Thank you for coming to the last review of my top five movies of all time. I know we sit on the precipice of the Academy Awards that are about to happen this evening. Some people think one movie is going to win, while others are saying that another movie now has the inside track. You wanna know what that says about the Academy Awards? It says that they are all a bunch of B.S. How can one movie be said to be the leading contender and then another movie is five days later. Either the academy is being really lazy about watching all these movies (and I’m never one to underestimate laziness), or this just goes to show that whatever the Academy “Awards” is, it is a political showcase. And to be honest with you, I’m pretty darn tired of politics right now. Its like we can’t escape it wherever we go. I’m starting to feel like an older Michael Corleone in Godfather 3. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” And I hate politics for making me feel like I should quote anything from Godfather 3. *shudders* (The first two were brilliant. It’s obvious something happened to Coppola in the meantime. After all, he made Jack in the interim. *shudders some more*)
So as I advocate for what the top five movies of all time are, I realize that I am one voice speaking against the crowd. I’m hearing my voice going up against the wind. (Because I’m brilliant like that.). The wind always wins. Furthermore, I have chosen a film for the top spot that won a grand total of 0 Academy Awards. Yes it was nominated for 7 of them, but it didn’t even take home one Oscar for some obscure category. When I list Glory among my top films, at least it won 3 Academy Awards, almost as many as the best picture winner of that year. (Driving Miss Daisy *shudders a third time*)
The year my favorite film was released was 1994 and it was up for Oscar in the 1995 Academy Awards. It was running up against Pulp Fiction, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Quiz Show, and the eventual Academy Award Winner, Forrest Gump. While I think each of these films have great qualities, I feel like none of them live up to my top ranked film about a falsely imprisoned man, having to learn to live with himself, before recapturing his humanity by assisting the hardened criminals that he has been forced to live with. The film is The Shawshank Redemption.
The review here, as I have said before, is completely plagiarized. (I stole it from myself.) But it’s modified to protect the innocent. I mean . . . it’s been modified to convict the guilty. Wait… no. It’s been modified to make me laugh, and maybe to make you laugh along the way. I did mean these to be indepth reviews. I think I did a good job. Mostly. And sometimes I actually made sense. This is that stolen review, with commentary by me. Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the review. Enjoy the commentary. And let me convince you why the 1995 Academy Awards was the greatest Oscar robbery of all time. Stupid Oscars!!!
Day 1 – Shawshank Redemption – ( because the first time I released these reviews, this was my first review. What in the world was I thinking?)
It’s hard to look back on this film and not have it have so many different associations with different times in my life. (Or maybe I just have multiple personality disorder and I really react differently each day. So today I’m David. Tomorrow I’m Steve. Don’t judge me.). I remember the first time watching The Shawshank Redemption when I was 22 years old and a projectionist at a movie theater at the time. It had come out and gotten good reviews and a bunch of academy award nominations. (Although it didn’t have any nominations when I saw it. So whatever.). I was excited to go see it with my friends as it had one of my favorite actors in it: Morgan Freeman. I really could have cared less about Tim Robbins at the time; although, he had come out with The Hudsucker Proxy, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, earlier that year. (The forties throwback movies that was, you know, for kids) So while he wasn’t necessarily a must watch I did want to see what his follow up film to that would be.
And, of course, the source material was written by Stephen King. I knew this was a hit or miss proposition when it came to watching books converted into movies, especially King’s books; but as this was one of his short stories I had more hopes for it. (I have a theory about Stephen King movies. Short stories make great movies. Great novels make good sleeping pills, or good torturing devices. I’m never sure.)
There were me and a couple other friends watching the movie, and as I worked for the movie theater, we did not pay for it. (Because this was important to the review. That I watched it for free. Maybe not.) I think there might have been two or three other people in the entire movie theater when the opening sequence of the court trial of Andy Dufresne began.
Movies back then still held their Magical allure to me. (Took only two years later to be a hardened cynic. Darn you projectionist job!!) I remember the time I was hired at the movie theater and going up in to the projection booth to see all of the projectors clicking through their rolls of film, and the lights flickering across every movie theater. (I swear I wasn’t drinking when I wrote this. I was only ever hired at a movie theater once. And no, this isn’t a story like that one time at band camp.).
So when the theater darkened, here was a story of a man going through hell and being redeemed at the other end. (Ummm… theologically this is screwed up. Please no commentary from the Catholic or Protestant peanut Gallery. Move along!) I was transfixed. By the last lines of the movie, “I find I’m so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at a start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.” Goosebumps. Every. Single. Time. (Yes I am the eternal optimist. So sue me!)
It was the epitome of movie magic. (What do I mean was? It IS movie magic.). One of my best friends, sitting next to me, looked at me and said, “I wanna make movies. I wanna make movies like that.” I couldn’t even argue with him. It was a perfect example of why the movies are magic. It showed how movies transform our thinking about the world we live in and our role within it. It displayed both the danger and the promise of movie making in its two hours and 22 minute length. (Dangerous movies like Highlander 2 move me to something alright. *shudders once more*).
Movies can move us in ways few things can. And right there and then I wanted to make movies. Sure, I had always wanted to be a part of the film making process before. But in that moment I saw film as transformative. (Because no other movie had moved me before. Wait. What about Glory you say? Shhh! Nobody likes a know it all.). Pulling at the core of human emotion, working on our capacity to hope and how it moves things, I cannot express in words what the movie did to me at that moment. (But somehow I’m trying to express it anyway. Because, you know, I’m crazy that way.) I just wanted to sit there and stare at the screen long after the movie was over and take it all in. (Nothing says sanity like wanting to stare at a blank screen.)
Now few of you remember, but I can attest, especially as it is in Roger Ebert’s 100 greatest movies of all time, that Forest Gump was the Academy Award winning picture that year. (Ok yes, I told you this already but I’m not editing my old work . . . much. I want to keep it originally me.). This is not to be critical of Forrest Gump mind you. (Of course it is.). But it was the perfectly commercialized piece with the oddball character and the over the top acting that so frequents the Academy Awards. (Notice I used the conjunction but, making everything I said before it irrelevant. Carry on.).
Forrest Gump was marketed well to the general public. No one had even heard of The Shawshank Redemption, or very few people had. So in the next 10 years after its release, people were exposed to the brilliance of the film on TNT (I swear they play it there twice a month or something) and other cable TV stations, in somewhat edited fashion. (I hate watching 2 hour movies become 5 hour movies on TV. But that’s another rant for another post. Ugh!). So when I was to look at it again 10 years later, while still emotionally pulling on my heart strings, it was gratifying that the rest of the world had been let in on the secret that I had known years before. This prison movie, with two hardened criminals, speaking of hope in the bleakest of human circumstances, is the epitome of movie magic. (Or movie crack. Can movies be considered drugs? I wonder.). Movies like this are the reason people keep going back to the movie theater, year after year. (Because it’s definitely not The Purge part 10, or whatever number it’s on now.)
And then came my third major experience. (This is completely convoluted. I basically meant this was the third time I watched the movie and got something completely different from it, kind of.) I watched the movie again almost 9 years later, 19 years after the original movie had been released. I was sitting on a couch in an emotional state, going through a divorce, and sitting there feeling completely hopeless. I felt like the weight of the world was pressing down on me and I didn’t know what direction to turn. (Let’s see how many cliches I can fit in one sentence. One. Two. Three . . . ) I am sitting down sorting through things when the movie gets to the note that Andy Dufresne writes to his friend Red.
“Dear Red, If you’re reading this, you’ve gotten out. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you? I could use a good man to help me get my project on wheels. I’ll keep an eye out for you and the chessboard ready. Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I will be hoping that this letter finds you, and finds you well. Your friend, Andy.”
It was like a release of an avalanche of tears coming streaming down my face as the words were read as voice over narration. (This was not like a release of an avalanche of tears. This was a river of tears streaming down my face. It wasn’t like anything.). Even at the moment when Red says “Zihuatanejo,” I am speaking it along with him. (For those of you in La La Land, the state of being and not the place or movie, it’s pronounced say-what-in-ay-yo.) I am thinking of that promised land of better tomorrows. I am hoping that each day is going to be better than the day before. I am hoping for the relationship with my daughter to get better, and for the life that seemed in shambles at that moment to have a turn around. I am being carried away by the hopeful musical score and the blue in the Pacific Ocean. (Because, somehow, in California our Ocean water is green because Of kelp beds.) I am hoping that the future I see before me is the future of my dreams. I hope.
So why is the film itself so amazing? Why do I love Shawshank Redemption ? Let’s first examine the message. First it taps into one of the three primary human emotive forces that exist: faith, hope and love. This is not to say that there aren’t other emotive forces in the world; but I would say they are either lesser secondary forces, or they are various perversions of one of those three. (Let us count the forces: Luke’s force, Leah’s force, Darth Vader force…. Wait. Sorry. Wrong force.) We believe in things; we love things; we hope for things. Hope is a future looking force, thinking about what could be, and not merely fixated on what is. Hope is always brighter and not dimmer than what we are experiencing. We never hope for less. We always hope for more.
Shawshank Redemption shows hope in what would have been the world’s worst possible situation. (Not would have been, but is. Can you imagine being put in prison for false charges? That’s scary.). First, you are person whose spouse ran out on you for another man. And she didn’t run out for just any other man. She ran out for a golf pro, which attacks the very nature of your manhood. (Because if it had been the quarterback you might have understood. Wait. Not so much.). Then, not only are you ceremoniously dumped, but then the wife tragically dies in a double homicide with her golf-pro lover. This means that not only are you broken, but you can’t possibly get any closure from this person. (Because her walking out on you wasn’t closure enough. Or something.) And to add insult to injury, you are now charged and convicted of the crime that you didn’t even commit.
This is bad enough but then Andy Dufresne ends up having the “sisters” in the prison take a liking to him, meaning that he is suffering through rape and abuse in the prison for the first two full years of his stay there. (Yup, now he has entered the third circle of hell. Thanks Dante!) One would think that this is the perfect time to give up hope. Many of us would definitely want to chuck in and call it a day. But there is something so strong about the pull of hope that we still sit transfixed. (Or we are masochists. I suppose this could also be true.)
And then, in the darkest of places, Andy begins to reclaim his humanity and his dignity. Why? Because he should expect that something different should happen to him than it did before? Because somehow the people he was around now he should expect to behave differently? Because society was going to consider him to be different now? Of course not. (I think if you answered yes to any of the previous three questions you might need a therapist, and a psychiatrist. Make sure they give you strong meds!!!). He was hoping for something better. Even in the hole, in a prison, where no light would get in and he was subjected to slop for food, Andy could hope for a beautiful place, on the ocean, with a boat to sail on and wind-blown hair. (And I wish they all could be California Girls. But who am I kidding?) Should he expect that? No. But the human capacity to hope, even in the darkest of situations, is burrowed into our DNA. (Please don’t start trying to find it. But if someone does find it in the DNA, name it the David Hope gene and give me credit.)
The cinematography for the film was simple but elegant. There are a lot of quick opening shots as if Andy Dufresne is descending into a nightmare, which he truly is. And then a long extensive shot of the whole prison, as we now learn the confines of the new hell that Andy is entering into. He goes into a place that tries to dehumanize everyone; and he shows what it means truly to be human. He may have been in that world, but he certainly was not of that world. (Not that this has anything to do with the cinematography but carry on.) The beautiful mixture of dark and light used in the film at different places adds to the ambiance of the world Frank Darabont, in his feature film debut, tries to create. He weaves a tale of light and darkness where even in the direst of circumstances, the capacity to believe in and hope for something allows humans to transcend their existence. (See! I can use big words too! And in case anyone wondered, Roger Deakins was the cinematographer.)
As for the acting, what more can be said? (Mic dropped. Wait. No. I haven’t even said anything yet.) Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman shine as Andy and Red. The two of them have some amazing on screen chemistry, Morgan Freeman’s Red (Ellis Redding) is the pivotal role, despite the movie being concerned with the life of Mr. Dufresne. While Tim Robbins characterization of Andy Dufresne does display the hope that one can have, it is in Morgan Freeman’s character of Red that we can see man’s capacity to transform, which is the truly beautiful part. (Because he is the one who goes from being hopeless to hopeful.).
At the beginning of the movie the character of Red has served the first 20 years of a life sentence for murder. He had been “institutionalized” as he put it. Society had taken the life from him, and he was going to fade out of existence. (Make that a slow fade. 20 more years in prison is hardly fading….) But, through his friendship with Andy, he saw a capacity to hope for something more. And we don’t know what all of that is going to mean for him until the end. (Because why would they tell us what it means in the first 20 minutes? What was I thinking?) “Get busy living, or get busy dying,” Red summarizes his situation even after being let out of prison. But he summarizes his conclusion in one perfect exclamation point. “That’s God Damn right!”
So when we seem him next, he is off on a bus, a transformed character. And the voice-over that had been used extensively throughout the film begins again. Morgan Freeman is getting ready to get on a bus. He is full of wonder about what’s before him. He is full of amazement about every little thing. And, ultimately, he is full of hope, for his friend and ultimately for himself.
(Somehow I missed a whole description of Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne. I’m not sure how I could have written a review and completely ignored him, practically. Go me! Actually he was quite amazing in this film. He excellently portrayed the fish out of water, and held just enough back so that we don’t know what he is thinking, until the big reveal happens. And I’m not telling you what that is. Ha ha!)
Along with our main stars there are some great individual performances in some smaller roles. From James Whitmore, as the likeable but ultimately doomed character of Brooks Hatlen, the former prison librarian before Andy takes over, to Mark Rolston as Boggs Diamond the man responsible for Andy’s initial hell within the prison, to Gil Bellows as an affable Tommy, whose life is coming off the rails and Andy takes a personal interest in, the characters are fun and add to the prison comradery that is developed throughout the picture. (Because prison characters are light and fun and playful. Hmmmm….) There are so many other roles that I could get into and say what they meant, but this is a blog and not a treatise on Shawshank. (But it’s starting to sound like one isn’t it?)
Why do I love Shawshank? No matter how much I can get into the intricacies of a particular film, sometimes the description only pales to the actual work of art. (And now for a brief description of my love of cinema…) You can look at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and try to describe the brush strokes, and the brilliance of his work. You can get into the picture as something that is living and breathing and how his work displays that. But no matter how much you sit and talk about it, until you are staring at the painting and seeing it face to face, you cannot possibly fathom the greatness. (But now you can breathe it all in…or something.). It is that moment, when you get up close and all you can do is say, “wow,” where it all comes together for you. (Sounds like a little child outside a toy store. Or maybe a woman outside a high end shoe store when the sales clerk puts up a sign that says 90 percent off all merchandise at the store.). I am guessing that many of you have already seen the film. (And if not. Why? Why? WHY?!?!?) But if you have not, please take a look at it and just enjoy it, not only for what it preaches, but for what it is, a beautiful story of humanities capacity for hope and how that we can find it in the direst of circumstances. (Like halfway through this blog and you thought it would never end. Well here is the end. Hooray!!!)
Definitely perfect Toast (ummm… yup. My crazy idea of a rating system. I’ve a bunch of brilliant ideas just like this. )
*Next on the Top 5 Glory
Well, I want to thank you for making it to the end of my top five favorite films of all time. They are definitely my list. Not sure I could talk you into adding these into your top five list, but if you haven’t watched them, what are you waiting for? All you are going to be subjected to is hours of “Stars” droning on tonight about who they are thanking, what pet cause they have, or why the Orange Terror is out to get people and is coming to a movie theater near you. (Have I told you how much I hate politics now? Ugh!)
In all seriousness, enjoy the Oscars everyone. It is a grand spectacle. Hollywood certainly knows how to promote itself. Because if they didn’t, I think they would all be out of a job and on some street corner with the “will work for drugs, hey at least I’m honest” sign. I’m going to be watching them with my daughter and explaining to her why some film was robbed over some other film because, you know, politics. I hope you enjoy it. I know I will, if only because I love to hate on it.
So this is me, signing off on Oscar morning, wishing you a grand Oscar Sunday.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life
The complete list
Number 5 : Vertigo
Number 4 : Gone with the Wind
Number 3 : Casablanca
Number 2 : Glory