Friday, November 28, 2008

The grand art of the epic movie

I have serous doubts that Baz Luhrmann's "Australia" will ever end up on this list, but I'm still fairly certain that any attempt to create the Australian "Gone With the Wind" should at least be maddeningly entertaining when I get to see it tomorrow (since Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire," getting perhaps the slowest rollout of all time, won't even hit ATL until next week.)

Even though I'm certain that most of the rest of the world surely has better things to do than sit in front of a computer on the day after Thanksgiving, I have to work a half day so I thought I'd spend a little time on this beforehand.

And before anyone point out that my definition of epic is just too loose to even be considered (or that I almost completely omitted war movies, which just aren't my cup of tea in general), remember that this is my list, so I make the rules. So, in honor of the return of Baz Luhrmann (surely a reason to cheer in my little corner of the world), here are my 10 favorite "epic" movies of all time. Please feel free to add any of the many, many, many I have omitted.

"The Godfather"
Though I certainly have respect for the "The Godfather: Part II," the inclusion on this list ends with the first movie, which is still simply the best movie about a crime family ever made (though you'll soon see another on this list too.)

"The Last Emperor"
There's so much to recommend in Bernardo Bertolucci's tale of Pu Yi, the titular last emperor of China, but what I enjoy most each time I go back and watch it again is the humor that comes in the proposition of handing the supposed reigns of a crumbling empire to a child. Priceless.

"Seven Samurai"
If the traditional epic has to have at least one hero, I'd argue (and be far from alone) that Toshiro Mifune's Kikuchiyo is still the best of the bunch. And though it brings me no pleasure whatsoever, it's still my duty to share that the IMDB still has a "Seven Samurai" remake listed with this rather ominous synopsis: A town in Northern Thailand recruits seven Blackwater-type paramilitary contractors from around the world to defend against an imminent attack. Don't get me started ...

Once Upon a Time in America
My parents surely wish I wouldn't share this story, but when I was 14 (old enough, probably) and my brother 11 (surely not), they took us to see Sergio Leone's rather amazing but more than occasionally tawdry gangland saga in the theater. We ended up leaving as Robert De Niro's Noodles was raping Elizabeth McGovern in the limo, a fact which still shames me to this day, because there are very few better American crime stories on film, if you're old enough to appreciate it.

"Apocalypse Now"
"The Deer Hunter" almost made this list too, but as far as Vietnam movies go this one is rightly heralded as the best because no other war movie showcases the futility and - of course - madness of war quite like it.

"Boogie Nights"
Paul Thomas Anderson drew what I felt was at least slightly more acclaim than he deserved for last year's "There Will Be Blood," certainly an epic American tale in its own right, but one that just left me a little cold. A well-made movie for sure, and both Daniel Day Lewis and an underrated Paul Dano were exceptional, but I'll take the fun of those tawdry "Boogie Nights" (and Don Cheadle selling stereo equipment in Western attire) every time.

"Bonnie and Clyde"
Though it at first comes close to romanticizing a truly notorious pair of criminals (and how could you not with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty on board?), but by the end Arthur Penn manages to craft probably the best movie about America's obsession with violence. And just still a lot of fun to boot.

"Malcolm X"
If you haven't seen Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna" yet, I'd still recommend watching it on DVD, even though it's a maddeningly uneven movie. It shows touches of Spike throughout, but they were all harnessed into a single movie three times: For "Do the Right Thing," "When the Levees Broke" and here, in the movie that still stands as the single biggest Oscar snub ever in my book.

"The Fifth Element"
As long as we've been hearing the name Luc Besson, I was amazed to find he only has 15 finished or coming feature films to his credit as a director (though tons more as a producer), four of which are in the "Arthur and the ..." children's series he's now fixated on. I can still remember seeing "The Big Blue" in a French movie theater and falling for it instantly, but this goofy space opera that combines just about everything I love in movies is still my favorite Besson flick (with "Nikita" and "Leon" getting a very stylish honorable mention.)

For a story that takes place over just a few days in one city, the late Robert Altman's flick captures America in a certain time and place as well as any I can think of, and though his skill at weaving multiple story lines into a single quilt is often imitated, it's never been close to re-created. Rest in peace, Mr. Altman.

So, there you have it. Please feel free to add any that hold a place in your movie heart, and have a great weekend.


Anonymous said...

Solid list, although I haven't seen The Last Emperor or Once Upon a Time in America yet.

A few of my epic favorites are, in no particular order:
The Color Purple
The Godfather Trilogy
Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut)
A Very Long Engagement
The New World
There Will Be Blood

Reel Fanatic said...

I can get behind almost all of those, V-Knowledge, especially the director's cut of "Kingdom of Heaven" ... That's a movie I skipped in the theater, but once I got to watch it on DVD I really got into it

Eric said...

Once in a Time in America was great if you get the directors cut. the version originally released to the theaters in the US sucked in that original Blade runner cut sort of way. The final version was as my good friend puts it, 'lyrical and poetic'
Though i have long had a soft spot for Sergio Leone. And you left out his epic Once Upon a Time in the West.

Bob said...

Nice inclusion of "Once Upon a Time in America." I love "The Fifth Element," though I don't think I'd call it an epic. :)
My favorite epic though is "Lawrence of Arabia." I've seen it in 70mm twice and it's just staggering.

Reel Fanatic said...

The U.S. version would have been the one that my parents pulled us out of, Eric, though not for the aesthetic reasons you mention ... On DVD I have the director's cut, which as you correctly say is a masterpiece ... And I also like Once Upon a Time in the West as much as you do too

dbackdad said...

It's refreshing to see someone mention the Fifth Element. I've probably watched it 25 times.

It had everything -- stylish costume design by Gaultier, humor, romance, inspired casting for the leads, but also in it's cameos: Lee Evans, Luke Perry, Tricky, Mathieu Kassovitz (of Amelie). Oldman is my all-time favorite actor and Holm seems to always find himself in my favorite sci-fi films (Element, LOTR, Alien, Time Bandits, Brazil).

The rest of your list is great too.

Mercurie said...

My favourite epic of all time is The Seven Samurai. I think it is also one of the most remade movies of all time (just look at A Bug's Life....).

I have to include El Cid among my favourite epics. I saw it when I was a child and it still works for me.

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