In my secret life as a film aficionado — purely an amateur exercise in “things that I like” — and given the Easter weekend of one film after another (mostly The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, and Kingdom of Heaven) I couldn’t help but sit back and think… what are my 10 most favorite films at the moment? So here they are… my entirely non-controversial yet simultaneously authoritative selections on my Top 10 favorite films.
10. Jefferson In Paris (1995) — Quick, think of a memorable Nick Nolte role. Hotel Rwanda? Thin Red Line? The Fighter (where he had to be the best performance in the film)? Hands down, it has to be Nolte’s portrayal of Thomas Jefferson. All of the actors in this film are fantastic — Gwyneth Paltrow’s Patsy Jefferson, Thandie Newton’s Sally Hemmings (criticized at the time for a “fiddle dee” portrayal, but nailed the Central Virginian accent), and Greta Scacchi’s performance as Maria Cosway are all thrown against the excellent cinematics provided by the Merchant Ivory duo.
9. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006) — Perhaps my second favorite Irish film, it is set in southern Ireland during the War for Independence. Authentic for the period, and perhaps Cillian Murphy’s breakout role, the strength of the screenplay and the dialogue are excellent — and to this day, perhaps still has the best debate scene I have ever witnessed in all of cinema.
8. Richard III (1995) — Ian McKellen may be typecast as Gandalf, but his performances as a Shakespearian actor will and should triumph over his more modern performances. Most of all, his interpretation of Richard III is just equal parts evil and humor… nothing of the Lawrence Oliver performance on film of 1955.
7. The Patriot (2000) — Mel Gibson’s film about the American Revolution is an epic; the director’s cut is even better than the theatrical release. Jason Isaac’s portrayal of Tavington (based on “Bloody Ban” Tarleton) gives the impression of a soulless and sinister British officer… in the extended edition, there’s a particular scene where Tavington is remarking on the beauty of lightening bugs in a field, catches one between his fingers and smears it between them — a total summation of the character that absolutely nearly forces the other characters in the film to bend to his presence.
6. Alexander (2004) — Oliver Stone’s portrayal of the Macedonian conqueror fell completely flat at the box office. The extended cut was an equal disappointment… but the director’s cut which opened with the Battle of Gaugamela? Brilliant… absolutely superb performance from Colin Farrell, and Angelina Jolie’s performance as Olympias should probably go down as one of her best in a film. Val Kilmer as Philip of Macedon foreshadows everything Alexander fears he might become… and the balance that somehow was missed in the theatrical opening is just somehow caught all at once like so many bits of thread in a windstorm.
5. Millers Crossing (1991) — Gabriel Byrne’s role of the loyal lieutenant Tom Reagan in the face of prohibition era mafia machinations? Great Cohen brothers film… and the performances all the way ’round are driven by an amazing script that — in a theme here among my favorite films — is driven by the actors themselves rather than ‘splosions and CGI.
4. Kingdom of Heaven (2005) — I’ll admit it… I am a huge Ridley Scott fan, and his films set during the Crusader era are nothing short of amazing. Marton Csokas as Guy du Lusignan? Base and evil. Alexander Siddig as Imad? Noble and educated. Eva Green as Sybilla? Glimpses of a 21 century woman in an 11th century world, but overwhelmingly strong. Above all, Edward Norton’s performance as King Baldwin IV is nothing short of masterful… not to mention Orlando Bloom’s nonchalance as Balian… there are just so many good performances in this film (Liam Neeson, Martin Hancock, the duo of Eriq Ebouaney and Jouko Ahola, Brendan Gleeson as Reyald de Chatillon — a rake and villain of history if there ever was one — even a first performance of now-famous Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as a early decedent)… and finally, Syrian director Ghassan Massoud’s portrayal of Saladin. All excellent… few films transport you from one environment to another in such a way as Kingdom of Heaven does… Lawrence of Arabia comes very close, but not in the same way.
3. The Treaty (1991) — My favorite Irish film, a made for TV series featuring Ian Bannen’s magnificent protrayal of “The Welsh Wizard” against the machinations of Barry McGovern’s Eamon De Valera and the sacrifice of the careers and reputations of both Arthur Griffith (Tony Doyle) and Michael Collins (portrayed by the now famous Brendan Gleeson in one of his first and earliest roles). The drama is nothing short of brilliant… truly exemplifying the Irish film industry’s capacity for storytelling against the more modern effort to produce the high-gloss CGI of 20 years after.
2. Waterloo (1970) — Rod Steiger’s phlegmatic and temperamental Napoleon Bonaparte vs. Christopher Plummer’s aloof and aristocratic Lord Wellington… and about 40,000 Soviet troops requisitioned to play the battling armies during the 100 Days Campaign. This film’s memorable opening sequence where Napoleon is pressured into exile is accompanied by Dan O’Herlihy’s portrayal of Marshal Ney — brilliant in every respect.
1. Metropolis (1927) — Perhaps one of the best silent films ever made. Thea von Barbou’s script produced to film by her husband in an effort that nearly bankrupted UFA Studios in the very middle of Weimar Germany. Brigitte Helm at the age of 19 literally carries the film all the way through — as Maria, as a “False Maria” and as the “Machine Man” — in a storyline that is carried with the Epigram: “The Mediator between the Head and the Hand must be the Heart!” It is perhaps one of the most Catholic films ever made… and though long, it enjoys a cult presence among film aficionados who are on a constant search for the full film, as parts have been lost to history (and hopefully, storage) over the years. If Mel Gibson is looking for a film to make, Maccabees would be a good start… but a remake of Metropolis (with Gibson as Joh Fredersen?) would be a paradigm shift from the blood and gore known in Braveheart and Apocalypto