Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Top 101 Movies Part I: 101-91

This post marks the first part of my ten part series: My Top 101 Movies Thus Far. I think the title is pretty self-explanatory. It was hard narrowing the list down, and as I see more films I am sure the list will change. But for the time being, you should make it your life goal to see every movie on this list.

101: The Gods Must Be Crazy 1980
Director: Jamie Uys
Starring: Xi
Synopsis: When an empty Coke bottle drops in the middle of an African tribal village it begins to cause a lot of problems as the villagers squabble over who gets possession of the coveted artifact from above. They decide that it is evil, and one man undertakes a quest to throw the bottle off the edge of the earth.
Review: Some may call this movie quaint or charming, but I call it an epic satire. Epic, due to the nature of the man's quest and all the strange beings and hurdles he encounters. And a satire, because it takes a look at "civilization" from an outsiders perspective, and in the process points out how silly it can all be. This combination ensures that the film never becomes preachy, and for the most part it refrains from promoting the idea of the "noble savage." Overall this movie is just a pleasure to watch.

100: Its A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World 1963
Director: Stanley Kramer
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Ethel Merman, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett and every other comedian of the era.
Synopsis: A random group of motorists find themselves racing against each other across California to find 300 000$ buried under a big W.
Review: This movie certainly lives up to its title in that it is absolutely crazy. Almost every characters is insane and/or a scumbag and they only get worse as the movie progresses and greed begins to overtake them. Some of the best slapstick in all of Hollywood history can be found in this film and for that reason alone I think its worth checking out. Also, the theme music is classic.

99: Rebel Without a Cause 1955
Director: Nicholas Ray
Starring: James Dean
Synopsis: The new kid in school has trouble fitting in and adhering to social norms.
Review: The ultimate teen angst movie (though The Breakfast Club does give it a run for its money), I find this movie fascinating as it documents a shift in American culture that occurred during the 1950's. You see changes in music, the place of youth in society, and views towards sexuality. All of this leads to a vast generational gap which both parents and children alike have difficulty filling in. Jim Stark (Dean) becomes the posterboy of this generation who doesn't quite fit within societal norms, and finds himself an outcast while simultaneously trying to prove himself to his peers. Its a roller coaster ride of a movie that effectively captures the crisis of identity that all people face at some point in their lives, though Stark's is a bit more explosive. Of course I can't review this movie without mentioning Dean's stellar performance in one of his only three film roles before he tragically died. To illustrate, here's an example of bad acting and here's an example of good acting.

98: The Road Warrior 1981
Director: George Miller
Starring: Mel Gibson
Synopsis: Mad Max unwillingly finds himself drawn in to protecting a group of civilians from a vicious gang of oil-seeking cutthroats in a post-apocalyptic Australia.
Review: A brutal and violent film, The Road Warrior doesn't pull any punches in its depiction of society after it has fallen to pieces. But this movie isn't really about the fragility of civilization or the dangers of oil dependence. It's about a man coming to terms with his own humanity. No easy feat when there is so little humanity left in the world. At the beginning he is a reflection of the world he lives in: mad (both in terms of rage and insanity), grim, desperate, and uncaring. It's a world where the only person anyone looks out for is themselves. But when he discovers a peaceful town under siege by marauders, he also slowly begins to rediscover the humanity that he'd lost. Its a harrowing tale and packaged in way that is both appalling and appealing with great action sequences to support the heavy content.

97: It Happened One Night 1934
Director: Frank Capra
Starring: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert
Synopsis: A spoiled heiress runs away from her sheltered life and joins forces with a reporter who's only interest is the next big scoop. They may or may not fall in love with each other.
Review: If you ever wanted to know where the romantic comedy genre has its roots, then look no further than It Happened One Night. Like most subsequent rom-coms, the whole point to this movie isn't the story, which is rather predictable, but the on-screen chemistry between the two leads. And when it comes to Gable and Colbert, its hard to go wrong, especially when they have such a good script to work with. I especially like how they hint at sex without overtly stating it (the walls of Jericho are coming down). As an aside, this movie is one few to have the distinction of winning "The Big 5" Academy Awards (Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Writing, Director, and Picture)

96: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1975
Director: Milos Forman
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher
Synopsis: A repeat offender, looking to get off easy, pretends to be insane and enters a mental hospital. There he leads a rebellion against the oppressive Nurse Ratched.
Review: My favourite anti-establishment film which is at once uplifting and depressing. The whole film (and the novel upon which it is based) is an extended metaphor for a society which keeps the people down not through brute force, but by keeping them dumb and making them feel powerless. Jack Nicholson gives a career-making performance as Randal P. McMurphy, a convicted felon on the outside of society who tries to make the best of a bad situation and give his fellow patients a piece of their humanity back. This leads him into direct opposition with Nurse Ratched who's goal is to keep the patients in a cowering state under her thumb. The faceoff between the two is the focal point of the film and provides for some of the best drama I've seen in any film as they struggle to gain ground. I'll leave you to decide who ultimately comes out victorious in this epic battle for supremacy.

95: Ben-Hur 1959
Director: William Wyler
Starring: Charlton Heston
Synopsis: A wealthy Jewish man is betrayed, imprisoned, and sold into slavery by his Roman best friend. He eventually earns his freedom and sets out to seek his revenge.
Review: One of the most epic movies ever made, Ben-Hur features plenty of great scenes (one of my personal favourites takes place on a slave galley), but the grandest of them all is the famous chariot race. Its hard to describe the spectacle in words, so here's a link to it on YouTube. You don't really need to see the rest of the movie to appreciate this scene. Its pretty clear who you're supposed to rooting for (note the colour of the horses) and the scale of the scene is immense. The attention to detail is exquisite, the action is intense, and the whole thing unfolds in real time. The rest of the movie is also amazing, but that chariot race is the icing on the cake.

94: Patton 1970
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Starring: George C. Scott
Synopsis: The biopic of the famed American WWII general and his African campaign.
Review: The nickname for Patton was Blood n' Guts and George C. Scott's epic portrayal of the man certainly lives up to that reputation. The whole point of this movie is just to watch Scott, who's acting is so great that he pretty much becomes the man himself. The famous opening monologue alone was probably enough to earn him the Oscar. Patton was a man who didn't take no guff from nobody and lived by the motto, "my way or the highway," much to the ire of his colleagues and superiors, but nobody could deny his brilliance as a general. He is an immediately likeable character despite his shortcomings and it is Scott's performance which ensures we never lose our faith in him.

93: All About Eve 1950
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter
Synopsis: An ambitious, young, wannabe actress insinuates herself into the good graces of an aging theatre star and her circle of friends.
Review: All About Eve? More like, All About the Evils of Ambition! If you plan on making it to the top, then you have to put aside notions of humanity and friendship, keep you eyes on the prize, using and abusing anybody who can help you along the way before discarding them once their purpose is served. The message comes across in powerful way as you witness Eve's (Baxter) climb to the top through lies and manipulation. However, despite the title, this film is really all about Margo Channing (Davis), who steals the show as the theatre diva, who begins to see Eve's true motives, though a little too late. She tries to fight back, and it costs her a piece of her sanity before she realizes that the only way to stop blind ambition is to let it burn itself out. A great film which takes a dark look at the cult of celebrity, it still resonates today.

92: High Noon 1952
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelley
Synopsis: A retiring sheriff discovers that an old enemy is out of prison and coming to town with his gang to kill him. Unable to back down, despite the pleas of his new wife and the lack of support from his friends, he sets out to meet his fate.
Review: We all know the story of the one brave man who refuses to compromise his beliefs, no matter the cost, but there's something about the way it plays out in High Noon that really sets it apart. I think its how Will Kane (Cooper) has plenty of chances to turn back and get out of town while he still has the chance, and in fact on more than one occasion, he very nearly does, but sees his decision through until the very end, despite the personal cost. And its not just him, but the whole town that is forced to re-evaluate and reconcile its beliefs in duty, justice, and violence with who they really are and what they hold most dear.

91: In the Heat of the Night 1967
Director: Norman Jewison
Starring: Rod Steiger, Sidney Poitier
Synopsis: A black detective agrees to aid the sheriff of a racist Southern town in a high-profile homicide investigation.
Review: Everybody's favourite buddy cop movie! The main focus, and best part about this film, isn't the murder mystery or even the condemnation of racism (IMO), but the dynamic between Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) and Sheriff Gillepsie (Steiger). Both of them have prejudices to overcome as they learn to work together and although both actors do a terrific job, I find Steiger's performance to be the most gripping. He just seems to fit perfectly as the racist southern officer, and you really come to understand his turmoil as he rethinks his long-held beliefs. It's a great film despite the preachiness that some critics and viewers perceive in it, and I also can't get enough of the line, "They cal me Mr. Tibbs!"

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