HARRY POTTER AND THE LISTS OF DOOM!
PART ONE: RANKING THE FILMS

If there's one thing we've always loved, it's lists.  So here's part one of our selection of lists celebrating a decade of Harry Potter movies.  Need we add: WARNING, SPOILERS! - John Larrabee, John V. Brennan

JOHN L. RANKS THE FILMS

1. PRISONER OF AZKABAN

"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." - Harry

     I know it's the favorite of many fans, but I thought I'd show my independence by boldly proclaiming my conformity. The first two films were fun, but this is the first one to be taken seriously (without losing the fun). Director Alfonso Cuaron initiates the distinctive look (undersaturated colors, dominant blacks, hand-held cameras going all sorts of mysterious places) retained throughout the rest of the series, while demonstrating that slashing one of Rowling's books to its bare essentials makes for a more satisfying movie experience. - JL

Oldman, take a look at my life



Voldemort really gets into Angry Birds!
2. DEATHLY HALLOWS, PT. 2

"Not my daughter, you bitch!" - Molly Weasley

     The low-keyed nature of Voldemort's death never bothered me until JB pointed out how low-keyed it was. I may have gained some insight on this scene, however, during my last viewing of the film, which was my first time seeing it in 3D (on a big-screen TV). When He Who Shall Not Be Named dies in 3D, you get Voldemort's Frosted Flakes sprinkled all over you. Holy sledgehammer symbolism, Batman, are we all horcruxes now?

     Regardless, the final chapter of the Harry Potter saga does not disappoint, which is in itself an impressive accomplishment. Hits all the right buttons for intensity and sentiment, and balances both well along the way. Even Michael Gambon's cameo choked me up (ouch!), and I didn't even mind the epilogue. (But what's happened to the art of makeup in film? I think they hired Jaynie from the local community theatre group to do the makeup jobs for the DH2 epilogue scene.) -JL

3. DEATHLY HALLOWS, PT. 1

"Always the tone of surprise." - Hermione

    Now that I've seen the last two films back-to-back a couple of times, they've become a single entity in my mind. Sort of like the first two GODFATHER films or the KILL BILL films. Rule being: if they don't feature Sofia Coppola, you can consider them a single entity.

    I also think the DEATHLY HALLOWS films play better as a single entity, as they have a time-honored dramatic structure when combined: exposition (part 1), and conflict resolution (part 2). The slow pace of part 1 works better with an awareness of what's to come, while part 2 seems less crowded with the groundwork laid in part 1. - JL

"This.... Is... My.... Nose." 

The Pink Power Granger
4. GOBLET OF FIRE

"The Chinese Fireball - ooooooh!" - Barty Crouch Sr.


     First Potter film I saw on a big screen, so it earns a few extra subjective quality points. I also liked the very human adolescence of the young wizards, as well as how the young actors (especially Radcliffe and Grint) blossomed, adding the appropriate layers of teen angst to their characters. It might suffer a bit from "middle of the series" syndrome (when the conflicts seem slightly contrived), and there's a conspicuous lack of Snape, but it still stands out as the last installment that propelled the saga forward before it started treading water for a book or film or two. - JL
5. THE SORCERER'S STONE

"You have to relax. If you don't, it'll only kill you faster! "
"Kill us faster? Oh, now I can relax!"
 - Hermione and Ron

     Chris Columbus received mixed reviews from both critics and fans for trying to cram virtually everything from J.K. Rowling's books into the two Potter films he directed. For me, he succeeded once and missed the mark the second time. This first film in the series is the most family-friendly enchanting of the lot, yet it provides ample foreshadowing for the darkness to come. As SORCERER'S STONE is also the only Potter book I've read, I can testify that Columbus did indeed include everything -- except much of Rowling's subtle irony and satire. - JL

" 'ey, Paulie, the Blue Meanies have
turned us into babies!"


That Dumbledore... always falling
down on the job.  (Ha!  Get it?)
6. THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE

"Oh, to be young and to feel love's keen sting." - Dumbledore

     Though I've ranked it sixth out of eight, HALF-BLOOD PRINCE is a strong film loaded with memorably executed key moments. I have a problem with the most key moment, however: Dumbledore deserved an even bigger moment for his sendoff. Yes, I'm fine with Voldemort dissolving into Flakey-Wakeys, but I want Albus to go out like Icarus, save for the stupid wax wings and all. - JL

7. THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS

"Let me see. Red hair... vacant expressions... tatty second hand book... you must be the Weasleys." - Lucius Malfoy
 
     It retains much of the charm of SORCERER'S STONE, but it retains so much of everything else that it suffers from "been there, done that" syndrome. The opening scene with Ron's flying car remains one of my favorites, and I might be in a precious minority that doesn't regard Dobby as the Jar-Jar Binks of the Potter films. CHAMBER is fun, but we can be glad that Chris Columbus decided to step aside just in time. - JL

"But Dobby needed to go bad,
Harry Potter!"


Crazy.  Sexy.  Hot.
But mostly... crazy.
8. THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX

"Unless you wish to poison Potter - and I assure you, I would have the greatest sympathy if you did - I cannot help you." - Snape

     No film that introduces Bellatrix Lestrange and Delores Umbridge can be all bad, but, honestly, this is the one that blurs together in my mind with two or three of the others. It's also the only one I've seen only once, so another viewing may help unblur things. - JL

JOHN B. RANKS THE FILMS

1. PRISONER OF AZKABAN

"Professor Kettleburn, our Care of Magical Creatures teacher for many years, has decided to retire in order to spend more time with his remaining limbs." - Dumbledore

     I know it's kind of boring that both of us rank this one as number one, and so many others do also, but hell, it's a great film. With the possible exception of THE SORCERER'S STONE, it is the only standalone film of the series (there is no appearance by Voldemort of any kind) and it is the best looking and best directed, being made before the days when all fantasy films suddenly had to be filmed solely in shades of blue and orange.   The opening scene, with Aunt Marge and her doggie-woggie, is a particular favorite, along with the extended and sometimes confusing Time Turner sequence.  And Snape's lesson on werewolves.  And Hermione punching Draco.  And Gary Oldman in any scene.  And everything. - JB

She always did have an
inflated opinion of herself


 "I'm weird, I'm humorless and I don't wash my hair.  
So what's the problem?"
2. DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1

"Always the tone of surprise." - Ron

     Probably the least standalone film of the entire series, and yet, after three viewings, I think it is one of the strongest.  What I love about it is how effortlessly Radcliffe, Grint and Watson carry the whole thing on their shoulders.  Surrounded by a stellar cast of the best of the best of British thespians, and these three, plucked from obscurity when they were kids, are able to own an entire film.  I don't know why it surprises me, because they'd been getting better and better with each film, but really... kudos to them and director David Yates.  

     Oh, and the animated "Tale of the Three Brothers" scene may be the most beautiful scene in the entire series. - JB

3. THE SORCERER'S STONE

"Anything from the trolley, dears?" - Snack Lady

     A sentimental favorite, as, while GOBLET OF FIRE was in the theaters, I first stepped into the HP world by renting this film.   I knew nothing about Harry Potter except the name of the character ("Harry Potter") and his mentor Dumbledore.  I wasn't totally captivated by the film when I first saw it, but I liked it, thought the cast was amazing and the three tiny tots quite good in their roles.  I also knew instinctively that the people behind the film were trying their hardest to be respectful of the source material, even though I hadn't read a word of the book.  It might have been a better film if they had been a little less respectful by leaving out some of the endlessly extraneous magical stuff, but, heck, they were setting up an entire series, so I understand it.  As the series got darker and darker, it was always nice to go back to this one and remember when it was mostly fun.  Still one of my favorite children's film of all time. - JB

"The meaning of 'Enunciate'?
I know!  I know!"


"It's Christmas Day!  The Spirits have done it all in one night!  Damn it!"
4. THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE

"Avada Kadavra!" - Snape

    I liked director David Yates's work on THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, but HALF-BLOOD PRINCE showed me that he was the right man to guide the series to its conclusion.  A dark, eerie film with many light moments, and may contain the best individual performances by many of the cast, including Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon and Tom Felton.  Not sure if they fumbled the death of Dumbledore as John L suggests.  I liked it just fine, although I would have preferred a long shot of old Dumbly falling off Hogwarts and hitting things along the way, like the original King Kong did.  But maybe that's just me.  I think it's just me. - JB

5. THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX

"They're very clean, these Muggles. It's unnatural." - Nymphadora Tonks

      It may be the most "average" Harry Potter film of all eight, never really hitting any big high points or descending to any low points.  A relatively lighter, and somewhat pointless, entry in the series, with Daniel Radcliffe's strongest performance as Harry, PHOENIX acts as a breather between the adventurous GOBLET OF FIRE and the foreboding HALF-BLOOD PRINCE.  Imelda Staunton as new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Dolores Umbridge, Helena Bonham Carter as the evil Bellatrix LeStrange and Evanna Lynch as Luna 'Looney' Lovegood are three inspired additions to the seemingly endless list of perfect cast members chosen to inhabit J. K. Rowling's loopy characters. - JB


"Quick, Harry - look!
Bellatrix - visible panty line!"


Mr. Rogers has a very bad day.
6. DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

"When have any of our plans ever actually worked? We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose!" - Harry

     It's a good ending to the series, but it's not a perfect ending, because the final confrontation between Harry and He Who Has No Nose is almost completely botched.  Some of the biggest moments don't quite come off in a satisfactory way, and the ending "17 Years Later" scene robs the film of what would have been a natural ending of our three young heroes standing together, victorious after battle.  Instead, we get a depressing view of the boring lives that Harry, Ron and Hermione seem destined to go onto.  They deserve better.  (The book had the same problem, even without the bad makeup).

     On the other hand, the break-in at Gringotts, the personal history of Severus Snape, McGonagall battling Snape at Hogwarts, Neville Longbottom's speech and his later huge moment in destroying the last horcrux - all of these scenes and moments rank among the best of the series, and the film is fast-paced, exciting and fun.  At this point, I have only seen DH2 twice, so maybe eventually it will settle into my brain and I will learn to appreciate the good stuff more than I crab about the bad stuff.  Bottom line: I enjoyed it, but not as much as I should have. - JB

7. GOBLET OF FIRE

"Is that a student?"
"Technically, it's a ferret."
  -  Professor McGonagall and Mad-Eye Moody

     There is so much about this film I love I feel bad ranking it next to last.  Several performances seem just a little off (Watson, Gambon, Inspector Clouseau...er... Roger Lloyd Pack... as Barty Crouch Sr.), things move fast while at the same time, the film drags on.  Even to this day, I sometimes stop and ask myself "What the hell is going on?" when I am watching it.  I understand that some of the problems come from trying to adapt Rowling's first Dickens-sized epic (734 pages!) into a film that didn't go over two and a half hours. Still, each time I see the film, I am more convinced that although Mike Newell made a beautiful looking film, he didn't have a grasp of Rowling's characters.  

     But Harry versus the Dragon, McGonagall teaching Ron how to dance, Rita Skeeter, Hagrid wooing a Giantess, Voldemort resurrected, the Yule Ball - the sum of the parts is much better than the whole for me.  And the entire three-part Tri-Wizard Tournament perfectly nails the insanity of the Wizarding World's school curriculum, where harm and death coming to students is simply part of the average school day. - JB

"The guy on first!"
"Hooo!"
"The first baseman!"
"Hooo!"


The Ghost of Silly Walks
8. CHAMBER OF SECRETS

" I'll be in my bedroom, making no noise and pretending that I don't exist." - Harry

     Overall a highly enjoyable film.  But it is so much like THE SORCERER'S STONE, in tone, feeling and plot, that it always suffers if I watch the films back to back.  Perhaps the key is not to watch them back to back!  I'd still have to contend with Dobby the House Elf, who annoys the crap out of me with every viewing, even though, in DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1, I love the little nipper.  In its defense, CHAMBER OF SECRETS is still a hell of a lot of fun, as is GOBLET OF FIRE.  - JB

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