There will be six of these, each containing about five films.
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1981 (Action/Adventure)
Close 2nd – Deliverance
Directed by Stephen Spielberg
Written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas
Desert dust by Tunisia
Oscars won for best art/set decoration, visual effects, film editing, and sound
“Archeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the US government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.” (IMDB)
You can’t have a cooler name than Indiana Jones, no matter how hard you try. “Indy” is as throwback as you can get. No lasers, blasters, or spy cars. He’s got a gun he uses sparingly, a whip he uses expertly, and a hat he dons perfectly. He’s a college professor by day and a horse-riding, cave-exploring, code-cracking, tomb-raiding, bomb-making, wall-breaking, Nazi-hating adventurer by, um, by summer vacation. He’s got more brain than brawn, but he’s still got brawn. So when the Feds want his help to figure out what Hitler’s about to do next, he trades the plaid bow tie for the desert boots before hopping the next plane around the world. And the sequels – except for the most recent – pretty much live up to the original.
The opening action sequence is as good as any of the traditional opening action sequences of any James Bond film – except Casino Royale. The Raiders sequence goes a step further than most because it’s intellectual and suspenseful and not just physical, as are the Bond openings. With Bond, it’s run, shoot, run, drive, shoot, drive, shoot, run, shoot, fly, shoot, etc. With Raiders, you have to mix “think” in there a few times too, but not “drive.”
Interesting note –Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas had a rough time trying to cast the role of Indiana Jones and were close to settling for Tom Selleck. To distract themselves, they took in a movie – Lucas’s most recent Star Wars installment, The Empire Strikes Back. As soon as Harrison Ford hit the screen, they immediately looked at each other and smiled. They had found their Indiana Jones.
Favorite scene: The truck chase through the desert
2. The Searchers 1956 (Western)
Close 2nd – Unforgiven
Directed by John Ford
War Whooping Comanche by Central Casting
“As a Civil War veteran spends years searching for a young niece captured by Indians, his motivation becomes increasingly questionable.” (IMDB)
Back in the 70’s, when Bruce Springsteen released the Darkness on the Edge of Town album, he mentioned The Searchers as being an influence on his life as well as that album. He referred to the final scene of John Wayne standing in a doorway, and it was echoed in Springsteen’s song “Adam Raised a Cain,” when the speaker of the song is standing in a doorway and afraid to enter a house because he’s not sure what’s going to happen. He’s done his best, but he just doesn’t feel welcome, like he doesn’t belong. I had not yet seen The Searchers, but when I did, I immediately understood what I had been missing from those songs.
Ethan Edwards had just returned from a recently ended Civil War, but he’s not the same as he was when he left. He was a leader who understood that sometimes war drives men to do things differently. And when they do things differently, they’re not the same anymore afterwards. But sometimes, those ways in which they are different can be helpful.
Ethan fought in ways that were questionable to the rest of the army and the accepted rules of war. He’s come home to find that his two nieces have been abducted by a Comanche tribe, and he’s not happy. He’s a soldier, and since he’s rather void of peace at the moment, he’s going to stay in “war” mode and hunt down those Comanche if it’s the last thing he does. In fact, he doesn’t seem all that worried about whether or not it’s the last thing he does.
Interesting note – it’s a Western, but it’s way more than a Western. How so? I have never cried more intensely at any other movie. But it’s a Western? Yeah, but it’s also a family drama. That’s all I’ll say without spoiling anything.
Favorite scene: When Ethan comes out of the canyon but won’t tell the others what he found.
3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – 2001 (Fantasy)
Close 2nd – The Lord of the Rings
Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by J.K. Rowling (novel), Steve Kloves (screenplay)
Owls by Nature, Inc.
Oscars nominated for best art/set decoration, costume design, and original score.
“Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” (IMDB)
Let’s get this part out of the way – The first Harry Potter movie is not the best. THE best was The Prisoner of Azkaban. However, just like most series, you never forget your first. Watching the boy under the stairs get rescued by Hagrid cannot be duplicated. Watching Harry wearing the Sorting Hat and wish for Gryffindor cannot happen in any other film but the first. Seeing all the first-year students going to their common rooms can only happen once as well. And your, our, their first trip to Hogsmeade Village, the snow falling at Christmas time, just doesn’t happen the same way in subsequent films.
Harry Potter is for nerds, smart kids, loners, the anti-social, the happy, the introverted isolationists, and the freaks. Or, everybody, especially those who sometimes feel like they don’t fit in. Or, EVERYBODY. To watch a disliked outcast who is suddenly the most miraculous savior with special powers is something that pretty much EVERYBODY has dreamed about. Don’t deny it. It’s not possible to read all seven books and not feel good about everything, as if someone just put icing and sprinkles on your life and said, “Take a bite, it’s all good.” Because it is. And it’s not possible to watch those movies and not wish you were one of those kids with wands and owls and magic and wishing Hermione would reach 18 but keep wearing the schoolgirl outfit.
Favorite scene: Harry, Ron, and Hermione first meeting on the train.
4. Star Wars – 1977 (Science Fiction)
Close 2nd – Blade Runner
Directed by George Lucas
Written by George Lucas
Light saber colors by Roy G. Biv
Oscars won for best art/set decoration, visual effects, film editing, sound, costume design, dramatic score, and a special award for sound effects creation.
“Luke Skywalker, a spirited farm boy, joins rebel forces to save Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader, and the galaxy from the Empire’s planet-destroying Death Star.” (IMDB)
I have heard too many times how 2001: A Space Odyssey is not only the greatest science fiction film of all time but likely the greatest film in general. I have posed very sincerely that Star Wars, not 2001, is the greatest sci-fi film of all time and have been laughed at. So here’s my question to those who laugh. Well, those who have survived after laughing: Show me the impact that 2001 has had on society and compare that to the impact that Star Wars has had on society. Both films are at least 35 years old, meaning that most of you out there weren’t born when either was released.
Did you play with toys from 2001 or Star Wars? Did you have nightmares about Darth Vader or HAL2000? Do you pretend to fly an X-wing fighter or Discovery One? Which is cooler hanging off your belt – a light saber or a monolith? If you’re in a fight, would you prefer to have a blaster or a bone? Which one has a Death Star? ‘Nuff said.
Star Wars has a farm boy joining a rebellion against a repressive, dictatorial, all-encompassing evil empire. 2001 had a computer that wouldn’t follow directions. Star Wars had alien creatures that flew and repaired spaceships. 2001 wasn’t even sure if there were any aliens.
Star Wars became an entire industry, and that doesn’t happen without a movie being great. Okay, except for Twilight, you got me there, but this is just different. It’s an entire universe that exists everywhere and nowhere, and apparently in the past, as crazy as that seems.
Interesting note: if you’ve really seen it too many times, it’s fun to just watch and wonder how they talked Alec Guinness into signing on.
Favorite scene: Luke and Leia being chased through the Death Star.
5. The Deer Hunter – 1978 (War)
Close 2nd – The Great Escape
Directed by Michael Cimino
Written by Michael Cimino and Deric Washburn
Rats by Rizzo
Oscars won for best picture, director, supporting actor, sound, film editing.
“An in-depth examination of the way that the Vietnam war affects the lives of people in a small industrial town in the USA.” (IMDB)
It’s hard to find two more intense actors than Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken, and it’s even harder to find them both on one film. The sad beauty of The Deer Hunter is how well it slips back and forth to these friends before, during, and after their tour in Viet Nam. The film examines a few rather manly, Western Pennsylvania friends who can be seen either hanging in a local bar or driving back from the woods with a buck on the hood of a car. We see them in life and death situations through the Asian jungle. And we see how all of that mixes – or doesn’t – when they return home. If they return home. If they even recognize home once they return, and if home recognizes them anymore.
There are better movies that focus on war, but there are not better movies that focus on the warriors. There is not one emotion left on the table. Director Michael Cimino brings out what I think is De Niro’s best role, and I’ve seen everything he’s done. Only Raging Bull might be better, but I say no because it didn’t demand the range that comes through in The Deer Hunter.
Favorite scene: Russian roulette
Up next: For the Dark…