Moonstruck from 1987. The romantic comedy stars Cher and Nicholas Cage in the lead roles, as the couple that fall in love while the widow Loretta (Cher) waits for her fiancé (Danny Aiello), to come back from Sicily, where he is visiting his dying mother. It’s an enchanting, but funny story that uses an incredibly gorgeous moon as the backdrop. Nominated for six Academy Awards, it won three of them, including Best Actress and Supporting Actress for Cher and Olympia Dukakis, along with Best Screenplay.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. My brother-in-law, Roland’s pick is the great American western starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s hard to get behind criminals in a movie, but Director George Roy Hill made these train robbers delightful enough to cheer for. Based loosely on fact, the film tells the story of Butch Cassidy (Newman) and Sundance (Redford) on the run from the sheriff and his posse, trying to escape the country with Sundance’s love interest (Katherine Ross). It was the top grossing movie of the year in 1969, and is the 34th top-grossing movie of all time.

Notorious. Alfred Hitchcock’s spine tingling Notorious is tops my list. Cary Grant stars opposite a very creepy Claude Raines and Ingrid Bergman (their second mention on the list). Bergman plays the woman the FBI hires to get the goods on Nazis who they believe is planning something big in South America right after WWII. Grant falls in love with Bergman’s character, the girl with the tainted past, and he is often as cruel and he is romantic with her. There are so many thrillingly tense scenes and fine performances in this movie, it’s easily one of the cleverest scripts ever written.

The Matrix. Alas, the first one on the list that I haven’t seen all the way through is my brother-in-law, Rex’s pick, The Matrix. Obviously, Rex, doesn’t share my problem with understanding technology or sci-fi films. The Matrix starred Keanu Reeves, who lives in dystopian future where reality is simulated and known as “the Matrix”. Reeves plays Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer, who is also a hacker known as “Neo”. After he discovers the truth about “the Matrix”, he rebels, of course. The movie has been called one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, and I apologize that I can’t give it the credit it likely deserves.

Gone with the Wind. My sister, Patti’s pick is Gone With the Wind, which is on my top ten favorites list. There’s no greater heroine than Scarlett O’Hara. She may have been a spoiled young woman, but she also maneuvered her way through the challenges of the Civil War with brilliance. She was definitely the mentally strongest in her family and in the story. Despite its four-hour length, Patti can be swept in this saga every time it’s on television. I share her genes, so we’re a lot alike in that regard. I even traveled to see it at the theater on the big screen.

Saving Private Ryan. The World War II epic, Saving Private Ryan, is my cousin David’s favorite pick. The 1998 film directed by Stephen Spielberg tells the story four brothers in the Ryan family, all in Europe fighting the war. Three of the four brothers are killed in action, and the fourth is missing in action when a squad sets out to find him and send him home to his grieving family. The movie opens the morning of June 6, 1944, during the Normandy invasion, and said to be the most intense and realistic 27 minutes on film, which makes it difficult to watch. It’s also been deemed by the Library of Congress to be “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”

Gladiator. The 2000 epic historical drama Gladiator is my brother David’s pick for best movie ever. Starring Russell Crowe, who plays a Roman general named Maximus. Maximus is betrayed when the Emperor murders his father to seize the thrown and all hell breaks loose. David considers this not only the best movie ever, but also the most entertaining, as well. And I’d have to agree it would be on my top fifteen list, at least. Crowe picked up a Best Actor Oscar for his efforts, and the film also won Best Picture and several other category awards that year. Gladiator has also been credited with sparking interest in other films and stories centered on the ancient Greek and Roman culture.

Fargo. If you’re picking the best pictures, you’re bound to have a film show up on the list by Joel and Ethan Coen. My nephew Rick’s choice for best picture ever is Fargo. The 1996 dark comedy crime film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where the brothers won the Best Director award. The story focuses on a supposed true crime, but I’m not sure if that has ever been proven. There is a lot of fact vs. fiction surrounding this film. The entire cast is incredible, but it’s Coen Brothers’ regular Frances McDormand who steals the show. She also won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the quirky Police Chief with the perfect North Dakota accent.

Magnolia. My niece Lauren selected another film on the list I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing…yet. The ensemble drama Magnolia is her choice for best movie ever. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who has quite an impressive resume, the story is described as “a mosaic of interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness and meaning.” Magnolia may have struggled at the box office, but received plenty of critical acclaim. Many people who have experienced it say that there is no other film in history that has made them think, feel or question a film like Magnolia.

Anything in the David Lynch Library. My nephew, Ryan doesn’t profess to be the world’s biggest movie fan, and it take a lot to make him notice. However, he does give special mention to anything in the David Lynch collection. From Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive to The Elephant Man and everything in between, including the television show, Twin Peaks, David Lynch is able to make Ryan stop, look and listen.

2001: A Space Odyssey. My son, Charlie’s pick is the third film on the list I didn’t see and the second I didn’t understand. It’s a 1968 sci-fi film epic written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, also one of his favorites. When released in ’68, the film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences, who didn’t know what to make of its space imagery, classical music and little dialogue. Since then, it’s grown in popularity and has a cult following. Like The Matrix, I tried to enjoy it, but the plot was completely over my head. I still question if there really was a plot at all. Honestly, I’ve never gotten through the entire movie; the music, which is fantastic, always lulls me to sleep.

Blue Velvet. David Lynch’s sophomore effort gets the favorite picture vote from my niece, Leigh. Unfortunately, it’s another movie I didn’t see in its entirety because I don’t understand it, and therefore can’t do it justice. The 1986 mystery film had Lynch blending psychological horror with film noir, earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Like most of his films, however, it seemed to gain more attention and a cult following as time passed. Blue Velvet starred Kyle McLaughlin and Isabella Rossellini, and in 2008, the American Film Institute named it one of the greatest American mystery films ever made.

Old School. Finally, a flat out comedy on the list, chosen by my nephew, Adam. The 1993 comedy starring the usual suspects Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson focuses on three middle-aged college friends who attempt to recapture the glory days by opening up a fraternity house near their “old school”. You get the rest. I’d be willing to bet that Adam’s choice has the widest viewership out of any other movie on this list. As the tagline suggests, the film is “all of the fun of college, but none of the education.” Ain’t that the truth.

Pulp Fiction. Like Coen Brothers, I’d be surprised to put together a list like this without Quentin Tarantino. My nephew, Macey’s pick, is the first mention of a Tarantino film, and he chose Pulp Fiction. This movie was my first taste of Tarantino, and I’d left the theater thinking it was one of the most interesting cinematic experiences ever. With so many odd characters like Honey Bunny and Pumpkin, and so many crazy stories intertwined, the 1994 black comedy, crime film was a breath of fresh air. It also revitalized the career of John Travolta.

Whiplash. The movie from 2014 is latest movie on the list and the choice of best movie ever from my niece, Carly. Interesting choice, for sure, and extremely intense. Whiplash tells the story of an ambitious jazz student and his abusive instructor at a music conservatory school in New York. It stars J.K. Simmons (the instructor) and Miles Teller (the student), and was the opening film at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It earned Simmons a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and plenty of critical acclaim. Prior, he had been known, at least to me, as that Farmer’s Insurance guy.

A Dark Knight. Did you think we’d get through the entire list without a superhero crime thriller? A Dark Knight is my nephew, David’s choice for best movie ever. The 2008 movie was written and directed by Christopher Nolan and stared Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as The Joker. Right after filming Ledger died of a prescription drug overdose, and that may have garnered a lot of attention for the film, as well. Ledger was also posthumously awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work a year later. It’s the darkest of the Batman movies for sure, and quite an interesting adaptation of the comic book hero.

Reservoir Dogs. My nephew Jack’s pick is the second mention of Quentin Tarantino on the list, the crime thriller Reservoir Dogs. The epitome of the classic cult film, the 1992 movie was named the greatest independent film of all time by Empire Film Magazine. The story and film has even been ripped off by Bollywood and remade as Kaante, in 2002. It’s violent and bloody, with an interesting 70s soundtrack piped in. Let’s just say that these days, I can’t hear the song “Stuck in the Middle with You,” without picturing a horrendous torture scene along with it.

Things I’d like to do before the year’s end

imagesOctober 23, 2013 –New Year’s resolutions usually don’t work for me because there is no pressure to make an immediate commitment. Cramming it all in to the last two months of the year, however, better suits me because stress improves my odds for success. Therefore, here is a list of things I’d like to accomplish before midnight on December 31, 2013:

  1. Get through 2001: A Space Odyssey without falling asleep. It might be impossible.
  2. Paint another picture at “Painting with a Twist”. I loved it so much the first time.
  3. Attend the writer’s workshop at the Northeast Philadelphia Library. Saturday morning. I swear.
  4. Figure out exactly how many states I’ve visited. I think it’s 45 of the 50, but I want to be sure.
  5. Write a message in a bottle and throw it out to sea. Just because.
  6. Donate blood. I have a crazy fear about this.
  7. Learn how to take a photo with my new camera outside of auto mode. Holidays are a perfect time to experiment.
  8. Take more risks at work. I can do it!
  9. Try sushi. I’m scared.
  10. Decide on whether to get my Master’s Degree or not. Is it worth it?
  11. Bake a good cheesecake and serve it to my family at Christmas. Last one was too dry.
  12. Send out holiday cards this year. I’ve been lax.
  13. Update my website. It’s been over a year and that’s not good.
  14. Better manage my finances. Yea, right…
  15. Find my iPod. It has to be in the house somewhere.
  16. Get past level 39 on Candy Crush. I have been stuck for over a week!
  17. Win a huge jackpot at the casino. Our traditional visit with family between Christmas and New Year is almost here, so I can get it in under the wire.
  18. Finish a huge editing project. I don’t want to but…
  19. Turn another year older in December. Don’t have a choice, do I?
  20. Be nicer to someone. You know who you are.

10 movies I tried to like but failed miserably

July 25, 2012 – There’s a certain responsibility that comes with calling yourself a major movie fan. One of the biggest may be the obligation to appreciate those elite films considered to be the best.

Take “Casablanca”, for example. It typically appears on the favorite’s list for many critics and film experts. Likewise for “Citizen Kane”, often called the greatest movie ever made. While I love “Casablanca” and everything about it, the appeal of “Citizen Kane” is lost on me, and it bored me from start to finish.

Here are 10 other movies that critics often praise, yet for me fall into that unfortunate “Citizen Kane” category:

1. Star Wars –Sure it’s cool to be a fan, but I have never been one to sing the praises of “Star Wars” or any of its episodes. I realize that I am in the minority and that this series of films is considered a true American epic and the third highest grossing series of all time, but I never understood why. Sorry, Mr. Lucas, but I’m not a sci-fi fan. I will give you major kudos on the cleverness you displayed when it came to naming your characters, though. You don’t come across people named Chewbacca and Obi Wan Kenobi every day.

2. Blue Velvet – Perhaps I’m just picking on “Blue Velvet”, the surreal film classic and sophomore effort of the highly unusual David Lynch. It’s actually Lynch’s entire body of work that leaves me scratching my head. I enjoyed “Wild at Heart” and adored “The Straight Story” mainly because of the late and great Richard Farnsworth, but I’m still trying to figure out most of Lynch’s films, including the bizarre “Eraser Head” and “Mulholland Drive”. “Blue Velvet” stands out because it’s probably the most famous of all of Lynch’s works, and it was the first one I tried to like.

3. The Lord of the Rings – As a teenager, I read one page of “The Hobbit”, put it down and never picked it up again. The people of middle earth didn’t do it for me. I didn’t like reading the “Lord of the Flies” or “Of Mice and Men”, yet managed to get through the film versions of these classics without throwing a tomato at the screen, so I told myself it would be the same with “The Lord of the Rings”. Alas, I fell asleep during the first film, which is a sure sign to pass on the follow-up films in the series. Still, there is one saving grace. Like “Star Wars”, big props go out to J.R.R. Tolkien for his imagination when naming the characters. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins are awesome names, and I’m tempted to get a dog just to name him Gandalf.

4. The Matrix – Another popular series of movies that I’ve tried to enjoy, yet simply didn’t understand. Not one bit.

5. There Will Be Blood – As a Daniel Day-Lewis fan who has enjoyed mostly every performance he’s given us from “My Left Foot” to “The Age of Innocence” and my favorite, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, it is difficult for me to say I hated this movie. But that’s the truth. “There Will Be Blood” is the story of greed and one man’s ruthless journey to become the wealthiest oil man in the country. The performances in this movie were practically flawless and every major critic had it on their short list, if not as their number one movie pick for 2007. But there was nothing redeeming about any of the characters, which made it difficult for me to watch. It left me feeling hopeless, so much so that I will never watch this film again, and as someone who can watch movies again and again, that is a sure sign of dislike.

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Like the Matrix, I tried to enjoy it, but the plot was completely over my head. I still question if there really was a plot at all. Honestly, I’ve never gotten through the entire movie; the music, which is fantastic, always lulls me to sleep.

7. The Tree of Life – The movie is a visual stunner, and received overwhelmingly positive reviews for its artistic style, but some critics took issue with Terrance Malick’s directorial style and, in particular, the film’s disconnected flow. I have to agree with latter because the movie turns into a collection of scenes that never fit together and were not entertaining in the least. For me, this is a huge wasted effort on the part of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.

8. Leaving Las Vegas – I don’t require every movie to have a happy ending, or even a happy theme, but this particular movie, which starred Nicholas Cage as a depressed alcoholic planning to drink himself to death in Las Vegas, and Elizabeth Shue as the prostitute who tries to save him, is right up there with the saddest movies ever made. Perhaps sadder yet, it is based on a true story, which really makes me never want to see this film again.

9. The Piano – Critics praised the cast of Jane Campion’s drama about a mute pianist in 19th century New Zealand, and major awards were showered upon Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin (who was only 11 at the time). But there was nothing visually appealing about this movie, and Hunter’s facial expressions (she played the mute character) started to drive me crazy midway through. I was very disappointed when she ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Actress that year. What I hated most, however, was her daughter’s betrayal at the end of the movie, which leads to one of the most horrific scenes ever filmed.

10. The Way We Were – As a woman, I’m supposed to find “The Way We Were” to be the most romantic movie of all time. The classic story that starred Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand as young lovers who meet in college in the 1930s and are ripped apart by political differences struck a chord with many movie goers back in 1973, and that tradition has continued, especially with the female audience. If you polled a number of women about their favorite romantic movies, chances are “The Way We Were” would be a strong contender. For me, the film was dull and too drawn out. And while I usually enjoy performances by Redford, there is something about Streisand that rubs me the wrong way; aside from “Funny Girl” and “The Mirror Has Two Faces”, I’ve never been a fan of her films.