Saturday, January 9, 2010


Recently, I was asked by a dear friend of mine to compile a list of some of my favorite films to be used for her artist collective Veaux in a project called "The Hungry Artist." Veaux is, according to their website (, "an online talent market that helps fresh creatives sell themselves, and picky buyers find the choicest cut of artistic goodness around."

In other words, they connect new artists with the people who can support their art. It's a great site and worth a look, if only to see what creative people are doing.

Anyway. Here's my list with the intro I gave "The Hungry Artist."

At any given moment, these change… Some go up, some move down - others drop off entirely, and that’s not to mention the fact that at any given time I may have a top ten list related to a specific genre of film. That said, my tastes are fairly big budget and not far of from the average film-goer. I am definitely not considered nearly as high-brow or “film-snob”(ish) as many of my peers, but here goes: My Top 10 Films.

Raiders of the Lost Ark - This film changed my life. I was about four months from my sixth birthday when this film came out in 1981. I remember, quite vividly, leaping over the armrest and into the lap of my grandmother when the spears shot out from the wall with “Satipo” (the great Alfred Molina) impaled on them in the amazing opening of this film, and in that moment, I realized that someone had done that on purpose! They wanted me to leap from my seat! It was thrilling, expertly done and completely successful and I became determined to find out who it was and how they’d done it. The orchestrator of that high adventure was, of course, Steven Spielberg with an incredible script by Lawrence Kasdan. I knew then that I wanted to be a filmmaker. Today, I run a production company named after one of the lead characters in the film – Ravenwood.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial – One year later, Spielberg would again create such a stunning work that I decided then and there that he was the “greatest director ever.” (There’s 8mm film of me declaring this to my father). E.T. touched me in a completely different way – where the daring archaeologist Indiana Jones made me cheer and leap around in a theater seat, E.T. was all at once frightening, magical and hugely emotional. I saw the film no less than 7 times in the theater and to this day, I still get misty-eyed when E.T. “dies” in the triage tent – 27 years later! And I know he comes back to life! For me, this film is also one of the closest experiences I ever shared with my father: One Thanksgiving, the film was on TNT and as E.T. was slipping away and Elliott is screaming, “No! You’re hurting him!” I looked over and my father (a man who never cried) was weeping. He looked at me and said, without a hint of embarrassment, “fu*kin’ movie gets to you, huh?”

Casablanca – A film that, on every level, never ceases to amaze me. I recently picked the film up on Blu-Ray (replacing my nearly burned out Standard-Def DVD) and literally fell in love all over again. The script (by the Epstein Brothers with Howard Koch) remains, to this day, one of the best screenplays ever written – unequalled in it’s set-up of the perfect anti-hero in Humphrey Bogarts’ “Rick.” It’s no surprise that the film won Best Picture, Screenplay and Director (Michael Curtiz). Among the greatest lines in movie history (and about 20 are in this film!) most people go with “Play it again, Sam” as their favorite line (which, curiously, is never actually spoken in the film), or “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but for me, it’s the following line in response to Ilsa’s “…but of course, that was the day the Germans marched in to Paris.” Rick says, “I remember every detail. The Germans wore grey, you wore blue.”

The Shawshank Redemption – Yes, this is a film about prison and some of the awful things that go on in those places, but this film (based on a short story by Stephen King) is also about friendship and above all, hope. The film didn’t do well in the theaters… Some people thought it was the title. Some people skipped it because they didn’t really know who Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman were. In fact, I never saw it in the theater (a fact I am loathe to admit), but I will always remember the day my father called me up having borrowed an Oscar Screener from someone and said, “If you’re not working, you need to drop what you’re doing right now and come borrow this movie.” I did, I watched and I was, am, and forever will be in awe. This film is perfection.

The Godfather Part II – The film by Francis Ford Coppola is widely regarded as one of the best of all time, and for very good reason… as the middle part of an epic saga, the film completely envelopes you in the world of Michael Corleone. Another film shown to me by my father, this movie is so profoundly moving, me and the other wacky film fanatics will often make a trip to a movie palace to see the latest restored version (even though we own it on Blu-Ray). Another movie that hits perfection right between the eyes… if there’s a flaw in this film, I have yet to find it.

Ghostbusters/Fletch – I had to cheat and pick a tie here. Both of these are quintessential 80’s comedies and both are near and dear to me. Ghostbusters is Ivan Reitman’s pinnacle and features so many actors working at the top of their game that it’s hard to imagine any other film even coming close. For me, Fletch (Directed by the late Michael Ritchie) manages, in my estimation, laughs on par with the level of Ghostbusters, but delivered solely by Mr. Chevy Chase. Fletch was the last film I ever saw with my Grandpa and that memory will never die. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone laugh as hard as when Dana Wheeler-Nicholson as “Gail Stanwyck” asks who is at the door and Chase replies, “It’s, uh, John… John Cock…toast…oen.” Interestingly, while a lot of Fletch is quotable, it doesn’t touch Ghostbusters in that arena – I know a lot of people who can literally speak every word of dialogue from the film. “When someone asks you if you’re a God, you say, ‘YES’!”

Dog Day Afternoon – Everything about Sidney Lumet’s film blows me away. Though based on the list so far you’d never know it, I’m a sucker for true stories and this film has an amazing one. A man (Al Pacino) and his partners try to rob a bank in Brooklyn. Standard stuff, right? Wrong. Pacino’s “Sonny,” who is married with kids, is robbing the place to get money to pay for his lovers sex change operation (if that’s not interesting enough, the lover is played by Chris Sarandon). Problem is, the bank doesn’t have very much money (it had been picked up that day) and now he’s stuck inside with his not-too-bright partner (the truly wonderful and sadly missed John Cazale who also plays “Fredo” in the Godfather films) and the cops outside (headed by Charles Durning). By the time I get to the end, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but it’s an amzing ride.

Tootsie – I can’t begin to tell you how many people (younger than I am) that have never heard of this film. If they haven’t, I simply tell them that I can’t speak to them again until they’ve watched it… It should be required viewing for anyone who loves film and for actors, in particular. I recently had an opportunity to see the film at the Arclight Cinema in Los Angeles and Dustin Hoffman shared some stories with the crowd before the screening. He was really wonderful and told some great behind-the-scenes anecdotes… But the best part was watching the movie in a packed house. The movie, directed by (again, the late) Sydney Pollack and written by (sadly, the late) Larry Gelbart is pure genius. When Hoffman, dressed in “Dorothy Michaels” costume first steps on the set of the Soap Opera he’s been hired on, the director (the great, and still working Dabney Coleman) asks a cameraman how far he can “pull back”? The cameraman responds, “How do you feel about Cleveland?” The crowd went nuts. 26 years after the film was first released, the crowd laughed like it was a brand new film. That’s magical.

Back to the Future – I come back to this film again and again and every single time I’m completely transported. I was born in 1975, but watching this film, I completely feel like I understand 1955… at least Hill Valley in 1955. I want to drive the DeLorean! I want to flick the little window of the Flux Capacitor! This movie, under the expert guidance of Robert Zemeckis (and producer Steven Spielberg) still holds up today – and for that, you can point squarely at the amazing sceenplay (by Zemeckis and Bob Gale)… without a doubt, one of the best and tightest scripts ever written. Try to find one thing they set up in the beginning of the film that doesn’t get paid off. Go ahead… try! I dare ya! (Or don’t… because there isn’t one). Brilliant.

Wow. I’ve reached my final entry. I’m going to have to cheat again. I give a tie to Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Again, I go back to Spielberg… the man is, undoubtedly, the author of my youth. In Jaws, he did for the ocean what Hitchcock did for showers. I couldn’t even go to the deep end of the swimming pool after seeing this for fear that Jaws would swallow me whole! For me, perhaps one of the best scenes in cinema history, is when Robert Shaw as “Quint” tells the story about the USS Indianapolis – the story inspired me to look at history and to read about our country. And CE3K (for us geeks), well… as a kid, one of the houses we lived in had a heater in the floor. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more terrified in a film than watching those little screws come undone one… by… one and then the covering blow off. Or the monkey with the cymbals that comes on by itself! I had one of those! I kept waiting for the night it would start clanging those damn cymbals together and the aliens would take me away! For me, Richard Dreyfuss in these two films is stunning. Completely different people. I don’t think I realized for years that it was the same actor. His “Roy Neary” in Close Encounters is a perfectly executed portrayal of a man driven mad by visions that he simply must see come true, and John Williams’ extraordinary use of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ is, frankly, beautiful.
There are my top ten.

Honorable Mention (These are the ones that regularly climb up the list):

Guess I’m definitely a child of the 80’s. But I’ll leave with a quote from the 70’s…

Farewell and adieu to you fair
Spanish ladies… Farewell and
adieu to you ladies of Spain…

Until next time.