TL;DR – Today we countdown my Top 10 films of all time; from towns where there are a lot of ‘accidents’, to all forms of Sci-Fi, to do you know the man with six fingers on his right hand, and everything in between.
Recently I watched the CineFix crew countdown their Top 10 films, and it had me thinking what are mine? Now it was at this point where I of course naturally spiralled as how can you reduce thousands of films that you have seen into only a Top 10. Just before I threw my hands up in resignation and chucked in the towel I happened to catch an episode of Movies with Mikey on how he determined the best sequel. With this in mind I wondered if there was a set of criteria that I could use to categorise the films into a list that I would be happy with, and after some work, I came up with the following criteria that work for me.
- Films that are beautifully constructed
- Films that mean something to me
- Films that are always re-watchable
- Films that have added to my love of the craft of cinema
With this criterion in mind I went through all the likely candidates and with a bit of a struggle I think I have been able to come to a final list, well at least until I change my mind next week, which is always a chance.
However, before we jump into the Top 10 list, there were a number of films that didn’t quite meet every criterion. While they may not be in my Top 10, I do still love them, so with that in mind here are the highly commended entries.
First and foremost, we have the genre that has shaped my cinematic world more than any other and that is the world of Science Fiction. I love the hard Sci-Fi epics like The Martian or 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it does not end just there, we have the soft Sci-Fi romps like Star Wars: A New Hope and The Force Awakens, the grandness of Star Trek: First Contact and The Wrath of Khan, to the sublime Arrival, and of course there is also Serenity, Tron Legacy, Stargate, Total Recall, and Planet of the Apes and so many more.
Then we have those action films that explode on the screen and never let up like Dredd, True Lies, Cutthroat Island, Skyfall, Goldeneye, Goldfinger, and well most of the Bonds, to be honest, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Die Hard, Creed, John Wick, The Forbidden Kingdom, National Treasure and The Bourne Identity. This is even before we take a stroll down Superhero Lane with Captain America, Wonder Woman, Deadpool, Batman Begins, Harry Potter, Thor, Logan, X-Men 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, and of course The Avengers.
While we are here we have to look at those films that make you feel all the things like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Paddington, Forest Gump, Get Out, Okja, and Gurrumul. Or indeed those films that I could only watch once, like Schindler’s List. Oh, and on the flip side those films that just leave a smile on your face like Stardust, 10 Things I Hate About You, Austin Powers, and 22 Jump Street.
Finally, of course, I could not have a highly commended list without highlighting just about everything animated from Disney, Pixar, Studio Ghibli, and more. This is the Porco Rosso, Toy Story 1, 2, and 3, How to Train Your Dragons, Aladdin, Mulan, Moana, Shrek, Howl’s Moving Castle, Coco, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, The Lion King, The Emperor’s New Groove, Kung Fu Panda, The Lego Film, Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, and well this list goes on and on.
Finally, before we start I just want to reinforce that these are my favourite films of all time, and as such, they are inherently different from your own list. Many of these films are from the same timeframe because they were formative to my cinematic upbringing, and that will be different for everyone. Now with all the housekeeping out of the way it is time to dive into the Top 10 list.
10: A Knight’s Tale
Let me tell you a tale of knights and dames, of noble commoners and evil lords, and the time of group sourced love letters. It is a story as old as time itself, a story of love and loss, pride, and also a dance choreographed on the spot to electric guitars.
A Knight’s Tale tells the story of William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) a commoner that takes on the disguise of Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein to be able to compete in jousting tournaments. It is a film that is both at once rooted in the medieval world that it is set in with numerous references to the classical literature of the time, but also completely not bound to it with We Will Rock You and modern fashion aplenty.
This was the one entry that I think I spent the most time debating with myself as it is the final entry and nothing else can come after that, and for a long time I was switching it out and back again with 10 Things I Hate About You. However, where A Knight’s Tale just edges it out is with how it uses the camera to shift the balance of power.
I love it because of the beauty that abounds through the acting, writing, action, down to the very set design. It is a film that is both an action film, a comedy, and a romantic film. It is also clear that the cast is just having fun with their roles and you can’t help but join in on the fun. It does make me a little sad watching it today because the world lost a great actor in Heath well before his time, but “it is called a lance hello” will always get a laugh out of me.
Director/Writer: Brian Helgeland
Cinematography: Richard Greatrex
Music: Carter Burwell
Cast: Heath Ledger, Rufus Sewell, Shannyn Sossamon, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Paul Bettany, Laura Fraser, Bérénice Bejo, James Purefoy & Christopher Cazenove
From one side of the action genre to the other, we take a look at a film that is working on many different layers much like an onion or a parfait. The film industry is one that has been going through a period of flux over the last decade or so, but there is one filmmaker that has remained an anchor to classical filmmaking and that is Christopher Nolan. He shots on film, shirks 3D, and lives by the mantra that practical is best. Being inflexible can be bad when you end up becoming irrelevant, but that cannot be said for Christopher because every film he releases are all at least technical masterpieces, and of his works, there is one that stands above the others for me, Inception.
Inception is the story of Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is an expert in entering people’s dreams and using their lowered guard to extract secrets. He lives in this illegal world because he is on the run from the police for allegedly killing his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) who now haunts his dreams and comes in like a wrecking ball or in this case a wrecking train. He and his team are given a new task, not to extract information, but to implant a new idea in someone’s head, that is to create an inception.
This is a film that juggles four different layers of action, all happening at the same time, at different time rates, and makes it all feel like one constant whole. It juggles deep emotional issues like the loss of loved ones and the drive to be reunited with your children with zany Sci-Fi concepts like diving into someone’s dreams. It has a whole fight scene in zero gravity as they jump around a corridor, which was filmed in a rotating set with a locked camera. It has multiple characters that you all know the motivations of what drives them due to clever writing and on point acting. It also has one of Hans Zimmer’s best scores to date, to create the world of the film, including the beautiful use of Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien that is integrated into the very heart of the score. All of these little touches made me start to look at the roles that music had in shaping the narrative and also reinforcing it.
Of course, Inception might be most famous for its ending, with a multitude of analyses of just what happened at the end. It shows you the power of storytelling, and this more than any other recent film has really helped people discuss how a film tells a story via one maybe tipping spinning top.
Director/Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cinematography: Wally Pfister
Music: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Pete Postlethwaite & Michael Caine
8: The Fifth Element (Le Cinquième Élément)
We have dived into people’s minds, now it is time to jump up into space and into the far future of flying cars, lumbering Mondoshawans, and the fate of the universe being in the balance as good fights evil, and evil’s henchman capitalism. When I first watched Luc Besson’s Sci-fi epic, that is yet to be surpassed, I was blown away by the vibrant yet murky world that he created. It was a juxtaposition of conflicting forces, colour and grime, good and evil, progress and retreat, with the core message, are people worth saving?
The Fifth Element is the story of Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) a retired Special Forces officer that now drives a car for a living in the 2200s. That is until one day Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) the titular Fifth Element crashes through his roof of his cab setting off a chain of reactions that lead to them trying to save all life in the universe from the very personification of evil.
Besides the visual flair and the story, The Fifth Element was also the first film that showed me the power of what you could achieve in the use of editing. There are so many interconnecting storylines, indeed the main protagonist and antagonist never actually meet or know that each other exists. This could have led to a complete and utter mess, but cleaver cutting between the different stories not only keeps the momentum flowing but provided some of the film’s best visual gags.
It has a visual flair that we don’t see very often, and it one of those films which have some moments that become touchstones in your cinematic viewing like the Diva’s Dance. Also who can forget “Negative I am a Meat Popsicle” which is one of those absurd moments that encapsulate the film. It is an action film at its core, but it is also a clever action film using big sets and locations to create a vibrant world that I would not be upset if we visited it again.
Director: Luc Besson
Writers: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Cinematography: Thierry Arbogast
Music: Éric Serra
Cast: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker, Ian Holm, Charlie Creed-Miles, Brion James, Tricky, Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr., Lee Evans, John Bluthal, Luke Perry, John Bennett, Kim Chan, John Neville, Al Matthews & Maïwenn Le Besco
7: Independence Day
We now move from us going out into the universe, to the aliens coming to us, and it is not the kind of ‘Live Long and Prosper’ first contact that we had hoped for. For indeed these aliens are not here to welcome us into the universe as new members, they are here to destroy our cities, suck up all our resources, and then move on to the next planet. But oh no, we are not going to let that happen because what we lack in technology we make up for with sheer pluckiness.
Independence Day is the story of Earth when one-day alien ships descend from the sky and hover over many important cities like New York, London, Moscow, Delhi and others. The whole world is trying to communicate with the aliens but everyone is being ignored when cable tv technician David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) discovered a countdown timer embedded in the world’s satellites, a countdown to boom.
While big budget films destroying cities has become a staple of the modern film industry it is usually played as eye candy without any substance to it, indeed it got so bad that recent films have had to rework how they show destruction porn. Now while Independence Day features all that destruction as we see one famous landmark after another bite the dust, it meant something, because the film took the time to fill the world with interesting characters that yes may have only been there for one scene or two but it gave the destruction weight when the flame wall approached and you knew there was no way out. Also even to this day the effects used to create the destruction scenes still hold up because they were models and practical effects augmented with visual accents. Using old school techniques like filming on the horizontal then flipping it vertically to make the flames look like they are exploding outwards horizontally.
This care and attention to detail do not just stop at the alien destruction sequences, every action sequence feels like it has weight, because every moment has high stakes. The very survival of the human race is dependent on it, and you feel every failure and not just because the strings have started to rise in the background score. As well as this, Independence Day is a film that is as much about hope and working together as well as it is a film about destruction. Now sure, today the line about the American’s having a plan and that one Brit guy going “about time” does feel a bit dated, I don’t care. It is a film that posits that the world is better when we work together rather than alone, and I think that is a message that is needed today more than ever. As well as this, it also has the best speeches in film history “but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writers: Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich
Cinematography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Music: David Arnold
Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Vivica A. Fox, Harvey Fierstein, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Mae Whitman & Harry Connick Jr.
6: Hot Fuzz
We now move from the worldwide destruction of every major city in 48 hours to a small quaint village in the country. When I think of films that I have watched multiple times one of the first to come to mind is Edgar Wright’s frankly fantastic film Hot Fuzz. Now this is part of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy and when you talk to everybody they all have their own particular favourite, and while they are all great films, this is the one that resonated for me.
Hot Fuzz is the story of Sergeant Nicholas “Nick” Angel (Simon Pegg) a police officer in London that is so good at his job he is making everyone else look bad. So to deal with this they send him off into the country to the picturesque village of Sandford, Gloucestershire where there has not been a murder for decades … but there sure are a lot of ‘accidents’. Oh and we answer the very important question “Have you ever fired two guns while jumping in the air?”
I have never been one of those people who claim that to get a film you have to watch it multiple times, and I think that line of reasoning is flawed, as if a film cannot get its message across in a single viewing then there are structural problems at play. However, what I will say is that with Hot Fuzz every time I have watched it I discover a new detail that I missed due to Edgar Wright and Co’s meticulous attention to detail. Like for example how the order we first meet the townspeople when Angel is out on a run is the order that they are taken out at the end of the film, or how everything that Danny (Nick Frost) asks Angel about they end up doing by the end of the film, even the small things like “everyman and his mum is packing guns around here” coming true at the end of the film. It is those details like how the very surnames tell you about the characters before we get to know them, or how we get everything we need to know about how people see each other in a single line of dialogue thanks to a crossword puzzle.
However, a film just being cleaver is great, but it will not get you on this list, it needs to be more than that and Hot Fuzz is. It is a story about characters either being defined by their pasts or working through their pain to become better people. It is a (mostly) non-romantic love story of two friends bonding over 80s action films and peace lilies. It is a dissection of how easy it is for a society to slip into a fascist state when key people in power decide that the law no longer applies to them. Also, it is an exploration of the amount of paperwork you have to fill out when you are a police officer.
While it is all this it is also one of the funniest films that I have ever watched with excellent visual, physical, audio, and verbal jokes. This comedy only works because every actor in the film is giving their all in what are sometimes truly absurd roles. We have The Andy’s popping in and out of frame, a generous helping of cursing at the right moments, surprise suspenders, and more. All of this means that I can endlessly re-watch Hot Fuzz, indeed I have to stop myself going to play it know.
Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
Cinematography: Jess Hall
Music: David Arnold
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Paddy Considine, Rafe Spall, Kevin Eldon, Olivia Colman, Karl Johnson, Bill Bailey, Rory McCann, Billie Whitelaw, Martin Freeman & Bill Nighy
5: Princess Bride
We move from a town full of psychopaths to the realm of fantasy sort of, okay more the realm of fairy tales, of princesses and pirates, of jealous princes, true love, and the most important thing, a good MLT. I think I can quote more lines form this film than any other on this list, and more importantly, I think most people will get that reference about how one particular person should prepare to die.
The Princess Bride is a story of the Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) who has been forced into marrying a man she does not love Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) after her first love was killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. The one solace that she gets in her life is her daily ride into the countryside which is where she is when she is kidnapped by three ruffians who are taking her to the neighbouring kingdom of Guilder for nefarious purposes, only to discover that they themselves are being tracked by the Man in Black (Cary Elwes).
So what about this film is great, well, to be frank, all of it really. It is a joyful romp across the fire swamps with rodents of unusual size and back again. It focuses on love without being drowned in sentimentality, it is full of strong role models that often fall down but pick themselves up and keep on going, and it is undoubtedly one of the funniest films ever made. I have a feeling that they just let Billy Crystal and Carol Kane just go nuts and filmed what happened. Add to this, some beautifully choreographed fight sequences from the amazing late Bob Anderson, and a wonderful framing device of a grandfather telling the story to his sick grandchild who is not with it by the start but does not want it to end, and who can blame him.
It was also before it’s time with some of the best lines of dialogue, for example in no particular order “As …. You …. Wish ….”, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”, “Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line”. “You mean, you’ll put down your rock and I’ll put down my sword, and we’ll try and kill each other like civilized people?”, and if course “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!” A true film for everyone.
Director: Rob Reiner
Writers: William Goldman
Cinematography: Adrian Biddle
Music: Robert Leighton
Cast: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, André the Giant, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Billy Crystal & Carol Kane
4: Jurassic Park
We now move from fairy tales to cautionary tales and of what happens when you play god … [insert T-Rex roar here]. Now I have made no allusions in the past to the fact that when it comes to dinosaurs in movies I am the easiest sell and part of that comes from Jurassic Park, which was one of the first big action films that I saw back when it was released in 1993 [insert sudden realisation that this was 25 years ago makes me feel really old].
Jurassic Park is the story of Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) who is asked to come to tour this new theme park created by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) after a slight workplace incident made the investors nervous … a dude totally got ate. Alan thinks this is all a load of hogwash but his excavation is running out of funding and Hammond is paying really well for a weekend away in Costa Rica so what is the harm? Oh boy, well the harm is a giant hurricane and some less than loyal staff members who are about to let the creations loose on those who are left. I am T-Rex, hear me roar.
Before we dive into the world of dinosaurs there is one thing I have to talk about and that is John Williams’ score. John is the absolute expert when it comes to the use of leitmotif or themes in his music, and while his work in Star Wars or Harry Potter might be better known, it is his score for Jurassic Park that I love the most. Take for example the first time we see dinosaurs in all their glory. We start with a moment of silence as the jeep pulls up, and slowly there is a rumble of low horns as cellos quickly rise creating tension. As Alan starts to comprehend what he is seeing, taking off his sunglasses, we get some added clarinets rising and then the violins coming in over the top, all building and building and then as we pan over to the Brachiosaurus and see a beautifully rendered dinosaur the theme starts playing but it is still restrained as everyone freaks out over the sauropod. The theme builds layers upon layers as the Brachiosaurus reaches up and slams its feet into the ground, but still, it is holding back, waiting not for the mention of the T-Rex but for the final reveal of the lake to revel in all its glory. Why bring this up because it is the exact same emotion I felt when I first saw the film.
To add to this, Jurassic Park was a masterpiece of blending computer generated and animatronic animals, knowing when it was best to use each type. It is also a film that is full of iconic moments like the glass in the jeep, the T-Rex roar, the Raptors appearing in the background of the shot, or the electric fence dad joke. But it is also a story of greed going wild and coming home to roost, when ambition outstrips common sense, discovering the fight in you to survive, and the joy in other people.
The action sequences are heart pumping the soundtrack is on point, the visuals are wonderful and still hold up today and nothing that has come since has yet been able to make the original. Though while we are talking about dinosaurs I will make my inevitable shout into the void that someone needs to do a good Dinotopia adaptation.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Michael Crichton & David Koepp
Cinematography: Dean Cundey
Music: John Williams
Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, BD Wong, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Joseph Mazzello & Ariana Richards
3: Mad Max: Fury Road
From a cautionary tale, we step into the world of violence and destruction as we race down the Fury Road. I am a real fan of action films and as long as they are well made, choreographed, and acted I am a happy person. However, while I don’t think action films need a deeper meaning to be good but when they do go that extra mile that are the better for it.
Mad Max: Fury Road is the story of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as she fights to take the slaves of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) to safety. This means battling four different armies hell-bent on their destruction, as well as the elements, and a man who had his ego scorned #NotAllMen, oh and at some point, Max (Tom Hardy) tags along for similar let’s get the hell out of dodge reasons.
Fury Road is at its heart an action film, and as an action film, oh wow, what an action film it is. Okay, I need a chase sequence where two-thirds of the film is running away and then back again, I need each of the section of desert to be both desert but also different from each other, and I need different threats along the way. At some point, you should have become desensitised to the relentless action but the film constant shakes it up giving moments of rest to let you catch your breath before exploding out again. Every moment of the action is captured because it is all filmed with the centre frame in mind, allowing the film to rapidly cut between shots without ever losing coherence. This was a film that was storyboarded before it was ever a script and you see that in every beat of the action that moved fluidly from set piece to set piece, with multiple setups and deliveries throughout the film.
This is added too by moments that have you just wondering both wherein George Miller’s mind did he draw these from. I mean like you know that moment when you saw that dude in front of the speakers rocking out to an electric guitar and thought this was the maddest thing you had ever seen right up and until he shot flames out of that very same guitar. This is because a lot of the film is captured in camera with digital augmentation later in post, this gives the film more texture and grit. Like for example the leaping motorcycles, or the flying Polecats. This practical consideration also meant that a lot of thought and time went into the set and vehicle directions, and every time I watch the film I notice a new detail that was not there before.
While all the action is great, unlike a lot of other films it is there is service to the story and the themes of the film and not the other way around. Now the film is not at all subtitle about what its message is. “Who destroyed the World?”, “We Are Not Things!” Joe treats his ‘wives’ as property, only existing so that they can give him the perfect son he so desires. They were likely ripped from their homes against their will like Furiosa and forced to conceive his child. The film is not in any way subtitle with its themes, but what it is subtitle is in the small things, like it is clear that Max has been away from other humans for a long time as he mostly speaks in grunts, only slowly building back the language he probably has not spoken in years. Or how the film uses visual storytelling to world build instead of constantly monologuing to the camera. It is one of those films that comes along once in a generation, and I don’t think we will see anything like it for years to come.
Director: George Miller
Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy & Nico Lathouris
Cinematography: John Seale
Music: Junkie XL
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Nathan Jones, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Josh Helman, John Howard, Richard Carter, Angus Sampson, iOTA, Megan Gale & Melissa Jaffer
2: The Matrix
What if all the world you see around you is a lie, everything you do is just a computer simulation used to keep you docile as they turn your body into battery … okay, that is a bit silly, but go with me for the rest of it. We now enter a world where nothing is what it seems, and anyone could be an enemy at any moment, even the Lady in the Red Dress.
The Matrix is the story of Mr Anderson, who is by day a mild-mannered office worker, but by night he goes by Neo (Keanu Reeves) a computer hacker who is trying to discover the answer to a secret he didn’t even know he was looking for. Something in this world does not seem right and maybe Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) has the answer. The reality is that everything Neo sees is a lie, created by machines, to keep humans from learning the truth about their reality. Well, there are still some humans on the outside fighting the machines that have a prophecy that they will find a chosen one and Morpheus is sure Neo is the answer to that prophecy. The only problem is that humans are not the only ones who have an interest in Neo, and Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is also hunting him and not even getting Neo out of The Matrix can save him from the coming storm.
In a number of the entries on this list, I have mentioned the use of practical effects, and I do stand by my love of the practical. However, I don’t think there has been any film that has impacted me more in one single moment that when I watched bullet time for the first time in the cinemas. Even to this day, the vast majority of the visual effects in the film still hold up, because a lot of care and attention went into their creation, even though they were on the fringes of what was possible at the time. I think it was to me that same feeling that people got in A New Hope when the Star Destroyer emerged onto the screen for the first time.
To add to all this, the action scenes were frankly ridiculous, with plaster flying across the screen as bullets explode around you. You had these moments like “I know Kung-Fu” which stampeded their way into the cultural zeitgeist of the time. You also had the absolute commitment of all the actors like Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, and Carrie-Anne Moss who own every moment they are on screen. It is clear that The Wachowskis showed their love for the cinema of their youth, and you can see those references throughout. However, more than that if you dig a little bit deeper, it is clearly dealing with themes that were both deeply personal, and also ones that rarely make it into mainstream cinema.
Yes, it is a shame the rest of the trilogy didn’t quite work out as well. However, none of that takes away from what is a touchstone of modern cinema, and one of the most impactful films I watched growing up and realising the stories you could tell through the lens of a camera.
Director/Writers: The Wachowskis
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Music: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Gloria Foster, Marcus Chong, Julian Arahanga, Belinda McClory, Anthony Ray Parker & Matt Doran
1: The Return of the King
Here we are after nine entries we have reached the end and this is the one entry that may flummoxed me the most. Out of the thousands of films I have seen which one stand out above the rest? Well after some thought I focused in on the “Films that have added to my love of the craft of cinema” criteria and when I looked at this there could be only one answer. There are a lot of reasons why one of the Lord of Rings films would be on the top of this list, but why the Return of the King? I picked the last in the trilogy because for me it the culmination of everything, the acting/writing/direction/score/design, and well everything the thousands of artist whose work went into this film. So let’s dive into the world of hobbits, wizards, elves, dwarves, and orcs … oh my.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the conclusion of a story of a good old time battle of good and evil. Frodo (Elijah Wood) is a hobbit or small folk or someone that no one really expects anything from. He is battling the evil eye that is trying to recover the treasure it once lost. There are wraths above you, travelling companions that might not be trustworthy, and the weight of responsibility that is burning a hole into his soul. It is also a story of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) the titular returning king. He has to find the courage to cast off the shackles of his ancestors, fight for his friends, and lead men into an unwinnable final battle. Oh and also a film about everybody finding courage in the darkest place.
There were these moments like the Battle of Pelennor Fields, or Shelob’s lair, or the lighting of the beacons. All fluctuating from giant spectacles, to creepy pulse rushing nightmare-scapes, to lighter character moments. This is a film that is painting with every brush in their repertoire, and it all works. So you can have epic battle sequences but then also cut to a small quiet scene about finding the strength to carry on, to romance, comedy, tragedy, and more. That moment when the horns rang out and Oliphaunts/Mûmakil trumpet and you feel the weight of the steps as they stamped down and everybody in the cinema froze in place for a moment. Or that moment when Éowyn (Miranda Otto) goes “I am no man” and straight up stabs the Witch King (Lawrence Makoare) in the face. It is also a deeply beautiful film, from the original words of J. R. R. Tolkien, to the artists creating the world of Middle Earth, to Howard Shore who created the soundscape that still echoes in my head today.
I loved The Fellowship of the Ring when I first watched it in cinemas, and also The Two Towers, and when they came out a couple of years later I noticed there was this Extended Edition and gave it a watch. It, of course, had some new scenes, some which were amazing and other which you kind of understood why they never made it to the theatrical release. However, while the movies were stretched across two DVDs there was also these two extra DVDs full of behind the scenes features. It was here that for the first time my love for how films are constructed came into fruition, the model builders, armours, horse wranglers, location scouts, concept artists, production assistants, helicopter pilots, computer effects artists, musicians, and more. It was a rabbit hole that I fell into that made me realise for the first time just what goes into making a film. It is also the one film set that I have made a pilgrimage to over the years, and yes Hobbiton is beautiful as you imagine it to be.
And there we have it, my Top Ten films of all time, are any of these your favourites? Or if you not what are your favourite films of all time, let me know in the comments below.
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & J. R. R. Tolkien
Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie
Music: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Cate Blanchett, Lawrence Makoare, Ian Holm, Paul Norell, Marton Csokas, Sean Bean, Bruce Spence, Brad Dourif & Christopher Lee
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of each respective film