12 August 2011

My 10 Favourite Movies


I have loved movies for as long as I can remember. Even as a small kid, I would often join the household help in front of the TV screen watching blurry black and white movies that were played every afternoon by the local stations. I must have seen thousands of movies in my lifetime, and continue to watch the ones that I feel are worth viewing.

Looking back, though, there are those that I can consider my all-time favourites. Some of these will be familiar to most readers; some not at all. Please do not take the absence of locally-produced films negatively. I have just not taken to the over-acting style preferred by most Asian audiences; as opposed to the under-acting style of the West. To me the latter – which is acting without appearing to be acting at all – is how things should be done.

Feel free to share your own favourites using the comments box at the bottom of this page.

Braveheart. 1995. Directed by Mel Gibson. Written by Randall Wallace. Starring Mel Gibson in the lead role of William Wallace.

It is my History background and my fondness for the Medieval Era in Europe, I guess, that has made this top of my list. This folkloric story of William Wallace’s rallying the Scots against the Auld Enemy from the south – the English – gets no more than a mention or two in most high school history text books; and there is even a sense of irony in that the Scots eventually came into union with the enemies to become part of what is now known as the United Kingdom.

What I loved most about this film was its authenticity, from Mel Gibson – born stateside and grew up in Australia – acquiring a Scottish accent to the drab tartans worn by the actors to the picturesque cinematographic shots up in the Highlands. The movie concluded with the capture of Wallace and his getting the punishment particularly reserved for those found guilty of treason: he was hung, drawn and quartered. The shot of Gibson with face contorted with pain was the “drawn” part; his mid-side was cut open and his internal organs extracted while he was still alive. Thankfully, the “quartered” part was no longer shown. This was when the body was cut up into four parts and displayed on spikes around the country to discourage treason.


Superman. 1978. Directed by Richard Donner. Written by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Starring Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder.

I actually loved all four movies made starring Christopher Reeve, but it was the first of the series that I loved most of all. Growing up as I did in an era when television and computer technologies were still in relative infancy, I watched my favourite Justice League superheroes perform their superhuman feats in what – by today’s standards – were pretty crude cartoon shows.

Seeing Reeve bring to life the Man of Steel, thus, was quite a barely-believable treat back in the late seventies. Who can forget Reeve jumping from off a building still in his coat and tie, get changed to his flying suit while falling rapidly to the ground and then to soar back up once he had his jockey shorts and cape fully functional? Or what about the payphone booth costume-changing gimmick? By present-day graphics effects standards, the flying scenes appear amateurish; but late in the seventies, these were sublime.


Raiders of the Lost Ark. 1981. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas. Starring Harrison Ford in the lead role as Indiana Jones.

I also loved all of the Indiana Jones movies – even the one made just recently – but as with the Superman series, it was the first that I loved the most. Raiders of the Lost Ark and its subsequent sequels were not about being a superhero; if anything, it was about an ordinary person – a professor of Archaeology – who used his wit to get out of sticky situations.

There was an element of MacGyver to the Indiana Jones character in that the latter was always finding himself in very tight spots but always managed to extricate himself from these by being innovative. Director Steven Spielberg was in his element in the Indiana Jones series, making his audience fearful for their hero’s life then making him escape in the most creative ways to the same audience’s delight. I watched the first three movies in the movie house and the audience would laugh and applaud every time Jones extricated himself from trouble.


Ghost. 1990. Directed by Jerry Zucker. Written by Bruce Joel Rubin. Starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.

I watched this movie first in a movie house and watched it again several times more. I have a DVD of this movie, as a matter of fact. I think the appeal of this movie was the reassurance that it gave all who saw it that loved ones who pass away are just there; and that, indeed, they sometimes find a way to communicate with us. Although this movie’s theme – the afterlife – is normally the subject of horror movies, there was nothing scary about this movie at all.

While the movie revolved around the love between Sam and Molly that death could not break, what I found most memorable was the Academy Award-winning performance by Whoopi Goldberg as a fraudulent psychic who eventually turned out to be the real thing and would be the link between Sam and Molly. Who can forget her “Four million dollars!” expletive upon reading a check she had just withdrawn from a bank upon Sam’s instruction? Or what about her facial expression when Sam instructed her to hand over the very same check to a nun who was begging for donations along a busy street? Classic! Simply classic!


Jaws. 1975. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss.

I was a freshman in college when I first saw this movie. Another weekend, my Mom travelled to Manila to watch the movie and my eldest sister and I watched it again with her. I think I saw this movie two more times while it was still showing. It was a certified hit; albeit, naturalists would eventually point to it as the reason for widespread phobia against sharks and their frequent unnecessary destruction.

I think it was with this movie the Spielberg introduced to the world his master storytelling abilities. A quiet seaside town was shocked when a massive Great White took residence and started mangling up people. Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss got together to hunt the shark down; and it was during the hunt when the film’s suspense peaked. I will never forget the shot of the Great White making a snack out of Robert Shaw. Gross!


Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 1977. Directed and written by Steven Spielberg. Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr and Melinda Dillon.

Another Spielberg movie, but is he not the greatest movie storyteller of all time? The first movie version I saw ended abruptly; in fact, the producers released another version that showed more of the aliens towards the end. This was just appropriate because Spielberg, throughout the whole film, had the audience simply begging, “Show us the aliens! Show us the aliens!”

I so loved this movie because it answered the multi-billion dollar question that Science has not managed to answer beyond the shadow of a doubt: “Are they out there?” This movie was pure fiction, of course; albeit, Spielberg’s great talent is in his ability to make pure fiction believable. He even managed to throw in a Bermuda Triangle twist when out from the massive alien spacecraft came airmen who one assumed were those who mysteriously disappeared in the 1940s.


Memphis Belle. 1990. Directed by Michael Caton-Jones. Starring Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, Sean Astin, Harry Connick Jr. and others.

I understand that this was a relatively low-budget “B” movie with a cast of – then – relatively unknown actors. Memphis Belle was about a B-17 bomber and its crew during World War II who were about to complete their tour of duty totalling 25 bombing raids in all. The bomber and crew were unscathed in the first 24 bombing runs. Just one more bombing raid and everyone could head back stateside to rejoin their families and resume their lives.

Except, of course, that the 25th and final raid was anything but eventful… The appeal of this supposed true story was in how it kept the audience guessing if that final raid was going to be completed. The irony of possibly missing out on the grand prize at the final hurdle was also a premise that everyone could identify with. As a footnote, I watched this movie on beta-max.


To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. 1995. Directed by Beeban Kidron. Written by Douglas Carter Beane. Starring Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo.

I am not even sure that this was shown in local movie houses; I saw this on beta-max. I also doubt that the movie was ever a box office hit. This was an off-beat movie if ever there was one. Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo were cast in the roles of drag queens driving in a Cadillac across the expanse of the North American continent to the West Coast. While driving, they ran across all sorts of individuals who did not quite know how to deal with these travelling queens.

Although this movie was a comedy-drama mix, I do not believe that I laughed as hard in other purely comedy movies. The sight of the muscular Snipes and Swayze in drag was ridiculous enough to begin with; but it was Leguizamo who was such a natural in the role that it is hard to comprehend that he used to be almost in archetypal way cast in bad guy roles. This movie was just plain hilarious!


Madagascar. 2005. Animated. Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath. Written by Mark Burton, Billy Frolick and others. Featuring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and others.

I have always loved animation; and recently, computer technology has made exceptional animated films a dime a dozen. What I loved most about this movie were the excellent – and often sarcastic – punch lines. Although the headliners were a lion, a zebra, a hippopotamus and a giraffe, the characters that made me laugh the hardest were a lemur (King Julien) and – of course, the paranoid penguins. Who else but penguins would be sinister enough to take over a ship, sail all the way to Antarctica then back to Madagascar?


2012. 2009. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser. Starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Woody Harrelson and others.

I have seen this movie on DVD more than a few times; and I still occasionally put it on just to get pumped up. People are just plain suckers for disaster movies. This one is premised on the effects of a massive solar storm on the crust of the earth. There is a scientific basis to this and the topic has been expounded upon by several National Geographic Channel documentaries. These only contributed, I suppose, to the movie’s believability.

Dissected, the movie’s storyline had countless holes. However, the pacing was electric, the visual effects stunning and the narrow escapes were unnerving! Try driving a limousine at full speed while the earth underneath it is breaking apart! Or fly a light plane under a collapsing skyscraper! This movie was more of a visual rather than a cerebral treat; which, I suppose, was why it was such a hit when it was released. People, after all, often gravitate towards the visual.

Now tell me yours...

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