The T&C 100 - #s 8-10
10. E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1983)
The best child performance ever. It's that simple; that's what makes this film endure so. Henry Thomas is completely unaffected as Elliott, allowing us to feel his love for, and pain over, E.T. in a very real way. And it is that empathy that makes the film work. It is that empathy that makes that ending so very painful to watch; we believe that this sweet, lost little boy is having his heart torn out as we watch, while at the same time we recognize the inevitability of it all. The story itself is really very simple, but the execution is so well-handled that we are drawn in completely and utterly. What is perhaps most amazing is how much we believe in E.T. himself, though, given how it's really just a big rubber puppet. All of the design and conceptual choices that went into the creation of the alien work in perfect harmony - from that ungainly neck, to the immense heart shining through his skin to the frog-like, ancient-young voice. As much as we believe in Elliott, we believe in E.T. All that being said, the film would not be the same without John Wiliams' iconic score, one of his best. What I love the most about it is how unafraid Williams is to let loose his inner Romantic and just unleash a huge wave of big, sweeping, overwrought music (replete with booming tympani at the end). In another film it would all be too much, but here it works perfectly. Especially in that remarkable final sequence, where Williams delivers something like twelve minutes of music with very little dialogue. In those moments E.T. gains an operatic, larger than life stature that it wears very well indeed.
T&C - a wreck.
9. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Disney's crowning achievement, and easily one of the best movie musicals ever. Disney's current domination of Broadway has made it difficult to remember how surprising it was in 1991 to get a Disney film musical with music better than the vast majority of contemporary Broadway musicals. And it is Alan Menken's core that really makes this film, with its complete self-assurance and perfect fit to the tone, characters, and story. One need only cue up to those opening ominous, fairy-tale steeped chords that underscore the opening narration to see how intrinsic Menken's music is to the film. Of course, this is also a gorgeous film, with a great design for the Beast that doesn't soften him up too much, the beautifully rendered castle, the just-enough quality of the caricaturing on Gaston, and, of course, that historic CGI-aided shot of the Beast and Belle dancing that spins down from the chandelier. This is easily my favorite animated film, and one that I am bursting at the seams to introduce to my three-year olds.
Favorite moment. The montage that "Something There" accompanies; something about that short scene of Beast and Belle playing in the snow moves me deeply.
8. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
I was surprised myself that this wasn't higher, but that's how the chips fell. I guess there are seven films I love more. Still, this is for me, like it is for so many pop culture nerds of my generation, a real touchstone. I know it has become fashionable to discount it or a number of flaws, but I think those criticisms really miss the point. Is the dialogue bad? Of course it is. It's a throwback to cheesy serials of old, with a very deliberate sense of that Boy's Life high adventure tone. Were the dialogue deeper, more natural, it would throw the tone completely out of alignment. It would be like Lord of the Rings - and while I love those films to pieces, Star Wars was never aiming for that kind of solemn, historical, weighty tone. It was supposed to be light, very kid-friendly, and ever-so-vanishingly campy. And it is, gloriously so. At the same time, Lucas invested the very archetypical story with enough weight to grab us emotionally, so that moments like Solo's last-minute save feel triumphant. But perhaps most important, and the least easy to define, is the way the film created such a believeable universe (in the sense of having internal logic and a tightly wound sense of the rules and logic of this universe, not in the sense of being "real"). It is precisely this sense of a whole fantastical science fiction-inspired world that I bellieve made the film the phenomenon it was. In a sense the whole world of sequels, and novels, and comics and other extensions of this world are what captured audiences so, even before those things had been created.
Favorite moment. Ben sacrifices himself for Luke. Again, wholly archetypical, but perfect for the film.