My Favorite Movies 2020 Edition, pt. 10 (1)

And we are finally here… My favorite movie.

Okay, so what does it even mean to have a favorite movie? These often come with various understandable caveats. I mean, I set the list earlier this year and if I did it again right now, it might look very different. Many of the top movies would probably be the same, but the order might change quite a bit.

At the same time, this is the fourth time I’ve done this list and the number one has remained the same every time, so for the las 15 years. The movie has remained the same even longer than that, it’s just that I’ve documented it for the past 15 years in this way (although the first two instances of this list have been lost to cyberspace, the lists themselves I have, but all the associated text is gone).

But how does a movie become someone’s favorite? In my case, this goes back to childhood and I would imagine it’s quite similar for many others as well. It pretty much has to be something that has made an impression fairly early on. Whether that ‘early on’ is during childhood, teen years or studies depends on the person. Even though a movie can still make an impression on me (I’m pretty sure One Cut of the Dead, which I saw just yesterday, is going to have quite an impact on me), they won’t have quite as strong one as the ones I’ve seen earlier on.

It’s just that the movies we see earlier have more of a chance to make changes on how we view the world. I’ll take a personal example from the world of music. Back in the late 80s and early 90s I used to watch MTV whenever I could. I did not have this option at home, but I was able to see it at friends’ homes and such. I was interested in the music and the little short movies often known as music videos. They were often sort of light and often based on a single gimmick.

Then, in 1990, I saw the video for Head Like a Hole by Nine Inch Nails.

It changed my whole view of music. Sure, as a Finn, I was aware of various metal bands, but this wasn’t like them. I mgiht not have understood it at the time, but that was pop with an edge. It blew my pre-teen mind. I opened a new world outside of Genesis and Sting and whatever I was able to find at the time. I still listen to Nine Inch Nails regularly, even if I’ve somewhat outgrown their style of that era.

The problem here is tha I don’t remember the context in which I first saw my favorite film. I have an idea about what I had seen before. Probably mostly movies for kids from the 80s, so basically crap, and some other 70s and 80s movies. I had seen Star Wars, but it hadn’t made that big of an impression on me. I liked Ghostbusters more, but that was in many ways just like the rest of the more popular movies of the time.

I didn’t have access to that many movies, so just something very different would definitely stick. I remember a movie named Kuningas jolla ei ollut sydäntä (literally translates to King, who had no heart) quite fondly from my childhood, because it was so different to anything else I had seen, but it’s actually kind of… bad. The structure is horrible, the story is not very strong and the characters are very two-dimensional, if we are being generous, but I still sort of like it.

I know I did enjoy Westerns at the time. My grandfather would watch them and if I remember correctly, we got them on Saturday or Sunday afternoons in our limited offerings. But they were usually very similar as well, until this one…

1. Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (Italy 1966)
(The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)
Director: Sergio Leone

Blondie and Tuco had a good scam going with Blondie turning Tuco in for reward and then rescuing him to do it again. Then Tuco gets greedy and wants to change the deal. Instead of working this out, Blondie rescues Tuco one more time, but than just leaves him tied up. Meanwhile, Angel Eyes has found out about a shipment of stolen money been hidden somewhere. He has an idea on who might know better. After catching and torturing Blondie, Tuco runs into the dying soldier Angel Eyes is looking for and manages to find out the name of the cemetery where the treasure is, but Blondie manages to find out the name on the grave before the soldier dies. This leaves Tuco in a situation where he has to realign himself with Blondie, as they are caught and sent to a military prison, where Angel Eyes is working as the commandant to find the soldier. When Tuco identifies himself as the dead soldier, Angel Eyes tortures the secret out of him. Believing that Blondie would not divulge his half of the secret as easily, Angel Eyes takes him along. Tuco manages to escape and now he and Angel Eyes are each looking to work with Blondie to get the money.

So, yeah. It’s the fourth time I’ve made this list and nothing has changed in this regard, even if huge chunks of the list have changed otherwise. I did put a lot of thought into this. Should I change this just to make it different or should I just move Trainspotting or Fight Club to the first place, which wouldn’t be out of the question. In the end, I decided to be boring. And why not? The movie does get everything right.

After three times already, it’s sort of hard to know what to say anymore, so I decided not to read what I’ve said before. This way I can repeat everything without feeling guilty about it. I doubt anyone remembers what I said five years ago anyhow.

First, we have our three main characters. One could easily see the Freudian model of human psyche here. In fact, if one would like to interpret the movie this way, it would be easy to see how the id and the superego are competing over the ego. I doubt this was the intention, but it does work.

Blondie (the nominally “Good” or the ego)is a stoic character. He doesn’t speak very many words during the whole movie. He would much rather observe and if something needs to be said, he says the bare minimum leaving the listener to ponder the deeper meaning of his words, even if they don’t actually have any especially deep meanings, it’s just the way he puts his words that is in itself mysterious. He seems to be looking our for himself only, but does comfort a dying soldier at one point of the movie. There is a theory that this is actually a prequel to the other two Dollar movies, as Blondie finds a poncho the Clint Eastwood character uses in the other films at the end of this one. While I don’t subscribe to this theory, he definitely isn’t the good guy here, but we can also see why he might have changed.

Angel Eyes (the “Bad” or the superego) is even more ruthless. He seems to be well-connected as he doesn’t have any problems finding henchmen or becoming a commandant of a military prison just like that. Early in the film he says that he always finishes the jobs he’s been paid for, but that notion at that specific moment seems to carry a certain amount of enthusiasm for the killing at hand. On the other hand, he has the smallest kill count in the movie. Like, Angel Eyes, he is observant and often simply follows the situation, but he is somewhat more talkative.

Tuco (the “Ugly” or the id) is the real protagonist of the movie. Not much happens, unless Tuco is there to push it all along. He does more talking than the other two combined. We don’t know anything about the background of the other two, but we know that Tuco feels like he didn’t have a choice about becoming a bandit. He is quite good at what he does, but also is the most comedic of the three, being more eager and easily excitable than the other two.

The world is Leone’s own. He had developed it through the two previous movies, but here he apparently had more money to spend, as the scope of this one is just that much bigger. Of course, he also had help from the Spanish army and probably couldn’t have otherwise orchestrated certain scenes. It’s sort of funny that the look of this movie has become so familiar to us, when it had nothing to do with the look of the old West and much of the movie is anachronistic. It was just a spaghetti western, which were derided as cheap knock-offs of real westerns. But Leone won out. If modern audiences are asked about Westerns, they are much more likely to think of these movies than those of, say, John Wayne.

While Ennio Morricone had dozens of credits to his name previous to this and today has been the composer for over 500 movies, this is the one he is and will probably always be remembered for. The coyote sounds of the title music is one of the more iconic parts of the movie.

Leone uses the camera to show a worn out world, starting with the faces of our main trio. They aren’t young any more and their lifestyles have taken their own toll as well. Much of the story is told through close-ups, since there are large chunks of the movie where theere is no dialogue (including the first ten minutes or so). The world around them has been ravaged by war. Even the people are similarly effected, with lost limbs and other visible injuries. The camera is also important in the world itself. Often the characters can’t see something just because the camera has not seen it.

Yes, this is still my favorite movie. I did doubt it for a while and then I watched it aagin. It might lack in the social commentary or exploration of the human psyche I find more and more important in my movie viewing experience these days, but sometimes there is beauty in the technique itself. Leone achieved that.

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