You only need to spend half a day on twitter (or two hours on movie blogs) to realize that, well, nerds love lists. I’ll just lay it out there. Whether it’s a handy checklist of Hitchcock films or a complete guide of all of the Hammer horror flicks, there’s something comforting about simple list-making — until actual opinions get involved, that is. Check your favorite social media watering hole right after a “Year’s Best” or (dear lord) an “All Time Top 100” movie list hits the pipeline and you’re likely to hear all sorts of wild, angry, and incredulous reactions.
With all of that in mind, we introduce the “Random Top 5,” a weekly feature that will cause some people to say “Hey, good list, thanks,” and others to say “Your list didn’t have (movie X) and therefore you are a moron.” And just to start things out on a potentially controversial note, let’s kick things off with a fistful of five “perfect” trilogies. (And I put “perfect” in quotes because I’m smart. No trilogy is perfect. But these ones come pretty close in my book.)
5. The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) — Take another visit with the first three films in this (still ongoing) series and you’ll notice an admirable sense of quality control throughout. (Part 4 wasn’t exactly awful, but it sure felt a lot like a “placeholder” chapter.) Even with a switch in directors (Doug Liman on part 1; Paul Greengrass on the sequels) there remains a cohesive arc to the Bourne character, although it doesn’t get in the way of each movie’s “specific” plot. Toss in recurring characters that make sense, action sequences that (usually) occur quite naturally, and superlative work from composer John Powell and cinematographer Oliver Wood — and you have one fantastic trio of movies that works remarkably well as a whole.
4. Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983) — “The Force peters out like an overused battery,” is how People Magazine described Return of the Jedi in 1983, and ever since I read that I’ve been trying to figure out why Part 3 is so much less respected than its predecessors. Sure, the Ewoks are kinda silly (and plainly intended to help sell toys), and yeah, a lot of the plot machinations in Jedi seem more or less copy/pasted directly from the original Star Wars, but those are relatively minor complaints. Jedi might be the “least” of the original trilogy, but when your big brothers are the wonderful Star Wars and the legendary Empire Strikes Back, well, that’s a lot to live up to.
Try revisiting the original Star Wars trilogy one boring night. You’ll be surprised at how much fun these films still are. Unfortunately you’ll probably have to settle for the “Special Edition” versions, which angers me, but the movies are still there. Buried under stupid new digital effects, but still good stuff.
3. Toy Story (1995), Toy Story 2 (1999), Toy Story 3 (2010) — Although my favorite Pixar films are Monsters Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), and the endlessly excellent The Incredibles (2004), there’s little denying that this is a “complete” trilogy in every way. (Although, yes, pre-production on Part 4 is well under way.) What began as a very clever idea combined with the “brand new” idea of feature-length CG storytelling quickly led to a superlative sequel — and then eventually a Part 3 that “stuck the landing” so beautifully it won over even the most skeptical of cynics. (I was one of them!) Brilliant for children, teenagers, and adults young, old, and very old, the Toy Story trilogy is required viewing for anyone hoping to raise a film fanatic, or at least retain some sense of childish warmth and silliness as you grow older.
2. Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013) — Fans of the excellent filmmaker Richard Linklater may have been dazzled by his 12-year-journey in making (the really wonderful) Boyhood, but they probably weren’t all that surprised. He did something similar over the course of 18 years with three distinctly honest, poignant, funny and touching films that all have the word “Before” in their title. Part 1 gives us a brief and bittersweet romance between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they spend a sweet night in Vienna; Part 2 sees the former lovers reuniting after a chance encounter in Paris; and Part 3 shows us that “happily ever after” is something that all partners have to really work at. Mr. Hawke and Ms. Delpy are great throughout all three films, but the star of the series is Linklater’s sly, subtle approach, not to mention his clever screenwriting and seemingly inexhaustible admiration for human beings in general.
1. Back to the Future (1985), Back to the Future Part 2 (1989), Back to the Future Part 3 (1990) — A small portion of this pick is, of course, based on nostalgia value — in that I loved these flicks when I was a kid, and I still love them now — but make no mistake: the Back to the Future movies are also really good films. True, the sequels strain a little bit under the weight of all the running gags and circuitous plot threads, but those are small gripes in relation to how much fun stuff is offered here. The first film has one of the cleverest concepts (and brilliant screenplays) you’d ever need, and the sequels spin off in their own distinct directions (one futuristic, the other old-fashioned) while still managing to serve a “master arc” that somehow manages to hold up under geeky scrutiny. Toss in great work from Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and a sterling back-up ensemble; a lot of laughs and even some nifty action scenes; and a tone/energy/style that simply nails the idea of “fun” — and you’ve got one of the best complete trilogies I’ve ever seen.
Which trilogies am I an idiot for “ignoring” in favor of these ones? Sound off in the comments section below or hit me up on Twitter.
(Note: I cheated. These aren’t “ranked.” Put ’em in any order you like. Ha.)