(United States, 1970)
And so at last I have come to #1. Patton is an atypical choice, to be sure, but this film has never been just another movie to me. It's my so-called "desert island" film – in other words, if I was going to be stranded on a desert island with only one movie, it would be Patton. My selection of this film won't come as a surprise to many of my most faithful readers. In at least two places on the site, I have identified this as my favorite movie, so, to a degree, its unveiling could be seen as anticlimactic. Patton became my favorite film some time during the late 1980s, about ten years after I saw it for the first time (in the same school class that introduced me to 2001, The Great Escape, and Dr. Strangelove). The first time I saw it, I thought it was great. By the third viewing, I believed it to be unsurpassed, and quantified it as my #1 movie, moving past my previous choice, The Empire Strikes Back. Why am I such a huge fan of Patton? Part of it has to do with the acting – I think George C. Scott's portrayal of the general is the best male acting performance of all-time, bar none. Part of it has to do with the writing and direction – this is one of the most well-constructed and engrossing motion pictures I have ever seen. Part of it has to do with the film's historical accuracy, which is renowned. (There are a few cheats and omissions, but not many.) But the biggest part is something I can't express. Over the years, it has struck, and continues to strike, the perfect responsive chord within me. The more I have studied Patton (the man), the more I have come to appreciate the film. There's also a little bizarre lore surrounding the movie's place in recent history. Apocryphal or not, rumor has it that viewing this movie caused Richard Nixon, in a surge of patriotic ecstasy, to order the bombing of Cambodia. For those who are reading this but have never seen Patton, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to seek it out. It's in color and in English, so those with a dislike of black-and-white and/or subtitles need not avoid it. And, although it is about a great warrior, it's more a character study than a war film, which makes it more accessible to women. (Every female I have shown it to has appreciated it.) Do I think Patton is the greatest film ever made? Probably not. But, for me, it stands at the pinnacle of cinematic achievement. And, although I expect the composition of the Top 100 list to gradually shift over the years, it's unlikely that Patton will ever slip from this position.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The film opens in 1943 North Africa, with a brutal look at American casualties at the battle of Kasserine. General George S. Patton (George C. Scott) arrives from Morocco to take command the U.S. army in Tunisia in preparation for fighting Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler) at el Gitar. From North Africa, Patton's forces move to Sicily, where they sweep north across the island, taking Palermo, then racing Montgomery (Michael Bates) to Messina. Along the way, Patton's verbal and physical abuse of a soldier suffering from "battle fatigue" - which the general brands as cowardice - becomes ammunition for his critics. He later offers a public apology, but this incident keeps him from the action for a while, and he must stand by as a decoy during the Normandy invasion. Later in the year, however, General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden) gives Patton command of the Allied Third Army, with which he pushes across Western Europe to stop the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, the last major Nazi offensive of the war.
In early 1971, the Academy Awards saluted Patton. Capturing eight Oscars - including best picture, best director, best actor, best screenplay, best editing, and best production design - the movie won every major battle of the evening. Such acclaim was richly deserved, for Patton remains to this day one of Hollywood's most compelling biographical war pictures. With its larger-than-life, yet at the same time singularly human, portrayal of Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., Franklin Schaffner's picture is an example of filmmaking at its finest. From production design and battle choreography to simple one-on-one dramatic acting, Patton has it all. There is no scene in all one-hundred seventy minutes that doesn't work on some level.
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