It was easily the toughest question to answer. At the end of an extremely long yet enjoyable thought process and having watched almost all my favorites once more time, here is what I came up with.
A. 12 Angry Men (1957)
12 men unknown to each other are locked in a room till they resolve their decision on a murder case. The beauty of this movie is the justice done to all 12 characters in just a little over 90 minutes. Moreover, it doesn’t seem rushed and the pace is even throughout. The tension builds gradually to such an extent that the audience feels claustrophobic due to the heat and constraint of space. Also the camera is used very creatively within the confines of the room. True, it was remade equally well in 1997 and there was a good remake in Hindi called Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, But there were very few changes made in the main idea and thus the original wins hands down.
B. Chupke Chupke (1975)
The characters in this movie represent any family where relatives play pranks and at the same time dearly care for each other. It’s the simplicity of this Hrishikesh Mukherjee (my favorite director) movie that strikes all the right chords. An unpretentious story about the middle class to be enjoyed by the middle class. It sets out to make you laugh and does exactly that - no compulsion to have a broader story or message or purpose. It is a lesson on how the audience can be kept in splits (even on repeated viewing) without the actors pulling faces, being loud, slapping each other / falling, or making crude jokes.
C. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
A true life story of Nobel laureate Prof. John Nash, a paranoid schizophrenic. The stages a schizophrenic and the people around him/her go through have been handled with utmost care and tenderness - from the helplessness and loss the family faces, to how in this particular case, Prof. John Nash uses his willpower to overcome his handicap. The screenplay unfolds each of these stages for the audience with enough impact for the plight of the patient to remain with them for a long time. Any movie based on a true life story is most likely embellished with drama to suit the audienceâ€™s palate and A Beautiful Mind does have its share of drama, but this is done without once losing sensitivity.
Movies based on marginalized groups (marginalization imposed by either nature or society) are usually not made well enough to be appreciated by a member of that group. Also, paranoid schizophrenics are not very receptive to talking about their handicap. I had the fortune of watching A Beautiful Mind in the company of a paranoid schizophrenic. The reaction she had to the movie was an ovation to how well-made the movie was. She was comforted by how normal what she was going through was - normal enough for a movie to be made out it.
D. Memento (2000)
This movie is about how a man who doesn’t have short-term memory copes with his incapacity and avenges his wife’s murder. Every once in a while there comes a movie that is creative beyond the average audience’s imagination and makes you watch it once again just to comprehend it completely. Memento is a suspense thriller that actually uses non-linear narration as an integral part of the story whereas this style is usually used as an editing gimmick. This style of narration generally keeps the audience attentive but in Memento it is brilliant because in one thread of the movie the audience and the main character Leonard know exactly the same things about what he has done. The amazing bit is that this story would have been a compelling watch even if it was told in the order in which things happened.
E. Sholay (1975)
An ex-police officer uses two small-time convicts to help him with personal revenge against a dacoit. Every movie-lover has one movie that starts their love affair with movies. Sholay is that one movie for me. This movie grips my interest every time I see it till date, even though I know what is to come and what is going to be said.
While movies that usually stick to one genre or two work best, this is one movie that does justice to every genre it touches. The comic scenes have become legendary over the years. They make me laugh so hard that I have tears in my eyes. The non-slapstick comedy smoothly transitions into romance and two kinds at that. From the boisterous yet entertaining Veeru-Basanti to the literally silent and elegant Jai-Radha romance. The romance effortlessly transforms into drama with audience really fearing Gabbar singh and worrying for the small-time crooks Veeru-Jai.
None of the above would have been possible without the dialogues and the characterizations. I have yet to see dialogues that have such recall value. Each word functionally flows to build the emotion that the scene was supposed to create. Each character has its own space and identity - from Soorma Bhapali to Gabbar Singh. The relationship between Jai and Veeru was established in a little over five minutes through a song.
True the movie has taken inspiration from various other movies including some all time classics like The Seven Samurai, Once Upon A Time In The West, and The Magnificent Seven. But, there could be no better way to pay tribute to these movies.
I am glad you are still with me and reading this. It would be great to know what your list would look like. Please share your list in the comment space or trackback to this post from your own blog.