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Inevitably the question gets asked. Either by a student in my class or by a friend or co-worker: What's your favorite movie? I, personally, think that what your favorite movie is shows a lot about who you are as a person. But, often times, the movies fall into the "Classic" category. Who doesn't love "The Godfather" or "Casablanca" or "E. T."? But I'm looking for those other films. Films that had an impact that don't fall into those categories. Films that others may hate with a passion but you watch over and over again and somehow "touch" you. Those are the favorites I'm talking about.

Number Five was "The Black Stallion" - Number Four couldn't be more different: Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time In America."

I'll qualify this review with something right off the bat. This film is not a "favorite" due to subject matter, plot, or even acting. There are parts of this film that are very disturbing: The rape of the Elizabeth McGovern character in the back of a limo. The rape of Tuesday Weld (who likes it), etc. These scenes show a misogynistic bent that I really do not like. Cringe inducing. Asking us to care about these characters when they commit these violent acts also is a challenge. For some reason I'm fine with Robert De Niro and James Woods killing people right and left but raping...that's another issue altogether.

Then, you ask, "why is this one of your top five?" It's a top five due to craftsmanship behind this film. To interweave time shifts, plot lines, from the teens to the 30's to the 70's and back and forth (and keep you involved for three+ hours) is a feat that I have never seen before.

Now let me also be clear on something. When this film was originally released in the US it was shrunk down to two hours and twenty minutes. It was re-cut in a linear fashion and it was very good then. When I saw the film a few months later in its NON-linear fashion, I was blown away. Imagine watching a film like "Basic Instinct" on television and then seeing it un-edited in the theaters? In all honesty, they are two different films. So, of course, I would be blown away by the newer, properly edited, version. But don't let that cloud your thinking. "Once Upon a Time in America", in the proper edited version, is a great film.

Many times when I see a film I get pulled out of it. Just recently I saw a great film entitled "In America" and, even with that film, I kept being drawn out by this camera angle or that camera angle. I found myself being pulled out of the story by questions not being answered. Gaps here and gaps there, but it is a great film.

With "OUATIA" Sergio Leone did a great job keeping me involved in the story. Very rarely, and for a film that bounces around time like it does, did I say to myself: "Whoa - what's going on here?" And with an ambiguous ending like it has, the film stayed with me.

Leone's brilliance of moving back and forth between all these time frames, and not causing people to scratch their heads and leave the theater, is masterful.

How does this stack up with "The Godfather" and other Leone films? In all honesty I've only seen one Leone film, and I was a child when I saw it - so I can't really comment. As for "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II" (I haven't seen III) - they're, well, different. I think the biggest difference is that I don't feel Leone romanticized the world he created, whereas Coppola does. In "OUATIA" the world is very dirty, corrupt, torn apart. It's a world of anger and evil and one in which no one REALLY wants to belong (DeNiro's lack of involvement and desire to not be dragged back in is evident in Leone's film) - I never got that feeling in the first two "Godfather" films.

Available on a two-disc DVD. Approx. $20 to $30

Directed by Sergio Leone

Starring: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Tuesday Weld and Treat Williams.

Time: 229 minutes

Released: 1984


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