Tag Archives: Best Director

Top 100 Films #1 – Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

 

punch-drunk-love2#1. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman

The moment of truth – my all-time favorite movie is one that I’ve seen dozens of times and a film I think back to almost every single day. Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 film Punch-Drunk Love is the most beautiful, unique, and challenging experience I’ve ever had with a movie. It explores themes of love, loneliness and isolation, and insecurity in a relatable and stylish way that resonates in ways that no other movie could ever accomplish. Punch-Drunk Love tells the story of toilet plunger distributor Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) as he struggles with his lonely, trapped, and insecure existence. He is alienated by his seven domineering sisters, and constantly made to reevaluate himself and his identity as a man. After an attempted extortion scheme from a phone sex operator, Barry meets a woman named Lena (Emily Watson) who is strangely attracted to him. On a whim, the neurotic and compulsive Barry surprises Lena in Hawaii, where the two hit it off and begin a romantic relationship. Unfortunately for the new couple, the phone sex operator’s extortion scheme leads to the couple being harassed, forcing Barry to fight for the woman he loves. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson brilliantly creates a palpable feeling of isolation and loneliness throughout Punch-Drunk Love, giving viewers a look inside the mind of Barry Egan. Barry is my all-time favorite movie character for a variety of reasons – his overly anxious, awkward, and nervous personality is something I’ve always been able to relate to, but also because it’s just plain funny to see his interactions with the world around him. He struggles to stay cool in social situations, and frequently has surprising and violent outbursts when he is left alone. Anderson’s writing of Barry Egan feels deeply personal and committed – he isn’t making fun of the awkward and lonely Barry, he’s empathizing with him and using the character to portray themes that are not often tackled in movies. Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction throughout Punch-Drunk Love is incredibly frantic and constantly on the move, but always feels small and relatively isolated which helps further the themes of entrapment. Anderson would win a well-deserved Best Director prize at the 2002 Cannes film festival for his work on Punch-Drunk Love. On top of incredible writing and directing from one of the world’s great contemporary filmmakers, the film features a truly terrific score from composer Jon Brion. Brion’s score is experimental and erratic, providing the perfect underlay for Barry’s many moments of nervousness, high anxiety, and misdirected anger. The use of the harmonium throughout is inspired and adds an extra layer of uniqueness to the score – the instrument is even reflected in the film’s plot. The film’s sound mixing plays a large part in the first half of Punch-Drunk Love, featuring constantly ringing phones, warehouse noises, and beautiful tone of the harmonium. Adam Sandler delivers a career-best performance as Barry Egan, being believably unpredictable and awkward at all times, but also surprisingly romantic and brave in his shining moments. Anderson’s brilliance as a director is reflected in Adam Sandler’s performance, as it’s clear that the actor was extra inspired in the performance. Emily Watson’s performance as Lena is equally as weird and compelling, even though she doesn’t have nearly as much screentime as Sandler. The two have more than enough chemistry to make the film’s central love story believable and adorable, and their interactions are some of the best moments in the film. I can’t possible state how big of an impact Punch-Drunk Love has had on my adult life – it provided me with a relatable, humorous, and beautiful story to escape in during some of my worst years. It’s a wonderful film that I can come back to again and again and still feel as moved as I was the first time – an unsung masterpiece whose brilliance can’t be understated. I’m proud to call Punch-Drunk Love my all-time favorite film, even if it’s a bond only I can understand – it’s a beautiful, incredibly well-crafted movie with themes that truly resonate with me.

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Top 100 Films #3 – Annie Hall (1977)

 

annie-hall#3. Annie Hall (1977)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane

Woody Allen is a writer-director who I’ve always revered – his incredibly amount of output and passion for the arts is a great source of inspiration for me as a writer and film enthusiast. Even when his films are bad or mediocre, there’s passion and heart to them. His 1977 film Annie Hall is arguably the greatest film he’s ever made, featuring a great love story, hilarious Woody Allen dialogue, and terrific performances. Annie Hall stars Woody Allen as Alvy Singer, a neurotic comedian reflecting on his relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), which we find out has ended a year ago. Alvy chronicles his childhood in New York, where he obsessed over the meaning of his existence, and was punished for his early sexual curiosity. Through a series of flashbacks, Alvy and Annie meet after a doubles tennis game with friends, and the two awkwardly hit it off. Things progress wonderfully until Annie moves in with Alvy, which creates tension in the relationship. The two eventually break up, date other people, and reconcile shortly after when Annie needs Alvy’s help with killing a spider in the middle of the night. Soon after their reconciliation, the relationship once again falls apart, this time permanently – both characters are glad to have loved one another, even if it wasn’t always filled with good times. Annie Hall is one of the most beloved romantic comedies in Hollywood history – it even beat Star Wars for Best Picture at the 1978 Academy Awards. The screenplay by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman is highly intelligent and often morbidly hilarious, playing on Woody Allen’s fascinations with death, existence, and the creative process. Even through the script’s intellectual and neurotic nature, Allen and Brickman manage to create one of the most genuine and heartfelt romantic stories ever told on film – one that doesn’t just focus on the best moments in a relationship. The use of flashbacks and non-linear storytelling allows for Allen and Brickman to explore the past of Alvy Singer, including the failed marriages and relationships that have shaped his views on romance. Both Woody Allen and Diane Keaton shine throughout Annie Hall, carrying dramatic and comedic weight like no other on-screen pairing could. Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer is his usual highly neurotic and obsessive, but still confident and arrogant, self, while Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall is adorably goofy, strong-willed, and highly intelligent. The two had such obvious on-screen chemistry in their many collaborations, undoubtedly aided by their brief real life romantic relationship. Annie Hall is Woody Allen at his absolute funniest as a writer and a performer, somehow managing to make both Ingmar Bergman and holocaust documentary The Sorrow and the Pity humorous. The writing and storytelling feels personal and genuine, and the film’s ending feels groundbreaking for the time – not giving the audience the “fairy tale”-esque ending they might be asking for. Annie Hall is Woody Allen’s greatest achievement as a writer and director, and may even be the film where he finally found his voice. It’s hilarious, romantic, heartbreaking, genuine, and smart – everything a Woody Allen movie should be.

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Top 100 Films #6 – Rocky (1976)

 

adrian-and-rocky#6. Rocky (1976)
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, Carl Weathers

Everybody reading through this list knows the basic story of Rocky – the ultimate underdog gets a chance to fight one of the most accomplished boxers in the world and takes him to the limit after weeks of hard work and training. The formula used by writer and star Sylvester Stallone in Rocky is an age old one, and yet feels so fresh in the Best Picture winning drama. Rocky tells the story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a hard working Italian-American boxer living in Philadelphia. Rocky is in love with a painfully shy and timid pet store clerk named Adrian (Talia Shire), whose brother Paulie (Burt Young) is Rocky’s best friend. After finding out that his opponent for the big Bicentennial fight is out with an injury, world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) handpicks “The Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa to be his opponent in five weeks. Rocky reluctantly accepts the fight, aided by Adrian, Paulie, and his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), who pushes Rocky to the limit so that he might stand a chance against the much more experienced Creed. At this point in my life, I’ve seen Rocky dozens of times, and even after all these years, John G. Avildsen’s film makes me feel so energetic, inspired, and emotional. When the film’s iconic ending comes, I’m in tears no matter who I’m watching with – it’s just the kind of wholly satisfying endings you rarely gets in the movies. Rocky’s underdog story never feels cliche or false, but instead has the audience rooting for him the entire way, whether it’s wanting him to defeat Apollo Creed, or wanting to see Rocky finally win over Adrian. Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Rocky Balboa is pitch perfect – the writer-star clearly knows his strengths as an actor, and plays them up. Stallone’s Rocky is kind-hearted and maybe not the sharpest tool in the shed, but his goofy charm wins over nearly everybody he encounters in his day to day life. Everybody in the film is seemingly a fan of Rocky’s – he’s just one of those inherently likable kind of guys. Talia Shire’s turn as the timid and quiet Adrian is wonderful as well, with the actress only coming out of her proverbial shell when she begins to see Rocky romantically – and even then, she constantly seems like a nervous wreck. Shire and Stallone have great chemistry together – their first dates together feel like genuine first dates, and most of their initial interactions are believably awkward. Supporting performances from both Burt Young as the angry and bitter Paulie, and Burgess Meredith’s grizzled veteran trainer Mickey are both incredible, and saw both actors nominated for Best Supporting Actor. The loud and rowdy pair of Paulie and Mickey serve as great contrasting figures to Rocky’s quiet, often stoic personality. On top of some terrific performances from the entire cast, Bill Conti’s uplifting score sets the tone for the inspirational and personal story to come. Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” and “Going the Distance” are two of the best movie compositions ever performed, and help give some dramatic weight to the film’s final act. When “Going the Distance” reaches its final moments and Adrian makes her way through the crowd to greet Rocky, you know you’ve just experienced something truly magical. Rocky is, in my opinion, one of the most satisfying movie going experiences you could ever possibly imagine – it has drama, humor, an amazing and relatable love story, a great score, incredible performances, and one of the most iconic underdogs in movie history. Rocky is a Hollywood masterpiece, and is the kind of movie that seems all too rare today.

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Top 100 Films #11 – The Graduate (1967)

 

the-graduate#11. The Graduate (1967)
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Written by: Calder Willingham, Buck Henry (based on The Graduate by Charles Webb)
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross

The Graduate is Mike Nichols’ brilliant and progressive project that has inspired generations of movie lovers. The film is based on Charles Webb’s novel of the same name, and picked up Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and won for Best Director (Nichols). The Graduate follows young Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) after he has finished college. Unsure of how to proceed with life, Benjamin becomes somewhat depressive. The young Braddock is eventually seduced by Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), an older woman whose daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) is in love with Benjamin. Benjamin and the older Mrs. Robinson pursue an affair, which severely complicates his relationships with Elaine. After Elaine finds out about the affair, things become messy for all those involved – especially for Benjamin, who has fallen in love with Mrs. Robinson’s young daughter. The Graduate is one of the most brilliant works in American film history, featuring iconic performances, moments, music, and almost universally relatable themes. It’s the ultimate coming-of-age story, exploring the often confusing and unexciting life after college – experienced through the eyes of an awkward, but highly intelligent and perceptive young man. No movie has ever captured the feelings of post-college life quite like The Graduate does, which is an impressive feat since the film is now fifty years old. Director Mike Nichols had already made a name for himself in Hollywood with the previous year’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but The Graduate feels like a revelatory step for Nichols. The director’s penchant for hilarious visual and verbal humor is clear throughout, creating some of the most awkwardly funny moments in Hollywood history (the “plastics” party scene and the seduction of Benjamin by Mrs. Robinson in particular). Nichols’ use of music is another incredible touch, setting many scenes to the songs of Simon & Garfunkel – The Graduate has made “The Sound of Silence”, “Mrs. Robinson”, and “Scarborough Fair” some of the groups most beloved and enduring tracks. The entire film has an air of malaise and apathy about it, which works perfectly in capturing the tone and uncertainty of life after school. The screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry is incredible, combining different styles of humor and satire with a genuinely touching romantic story and challenging themes of the uncertainty that comes with being young. The structure of the narrative and the exchanges of dialogue between characters feels natural, modern, and still relevant all these years later. The two were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, but were bested by that year’s Best Picture winning drama In the Heat of the Night. The highlights of the film are its lead performers Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, whose chemistry together on screen is tremendous. The veteran Bancroft brings experience and screen presence to the role of Mrs. Robinson, and the younger and unsure Dustin Hoffman makes him a perfect match for the role of Benjamin Braddock. Every scene they share together is better than the last, with their relationship quickly developing and becoming far more complicated than either could have expected. The story of their affair never feels false or reaching, which is important when it comes to suspending your disbelief. The romantic subplot between Hoffman’s Benjamin and Katharine Ross’ Elaine is genuinely compelling and sweet, thanks largely in part to the performances from the young actors. Without their budding romance, The Graduate would merely be the story of a quick and awkward affair between two deeply mismatched people. The Graduate is a funny, insightful, stylish, and personal film that deserves every bit of praise it has received over fifty years – it’s a film I love to revisit, and one I find myself coming back to again and again.  

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Top 100 Films #14 – The Apartment (1960)

 

apartment_026pyxurz#14. The Apartment (1960)
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Written by: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Jack Kruschen

Billy Wilder’s Best Picture winning The Apartment is the cynical old master of cinema at his most heartwarming and endearing.  The film starring the charming Jack Lemmon in quite possibly his most enduring role and a young, hilarious Shirley MacLaine was one of the very first “classic” movies I ever saw, and one that immediately won my heart.  The Apartment tells the story of C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) a down-on-his-luck pushover who rents his apartment to his many bosses so that they can carry out affairs with younger women.  Baxter does so in order to climb the often difficult to navigate corporate ladder, and his strategy pays off in spades.  After falling in love with the workplace elevator girl Fran (Shirley MacLaine), Baxter begins to have a change of heart.  When he finds out that Fran had previously been seduced by his boss Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) and the two had carried out an affair, things become complicated for the love triangle.  The Apartment is Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s strongest writing work together, in my opinion.  The story features much of Wilder’s inherent cynicism, mostly in C.C. Baxter’s view of the world, and in Fran’s dealings with Sheldrake – there’s a lot of hopelessness and bitterness to be found.  Luckily, both Wilder and Diamond also show a deeply human side to their writing, something they would continue to improve on in future scripts. It seems that Diamond brought out the very best in Wilder, making him look past the negatives and create something with spirit and heart.  The love story the two men have crafted in The Apartment is truly touching and multi-layered, making it easily one of the most effective romantic-comedies ever made in Hollywood. C.C. Baxter is one of my all-time favorite screen characters – there’s something I find so compelling about his depressive and cynical, but deeply romantic and well-natured attitude.  Jack Lemmon’s performance as Baxter is incredible, picking up a well-deserved Best Actor nomination at that year’s Academy Awards. Shirley MacLaine’s turn as Fran is equally as complex, with the sweet young woman towing the line between naive and entirely self-aware.  The blossoming romance between both Baxter and Fran is entirely believable, and incredibly sweet – there’s something in the air when the two characters interact, especially in the latter half of the film when they share more screen time.  Fred MacMurray’s supporting role as Sheldrake is probably the most I’ve ever enjoyed seeing the actor on screen – he is perfectly charming and unlikable when contrasted with Jack Lemmon’s endearing C.C. Baxter.  MacMurray was always best used as a supporting player, and Wilder once again uses him to great effect in The Apartment.   The film would go on to win Best Picture, Best Director (Wilder), and Best Writing (I.A.L. Diamond and Wilder) at the 1961 Academy Awards, creating the structure and style of modern romantic comedy films, and paving the way for generations of rom-coms to come.  The Apartment is sweet, intelligent, funny, and deeply moving in a way that Billy Wilder was never quite able to recapture – though his 1961 film One, Two, Three is a personal favorite of mine.

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Top 100 Films #34 – Casablanca (1942)

 

annex-bogart-humphrey-casablanca_13#34. Casablanca (1942)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch (based on Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett, Joan Alison)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson

Casablanca is another film on my list that has been talked about by fans, critics, and historians for decades, and one which few revelations can still be made about.  In my opinion, it’s one of the most perfectly constructed films ever made, featuring a tremendous romantic plot, humor, action, style, and suspense – what else could you ever need?  Casablanca takes place in the titular city of Casablanca, Morocco during World War II, where people of many political and social allegiances come to enjoy the sights and nightlife.  Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a proprietor Casablanca, running “Rick’s Café Américain” where he has made a name for himself, and formed relationships with people of all cultures and beliefs.  Rick soon meets a former lover named Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), who bring with them a number of complications that Rick thought he had finally escaped. Casablanca is a film that is better viewed with little knowledge of the major plot points, as it has been parodied and paid homage to on dozens of occasions over the years.  It’s screenplay is one of the greatest in the history of film, using quick, snappy dialogue to push forward the already fast-paced plot.  The chemistry between all of the main characters is incredible, especially between those who are more permanent residents of Casablanca – Bogart’s Rick is familiar with every face that walks into his cafe, and has a different rapport with each of them.  When Bergman’s Ilsa finally comes into play, it’s immediately apparent that Rick holds some resentment towards her, taking it out on his piano-playing friend Sam (Dooley Wilson) – who manages to always take it in stride.  Bogart and Bergman are electric together on screen, making their scripted romance feel genuine and lifelike.  Both legendary actors put in some of the best works of their impressive careers, thanks in part to the Academy Award winning screenplay by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch.  The way the screenplay uses humor and suspense concurrently feels incredibly modern and refreshing, making Casablanca feel like it hasn’t aged a single day.  Director Michael Curtiz’s vision of the city of Casablanca is dreamy and idyllic, especially for what was such a complicated and turbulent time for most of the world – it’s a place anybody would want to travel to for a few days, if only to get away from the complications of everyday life.  The characters are all fully realized and endearing for their unique character traits, with Rick, Ilsa, Sam, Victor, and Captain Renault (Claude Rains) being some of the all-time most memorable in classic films.  Casablanca is a masterpiece from start to finish, and a perfect example of how a screenplay can almost single-handedly carry a film.  Luckily, great performances and inspired direction push Casablanca over the edge, creating one of the all-time greats.

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Top 100 Films #68 – The Sting (1973)

 

b3242bfc7ad8#68. The Sting (1973)
Directed by: George Roy Hill
Written by: David S. Ward
Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw

My first experience with George Roy Hill’s zany The Sting came just this past year on the big screen – when the credits rolled and walked out of the theater, I was giddy and wholly satisfied.  The Paul Newman – Robert Redford starring film hit all the right marks dramatically and comedically, drawing the audience in with a compelling script and some terrific performances.  When the film’s unexpected ending finally arrived, I was absolutely floored – The Sting, a film about deception, had swindled its viewer.  The Best Picture winning film sees young con artist Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) getting in way over his head and ripping off the wrong people.  His unintentional actions anger kingpin Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), who seeks to have the mysterious young con artist killed at any expense.  Hooker decides to seek refuge with famed con-man Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), and the two men devise an elaborate plan to pull off the ultimate con on Chicago’s most dangerous man, Doyle Lonnegan.  The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards in 1974, picking up statues for Best Picture, Best Director (George Roy Hill), Best Original Screenplay (David S. Ward), and Best Music (Marvin Hamlisch).  David S. Ward’s screenplay for the film is brilliant in every way, using scenes of action and suspense constantly keeping viewers guessing, and employing comedic scenes to further the relationships between the cast of characters.  Each of our three main characters are believable and fully realized, all of whom have their own motives and reasons for being involved in the dangerous world of conning.  Ward’s build-up of The Sting’s long con is perfect in its pacing – even leading viewers on the wrong path on some instances. Director George Roy Hill matches the pacing of the screenplay with an often frantic pace, setting many scenes to the music of ragtime pianist Scott Joplin – most famously his endearing “The Entertainer”.  Even with a great script and some highly energetic direction, The Sting would be nothing without the terrific chemistry between actors Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  The two legendary actors play off each other in a way that few cinematic pairings can match, resulting in more than a few memorable dramatic and comedic moments.  The performance of Robert Shaw as the villainous Doyle Lonnegan is my personal favorite aspect of The Sting – he steals the show with a scenery chewing, occasionally over-the-top performance, but Lonnegan never feels like a joke. Despite seeming larger than life in almost every way, Shaw’s Doyle Lonnegan still manages to be menacing and threatening.  The Sting is an incredibly well-written and acted film, resulting in the most fun I had in a theater in 2016.  

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