Thursday, June 28, 2007

100 Years ... 100 Movies ... and about 50 WTFs

Those of you who are regular subscribers to this little newsletter have likely noticed my penchant for lists. I have lists upon lists of blogs sitting in "draft" status right now, just waiting to be finished.

I think the genesis of this obsession with lists was about 10 years ago, when the American Film Institute created their first list of many: "100 Years ... 100 Movies." This list was created at just about the 100 year mark of filmmaking in the United States, and began the unenviable task of narrowing down a century's worth of films into a neat little 100-movie package. When this list originally came out, I worked at a video store, at the zygote stage of my film-geek phase -- a phase that's gone on 10 years and counting -- and I vowed someday to see every last one of those movies.

Well flash forward nearly a decade later and there are still several of the selections from the original list that I have yet to view. And by several, I mean half. As much as I fancy myself a film scholar, I do often have trouble finishing some of the pre-Brando black and white movies, with their melodramatic acting and their cloying violin music. Some of those great films of that era (such as Witness for the Prosecution, right off the top of my head) have snuck up on me and surprised me, but I prefer modern cinema overall. And those people who say that the last decade of movies were no good clearly weren't paying attention.

Last night, the AFI unveiled their updated list of the 100 greatest movies. Now I know you are probably thinking the same thing that I am: "In 10 years, how can so many movies have gotten so much better or worse? Wasn't this a definitive list? Were there tons of new movies from the last 10 years added?" Sadly, no: only 4 movies from the last 10 years of eligibility were added. (A terrific breakdown of the differences between the 1998 list and the 2007 list can be found here and here.)

Since I didn't have a blog in 1998 (did anyone?) I didn't have a chance to ruminate, pontificate and just plain babble about my feelings about these choices. So luckily for you, I will correct this error forthwith. Here's how it works: I will make a brief comment about each film in question, and note whether I believe it belongs in the top 100 films of all time. (I will strike through the films I have not seen, and yes, there are probably a lot of them. Looking down at the list, there are 22 movies on the list I haven't seen from beginning to end, so that's roughly 1/5.) I will also note whether I think the film is too high or too low, when applicable. Ready? Here we go...

(Oh and before I forget, usually I would reorder these from 100 down to 1 for dramatic effect, but the AFI has shown itself to be so arbitrary with anything outside the top 10 that I figured why bother...)


1. "Citizen Kane" (1941)
I was a little disappointed with this one since it was #1 on the previous 1998 list. It seemed to me that conventional wisdom had shifted "The Godfather" to #1 in the last decade. Don't get me wrong, "Citizen Kane" is one of the best movies ever made, and possibly the most influential in terms of technique, but in my opinion, it doesn't hold up to be the revelation that it did in 1941. The rise and fall of a tycoon is always a compelling story, but it doesn't quite have the same oomph that it had way back when. If you haven't seen it, don't expect to be blown away by it. But it's a top ten film, for sure. YES

2. "The Godfather" (1972)
If I had to come up with a number one out of the top five of this list, "The Godfather" would be my no-brainer. It is an allegory of America, our humble beginnings, and when the American dream leads to something bad. It's on an epic scale; it's violent, it's beautifully directed, and it's probably the shortest 3-hour movie ever made. Brando gives his signature performance, and just about everything else about the film is iconic. It's an absolute masterpiece (as is it's sequel at #32, more on that later). Good lord YES.

3. "Casablanca" (1942)
Arguably the most romantic movie ever made. In fact, the hell with that, it's not even arguable. Bogey and Bergman's star-crossed love is heartbreaking, and yet inspiring at the same time. But below the overarching theme of impossible love is one of the most sharply-written and witty films ever produced. Bogey's Rick is a fully fleshed character, and the scene where he sits alone at the bar after seeing Ilsa for the first time in years is heart-wrenching. YES

4. "Raging Bull" (1980)
This movie made a major jump into the top five. (It wasn't in the top 20 before.) And boy am I glad. Since Marty Scorsese has made so many amazing films in the last three decades, they tend to cancel each other out. This one is a true artistic opus; the story of a boxer whose animalistic tendencies cause him to lose control of his life, and ultimately lose everything he ever cared about. DeNiro gained something like 50 pounds for this movie, and it's one of the truly great performances in the history of cinema.

5. "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
Okay, I have to admit that I really like this movie, but even though it's a musical, it's not as gay as you might think. The romance between Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds is equitable, and the story is well written. The music is quite good, and the dancing is really unbelievable. It actually has a good story and a fun ending, and really that's more than I expected. Maybe not top five for me, but a YES.

6. "Gone With the Wind" (1939)
I know, I know. What the hell kind of movie geek am I? I do own it, and it's currently sitting in my DVD player if that somehow salvages my reputation.

7. "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962)
Here's the first chink in the armor. I know that this is considered one of the defining epic movies, and maybe I just wasn't in the mood to watch it that time I did, but I found this movie boring as all get-out. I wasn't really interested in the T.S. Lawrence character that much, and the battle scenes, while definitely on a grand scale, just didn't quite do it for me. I should like this movie, I know, but I still give it a NO.

8. "Schindler's List" (1993)
This is an outstanding motion picture, and it's very well-crafted, and I think it is very important in some ways, but I also think that the movie gets a little bit of a bump here because it is important. The subject matter here is pretty heady stuff, and for a popcorn movie director like Spielberg to jump to this kind of important film was a big step. But as good as the movie is, I still think it does get a bit more credit than it deserves because it is "important." I think in terms of pure cinema, there are a lot of people who would not put "Schindler's List" as the best film of the 1990s (which the AFI, in effect, has done here). Having said that, it's a great movie, and YES.

9. "Vertigo" (1958)
Here was another shocker, since this movie was much lower on the list last year. I haven't seen this one in quite a while, but I did see it in my Hitchcock phase in college. To me, it maybe doesn't hold up as well as it does for others. I still find the story (a man loses his wife and then falls in love with a woman who looks just like her) to be a little over-dramatic. But, when it comes to technique and suspense, it's a worthy film. YES. I'll probably have to see it again.

10. "The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
Who doesn't love this movie? Cynical bastards, that's who. It is one of the most imaginative movies ever made, based on one of the more imaginative stories. The movie really removes the Populist subtext of the Frank L. Baum story and turns it into sheer fantasy. I just can't imagine what it must have been like in 1939 to be in a theater and watch that first scene go from black-and-white to color. Almost makes me wish I was around during the depression. It's a fantasy, and it's otherworldly, but always grounded in simple ideas (courage, heart, wisdom, home). It's a universal story and a solid YES.

11. "City Lights" (1931)
It's been a long time since I have seen this one, and I do remember this: it has one of the most touching endings of any movie ever made. Overall, I'm not a HUGE Chaplin fan (give me Buster Keaton or even Harold Lloyd any day), but this is a sweet story about a bum who falls in love with a blind girl and has to pretend he's a millionaire so she doesn't find out he's just a bum. It's hard for me to watch silent movies because I'm a fast reader and there is so much downtime. (Why can't they re-edit them with captions?) But this one's a YES.

12. "The Searchers" (1956)
I really want to see this movie. I really do.

13. "Star Wars" (1977)
Just about anyone who has ever met me knows that I used to be a serious Star Wars geek. I had a website dedicated to it in college for a while (when it wasn't yet "cool" again), and have a minor assemblange of paraphernalia from the movie. And while I have cooled on the merits of the trilogy as a whole (and on George Lucas as a director in particular), this still stands up as one of the most iconic films ever created, even though "The Empire Strikes Back" is technically a better movie. It's fun, it's exciting, it's inspiring. Oh, and it revolutionized moviemaking forever. YES.

14. "Psycho" (1960)
So many of these movies' merits have been dulled by the passage of time and the loss of perspective. When this movie came out, it was like "The Sixth Sense" was in 1999; the ending was a secret, and it was an "event" picture. A real phenomenon. Looking at it now, there is a lot of technical and structural brilliance throughout, notably the killing of the main character in the first half hour (oops, did I give that away?). But the suspense doesn't quite hold up. It's still fun and creepy, but not timeless. Besides, the whole "explanation" of what happened at the end -- after the revelation of the Big Secret -- feels tacked on and anticlimactic. I love ya, Hitch, but I gotta say, purely at face value, NO.

15. "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)
I will be honest: I don't totally get this movie. I watched it for the first time many years ago, and though I have my theories (the monolith represents man's evolution, and we see Dave's evolution by way of "rebirth"), but I still don't quite get it. I will say this: much of it is kind of boring, like the retro-'60s futuristic equipment, but much of it is compelling, like Dave's struggle with HAL and the glorious rush through psychedelic space at the end. Those elements alone make it a YES.

16. "Sunset Boulevard" (1950)
I am a huge Billy Wilder fan. I think he was one of the most modern directors of his era, and his films hold up incredibly today. But this isn't really one of my favorites. I get the idea: aging actress, loses her mind because she's not famous anymore. To me, the "movies about movies" genre is kind of boring. Maybe this was more relevant or maybe more shocking for its day, but for me, the fact that Norma Desmond never changed from being a psychotic living in her own fantasy world really hinders the movie from having any emotional resonance. Sorry Billy boy, NO dice.

17. "The Graduate" (1967)
This movie is aged and overrated. It's not bad, but it does not hold up well today. Dustin Hoffmann is tremendous as the neurotic recent college graduate, and I'm sure it taps into some sort of post-college aimlessness ("Garden State" owes a lot to it), but to me it's really a trashy paperback novel that improved slightly. It's a tough call, but I have to say NO.

18. "The General" (1927)
This movie is truly TRULY amazing. It is all physical comedy with the stonefaced Buster Keaton. Now, to pull off all the visual effects for this movie, a modern director would use CGI and special effects. But this was 1927, and there were no special effects. Everything Keaton did in this movie (most of which takes place aboard a moving train) was done for real. No camera tricks, no stunt men. Watch it and be amazed. YES.

19. "On the Waterfront" (1954)
If you ever wondered by Marlon Brando is considered by many to be the first great "modern" actor, look no further. Everyone remembers the "I coulda been a contendah" scene, but the movie as a whole is a testament to Brando's brilliance, and to the triumph of the human spirit against corruption. To me, the final triumphant scene where Terry Malloy goes back to work, beaten up and bloody, is one of the great inspiring scenes in movies. YES

20. "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946)
It's kind of a shame that this movie has been put in the ghetto of Christmas Movies, because though it takes place during that time, it's really a movie about the importance of a seemingly unimportant man. It just happens to take place in December. I suspect that for those who aren't force-fed it every year, it might be startlingly fresh and touching. Plus, it's hilarious when my little brother yells "Merry Christmas old Building & Loan!" just like Jimmy Stewart. YES

21. "Chinatown" (1974)
This movie is not perfect, but it's great. I personally don't think that Roman Polanski is that great a director, and I think if this were directed by a more naturalistic director of the time, like Hal Ashby or Alan Pakula, it would have been even better. As-is, it's a crazy story about corruption, politics, and incest. I took a class on this film and it is just crawling with Greek symbolism, notably of the Oedipal variety. Jack Nicholson gives a great performance as hard-boiled private eye Jake Gittes, and the ending is devestating. YES

22. "Some Like It Hot" (1959)
While I don't know that I'd necessarily consider this the funniest or greatest comedy ever made, it's quite funny. What could be funnier, after all, then Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dressing up like chicks? Plus Marilyn Monroe is in her prime, and is actually a decent actress. The end, where Lemmon gets his gender role confused, is inspired and really ahead of its time. (The whole mob subplot is the only weak point of the film.) And of course, it casts the phrase "nobody's perfect" into a whole new light. YES.

23. "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940)
Love the book, have to really prepare myself to see the movie.

24. "E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982)
Holy crap did I cry when I saw this movie at the theater. The story of Elliot and E.T.'s friendship is so universal, and it's inspiring. When we see that E.T. is going to go home, we are happy, but we legitimately will miss him. Oh, and about crying while seeing it at the theater ... did I mention that was at the re-release in 2002? YES.

25. "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)
I saw this film again a couple of years ago and was struck by how good it still is. It really really holds up well. At the center, of course, is Atticus Finch, who is played with such strength and integrity by Gregory Peck. Seen through the eyes of his daughter, it takes her a while to see what adults who barely know Atticus can see right off the bat: that he is a remarkable man. One of the few movies that actually holds up to an equally great books. YES.

26. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939)
Another Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra movie. This one is about the wide-eyed young congressman who comes to Washington to make real changes, and ends up exposed to the corruption he sees. It's very inspiring in that it shows that small people can make a difference if they fight for what they believe in. It's a very good movie, and made to inspire. Is it top 100 of all time? Uhhhmmmmm..... I'm gonna say NO, but just barely.

27. "High Noon" (1952)
I love this movie a lot. It's shot in real-time (ie. 85 minutes in the movie equals 85 minutes in real life). And it's not the typical Western with good vs evil. It's about one good man who tries to round up a posse to protect the town from an evil gunman. But he can find no one to help him. It's a study in both cowardice and heroism. Gary Cooper's portrayal of Kane is the embodiment of bravery in the face of insurmountable odds. It's no surprise that it's the favorite movie of many American Presidents. YES.

28. "All About Eve" (1950)
There are movies about the entertainment industry, and there is "All About Eve," which is less about "Hollywood" than it is about the bitchy, backstabbing nature of people trying to get to the top. It is a wildly entertaining, soap opera, where a young ingenue (that would be Eve) tries to get one up on Broadway star Margo Channing. What happens is a torrent of double-crossing and two-facedness, and the whole thing is an incredible hoot. I say YES.

29. "Double Indemnity" (1944)
I work in the insurance industry and have never seen this. Shameful. Although I have seen the first half.

30. "Apocalypse Now" (1979)
Sometimes horrifying, always surreal, this movie cannot really be explained, other than it's a boat ride that goes deeper and deeper into hell on earth. It's based on "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad, but adds depth, such as the idea that each length of the journey is actually sending these men back in time, and therefore deeper into barbarism. It's long so it's kind of hard to get through, but it's a very important film. YES.

31. "The Maltese Falcon" (1941)
This one is iconic, but I can't really put it on the list. It's too confusing, and though Bogey is as cool as a cucumber in this flick, it just doesn't really do the job for me. Seems too stagey, like it isn't taking place in the real world, but on a soundstage somewhere. NO

32. "The Godfather, Part II" (1974)
In some ways, this film is superior to the original. It manages to build on the themes of the original film, but also create its own story. The film is brilliant basically for two reasons, both regarding parallels: 1) the parallel between young Vito Corleone and current Michael Corleone; one scrapping to survive, the other living the high life. And 2) the way that every major event of the first film is met with a parallel -- but watered-down and debased -- version in the second film (the religious ceremony at the beginning of each, the assassination attempts, the meetings with the Five Families/Corporations). The two films together are a masterwork; both succeeding very well on their own levels, but transcendently as a tandem. (The third one sucks, though, don't bother.) This is arguably the greatest sequel ever made, and if it weren't for "Lord of the Rings" there would be no argument. YES.

33. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975)
Possibly Jack Nicholson's greatest performance, and that's saying a lot. The story of a sane man among a bunch of crazies still holds the test of time after so many years, in an asylum that is run so much more like a prison. There are some really great scenes, including where Nicholson acts out the baseball game they're not allowed to watch on TV and the final, dramatic scene where the Chief does what Nicholson couldn't. It really holds up, even today. YES.

34. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937)
I guess this is another one where perspective is somewhat skewed, because today it really doesn't look like much (antiquated animation, a snail's pace) but at the time it appears that it was a bit of a revolutionary idea: the first feature-length animated film. For that reason, I guess I have to put it in the YES pile, but not sure how I feel about it.

35. "Annie Hall" (1977)
One of the best and most literate comedies ever made, and one of the first films to break through the "fourth wall." It might be the first "meta" comedy. It is brilliant, and is one of the first movies I ever really studied. It's structure, it's psychological themes, its character study and -- most importantly -- its humor are all just perfect. YES

36. "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957)
I only saw this movie once, and it was a long time ago, and I wasn't paying 100% attention, so I'm sure it didn't have the impact on me that it should have. I am going to see it again, I think. I'll say PASS until then.

37. "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946)
One of the shortest three-hour movies ever made. This is a beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking story about three soldiers after WWII and how they struggle to adjust to civiilian life. They all have different conditions and situations, but they all have trouble adapting. It is off-the-charts melodramatic, but every single scene rings true. Outstanding, YES.

38. "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948)
I like this movie, but I don't think I would necessarily put it in my top 100. It's pretty old school (and has the great "we don't need no stinkin' badges" line), but it's a little too staged for me. The casting is excellent, and it makes a great point about greed and the nature of man, but I wouldn't put it up there at face value. I'm gonna say NO.

39. "Dr. Strangelove" (1964)
Possibly the greatest satire ever made. This comedy about the atomic bomb is both terrifying and hilarious. Peter Sellers gives not one but three of the great comedic performances of the 20th century. (The scene where the president talks to the drunken Soviet premier is a master class of subtle comic genius.) I love this movie a lot. "You can't fight in here, this is the war room!" YES.

40. "The Sound of Music" (1965)
I haven't seen this movie since I was a kid but from what I remember it's really great, an epic about a family of musicians who escape from the Nazis. I'm going to try and check it out again next Easter, but for now I'll say YES.

41. "King Kong" (1933)

42. "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967)

43. "Midnight Cowboy" (1969)
This movie is about as dated as it gets, not only with the late '60s hairstyles and the Andy Warhol art class showing up, but this story about a male prostitute in NYC seems almost quaint (espeically considering it's X-rating at the time). I know it was groundbreaking, and it has a few iconic scenes (the "I'm walkin' here!" scene and the final, heartbreaking bus ride) but overall I think it doesn't quite hold up at face value. I'm gonna have to say NO, not one of the top 100.

44. "The Philadelphia Story" (1940)
This is about as close to a warm fuzzy blanket as any movie can get. It's the story of Kate Hepburn, and both Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart are in love with her. There is conflict, but it is all good-natured. There is drama, but not the kind that will make you cringe. It's like the perfect little movie for a Sunday afternoon. The performances are all great, and the writing is top-notch. YES.

45. "Shane" (1953)

46. "It Happened One Night" (1934)
This is probably, pound for pound, a better Frank Capra movie that "It's a Wonderful Life." Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert (last name pronounced like Stephen) are on a wild trip and can't stand each other. Naturally, the end up falling in love, and the final scenes where Gable has to track down Colbert and win her over are as tense and exciting as any comedy of the era. YES

47. "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)

48. "Rear Window" (1954)
For my money, this is Hitchcock's best film. It's the most exciting, and also has so much depth when dealing with topics like voyeurism (even back in 1954) and gender roles. (Rarely were there female characters in those days with the backbone and determination of Grace Kelly's character; she was every bit Jimmy Stewart's equal.) It's fun, but with depth, and what could be better than that? YES

49. "Intolerance" (1916)

50. "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001)
In my opinion, "Return of the King" should go here, but to say that any one of the "LOTR" movies is better than any of the other ones is like saying that cocaine is far superior to crack: face it, they're both awesome! I consider this the slot to honor all the "LOTR" movies, and if you ask me this should be in the top ten. There have not been 49 movies made in the last century better than the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. There might not be ten better movies. This is a YES, under protest, because slot 50 is simply too low. YES

51. "West Side Story" (1961)
To admit that I like this movie is to admit a few things I'm not ready to admit right now. Let's just call it a YES and leave it at that.

52. "Taxi Driver" (1976)
One of the iconic movies of the counterculture of the 1970s. Aside from the mohawk and the "you talkin' to me" scene, this movie reeks of desperation, cynicism and disillusion. Travis Bickle is not an anti-hero, because he is a fairly evil guy. Rarely is the protagonist of a film someone so reprehensible, and DeNiro plays it perfectly, a mix of misguided eagerness to please the wrong people and the hatred to attempt an assissination. The fact that he is seen as some sort of hero at the end adds the perfect ironic exclamation point to a terrifying film. YES.

53. "The Deer Hunter" (1978)
Okay here we go. I really hate this movie. If they could have trimmed an hour off it, I'm sure it would have been better. The Russian roulette scene, for example, is pretty harrowing, but the rest of the movie is a slog through the boring parts of a person's life. A lot of DeNiro and Meryl Streep walking .... nowhere. A lot of celebrating at a wedding, and a lot of boring standing around at that wedding. This was the magnum opus of director Michael Cimino, and it seemed to fool enough people of the time due to its weighty subject matter (Vietnam), but as he went on to prove in duds like "The Sicilian" and "Heaven's Gate," the guy just doesn't know what scenes to leave on the cutting room floor. NO.

54. "M*A*S*H" (1970)
Better than the (admittedly excellent) TV show of the same name, this is Robert Altman's crowning achievement (other than "Short Cuts," I suppose). Like "Dr. Strangelove," it takes a very serious topic (Korea, filling in for Vietnam) and milks it for both humor and pathos. The interplay between Trapper John and Hawkeye is like the best buddy movie, and yet we also see the horrors of war. All told, it's really the story of people trying to keep their sanity in an insane situation. If viewed as that, it can be seen as a testament to human adaptation.

55. "North by Northwest" (1959)
Hitchcock is well represented on this list, but I have to say that this is possibly his most overrated of the films listed here. There are some good action sequences (including the crop-duster scene the movie is famous for), but I think the thing that ruined it for me was the very fake-looking climax on a very fake-looking Mount Rushmore. Maybe for its time it was really ground-breaking, but it ain't now. I will give a reluctant NO.

56. "Jaws" (1975)
I can't add to everything that's ever been said other than that "we're gonna need a bigger boat" is possibly the greatest line in the history of cinema. YES.

57. "Rocky" (1976)
This movie resonates so strongly with people because it is a microcosm of what the American Dream really is, and in a very tangible way. Rocky is a down-n-out loser, but through hard work and the support of a great girl and a rag-tag group in his corner, he's able to claw his way up near the top. The sequels (especially number 5) may have sullied the legacy of the character somewhat, but this one remains an inspiring drama. YES.

58. "The Gold Rush" (1925)
Umm ...... I'll just say NO.

59. "Nashville" (1975)
When I first saw this movie, I never would have put it on this list, but I was in college, and I was stupid. I saw the film again, however, after 9/11, and was struck with how so many of the same themes were so relevant 26 years later. The idea of blind patriotism is the thing I was struck with, and how we tend to wrap ourselves in the flag during crises. But the charm of the movie is Altman's free-form, with the overlapping dialogue and scenes that appear to be improvised, both in acting and direction. It's a significant achievement in filmmaking. YES

60. "Duck Soup" (1933)

61. "Sullivan's Travels" (1941)
Fact: the title of the film "O Brother Where Art Thou?" came from this movie. I think the movie itself is a bit too slight. It's basically about a movie producer who wants to make an "important" movie, so he travels to poor areas to tell their story. Of course the moral is, sometimes people just want to be entertained. It's a pretty lame ass lesson if you ask me. I know Preston Sturges is a great director and all, but come on babe. NO.

62. "American Graffiti" (1973)
Although I truthfully prefer "Dazed and Confused" when it comes to these music-driven sprawling movies, this one is a killer. Great music, and a great feel for the Hot Rod era. There is no plot; there are about a half dozen of them, and you can catch early performances by Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss and Suzanne Sommers. It does sometimes feel like a glorified episode of "Happy Days" but what's wrong with that? YES.

63. "Cabaret" (1972)

64. "Network" (1976)
This is one of the most sharply written movies ever made, about a TV network that lets one of its anchors go insane because it's better for ratings. Every performance is terrific (although I don't quite buy Faye Dunaway making out with an old-as-dirt William Holden). It shows how almost anyone's best intentions can be corrupted when it comes to money, power and influence. And it's a beautifully written movie (thank you, Paddy Chayefsky, you magnificent bastard). And Ned Beatty shows up out of nowhere to crank out about 3 minutes of pure venom. Great, YES.

65. "The African Queen" (1951)

66. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981)
When I was a kid, I couldn't watch this movie because of the part where the guy's face melts and his eye explodes. That was totally gross. But I love the idea that Lucas and Spielberg wanted to make a "serial", like they used to have in olden times. This movie is wall-to-wall excitement, and dealing with the Arc of the Covenant is no small subject. Nor is Nazi Germany. This manages to balance both those weighty subjects with a whole lot of fun scenes. Indiana Jones is a great, iconic movie character. (By the way, did you know he was originally supposed to be played by Tom Selleck, but he refused to shave his mustache? It's true, except for the mustache part.) YES.

67. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966)
Trivia fact: this is one of the only movies in history in which each member of the cast was nominated for an Academy Award. (There were only four of them.) Based on the Edward Albee play, it essentially chronicles the final days of a bad marriage, marred by disappointment and self-deception. And of course the young couple they've invited over for dinner has to endure all the horrifying scenes. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton really go after each other in this one, and it's funny cuz they were really married at the time. If you like cringe-inducing fights between couples (and don't we all, really?), this one's for you! YES.

68. "Unforgiven" (1992)
This is a very good movie that came out in a very weak year for movies. 1992 was a watershed year for music, but a crap year for film. (The other movies were "A Few Good Men," "Scent of a Woman," "The Crying Game" and "Howard's End.") Now, it's very well written and well-acted, about the former killer William Munny who just can't seem to help killing people when he is forced to do so for good. Morgan Freeman is especially strong in this movie. It's very good, it's not top 100. NO.

69. "Tootsie" (1982)
This is one of the few movies from the 1980s on this list, and I really like it. I think it brings up a lot of really important points about equality, and unconditional love and all sorts of other issues. Plus it's really funny, and Dustin Hoffman puts in one of the best performances of his career. In fact, other than the woefully outdated Dave Grusin score (which is really ear-piercing), it still holds up pretty well. Very fun and with a lot to chew on afterward. YES.

70. "A Clockwork Orange" (1971)
My mom said she couldn't listen to "Ode To Joy" for weeks after this movie, since that's the song that Alex and the Droogs use to rob and rape. The point of the film, ostensibly, is that violence begets more violence, and that to try and rehabilitate someone violent is really futile. But this movie never struck me the way it should have. It's been years since I've seen it, and I remember it feeling a little dated, and with an ending that felt a little tacked on. I'm going to say PASS on this one, because I think I owe Mr. Kubrick a second go-'round.

71. "Saving Private Ryan" (1998)
The first half hour of this movie is probably the most harrowing opening scene in any movie in history. The brutal violence (along with the revolutionary high-speed film technique) influenced action scenes for years after, and continue to today. In my opinion, however, the movie weakens after that opening salvo. I still think the themes of honor, country, duty and brotherhood all are very important, noble themes, but if you take the action scenes out of there, the film becomes ordinary. However, the action scenes are so breathtaking that this one is an unqualified YES.

72. "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994)
This one of the five best films of the last 25 years, period, no argument. It is impeccably written, beautifully directed, and perfectly acted. Everything about it is perfect. There is nothing false or phony about it, even as implausible as the plot can be at times. It is a non-romantic love story between Andy and Red. If you see this movie and aren't somehow affected by it, then you, sir or madam, have a cold black heart. YES

73. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969)
Seen most of it, just not the whole thing yet. Cut me some slack.

74. "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991)
I put this in the same category as "Unforgiven" at #68: it's a very good movie, but the fact that it "swept" the Oscars that year (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress) is mainly a product of what a weak year 1991 was for films. ("Bugsy" and "The Prince of Tides" were also nominees that year.) This is probably the gold standard of both police-procedure suspense movies and serial killer movies. But 100 best ever? Gotta say NO.

75. "In the Heat of the Night" (1967)
The most wonderful part of this movie is how Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier, two men who have nothing in common and really resent each other, come together to find common ground and truly respect one another. Their dynamic makes this movie come alive and work, in the story of a black cop who makes the mistake of getting stuck in the south. Since it's Missisippi, he ain't welcome in them thar parts, but Poitier ("They call me MMMISTA TIBBS!") doesn't take any shit from anyone, including the southern fancypants who slaps him. This is a great movie that works both as a mystery and as a social study. YES.

76. "Forrest Gump" (1994)
I have mixed feelings about this movie. It wasn't until college when I really started looking into the subtext of this movie (independent women are doomed, it is good to go through life stupid) that I started to question a lot of its messages. However, having said that, it is a terrifically entertaining piece of populist cinema, and some of the techniques (such as "callbacks" to previous themes and camera shots) were really brought to the forefront for the first time here. It's an accomplishment of filmmaking, for sure, especially some of the computer generated effects, like erasing Lt. Dan's legs. For technique alone, this gets a YES from me.

77. "All the President's Men" (1976)
Better than any episode of "Law & Order" and beautifully shot, this stylish and perfectly-paced drama shows from beginning to end how Woodward and Bernstein blew the Watergate scandal wide open. It's a testament to courage and conviction, and doing the right thing without worrying about the consequences (lawsuits, angry politicians). Jason Robards gives a great performance in this one; he is both the strength and the conscience of the two intrepid reporters. The ending is a bit anticlimactic, but that's the only complaint I have about it. YES.

78. "Modern Times" (1936)

79. "The Wild Bunch" (1969)
I didn't like this movie the first time I saw it. (I have to admit, I get bored with any movies that take place in Mexican border towns.) But then I saw it a few years ago, and there is something really noble about the fatalistic "one-last-score" mentality of the aging robbers in this movie. It is super violent, and takes the Western genre out into a new, darker era. YES.

80. "The Apartment" (1960)
One of the sweetest movies I've seen, this cute love story between loveable loser Jack Lemmon and engaged cutie Shirley MacLaine is fun, light, and just plain cute. Lemmon's likeability carries the movie's lighter parts, but MacLaine's semi-dramatic performance grounds it into reality. I would have preferred more nudity, of course, but what can you do... it was 1960. YES.

81. "Spartacus" (1960)

82. "Sunrise" (1927)

83. "Titanic" (1997)
Ugh. Now ten years ago, I would have prepared for a flood of emails on this, because "Titanic" was all the rage and people who didn't know any better were declaring it to be the best movie ever made. (These were mostly 13 year old girls.) In fact, when the last list came out in 1997, the outcry was that "Titanic" would have clearly been #1 if it was eligible. Thankfully, ten years of perspective put this at a more reasonable spot, but I still think that if you look at the movie, at face value, there is a lot to criticize. The dialogue is very weak, the storyline (many people forget) is fake, and the acting is simply not that good (except for maybe Kate Winslet and Cathy Bates). The special effects are very very impressive, I'll give you that. But given how overrated this movie is, I have to say NO.

84. "Easy Rider" (1969)
I know that this movie was a truly independent vision, and a benchmark of the counterculture and all that. But I truly think it's a piece of crap as a movie. It's poorly shot, unfocused, overindulgent. It's about stickin' it to the MAN, man! It's a drug-fueled Dennis Hopper taking a camera and running around with it. And while it may have been "new" for its time, it doesn't change the fact that it's a crappy, pretentious movie. Oh, and the ending is one of the worst, tacked-on, contrived endings in movie history. NO.

85. "A Night at the Opera" (1935)
I should really get into the Marx brothers more.

86. "Platoon" (1986)
This is a very good movie, but I'm not sure if I would put it in the top 100 of all time. There are a lot of great scenes in it, and of course the requisite "war makes people crazy" message. And honestly it's one of Oliver Stone's more restrained and responsible movies, before he started producing crap like "Nixon" and "Natural Born Killers." It's one of the better Vietnam movies, but I think maybe its gravitas outweighs it's quality. M-16 to my head, I'd have to say NO.

87. "12 Angry Men" (1957)
I really love this play and this movie. It is alternately about the mob mentality and also how one lone voice can bring common sense and bring change. It's probably my favorite Henry Fonda role, as he is the only one with any kind of moral compass. It really exudes morality and justice. And it also castigates those who would forego justice out of anger or revenge (something that is still relevant today). Big-time YES.

88. "Bringing Up Baby" (1938)

89. "The Sixth Sense" (1999)
I'm hesitant about this movie, because I don't know if it's that great a movie, or if they just did such a good job with the "gotcha" ending that I felt gratefully tricked by it. I think that the movie as a whole is very good, and it's actually even better the second time around when you know what's going to happen; no small feat there. Whether it's one of the 100 greatest is a tough call. I think that M. Night Shyamalan has proven that he isn't quite the directorial genius we assumed he would be with his later projects, but as a stand-alone, this one is close to brilliant. I'll say YES.

90. "Swing Time" (1936)

91. "Sophie's Choice" (1982)
This is one of the few movies on this list that I don't care if I never see. And if you ever find out what Sophie's "choice" is, you'll know why.

92. "GoodFellas" (1990)
This is way too low. This is one of the five best American movies ever made in my opinion. It's Scorsese's most accessible, most quotable, most iconic, most exciting and best movie. The fact that it lost the Oscar to "Dances With Wolves" is a bigger injustice than Sacco and Venzetti. The movie -- as Marty intended it -- is like a two-and-a-half hour movie trailer. Every scene leads directly to the next. There is no down time, no room to breathe. It's the reason that right before someone leaves a room, I yell "Now go home and get your f*$&in' shinebox!" Major major YES.

93. "The French Connection" (1971)
Everyone remembers the car chase scene from this one, but there are a lot of other great scenes, mostly having to do with Popeye Doyle, a really great movie antihero. The fact that he is a racist and completely disregards lawful conduct, yet is so single-minded and somehow likeable, is the sign of a great performance. The ending isn't as neat and tidy as you would expect, which also adds to the depth of the film as a whole. YES.

94. "Pulp Fiction" (1994)
I do have to say that I think this film is somewhat overrated, but that's like saying that Michael Jordan was overrated; just because it gets far too much attention doesn't mean it isn't great. The revolution this movie started was that of tone, and of the contrast between terror and comedy. Throughout the movie, there would be a scene of horrible violence, and then a laugh, or vice-versa. It changed the rules on what to expect in any given scene. The dialogue -- concerning hambugers in Europe, foot massages and divine intervention, among others -- is crackling throughout. And the fact that you can't tell if it takes place in the 1990s or 1970s adds an air of otherworldly unpredictability. It is the monolith that represented the next step in the evolution of filmmaking. YES.

95. "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
It's about so many things. The closing of movie theaters and drive-ins in favor of television represents the loss of innocence, which is also explored in great detail. Much like "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," it's a sort of acknowledgment of modernization, as well as a sentimental good-bye to our "youth" as a nation, and as individuals. It's slow and it's in black and white, but it's really really good. YES.

96. "Do the Right Thing" (1989)
I don't think this is Spike Lee's best movie (I would put "Malcolm X" at the top, pound for pound), but is the perfect snapshot of black rage in the late 1980s. The racial tension between the blacks and whites (especially Italians) is discussed in very candid detail ("garlic-breath, pizza-slingin', spaghetti-bendin'".... "You gold-teeth-gold-chain-wearin', fried-chicken-and-biscuit-eatin'..."). I think it doesn't quite take the black community to task on a few issues, but overall the movie opens up some really important dialogue. Ultimately, it discovers that fighting violence with more violence leads to no resolution. Very good flick, YES.

97. "Blade Runner" (1982)

98. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942)

99. "Toy Story" (1995)
It's a cute movie. It was the first of its kind. "Toy Story 2" is way better. NO.

100. "Ben-Hur" (1959)
Along with "Lawrence of Arabia," this is an epic movie that I just found to be sooo boring and long. The chariot race is cool, I guess, but the rest of it is a lot of melodrama, with some latent homosexual subtext thrown in. It was probably great for its time, but for today, it just doesn't hold up. Or hold my interest. NO.
I know that I have a tendency to oversimplify, and I know my head may be squarely up my ass on a lot of these. (And the fact that "Fargo" and "sex, lies and videotape" didn't make the cut makes me question the list's validity altogether.) So feel free to challenge me, take me to task, or add some that you think should have been on the list, or ones they should have left off.

Just remember: I'm usually right.

4 comments:

Dunford said...

Holy fuck, this is comprehensive. Well played, sir.

Also, go see "The Searchers." It'll give you a renewed appreciation for John Wayne. And when you're watching it, realize that it was So. Much. Better. on the big screen.

'Don' Cialini said...

My man. You have wayyyyy to much time on your hands...

Good list though. Now go out and talk to a female!

Bill said...

To be fair, I chipped away at this list over about a week. When my OCD starts kicking in, I usually type away until it's time to go to work.

Now, tell me more about these so-called "fem-ales." Are they like pale ales?

Willie Moe said...

Ummm, if you think Malcolm X is the best Spike Lee joint, then wouldn't that be one of the best sequels of all time? I mean I haven't seen any of the Malcolm series (Malcolm-Malcolm IX), personally, but let's be honest, to have a tenth in a series be so great is hard to do. What's that? There is no Malcolm-Malcolm IX? Oh it's like Leonard Part 6, I get it.