FilmNerds Recommends: Top Franchises

Welcome back to the second installment of our new FilmNerds Recommends series where the writers and contributors here at FilmNerds give you our top picks for the DVDs you should be watching this month. Last month, we gave  you our choices for the ultimate Halloween movie marathon but when considering our options for this month, the FilmNerds team found it a bit more difficult to come up with a theme that fit the month of November (Thanksgiving movies?). Ultimately, we decided the biggest film story happening this month is the release of the latest installment of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time, Harry Potter. In addition to giving you our picks on the best Harry Potter film to date, we’re also giving you our choices for the best installments of three other all-time great movie franchises. As usual, every FilmNerds recommendation is currently available on Netflix so if you see a pick you like, simply click on the DVD cover art to link straight to the movie’s page on Netflix.

Harry Potter

Matt Scalici’s Pick – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

This series has always struggled to balance between keeping true to the books and becoming its own entity and Half-Blood Prince really felt like the first time the franchise felt comfortable in its own skin as a true movie franchise. The character dynamics felt natural, the action sequences were fun and made sense on screen and the emotional payoff at the end was powerful, if a little cheesy.

Ben Stark’s Pick – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

I’ll agree with the consensus that Half-Blood Prince is pretty amazing, and probably the best film in the series, but I also have to highlight the underrated Goblet of Fire, which features some great cinematography and a few amazing sequences.

Corey Craft’s Pick – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

So much for the law of diminishing returns. Somehow this series has improved over time, and last year’s installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was the best one yet. I have high hopes for Deathly Hallows.

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Ben Flanagan’s Pick – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

For me, Half-Blood Prince, the sixth entry, finally nailed the formula they’d been seeking since they started. A crisp script, deft humor and a firm sense of visual style all lend themselves to a complete experience without the rushed choppiness of its predecessors, all weighed down with crummy exposition and fatty epilogues. Hopefully Yates can keep the pace.

Graham Flanagan’s Pick – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

Since I wasn’t born in the 90s, I’ve never really gravitated toward this franchise. I will say, however, that John Williams’ score introduced in the first film ranks among some of his finest work.. so I’ll have to go with the original.

Batman

Matt Scalici’s Pick – The Dark Knight (2008)

As much as it pains me to be one of those guys who says the latest is the greatest, I truly think upon watching every Batman film ever made, any logical modern viewer would conclude that The Dark Knight contains the best writing, the most exciting action, the most compelling storytelling and, least debatable of all, the best acting.

Ben Stark’s Pick – The Dark Knight (2008)

A little more than two years later, The Dark Knight continues to be a milestone in mainstream storytelling, with its high thematic aspirations and break-neck pace. For once, filmmakers got the episodic structure of a graphic novel right without relegating the film to constrictive panels.

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Corey Craft’s Pick – The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight, which is not only the obvious crown jewel of the Batman franchise, but the best superhero movie ever made. (Interesting cognitive dissonance double-feature: this and Batman and Robin.)

Ben Flanagan’s Pick – Batman Returns (1992)

OK, I’ll take Batman Returns for a few reasons. Growing up, I had several posters in my room, but nothing Dirk Diggler would have coveted. One included the incredible teaser poster for Tim Burton’s followup to his 1989 blockbuster (and best of the bunch, I still think). Before and after I saw the movie, I always loved that poster, a basic image of the Batman logo, only covered in frost and snow. I love the Christmas theme and Christopher Walken’s madcap performance as Max Shrek. But the McDonald’s souvenir cup campaign made the experience pretty special. Love the score, the Gotham design, the clowns, the penguins, Danny DeVito…it’s a lot of fun.

Graham Flanagan’s Pick – Batman (1989)

I’m sorry guys, but NONE of the subsquent entries in the franchise come close to the one that started it all: Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989. The incredible production design, Danny Elfman’s iconic score, and a superb cast led by Robert Wuhl make this one a true classic that I’m happy to sit down and watch whenever it happens to be on.

James Bond

Matt Scalici’s Pick – Goldfinger (1964)

While I probably get a stronger reaction watching Goldeneye or the recent Casino Royale, when I think Bond I think of Goldfinger. The outrageous villain, the music (especially the Shirley Bassey opening theme) and Connery’s constant cool in the face of danger. It’s absurd but in a nostalgic way.

Corey Craft’s Pick – Goldfinger (1964)

Goldfinger is one of the first and still the high point for me, though if you wanted to make a case for From Russia With Love or even the Lazenby-starring On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, you might be onto something.

Ben Stark’s Pick – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Way to commit, Corey. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is not only a fantastic change of focus for the Bond character, and a great prototype for the “romantic” 007 film, but it’s also an expertly-directed thriller. Former editor Peter Hunt bends the conventions of the day and integrates New Wave ideas as if he was Hopper or Peckinpah.

Ben Flanagan’s Pick – Goldeneye (1995)

Favorites are Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, From Russia… and OHMSS, but I bequeath personal attachment to Goldeneye. While not the top of the pops, though it’s a damn good movie, it felt good to be a part of what seemed like a Bond rejuvenation. Plus, the now-legendary Nintendo-64 game certainly helped matters, enhancing the film experience for me as well. Too bad the franchise slipped into Halle Berry oblivion shortly after that.

Graham Flanagan’s Pick – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

I’m also proud to call OHMSS my favorite entry in the Bond franchise. Along with some terrific action sequences (especially the ski chase), this movie’s script is what really makes it special. This is the first time a Bond film got personal.

Lord of the Rings

Matt Scalici’s Pick – The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

I really view the trilogy as a singular work but I think broken into three parts, Fellowship has the best of everything in the series. Howard Shore’s fantastic score shines from the opening frames, the epic prologue pulls off an almost impossible task flawlessly and Sean Bean’s death scene still stands out to me as perhaps the most effectively acted scene in the trilogy.

Ben Stark’s Pick – The Two Towers (2002)

I think a person’s favorite Lord of the Rings movie says more about the person than the film. Lots of people cite the series’ finale as their favorite, despite nits I have to pick with it. My personal favorite in the trilogy is the middle chapter, The Two Towers. The story of Aragorn is my favorite part of the trilogy, and the most interesting developments in the “redemption of the man” storyline happen in this film. Let’s also not forget the introduction of Gollum, the battle at Helm’s Deep, and the Ents throwing down on Saruman’s digs.

Corey Craft’s Pick – The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

These movies never really improved upon The Fellowship of the Ring – and I hasten to add, specifically, the theatrical cut, which unlike the other two films adds a lot of unnecessary stuff and slackens what was a perfectly-paced three-hour epic.

Ben Flanagan’s Pick – The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Fellowship is the best film, easily, and my personal favorite. The others definitely build upon that and make for a dynamite trilogy, but there was a laser focus with the first film. Peter Jackson poured his heart into it, and there’s little doubt that passion was at its thickest at the onset of production. Maybe he got stressed as filming went on or felt pressured to include (or leave out) aspects of Tolkein’s novels, but it never got better than when the team traveled into the Mines of Moria.

Graham Flanagan’s Pick – The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

For me this is the easiest choice of all: Fellowship owns the rest of the trilogy. It sets the tone and pulls us into this magical world that captivated us for three years. While the next two films are no doubt entertaining, they often feel like a series of falling actions being staged simply to follow the sequence of events laid out in the books. The first film features the best of what this great trilogy has to offer… including my favorite scene of all: when Aragorn and Boromir speak of “the White City” of Gondor and how they long to return there. Sadly, the Gondor we actually get to see in the next two films doesn’t live up to what’s described so beautifully by the actors in this scene. I agree with Ben S. The one you pick as your favorite says a lot about who you are. And I think I just learned more about Stark than I hoped I ever would.