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Tag Archive: Field of Dreams


There was always the possibility that you get the opportunity to step into the cornfield in Field of Dreams and find it isn’t all that pleasant.  That seems to be the case with In the Tall Grass, an adaptation of a Stephen King and son Joe Hill novella.  The movie is arriving direct to Netflix in a few weeks and the trailer looks like prime viewing material for the Halloween season.

It’s anyone’s guess how much or little it will follow the 2012 novella, but the trailer has a nice and creepy closed room mystery vibe, with a touch King’s original foray into the field, 1977’s Children of the Corn and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening.  The horror movie street cred comes from versatile actor Patrick Wilson, who took on The Phantom of the Opera before joining the Watchmen, faced aliens in Prometheus, and cannibals in Bone Tomahawk, before his co-starring role in Aquaman.  Now he’s the top horror film pick as a staple of the Insidious and The Conjuring franchises with four Conjuring films so far (and another coming next year).

In the Tall Grass is directed by familiar TV filmmaker Vincenzo Natali (The Returned, Orphan Black, Wayward Pines, Luke Cage, The Strain, American Gods, Lost in Space, Westworld) and co-stars Laysla De Oliveira (Locke & Key, iZombie) and Rachel Wilson (Charmed, Impulse), with spooky music by Mark Korven (The Lighthouse).

Check out the trailer for In the Tall Grass:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This weekend one of the greatest American film classics celebrated its 30th anniversary across the U.S.  Thirty years later and Phil Alden Robinson′s Field of Dreams still holds up.  But thirty years is a long time, and my umpteenth viewing for Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies theatrical release for Father’s Day netted even more new thoughts about one of my all-time favorite movies.  I can’t think of a better Father’s Day movie, but if you missed it in the theater this weekend, you have one more day and two showings to catch it before it goes back in the vaults until its next anniversary.  Find out more about tomorrow’s two screenings and find your local participating theater at the Fathom Events website for the anniversary event here.  TCM host Ben Mankiewicz adds some film trivia before and after the screening–he’s a great host for these anniversary events.

Not even two minutes pass before Kevin Costner′s Ray Kinsella hears the ghostly words from afar that set the story into motion: If you build it, he will come.  From there, Robinson’s tightly written, major re-work of the W.P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe is non-stop magic (check out my retro review of the novel here at borg earlier this year where I compare it to the film).  It’s accompanied by James Horner′s sweeping, emotional score that will jerk you around from ghost story surprise to epic cross-country adventure and back to quiet, pastoral personal drama.  You can go back and scratch your head over the actual films that won Academy Awards over Field of Dreams for 1989–it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score.  You’ll find Field of Dreams is the only film that stuck with audiences three decades later, airing almost weekly now on cable channels, confirming its place in the Library of Congress’s film recognition and at the top of the American Film Institute’s rankings more than once.

It’s the rare film like Field of Dreams that begs for there to be an Academy Award for best casting.  Margery Simkin, the casting director for films from Beverly Hills Cop to Top Gun to Star Trek Discovery deserves a salute for getting every role just right.  Kevin Costner never veers from pure immersion into this new farmer wanting to follow his gut instincts.  Amy Madigan plays the perfect supportive partner and wife to Ray.  Gaby Hoffman is smart for her age as Ray’s daughter and a true credit to the film.  Director/writer Phil Alden Robinson should share in the brilliant updating the novel character from real-life J.D. Salinger to the fictional Terence Mann–audiences know James Earl Jones so well from Star Wars, yet here we get the benefit of his powerfully emotional eyes and that broad smile and laugh.  I always look forward to Ray Liotta′s steely stare, his knowing calmness, and his snarky laugh-out-loud dismissal of Ty Cobb.  Keeping with the novel and my take from past viewings, Archie Graham brings the magic home as the crucial piece of the puzzle driving the story to its end, played young and eager in a 1920s mindset by the great Frank Whaley and in his later years as a wise small-town doctor by film legend Burt Lancaster.  The quaint beauty of Dubuque, Iowa, made for the perfect backdrop to film Graham’s hometown of Chisholm, Minnesota, for these scenes.

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Seven years ago the writers at borg came up with our top ten favorite fantasy movies (take a look at my list here).  I’m happy to see that my list hasn’t changed much.  Two of my top ten fantasy movies are returning to theaters nationwide for limited showings.  First, Field of Dreams (my #6 favorite), is back next week, followed in July by The Muppet Movie (my #3 favorite).  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Field of Dreams will be in theaters for Fathers’ Day, an opportunity to share the ultimate story of believing in yourself and trusting your instincts with a new generation.  It’s scheduled to appear at more than 600 theaters.  Then celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Muppet Movie, Fathom Events is partnering with The Jim Henson Company and Universal Pictures to show the classic big-screen debut of the Muppets on more than 700 screens nationwide.

Fathom Events joins Universal Pictures and Turner Classic Movies to bring Field of Dreams to theaters Sunday, June 16, for showings at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. local time, and Tuesday, June 18, at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time.  Director Phil Alden Robinson′s re-write of W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe (reviewed here at borg), features three of cinema’s most fantastic characters coming together: reclusive author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), baseball player Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster and Frank Whaley) and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson (Ray Liotta).  It was nominated for six–and made three–of the American Film Institute’s lists of the top American films of all time, including being named the all-time #6 top fantasy film.

For two days only this July, The Muppet Movie returns with screenings on Thursday, July 25, and Tuesday, July 30.  The Muppet Movie will play at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (local time) each day.  Following the international success of the television show The Muppet Show, which at its peak aired in more than 100 countries, Muppets creator Jim Henson took a creative risk to have the characters star in their first motion picture.  The result, directed by James Frawley, became a box-office hit, starring Kermit (performed by Henson), Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear (performed by Frank Oz), Gonzo (performed by Dave Goelz) and his chicken Camilla (performed by Jerry Nelson), Scooter (performed by Richard Hunt), and dozens of other favorite characters.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s February, and for sports fans that can mean only one thing: Baseball is just around the corner.  Spring training is only a few weeks away, so why not get into the mindset for the game with a look back to a modern classic, W.P. Kinsella′s novel Shoeless Joe First published in 1982 and originally titled The Dream Field, Kinsella’s novel didn’t debut to overwhelming acclaim in the U.S., although it won the author the 1982 “Books in Canada First Novel Award.”  Kinsella had been writing about the Black Sox, the famous White Sox team that threw the World Series in 1919, and while attending the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop he decided to incorporate that event into a fantasy about Shoeless Joe Jackson returning to Iowa to play ball again.  The result is what you might call the Great American Novel of the 1980s, now with a legion of fans devoted to the story.  The novel includes two major character threads that were excised for the 1989 classic, Field of Dreams, a film that has been named to the Library of Congress as one of the greatest American films of all time, as well as included on two American Film Institute Top 100 lists, nominated for three others, and named the AFI #6 best fantasy film of all time.  The book and film are equally superb for different reasons.  The film is one of the finest attempts at magical realism on the silver screen, and the magic is at the core of the novel.  In the original Kinsella went further than the film, delving into why American love for baseball transcends other sports and pastimes, and he takes readers on an adventure into the intricacies of relationships and human nature.

Shoeless Joe follows Ray Kinsella, one of a set of twin brothers whose father died many years ago.  In their teens Ray’s brother Richard gets into an argument with his father and leaves home.  Ray gets married, settles in Iowa City and has a daughter named Karin.  He begins a life selling insurance, but one day he encounters an elderly man who starts talking baseball with him as he’s walking along the streets of Iowa City.  Ray learns that the man, named Eddie Scissons, is the oldest living Chicago Cubs player, and soon strikes up a friendship, ultimately leasing a farm the man can no longer work.  The next piece is familiar to moviegoers: Ray hears a voice from the corn, “If you build it he will come,” and understands it to mean he needs to build a left field for Shoeless Joe to return and play baseball again.  Ray levels the corn field, and Joe arrives.  Unlike the film, this happens over several months.  And there’s more: the voice directs Ray cryptically again, this time with the plea, “Ease his pain.”  Ray knows the message to mean he must go to find the reclusive The Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger and take him to a baseball game.  Kinsella, the author, used the living Salinger as a character, but the author didn’t want his name used so the role was altered to the fictional writer Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones) for the film.  Research by the studio determined potential audiences of the time were no longer familiar with Salinger and the swap did not affect the film.

But Kinsella had reasons to use Salinger in his novel, as Salinger had used two characters with Kinsella’s last name in different works in real life, hence Kinsella’s real-life fascination with Salinger, and the use of Ray and Richard in Shoeless Joe Unlike the film, whose key points are getting Shoeless Joe, Archie Graham, the famous author, and Kinsella′s father to come to the field, the key point of Shoeless Joe is getting Joe to the field in the first part of the story, but the pinnacle is getting Salinger to reveal his love of baseball, to go into the field, to learn what really lies in The Great Beyond, and hopefully return with a new novel for his fans after the many years of not writing.  In reality Salinger stopped publishing, but he didn’t quit writing, all the way to his death in 2010.  This week his heirs announced for the first time they would be releasing several of Salinger’s unpublished works after 2020 and over the next 10 years.

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The National Film Registry has grown to include 725 films this year with the addition this week of 25 films.  In accordance with the National Film Preservation Act, a film is eligible to be preserved under the registry if it is at least a decade old and recognized in the National Film Preservation Board’s view as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  The Librarian of Congress makes the final determination, considering public nominations in the analysis.

Consistent with last year’s list, which added The Princess Bride and The Birds, the new list includes some of the best genre films of all-time: one of cinema’s best fantasies and baseball films, Phil Alden Robinson’s magical Field of Dreams, Walt Disney’s timeless animated film Dumbo, the greatest superhero film of all-time–Superman, a 1980s classic–The Goonies, and your second favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard.  The only surprise with some inductees was simply that they hadn’t been added yet to the Registry, like Elia Kazan’s memorable look at prejudice, Gentleman’s Agreement, the original Hepburn/Tracy/Poitier drama Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, and the 11-Oscar triumph, James Cameron’s Titanic. 

Richard Donner, who directed two films on this year’s list, Superman and The Goonies, said, “They are both special films in my life, as was the cast and crew for both.  It’s wonderful to see them listed among so many great films.”  Kirk Douglas, who celebrated his 101st birthday this past week, starred in two films, Spartacus, and the 1951 film Ace in the Hole.

Below is the full list of films named to the registry for 2017:

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chris-pratt-moneyball

It’s that time of year again.  The 2016 World Series is now in full swing with the first game a sweep by the Cleveland Indians.  How will the Chicago Cubs fare in Game 2 tonight?  If you’re not in the baseball frame of mind yet, we have five of the all-time best baseball movies you can stream right now for free or for less than four dollars on Amazon Prime’s streaming service.  Most of these can also be rented on Netflix.  And let’s face it–everyone should own our fifth movie on the list.

Have you seen them already?  Then you know these great films can be watched over and over again.

Let’s start with a classic:  Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees from 1942.  The movie recounts the then-recent personal triumph and tragedy of what baseball as an American pastime has created over and over for more than a century: baseball players as American icons.  Pride of the Yankees shows the personal side of being a famous baseball player, and features real-life legends Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and Bill Dickey, all playing themselves on-screen.  Academy Award winners Teresa Wright and Walter Brennan co-star.  If you want to see classic baseball from a contemporary view, this is your movie.  Although the story is certainly bittersweet and a tear-jerker, it reflects baseball as more than just a game.

pride-of-the-yankees-babe-ruth-gary-cooper

The most recent movie on our list is Moneyball, from 2011, a modern classic we’ve already watched over and over.  Moneyball reveals the game as a modern business.  The conflict between playing the game as classically envisioned and the game as seen from an analytical angle is wrestled with from the real life mostly true story of the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane as he turned the team around in its 2002 season.
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Eddie the Eagle poster

At a critical point in last year’s World Series the crowd drew silent and a fan in the crowd could be seen in the Jumbotron holding up a sign with three words:  Never say die.  The crowd erupted.  And his team went on to win.

In Ice Castles a young woman overcomes blindness to become part of a successful figure skating team.  In Rudy a young man fights desperately to play college football.  In Caddyshack a kid picks principle over a college scholarship to compete in a round of high stakes golf.  In Slap Shot and Necessary Roughness a coach tries some innovative methods to turn a losing team into a successful hockey or football team.  In The Bad News Bears and The Mighty Ducks, a coach tries to make a team of youth baseball or hockey players out of a group of misfits.   In The Natural, Field of Dreams, and Moneyball a has-been baseball player returns to the game to save the day.  In Pride of the Yankees a professional baseball player tries to fight a terminal disease to keep playing the game.  In Jim Thorpe–All American a Native American overcomes racism and class struggle to become a track, football, and Olympic icon.  In Brian’s Song two professional football players move past racial differences and face a terminal illness.  In Rocky and Creed a guy from the streets fights to be a contender in the boxing ring.  In Cool Runnings (Jamaican bobsled), The Cutting Edge (pair figure skating), and Chariots of Fire (track) athletes overcome their personal trials to compete in the Olympics.

The underdog finally has his day.

Eddie the Eagle cap

Each of these sports movies follows a trial against adversity, whether it be a physical, mental, social, economic, or cultural barrier.  Some are seriously dramatic and others comical, but most manage to include more than an ounce of humor along the way.  And all incorporate plenty of heart.  But they all share the theme of “beating the odds”.

A new movie from 20th Century Fox looks destined to be the next beat-the-odds sports movie triumph, and seems like it may be good enough to be added to this list of great sports films based on a new trailer.  Eddie the Eagle follows a British skier who in 1988 became the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping.

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cover_template_text    STII vinyl

The great composer James Horner died last year in a plane crash, leaving behind a legacy of some of the biggest and most memorable soundtracks that defined nearly 40 years of film history.  One of the most memorable for sci-fi fans is his score to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  To celebrate Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, Mondo–the guys known for their redux poster interpretations–are releasing an extended LP edition of Wrath of Khan with music never before available on vinyl.  And the release includes Mondo’s killer level of artwork interpreting Khan and Kirk on Ceti Alpha V and the Genesis Planet.

But Mondo didn’t stop there.  The vinyl albums reflect the look and colors of the Mutara Nebula, where the Enterprise and the Reliant faced off.

10WoK-Discs2--FINAL2_1024x1024    STII LP reverse

Horner’s work on Wrath of Khan is impressive and established Horner as a major film composer.  His score adapts themes from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky and Romeo and Juliet, and Horner would work cues from classical masters in many of his film scores over the course of his career.  Order your copy of Horner’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan 2-LP set today here at the Mondo shop.

Never heard of James Horner?  You certainly have heard his work.  His last score will be featured in the remake of The Magnificent Seven due in theaters September 23, 2016, but the variety of films he wrote for is unprecedented.  He wrote themes that made many an actor look good–many in multiple films, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sigourney Weaver, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Matthew Broderick, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, and Brad Pitt, and collaborated on movies with the likes of big filmmakers, including Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Phil Alden Robinson, Wolfgang Petersen, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Michael Apted, Joe Johnston, and Edward Zwick.

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Crying at the Movies–Spotlight

Field of Dreams catch scene

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

I have cried in many movies.  It took me a while to allow the tears to silently flow instead of fighting them back to maintain a sense of dignity that I imagined more that I possessed.  I can keep crying at the same scene after many viewings, but I’m not sure I can elucidate why.  Recently I watched Spotlight–the Oscar nominated movie–and I cried for a very different reason than I have before.  Before I get to that one though, I figure I will run down a list of some of the movies that made me cry and try to rationalize why on all of them.

Scrooged – Ever since I saw this film in the theater, there is one moment at the end that gets me every time.  It’s the moment that Calvin Cooley walks up to Frank Cross and tugs on his coat.  Bill Murray, as Cross, looks down after his big rambling speech, tears streaking his face and says, “Did I forget something big man?”  Cooley whispers his first words since his father dies and says, “You forgot to say ‘God bless us everyone,’” at least how I remember it.  Why does it still get me?  Maybe it is Calvin’s story that we as the audience see as a companion to Cross’s story and the tragedy therein of his assistant.  Maybe it’s stellar writing that makes a single character wait to speak until he has something magical to say.  Maybe it’s just the sentiments that accompany Christmastime.  I’ll bet it is the part of me that empathizes with Cross and all of the stress and responsibility of being an adult and remembering that sometimes being a child allows innocence to have the perspective to get to the point with just a few words.

SCROOGED, Nicholas Phillips, Bill Murray, Alfre Woodard, 1988, (c)Paramount

Field of Dreams – Many a man has had his stoic expression cracked by this movie when Ray Kinsella and his father are reunited.  It’s the moment where just before his father leaves again, Ray gets up the courage to stop him in his tracks and asks, “You wanna have a catch?” As the Ghost of Christmas Past says in “Scrooged,” it’s Niagara Falls for me. I remember kneeling before my TV during this scene as tears streamed down my face like never before or since.  I sobbed out loud.  I’m sure that’s why the Ghost of Christmas Past knows how to get Frank Cross to sob.  It’s the memories of the times past, those fleeting moments with family that as an adult I want to have had more of those times.  Even if they were plentiful, the past seems far away and the times few as life keeps pushing forward and spreadsheets replace baseball mitts.

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By C.J. Bunce

Fantasy movies have been around since the beginning of cinema itself.  The earliest filmmakers themselves were magicians of sorts, and what better way to dazzle an audience than show them something amazing and… unbelievable.  But it’s not until the last ten or so years that fantasy was fully realized, rich and realistic, with classic stories finally matching the imaginations of decades of readers.  There are of course exceptions.  Big ones even.  Like The Wizard of Oz.  Only The Lord of the Rings trilogy gives The Wizard of Oz a run for its money, but does any single LOTR film compare to the one, classic Oz?   I think that film still holds up today against any other film made since.

This is the first of four articles where each of the borg.com writers discusses their “ten favorite fantasy films” as we did with our favorite Halloween films last fall.  Note this is a favorites vs. a “best of” list.  We may have to do a “best of” list later, but “best of” lists are everywhere and often look exactly alike.  When you’re discussing “favorite fantasy films” as opposed to “the best” you are bound to see some of the best films straddle both lists.  But “favorites” lists allows you to fold in guilty pleasures, and maybe those films that, as quality is concerned, don’t hold their own to today’s audiences, considered from a more objective standard.  Hopefully you can pick up a fantasy film or two you either haven’t heard of or haven’t seen yet.

What is fantasy?  Our criteria was that there should be some element of magic in the film, and that the film wouldn’t better fit in another genre list like sci-fi or horror, etc.

Exclusions

My list excludes several genre films that could arguably fall into a fantasy list.  I’ll save holiday fantasies like Elf and Miracle on 34th Street for another day.  I also did not include superhero movies or action/adventure films, which I see as their own separate genres, or historical fiction, like Braveheart, despite that film often topping fantasy genre lists.  Finally, I have not included movies that are also predominantly science fiction, otherwise the “greatest space fantasy of all time”–Star Wars, would be on the list.  So my goal is including only “plain old classic fantasy movies.”

Honorable Mentions that made nobody’s Top 10

Because you can’t just list your top ten (why leave it at that?) I want to mention a few films that would have made the list before the advent of modern big fantasy films.  Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal stood by itself for a time as real, incredible fantasy, with strange creatures and places.  This film, and the strange Labyrinth, were the kind of romping fantasy that seemed to skip by an entire generation of baby boomers.  Goonies is sure to make a favorites list for me but I am not sure there is any magic there to technically merit placing on a fantasy list.  Great acting by Dennis Quaid and a great dragon voiced by Sean Connery made Dragonheart a solid fantasy film that was easy to watch over and over, and City of Ember and the better than average Disney film The Sorceror’s Apprentice with Nicholas Cage are newer fantasy films that I liked a lot but haven’t re-watched enough to have it make my list–yet.   I’d watch any of those films again today.  It’s the “over and over again watching” that I looked toward to finally nail down the order of my top ten.  So here it is, from 10 to my current favorite at the number one spot:

10. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  What defines fantasy as a genre is the presence of the magical or supernatural.  Captain Jack Sparrow is a dead pirate captain, like the ghost pirate we loved in Scooby Doo, and what Lord of the Rings: Return of the King revealed to be that production’s coolest creation, the brilliantly executed army of the dead.  From a completely over-the-top but cool performance by Johnny Depp to a fun voyage, a great ship, and a whole stew of solid actors, Pirates is fun fantasy in a historical setting, with a rousing soundtrack by Klaus Badelt that will stick in your head long after the credits have rolled.

9.  Alice in Wonderland.  I’ve never been much of a fan of Tim Burton’s unique style, until I was blown away by his take on this classic story.  Burton was born to create Wonderland for movie audiences.  Johnny Depp is completely mad as the Hatter, Anne Hathaway perfectly cast as the White Queen, and Helena Bonham Carter vile and insane as the Red Queen.  They also went all out with voice work for the digital characters with Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton, Christopher Lee, and Michael Gough all supplying great characterization.  Beyond stunning visuals and sets, the story masterfully blends Alice in Wonderland with other works of Lewis Carroll as if they always belonged together.  Burton’s audacity pays off and Alice can be watched again and again, each time finding incredible nuances.  Burton joined Peter Jackson and Victor Fleming in an exclusive club of masters of the most classic of fantasy books to make it to screen.

8.  Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.  This movie was written and created to get it into theaters as quickly as possible, in only a matter of literally weeks.  So how can such a thrown-together film stand the test of time?  I give a lot of credit to Kevin Costner as a believably viable, yet oafish and sincere Robin.  His merry men are all well cast.  And we got to see Alan Rickman as the most classic of villains, playing the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham.  One of the best surprise endings gives us Sean Connery as we’d like to see him in an entire feature-length role (The achingly, poorly cast First Knight didn’t cut it, unfortunately).  Who cares if the cast isn’t British and their costumes don’t make much sense?  OK, this wouldn’t make any “best of” list, but I love watching it whenever it is on TV so it belongs right here.  And it also has a great soundtrack by Michael Kamen.

7.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  In one sense, taking away the last three Harry Potter films, which to me are lesser works, the first five all sort of merge together–except for the story of Azkaban.  Professor Lupin is probably the best of Harry’s professors, and his greatest role model is Sirius Black.  Of all the Harry Potter films this is the only one I will stop and watch again.  It’s a standout film in the biggest mega-fantasy franchise ever.  Here you have cool tools of fantasy like the Marauder’s Map and Hermione’s time-turner.  And the Dementors are rivaled in their quiet dark creepiness only by the Nazgul from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  And although there are some minor story problems involving the time-turner and the killing of an innocent with little commentary, the digital realization of a Hippogriff named Buckbeak becomes one of the best executed fantasy animals ever.  John Williams was able to make a throughly creepy mood with his darkest (and final) Harry Potter soundtrack here.

6.  Field of Dreams.  “If you build it, he will come.” “It’s not heaven, it’s Iowa.”  Not only did Field of Dreams give us some of the best catch phrases ever, it got people who don’t like baseball to like baseball (me included).  Of all the ten movies on my list, Field of Dreams may be the most transformatively magical, and possibly the most unique because it is so off-the-wall.  How did anyone sell this as a movie?  Ghostly baseball players coming out of a cornfield to get in another game of baseball?  The one-two punch of Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones (and Burt Lancaster!) put this film up with Jaws as a film that you can’t walk away from once you start watching it, even for the 100th time.

5.  The Jungle Book.  Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 book of stories called The Jungle Book included the story of Mowgli, and that story comes alive in a very wonderful way in 1967’s Disney animated movie.  Mowgli’s life is the ultimate in escapes from reality for young viewers.  Who wouldn’t want to be raised by wolves?  Who wouldn’t want a giant friend who was a bear, and a wise advisor who is a black panther?  The music made the simply detailed animation more frolicking and fun.  And even the sinister villain, the tiger Shere Khan, need not meet his end in this film in order to round out a well told story of friendship, manipulation, and trust.  And the hypnotic Kaa remains unmatched as the clever manipulator until we meet Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. 

4.  The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  What’s the best of the three movies of Middle Earth?  My hope is one of the two movies being made right now into The Hobbit series.  I have issues with both Fellowship of the Ring and even more issues with The Return of the King, but it all amounts to nitpicking.  As a series, it is the best fantasy series ever.  As stand alone film, The Two Towers makes my list for the same reason The Empire Strikes Back would trump the other Star Wars films.  Introductions of incredible places, like Rohan.  And where my eyebrows wrinkled at killing off Gandalf the White in Fellowship of the Ring to only bring him back with a different name, Gandalf the Grey knows how to lead an army into battle at Helm’s Deep.  My favorite character of the series gets a full story arc here–the classically regal and noble yet flawed Theoden King, leader of Rohan.  The brother of the frustrating Boromir is introduced as David Wenham’s Faramir, who both kidnaps and then frees the traveling Hobbits.  Merry and Pippin recruit the help of the awesome Ents–talking, walking trees that march into battle to protect what is theirs (also seen in The Wizard of Oz).  Although the main journey of Frodo and Sam and Gollum finds them moving from point B to point C in this installment, the real adventure is what happens to the other six remaining members of the Fellowship.  Whereas at the end of Return of the King the several denouements had me cheering for Gollum, in The Two Towers the excitement and pacing was just right, leaving audiences hungry for more at the end.

3.  The Muppet Movie.  A perfectly magical film.  Jim Henson can’t be overstated as sitting among the kings of creating the fantastical.  The Muppets had already been known to us through The Muppet Show, yet this movie brought laugh out loud humor to a fully realized classic hero’s journey–a drive from the East Coast to Hollywood.  With a frog and a pig and a bear and a dog and what the heck are all those other guys like Beaker and Animal and …?  Not since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World had Hollywood comic actors united behind a single important film with too many cameos to count, and all brilliantly funny.  I like all the Muppet movies but this remains my favorite.  We don’t analyze it but Henson did the unimaginable by making fabric characters as real as any human in any film and without the realism required by all other fantasy films of make-believe characters.  Instead it just has a lot of honesty and heart, to make this movie beloved by audiences for generations to come.

2.  The Wizard of Oz.  I have likely seen only Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, the Star Trek films, and Jaws more times than The Wizard of Oz over the years.  Before video tape and DVDs I remember watching once a year on a Sunday night when The Wizard of Oz was re-broadcast, waiting to watch closely again to see how they changed from a black and white Kansas farm to the technicolor land of Oz.  Along with The Jungle Book, I watched this film as a young kid (unlike 8 other films on this list that came much later) and saw first-hand what magic in fantasy was all about.  So many elements make this movie work, many from the source story by L. Frank Baum, like the long journey leading back home.  A giant village of extras with the Munchkins.  Crazy scary flying monkeys and arguably the best villain ever filmed in both the Wicked Witch of the West and the equally evil Miss Gulch.  Good costumes from 1939 meant we didn’t need CGI or animation–the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion are all believable and real.  And of course the soundtrack and songs are unmatched and memorable, led by a perfect performance by the young Judy Garland.  The Wizard of Oz is the Citizen Kane of the fantasy genre.

1.  The Golden Compass.  A perfect, elaborate fantasy story in an incredible, new parallel universe of Earth.  A perfect cast.  Beautiful, unreal sets.  Historically inspired costumes that span different worlds.  Special effects that merge reality and fantasy seamlessly.  An often overlooked brilliant fantasy masterwork.  When I first saw this I instantly thought this was the finest, most enjoyable fantasy film I’d ever seen.  If all steampunk was this good I would be a true believer.  Look at the cast:  A stately Daniel Craig’s Lord Asriel, a beautifully striking but sinister Nicole Kidman’s Ms. Coulter, the perfect helpers along the voyage in Sam Elliot’s Lee Scoresby and Eva Green’s Serafina, smaller roles with gravitas by Derek Jacobi and Christopher Lee, and stellar voiceovers by Kathy Bates, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ian McKellen.  The design work is lavish with a textbook fantasy component talisman in the magical alethiometer, animals that share your journey and wear armor into battle with you.  Gyptians!  Flying witches with bows and arrows.  A cool airship.  A big, exciting ride.  What more could anyone want?

One big element I see across my list?  Talking animals (and other things that don’t normally talk like trees and cornfields and dead people) are in 9 of my picks.  Also, I must like Christopher Lee and Alan Rickman who show up in three films, and Johnny Depp, Ian McKellen, and Kevin Costner show up in two films.  Tomorrow… come back for day two of our favorite fantasy films and click on the Comments to let us know your favorites.