Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Top Favorite Film Countdown Number 10

Over a decade ago the American Film Institute presented their list of the top 100 films of the preceding 100 years. I disagreed with many of the choices and felt that many obvious choices had been bypassed. As a result I did my own list of 100 which I eventually expanded to include a ranking of everything I have in my collection.

I’m going to share some thoughts on what are my top 10 favorite films. This is not an assessment of greatness. I like and appreciate “Citizen Kane” and “Gone With The Wind” and many other films that would be top rated, but which are not my favorites. A favorite is a film that I want to see over and over. In some ways these speak to me very intimately and in many cases affirm things deep inside my heart. That’s why this is really a heart list and not an art list by any objective standard.


In terms of a count down, the number 10 film on the list is “A Man For All Seasons”.

I admire films about character. Every one of the films in my top ten is really about character in some way. I’ve read up on the life of Sir Thomas More and discovered that I wouldn’t have agreed with everything he did. For example, he was the lead persecutor of William Tyndale. It was his prosecution which sent Tyndale to the stake. Still, I appreciate the fact that he was a man who operated by principle and not by the whim of the times. That doesn’t mean that principles are equivalent to truth, but that they are certainly the bedrock of character.

More was one of the leading political figures in the court of England’s Henry VIII. Henry, in the search for a male heir embarked upon a course which cut the nation of England off from the Roman Catholic Church. In one sense, I would personally have agreed with such a separation, but More was right that it should not be done for politically correct reasons. He did not see it as a correct procedure. It is his constancy that labels him a man for all seasons, one who was not to be swayed by the winds to or from the court. We need such men and women in leadership in every part of our world in every age. This is a film that should be played for every political science class.

The film is filled with witty and poignant dialogue. The spoken words sparkle off the screen. The categories of right and wrong are directly portrayed. We see, for example, in Cromwell and Rich, the tendency to subdue right to expediency. More, clearly sets for the issues involved and his reasons for silence with regard to them until the time of his condemnation at the end of the film. (That’s no spoiler; without it you wouldn’t even have a story.) The Duke of Norfolk urges socialization as the highest good, but More puts him in his place by asking if he would be willing to go with him to hell for acting against his conscience’s sake for the sake of fellowship.

The actors and actresses make up a fantastic ensemble. This is the role that Paul Scofield was born to play. I know that Charlton Heston wanted it, and did finally play it a later film version, but Heston was too big and rough and lacked the subtlety that characterized Scofield’s playing. Leo McKern’s secretary Cromwell steals the entire screen every time he comes on. Robert Shaw is the perfect over the top Henry VII. Nigel Davenport gives his all as the bumbling political hack. Susannah York is the brilliant daughter of Sir Thomas who sees and knows everything that is going on, but is powerless to prevent it. And then there’s Orson Welles who could take two minutes on screen in any film and turn it into a triumph. This is filmmaking like we have not seen in decades.

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