First, if you haven’t read the first post on the criteria I used to select these films, you can check it out here. Second, the names of the movies are linked to my Amazon aStore where you can purchase each film if you so choose. Finally, yes, I’ve added a film. There are 101 on this list. I had to put Lebowski in here because it is sincerely one of my favorite movies ever. But by almost no means would I consider this one of the 100 greatest movies ever. But I love it way to much to leave it off. The first ten is pretty action/thriller heavy, and I’m very okay with that. There are a lot of just plain fun movies here, so this should be an entertaining week of watching if you feel inclined to catch a couple you haven’t seen. In the immortal words of esteemed poet Terrell Owens, “Getcha popcorn ready.”
—Before I get blasted by serious cinephiles for having this in my top 100, this is one of the funniest, most purely enjoyable films I’ve ever seen. Before I get blasted by casual filmgoers for not having this much higher on my list, I have to say that though there’s so much here to love, there’s really nothing at all, because nothing really get accomplished in the film. Our questions aren’t answered, there’s no character redemption, no one really cares much about anything, and yet the story just buzzes along as though its going somewhere. It is an amalgamation of about six film genres rolled into one (western, sports film, film noir, ransom film, comedy, musical, etc.), and it doesn’t fulfill any of them. It is as though the Coen’s took every aspect they love about these genres and decided to turn them on their head. So just when you think you know what’s happening, the genres turn on us and defy the conventions of our thinking. And yet, isn’t that sort of just life; circumstances turning around on us, conventions challenged, best laid plans foiled, and all the toil sort of meaningless. But, as with the Dude, we must abide and find what joy we can… like bowling.
Directed by Joel Coen, 1998. Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and Julianne Moore.
—First thing’s first, Batman is the best superhero of them all, everyone else sucks in comparison to him. Now that that’s established, the continuation of Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins, despite its several flaws, is such a breathtaking experience in every way that I don’t even care that it runs twenty minutes too long and some of it doesn’t make sense. Otherwise it is a brilliantly crafted film that almost makes us forget its a superhero movie. I felt far more concerned with the story and characters than I did the genre conventions. All that said Heath Ledger delivers a legendary, top 5 ALL TIME performance as The Joker, likely winning his Oscar in any year ever. This movie sets the standard very high for superhero films. Its Shakespearean scope coupled by crazy good cinematography from Wally Pfister and one of Hans Zimmer’s best scores give the film a depth of seriousness without dipping heavily into just plain goofiness. It’s the first superhero film that demanded we take it seriously, then sincerely backed it up. It is because of this movie that the Academy Awards expanded its Best Picture category to a ridiculous 10 movies—because this inexplicably didn’t get nominated. Stupid. This should have won. Best film of 2008, and best superhero movie ever. Winner of 2 Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actor (Ledger).
Directed by Christopher Nolan, 2008. Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman.
—Field of Dreams is one of my favorite films because, (1) its a baseball movie, and baseball is far and away the greatest game ever conceived by man (think about it), and the closest sport that resembles the Kingdom of Heaven; (2) it’s a movie about a man who receives a calling and then actually has the courage to act on that calling, no matter how ridiculous it seems; (3) it’s a movie about reconciliation and restoration, fathers and their children, and sacrifice in the face of lost dreams. This movie has the power to change people, to help us see our humanness in realizable ways, and to help us interact with the Other in our midst, who is urging us to be the catalyst of this restoration. Its a film I really wish I had written, because it encapsulates all that is good about life and baseball. Nominated for 3 Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson, 1989. Starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones.
—This film changed the game in many respects, not least of which is its eye-popping (especially for 1991) visual effects. This film paved the way for life-like greatness in the field of visual effects, and allowed filmmakers to truly do whatever they want to do. This movie made possible the notion that if you can imagine something, you can put it on film. Now, as great as the visual effects are, this is also a pretty remarkable screenplay. The movie is built around 5 major sequences, and each sequence is just as creative and engaging as the last. With great skill, Cameron was able to turn a serious killing machine from the first movie, into a character that must learn the value of life, ultimately valuing the life of those he is programmed to kill over and above his own. Crazy good movie. Winner of 4 Academy Awards.
Directed by James Cameron, 1991. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton.
—I’m a huge fan of this story. Neo is a classic mythic hero, transformed by truth into a messianic figure; an anointed savior coming to believe who he already is and is called to be. Let’s not get into the second and third films, but the first has some very interesting religious questions and analogies, merging the art of Eastern film and philosophy with emerging Western postmodernism and a substantial budget. Oh yeah, the special effects are absolutely ridiculous! Some of the greatest of all time, hands down, totally changed the game again, just a few years after T2. Had people wishing they could live in bullet time. Winner of 4 Academy Awards.
Directed by Andy & Larry Wachowski, 1999. Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss.
—This is the greatest pure action movie ever made. Its structurally perfect, with punch you in the face thrills, Bruce Willis’ breakout performance (and best?), and a villain so awesome it almost cost Alan Rickman his career (because he was so great no one wanted to cast him as anything but a killer German villain). It has some catchy lines, brilliant editing and outstanding cinematography as well. But the thing that sets this film apart is that for the majority duration of the Cold War, after the institution of the Motion Picture Association of America’s new ratings system, almost every action film was ideologically bound by an aggressive, juggernaut character. Think Rambo and Dirty Harry. These guys are cool customers, killing machines, and justice seekers (and winners). Die Hard came along presenting its hero as a vulnerable screw-up, in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing all he can just to survive and get his wife back. John McClane is no super-hero juggernaut, he’s just a normal dude, and there’s something about his character that resonated with people coming out of the Cold War in the late ’80s, and resonates with us today. Normal people in extraordinary circumstances. That’s pure cinema right there. Such an awesome flick. Nominated for 4 Academy Awards.
Directed by John McTiernan, 1988. Starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman.
—This is a very simple film, but it sucks you in; intriguing you and taunting you to continue watching. Like so many of those who cannot get the image of Devil’s Tower out of their minds, I really can’t get this film out of my mind. It is compelling, with fine acting and magnificent visual effects, as well as a sound performance by French film great François Truffaut (which I find to be a bit of a paradox because Truffaut and Spielberg are two completely different kinds of filmmakers). This is the film that forced Hollywood to really take a close look at this Spielberg kid, because he could be great. Low and behold he was, and is, helming some of the most powerful and affecting works of art of the 20th Century. Winner of 2 Academy Awards.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, 1977. Starring Richard Dreyfus.
—They went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere. This film, though I did not live through it, seems to depict the spirit of the ‘60s as well as any other film. Drugs, promiscuous sex, and riding around on some hogs. It seems like a pretty simple film, but it launched an entire wave of new motion pictures in Hollywood. Bring on the revisionists: Scorsese, Coppola, Kubrick and Robert Altman now had mainstream Hollywood to produce their artistic endeavors, and thank God for that. On a deeper level though, this is a film about men who seek life, and heartbreakingly don’t see it when it stares them in the face. It seems all-too-familiar that when we find what we’re looking for we reject it because it isn’t exactly what we’re looking for, or it’s too good to be true, or real life. Once we’ve rejected what we’re looking for, what is there but wandering? Nominated for 2 Academy Awards.
Directed by Dennis Hopper, 1969. Starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson.
—They just don’t make thrillers like they used to, at least not until this powerhouse film jumped to the big screen in March of ’91. This is one of only three films to win the 5 major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay. Anthony Hopkins holds the record for the shortest amount of screen time in a lead actor role, and still winning. He was on screen a grand total of 16 minutes, but his presence as the ruthless Dr. Hannibal Lecter lingers throughout the entire film in what is one of the most frightening performances of all time. Frightening because he shows that no mind is safe, and no heart strong enough to avoid being consumed by and with evil. Winner of 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Directed by Jonathan Demme, 1991. Starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins.
—Peckinpah was great with telling stories about unchanging men in a changing time, and The Wild Bunch is certainly that. These are bad dudes, not to be liked by any stretch, but while we may not make the decisions they do, we can certainly identify with them. Peckinpah also pushed the envelope on violence under the new MPAA ratings system, and popularized something that was seldom used in movies before this—slow motion. Combine the elements of bloody violence and slow motion, along with terrific anti-hero villains, and you get one of the great and revolutionary films in cinematic history. Nominated for 2 Academy Awards.
Directed by Sam Peckinpah, 1969. Starring William Holden and Ernest Borgnine.
—There aren’t many filmmakers like Wes Anderson who can so magnificently capture the pointlessness and absurdity of life, while paradoxically seeing it as a playground. Anderson is one of the most important filmmakers of his time, as his use of irreverent humor is among the finest of a generation of irreverent films and television shows, and I believe this is his best work to date. The line between humor and sadness is paper thin, but such is life. Life doesn’t always work out how we intend, and sometimes the consequences of our intentions are not what we expected. For Royal Tenenbaum and the rest of the family, there is a failure that exudes the whole of their lives and relationships with each other. Their pain, and pseudo-attempts at restoration, play out through humor, pulsing the nerve of something entirely human, while deeply working out something entirely divine—forgiveness. Great movie. Nominated for 1 Academy Award (Best Original Screenplay).
Directed by Wes Anderson, 2001. Starring Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, with Danny Glover and Bill Murray.
Thoughts? I’d love to have dialogue about this.