#1: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

When and how did I watch this?

July 4th, 2017, on Amazon.

Had I seen this film already?

Yep. I started by watching this film, as a reference point.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Before even watching The Shawshank Redemption the first time, I knew this wasn’t the greatest film ever made, yet here it is at #1.  I remember the first viewing vividly, because I had to stop the movie twice to hold my screaming 2 month old daughter, and because I was up until about 3 AM, but also because it was an awfully familiar and resonant film. It has Morgan Freeman in a supporting role, the antagonist is “the system”, and the good guy wins. How could you not like that?

What do I know about it now?

The key to this film is pace.  Every scene is expertly woven into the next, and every detail is taken care of.  Another huge factor is Robbins performance and the endearing character of Andy Dufresne — we like him from the start, and we “know” he’s innocent, but the fine details are hidden from us so we’re never totally certain.  Nonetheless we’re rooting for the guy, and the huge catharsis at the end when he escapes makes for a cheerworthy moment.  Like the other great films on this list, it has the narration going for it, and Morgan Freeman as Red delivers, just like we’d hope. It’s everything you’d expect out of your favorite movie, including your shocking moments (both violent and sexual), touching scenes between some of the inmates, the rising and falling of hope, and finally the “a-ha” redemption.  The score is nice as well. What is severely lacking in Shawshank that others of its ilk have is creative cinematography.  It could be said that the film plays it safe, and while the story is obviously compelling, the movie avoids doing anything unique (and occasionally resorts to the cliche) with the camera work. This is splitting hairs here, because apparently we’re talking about the #1 film.  Shawshank is now a personal favorite, but in terms of greatness and art, I’ve seen better on the list. It also didn’t do the Oscar thing and address racism or sexuality to a high level, which was sort of refreshing but surprising.

What are some themes in the film?

Justice, hope, the penal system, Morgan Freeman’s narration

Did this affect me personally?

After so many heavy-handed movies, it was really, really nice to get to a film that has its central conflicts and difficult moments but ultimately a positive conclusion.

Why is this ranked #1?

I’ve always wondered why this movie was ranked #1, and about midway through my journey through the IMDb Top 250, I asked the all-knowing Google, and it answered. Actually, Roger Ebert did. If you don’t care to read it, it’s because of the age/gender demographic of most IMDb voters (male, 25-50), its frequent replay on cable TV in the 90s, and its endearing traits as a “the good guy wins” film. Morgan Freeman is beloved and plays a memorable role as well.

Did my wife watch/like it?

Not sure. She wasn’t paying close attention to it.

Would I watch it again?

Yes.  The movie is made for TV.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

If you had cable in the 90s, you probably saw this movie.  A viewing is certainly worth your time if you haven’t.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Yeah, I’m not sweating this film’s inclusion on the IMDb Top 250, but its ranking remains ridiculous. How Shawshank Redemption is ranked #1 while E.T. is excluded altogther is absurd, but it’s not the Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 absurd, so I’m good.  But how is it that 92 out of 100 people (average) have been giving this film a 10 star rating? I suppose this is how things are rated on the internet today: it’s either amazing or absolutely terrible, and nothing in between.  And it’s hard to dislike The Shawshank Redemption, so here it is, the greatest film of all time, decidedly.

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