Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Top 101 Movies Part VII: 40-31

40. Ocean's 11 2001
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts
Synopsis: Eleven men attempt to rob three different casinos at the same time.
Review: This is one of those movies I enjoy simply because it's fun to watch. The ensemble cast has great chemistry and you can tell they're enjoying themselves, there are plenty of laughs to be had, and it has a slick, wicked cool, and twisting plot. As you may or may not know, this movie is a remake, and normally remakes tend to pale in comparison to the original. But I've seen the first Ocean's 11 starring the Rat Pack, and I have to say that this is one of those rare films that takes the original premise to a whole new level. Clooney, Pitt, Damon and the rest make Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. look like shit. Unfortunately, like any fun and popular movie, they had to go ahead and take away from it by making sub-par sequels, but ignoring it's successors, I still think this movie stands up and will be a continued favourite for years to come.

39. Rear Window 1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelley
Synopsis: A man confined to his room in a wheelchair spies on his neighbours and becomes convinced that he's witnessed a murder.
Review: Easily one of Hitchcock's best, Rear Window is one my all time favourite suspense movies that achieves it's effect through a combination of claustrophobia, voyeurism, and never being certain exactly what has or will happen. The whole film is set in an apartment building and you see what Jeffries (Stewart) sees and only know what he knows. Being bored and confined to a wheelchair, you feel his ennui and utter helplessness when things start to get hectic. Like all Hitchcock films, there's a dark sense of humour and some rather disturbing implications of some of the character's actions (such as what did the murderer do with the body?). If you only see one Hitchcock film (though I don't know why you'd want to only see one) then this should probably be it, although Psycho is more famous and *SPOILERS* there's still one more of his films on this list. Jimmy Stewart gives one of his best performances and Grace Kelley is hot, and also a fine actress.

38. Fiddler on the Roof 1971
Director: Norman Jewison
Starring: Topol
Synopsis: A Russian-Jewish father marries off his daughters while suffering persecution. Review: I grew up on musicals, and while I now look back on some of them as cheesy and a bit silly (I am looking at you Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), this one as always remained one of my favourites. Part of it I think is because it deals with heavier subject matter than most musicals, but still grounds it in humour and family life. However, the major draw for me has to be the main character and father-figure, Tevye (Topol). He's easily one of my all time favourite characters in any movie, and is played to perfection by Topol who I am yet to see topped in any production of the musical. He's funny, easy to relate to, instantly likable, and I especially like the system of logic he uses to solve all of life's problems. And of course you have some great musical numbers such as "Tradition," "Matchmaker," and my personal favourite until Gwen Stefani destroyed it with the pickaxe of her voice, "If I Were a Rich Man."

37. Steamboat Bill Jr. 1928
Directors: Charles Reisner, Buster Keaton
Starring: Buster Keaton
Synopsis: A fop attempts to help his estranged father run his steamboat.
Review: When I went to see this, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew that it was a comedy, but I wasn't sure if the humour of the silent era would hold up today. Luckily, I was not to be disappointed. This movie is hilarious and features some of the craziest stunts I've ever seen, all performed by Buster Keaton with amazing acrobatic skill, and (I suspect) a little bit of luck. On top of this there are also some pretty good lines (on title screens) as well as some clever visual gags. To complete the experience, there was a live pianist in the theatre who had composed his own music specifically for the film. It was a memorable night overall and I look forward to seeing more work from this great comedian.

36. Seven Samurai 1954
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura
Synopsis: The titular seven try to save a village from bandits.
Review: Kurosawa has directed many, many great films, but this is the one that I feel is most deserving of being called his magnum opus. It's epic in scope and length, has some of the most memorable characters in any of his films, the battle sequences are intense, and the writing and plot are superb. I find the story to be at once tragic and uplifting. The samurai do eventually succeed in their quest, but as is pointed out at the end, it's the farmers who are the real winners while the defenders died and gained nothing for it. It's an interesting take on honour, duty, and violence that I think has appeal across cultures, as evidenced by the American Western remake, The Magnificent Seven. For people with short attention spans, this movie could be difficult to sit through, but for everybody else it's mandatory viewing.

35. Fantasia 1940
Director: A Bunch of Guys
Starring: N/A unless you count Mickey Mouse
Synopsis: Classical music and crazy cartoons!
Review: Like most children, I watched plenty of Disney films in my youth, and although there are plenty of classics to choose from, this is the one that by far stands out the most. It was and remains one of the most original and creative works of not just animation, but of cinema in general. There's virtually no plot, which is a bold enough move in and of itself, and the entire thing is a feast for both eyes and ears. The animation team came up with some really weird and creative ideas, one of my favourite of which are the dancing mushrooms. But every scene (perhaps sketch would be a better word) is memorable in its own way, though the most famous is certainly Mickey vs The Broom of Doom. I also wish to note that the one sketch with the devil summoning all the dead and demons scared the shit out of me as a kid, but its still awesome and I am glad they didn't remove it to make it more palatable. This is a film that transcends boundaries, and can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age, gender, or culture.

34. The Manchurian Candidate 1962
Director: John Frankenheimer
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh, Laurence Harvey
Synopsis: A Korean War veteran begins to unravel a conspiracy involving him and the surviving members of his squad.
Review: This is the original, not the remake, for those of you too lazy to read the date. It's one of the great political thrillers, and one that doesn't pull any punches. The point here isn't the mystery of what exactly is going on, as most of that is revealed at the very beginning. The primary driving force behind this film is if they'll be able to stop the plan from going into action. Essentially it's a race against time, and by the end the tension will have you shaking in your chair. It's also a very dark film which doesn't shy away from the disturbing stuff. I don't want to reveal too much for those of you who haven't seen it, but I will say that Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Iselin is one of the greatest movie villains of all time. I actually hate her. She's ridiculously evil, and will make your mother look like a peach.

33. Apocalypse Now 1979
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall
Synopsis: Capt. Willard heads upriver into Vietnam to find the enigmatic Col. Kurtz.
Review: I'd say this is one of the darkest movies I've ever seen which makes sense seeing as how it's based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The progression of the film can be described as a descent into Hell as each scene becomes more disturbing and morally black than the last. This journey into the horror at the heart of war and civilization is physically represented by the journey of the gunboat down the river in search of Kurtz who is both a visionary and the embodiment of all that is wrong with the imperial project. It begins with the dawn raid set to "Ride of the Valkyries," has the massacre aboard the native riverboat in the middle, and ends in Kurtz's demented home he's made for himself. It's one helluva ride that, much like the novel, is open to interpretation, and it has an intense story, great cinematography, and stellar performances from some of the greatest to boot.

32. To Kill a Mockingbird 1962
Director: Robert Mulligan
Starring: Gregory Peck
Synopsis: Two children grow up in a lazy Alabama town while their father, a lawyer, defends a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman.
Review: A lot of probably were probably forced to read the book in high school, and probably hated it because you were forced to read it in high school. Luckily my view of it has not been tainted by the educational system as I read it of my own accord, and it's one my favourite novels, and one of the few that has the distinction of me reading it twice. I hold the movie in just as high esteem, thanks in no small part to Gregory Peck's inspiring performance. I can't picture anybody else in the role of Atticus Finch who was rated as the all time greatest hero in cinema by AFI, a ranking that I agree with. His portrayal is supported by the at times charming, and at other times moving story faithfully adopted from the novel, as well as strong performances from the young actors playing the children. There are plenty of powerful and moving scenes from the film, some of which have become instilled in popular culture, with the courthouse scenes standing out the most (if you've ever seen Pleasantville, you'll find a clever reference to this scene).

31. Blazing Saddles 1974
Director: Mel Brooks
Starring: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder
Synopsis: A black sheriff is put in charge of defending a racist town in the wild West.
Review: I am too lazy to re-review this movie as I've already done it, so instead here's the link to that review.

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