Bob's Big Screen
Gifts on DVD for the movie lover or TV fan
by Bob Connally
As Christmas gift suggestions, here are my top 10 movies and TV shows, all of which are available on DVD. This is not a “best” list but rather a collection of my favorites, which is more interesting and honest. Can we have a drum roll, please?
10. A Fish Called Wanda (1988. Dir.: Charles Crichton). This culture-clash comedy is the best of both worlds, gut-bustingly hilarious and perfectly constructed. John Cleese (who also wrote the screenplay), Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin, and Kevin Kline are outstanding as this collection of selfish characters who have absolutely no idea how funny they are.
9. Lawrence of Arabia (1962. Dir.: David Lean). The ultimate epic, this is that rare film where spectacle serves to enhance the story rather than being artifice. Peter O’Toole’s screen debut as T.E. Lawrence may never be topped. (See it next spring at Seattle’s Cinerama in 70 millimeter!)
8. Amelie (2001. Dir.: Jean-Pierre Jeunet). This story of a shy Parisian waitress (Audrey Tautou) is the best of “feel-good” movies. Imaginative and beautifully shot, “Amelie” transcends its genre to become a mind-blowing experience.
7. Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964. Dir.: Stanley Kubrick). This comedy of colossal errors that ends in the world’s nuclear destruction has been called “the ultimate sick joke.” Peter Sellers (in three roles), George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, and Slim Pickens all shine in Kubrick’s finest.
6. Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back (1977/1980. Dir.: George Lucas/Irvin Kershner). What else is there to say?
5. Rushmore (1998. Dir.: Wes Anderson). Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) may be my favorite movie character. Add Bill Murray’s best performance and you get a hilarious little movie with a big heart. An American masterpiece.
4. Network (1976. Dir.: Sidney Lumet). Maybe the angriest movie ever made, Paddy Chayefsky’s satire of television has proven to be far more accurate than ever could have been imagined. Brilliant rants!
3. Magnolia (1999. Dir.: Paul Thomas Anderson). Both a sprawling epic and an intimate character study, this reminds us how effecting a film can be when a writer-director truly pours his heart and soul into it and casts perfectly.
2. Fight Club (1999. Dir.: David Fincher). A stock answer to the question, “What’s your favorite movie?” but another look at this adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel will remind you why. No other film in my lifetime has captured its cultural moment in time so completely.
1. Withnail and I (1987. Dir.: Bruce Robinson). My all-time favorite film barely has a plot but Robinson’s tale of two unemployed actors in 1969 London who’ve “gone on holiday by mistake” is the funniest, most quotable movie I’ve ever seen. Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann star as the two down-on-their-luck thespians. They make Robinson’s comedy without jokes take flight. Incredible dialogue and an honest portrayal of the end of a friendship.
10. Band of Brothers (HBO, 2001): This WWII mini-series about Easy Company is historical fiction at its finest. Best Episode: “Bastogne” (Episode 6). The Battle of the Bulge.
9. Scrubs (NBC, 2001-Present): From John C. McGinley’s brilliant work as the ranting Dr. Cox to the unnamed Janitor (Neil Flynn), “Scrubs” has no weak link. Dorky JD, cool (but also dorky) Turk, kooky Elliot, know-it-all Carla, and of course, The Todd don’t even begin to round out this show’s wonderful cast of characters. Best Episode: “My Screwup” (Season 3, Episode 14). Dr. Cox blames JD for a patient’s death in an episode that showcases the show’s ability to be hilarious and heartbreaking all at once.
8. The Simpsons (FOX, 1989-Present): It has overstayed its welcome and produced a mediocre movie, but a show that had such a long run of consistent brilliance must be on this list. Best Episode: “You Only Move Twice” (Season 8, Episode 2). Homer gets a new job…working for a supervillain voiced by Albert Brooks.
7. Firefly (FOX, 2002): Any one of Joss Whedon’s television creations could have made this list, but “Firefly” did because his inventive take on sci-fi and westerns was the most fun. Best Episode: “Jaynestown” (Episode 7). “Jayne! The man they call Jayyyne!”
6. Monty Python’s Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-1974): “And now for something completely different.” Silly walks, killer jokes, fish slapping, and other “very silly” things. Sketch comedy has never been as consistently hilarious. Best Sketch: “Buying a Bed.” “Don’t say mattress!”
5. The Prisoner (ITV, 1967-1968): “I am not a number! I am a free man!” Series creator and star Patrick McGoohan’s story of a British secret agent’s resignation may remain the most innovative work in television history. Gassed, the former agent awakes in “the Village” and is referred to only as Number 6. Each episode he seeks escape and the identity of Number 1, being grilled for information all the while. Forty years on it’s still ahead of its time. Best Episode: “Hammer Into Anvil” (Episode 12). Number 6 turns the tables on the new Number 2.
4. Seinfeld (NBC, 1989-1998): The reason “Seinfeld” was so groundbreaking: It showed that a cast full of contemptible jerks could be funny without being likable. Best Episode: “The Jimmy” (Season 6, Episode 18). Mel Torme sings to Kramer in the funniest (and possibly most offensive) moment I’ve seen on television.
3. The Office (UK) (BBC, 2001-2003): More realistic, bleak, and ultimately funnier than its American remake. I like the remake, but Ricky Gervais’ David Brent will always be the more “cringe-inducing boss.” Best Episode: “Training” (Season 1, Episode 4). Brent at his most embarrassing, Tim and Gareth squabbling about a “super-chicken,” and Big Keith’s phone message.
2. Arrested Development (FOX, 2003-2006): This underappreciated piece of comedy gold managed to strike the perfect balance of subtlety and insanity all while making family dysfunction seem fresh again. Best Episode: “Afternoon Delight” (Season 2, Episode 6). Gob’s $6,000 suit. “COME ON!”
1. Freaks and Geeks (NBC, 1999-2000): A more perfect television series I have not seen. All 18 episodes were absolute gems and it boasted one of the finest ensemble casts ever assembled. Paul Feig’s short-lived high school masterpiece always puts a smile on my face (along with a cringe or two). Best Episode: “Girlfriends and Boyfriends” (Episode 8). I could watch Bill trying to re-create the chair squeak ALL. DAY. LONG.