Like reading books, I’ve seen over a thousand movies during the last fifty-five years. And, like everyone else, I have my favorites, which are usually films that touched my heart and soul in some unique way. The top ten movies on my list are ones that do this with a power capable of still shaking me to the core with amazement and excitement of stepping into different world for two hours.
Of the ten films here, three are about sports—baseball and football. In fact, the three movies (Field of Dreams, Rudy, and The Natural) are much more than sport films. The theme of each one is about doing the impossible, no matter what the obstacles. These films moved me emotionally when I first saw them and still do after two-dozen or more viewings.
Here’s my Top-ten list of the films I’ve enjoyed the most over the last half century. No, I didn’t include Bambi, though I should’ve since it was the first movie I ever saw, and what child didn’t cry when Bambi’s mother was shot by the hunters? Okay, it’s the list for better or worse:
1) The Yakuza with Robert Mitchum--(I’ve seen this remarkable film at least thirty times over the last three decades and the ending still brings tears to my eyes. The movie is about honor and fulfilling your debts to others, which are the only things that truly make you a man. Robert Mitchum travels to Japan to rescue a friend’s daughter, who has been kidnapped by the Yakuza. To get her back, he has to call in a debt from a Japanese man who hates him. The final outcome is what really makes this movie. We learn how our actions, though unintentional, can affect the lives of others. An extremely powerful film with wonderful acting by Bob Mitchum and Takakura Ken.)
2) The Shawshank Redemption—(This movie probably saved my life when I was in the hospital two years ago for over a month. I watched this film every single day on my portable DVD player, and it literally gave me the will to live and to not give up on life. I thank Frank Darabont for that, along with the great acting of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. The line, “Get busy living or get busy dying,” is my motto now as I write like a demon from hell in an effort to leave some sort of legacy behind.)
3) Field of Dreams—(When I first saw this film at the theater, I cried so hard on the way home that I had to pull the car over to the side of the street because I couldn’t see. My wife at the time thought I’d gone totally nuts. Maybe I had. This film wasn’t only about a father/son relationship, which I never had, it also touched on the possibility of making your dreams come true, no matter how crazy everyone else seems to think you are. I believe that was what grabbed me because I wasn’t living my dreams at the time and later had to make some rough decisions about my life and what I wanted.)
4) Rudy with Sean Astin—(This was the other movie I watched when I was in the hospital the first time around. Though I know a lot of things were changed for the sake of the film, this movie still gave me hope in achieving the impossible. As the real Rudy Ruettiger says in the DVD’s featurettes, “If you do the work, you can make your dreams come true.” Rudy lives here in Las Vegas, and I got a wonderful letter from him when I got out of the hospital. Needless to say, it broke my heart when the SEC charged him and others with fraud in a sports drink he was promoting. I would like to sit down with Rudy and ask him what the hell happened.)
5) The Green Mile with Tom Hanks—(When Stephen King wrote the six-book series of The Green Mile, I remember writing him and asking how he could kill off such a wonderful character as John Coffey. He probably thought I was nuts. I get that a lot. This film is about the Depression and a large black man who has the power to heal. He’s wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit and is sentenced to die in the electric chair. Tom Hanks’ character is in charge of the cell block the prisoner is on, as well as the execution. This film is certainly one that touches the heart and as the lead character says at the end, “Everyone owes a death. There are no exceptions. We each have to walk our own green mile.” Frank Darabont directed both this movie and The Shawshank Redemption.)
6) The Natural with Robert Redford—(I remember the day I saw this movie. It was in 1984, and I was visiting Chapel Hill, North Carolina from my home in Beaufort. I was thinking about moving to Chapel Hill so that I could be closer to both Karl Edward Wagner and Manley Wade Wellman, two authors I greatly admired. While I was checking on the cost of rentals in the town, I saw The Natural playing at one of the local theaters. The drawing card for me was Glenn Close. She was in the movie as Redford’s true love interest. I’d first seen Glenn in The World According To Garp a couple of years earlier. She looked a lot like a woman I’d been in love with, and so I naturally saw any film she was in. The Natural blew me away. The ending made me stand up and cheer because the Redford character had to make a tough decision that was based on integrity versus getting rich and throwing a baseball game. He chose integrity and knocked the ball into the lights at the corner of the field, winning the pennant for his team.)
7) The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise—(This film takes place during the late Eighteen Hundreds. Tom Cruise plays an ex-U.S. Army officer who is offered a sizable amount of money to travel to Japan and train its military to fight the Samurai, who are revolting against Japan’s entrance into a new era and the change of traditions long held by its people. Cruise’s character is soon captured in battle and taken back to the village in the mountains where the Samurai are staying for the winter. Eventually, over a period of months, Cruise’s character begins to know and understand the way of the Warrior and to see that the Samurai only have the best interests of Japan at heart. Of course, the Japanese government is filled with powerful people who are only interested in lining their pockets with more money. Sounds like our government, doesn’t it? Cruise joins the Samurai in the fight to win Japan back. I firmly believe this is Tom Cruise’s best movie. Everything is captured perfectly in the film, especially the portrayal of the Code of Bushido and the Samurai class. This movie is also about honor and redemption and the fulfillment of one’s debt to society. I went to see this film on the first day and showing at Boulder Station in Las Vegas. This is a casino on the east side of town. There weren’t many people in the viewing audience. I saw two Japanese families with young kids sitting below me and some other people in the rear. When the movie was over, I continued to sit there in my seat while the end credits ran. I was still caught up in the mood of the film and didn’t want to destroy the flow of emotions that were soaring through me at the time. The people behind me left as most do when the end credits are running. The two Japanese families, however, remained seated. When the credits ended and the lights came on inside the theater, I stood up, as did the two Japanese families. Then something amazing happened. The two Japanese families bowed toward the screen. They were showing respect to the movie and to what it had said about the Japanese culture. One of the kids saw me standing behind them and said something to his parents. They turned around to stare at me, as did the other Japanese family. I bowed to them, and they in turn bowed to me. We all left the theater to return to our own individual lives, yet joined together by the greatness of The Last Samurai. To my disappointment, Tom Cruise wasn’t even nominated for an Academy Award. He should have been for his fabulous performance in this exceptional film.)
8) Somewhere In Time with Christopher Reeve—(This movie is based on the novel, Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson. Matheson wrote the screenplay. What many people don’t realize is Matheson also wrote the novels, Hell House, I Am Legend, Stir of Echoes, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, all of which were turned into movies. Matheson is also famous for the episodes he wrote for The Twilight Zone back during the sixties, plus his teleplay of Duel with Dennis Weaver, that was filmed by Steven Speilberg for television. What Matheson showed us was that a writer of horror fiction and movies could also pen a novel about love and what one man is willing to do to be with his soul mate. Somewhere In Time is a tearjerker for those with a strong romantic streak inside of them. It starts out with Christopher Reeve’s character as a young college student who has just seen his first play produced on campus. After the show, when everyone is back stage celebrating, an elderly, but very dignified woman makes her way through the crowd to Reeve. She takes his hand and places a pocket watch in it and says only four words, “Come back to me.” She then returns to her home and dies that very night. Years later, Reeve’s character takes off on a trip to deal with some emotional pain he’s carrying and stops at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan. He sees a picture of Jane Seymour in the Gallery of Fame and becomes infatuated with her. She was an actress who performed at the hotel at the turn of the century. In time, however, Reeve discovers that the lady who gave him the pocket watch was actually Jane Seymour and that he somehow travelled back in time to be with her. A great love story with beautiful music by the late John Barry, who also wrote the James Bond theme. If you have a heart, you will definitely cry at the end of the film.)
9) What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams—(No this isn’t a comedy, but rather another film that was based on a novel by Richard Matheson. It’s a look at what the afterlife might entail when we die, plus the possibility of reincarnation. Robin Williams’ character is a children’s doctor, and he dies in a terrible traffic accident. In the afterlife, which is based on many of the scenic paintings his wife did, he meets his mentors and dead children (his son and daughter also died in a traffic accident). Soon, he learns his wife has committed suicide because she can’t bear to be without him or their children. Her afterlife, because she believes in hell, is spent there. Robin Williams has to do the impossible and travel to the depths of hell to save his wife and bring her back. No one in the afterlife has ever done this before, plus his wife won’t recognize him or know who he is. Love, however, is the most powerful force on earth, and it can move mountains if your passion is strong enough. This is the type of afterlife I hope I will find when the time comes.)
10) The Razor’s Edge with Bill Murray—(This also isn’t a comedy, and Bill Murray is an unlikely actor to play such a complex role. The movie, based on the 1944 classic by Somerset Maugham, deals with a man who has seen the horrors of war and begins to search for the answers as to what life is and why we’re here. His travels take him across the world and eventually to Nepal where he experiences a moment of satori in the Tibetan monastery in the snow-covered mountains. The catch is trying to apply his new experiences in a world filled with despair and hopelessness, plus his feelings for two women who are completely different from each other. As the famous teacher, Ram Dass, once said, “When you become enlighten, you still have to remember your zip code.” This has always been the challenge for those who are able to walk the path, but still have to function in the world we have created. Bill Murray agreed to do Ghostbusters on the condition that the studio would finance the making of The Razor’s Edge. I think this is his best movie to date.)
11) Peaceful Warrior with Nick Nolte—(I’m including another two movies that are quite good, but received little in the way of recognition when they first premiered. The first is Peaceful Warrior. Now, this isn’t to be confused with Warrior (2011), the film Nolte was nominated for an Academy Award a few months ago. The Peaceful Warrior is actually based on the bestselling novel from the eighties, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. The novel was part autobiographical and dealt with Millman’s last year at the University of California at Berkley as a world-class gymnast. A motorcycle accident damaged one of his legs, and his career was placed on hold…that is until he met an old man called Socrates, who worked the graveyard shift at a nearby gas station. Socrates was a man of many extraordinary abilities. He was wise beyond his years, a master mechanic, a master of the martial art, Aikido, and able to do mysterious things that were magical. Nolte plays Socrates in the movie, and it’s a role that shines with this great actor’s talent. In time, Socrates helps Millman to regain the use of his leg and to become an even better gymnast than before. Once again, it’s about making your dreams come true, but with a clearer understanding about the hidden meaning of life and what’s really important to the growth of one’s soul. I’ve always thought Nick Nolte should have won the Oscar for The Prince of Tides. This man is an unbelievable actor, who’s capable of doing anything he sets his mind on. He can take a simple role and make it great with his performance. I thought he should have been nominated for an Academy Award for Peaceful Warrior, but at least he was recognized for the Warrior, though he didn’t win. I haven’t seen that movie, but it’s on my list to get on DVD because Nick Nolte is in it.)
12) The Dead Zone with Christopher Walken—(Here’s another movie that’s based on a Stephen King story, along with The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. I, like other King fans, saw this movie when it first came out in 1983. I loved it then, and I love it now. The movie is about a high school teacher who’s due to get married to the love of his life, a fellow school teacher named Sarah. A traffic accident, however, puts Johnny Smith into a coma for five years. He comes out of it with the muscles in his legs shortened by lack of use, his fiance married to another man, his mother dead, no job, a ton of medical bills, and the ability to glimpse the future of someone he touches. While still being in love with Sarah, Johnny Smith begins a journey of discovery in which he learns he can also change the future he sees. This becomes more pronounced when he shakes the hand of a man who’ll eventually run for the Presidency. He sees this man starting World War III, when diplomacy could have been used. What is Johnny to do? Let things ride or take matters into his own hands and stop this man in his tracks? This movie, like the above two, is one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel. David Cronenberg, who directed it, and Chris Walken as Johnny Smith, were able to accurately capture the inner turmoil of man who’s lost everything and now has to make a choice about his own life and the future of mankind. This is a brilliant movie with excellent performances by everyone involved. The ending is real tearjerker when Sarah holds Johnny in her arms and says, “I still love you.”)
I’d started writing this posting with the intention of doing a review on the Director’s Cut of The Natural on DVD, but got carried away, or maybe side tracked is a better term. The above films are my top ten favorites of all time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds of other fantastic movies out there I’ve enjoyed over the years and have in my DVD collection.
Of course, everyone who loves movies will have their own top ten favorites, based on how the film affected them when they saw it. That’s just as it should be because every film has to find its own audience and fan base. Movies are different just as people are. We watch a movie and either enjoy it or we don’t, based on what we bring to the plate. Our own experiences will often affect how we view something. Of course, bad movies are sometimes inadvertently made. As the great William Goldman has said, “No one sets out to make a bad movie, but it still happens.”
Now, I still have to write my review of The Natural, and maybe…just maybe I’ll be able to hit the lights in the far corner of the field with the baseball, bringing everybody on the bases into home plate so we can win the pennant.