The Countdown: Top Ten Movies From The Past

| August 22, 2016

This week on The Countdown: Movie and TV Reviews podcast, Paul and Wayne are talking about their top ten movies set before the 20th century, so I naturally tweeted them that the best one was Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.  It takes place a long LONG time ago after all and I think we can assume that second “long” puts it well above 80 years.  Plus, the galaxy is far FAR away so it would have to take decades for it to travel to us here on Earth anyway.  Check.  Mate.

I left Empire off my list because it was more of a joke answer than anything, even though it is a great film that meets the criteria.  And while I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan in the world, I do look forward to Rogue One as well as Rian Johnson’s (Brick, Looper) installment of the franchise with Episode 8.

I’m really interested to listen to this week’s episode of The Countdown as Paul has been tweeting for days about how Wayne’s list is so bad it may throw the entire reality of the universe out of whack.  Looking at my list, I’m not sure Paul would approve of several of my choices, but that’s the beauty of film criticism:  it’s all subjective.

Anyway, like previous lists, this was a fun one to put together as I thought of a lot of really fun movies I like that take place before the 20th century.  A few of these are guilty pleasures that only I enjoy, but guilty pleasures have kinda become my thing in the podcasting world, so I hope you enjoy!

Honorable Mention:  Wild Wild West (1999)
Dir. Barry Sonnenfeld
This movie gets a lot of crap for merely existing, but I love it.  Giant steampunk spiders, racist Kenneth Branagh, badass genius Kevin Kline, and an absurdly contemporary performance from Will Smith.  Plus, this is back when Smith would write raps to cap off all his movies.  I really wish he’d still do that.  Can you imagine the Concussion rap?  Or Suicide Squad?!  That might have saved the latter for me.

10. Django Unchained (2012)
Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Next week, I promise not to have a Tarantino movie on my list.  It will be easy because next week’s list is about television, and even though Tarantino has done a little TV work, it won’t come close to featuring next week.  Django is insanely fun, with a great cast, great structure, and a poignant commentary on the world we live in today.  I’ve also never seen a movie that deals with the topic of black people being comfortable with their own slavery, and others actually owning slaves.  It’s a fascinating and paradoxical time in American history.

09. The Three Musketeers (1993)
Dir. Stephen Herek
Had I thought of it last week, I would have maybe found room for this in my best ensembles list.  Keifer Southerland, Charlie Sheen, and Oliver Platt are all in their prime, though let’s be honest: Oliver Platt has never left his prime.  Even Chris O’Donnell is great as the wide-eyed D’Artagnan.  Not to mention Tim Curry is Richelieu.  I mean, come one.  This is fantastic.

08. A Million Ways to Die in The West (2014)
Dir. Seth MacFarlane
A total guilty pleasure that we will hopefully be getting to one day on my podcast, Quote Unquote Guilty, but man this movie made me laugh a lot.  It’s textbook MacFarlane so if you’re a fan of Family Guy and Ted (and not that garbage Ted 2), you should enjoy the zany, politically incorrect misadventures of MacFarlane’s wild west comedy.

07. The Prestige (2006)
Dir. Christopher Nolan
I couldn’t find a definitive answer on if this actually took place before 1900.  Some sources say 19th century, some say turn of the century, so I’m throwing it in.  I think this could be my favorite Nolan movie, with the possible exception of Memento, which is fantastic.  And it’s all in the performances.  I don’t care about movies about magicians usually.  It’s too easy to use movie magic to heighten an illusion beyond what’s reasonable (looking at you, Now You See Me), but this movie is more about the characters’ obsession with being the best and I’ll take obsession over flash any day.

06. The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Dir. Kevin Reynolds
The classic tale of Edmond Dantes being falsely imprisoned and gaining the knowledge, skill, and fortune he needs to enact his revenge is pitch perfect.  I haven’t seen other adaptations of the book, or read the book itself, but I thoroughly enjoy this film and the bitter rivalry between Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce that drives the plot.  Also, check out a young Henry Cavil doing everything he would conceivably need to do to eventually play Clark Kent/Superman, but just not doing it under Zack Snyder’s direction.

05. Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Dir. S. Craig Zahler
Just had this one on my best Kurt Russell list so there’s not much more to be said about it.  It’s brutal, it builds tension perfectly, it features a cast of people I normally wouldn’t think to put in a gritty western (David Arquette, Matthew Fox, Patrick Wilson), and Kurt Russell is the absolute man.  If you haven’t seen this yet, make time.

04. Back To The Future Part III (1990)
Dir. Robert Zemeckis
The only thing stopping this from being my #1 is that it doesn’t entirely take place in 1885.  That may exclude similar movies from Paul and Wayne’s lists, but four is as low as I can go.  Back to the Future is far and away my favorite film trilogy and I love all three parts somewhat equally.  Part 3 gets a lot of flak, but it’s just as fun and engaging as the first two, and it’s just as fun to consider the implications of how the time travel works here as in the other movies.  I think people may object to this movie being Doc’s story instead of Marty’s, but that keeps it fresh and interesting to me.

03. Gone With The Wind (1939)
Dir. Victor Fleming, George Cukor, and Sam Wood
I saw this one for the first time just last year and I have to admit it totally holds up to the hype.  Clocking in at almost 4 hours long, Gone With The Wind flies by, telling the story of great characters struggling to survive civil war era America as the conflict rips apart their southern aristocratic way of life.  The performances are stellar, the plot is compelling, and I personally was pleasantly surprised by how much dark comedy was found throughout.

02. Othello (1995)
Dir. Kenneth Branagh
Othello is probably my favorite play.  It’s perfect.  Unfortunately, it sparked a series of films from legends like Orson Welles and Lawrence Olivier who played the titular moor in blackface.  That’s messed up to me.  Kenneth Branagh gets it.  Why bother playing Othello when you already have the best character in literary history in the villain Iago.  Branagh’s Iago is chilling and one of the best performances I’ve ever seen on film.  Absolutely amazing, and it elevates all of the other performances here from great actors just trying to keep up.

01. Gangs of New York (2002)
Dir. Martin Scorsese
Despite some oddities, Scorsese remains my favorite living director, and honestly Gangs of New York could have been the first movie I ever saw of his.  I love this movie start to finish.  The way it gets into DiCaprio’s character’s struggle to avenge his father or take the easy way out and live comfortably as Bill the Butcher’s right-hand man, the unconventional structure, and the entire ensemble of characters.  Damn, another great ensemble movie that I left off last week.  Anyway, this is fantastic and doesn’t get enough appreciation from people in my opinion.

Don’t forget to check out The Countdown: Movie and TV Reviews Podcast, and follow the guys on twitter @TheCountdownPC.

Next week will be The Top Ten Kickass Female TV Characters.  It will be epic.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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