Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Top 101 Movies Part II: 90-81

90. Jaws 1975
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider
Synopsis: A trio of men set out to kill a shark terrorizing their town.
Review: When most people mention Jaws, they normally bring up how scary the shark is, and how the reason why its scary is because you never actually see it until the very end. And although the movie is tense, and its methods have had a lasting and influential effect on the horror movie genre, I didn't actually find this movie to be all that terrifying. The part I like the most, and that really sticks with me, is the interaction between the three main characters. Each of them has there own ideas and ways of dealing with their problems, but somehow they have to work together to save the town with their combined knowledge and resources. My favourite scene is when they're on the boat late at night, just talking about their time spent at sea. For a blockbuster horror movie, the dialogue is surprisingly good.

89. The Double Life of Veronique 1991
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Starring: Irene Jacob
Synopsis: Two identical women, living in different countries (Poland/France), who have never met one another, develop a strange connection.
Review: The concepts that this movie deals with can be a little heady and its highly unlikely that anybody really understands exactly what's going on, but then again that's not really the point to this movie. It features a very rich visual and audio landscape which is all nice and good, but the real star is Irene Jacob who I think has done the best acting in any movie I've ever seen. She brings the characters of Veronique/Veronika to life in a way that I cannot really describe despite the fact that she isn't speaking English. (though she does speak French which I can understand). On a side note, Quentin Tarantino apparently thought the same thing when viewing the movie and originally created the role of Fabienne (Bruce Willis' girlfriend) for her.

88. The Blues Brothers 1980
Director: John Landis
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd
Synopsis: Two brothers attempt to raise enough money to save the orphanage where they grew up via music.
Review: The best part about the Blues Brothers is that despite the constant insanity they find themselves in the middle of, they play everything straight. I am pretty sure they don't even crack a smile at any point in this movie, but that doesn't stop them from being hilarious. The second best part about this movie is their rendition of the song "Raw Hide." And the third best part is the car chase at the end which is undoubtedly the funniest car chase in film history. With great music, great laughs, great cameos, and two iconic characters, The Blues Brothers is certainly one of the most fun movies to watch.

87. Batman 1989
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger
Synopsis: The Dark Knight does battle with The Joker.
Review: If Tim Burton is directing, then you know the movie is going to be dark and zany, so its no wonder he's behind the first Batman movie. The look and feel of the whole movie is spot on, and I think Burton did a terrific job of bringing Gotham City to life and making it look like how I pictured it in my mind. It's shady and malicious with just a hint of barely suppressed terror. In addition, Keaton does a good job as Batman, but its Nicholson who steals the show as the greatest villain in comic book history, The Joker. He plays the character with a manic brilliance in a way that only Jack Nicholson can. On top of all this, its also a great action movie with a decent story and awesome gadgets.

86. Twelve Angry Men 1957
Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Henry Fonda
Synopsis: Twelve jurors deliberate the guilt/innocence of an adolescent accused of murder.
Review: A great drama, and perhaps the greatest reflection on justice ever put to film. The whole movie is a gripping debate between Henry Fonda's character and all the other juror's who, either out of laziness or prejudice, initially find the defendant to be guilty and sentenced to death. Even if you don't care about what the film has to say about the justice system, there are still a lot of interesting and well-developed characters supported by strong dialogue and intense drama to keep the tension high.

85. Tootsie 1982
Director: Sydney Pollack
Starring: Dustin Hoffman
Synopsis: A struggling actor pretends to be a woman in order to get a role on a soap opera
Review: When crossdressing is involved, you know its a comedy, and Dustin Hoffman makes a surprisingly convincing woman. Had I not known, I can guarantee that I would have been fooled. Like most movies that prominently feature crossdressing, the central theme of Tootsie is gender relations. It takes becoming Dorothy Michaels for Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) to see how women can be, and often are, objectified and marginalized by men, including himself. But if you don't care for social commentary in your movies then have no fear, for as you can expect, plenty of hilarious and awkward situations arise due to Michael's roleplaying, and their is great cast of supporting characters to back up Hoffman, including the always wonderful, Bill Murray.

84. The Best Years of Our Lives 1946
Director: William Wyler
Starring: Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Harold Russell
Synopsis: Three WWII veterans return from war and struggle to fit back in to civilian life.
Review: You see a lot of stories out there about heroic feats or horrific acts of war, but one thing you rarely hear about is what happens to all those soldiers once they come back to their homes. Many return carrying physical and emotional scars which make re-adapting to civilian life quite challenging. I think this film does a good job on encapsulating their experiences, and how it isn't always easy. When one man returns home to his family, its less a happy reunion and more an awkward gettogether. Russell delivers an emotional performance as a man who's lost both of his hands in the army (Russell himself, lost both his hands in the army) which precludes him from ever really fitting in again. This isn't a super happy fun action-packed movie, but it's very moving.

83. Psycho 1960
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins
Synopsis: Murder is afoot at the Bates Motel and a group of investigators try to get to the bottom of it.
Review: This movie is famous for a lot of things: the music, the shower scene, the killing off of the main character in the first half, and the shocking ending (though this movie has become so ingrained in our culture, that most people know how it ends before they see it). Many still consider it to be the greatest horror film ever made, but I must confess, I was hardly phased by it at all (perhaps I'm a bit desensitized). Nevertheless, it still tells a great story with plenty of twists and turns in true Hitchcock fashion. Also, Anthony Perkins is creepy as hell as Norman Bates. Whenever he says, "A boy's best friend is his mother," shivers always run down my spine.

82. Duck Soup 1933
Director: Leo McCarey
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Synopsis: The small, bankrupt nation of Freedonia is taken over by the crazy Rufus T. Firefly.
Review: This is the only Marx Brothers' film I've seen, and I after seeing it I want to see some more. There's not all that much you can say about it. The whole film is a relentless stream of jokes, zaniness, crazy antics, and Groucho spouting off one-liners. Characters and plot don't really matter all that much, and I wouldn't read too far into the political aspect. I am fairly certain it isn't trying to get a message across about the dangers of dictatorships, or satirizing foreign relations. It's just a hilarious movie.

81. Paradise Now 2005
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Kais Nashif, Ali Suliman
Synopsis: Two would-be suicide bombers and childhood friends from Palestine try to come to grips with the decision they have made.
Review: The most remarkable part about this film is that despite the polarizing issues it deals with, it does not pass judgement on the characters, their cause, or their actions and say whether they're right or wrong. Their is no glorification or condemnation of violence or martyrdom. The question isn't what they're doing, but why. Throughout the film, the two leads pose themselves this same question and begin to second guess their decisions. As they get closer and closer to their goal, and the stakes get higher, and the job gets harder, and their conscience begins to get the better of them, the tension becomes almost unbearable. It's an insightful and gripping film that's definitely worth the trouble required to find it.

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