I guess I should have noted at some point that some of these scenes are NSFW. Movies is movies. The next set of twenty begins with a foreign film that came out of nowhere to gross $128 million in the U.S.
60. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, China): Even though it's at heart a kung fu movie, Ang Lee's masterpiece can be considered an art film to some extent. There aren't many prettier scenes on film than combatants gliding through the trees, fighting from branch to branch, and down on the water. There's a certain degree of difficulty attached to a foreign film getting high in any rankings. It takes patience to want to sit down and read subtitles for a few hours, so I'll watch a ton of mediocre movies in English before I'll seek out the best films in another language. I'll pretty much only watch those that are considered the very best and it's even that much more difficult for these to become one of my actual favorite movies. That being said, this is the third foreign film on my list, but it is not the last.
59. King Kong (2005): Upon seeing this for the first time, I turned to my wife and asked if this was the greatest movie ever made. This after just over three hours of movie time in which nobody got up to go to the bathroom for fear of missing a second, after multiples of that magical type of scene where the movie goes silent right before action and the audience goes completely silent as well and then gasps all at once. The original 1933 movie is good (especially for its time), but it lacked this version's CGI that allowed Peter Jackson to better portray Kong's emotions. This movie is a little romance, a little comedy, and a lot of great action and special effects, but it is at its heart a touching love story. Many would say that Jackson has so far peaked with his The Lord of the Rings series, but I say this is his magnum opus.
58. Gone With The Wind (1939): This movie is so long (238 minutes) that even the DVD has an intermission, so long that I was sure that I was bored out of my mind. But then, as it ended, I realized just how much I despised Scarlett O'Hara, and I realized that I couldn't be bored by any movie that works up that kind of emotion. She has to be one of my least favorite characters ever. I think I actually cheered out loud when Clark Gable's Rhett Butler, as fed up with Scarlett's BS as I was, finally gave her his most famous line:
57. The Maltese Falcon (1941): I'll take some time to talk about great final lines. What is it about these that they seem to show up so often on this list. Do great last lines make a movie great because we remember the end so fondly or are they just the perfect topper on a great film? Gone With The Wind certainly has one, as does this fast-paced detective film starring Humphrey Bogart. Sam Spade, torn up after the murder of his partner, will do anything to find out who did it and why, and this brings him into contact with a group of conniving crooks after one of the great treasures in the world. The best part is Bogart's monologue at the end, his bitterness and anger, and finally his resignation with the wistful, "It's the stuff dreams are made of."
56. No Country for Old Men (2007): Knowing the group who is reading this, this could be the most controversial pick on the list. Why is it here? Javier Bardem's relentless performance, strong acting from Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones, edge-of-your-seat suspense (particularly the hotel scene), the fantastic change-of-perspective towards the end of the movie where it goes from Brolin being the main character to Jones right before Brolin is to be killed, the Coen Brothers' use of the desolate countryside making it one of the more beautiful films of the last few years. It's not your classic Coen Brothers movie (and you'll see soon that it's not my favorite), but I think it's brilliant and the Academy agreed.
55. Annie Hall (1977): And the Academy loved this one as well, as it won Best Picture. Woody Allen's film about a neurotic Jew and his affair with a goy. It has all the things you look for in a romantic comedy/drama, but it is funnier and better written than any other. It is probably Christopher Walken's first big movie (The Deer Hunter came out the next year) and I could show his driving scene, but my favorite is this one. So true:
54. The Big Chill (1983): This movie sort of freaked me out the first time I saw it, relatively soon after I graduated from college. It's a film that deals with a group of college friends, coming together for a weekend twenty years after their graduation to mourn the suicide of one of their classmates. It's a great thing to think about when you're just out of school -- look at these people that are just like me and my friends and, look, one of them is dead, one of them is divorced, one of them is a drug addict, many of them have no purpose in life. Awesome. It's very funny and sweet and has a great cast, including Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Tom Berenger, and Kevin Costner's lifeless hands (he played the corpse but his face was edited out). As much as anything else, the soundtrack is epic (maybe my favorite ever?).
53. Clerks (1994): Dogma just barely missed the cut, so it falls to this debut to be Kevin Smith's contribution to the list, and what a debut it was. Not only did Jay and Silent Bob become pop culture royalty, but this film led to a resurgence of quirky independent films that continues today. Shot in black and white and relentlessly profane, the story of Dante and Randall is my favorite movie that could legitimately be called a cult classic. It was released only five days after Pulp Fiction was released wide in the U.S. and those two movies probably did more than any other in recent memory to promote the fast-talking profanity-laden dialogue that is popular in movies today, with Clerks adding in never-ending pop culture -- particularly Star Wars -- references. In other words, it's not so different from how real people speak. Oh, and while you're crossing the parking lot? Try not to, you know.
52. Boyz N The Hood (1991): It seems like it was sometime in the late '80s/early '90s that mainstream (read: white) society got interested in what life was like in the inner city. My guess is it happened because hip-hop became popular, bringing urban culture along with it and subsequently a number of movies about said culture. Enter John Singleton's debut, as both director and writer, and his story about a kid growing up in the culture with a father that has seen its dangers and wants to protect his son from them. The movie, especially as a debut, is so gritty and unapologetic. It even had a real life gangsta rapper (who went on to star in Are We There Yet?) as one of its co-stars! It launched Ice Cube's career, along with those of Cuba Gooding and Morris Chestnut, but it's all about Laurence Fishburne in probably his defining role. The scene where Ricky gets shot is still one of the more heartbreaking in recent memory.
51. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964): I'm not really a big Stanley Kubrick fan, but there's no denying this classic satire of the Cold War. Peter Sellers delivers a tour de force performance in three parts, as a soldier, a president, and a "reformed" Nazi scientist. Look for James Earl Jones in his movie debut. Oh, and that classic final scene with Slim Pickens.
And we're halfway done! We're going to have a party at my house to celebrate the reading of the next ten. It'll be Friday night. We'll be lighting Shabbos candles. Hey, John Goodman, want to drive on over and join us?
50. The Big Lebowski (1998): My favorite Coen Brothers movie, the story of The Dude and his quest to get his rug replaced. The cast is insane, fronted by the three bowling buddies, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi. It's hilarious (I particularly love Sam Elliott as the narrating Stranger), it's dark, it's violent, it's weird. Everything you look for in the standard Coen Brothers movie. Say it with me: The Dude abides.
49. American Psycho (2000): The Dude pretty much couldn't be more opposite from Christian Bale's psycopath, Patrick Bateman, in this adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name. It's one of the rare movies that is better than the book upon which it was based. Where the book uses Bateman's rambling thoughts on pop music as essays to break up the extreme gore, the movie uses them as absurdist rants to help work Bateman up to a killing rage. Bale critiquing Phil Collins and then chopping up Jared Leto with an axe is a delightfully evil scene. The movie is made by Bale's pretentious and sarcastic delivery and it set him on his way to becoming one of the rare child stars to be a huge adult one.
48. Best In Show (2000): Born from This Is Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest's madcap ad-libbed mockumentaries had their finest day with this film about a dog show, its contestants' weird owners, and a confused color analyst. I've written a lot more about the movies today, but no need on this one. Fred Willard's always been funny, but he became a legend in this movie.
47. It's A Wonderful Life (1946): This movie freaking kills me, every time. The end, when everyone's coming to give George money and he gets the book with the message from Clarence? There's only one other movie (yet to appear on the list) that guarantees a tear in my eye every time. I also happen to like James Stewart an awful lot as an actor.
46. The Karate Kid (1984): In which we learn how to use wax to defend ourselves and who, exactly, mercy is for. A lot of underdog movies in the '80s and this one was one of the better and most cheesy, as a kid from New Jersey joined with a drunk Asian janitor to shock the amateur martial arts world. He also got to make time with Elizabeth Shue, which is pretty cool. Screw it, it's all about the best montage in movie history:
45. Ghostbusters (1984): Like The Karate Kid and Gremlins, this movie was released in June, 1984. Good month for movies. I like a lot of '80s comedies and it's hard to say that this isn't the best. You've only seen half the list, obviously, but I will say now that my biggest and most painful omission was Vacation. So many great '80s comedies and I love it, but it doesn't quite hold the place in my heart that these others do. As for Ghostbusters, you get Bill Murray in his prime (he and Eddie Murphy are probably the two funniest actors of the '80s) and you get great writing (we'll get into that more in a movie farther down the list). The movie holds up and it's fun. Can't ask for much more.
44. Chinatown (1974): Another great last line, another twist ending. There aren't many movies that end better than this film noir classic from Roman Polanski. Okay, I understand that water could be big business in California, but... She's what? She's who? Is he...? Did he just...? "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." It's incredible that a movie could end so bizarrely, have the ending be shrugged off like that, and still be a classic. Says a lot about the script and the acting by Nicholson and Dunaway, both of whom were nominated for Oscars. It's similar to The Maltese Falcon in style, but it's a little deeper, a lot more modern, and a hell of a lot weirder.
43. The Contender (2000): It's the president's birthday today (assuming he was born on August 4th; we've never seen a birth certificate!!!) and you know I'm a big fan. It's possible that nothing endeared me more to Obama than when asked who his favorite movie president was, he responded with Jeff Bridges' Jackson Evans from The Contender. Jackson Evans, the politically astute, rebellious, sarcastic president who, in need of a new Vice-President, calls upon a little-known female senator, played by Joan Allen. The problem is that the senator may have a sex scandal in her past, opening up an examination of gender roles, principles, and politics. Gary Oldman is the leader of the opposition party in the Senate and Sam Elliott is the straightforward foul-mouthed Chief of Staff who delivers great line after great line. I love this movie. It not only deals with the kind of political dealings that I love, not only has a great speech at the end by Bridges, but it also has one of my very favorite quotes, from a movie or not: "Principles only mean something when you stick to them when its inconvenient."
42. Apollo 13 (1995): Ron Howard's thriller about the problems facing a moon mission. It's a good suspense film when you know how the story ends but you're still on the edge of your seat. I was at Johnson Space Center in Houston about six years ago and they showed us the room used for Mission Control in the movie. Not that they've fallen off, but Tom Hanks and Ed Harris were right at the top of their game in the mid-'90s and they showed it in this one.
41. The Sting (1973): Paul Newman and Robert Redford, two great movie stars, maybe the coolest duo until Clooney and Pitt hooked up, in the most celebrated of double-cross movies. This movie is so funny and intriguing and... perfect... that I don't even know what to say. If you've seen it, you know what I mean. If you haven't and you like good movies, you need to.
Onwards we move towards #1. If, before I compiled this list, you were to have asked me about most of my movies in the top 40, I'd have said they were in my top 10. Well, I've learned exactly how few ten movies really is. We roll into #s 40-21 tomorrow.