Jacob Hall’s Favorite Movies of All Time

favorite movies yojimbo

5. Yojimbo

Yojimbo lacks the grandiosity of Seven Samurai, the emotional catharsis of Ikiru, and the ambition of Rashomon. It is not Akira Kurosawa‘s most complex film…but it’s certainly his most entertaining. Sometimes, the greatest cinematic joys occur when a true master decides to cut loose and have a good time. Although it looks like a samurai movie, Yojimbo has more in common with the American noirs and westerns that inspired so much of Kurosawa’s work. It’s a tightly plotted and twisted tale, following a nameless ronin who wanders into town, stumbles into an ongoing war between two criminal factions, and decides to play both sides against one another. Why would he do this? Well, why not? It’s not like he’s got anything better to do.

Intrigue and deception and violence ensues, with Kurosawa getting plenty of chances to showcase his ability to direct clean, fast, brutal action. However, the filmmaking would be for naught if not for Toshiro Mifune‘s lead performance. Cool and collected and of very few words, he commands the frame. No human being has ever looked so cool and composed on camera and every stoic action hero owes a debt to this film whether they know it or not.


favorite movies goodfellas

4. Goodfellas

Martin Scorsese makes cinematic rock ‘n roll. His work is loose, dangerous and alluring. He makes worlds that you want to enter, even though those worlds will probably leave you unconscious and bleeding out in the gutter. Goodfellas is best movie and his most intoxicating, inviting you into a world of luxury and privilege…and then sitting back as the walls close in. We know why Ray Liotta‘s Henry Hill wants to be a gangster. We understand his world and his place in it. We like it. We like him. We want him to win.

In the moment, in the mad rush of Scorsese’s filmmaking, we forget that this is a film about monsters. It’s only when the characters hit rock bottom that we realize what we’ve been through and what we’ve encouraged. Goodfellas is paced like a rocket, is chock-full of quotable lines, and features shots and edits that brand themselves upon the brain. It’s not a movie – it’s a full contact sport. You emerge after the closing shot bruised and battered and ready for another round.


favorite movies alien

3. Alien

The brilliance of Ridley Scott‘s Alien is how it establishes a complex and rich science fiction world and then proceeds to tear it apart piece by piece. Mankind has conquered space, but he cannot conquer countless eons of primal instinct. Our technology cannot save us. Even when we’re countless lightyears from home, things still go bump in the night. Things still lurk in the shadows and mean us harm.  In other words, Alien is the most frightening movie ever made. As a horror movie, it’s a brilliant exercise in tension, withholding its title monster for great stretches and letting our imaginations work themselves into a frenzy.

Scott deliberately makes his monster a mystery, only offering glimpses of a seemingly impossible creature whose life cycle we can barely comprehend. Here is an alien that is actually, truly alien. Our blue collar heroes, the sci-fi equivalent of long haul truckers certainly don’t know how to kill it. They’re not trained for this and they’re alone on a clunky spaceship that looks like a gothic nightmare. In this universe, space travel sucks before the creature with acid blood shows up and starts tearing people apart. Some of Alien‘s sequels are good, but the first film, so simple, so elegant, so gorgeously designed, and executed with such icy precision, stands alone.


favorite movies a matter of life and death

2. A Matter of Life and Death

Directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger spent the ’40s an ’50s shooting some of the best and most beautiful movies ever made and A Matter of Life and Death is their masterpiece. The film is a dizzying mix of fantasy, romance and comedy, dividing its running time between our world (shot in lush technicolor) and the afterlife (shot in sterile black and white).

It’s a supernatural courtroom drama, a stirring call for international cooperation between nations, a wicked satire of overblown patriotism, a noble tribute to soldiers, a testament to both reason and faith, a ridiculously silly comedy of manners, and a special effects epic whose visuals are still stunning today. Somehow, Powell and Pressburger make it all look effortless. As a British pilot who cheats death and finds himself forced to defend his existence to a heavenly court of law, David Niven is charming and eminently watchable. As the American servicewoman who falls in love with him, Kim Hunter is radiant. Together, they make one of the great movie romances, giving a movie jam-packed with imagination and flawless technique a perfect emotional core.

A Matter of Life and Death is a great romantic comedy, possibly even the best ever made, but it’s also a stunning work of genre fiction and a reminder that when it comes to fantasy, the boundaries are literally limitless.


favorite movies brazil

1. Brazil

Screaming at the world is not enough. Sometimes, you need just need to laugh at it all. Terry Gilliam‘s Brazil cloaks its howls of rage in satire, which is itself cloaked in broad comedy, which is cloaked in science fiction dystopia. It imagines an insane future world that is enough like our own to create discomfort. Citizens go on about their day as terrorist attacks literally rage around them. A bureaucratic error leads to the arrest and execution of an innocent man. A vigilante mechanic prowls the streets, repairing air conditioners that officially licensed inspectors can’t or won’t fix. A jovial family man spends his evenings with his family and his days torturing prisoners because hey, a living is a living, right?

At the center of it all if Jonathan Pryce‘s Sam Lowry, a lowly office drone who is a mighty warrior in his dreams. Lowry’s quest through his terrifying and ugly world is hilarious and tragic, ultimate arriving at the greatest bittersweet film ending of all time. Gilliam’s background as a member of Monty Python serves him well here, as he populates the film with sight gags and slapstick and silly jokes. However, his dark side ultimate rules Brazil. Behind every punchline is a broken heart and behind every humorous aside is a shattered dream. And corpses. Lots of those, too.

When faced with darkness, our best defense is laughter. Comedy is the only way to fight back. If we give in, our dreams die and what good is life without dreams? Brazil is a madhouse of a movie. It’s deranged. But it may also be the sanest movie ever made.

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