Paul’s Favorite Films – Common Themes

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This final entry in my favorite films countdown is going to be different from the others. I would like this one to be as interactive as possible, because I want your input and thoughts. If you have extensive film knowledge, or even if you don’t and only know about these 25 movies I’ve mentioned simply through my reviews, I want to hear what you have to say.

 
The question I’d like to ask is – what do you think are the common points that connect these films together? What do any of these 25 films have in common, if anything? You don’t have to relate all 25 together, but I would like to see what you think even two of these films share. This could be anything from common plot points, to characters, themes, atmosphere, message, tone, production values and anything that you can think of.

 
And, for those that do have a massive film knowledge, there is an optional question – With these common points in mind, what other movies can you think of that also share those points? Just to give myself some recommendations for the future or to possibly rethink another film in a whole new light.

 
I’ll give this a starting point and talk about the most common type of story throughout my favorite films – the misfit in a world of misfits.

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There are several of these twenty-five films that focus on a particularly strange character, for one reason or another, in a world that is either full of characters that are strange of a different variety or characters that contrast the protagonist. At times, his/her behavior is not so different from a passionate and driven individual, but in a world where that is frowned upon, this character is seen as an outcast.

 
Jefferson Smith was ridiculed by the majority of Congress in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” for staying far too close to the ideals of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, just like Edward D. Wood Jr. was never taken seriously in “Ed Wood.” Both of these characters stayed true to their passions and outlook on life, even when everyone seemed to be against them. In a way, they are both films about fighting the system for ones’ beliefs.

 
Other examples include Marge Gunderson and her husband Norm being the only competent and intelligent people in “Fargo,” Tobey Maguire and Resse Witherspoon being literally from a different time in “Pleasantville,” WALL-E being the only creäture to have come in contact with Earth for over 700 years, and of course Kanji Watanabe in “Ikiru” daring to challenge the bureaucratic symbol of Japan when he realizes that he has so little time left to live.

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We also see this go to opposite extremes with characters like Bruno Anthony in “Strangers On A Train” and Reverend Harry Powell in “The Night Of The Hunter.” Two characters that have a lot in common, but are also radically different. They are in love with themselves more than anything else and love what they do. They both have silver tongues, but to varying degrees. Harry Powell can convince just about any body to join his side by using religion and God to his evil benefits, while Bruno is more crazed and people are merely fascinated by his theories.

 
Characters like Kanji, the Tramp in “City Lights,” Marge and George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life” are not afraid to challenge what is expected of people. One could say that they live in a world separate from the one they inhabit, and wish to show everyone else the benefit of this other world. One free of hate, greed and selfishness, and instead replaced with self-less passionate people.

 
Which brings me to the next common theme throughout most of these films – hope.

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Perhaps there is a subconscious reason why I chose “Son Of Godzilla” and “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” of all the films in the series to be on this countdown that even I wasn’t aware of. Not because I think they’re the best Godzilla films, but because they are the two most optimistic of the series. For a series that includes nearly thirty movies of a giant monster destroying Japan, those are the two that choose to show mankind battling these monsters in a whole new way and focus on making a better world for the future.

 
“Son Of Godzilla” does this through not only the human endeavors to perfect a weather machine and make lands in Africa and South America fertile, while “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” has a theme of removing distrust in the world for the sake of protecting humanity. That a world divided is much more easily conquered and that the biggest threats can only be taken down together.

 
We see hope shine in so many of my favorite films. Hope for George Bailey and the struggle of man against the industry in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” hope for the Tramp and to not judge others by their status in life in “City Lights” and hope for the survival of the human race “WALL-E,” so that they can understand there is a lot of world out there.

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To opposite ends of that, we have films like “Apocalypse Now” and “Ran,” which were founded on pillars of hope and kindness, only to watch it all turn sour and rotten. In the case of “Ran,” Lord Ichimonji was blinded by pride and love for his sons to see that they were greedy selfish people who wanted nothing more than control over the entire kingdom, even if that meant destroying everything their father worked for. “Apocalypse Now,” has hope in the characters that travel down this navy patrol boat, as they want to get this done and over and move on to the next mission. But as they travel further down to the river and into the maws of hell, we see them turn to desperation and drugs, in trying to hide from the tragedies they’ve witnessed.

 
But if there was a common type of story told throughout my top 25, it would the tale of a “loner,” like Kanji Watanabe or Marge Gunderson, as they put their beliefs and morals on the line, against a threat that is not uncommon. It could be something as simple as cancer or their own greed, like “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre.” And as the film progresses, we learn this loner is not unlike us and their struggle is just as simple.

Or, to put it in the terms of one of my favorite quotes, these characters are realizing they don’t want to merely survive, but to live.

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Some of these characters knew from the beginning what it meant to live, like Marge, and is content with her life with Norm, despite everyone else in the film trying so hard to get “a bit of money” and failing at it. Others realize it over time, like George Bailey, who is so caught up in his work that he never realized just how big of an impact he had on Bedford Falls until he saw what the town would be like if he never existed. There are even characters that try their best to live, given their surroundings, like L.B. Jefferies in “Rear Window,” as he makes up names and back stories for every one of his neighbors.

Then you get characters like Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” who is merely surviving, but lives in her own twisted world where she is the living the dream and can’t wake up from something that has since turned into a nightmare.

But these characters are fighting for something the chance to live, and to give this chance to others as well. Whether they are running from giant monsters, hiding from a shape shifting alien or loving every second of the gangster lifestyle, there is something worth fighting for in all of their minds.

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Anyway, those are the common threads I noticed between most of my top 25 favorite films. There are a few more obvious ones, like how James Stewart is in four of these films or reoccurring directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa, but I decided to go with something a little more interesting.

What do you think my 25 favorite films have in common? I would really like to hear what everyone has to say and I cannot wait to see the varying responses. And remember, if you think there are any other films that aren’t mentioned in my countdown but you think I might enjoy due to those commonalities, be sure to mention those.

 

 

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Paul’s Favorite Films – Number One!

“I’ve seen horrors. Horrors that you’ve seen. It is impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror has a face. And you must make a friend of horror. Horror and mortal terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared.”

Horror resides in all of us, whether we like to admit it or not. Sometimes it comes out in force, like in war and politics, while others keep it quiet and subtle, like a shark lurking behind the water waiting to pounce. We all give in to our selfish desires and passions, fight for an unworthy cause or harm others to get ourselves further in life.

This brings out all our hearts of darkness.

After our journey through so many great entries in cinema, it is fitting that we arrive at my favorite film and the most poignantly beautiful movie in this countdown – Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”

You might be wondering why, after so many films with positive and uplifting outlooks on our existence, like “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “City Lights,” “WALL-E” and “Ikiru,” I would have a movie about mass amounts of destruction and death as my favorite of all time. To tell you the truth, I’m as confused as you are. A movie that seems to have little regard for human life, and this is the one I pick above the thousands I have watched in my life.

Then again, perhaps “Apocalypse Now” values life more than most others on a larger scale. Of all the films on this countdown, this one certainly has the biggest scale, practically covering the full range of the Vietnam War, while taking nearly two years to film everything in the Philippines. We witness an air strike on a large Vietnamese village, see a group of soldiers lose their sanity at the sight of women during a USO show, and men devolve into madness when the chain of command is broken. All leading up to the reveal of a man who has seen people at their best and worst, and wishes to harness the worst of us.

So why is “Apocalypse Now” my favorite film? Because it has everything that I adore about cinema.

In the middle of the Vietnam War, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) has finally been called upon for a mission, one that no one else was crazy enough to take. Willard is briefed on a decorated military officer, Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who had gone rogue in the jungles of Cambodia, and was now leading his own personal military that worshipped him like a god, killing anyone that Kurtz saw fit. Willard’s mission is to take a navy patrol boat up a river that snakes through the war, find Kurtz and “terminate with extreme prejudice.”

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“Apocalypse Now” is based on a Joseph Conrad novel, “Heart Of Darkness,” but changes the setting from the rough and rabid Congo jungle to the Vietnam War. What we get is a film with two distinct morals about the world. One is rather simple – war is hell. The other moral comes from “Heart Of Darkness” as well, that the way we live our lives is fragile and insignificant compared to what nature is capable of.

We are a tiny bird sitting atop the maw of a massive crocodile, that could strike us down without any remorse or consideration and without any notice. Nature is cruel and inconsiderate, and living our normal lives is merely a reprieve from that information.

In many ways, “Apocalypse Now” is like “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre,” with both having a loose main plot thread holding the film together, but the majority of the movie is taken up by smaller bits that reveal much about our characters, and in turn about our darker side.

While Willard spends the first two-thirds of “Apocalypse Now” traveling up the river, only sometimes mentioning Kurtz, we get to spend this time watching our characters struggle to understand what it is we are doing in Vietnam, and how to handle a war.

One of the biggest examples of this comes in the now famous “Ride Of The Valkyries” sequence, where a flying cavalry unit, led by the blunt yet dedicated officer Kilgore (Robert Duvall), decide to attack one of the hottest Vietnamese villages in the area, just to claim the only spot in Vietnam that has good waves to surf. They blast loud classical music from their helicopters, while they decimate this village and burn it to the ground in a sea of napalm.

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This is the scene that people point to when talking about “Apocalypse Now,” and I cannot blame them. One of the crowning achievements of this film is the cinematography, with this scene standing out above the others, as we watch the helicopters rise out of the jungle and into the morning sun. Or watching the copters fly just inches above the large surf they are fighting for, while “Ride Of The Valkyries” is blasted for all to hear.

However, when I think of “Apocalypse Now” there is one scene that sticks out above the others. It is similar to the famous helicopter sequence, but has a bit more subtlety to it. The Navy patrol boat escorting Willard up the river has come across a suspicious looking Vietnamese boat and decide to stop and inspect it, much to the dismay of Willard and most of the other soldiers. They viciously pull the family from the boat to inspect, tearing their fruits and vegetables apart, in the hopes of finding something illegal. When Chef (Frederic Forrest) reaches for one corner of the boat, one of the women rushes beside him, and the crew opens fire on the family. Afterwards, Chef checks what she was reaching for – her puppy.

In each case, you cannot blame either party for how this went down. The patrol boat was merely following orders and was to check this family could have smuggled weapons or soldiers for their enemy. They attacked the family because they had witnessed that she could have had an explosive hidden in their and planned to blow them all up. Yet the family remained civil and orderly about all of this and only cried out when another of their family might have been injured.

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Yet the result is still the same – War has trained men to be killers and not lovers. To take matters into their own hands and treat everyone they see as the villain. There is no room for compassion, only the interest in what we are fighting for.

As Willard proceeds up the river, we begin to learn this, as well as how fragile we are out in the jungle. During another short sequence, Willard and Chef search for mangos in a large forested area. In this place, the roots of the trees dwarf our characters, and the leaves on nearby bushes are bigger than them as well. We are dwarfed by nature.

As we learn these truths about the war and what we are doing out here, so does Willard and his journey up to Kurtz. As he reads more about how a high-ranking official would go totally insane, and he sees innocent people die by machine gun fire, fighting for worthless causes like surfing and nature towering over us, Willard begins to see how Kurtz got to this point.

This makes the build up to Kurtz’s reveal all the more menacing and suspenseful. Like I previously mentioned, Willard doesn’t arrive at Kurtz’s camp until two-thirds of the way through the film. Every once in a while, Willard talks about the missions that Kurtz was sent on and his slow realization of corrupt system he works for and his need to get away from it.

One of the greatest villain portrayals to me is Shere Khan in Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” Not because Khan is that powerful or possesses that big of a threat, but because we do not see him for the majority of the film, only the legend of Shere Khan. We hear these tall tales of what he did and how everyone is terrified of him, even when he isn’t around.

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Colonel Kurtz works in much the same way.

Instead of showing us what Kurtz has done, we watch others react to the knowledge of what he’s done. We listen to these men that once respected Kurtz for his loyalty to his country, now realizing that he works for no one and could turn on anyone if Kurtz felt like it. We watch as the legend of Colonel Kurtz becomes a reality, and we are terrified by what we’ve witnessed.

One of the generals Willard talks to in the beginning of the film summed it up best, “There’s a conflict in every human heart, between rational and irrational, between good and evil. And good does not always triumph. Sometimes, the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.”

In effect, Kurtz has decided that those “better angels of our nature” are small and insignificant compared to the nature of the world. Kurtz does not see it as evil overcoming good, but trusting his instincts to guide his actions.

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This leads into one of the greatest monologues, where Kurtz talks about how Willard has the right to kill him, but Willard (and the general back in Vietnam) have no right to judge him. In this Shakespearian soliloquy, Kurtz talks about an encounter he had with a village, where he inoculated the children from polio, and the elders wanted no part of that in their children. That something had to be done about it.

And then I realized they were stronger than we,” says Kurtz. “Because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love. But they had the strength to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment. Because it’s judgment that defeats us.”

Through the build-up to Kurtz, Willard’s slow realization that Kurtz may not be wrong, Willard witnessing the same atrocities as Kurtz, and this monologue, Colonel Kurtz has become my favorite film villain. Because he is not someone attempting to thwart our heroes, but someone whose morals contrast with that of others and upsets the system. It is less about a battle of strength and intelligence, and more about what is right and wrong.

Kurtz has certainly gone mad, but then again, we all go a little mad sometimes.

It also certainly helps that Kurtz is played by Marlon Brando, who is great at everything he does.

What pushes “Apocalypse Now” above all other war films is that it does not shy away from what war does to men’s souls. It is less about the Vietnam war, and more about the dark points of human behavior. This could have been set at any time period and any location in the world, and the message would have been clear – those “horrors” are not caused by nature, but by our own selfish desires and the destruction we cause to get them.

Whether those desires are to protect our country, to preserve one’s integrity, or to surf, war drives man to an ugly place where right and wrong are blurred and the instinct to survive and thrive precedes all others, even if that means whipping out your fellow-men.

“Apocalypse Now” is the epitome of what I love in cinema – A journey on a grand scale that never skips on the visuals, beautiful cinematography that is eye-popping at almost every opportunity, every scene standing out for one reason or another, having plenty of memorable moments and characters, including the greatest villain I have seen, and a timeless message about war and nature.

That is why “Apocalypse Now” is my favorite film of all time.

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Paul’s Favorite Films – Honorable Mentions

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Of all the couple thousand films I have watched in my lifetime, it was actually quite difficult to narrow it down to just 25 of my favorite films. I have an entire collection of movies which I adore that did not make it into the countdown. So many films that I could watch at any point and still love every scene, but only so many spots on showcase my favorites.

Which is why it seems fitting to talk about some of the other films that just missed making this countdown. These are the ten honorable mentions to my top 25 favorite films of all time. I’ll give a brief explanation to each film. Who knows? Maybe some day, I’ll come back and review each of these ten movies in detail.

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“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

The only Stanley Kubrick film to make either the top 25 countdown and the honorable mentions, “2001: A Space Odyssey” transcends what most movies attempt to be, and enters into a state of mind. With virtually no story, we are left with two and a half hours of atmosphere and questions about the future.

Like most Kubrick films, he pays attention to every single tiny detail and draws it out for the audience to enjoy. The reason “2001: A Space Odyssey” gets here over other Kubrick films is because of the scope of space, and to make a film that covers such a vast distance of time and space while keeping the audience entranced.

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“Ace In The Hole” (1951)

Billy Wilder followed up “Sunset Boulevard” with this look at the newspaper business, in which Kirk Douglas finds the story of the century – a man is trapped in a collapsed cave and is slowly being crushed to death. But once Douglas is told they can rescue the man in a few days, he delays the rescue to draw out the story and take the credit for saving this man.

Just as in “Sunset Boulevard,” the dialogue is crisp, but never to the point of absurdity. It is a joy to listen to these people talk about how this story needs to heard across the country. But what really gives “Ace In The Hole” its bite is Kirk Douglas’ performance. He is haunting and disturbing, yet keeps his values and morals close to his heart, even as things get far worse.

“Ace In The Hole” is a tragic tale of searching for fame, only to realize that it often comes at the price of ruining innocent lives, especially in the journalism business.

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“Shadow Of A Doubt” (1943)

Of all the films Alfred Hitchcock made, he often said this was his favorite – the tale of a young Californian family that is visited by their uncle, whom one of the children is named after, only to slowly realize that the uncle may not be who he says he is.

Perhaps this was Hitchcock’s favorite because it was one of the first films he made after coming to Hollywood, and it represented his own fears and doubts about the Hollywood system. Maybe it was the often brilliant cinematography that captured how small our family is to this monster of an uncle they all adore. It could also be the performances of Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, as they fight for their twisted morals of nature versus nurture.

In any case, this is a classic early Alfred Hitchcock film that hits right at home and how family can often be a bad thing.

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“No Country For Old Men” (2007)

Anton Chigurh. Just Anton Chigurh. “No Country For Old Men” makes this part of the countdown simply because of its villain, a man who feels like he must be anarchy and misery in the world. That he has no other choice but to be this evil, uncaring maniac. He certainly doesn’t get any enjoyment out of killing anyone who sees him, but he remains dedicated to causing mayhem, otherwise he would have no purpose.

“No Country For Old Men” is, more or less, about the evolution of the dark criminal mind and how it has gotten to the point where can no longer understand it, much less control it. Anton is the perfect representation of that darkness, never satisfied with his work, uncaring about those he kills, unconcerned if he is doing right or wrong, and he couldn’t care less about any of it.

A villain the perfectly encapsulates chaos, along with a mostly silent film that sees our hero get chased across Texas and Mexico for just a bit of money. This is one Coen Brothers film that won’t be forgotten soon.

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“Giant” (1956)

The next two films I have already talked about in great detail, but that’s because these are the only films on both countdowns that I have previously reviewed. In a way, I have a greater respect for them because I got to share my new-found love for these films with all of you.

“Giant” is a perfect representation of an epic – Large scale, covering a massive range of both land, people and time, yet it still feels comfy with its focus on the Benedict family and their conflict over pride, race and legacy. We watch as the world changes, but our characters never take that into account and go ahead like the world has always been flat and was the center of the universe.

The conflict between Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor comes naturally, as if they came from different worlds, but see a lot of themselves in each other – their thick-headed pride, but also their devotion to their life philosophies.

“Giant” feels like it takes up all of Texas, while still keeping focus on the marriage of these two and the consequences of their actions.

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“her” (2013)

Simple, yet innovative. This is a science fiction piece that understands technology in cinema is not just fiction, but can be relatable and logical, yet still fascinating and imaginative.

I found myself just as invested in this futuristic Los Angeles as I was in the romance between Theodore and Samantha, finding a love story set in a world not too different from our own. A world where technology might have advanced further than us, and has replaced us in many capacities, but “her” finds a middle ground where humans and technology make one another more desirable. That we wouldn’t be complete without the other.

With that quirky, off-the-wall craziness you can only get out of a Spike Jonez film, “her” is one of the most creative and heart-warming films in recent memory.

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“Godzilla” (1954)

One last time, we return my favorite film franchise.

Since “Son Of Godzilla” and “Mothra vs. Godzilla” made my top 25, “Godzilla” is my third favorite film in the franchise, but this is the movie I respect more than any other. For what this film set out to do, given their budget and the attitude towards nuclear weapons in 1950s Japan, this could have easily failed. Instead, we got a dark and eerie look at how fragile life can be in the face of unrivaled strength and power.

“Godzilla” isn’t just a great monster movie, but a great movie in general. Rather than focusing on a monster running rampant through Japan, we get a film about a weakened Japan attempting to combat such a threat, and the lives that are affected by this tragedy. Throughout the film, we watch as lives are crushed, burned, irradiated and ruined by something out of our control.

With effects that still hold up today, a creepy yet atmospheric score, and the theme of man’s evolution of weaponry taking shape, the Japanese version of “Godzilla” is one of the stand out monster films of all time.

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“Bride Of Frankenstein” (1935)

Speaking of stand out monster films, we have another amazing one at the opposite end of the spectrum as “Godzilla.”

Rather than a monster terrorizing helpless people, we have a monster that never set out to hurt anyone, didn’t wish to be created, and yet is seen as nothing more than an abomination. We fear him simply because he is different and must perish because of it.

Yet, Doctors Frankenstein and Pretorious play god and reanimate the dead just because they can. They attempt to set out and prove they are a higher grade of man by doing what no one else can do – decide to lives and who dies.

All while one of their creations meets an old blind man, and takes him in to his home, feeds him, warms him back up and gives him a good night sleep. And in this case, who is truly the superior man?

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“adaptation.” (2002)

The second Spike Jonez film in these honorable mentions. Even I didn’t know how much I adored his films.

Like Jonez’ other films, it is hard to nail down exactly what happens in “adaptation.” but what makes it far more difficult is the screenplay written by Charlie Kauffman, and then proceeds to make himself the main character of the film. We follow Kauffman as he attempts to adapt “The Orchid Thief” into a screenplay, but finds it impossible given the source material and his twin brother Donald, constantly interfering about how his screenplay is coming along.

I have never seen a film like “adaptation.” and I hope I never do. It is about the struggle of a screenwriter who somehow gets wrapped up in the ongoing story, and then works all of that into his screenplay. Are we watching Kauffman as he writes the screenplay? Or are we watching his interpretation of how it all went down? Or are we watching a man’s slow descent into madness?

I also love the overall message of the film and the realization that Kauffman comes to at the end of the film – You are what you love, not what loves you. An outstanding message for everyone.

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“The Princess Bride” (1987)

Part of the reason I love this film is because of how effortlessly the fantasy seems to come. Every character fits like a glove into the story, their motivation and dialogue feels natural and it all contributes to the narrative that never stops. “The Princess Bride” is beautiful to listen to, as their accents give way to crisp words said with passion and ferocity.

Who does not get excited when Inigo Montoya finally meets the six-fingered man and has a chance to redeem his father? Who doesn’t adore the relationship between Wesley and Buttercup? Who does not get a kick out of the three trails that Wesley must endure to rescue Buttercup?

But the other reason this film gets here is rather simple and often overlooked – that all of this is being told second-hand, as an old man tells this to his grandson. This is a story passed down through the generations, not as just a way to make people feel better when they’re sick, but to teach them about love and acceptance.

In the end “The Princess Bride” tells a story of two vastly different generations. One of fantasy and a fight for true love, and the other of a family growing close together through shared loves. To me, the scenes with Fred Savage and Peter Falk turn this film from a great fantasy into a timeless classic.

Well, those are just some of the my other favorite films that could have easily made my top 25 if there was a bit more room. I hope you enjoyed the quick looks at each of those films. Like I said, I might take a deeper look at each of those films in the future so be on the look out for those.

In the mean time, there is only one film left to look at this countdown – my favorite film of all time. If you’ve known me long enough, then you can probably guess what my favorite is. But if you only know of me through this blog, my top pick may surprise you.

Just in case, here is a refresher of the previous 24 films on this countdown.

25. “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” (1939)

24. “Ed Wood” (1994)

23. “Seven” (1995)

22. “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” (1966)

21. “Goodfellas” (1991)

20. “The Thing” (1982)

19. “Son Of Godzilla” (1967)

18. “Pleasantville” (1998)

17. “Singin’ In The Rain” (1951)

16. “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan” (1982)

15. “Under The Flag Of The Rising Sun” (1972)

14. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962)

13. “The Night Of The Hunter” (1955)

12. “Fargo” (1996)

11. “Strangers On A Train” (1951)

10. “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

9. “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre” (1948)

8. “Ran” (1985)

7. “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946)

6. “WALL-E” (2008)

5. “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” (1964)

4. “Rear Window” (1954)

3. “City Lights” (1931)

2. “Ikiru” (1952)

Stay tuned, because tomorrow I will reveal my number one pick and my favorite film of all time.

 

Paul’s Favorite Films – Number Two

What would you do if your doctor said you only had six months left to live? Would you spend it with family and friends? How about doing everything you’ve always wanted to do, but never could? Or would you attempt one last meaningful act that others would remember you for?

This is the dilemma for Kanji Watanabe, the middle-aged protagonist of the 1952 Japanese film “Ikiru.” It is also the driving force behind why “Ikiru” is a film everyone should watch at some point in their lives.

In Post-World War II Japan, Kanji Watanabe is the head bureaucrat of Tokyo City Hall. His job entails sending the same cases back and forth through other offices that ultimately come back to him. Nothing ever gets done. Watanabe has held this position for 30 years, and has never missed a day.

“He just drifts through life,” the narrator describes. “In fact, he’s barely alive.”

After a few days of stomach pains, Watanabe visits his doctor, only to find out he has gastric cancer and has roughly six months to live.

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Watanabe, not sure what to do with his life, drifts aimlessly through the city. His impending demise only serves to remind Watanabe that he’s done nothing with his life. No worthwhile memories or achievements. Nobody to remember him for who he really was. Even his only son thinks of him as a source of money, rather than someone with emotions and feelings.

“I just can’t die,” said Watanabe. “I don’t know what I’ve been living for all these years.”

Watanabe has thousands of dollars saved up for “something special” and wants to have a good time, but has no idea how to spend it.

He runs into a novelist at a bar, who takes Watanabe to Tokyo’s Red Light District, in the hopes of finding happiness. They go to pachinko bars, dance clubs, a strip show and even hook up with a few ladies of the night. By the end, Watanabe still feels empty and without purpose.

While the two take a rest at a piano bar, where everyone else dances merrily, the piano player asks for any requests. Watanabe asks if he knows “Life Is Brief.” While initially confused, the player remembers it as an old love song from the 1920s. The song starts out cheerfully and upbeat, until Watanabe sings along to the tune of finding someone to love and never letting go. To make one’s life matter before it is gone. All Watanabe can do is cry as he learns that song is about him.

It isn’t until Watanabe is found by a young female coworker that things change. He’s happy around her, because of her optimism on life. She wants to leave the bureaucrat business to work for a toy company, because knowing the toys she makes put smiles on children’s faces gives her purpose.

She tells Watanabe, “Why don’t you try making something too?”

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Suddenly, there’s a flicker of light in his eye. A smile comes across his face. “It’s not too late,” says Watanabe, as he rushes out of the restaurant to pursue one last meaningful act before he dies. As he walks out, a party from nearby begin to sing “Happy Birthday” for the girl walking up the stairs, but we know that song is being sung for Watanabe and his rebirth.

“Ikiru” is directed by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who also directed “Rashomon” (1950), and the influential films “Seven Samurai” (1954) and “The Hidden Fortress” (1958). While “Ikiru” does not contain a samurai, the film’s message and meaning are just as powerful today as they were in 1952.

We all strive to have purpose in our lives, and to ultimately be remembered long after we have departed this world. That our actions can be seen by others decades after we have turned to dust, and for those people to picture someone whose life meant something.

There is a point in all of our lives where we feel like all that is being accomplished is surviving from one day to the next. That we are merely drifting through life. Like Watanabe, we don’t notice that the path we’ve taken until it already too late.

“How tragic that man can never realize how beautiful life is until he is face to face with death,” says the novelist.

The emotional core of “Ikiru” lies here, and its something that I believe everyone on the face of the earth can relate to and understand. No matter your ethnicity, age or gender, there is something in “Ikiru” for everyone to latch onto. We are all like Kanji Watanabe. We seek meaning and fulfillment. We fear death and what it will bring about. We strive to make our lives matter.

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The tragedy and triumph come from the title “Ikiru,” which translates as “To Live.” Death isn’t a massive deal to Watanabe, but realizing that his life has meant nothing is the what gets him. He has only been surviving, instead of living. As he goes to bed the night after finding out about his cancer, he looks up at his certificate of 25 years without missing one day of work, he silently weeps, knowing nothing good has come out of that job.

“Ikiru” is the quiet classic from Kurosawa that proves he was an unparalleled filmmaker that didn’t always need sprawling epics and elaborate action sequences to fascinate audiences. Sometimes he merely needed a man’s realization that life should never be squandered and a descent into despair, followed by his rebirth. Without even trying, Kurosawa made a film that is universal and timeless, about someone like everybody else.

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Paul’s Favorite Films – Number Three

Now entering the home stretch of this countdown, we have come to the three films that I consider perfect. When I use the term “perfect film,” I mean one that succeeds at everything it set out to do. There is not one bad or average scene in these films, no wasted bits of dialogue, every performance delivers its emotional punch, and the pacing never drags on more than it needs to. Every part of these films is meticulously planned out to create a movie that is nothing short of a masterpiece.

These are the three films that deserve to be put in a museum and preserved for all eternity, to showcase how powerful and varied cinema can be as an art form.

For the first of these three films, we must go back to the beginnings of cinema. If there is one reoccurring trend among my favorite films, it is to showcase film history and films about filmmaking. “Sunset Boulevard” and “Singin’ In The Rain” use the end of the silent era of movies to enhance their scope yet doing vastly different variations, with one being a light-hearted musical and the other a film noir. “Ed Wood” is a biographical picture on one of the worst filmmakers in Hollywood, but chooses to portray him in a positive light by making him an eternal optimist. On the other side of that you have “Ran,” which was as much about Akira Kurosawa’s downward spiral in the Japanese film industry as it was about its medieval lord.

Suffice to say, movies about movies are the ones I cannot get enough of.

While this entry isn’t about filmmaking, the history behind why it was made makes it stand out more than any film from that era. Now that two films on this countdown have talked about the end of silent films and beginning of talkies, it is time to look at a film made during that era, Charlie Chaplin’s 1931 comedy “City Lights.”

There was a time where Charlie Chaplin’s character of The Tramp was the most recognizable image in the world. A simple design of a lovable guy, always on the receiving end of the authorities, who only seemed to have a need in helping others. In the dozens of short films released between 1914 and 1919, as well as feature-length films like “The Kid” and “The Gold Rush,” the Tramp would make us laugh with countless slap-stick sequences and tug at our heart-strings just seconds later.

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This is what made Charlie Chaplin a household name – his ability to bounce between comedy and drama so easily, yet pull off both so well. Perhaps it was because his stories were simple. They had to be, because of the technical limitations at the time. Chaplin relied on his body and unbreaking camera movement to make the audience laugh, while using his face and body movement to get them invested in his struggle.

This took a drastic change when sound was introduced in 1927.

Chaplin, who grew up as a vaudeville performer, believed that it was much easier to reach someone by using visuals instead of audio. That by talking to someone instead of showing it, is only distracting and annoying. As such, Chaplin was resistant to ever making a talkie, despite insistence from film studios.

By the beginning of the 1930s, there were no more silent films being made. Everyone wanted to watch talking pictures and found it hard to relate to characters that didn’t talk like everyone else. So Chaplin set out to prove a point – that even if talkies were the only type of films being made, silent cinema could still be just as powerful as any other film. That there would always be a place in the world for characters like The Tramp.

The result was his most emotional film with some of the greatest comedic long takes in cinema history, with “City Lights.”

The film follows Chaplin’s character The Tramp around a growing metropolis, as he gets into all sorts of antics with cops, a dance club and a drunk millionaire that he befriends after the Tramp saves his life. But the one who catches the Tramp’s eye is a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) that thinks he is a rich man who can afford to buy all of her flowers. The Tramp decides to play along with this charade so that she may live a happier life.

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Right out of the gate, “City Lights” takes the opportunity to mock talkies. The opening scene depicts the city officials opening up a new monument to “peace and prosperity.” When the representatives get up to speak, we only hear the sound of a kazoo (played by Chaplin) in the place of their talking. As if to say the words coming out of their mouths are nonsense and pointless dribble.

This is followed by the reveal of the Tramp sleeping on their peace monument, and doesn’t realize that he isn’t supposed to be there. His first reaction to people yelling at him is to tip is bowler hat in their direction. It’s not like he went out of his way to hurt anyone, the Tramp doesn’t know any better.

Chaplin had considered making “City Lights” into a talkie, as he couldn’t make the story work at certain points, in particular making the blind girl think the Tramp was a millionaire. But he decided against it, though still giving the film the full orchestral treatment and sound effects throughout the film.

Instead, Chaplin lets the Tramp’s body language and pantomime be the dialogue for us. The world around him looks down on the Tramp, mostly because of his social status and appearance. He is a bum with no friends, but wants nothing more than to make friends with everybody. Every character in this film talks at the Tramp, but he hardly says a word. Then again, he doesn’t need to.

This is what made the Tramp so endearing – He chooses to rarely speak, and lets his actions speak for him.

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Those actions throughout “City Lights” are some of the best Chaplin put to film. Every comedic sequence in this film is memorable for one reason or another and still make me laugh simply thinking about them. The previously mentioned opening sequence with the peace monument has the Tramp attempting to climb down, with his pants getting stuck on the sword of the statue while attempting to stay in one place with “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays. While all of this is going on, the Tramp simply tips his hat to anyone yelling at him.

The comedy throughout “City Lights” seems so effortless that it feels smooth and elegant, like a ballerina. In fact, that’s how I would describe this film – as a comedic ballet, where one comedy bit glides right into the next one while making it look easy.

In one particular instance, the Tramp and millionaire go to a dance club (after a few drinks, most of which gets poured down the Tramp’s pants). The floor is slippery from all the dancing and there is only table left. When the Tramp’s chair gets taken by the nearby table, he steals another chair and every partakes in a game of musical chairs, resulting in the Tramp wanting to fight someone else, only to slip on the floor.

But the shining instance comes when the Tramp must take part in a boxing match. Being a coward, the Tramp spends the entire first round hiding behind the referee, bobbing and weaving with the movements of the ref, much to the irritation of his opponent. In the later rounds, the Tramp gets the rope to the bell tied around his neck, so anytime he goes to his corner to rest, the bell rings and he starts the round again.

Once the comedy gets going, it never stops. There are few cuts and edits between these sequences, so the movement of the Tramp matching the referee and the look of disgust on his opponent’s face makes it all the more gut-wrenching hilarious.

I have no problem saying “City Lights” is the funniest film I have ever seen. There is a timeless quality to it that you don’t get out of most other comedies.

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But, like so many other great Chaplin films, “City Lights” gives us a poignant romance that makes the Tramp more than just a bum that gets into a lot of slap stick.

The flower girl is blind, so she cannot see the Tramp for who he is – a bum. She can only judge him by what he is – Generous, giving and selfless.

In one of the final scenes in the film, the Tramp has secured $1,000 from the millionaire, and immediately heads to the flower girl to give her the money for her rent. As he is about to, he takes $100 and puts it in his pocket, for his own needs. But he kisses her hand, looks at her and gives her the extra $100, simply shrugging the whole thing off.

In “City Lights,” people look at the Tramp and see his baggy pants, torn jacket, pale face and beat-up cane, and stereotype him as something to avoid. This makes the Tramp little more than an outsider. But the blind girl doesn’t see that, and is only aware of his actions. She may think he is a millionaire, but it comes across less like she cares about his money and more about his kind and caring nature. She constantly says that he doesn’t need to do this for her, but he is more than happy to help her out.

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This all leads up to the ending, which I will not spoil, where the situation is reserved and gives us one of the most emotional moments in cinema. That it isn’t about what your social status is in life, but that you accept people for who they are. That a tramp can be just as rich as a millionaire if you give him a chance.

The fall of silent cinema is unfortunate, considering that it has a power that films today lack. Without dialogue, without the need to be relatable and realistic, silent films used their given tools to transport us to a place where cultural boundaries didn’t exist. These films stay with you far longer than most sound pictures because they don’t need to talk to tell a story.

Yet, these films have been forgotten. Lost in time due to being so far behind the times. While filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin excelled at silent cinema, it is now a blessing and curse. No one will go out and see his films unless they actively search for them. But to those that do find his films, they will witness something magical.

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Paul’s Favorite Films – Number Four

Sometimes the best films are the ones that seem like they’re not even trying.

Alfred Hitchcock was quite possibly the best at doing this. Most of his great suspense work is seemless, you don’t even notice that your nerves are tense or that your breathing has increased. Hitchcock baited the audience in with someone we could trust, showed us his fears and insecurities and then plays with them, like a puppet master manipulating the audience instead of the puppet. We care about these characters because Hitchcock made us care.

This brings us to Hitchcock’s shining achievement in filmmaking, as debatable as that sounds. His 1954 thriller, “Rear Window,” feels different from his other films yet right at home at the same time. Hitchcock loved to play with perspective, with films like “Lifeboat” and “Rope,” the former of which being set entirely in a small lifeboat stranded at sea, and the latter being shot like a stage play taking place in one large apartment. “Rear Window” falls into the same category, but with a clever set up that leads to a point of view that I’ve never seen before.

L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart, last time you’ll see him on this countdown, I promise) has been laid-up in a New York apartment for six weeks with a heavy cast on his broken leg, after taking a daring photograph in the middle of a busy raceway. Jefferies has little to do while trapped here other than stare out his window and spy on his neighbors, even going to the point of nicknaming each of them, including Ms. Torso, the ballet dancer who has different men over every night, Ms. Lonely-Hearts, the aging woman who drinks herself to sleep and the nagging couple who can’t stand the sight of each other.

Jeff also has a girlfriend who is obsessed with him, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly). But Jeff sees the two of them going nowhere, since she is absorbed into the New York lifestyle of fashion, gossip and looks, while Jeff wants to see the world through a lens.

As Jeff is falling asleep one night, he begins to hear and see things that he shouldn’t have – like a woman’s scream, several trips in and out of an apartment in the middle of the night, and saws, knives and rope. Jeff puts the pieces that he knows together, as suspects that a murder has taken place.

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The first point to note is “Rear Window” takes place entirely from Jeff’s apartment. Nearly every camera angle is from the perspective of his window, as we rarely zoom in on the faces of those Jeff is watching. Like Jeff, we are restricted and forced to see everything from one point of view, confined to what we can see from a large window. We only see what Jeff sees, which makes piecing together a murder quite difficult.

This is what makes “Rear Window” so unique. Everything we see is shown in plain view and without telling us anything. Instead, we’re shown the images and piece together the puzzle along with Jeff. Of course, the puzzle is incomplete, as we only see fragments of the what goes on in the Thorvald house. But where would the fun be if we saw everything that happened in their house?

Jeff is incapable of interacting with what he sees through that window. He can only make snide comments about Ms. Torso being so friendly with every man who walks through her door or the song writer that can’t finish his newest number. While he puts everything together and realizes that it equals murder, we watch only his eyes dart around. He is powerless to stop anything from outside his window from happening, including Lisa going into the Thorvald’s apartment to find clues.

Which brings me to the biggest reason I love “Rear Window.” Because of Jeff’s inability to interact with anything he sees, his tendency to spy on people who don’t know they’re being spied on and the limited point of view, “Rear Window” takes a strange stance on movie watching. After all, when we are watching movies, are we not spying on private lives?

Think of Jeff’s window as the movie screen, which the opening of the film shows the curtains opening up like a theater curtain. We don’t know these people, but they’re going about their daily lives, unaware that we are watching them. In a sense, watching a movie is voyeurism. It is wrong to spy on others, but we do it every time we go to the theater.

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“That’s a secret private world your looking into out there,” says the detective Jeff hires to investigate this incident. “People do a lot of things in private that they couldn’t possibly explain in public.”

“Rear Window” is one of the rare films that puts the protagonist in the same position as the audience – bound, limited to a restricted point of view, quick to make assumptions about everything he sees through his screen, taking a passive role throughout the film and keeps everything out of arms reach, including the people who care about him.

Perhaps that is the reason Jeff doesn’t want to be Lisa. Not because the two of them are from very different worlds and both of them are unwilling to accommodate the other, but because Jeff is only interested in what we can see through his lens. Jeff loves photography and spying on his neighbors, looking at others from a far distance.

Lisa is more than willing to indulge Jeff in his obsessions to spy, and offer him fancy dinners with champagne, give him free publicity in the New York photography scene. All in the hopes that Jeff will settle down and marry her. Yet Jeff keeps his distance, as Lisa even points out one night while they’re making out, his body might be here, but his mind is on the other side of the room.

It isn’t until Lisa becomes apart of his little spy game and actively searches for answers to the murder that Jeff begins to notice her. He sees the adventurous side of her that gets him excited.

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The strange part of all this is that each room Jeff spys on has a relationship to him and Lisa. The Thorvald’s and their constant nagging show exactly what Jeff wants to avoid with Lisa, while Ms. Lonely-Hearts is what Jeff is doing to Lisa – leaving her sad and feeling unwanted. The composer is searching for something to love, and ends up creating a beautiful melody which becomes Jeff and Lisa’s song. While a newlywed couple who have recently moved across the way spend the entire film with the shades down, only to bicker about money by the end of the movie.

I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but that is part of the charm of “Rear Window.” Every moment adds up in this film, even though it never feels like it should. Most of the time, the images feel random and only add to the slice of life that Jeff is now stuck in. But as the clues to murder pile up and we watch these families and loners change over time, everything falls into place. It takes multiple viewings, but each time this film gets better.

“Rear Window” manages to do all of this without even trying. This all feels so laid-back and non-chelant, a film that takes place entirely from one room with a massive view. It walks a tight rope between entertainment and believability, but in this case that rope is so tiny that it is practically invisible. Which makes the film look as though it is walking on air.

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Paul’s Favorite Films – Number Five

I often find myself asking one question all the time – Above all else, what should a film be?

Over the course of this countdown, we’ve seen twenty different ways to answer that question. A film can be atmospheric like “Seven” and “The Night Of The Hunter,” or it could be touching like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Fargo,” while others could be suspenseful like “Strangers On A Train.” Of course, every once in a while, we get an analytical film that touches upon social issues and cultures of all shapes and sizes, like with “Ran” and “WALL-E.”

But, when it comes right down to it, none of this means anything if a movie isn’t one thing – entertaining.

I’m not afraid to admit it, for all of cinemas’ subtleties, advancements and vast range of storytelling, that would go no where if audiences did not have fun with these films. The reason I hate films like “Casablanca,” “Blade Runner” and most Ingmar Bergman movies is quite simple, I do not find them entertaining. Film is certainly an art form, but it is also a form of entertainment, like any other media or art form. If art does not give you any enjoyment, then it fails.

I bring this up, because we have now arrived in my top five favorite films of all time, and we are starting off with what I consider the most entertaining movie I have ever seen. For others, they’ll jump to the original trilogy for “Star Wars,” or the Indiana Jones films, and more recently the “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy. While I have a blast with each of those movies, there is one movie that makes me smile all the way through. A film that has never failed to get me excited and appreciate how much fun cinema can be.

That film is Ishiro Honda’s 1964 monster epic, “Mothra Vs. Godzilla.” Oh yeah, we’re going back to the Godzilla franchise.

While “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan” is still the film I have watched more than any other, “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” is most likely the second highest, and certainly the Godzilla film I have watched the most. This was strange as a kid, since my favorite Godzilla movie growing up was “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” for having a long and drawn-out battle between two titans atop Mt. Fuji. Though, over the years, I realized the plot and characters did not hold up and the only reason to watch the movie was because of the final confrontation, like most giant monster movies.

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But “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” taught me that it was possible for a daikaiju film to have a strong narrative that was as interesting to watch as the monster scenes. That a monster movie shouldn’t be only about the monsters, but the people effected by these monsters and their attempts to combat them, or simply survive.

Granted, looking back on this, 1954’s “Godzilla” covered this topic better than any other monster movie, but that film didn’t have Godzilla fighting a giant moth and the advanced effects they would have in 1964.

The film starts with a massive typhoon hitting Japan, destroying an industrial park area. More surprising though is that a giant egg washes up on a Japanese beach, leaving everyone surprised as to where it came from. Before researchers can find out about this egg, a business man by the name of Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima) buys the egg from the local fishermen and intends to make a theme park with the egg as the center attraction.

A local reporter (Akira Takarada) and his photographer (Yuriko Hoshi) look into the matter and find that Kumayama is being funded by one of the richest business men in Japan, Banzo Torahata (Kenji Sahara). As the two discuss their plans, they’re visited by two unexpected guests – Mothra’s twin fairies, who claim that the egg belongs to Mothra and that it must be returned to them, before Mothra hatches and causes great damage across Japan.

Though this might be the least of their problems, as it seems that typhoon washed ashore something bigger and more dangerous than Mothra.

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“Mothra Vs. Godzilla” has an interesting atmosphere, unlike any other monster film out of Japan. Other than “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” this was the first film Toho would make that has two monsters battling it out. Prior to this, they focused on solo monster endeavors, like “Rodan,” “Varan” and most notably, “Godzilla” and “Mothra.” As such, Toho wanted to make this match-up feel grand and epic, or at least more so than usual. Their solution to this was to carry over as many themes and atmosphere from “Godzilla” and “Mothra” into this film.

“Godzilla” was a morbid, gritty look at the lives of a frail Japan being savagely beat down by a giant monster, made of the same atomic fire they had witnessed first hand. Throughout all the destruction and chaos, the film chooses to focus on individuals stuck in this unbelievable scenario, like a shot where Godzilla is about to destroy an apartment complex and we see every window full of people looking up in never-ending horror.

“Mothra,” however, was less about the frailty of man, and more about the horror of man, in particular greed. In that film, Mothra’s twin fairies are kidnapped and forced into show business, with Mothra traveling across Japan to save them and destroying anything in its path. Ultimately, “Mothra” is about the pain that man inflicts upon itself.

One might think these two have little in common. One is dark and disturbing, while the other is whimsical and prone to break into musical numbers. This is why these two were born to fight one another. To watch these two drastically different styles of filmmaking and atmosphere clash and give us a product that is the best of both films.

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Much like in “Mothra,” this film finds something of the giant moth’s being used to make a profit. Both Kumayama and Torohata are unwilling to give the egg back, since Mothra has no legal power. Where this film differs is that these men are far more fleshed-out than the villain in “Mothra.”

Kumayama saw an opportunity to make a name for himself and refuses to let it go. It seems to be less about the money for him, and more about reputation, as his projections for how much they’ll make out of this are lower than Torohata’s numbers. When the fishermen complain that they haven’t gotten their money for the egg and the land to build the park, Kumayama insists that he will pay them back the next day, even though there’s a rumor the park will never open due to the bad press.

By the end of the film, Kumayama is a desperate man who wanted everything to be fair, only for Torohata to betray his loyalty and use him to become even more powerful. Simply because that’s how business works.

“Mothra Vs. Godzilla” takes the themes of greed and capitalism of “Mothra,” but gives it a more human touch by making the characters relatable and sometimes heart-breaking, like those being destroyed in “Godzilla.”

The size and scope of “Godzilla” is also still in full effect, though is enhanced by having superior effects in this film. In particular, Godzilla’s opening rampage is one of the most haunting monster sequences I can think of. It starts off with Godzilla rising out of the ground, as if he were a zombie ready to feast again. Once Godzilla reaches Nagoya, we start with seeing Godzilla’s figure way in the distance, only for the camera to get closer and closer, until Godzilla is destroying a building right in front of our faces.

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This sequence makes full use of rear projection and super-imposing images of Godzilla over live shots of Nagoya fleeing from this monstrosity. “Godzilla” used this a few times, but here we see Godzilla tower over the massive city landscape, to the point where it looks like he is still miles away and is already bigger than most of the skyscrapers.

For this reason, and many more throughout the film, “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” has the best effects of any Toho monster film. During the 1950s and 1960s, no other film studio was doing what Toho did and was doing so well – they made creatures bigger than anything we had constructed up to that point and making them seem believable and still terrifying. We would fight it with everything we had, even though we were sure it wouldn’t do anything.

The filmmakers understand the scale and power these abominations possess, and that they offer a struggle we might lose but certainly worth fighting.

Unlike almost any other monster film, the military in “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” is intelligent. They understand what they’re fighting and know that it cannot be stopped, only incapacitated or moved to an area with fewer casualties. They lure Godzilla to an area with no civilians, and drive him to where they want him to go with fire, with the effects crew accidentally setting Godzilla’s head on fire at one point (though it is shocking to see on film). Once there, the military unleashes millions of volts of electricity on Godzilla, which do down Godzilla at one point.

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Once again, this makes the characters not feel like they’re putting on a performance to the camera, but that they’re humans doing their best to fight something beyond their power.

This is why “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” is the most entertaining movie to me. It takes my favorite movie genre of giant monsters, never skips on a chance for exciting action with one-of-a-kind effects, and still plans out every scene, character and monster fight to the last detail to give us a movie that respects its audience. It combines eye-popping visuals with a great story, something you don’t see too often in the monster genre.

Of course, the crowning moments in the film are the fights between Mothra and Godzilla. Mothra, being a creäture of beauty and kindness (in terms of monsters), does not fight like any other monster. She prefers to out-wit her opponents and get them in a position where they cannot hit her, using her maneuverability and wind to keep them away. Godzilla is a monster of brute strength and will take a threat directly to the face if he has to. Together, these two have a cat-and-mouse style fight, where you’re never too sure who is the cat and mouse.

This is made more suspenseful when we’re told that Mothra is dying and has little strength left, but will use the last of it to stop Godzilla.

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The battle at the end of the film is as fun to watch, though I always find myself switching sides on who to root for. Mothra’s egg finally hatches and gives birth to two Mothra larva, who immediately head for Godzilla to fight him. This turns into a battle of brains against brawn and the monster equivalent of David against Goliath. The twin Mothra’s can only dodge Godzilla’s atomic ray (which apparently is now strong enough to melt solid rock) and use their webbing to slow him down.

What helps sell these fights, as well as any scenes with Godzilla and Mothra, is the music. Composer Akira Ifukube scored nearly every Toho monster film between 1954 and 1995, but “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” is his best work. His style of music was not to ecompany the scene, but enhance the atmosphere and give some moments a bigger emotional punch. This is the film where Ifukube would nail down the classic Godzilla theme, which would be used in nearly every Godzilla film from that point on. That theme carries a power that matches Godzilla’s slow methodical pace, but also his immeasurable strength, like a bomb that has crashed and could go off at any moment.

Yet the quiet almost lullaby of Mothra’s theme provides a nice contrast to the Godzilla theme. These pieces of music perfectly capture their respective characters, and makes their fights far more intense when their themes are also fighting for control.

“Mothra Vs. Godzilla” is a great example of every film aspect coming together to produce the most entertaining film in the Godzilla franchise. The effects have never been better, the writing is logical and relatable, the acting matches the writing perfectly, the music is larger than life and makes so many scenes better, and the monsters are still amazing to watch. This film manages to take what “Godzilla” and “Mothra” started and makes it even better, providing a film that always makes me excited when I see it.

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