Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Top 101 Movies Part III: 80-71

80. The Ten Commandments 1956
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Starring: Charlton Heston
Synopsis: Moses tries to lead the Jews out of Egypt and to the Promised Land.
Review: If you know me at all then you know that despite my mother's best efforts, I am not a religious person. But that doesn't stop me from admiring this biblical epic which will always hold a special place in my heart. Every year this movie is aired on TV around Easter and every year I tried to sit through the whole thing. When I finally accomplished this goal (after many, many tries) it was like a rite of passage for me. I was no longer a child anymore. I had officially developed an attention span and could sit still for over four hours. There is no shortage of memorable scenes including the brutal whipping of the Jewish slaves, the rage of Moses when he comes back down Mount Sinai with the titular laws, and of course the parting of the Red Sea. Its an awe-inspiring film that lives up to its epic status.

79. Arsenic and Old Lace 1944
Director: Frank Capra
Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane
Synopsis: A man on his wedding day discovers that his kindly aunts are serial killers and his entire family is pretty much insane.
Review: As the synopsis suggests, this is a rather bizarre movie. I guess that's why they call them screwball comedies. You wouldn't think that a movie about homicidal maniacs would make for lighthearted fare, but there you have it. Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, the only normal person in his family who, as he uncovers the depths of his family's madness, begins to go mad himself. He has to save his beloved aunts, get his younger brother who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt into a mental institution, and fend off the murderous advances of his older brother who's escaped from prison, all while trying to keep things hidden from his new wife. As things get worse and worse for him, it gets funnier and funnier for us. Of course, everything turns out alright in the end. Well, sort of. For me, its the zany plot and larger-than-life characters that make this movie so much fun to watch.

78. The Princess Bride 1987
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright
Synopsis: A grandfather tells a story to his ailing grandson about the adventures of The Dread Pirate Roberts and Princess Buttercup.
Review: Despite the protestations of some men who are insecure with their sexuality, I believe that this film truly has mass appeal regardless of gender or upbringing. It has a little bit of something for everyone: adventure, comedy, romance, fantasy, and suspense. The story is great and well-crafted, taking elements of popular fairy tales and mixing them together to create something that is both familiar and new. Every character, even the minor ones, are memorable and Cary Elwes makes a great leading man reminiscent of Douglas Fairbanks from the days of silent films. Also, I think it was terribly clever of them to embed the main story within the frame of a boy listening to his grandpa tell the story, interrupting it at times to voice his opinion. Not only is this in keeping with the tradition of how these types of stories were first told (and still are), but it also brings the audience into the story in an interesting way that allows for a greater level of interaction. In a word, this is a charming film.

77. Full Metal Jacket 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D'Onofrio
Synopsis: A group of young men are sent to boot camp and then shipped off to fight in Vietnam. Review: Whenever you see a drill sergeant type character who never speaks, but only yells, you have Full Metal Jacket to thank. Ermey gives what is easily one of the top ten most memorable performances in cinematic history and for that reason alone this film is worthy to make the list. But on top of that, this film tells a dark and chilling story of the dehumanizing effects of army life. Most critics tend to view the first half as being superior to the second, and I partly agree. There is a bit of a disconnect between the first part which takes place at boot camp, and the second part which is set in Vietnam, which makes it feel as though you are watching two completely different movies. But I think the second half stands up on its own with some memorable scenes, especially the one with the Vietnamese prostitute (set to the tune of "These Boots Are Made for Walking"), the harrowing scene with the child sniper, and the final shot with the squad marching while singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme.

76. Animal House 1978
Director: John Landis
Starring: John Belushi, Tom Hulce, Stephen Furst, Tim Matheson
Synopsis: A bunch of slackers try to save their frat house.
Review: The first, and probably the best, National Lampoon movie which launched the whole rauchy teen comedy genre as well as toga parties. Its major themes include sex, drinking, dorm life, sex, sticking it to the man, and sex. These themes have not reflected my post-secondary experience (though being president of the Board Game Club, I don't think my post-secondary experience is the norm), but that doesn't stop it from being absolutely hilarious. John Belushi steals the show as the perpetually drunk and staggeringly stupid, Bluto. His every movement and word cracks me up. My other favourite character is Flounder, who is the most lovable loser in a gang of lovable losers. This movie also features of the greatest endings ever and one of the greatest musical numbers ever.

75. Shrek 2001
Director: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson
Starring: Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz
Synopsis: An ogre saves a princess in order to save his home in the swamp.
Review: More than just a simple parody of fairy tale cliches, Shrek actually tells an interesting story in its own right that calls into question much of what we take for granted in our stories such as notions of beauty, chivalry, and good versus evil. But enough of this pretentious reading between the lines. This is a children's cartoon movie afterall. That being said, I do believe that it launched (or at least popularized) a growing trend towards animated films geared for adults, and for this reason I think it has an important place in the history of animated cinema. But more than this, its a really funny movie with some really funny characters. Just ignore the sequels.

74. Pirates of the Caribbean 2003
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keria Knightly, Geoffery Rush
Synopsis: A washed-up pirate helps a blacksmith save his girlfriend from undead pirates.
Review: The main point to this movie is watching Johnny Depp's performance of what has already become one of cinema's most iconic characters, Captain Jack Sparrow. Nobody really cares about Orlando Bloom trying to rescue Keira Knightly. The ghost pirates are pretty cool and Barbossa makes for a good villain (its hard to go wrong with Rush), but when you go to see a movie about pirates, you want to see swashbuckling adventures on the high seas, and Captain Jack does all this and more. This movie isn't really deep or revolutionary, but it makes up for this with some strong characters, a decent story, and a lot of good fun. Just ignore the sequels.

73. American Graffiti 1973
Director: George Lucas
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith
Synopsis: Four friends hit the town one last time before they all go off to college.
Review: To me, this movie isn't about the story or the characters, though the multiple intertwining narratives are interesting, its really all about capturing the spirit of a generation (or zeitgeist if you will). I wouldn't say the early 60's (when the movie is set) were a more innocent time (though some nostalgic Americans may disagree), but it was the end of an era before JFK was assassinated, before the civil rights movement took off, before the Vietnam War, and before a major cultural shift. Just as you can't go back to your youth, there's no going back to this period in American history. Lucas does a fine job encapsulating this culture of fast cars, burger joints, cruising the strip, and of course the music. Ah, the music. This movie may very well have the best soundtrack ever. It definitely makes the top three.

72. The Grapes of Wrath 1940
Director: John Ford
Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell
Synopsis: A poor, dustbowl era family is forced off their land and head to California where they suffer the full brunt of The Great Depression.
Review: Not exactly an uplifting film, unless you enjoy watching people get beat down over, and over again by an uncaring, and sometimes even spiteful society. In which case you probably need more help than I do. But it is this very suffering which makes the film so moving. You can't help but feel for Tom Joad (Fonda) and his family as they go through hell just to get a scrap of bread and continue pushing forward despite all that they've lost. Even though this movie is old, and The Great Depression is not as immediate to us as it was to the 1940's audience, I still feel an emotional connection to the film. In many ways its message is still applicable today especially in relation to disenfranchised groups like immigrant labourers. The movie does has an uplifting ending with Tom vowing in a famous monologue to fight injustice as he escapes the clutches of the authorities, and Ma Joad (Darwell) resolving never to give up and to keep on trucking onwards in yet another famous monologue. Its not an ending that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy inside, but it does leave you filled with hope for the future.

71. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre 1948
Director: John Huston
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt
Synopsis: Three prospectors head off into Mexico in search of gold.
Review: This is the movie where I get my celebrated crazy prospector impression from, but more than that its also really, really good. The trio of men set out as friends, but as they get closer to finding the titular treasure their bonds begin to break apart. What begins as an external battle against bandits and nature, turns into an internal one against the greed that slowly begins to consume them. Bogart, who normally plays the hero, gives a rare turn as the villain and gives an excellent performance as a man who gives up every shred of humanity for the sake of gold. Its more than just a western or a cautionary tale, its a descent into Hell.

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