The Greatest Movie Ever?

In my humble opinion

I am a huge, huge movie buff. I remember loving movies for as long as I can...remember. I remember the giddy feeling I used to feel as a child, when I would go to the video store. Everything about the damned place was magical to my eyes back then: The huge gum-ball machines near the front entrance; the big lit-up sign in front of my main store; the smell while walking in, which was like a mixture of something just created in a factory and new car smell.

But what I really loved -- what really impressed me -- were the isles. Isles upon isles of VHS movies. Every genre imaginable: Comedy, action, animation, children's and, of course, video games.

There's one video store that was especially magical to me. It existed since I was like three years of age until I reached the ripe old age of ten. Sister/brother, I recall walking through that video store, and it feeling so big. I, a mere child, was just an ant in the grand scheme of things, compared to the video store, this perpetually exotic jungle-jim of wonders.

Back then the video store did not seem like a video store to me. Instead, it had felt like another planet, another existence. Probably, if I were to walk through this one particular store nowadays--if it hadn't gone out of business--I wouldn't feel so small. It wouldn't feel like some otherwordly playground. But I digress. I'm getting a little too mushy, a little too wistful here, when that wasn't my intention.

You see, I've been racking my mind tonight, desperately trying to think up the name of my all-time favorite movie. And while I got to trying to place my all-time-favorite piece of brilliant cinema, pleasant memories of the video store were evoked, and I was taken to a place I hadn't been in over twenty years. It was such a simpler time back then: Five bucks would feed a whole family of four at Taco Bell, video games were simplistic and more participatory than they are today and politicians, although crazy, weren't nearly as frighteningly batshit certifiable as they are today--especially Republicans.

I thought a little deeper tonight, and I was brought back to that very same time--I had relived the same moment once again. I was no longer a 31-year-old depressed about day-to-day news and crippled with Lyme disease. I was a gleeful little boy, my 10-year-old self, once again browsing the video store with my grandmother Louise, who passed away just this year, may she rest in peace. The great thing about Grandma Louise was, she would let 10-year-old me rent anything. There were no rules, no regulations. I wasn't just limited to the G, PG, and the PG-13 variety. Grandma Louise allowed me to watch whatever my tiny little jubilant heart so desired, so long as it wasn't behind the red little curtain in the back of the store...

So I picked a movie out--Die Hard.

I'm ashamed to say, my memory isn't quite what is used to be. I used to take great pride in having a nearly photographic memory. But nowadays, memories are slowly slipping away. I can't remember why I picked this movie--had I seen snippets of it on TV, or had I just thought the cover looked badass? Alas, the world will never know. In any event, I giddily picked out the movie. There was a huge "R" on the back of it. This was certainly a movie I wouldn't be able to see on my own until I was a teenager, and I was only ten years old. (Three years, when you're a child, seems like a lifetime.)

I remembering rushing back to my grandmother's apartment, she opening the door with her huge mass of keys, undoubtedly cursing her door for not having opened soon enough, and me rushing into the apartment, cassette tape in hand. I made way for the VCR in my grandmother's bedroom. I made myself at home on the bed, and I watched the movie, wide-eyed. The flick in question was the 1988 actioner Die Hard, starring then-up-and-coming Hollywood heartthrob Bruce Willis as the wise-cracking, tank-top wearing, barefooted NYPD detective John McClane, who makes the terrible mistake of accepting his wife's invitation to a Christmas party in Los Angeles county, at the now legendary and totally fictional Nakatomi building.

The Nakatomi building, of course, is overtaken by a bunch of nasty gun-pointing bad guys. And you knew they were particularly evil because they spoke in European accents, and the word "Eurotrash" is thrown around a healthy amount of times. (This was the era of Reagan, after all.)

It is very hard for me, huge movie buff that I am, to choose my favorite movie. In my mind, I have so many favorites. It's a damn-near impossibility to chose "the best" movie I have ever seen. But, damn it, I am going to try tonight. Just for you. Okay, here it goes.

Just recently I re-watched Die Hard. And the movie is to me everything it was over twenty years ago: Absolutely brilliant, a smorgasbord of action, great snappy dialogue, and all-around memorable performances--especially by Willis as the aforementioned McClane and the late Alan Rickman as the terrible Hans Gruber, a slick homicidal maniac who, along with his merry band of likewise psychopathic heisters, plans to blow the top of the Nakatomi building to kingdom come while making a getaway with the money, while fooling the FBI into believing they had perished along with the hostages, as some kind of extreme political statement.

After all these years I'm pleased to say the movie is just as fresh as it has always been. Greatness is in the eye of the beholder, and a matter of subjectivity, but I believe I can safely conclude Die Hard is the greatest movie of all time--at least, it is to me. It is my favorite. In my eyes, this one is just matchless, simply put.

John McClane is the self-described "fly in the ointment" and "pain in the ass," a huge concern for the monstrous Gruber and his gang, especially the long-haired Karl, who especially wants to see McClane full of lead, because McClane ices Karl's brother early in the movie, leaving Karl's brother's lifeless body in an elevator that arrives on the main floor, for all guests and heisters to see. (The scene is darkly humorous, with the dead would-be robber's dead carcass propped up on a chair, we see the shirt he is wearing, and what McClane has irreverently scribbled on it: "Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho."

McClane spends the rest of the movie picking off bad guys, one by one, one by two, three by three, bombarding us with hilarious quips, and befriending the friendly Sgt. Al Powell. McClane and Powell strike up a friendship over the CB radio which I believe is one of the best friendships in cinematic history. There are parts in the movie where McClane wants to give up the ghost, toss in the hat as it were, and just die feebly instead of hard. But Sgt. Powell, like McClane's guardian angel, encourages him, pleads with him, to keep up the good fight, "to hold on." McClane's certainly not getting any help from any of the other police there, nor from Special FBI Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson (no relation) who seem like villains in their own right.

Die Hard is the first in what is currently a five-part series, but it is unquestionably the best of the five.

I'd be a liar if I said I didn't appreciate the other Die Hard movies, if I said they didn't have a special place in my heart as well.

But you can't beat this one. You simply cannot, in my humble opinion.

"Yippee ki-yay, Mr. Melon Farmer." (Hilarious TV edit.)

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