Top Ten Movies of 2011

I love movies. I love the art of film more than any other art form and I love discussing this art form. That’s why I spend time reviewing and discussing movies on this site. What I love more than reviewing though is making top ten lists. Don’t get me wrong, I love reviewing movies, but it is so fun to- from time to time- not just establish why I liked or disliked a film, but to also discuss a film within the context of other films. I haven’t posted a top ten list in a while (Top Ten Horror Movies) because I’ve been preparing for this list.

I look forward to posting a top ten list every year that allows me to discuss my favorite films of that year. I will say that this was a pretty lackluster year. It felt like a year in film where my favorite directors weren’t working. And that’s completely true; the Coen Brothers didn’t make a film this year for the first time in four years, Tarantino’s western, Django Unchained, is coming in 2012 as is my most anticipated movie of 2012, Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. However, like any year no matter how underwhelming it was, 2011 still offered a handful of films that I could not live with out. This is a list celebrating those films…

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was not the masterpiece that I had hoped for. I can’t ignore the fact that I did get a lot of enjoyment out of this film though. This is a tale of espionage that needed to be told and what you get in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, instead of relentless action is a bleak and enthralling examination of loyalty, betrayal and what a man will do to carry out his duty.

9. Hesher

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is simply brilliant as the title character. This is dark comedy filled with anarchy, vulgarity and rage. Hesher is able to stand above a lot of black comedies and its of my favorite films of the year for one reason, it has a lot of heart. Initially, it can be ones first reaction to be as apathetic as the title character, but by the end you can’t help but care about these characters.

8. Moneyball

It’s rare for me to find a sports movie that really loved, but Moneyball is one of those exceptions. This film certainly didn’t affect as much as almost every other film on this list. Nevertheless, Moneyball is such a fantastic film all around that it was hard for me not to put it even higher on my list. Also, there was a lot of drama in this story for me because I- unlike most- had no idea how the events would play out.

7. 50/50

50/50 is quite the memorable film. It’s easy to remember if only for the way it mixes hilarious comedy with tear jerking drama. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives his best performance in a career of great performances. 50/50 offers up a completely unforgettable experience that’s more than comedy or drama that can make you laugh at times and cry at others. It’s a film I can’t wait to watch again because it is simply and unquestionably amazing.

6. Attack the Block

If you would’ve asked me five months ago what my favorite movie of the year was I would’ve said with out a doubt in my mind, Attack the Block. It just misses my top 5 because this year offered most of its glory in its final months. Attack the Block, unlike most films with similar subject matter, takes itself completely seriously. Instead of just throwing aliens in the mix, Attack the Block has a coherent and interesting plot. Joe Cornish’s first film is spectacular.

5. Shame

With Shame, director Steve McQueen looks at ideas of addiction, family and self-hatred through the unbelievably mature character study of a sex-addict. Michael Fassbender gives the greatest male performance of the year as main character, Brandon Sullivan. Shame takes the glamourous world of sex and shows exactly what it can be. Without hesitation, this is the most emotionally draining film I’ve seen in a very long time and I loved every single powerful minute of it.

4. Bellflower

Bellflower is a film that left me absolutely speechless. It was a film that stuck with me long after I watched it and the more I think about it, the more I find it extraordinary. The story is unique, fascinating and one meant to be savored, the interactions in this film are deliciously and incredibly palpable, the imagery can be beautiful and at other times be haunting, but  most of the time the film manages to blend the two together. That’s what happens when you mix ideas of apocalypse and love. There is a lot to take in when it comes to the film Bellflower and it’s truthfully something to experience for yourself.

3. Beginners

Beginners is a completely charming film about the moments and people that make life worth living. At its heart Beginners is a love story, but the drama isn’t in whether or not this man and woman will fall in love, it’s in whether or not these two can actually take a leap of faith and believe in love. Past the love story, Beginners has so much more to offer. This is an unbelievably breathtaking film about who we are and what makes us that way. While Beginners is incredibly meaningful, the filmmaking is gorgeous and the acting is flawless. All this to say, Beginners is and always will be a one of kind masterpiece.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher is an amazing director and my favorite to have made a film this year. Practically everything he makes is a masterpiece and yes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is just that. Fincher is able to shine bright with dark tales of killers (SE7EN, Zodiac), but he is able to even surpass those two brilliant films with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo merely because there is more emotion and subsequently an attachment to the characters at hand.

Rooney Mara gives the greatest performance of the year, hands down, as title character Lisbeth Salander. Salander is damaged, she’s strong, she’s dark, she’s layered, yet she has a soul and Mara plays the character to perfection. There are so many pieces to this story, aside from just Salander, and Fincher manages to blend these pieces together to make for a relentlessly beautiful cinematic experience that never fails to keep you invested and entertained.

1. Drive

Drive is profound film the offers up the definition to the word, masterpiece. When it comes to film, a masterpiece should be a piece of art because cinema is a beautiful art form and one that needs films like Drive to serve as a reminder of that fact. It’s not enough to just be technically beautiful though, a true masterpiece needs to be entertaining. A true masterpiece needs offer a form of escape because at the end of the day, that is the point of film. Drive is truly a masterpiece and the best film of 2011.

Drive proves that the way one tells a story is just as important as the story itself. From a filmmaking stand point, director Nicolas Winding Refn has made a perfect film. Both the mood and tone of the film are defined and never tarnished, each moment is made memorable through elegant editing and cinematography, the music is phenomenal, the violence is grotesque and somehow fitting, but what’s truly breathtaking is in the way the film seamlessly flows from one mesmerizing moment to the next.

I won’t even mention a single performance because it would be an insult to mention one performance without mentioning every single fantastic performance in this film. Drive has the ability to be so much. It can be thrilling, it can be heart felt, it can be tense, it can be inspiring, it can be dramatic, it can be frightening, it can be glorious, it can be gorgeous, but what it never stops being most of all is riveting. Drive is a masterpiece that flawlessly blends substance and style and resonates with the ideas of exactly why we go to the movies.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

I’d like to open this review by being as blunt as the movie I’m reviewing; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a masterpiece. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a murder mystery, it’s an examination of family values gone wrong, it’s a character study, it’s a portrait of the violence and cruelty the average person tries to pretend doesn’t exist, it’s gritty, it’s raw, it holds no punches as it shouldn’t, it’s fascinating, it’s compelling, it envelops the idea of truly extraordinary filmmaking and yes it is a masterpiece.

I had not read the book before seeing this film nor had I seen the Swedish version of the film. This gave me the opportunity to view this film with out an ounce of prejudice. I wasn’t judging the movie based on how similar it was to the book or if it was better than the swedish version of the film, I was able to simply experience it for what it was, a spectacular film. This was the first time I was to take in this particular story and I have no regrets because this film was spectacular.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo tells the dark, and I mean dark, tale of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist and their involvement behind the mystery of Harriet Vanger and her disappearance 40 years ago. I obviously don’t know how much screenwriter Steven Zaillan did in adapting this story for the screen, but the writing was real and enthralling. For coming up with such a calculated and phenomenal story, the true praise here belongs to author Stieg Larrson.

The performances here are more than what you’d expect from great cinema. Christopher Plummer is simply an amazing actor and his work here speaks for itself. Stellan Skarsgard is also always a pleasure to watch and the same goes for his performance in this film. Whether it’s in a good movie or a bad movie, there is just something about Daniel Craig that I find appealing as an actor. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he plays what may be the most human character he’s ever played and plays him with that same appeal. None of those performances were as demanding and incredible as the star of the film.

Rooney Mara as the rebellious and layered Lisbeth Salander is a revelation of potent prowess. Lisbeth Salander is fascinating creation of strong will and self-proclaimed insanity, a character so captivating and memorable that only a truly brilliant performance would suffice. That’s the exact performance you’ll find from Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Every deliverance of a line, facial expression, or gesture is just exquisite. This is a performance that most actors can only give in their dreams.

The direction here is quite honestly indescribable. David Fincher has done something here that you really have to see to believe. Every shot, every music cue, every finite detail is treated with respect and the result is a flawless movie. My second favorite David Fincher film is The Social Network and Fight Club is Fincher’s magnum opus. However, in terms of the scope, the filmmaking and the pure craft of it all The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is second to none. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the kind of film that serves as a reminder of what a perfect movie is.

Grade: A+

Top 25 Movies

To a movie buff or someone who makes a site about movies, it’s essential to make Top Ten Lists. Some of my favorites to make were Top Ten Movie Directors and Top Ten Movie Villains. Top Ten lists are a very fun way to perfectly establish your opinion, but it is often a very difficult task. The most important and most difficult Top Ten List  to make is a list of your favorite films.

A Top Ten List of your favorite films has to be honest and completely encapsulate your take on films. I for one couldn’t do it. I do have a list of my top ten favorite films in this post, but I decided instead to post my Top 25 favorite movies of all time. Its a list that was practically impossible to make and will change as the years go on (I will edit the post if needed), but here we go. My Top 25 favorite films are…

25. To Kill A Mockingbird

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Gregory Peck is stunningly believable as Atticus Finch, one of the greatest fathers and heroes in cinema. To call To Kill A Mockingbird inspirational is an understatement. Like many great films, while inspiring, To Kill A Mockingbird is equally defeating. It’s a must-see film for every reason imaginable. The original novel is about the author’s actual childhood and the film doesn’t skimp on the thematic potential and tells the powerful tale through the eyes of the children.I have yet to have the pleasure of reading the original source material, but it sure made for one of the greatest films I’ll ever be blown away by.

24. Trainspotting

Trainspotting is a masterfully told film about herione-addicted misfits and friends in Scotland. Though disturbing and twisted throughout, Trainspotting still manages to stay unarguably beautiful, while entertaining from beginning to end. With Trainspotting, what you get is a pitch-perfect portrait of the very ideas of life in general, flawed and fun. Trainspotting is a true masterpiece of a film that makes you love, hate, laugh, cry and enjoy, among others.

23. Amarcord

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Federico Fellini beautifully portrays the memories of his youth and the town where he grew up. The movie is as poignant, colorful, hilarious and honest as life itself. To watch it is to be consumed by it. Fellini is one of if not arguably the greatest filmmaker to ever bless the silver screen with a work of true art and like a true artist, Fellini doesn’t just make pieces of art, with his movies what we are consumed by are pieces of himself.

22. The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings is unquestionably one movie. The Lord of the Rings is an epic in every sense of the word. That’s truly the best way it can be described. The Lord of the Rings has in it just about everything you could ever want in a movie; love, drama, adventure, friendship, a huge cast of memorable characters, a beautiful beginning, a magnificent middle, an epic ending and much, much more. The Lord of Rings is that kind of movie that other movies should aspire to be. It’s a movie that makes you realize why we love movies in the first place. It’s a truly sprawling epic of an adventure and one that inspires and enthralls every time.

21. 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction masterpiece is easily one of the most unforgettable and unbelievable experiences in cinema. Still visually striking to this day, but even more striking is Stanley Kubrick’s ambition. 2001: A Space Odyssey may very well be the most ambitious undertaking in cinema as Kubrick manages to tell the story of all of us and our very existence.

20. 12 Years A Slave

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With just three masterpieces under his belt, I can already say with confidence that Steve Mcqueen is one of my favorite filmmakers. He has somehow managed to one up himself with each movie he has made and it goes without saying that I can not wait to see what he has in store for us next time. Excuse me if I doubt he’ll be able to top his latest any time soon. 12 Years A Slave is the most raw, real and horrific excursion into the human tragedy that is slavery that I’ve ever witnessed. It’s also one of the most glorious articulations of love and hate ever crafted in the form of art.

19. Throne of Blood

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Never before has Akira Kurosawa captured atmosphere like he has in Throne of Blood. Like he does with all his masterworks, he poured his soul into this one and it shows in more ways than one, not the least in the portrayal of Washizu by his greatest collaborator, the awesome Toshiro Mifune. This may be his greatest performance as he plays the samurai version of Macbeth with unbelievable humanity. He manages to find a perfect balance between intimidating and completely fragile.

18. The Shining

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Stanley Kubrick’s greatest film is also the most beautiful, flawlessly crafted horror film I’ve ever seen. We walk through the doors of The Overlook Hotel and we witness evil. It’s an evil place and the tragedy that takes place there in is one I willingly experience over and over again. I’m drawn in and blown away by the mastery every single time. Stanley Kubrick was a man who was meant to make masterpieces, with The Shining you’ll find my favorite of those masterpieces.

17. Inside Llewyn Davis

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About Inside Llewyn Davis, The Coen Bros. were quoted as saying, “We wanted to make an odyssey where the hero doesn’t go anywhere”. Well in there search for nothing, the greatest duo in film have found everything you could ever want in an extraordinary piece of expression. The film is beautifully melancholy and resonates with its palpable reality and tone. The conclusion or lack there of is unmistakably profound and makes it one of the greatest films I’ll ever made. It surpasses almost every one of their remarkable masterpieces.

16. M

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It’s hard to swallow that M was made over 80 years ago. And yet it’s still as haunting as ever. Unlike many movies made before it and many movies made long after it, M is not a movie you would call dated. M is a seamlessly plotted psychological drama that will always be pondered over. There’s reason behind every choice Fritz Lang makes in the crafting of this timeless classic.

15. The Human Condition

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Whether he’s the protagonist or the antagonist, Tatsuya Nakadai always has a likability to him, which makes The Human Condition that much more painful as we witness what may be the most arduous journey ever depicted on film. With a title like “The Human Condition” you need a hero whose particularly human and that’s just what Kobayashi and Nakadai craft in the courageous, yet flawed Kaji. At over 9 and a half hours, The Human Condition makes for one of the most exhilarating and all-encompassing experiences in cinema.

14. Rashomon

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Akira Kurosawa creates pure cinematic poetry with Rashomon. Kurosawa may be the most influential director to ever make a film and in terms of craft, Rashomon is arguably one of, if not, the most influential of his films. Rashomon not only shows just how much can be done with the art of film, it also tells one of the most powerful stories ever told about stories, human nature and the enigma that lies there in. Rashomon can be viewed as Kurosawa’s entire life and his endless search for truth.

13. La Dolce Vita

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La Dolce Vita is a juggernaut of a film that is as bitter as it is oh so sweet. Federico Fellini captures stark black-and-white beauty in every frame as his first Marcello Mastroianni alter-ego searches hopelessly and shamelessly for “the sweet life”. The film is inspired by Fellini’s own past as a journalist and in a way challenges us to look into our own pasts as he has, learn and progress.

12. Ikiru

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Takashi Shimura breathes pure humanity into Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece of a man searching for meaning in his final days. It is without a doubt a must-see for anyone and not just movie buffs, for it may be the most universal of all of Kurosawa’s masterworks. Kurosawa evokes life in Ikiru, literally “To Live”, and perhaps even more notably, death in an unbelievably fitting structure. It may not sound like the most original story ever told on film, but it’s certainly unlike anything I’ve ever seen and easily one of the most touching.

11. Yojimbo/Sanjuro

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Yojimbo/Sanjuro doesn’t tell one fluid story and in fact you could watch either of the flawless masterpieces first and all would make sense, for you’d still be watching just one of two endlessly viewable portraits of the life and times of a masterless and wandering samurai. Toshiro Mifune’s nameless samurai is the heart and hero of Yojimbo/Sanjuro and he makes for one of if not the most badass character in film. Akira Kurosawa is a master of the craft and can accomplish realism with ease, but with Yojimbo/Sanjuro he presents one of the most fun and fantastically captivating adventures in film.

10. The Master

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In The Master there is not a single beautiful shot or brilliant line of dialogue out of place. Paul Thomas Anderson has a way of getting the best performance out of at least one of his actors and in this case Joaquin Phoenix gives the best performance of his career, which is saying a lot because Joaquin Phoenix is an incredible actor. Some could even make an argument for Philip Seymour Hoffman in this masterpiece. The film is a magnificent and dark enigma. Paul Thomas Anderson just knows how to make a movie and he proves that with his sixth film, The Master, a gorgeous film about choice, obedience, control and freedom.

9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is undoubtedly one of the greatest feats in Cinematic history. One Flew is a beautiful and enthralling tale of the life and times of Randall Patrick McMurphy in a mental hospital. Jack Nicholson gives the performance of his illustrious career. Through the friends he meets, the schemes he pulls and most of all the enemy he makes, we get a story filled with brilliant morals and themes. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an incredibly entertaining film, an inspirational masterpiece.

8. Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is Francis Ford Coppola’s flawless masterpiece. Coppola gets endless praise for his brilliant work, The Godfather, but its Apocalypse Now that he should be remembered for. Apocalypse Now is and forever will be a truly epic war film that brings you on an amazing journey deep into the heart of darkness. The film builds and builds almost to the point of promising you one of the greatest climaxes in film and gives you just that. Apocalypse Now is equal parts violent and philosophical, a truly indelible masterpiece.

7. There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood is tremendous in the way that it tells a story through through the eyes of a single man and examines not the dream, but the american nightmare. It’s one of the greatest character study ever made and without a perfect portrayal of this antihero it wouldn’t be the flawless film it is. Daniel Day-Lewis gives one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen as Daniel Plainview, a depraved oil man whose mask slides off  revealing a complete lack of humanity. The drama and rivalry that ensues once Plainview begins drilling makes for one of the most monumental and gorgeous pieces of art I’ll ever bare witness to. There Will Be Blood is unique, real, but at the same time larger than life and monumentally powerful. There Will Be Blood is a beautifully-woven masterpiece in which we watch in horror as an ambitious oilman loses any remnants of a soul.

6. No Country for Old Men

The Coen Brother’s are, unquestionably,  two of the greatest filmmakers of all time and this is their greatest feat. No Country is a beautifully violent film filled with unstoppably moralistic power. It’s a blood-soaked tale told magnificently through subtleties, a film that is truly perfect in every way imaginable. No Country for Old Men tells, what seems to be on the surface, a simplistic tale of cat and mouse. A chess game, if you will, between an average joe who happens upon a suitcase full of drug money and a ruthlessly intelligent killer who has no empathy what so ever and will stop at nothing. The powerful tale that is realized with No Country for Old Men is one of violence, malevolence and art. No Country for Old Men is a masterpiece in every single sense of the word.

5. Ran

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Ran is an epic tragedy of gargantuan proportions. At 75-years-old Akira Kurosawa still knew exactly how to make a film and not just any film, but a monumental achievement as only a truly magnificent artist could have envisioned and realized. From the first frame to the last I am swept away to this vast and evolving world. Ran is on a whole other level of filmmaking. It defies and tramples over any expectation you could have in a film by any director and this is the director. It astounds with every passing second. Discussing it here could never do it justice. Like all true masterpieces, Ran is a film one must experience for themselves.

4. Harakiri

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Anyone who enjoys the occasional movie owes it to themselves to bask in the glory and perfection that is Harakiri. It begins simply enough, a samurai walks into the house of the Iyi clan and asks to commit Harakiri (the ritual suicide of a samurai). Harakiri offers one of the most engrossing movie experiences ever and on top of that it’s one of the most important. Tatsuya Nakadai makes Hanshiro Tsugumo one of the most captivating characters in film as the one man willing to take a stand against the powers that be. Harakiri tells its compelling story that captivates from start to finish and long after once you begin pondering about all the film has to say, not exclusively bringing into question the meaning of honor. Harakiri tells an endlessly powerful story which by the end proves to be one of the greatest ever told.

3. The Dark Knight Legend

Batman Begins is nothing short of the perfect hero’s journey. We are brought on the wondrous, yet arduous journey of one man as he becomes the greatest hero of all time, Batman. It is a story that asks and answers the question, what makes a hero? And it does so flawlessly and without once being anything, but completely enjoyable. It is monumental, there is an eloquence to it, it is a masterpiece and it was only the beginning. The Dark Knight is unlike any other story or film ever created in the way that is a pure, spectacular and perfect examination of good and evil. The Dark Knight takes the symbol for good established in Batman Begins and brings him to the darkest corners of existence when he goes toe-to-toe with a symbol for evil and the greatest villain in history, The Joker. The Joker is evil for the sake of being evil, while Batman is good for the sake of being good. To see this poetically constant battle unfold between the two is to see nothing short of some of the greatest cinema of all time.

The Dark Knight Rises is a sweeping epic that defines the story that has been being told and offers the greatest end in the history of film. While Batman Begins was about Batman and The Dark Knight was about Batman and The Joker, The Dark Knight Rises is about the beating heart of Gotham and the people who are willing to fight to keep it beating. It can be viewed as Batman’s final trial into the status of a legend. It is an extraordinary masterpiece that brings the story to its inevitable conclusion. The Dark Knight Legend (or The Dark Knight Trilogy if that tastes better going down) is Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus through and through. I care about this story and these characters and the events that transpire. As if it were poetry or Shakespearean, this story actually has alot to say and it says alot to me personally. Whether it be The Joker, Bane, Batman, Catwoman, Jim Gordon, Alfred, Ra’s Al Ghul, Talia Al Ghul, Scarecrow or any of the other magnificent characters in this story on the screen I am hooked. I’m involved and engrossed because I care about these characters and what they add to the majesty of it all.

2. 8 1/2

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I’m a bit lost for words when it comes to 8 1/2. And I mean how fitting that I find it hard to collect my thoughts and actually produce something when it comes to 8 1/2. I don’t know if there is a movie in existence other than 8 1/2 that calls to mind the phrase “speaks for itself”. Federico Fellini’s masterpiece is truly something you must experience to believe.

“I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever. I thought I had something so simple to say. Something useful to everybody. A film that could help bury forever all those dead things we carry within ourselves. Instead, I’m the one without the courage to bury anything at all. When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same.” Federico speaks honestly through Guido and to us and from the beginning of 8 1/2 to end Fellini bares all that he has and is.

In personifying himself in 8 1/2, Federico Fellini has crafted a work of art for us and about us. In telling the story of a director finding his voice we realize the similar challenges we all face. He effortlessly uses Guido’s tale as an allegory depicting for all of us from a whimsical dream of a birth to the stage we leave behind. I defy anyone to witness 8 1/2 and not find a little piece of themselves as it is the most personal film I’ve ever seen, if not the most personal and progressive film ever made. It is not only one of the greatest films ever made, but one of the most glorious and beautiful pieces of art I will ever bask in.

1. Seven Samurai

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Akira Kurosawa is the greatest artist to ever craft a piece of art and Seven Samurai is his greatest and my favorite movie. No other film offers the reality, the escape, the journey, the camaraderie, the inspiration, the honesty, the heroism, the humanity, the growth, the truth and the beauty that Seven Samurai overflows with. It is the true masterwork of a man who consistently worked to better himself and his incomparable craft.

Not just the film as a whole, but every painstaking detail from character to camera movement to cut is a living, breathing thing with purpose and resonance. I am in awe by it and the master craftsman who made it all possible to say the least. This is a film as only Akira Kurosawa could make. Auteurs have their recognizable trends and styles, but Kurosawa’s trend is consistently progressing, starting from scratch and delving into an entirely new world and feeling. Seven Samurai is like no other film, not even an Akira Kurosawa film as no two Kurosawa films are even close to the same (other than of course the companion pieces Yojimbo and Sanjuro, but that’s neither here nor there).

Seven Samurai tells a seemingly simple story about a village, some bandits and seven samurai. Akira Kurosawa tells his tale and fills it to the brim with as much profound substance and beauty as a single film could have and then some. The film could not have been made any other way. No detail could have been changed. Every character and sequence amounts to the unbelievable epic at hand. I am wholly invested in every second of the film. It dramatically capitalizes on all the potent emotion you could ever ask for in a single film. It’s fun and funny, it’s sad, it’s overwhelming in its scope and it’s a visionary work of art and magic. Seven Samurai is my favorite film and the greatest piece of art ever crafted.

 

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