This past week I have been away and lamenting the fact there aren’t any movies that I care to see or spend money on at the theatre. I am also recognizing that many of my favourite films are ones I have seen long ago and haven’t been reviewed here. I was asked just a couple days ago what memorable movies have I watched lately and I was hard pressed to think of many. It is easier to back into my own personal archives in my head to come up with favourite movies. So as a result I will take some time to talk about films that are on the top of my list. Typically when I am asked about my favourite film I will say that I have three. There are lists that were noted earlier in my writing. The top ones haven’t changed. But let me expand upon the selections and why.
Shawshank Redemption is a choice that I have discussed before usually referring to other films or lists. To me, this is really a film about friendship and hope. Having just spent a few days with a really good friend, I value this tremendously. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is a young banker and accused of murdering his wife, who had announced she was divorcing him. He is found guilty and sent to a Maine prison in the 40s. He meets up with “Red”, played brilliantly by Morgan Freeman. Most, if not all readers, will know the plot from here as Andy goes through his time at Shawshank. These two men and others around them find the value of hope, and friendship as well as being “institutionalized”. There is drama and suspense and an unexpected resolution. I think I am most moved by one the closing scenes with Red. Andy has made a request of him and he looks to fulfill it. In that moment when an uncertain leap of faith has materialized a lifeline is given. Hope. This is an old reliable film that I can watch time and again. Each time it moves me even though I know where the story is going. The performances are universally solid. The warden, the chief of the guards (Mr Hadley) and the librarian are all very good. This is a film on the top of many people’s lists that I know, both men and women. It surprises me a little about women since they are not represented here for the story. But I think a good story is still a good story. See it if you haven’t. See it again if you haven’t in a while.
Jaws I re-saw just at the end of December on the big screen at TIFF Lightbox as part of a special presentation. I brought my youngest son. We had Jaws t-shirts on and watched in a crowded theatre. This for me is two stories. There is the small town drama in the beginning for the town council to make a tough decision about beaches being closed during the beginning of peak summer holiday season. But once made, it turns into an adventure on the sea with nature playing chess with man. It is a master directorial effort by Steven Spielberg in the film that made his career. With a wonky and temperamental mechanical shark in real life, he found ways for the viewer to believe the shark was there. Barrels and music were key contributors. Colourful Quint (Robert Shaw) and his story of the USS Indianapolis adds to the seriousness but there are a few laughs along the way. I saw this film multiple times in the theatre when it first came out as a kid. I had a memorable plastic shark given as a stocking stuffer that year for Christmas. I can watch this film time and again. I still have a bucket list item to try and see a great white (or other big shark) up close in their territory. Quite simply the beginning of summer blockbusters and the remarkable film career for Steven Spielberg.
Finally I have Amadeus as a third favourite. I also saw this not too long ago when it played with a live orchestra at the Toronto Hummingbird Centre. What a performance! For me I am in awe of the creative process and Mozart remains one of the world’s foremost composers ever. He was a rock star of his age, but most think of those composers as stuffy and serious performing “boring” music. It is far from it. Mozart was creating new and remarkable works that stand the test of time. When Sir Neville Marriner the music director for Academy of St Martins in the Fields was asked about being part of this film (it was a play first) he said he was interested but only if “not one note of the music was changed”. It wasn’t. And the music is another character in the movie. Listen how Antonio Salieri speaks about the Mozart music he hears and sees on the page. He is a rival, he wants to be famous himself, but he is angry at God for not giving him the talent. He can only recognize the incarnation. He represents the “Everyman” who puts in his time and then fades away. I think the by-play between the two men is remarkable. F. Murray Abraham won the Oscar for this performance defeating Tom Hulce. He is amazing. It is a performance of a lifetime and one he landed right after finishing with Scarface. There are some funny stories about filming in Prague in the early 80s. Milos Forman the director was a native Czech who was just returning to his homeland having fled the Communists. Not many films show the creative process. Fewer still can reflect it as well on such a timeless subject as this one. Is this story true? No. There are plenty of accounts that suggest that Salieiri was not in any involved in the death of Mozart. Still the story is is relatable and compelling. It is truly heartbreaking to see the great musical genius taken away at such an early age. One wonders what further masterpieces he would have made. This film showcasing his talent is just another one.