24. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
This choice my seem odd but try looking at it as the "Insert-your-favorite-Harry Potter-movie-here" choice. The fantastic J. K. Rowling seven-book series, since it debuted on bookshelves in 1997 (the UK release, it was released in the US a year later), was a phenomenal success. It was immediately optioned by Warner Brothers to be turned into a film and, of course, they optioned all forthcoming books (retaining the entire series). And since the studio has been able retain the primary cast members for all eight films (the seventh book has been split into two), all the movies can admittedly run together as one piece (hence, you can replace this choice with your own favorite Harry Potter film). The first film, based on the first novel, was released in 2001 followed a year later by the second movie. Both the first two films were directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone) and kept the childlike innocence and introductory nature of the first two books quite well. In the third installment, this time directed by Alfonso Cuarón, the series started to mature and become darker (as it does in the books). The other films that followed (helmed by Mike Newell and David Yates, respectively) have also progressively matured and darkened in tone. They have stayed true to the world of "Good vs. Evil" that Rowling had created with her novels. The third book was perhaps my favorite because it felt like a mystery novel meshed extremely well with fantasy and spoilers (the best spoiler of the series comes in this installment). The movie version captures everything I liked about the third novel, which is perhaps why I like it so much.
In this installment's story, Harry (played by Daniel Radcliffe, who gets better with each film) is embarking on his thrid year at the Hogwarts Wizarding School. There are whispers and mysterious secrets around him because a prisoner has escaped from Azkaban Prison. The prisoner is Sirius Black (played by the always brlliant Gary Oldman), a former friend of Harry Potter's father who was jailed for (alleged) ties to the Dark Wizard (He-who-must-not-be-named!). As Harry grows more concerned about the danger this prisoner might bring to him, his friends Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, respectively) help him to discover what exactly is going on and all three young wizards are surprised by the results. The three leads (Radcliffe, Grint and Watson) by the third film have become comfortable in their roles and it definitely shows. This is a quality that serves them well in following movies. The supporting cast including Oldman, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson (just to name a few!) are all superb in their respective roles. Gambon exquisitely takes over the role of Headmaster Albus Dumbledore as Richard Harris (who had expertly played the part in the previous two films) passed away in 2002, one month before the second film was released. The film, which does not feature the Dark Lord Voldemort in any way, shape or form, still has the stylish dark tone (thanks to Cuarón's expert direction) and audiences still feel Voldemort's terrifying presence without him actually having to appear. Of course, there are several reasons to like the other films just as much, this one just felt perfect to me (but that's only my opinion). The entire series (with the final two films soon to be released) has earned its place as part of the greatest film franchises of all-time (and it certainly is one of my favorites).
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