The T&C 100 - #s 5-7
7. Schindler's List (1993)
The historic "Spielberg grows up" film. Schindler's list is a movie that can't help but be manipulative, given the subject matter, and that yet does a remarkable job of muffling that easy pathos by giving us a very clear look at a very flawed "hero," a black-and-white look that removes us a level from what is going on, that gives the film a patina of unreality; and an unflinching view of what the world was really like for these characters. Seeing Ralph Fiennes unsentimentally shoot a defenseless Jew in the head, in quasi-documentary style, with none of the violence airbrushed or cut away from, is actually less heartstring-pulling - less emotional - than had the music soared and the camera "tastefully" looked away. Anchoring all of this is the central performance by Liam Neeson, whose refusal to pander or over-sell the big moments, again, keeps us grounded and able to view what is happening from a more-clinical take. All that said, what makes the film work is, of course, that all of those tricks together can't remove us completely from what is going on, can't keep our emotions at bay. And, since this is Spielberg, he does, in a few moments, acknowledge the pathos (the girl in the red coat, for example) - and because the rest of the film is so clinical, those moments hit thrice as hard.
Favorite moment. When Schindler realizes, relatively, how little he's done - and how much more he could have done.
6. The Godfather (1972)
It's been oft-mentioned that The Godfather represents a classic example of film taking a not-very deep story and elevating it to art. And as one examines the elements that make up the story, it's easy to see that dynamic in play - son of criminal family wants to walk straight path but gets pulled in. Not earth-shattering, not obviously deep, and yet the film takes that basic story and makes it into myth, epic historical saga, and Greek tragedy all rolled up into one. And that this was all accomplished under the auspices of a hostile studio with a pretty green director at the helm makes the accomplishment all the more stunning. The real key here, as far as I'm concerned, is the actors - Keaton, Brando, Pacino, Caan, and Duvall all turn in finely nuanced performances that completely sell the reality of the world and the stakes at hand. The Godfather represents one of those things that no one could have predicted, just a confluence of luck, fate, and smart choices that happened to result in what may endure as the great American movie.
Favorite moment. The great, much imitated Christening sequence.
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The quintessential action/adventure movie. One of the all-time great pairings of actor and character. An exacting tone that lets the goofier moments and the dramatic moments work. A supernatural ending that on the page sounds hoary and ridiculous, but on screen works perfectly. An early example of a leading lady who is the hero's equal, and not someone to be saved. An effortless-sounding theme that sounds as if it generated the character, and not the other way around. some of the most thrilling, expertly shot and assembled action sequences of all time. A canny pace of set-up/action that snowballs throughout the film into a final action/action/action sequence that has never been equaled. An 80s film that because of its period nature and old-fashioned serial tone, will never, never go out of style. Raiders, quite simply, has it all.
Favorite moment. Indy goes under the truck. One of those moments where they really got me - I remember thinking "he's trapped! he's dead!" And then - under the truck.