The envelope please

In the corporate world along with my personal life, activity lists, deadlines, scheduled appointments measure the fruits of my labor. Facts and figures are my friends. They give me confidence I’m making prudent decisions that will work out. No decision is clear cut so I play the percentages with what is known. That’s how I figure out what to do with my time.

Sometimes I overdo it and forget to take it easy and just relax with a book or a good movie. When it comes to movies, I, like many people seek out new movies that sound appealing but find the choices can be overwhelming. So I’ve relied on trusted sources like Rogers & Ebert, Vincent Canby and Pauline Karl when they were alive. I also rely on the number of awards achieved. Certain categories I ignore completely like sci-fi action, animation and light comedies.

With this as a background I decided to compile my own list of my five favorite films of all time.

The first three were easy to determine but restricting it to only five made it really hard. In the process I discovered similarities in my top 5 list.

Films of particular interest to me have enjoyed high praise from critics and audiences alike, and have won multiple awards from the Academy. They are dramas except one, and they all rely on lots of dialogue and deliberate or thoughtful acting. They are usually fictitious, but may be drawn from real life historical events or were made for the screen from a previously published book. I like films with strong characters who live their lives with dignity and integrity and honesty. They outsmart the system or forge their way through corruption and bad guys doing bad things to innocent people. Each film has a “big idea” that weaves through the movie that the director masterfully handles along with side stories and sub plots that all get tied up together in the end. I like that. That’s an important, potential deal breaker for me. Not all movies do that. The ones I like tell good stories and have rich characters who change over the course of the movie. The films I picked are gripping and forceful and usually move along at a good clip. Even the one comedy has a lot of dialogue. And the one film that doesn’t move quickly, is still thoughtful and deliberate with strong stories and characters. The movies I like best are from the 1970s and 1990s, though one is from 2007. So without further ado, the envelope please …..

Off the Hook’s FFF (Five Favorite Films) Award Winners:

But first, one caveat: I was unable to decide on a #1. I could only compile my favorite five.

On top of that, two of them start with the letter “C” and two others start with an “S”. How odd considering the sheer number of movies released in the last 60 odd years: 4 of the 5 films start with the same two letters. (I’m probably the only person who finds this an interesting fact.)

Additionally, this whole exercise has conjured up memories that have been dormant for decades. My earliest memories of movie going include paying 35 cents (which was about the same amount of my weekly allowance) so at an early age I had to critically evaluate the films to be sure I got my money’s worth. And then in the 1970s I worked part time at the Avon Cinema in Providence. The pay was lousy but I was able to watch full length films night after night for free, after cleaning up the spilled popcorn, Raisinettes, and Good ‘n Plenty candy boxes left by the patrons from the earlier showings.

So again, without further ado, the envelope please:

  1. “Serpico” (1973), a biographical crime film starring Al Pacino as Frank Serpico, a good cop fighting a corrupt police force and crime system.
  2. “The Shawshank Redemption”, (1994), based on a Stephen King novel, winner of 7 Academy Awards, a story of hope and outsmarting the system.
  3. “Cape Fear” (1991), a psychological thriller starring Robert De Niro, Jessica Lange, Nick Nolte (loved him in Afflictiom several years later), Juliette Lewis (what a smirk!), and directed by Martin Scorsese. That’s my top three. Whew.

Now it gets dicey. There were several excellent and equally superb contenders I had to forego: “The Last Picture Show” (1971), a depiction of desperation, depression and isolation in small town rural America. I also had to lop off “Chinatown” (1974), a mystery and psychological drama starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. I strongly considered but excluded two movies starring Sean Penn: “The Falcon and the Snowman” (1985), a tense spy drama based on a true story of young privileged young men selling top level secrets to the Soviet Union, and “Mystic River” (2003), a crime drama that takes place in a Boston neighborhood and based on the book by Boston-born Dennis Lehane. There are also two Robert Duvall movies: “The Great Santini” (1979), a drama that centers on the competitive, dysfunctional relationship between a father and his adolescent son, and “The Apostle” (1997), a drama about how a wayward Pentecostal preacher handles it when his wife begins an extramarital relationship with a youth minister.

4. I choose the comedy “Annie Hall” (1977) by Woody Allen, (Now some people won’t have anything to do with him since allegations made about his real life sexual exploits, but this is simply a list of offthehook’s favorite films). Split screens, flashbacks used to portray adult romance and relationships, neuroses and ethnic distinctions combine to make it a classic. It’s hilarious.

5. My last selection is the movie “Michael Clayton” (2007) starring George Clooney. He’s a professional fixer in a prestigious law firm trudging behind the scenes. Plus he’s got personal problems of his own as a divorced dad, but he works through them. And he takes down the bad guys, too.

OK, that’s my list and I’m sticking to it. What are some of your favorite films of all time?

Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

4 thoughts on “The envelope please

  1. Hi Richard. Nice post:). Some of my favorites. Midnight Cowboy. Apocalypse Now. Hud. As Good as it Gets. Love Actually. Thank you.


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