TOM SEBO: My Top 10 Movies
WHEN the Post’s digital editor Chris Gordon asked me to compile this list it seemed be an insurmountable task.
The first film I ever consciously remember watching was Tim Burton’s Batman Returns when I was three-years-old. As a child it was thrilling, darkly amusing, visceral and at times even frightening but most of all I found it intriguing; the creation of this gothic comedy from essentially nothing.
It was then I fell in love with movies. Today, I’ve seen more films than I care to recall – my youth was well misspent – and for five years I shared my views on the latest releases with you, my reader.
To simply pick 10 films as the greatest is impossible but here we are. So, instead of giving you the old cliché list of mutually agreed upon greatest movies of all time – like Citizen Kane, The Godfather Part 1, Schindler’s List, Pulp Fiction, Casablanca and the Empire Strikes Back – here are the 10 movies that stick in my mind. The ones that had the biggest impact on me. Here goes. Enjoy.
WARNING: Some video clips may contain adult language and content.
10 – Killing Them Softly (2012)
It may be a fairly recent release but in my view it is an instant classic. Directed by Andrew Dominik (the steady hand behind Chopper and the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), it has all of the grit, intensity and gravitas of a Scorsese film. A period drama set against the back drop of the GFC and Barrack Obama’s election campaign, the plot revolves around a pair of street thugs who rip off a mob card game. However, when word of the crime hits the street the mafia has no choice but to react. They hire a compassionate hitman (beautifully portrayed by Brad Pitt) to exact retribution.
Co-starring James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard, Richard Jenkins and Ben Mendelsohn, this film is a scathing attack on western capitalism and proves that when the man comes around, we’re all just a commodity and that our lives really aren’t worth that much. Life is very, very cheap.
9 – 8mm (1999)
Back before generically hating on Nicolas Cage was all the rage, he was one of the biggest and most bankable stars in Hollywood. Despite his recent array of flops and those hoaky YouTube clips he is actually a great actor who has turned in many fine performances, none better though than this.
Penned by Andrew Kevin Walker (whose twisted imagination gave us Se7en), it tells the story of a private detective hired to investigate the authenticity of an 8mm snuff film. In order to do so he must track down the teenage victim.
Reminiscent of William Friedkin’s 1980 classic Cruising, this terrifying psychological thriller takes its audience not only into the seedy underbelly of the porn industry but also to the depraved edge of human sexuality.
With stellar performances by Joaquin Pheonix, James Gandolfini and Peter Stormare this is possibly the most confronting pieces of cinema I have ever seen. It is also one of the best!
8 – The Insider (1999)
Starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe, this ode to investigative journalism is definitely one of my favourite movies of all time.
Director Michael Mann brings to life the incredible true story of two men – 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman and Tobacco industry whistle blower Jeffery Wigand – who were prepared to give up everything they’d ever worked for in pursuit of full disclosure.
With a running time of close to three hours it is a mammoth piece of cinema however it is compelling from first frame to last. It takes aim at corporate hypocrisy at every level and insists that at some point every manager within every media outlet must decide: “Are you a businessman or a newsman?”
7 – American History X (1998)
In this hard hitting drama, Edward Norton plays a reformed white supremacist trying to get his life back on track after being quietly released from prison for murdering two black gang members who tried to steal his car.
However, in his absence his family has fallen apart. His younger brother has become a skinhead; his mother is dying of cancer; and his homecoming is about to bring ethnic tensions in Venice Beach to boiling point.
Unlike Romper Stomper, American History X delves more deeply into the psychology of its protagonist, exploring the origins of his bigotry, and doesn’t shy away from condemning his behaviour.
It is a fascinating portrait of not only racism but hate more generally. It is modern day Greek tragedy and all the proof you need that Ed Norton really is one of the greats.
6 – The Life of Brian (1979)
Okay, so just in case you were wondering all of these aren’t going to be edgy, hard hitting dramas…just most of them… this one being exception.
In my view, Monty Python were and always will be the greatest satirists of all time. And, this send up of the biblical era is definitely their finest work.
A biopic of the bloke who was born in the stable next door to Jesus, it deals with not only religion but also politics, social revolutionary movements, gender, philosophy, human nature and everything in between. Moreover they absolutely nail it, bringing this theological farce to an unforgettable climax with a crucifixion show tune that encourages all of us to look on the bright side of life.
It’s hilarious, timeless and well worth a watch…especially on Easter and Christmas.
5 – Wall Street (1987)
I am a massive Oliver Stone fan. I’ve watched all of his films at least a half dozen times but this is the one I always seem to come back to.
Made in the midst of the excess of the Reagan era, this blistering tale of greed, corruption and insider trading shows just how dangerous a “free market place” can be.
Wall Street introduced us to one of cinema’s greatest bad guys Gordon Gekko (who Michael Douglas earned Best Actor for portraying) and featured the best performance of Charlie Sheen’s career. The classical cinematography also gave the piece a timeless feel.
Stone always has a moral axe to grind but this one hits home hardest. It’s a raw depiction of innocence lost and the constant struggle between the best and worst sides of human nature.
4 – V For Vendetta (2005)
Released in 2005, when war on terror paranoia was reaching fever pitch and the thin vale of morality was slowly slipping from the so called side of the righteous, this was one of the most controversial films of my life time.
Set in Britain, in an alternate future where an oppressive ultra-right wing totalitarian regime has taken control of the country, the film tells the story of a terrorist – simply known to the audience as V – who is hell bent on bringing about their demise.
Penned by the Wachowskis (the duo responsible for the Matrix) this modern day masterpiece challenges the fabric of everything we hold dear. It forces us to question the self-preservationist streak that all too often allows us to turn a blind eye to atrocity and why we so frequently allow our fears to be manipulated.
It questions the point of the superficial safety if the price you pay for it is your liberty before ultimately concluding: “No person should ever have to fear their government but every government should fear its people”.
3 – The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick is one of my favourite directors of all time. Scratch that. Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest filmmaker who ever lived and, in my humble view, this tour de force was his finest piece of work.
Loosely based on the novel by Stephen King, this mind bending horror film tells the story of an author who slowly succumbs to madness after isolating himself and his family in a Rocky Mountains’ hotel for the winter.
What I love about Kubrick is his ability to depict things in ways others never could. His portrait of insanity is as compelling as it is terrifying.
From the long takes of the little boy riding his tricycle around and around the hotel corridors (with the repetitive patterns on the walls and carpet almost hypnotising the audience) to Jack Nicholson’s chilling performance, the rivers of blood and an ambiguous ending that will make you wonder if you’ve gone insane, this really is a masterpiece!
2 – Taxi Driver (1976)
A challenge of putting together a list like this is resisting the urge to just fill it up with Martin Scorsese movies. So, I’ll only put down one. His best one!
The film tells the story Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a New York City taxi driver who is struggling to readjust to society after returning home from Vietnam. He works nights and is constantly confronted by the city’s underbelly. The liars. The hustlers. The scum. The ungrateful.
As he drives up and down the same streets every night mental illness takes hold and he slowly descends into an obsessive world of violence and revenge.
Featuring one of the greatest performances in cinematic history and some truly visionary filmmaking (that has been celebrated, omaged and ripped off ever since), Taxi Driver is one of my favourite movies.
1 – Fight Club (1999)
Directed by David Fincher, based on a novel by Chuck Palahnuik and starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, this film was always going to be a tsunami of awesomeness. And, despite being written off as a flop on its release, it remains one of the most critically acclaimed and celebrated movies of all time.
It tells the story of a car manufacturing industry analyst who ditches the mundane safety of his condo lifestyle in exchange for a life on the fringe of society, teaming up with a charismatic soap salesman to create an underground fight club…which soon becomes a full blown cult and its own monster, far beyond our protagonist’s control.
Fight Club is one of the best thrillers ever made - I’ve never met a person who has picked the twist - but it is also so much more.
It is an exploration of the male condition. It examines how modern society has pitted us against our most primal instincts and turned us into a generation of confused, naive men with no sense of self-purpose. It takes us on a journey to bottom (one we all inevitably take) and seeks solace in nihilism, instead of self-pity. There is no meaning of life other than what you give it. It’s about letting go and accepting that sometimes the things you are trying to save are the shackles that are holding you back. “It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything”.
It’s brilliant and undoubtedly my favourite movie of all time.