Alison Lorraine’s Top 10 Fave Films

This site wouldn’t be complete without some reviews of my favorite things, movies not the least among them. Here’s a list of reviews of my Top 10 All-Time Best (and beware – there may be a few spoilers among them):

1 The Shawshank Redemption :: If life’s got you in a cage – of any sort – watch this film.

Shawshank is ranked Number ONE on IMDB, which proves that the wisdom of the crowds trumps that of paid entertainment industry hacks who claimed it had the wrong tongue-twisting title, would never succeed because it was a prison film, an indie film, or this or that, all of it falling on the deaf ears of those whose good taste lifted it above the din of the so-called tastemakers. In summation: you can’t keep a good story down, and this one delves into everything – injustice, friendship, perseverence, corruption, extreme hardship, payback, assault, murder, rape, suicide, hope, fear, vindication, escape, and most of all, freedom of body, mind and spirit – everything that both acknowledges harsh reality and soothes the human soul without all the oversold placations, overt preaching and “be happy” cliches foisted on us all too often these days.

Tim Robbins’ Andy Dufresne, wrongly convicted of murder, first escapes within his own mind before he escapes from Shawshank Prison in fact, and watching how it all unfolds is riveting in a blow-by-blow narrative delivered by Morgan Freeman’s Ellis Redding. This film cuts to the bone and uplifts at the same time; it is the very mix of all that comprises the human condition without a hint of pretense. A perfect piece with no want of special effects or gimmicks, it relies only on stunning acting and cinematography built around an unforgettable story, and drops memorable quotes by the dozens – including the iconic mantra “get busy living, or get busy dying.”

In the end, it begs some big questions – who is your Andy Dufresne? Who (or what) awaits you when you decide to get busy living?

2 Silence of the Lambs :: A jarring film that exemplifies how digging in the deepest, darkest dirt of humanity can effect triumph over fear.

Jodie Foster is astounding as young FBI cadet Clarice Starling, who is tasked with the unenviable mission of solving a gruesome set of crimes in which the perpetrator skins his victims. To meet the challenge, she walks out on a big ledge – confronting a beast in human form (one Hannibal Lecter, exquisitely portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in a career-making performance) in order to gain information critical in pursuing her case even though it means allowing him to feast on the fears filling her own mind. It is Foster’s breathtaking portrayal of raw, vulnerable courage in the face of that fear that drew this viewer in and would not let go.

So…would you approach a monster to get to the answers you seek? A great film to watch when things are gnawing and gnawing at you even though you know you gotta just go for it.

3 Pi :: It could be Pi, Requiem for a Dream or even Black Swan where Natalie Portman actually does some acting, but anything from Darren Aronofsky hath charms to soothe any savage(d) beast – and he can damn well thank Leonardo Da Vinci if he wants to.

Pi is a film for math geeks and conspiracy freaks alike, featuring a self-tortured, pill-popping genius protagonist who answers all the questions and questions all the answers. Chaos, paranoia and claustrophobia dig in as lo-fi, a budget in the mid-five figures and high art combine in this psych thriller that traces the amazing Sean Gullette’s Max Cohen, aka Computer Prodigy Going Off the Rails.

In his quest to uncover the stock market’s secret sauce of pristine order, Max builds a supercomputer that spits out some very weird (but 100% correct) stock predictions and a 216-digit number just before it crashes and fries, those few half-seconds being when computers become “self-aware” according to Max’s former professor, fried himself by a career-ending stroke when he got too close to his own mathematical holy grail. Thinking it worthless, Max throws it out, becoming his very own antagonist among the many, a gamepiece being pushed and/or led around because of what he might have had. A cadre of characters all hoping to find their projected messages in the number close in, akin to Max’s tiny NYC apartment, wall-to-wall screens, hardware, and a trigger in the form of a computer return key that serve up yet another set of antagonists as his sanity diminishes. He ultimately succeeds in his quest to replicate the number, which he memorizes after yet another one of his strange benders, brought on following a childhood incident where he stared straight into the sun against his mother’s wishes.

This unforgettable film seems an allegorical tale of Big Data and the Little Guy versus the Institutionals, mimicking all those who seek the magic number locked in Max’s head, including some who claim it represents the true name of God and will unleash even the Messianic Age if they can only know it. Max’s descent into numerically-driven madness is no small pleasure for the voyeurs among us who like to watch.

4 Alien :: Mmmmmm-mmmm, girl fight!!! Sigourney Weaver is just delicious in this role of far-flung-into-outer-space-heroine-extraordinaire, a rugged individual left alone to fight a bitch of a stowaway alien, whose amoral need to reproduce impregnates a male crew member before killing off all the other worthy comrades of Weaver’s Ripley in a battle for survival.

From the start, the film gives you a deep sense of the creeps – that not-so-peaceful, uneasy feeling you get when the walls around you seem to have eyes and the air shafts almost breathe. Trapped within the confines of the earth-bound Nostromo, the ship wakes its crew when an unidentified signal is received from a planet thought to be uninhabited. When an exploratory party returns to the ship, Ripley’s refusal to let her alien-infected crewmate back on board is overridden, and so a plot and a movie are born, the alien filling its role as the very embodiment of that faceless fear when things go bump in the night and you can’t explain why, and your mind races, your heart pounds and you can do just about anything except go the hell to sleep.

It doesn’t help that the color scheme is dark and computer-glow, and the feel approaches the almost-gothic, the sets ahead of their time, seemingly designed to reflect the darkness that both surrounds and awaits. This is a gut-wrenching, not-to-be-missed study of how to use suggestive bits and pieces to force the viewer’s brain to fill in the rest, for never do we see the whole alien, and therein lies the fear. Such is the art of a great horror/sci-fi hybrid.

5 Life of Pi :: “Without Richard Parker, I would have died by now. My fear of him keeps me alert. Tending to his needs gives my life purpose,” narrates Irrfan Khan’s Pi Patel as he recites his story to a writer who’s come to interview him.

His is the tale of a child named after a pool in Paris – the Piscerne Molitor – who learns to overcome the shame of his name by memorizing the number pi to however many hundred decimal places. His parents operate a zoo in the botanical gardens in a part of India controlled by the French, where he becomes all at once a Hindu, Christian and Muslim (among other things) and practices them all simultaneously while his father kindly injects the need to think rationally no matter what else may be on tap – and to always go back to reason as the cornerstone.

Circumstances see Pi’s family booking transport along with their animals on a Japanese freighter that unexpectedly sinks in the Pacific on its way to a better life in Canada. Pi is the lone survivor, floating in a lifeboat with several of the animals, including a zebra, hyena and an orangutan named Orange Juice. OJ and the zebra are both killed by the hyena, and then a tiger named Richard Parker surprises Pi, exiting from a covered compartment of the lifeboat and killing the hyena.

Pi and Richard Parker become uneasy companions with the realization they need each other to stay alive, as uncomfortable as that is. Along the way, they happen upon numerous challenges, including a carnivorous island, where the freshwater holes turn acidic at night, driving the island’s meerkat inhabitants up into the trees after dark. Pi and Richard Parker recharge on this island, but realize it is a mere stop on their way and not their destination when Pi discovers a disembodied human tooth, “eaten” by the nocturnally acidic island. Eventually they beach in Mexico, where Pi laments about Richard Parker’s unceremoniously leaving his life.

Two Japanese insurance adjusters show up at Pi’s hospital bedside to gather facts and his story in hopes of determining why the ship sank. Pi recites his tale, but the adjusters tell him bluntly that they need a version of the truth that everyone can believe. So he tells them a second story, one where a set of people kill each other off instead of the animals. In both, the ship sinks, Pi’s family is gone and he is the lone survivor. But neither can be proven.

“And so it goes with God,” Pi tells the interviewer, encouraging him to choose which story he likes better, in other words, to believe what he wants to believe. So…which story about God do you believe…if any?

6 Forrest Gump :: Serendipity. That is the story this film tells, about a character who lives life as it unfolds, not once trying to control outcomes.

Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump is not smart enough to fight against the flow of his life, so he does what he is told and is serendipitously rewarded handsomely for it. He finds the love of his life on a schoolbus on his first day of school in the form of a girl named Jenny, and non-judgmentally defends and loves her ’til the very end, even as her abusive past takes its toll on her life, leaking its programming of self-hate over all her aspirations, creating the circumstances for a disease to take hold that would eventually take her life.

Forrest lives through (and participates in) many fine historical-cum-fictional moments, including the Watergate Hotel break-in that sunk Nixon’s presidency, the film suggesting Mr. Gump’s irritation at all the lights coming into his room and his reporting it to hotel staff might just be the reason we inherited Mr. Ford.

Forrest becomes a war hero, a celebrity and a millionaire, almost haplessly. Near the end of the film, the go-lucky Forrest has a moment where things just stop, and appropriately so does Tom Hanks’ narration as the past meets the present and finds Forrest conversing with the gravestone of his beloved Jenny in real time. To her, he says he doesn’t know “if we each have a destiny… or if we’re all just floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze..but I think…maybe it’s both…maybe both happen at the same time.”

Breathtaking, tearjerking film with stunning cinematography that begs the viewer to answer those same questions – is it destiny? Is it just random chance? Or a little of both? The film also makes me want to ask, who is the love of your life? Is it someone who, like Forrest, “knows what love is?”

7 The Shining :: This one’s my yearly Halloween tradition, and I confess…it soothes me to sleep. Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance is possessed – or maybe repossessed – by a hotel high in the Rockies (though the real hotel used for the film’s externals is in Washington State).

The Overlook Hotel brings to mind places I have lived and/or stayed in and/or visited where the air was quite a bit heavier with history than in other places – in other words, a door to “the other side.” Some places really do have a convergence and preponderance of energies and in this film, those energies want only to possess the psychic energy of Jack’s young son Danny, who, like his father, sees things in the halls and spaces of the Overlook Hotel after it empties out for the harsh winter ahead with the addictive and easily manipulable Jack on hire as its seasonal caretaker.

It is Danny – through his invisible friend Tony, who lives in Danny’s mouth and retreats to his gut – who senses things are not quite right while Jack is led in like a lamb to slaughter to do the Hotel’s murderous bidding, the unforgettable scene here being Jack at the bar being served up Earth only knows what as he laughs crazily at Lloyd, the ghost of an Overlook bartender past.

A Deus ex Machina in the form of Scatman Crothers’ head chef Dick Halloran returns from Florida after hearing – or shining – Danny’s plea for help telepathically, rescuing the boy and his mother Wendy (played by the mesmerizing but underscripted Shelley Duvall), sacrificing his own life in the bargain to the now-crazed shell of Jack, whose own end comes at the hands of the snow-covered walls of a labyrinth made of shrubbery.

In the waning scenes, the hotel’s spirits come to life and take reign, in the end reclaiming Jack, whose image chillingly shows up in a group photo taken in 1921 at an Overlook Hotel shindig, tux and all. All work and no play indeed!

8 World War Z :: At least one zombie flick had to come in here, and it easily could have been 28 Days Later as well as this one.

But there is something about seeing your nearby home city overrun by zombies that 28 Days couldn’t deliver. 28 Days is among the best of the genre, but by setting a critical intro scene of World War Z in Downtown Philadelphia and watching the people there get bitten into zombies and run amok under the statue of William Penn atop City Hall, well, I coulda told ya so. And besides, you’ll catch a glimpse of my award for the Best Looking Head of Hair on a Zombie that I’ve ever seen. They really know how to grow ’em in Philly!

But it’s even more than that – there is also the intentional, yet carefree way the zombified fling themselves off rooftops and over walls and such, the herd mentality front and center via special effects that are an absolute thrill to watch.  As well, the story takes the lead character around the globe in a not-so-typical search for Patient Zero, with memorable scenes befitting a nearly $200 Million budget, including Israel giving it all away for a song.

The plot is trite in spots, yes – of course we all want to avoid those with deadly illnesses for our own survival – and if being a zombie means total health in that regard, I’m in. No other movie made me so interested in being a zombie me-self. For that reason alone this makes my list. It sure as hell ain’t Brad Pitt, though according to recent press, he’s producing World War Z’s second installment, set for release in 2016 or perhaps a little further out.

9 Kill Bill (The Whole Thing, Vol. 1, 2…and 3?) :: “I am going to … kill … BILL.” Oh, this is a feast, one that I can watch over and over and over.

Arguably Tarantino’s best, though Django Unchained blew me away as well. Completely. Jamie Foxx easily earns his lead role – the guy can do just about anything on screen (makes me curious as to what he’s really like off it) and everything I see him in, he makes the pic happen. That’s what they mean by an actor being able to “open” a film, and that he certainly does.

The same goes for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, which is a must-see among all must-sees. It is no wonder there’s talk – maybe more than talk – of a Vol. 3. She carries this series like no one else could, and along the way, we’re treated to Uma’s fierce and lovely Bride, who studies the art of revenge and exacts it over all who ever wronged her, ending appropriately at her estranged Bill’s doorstep, his having turned out to be the one who stole the love of her life, her very own daughter. She kills him in retaliation, using a nearly-sacred move reserved only for the baddest of the bad, one that causes death only when the target tries to move after a series of points on the body have been activated.

Full of sword-fights, surfer punk and some of the best revenge “music” you’ll ever hear, get this series into heavy rotation. You will not be disappointed.

10 Bad Boy Bubby :: If you only see one Australian film, it’s gotta be this one.

Easy to understand why this is considered a classic, but brace yourself for a long, long first act where Nicholas Hope’s Bubby barely eeks out a sorry existence in his sexually abusive mother’s sick house of horrors, never having seen the outside world. Plastic wrap finally provides salvation as Bubby puts his mum and his just-as-bad-an-apple dad in their proper place and goes outside for the first time.

Bubby turns out to have a real talent for (humorously and inappropriately) injecting phrases he’s heard in earlier situations into later ones…where they’re not always called for to say the least. Eventually, his strange knack for vomiting up new language bits lands him a frontman gig in a band, where he delivers a diatribe that had me laughing until my sides hurt.

Eventually, the damaged Bubby finds love to conquer all that had befallen him. Quite the character arc here, don’t overlook this one just because it has a truly happy ending.

Runners-up: American Beauty, Day of the Jackal, The Spanish Prisoner, The Graduate, 28 Days Later. And too many others to mention. I’ll probably get a Second-Tier Top 10 out of them at some point.