I'm sort of surprised that nobody has yet to hit 20 out of 20 on a given day. Almost definitely not going to happen today either, but it will happen tomorrow. I'm expecting some heat today because of how low I have certain movies ranked, so let's get to it.
40. Pleasantville (1998): I love this movie for how powerful its use of color is, for the great chemistry between its actors, for the not at all subtle social commentary. For how underrated Jeff Daniels is as a dramatic actor and how good its two young stars (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) are. It's a feel-good movie that has just enough drama, but doesn't fail to make you smile. Can't say enough about that in a movie.
39. Aladdin (1992): Disney began its comeback with The Little Mermaid in 1989, but I prefer this, the second of their modern fairy tale cartoons. As with any Disney movie, I feel like I don't have to sell this one too much. The music is very good and different from your usual Disney film because, as they've done with their modern films, they picked a different culture and gave the music an ethnic flair. Robin Williams may be a joke nowadays because he is so maniacal, but that was perfect for his Genie. One of the rare Disney movies that I own on DVD and will pop in on a weekend just for the heck of it.
38. Ocean's Eleven (2001): If Mission: Impossible made the list because it's an 85-90 on the rewatchability scale, then Pleasantville is a 90-95 and this movie is around a 98. Let's say we took the best-looking huge movie stars, threw them all in a movie, and gave them a killer script and an Academy Award-winning director. Is that something you might be interested in? This movie didn't have to redefine cool, it just had to live up to the high standards of Sinatra and company. It did not disappoint.
37. Schindler's List (1993): There is no movie on which I am more torn. It ranks in the AFI's top ten, but I have it lower than some cheesy comedies. It is the movie that transformed Spielberg's image from "director of blockbusters" to "great director". It deals beautifully with the most serious of subjects. On the other hand, it couldn't be less rewatchable (Life Is Beautiful just missed the list because of this factor). I actually only own it on DVD because it came in a double-pack with Munich and I figured I should own both. But I should watch it again, because here's the deal: Schindler's List was released in mid-December of 1993. In July of 1993, I went on a student trip to Europe and Israel that included a day spent at Auschwitz. It is truly a life-changing experience. No words can do justice to the feeling, the physical heaviness, of despair when you walk into the gas chamber and see the ovens. Any other sadness I've ever felt in life pales next to that feeling. So, five months after this experience, I see a movie about Auschwitz. And as we're leaving the theater, people around me are sobbing, unable to walk or even stand, the same feeling I got in the gas chambers. And I'm thinking: It's a movie. When Spielberg yelled, "Cut," all of the dead bodies got up and walked away to grab lunch. Maybe if I watch it again now, with sixteen years having passed, I'll appreciate it for more than just its artistic quality and its importance. Until that happens, I appreciate those things but I can only put it but so high on my list of favorite movies.
36. Office Space (1999): Okay, whew. Let's lighten it up a little bit, because this is our comedy break between two extraordinarily depressing movies. Mike Judge was famous for Beavis and Butthead, but this departure from animation was a major late-blooming hit. It cost about $10 million to make and it made about $10.8 million at the box office, but it became a monster on video and DVD. It's funny as hell, but the added bonus for me is the business theory behind it. Its portrayal of consultants is perfect and anyone who has had to supervise someone on anything has had a Bill Lumbergh moment and died a little inside. The best scene from the movie:
35. Paradise Now (2005, Palestine): It pains me to use that country name, but that's how it was listed. Have you ever watched a movie that was so powerful that, as it ended, you sat there in shock, staring at the screen and not moving, for a while into the credits? Paradise Now is the story of two childhood friends, living in Nablus in the West Bank, who are recruited to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. During their attempt to cut through the wire fence seperating the West Bank from the rest of Israel, they are separated and one of them is left alone in Israel and has to decide whether or not to carry out the planned attack. It is a devestating movie. It looks at the disparity in wealth and standard of living between the Palestinians and the Israelis and discusses the rules of engagement between the two sides. Is it okay for Israeli security to go after Palestinians in fear of potential terrorism? Is it okay for Palestinians to kill Israeli citizens in order to get their message across? These questions are argued as the young men ponder and prepare for their mission. Most importantly, it deals with the issues even-handedly and with the appropriate amount of outrage on both sides of the argument. There are actually a couple of humorous scenes, specifically one involving problems as the men videotape their last words to their families before they set out on their mission. It's not for everyone. It's the only movie on this list that I've recommended certain of my friends not see. It requires a very mature outlook on the situation.
34. Psycho (1960): Best trailer ever? Anyways, this was the movie that changed theater-going forever. It had been fashionable to show up late to movies, so Hitchcock took that and turned it on its head. He hired a big star, Janet Leigh, and set up a plot about her stealing money from her employer in Phoenix and then running away towards California. His promotions for the movie said that everyone must come on time and he insinuated that theater owners would lock the doors so that nobody could come in late. So Leigh (the headliner and biggest star in the movie, by far) drives and drives until, during a huge rain storm, she takes shelter for the night in a roadside motel. And then the sweet, mild-mannered motel proprietor with the nagging mother murders her in one of the most famous scenes in cinema history. Hitchcock is my favorite director ever because every image, every scene, every note of music, is designed to move you along towards the end goal of the movie. No wasted motion. There are so many greats (Rope, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious) that people may not have heard of, much less seen. Psycho, probably his most famous, is also considered to be his best. By most people.
33. The Princess Bride (1987): I happened to see Mandy Patinkin somewhere last year and he had the crowd recite his famous line with him, mostly because he knew that everyone just wanted to hear him say it. It's Rob Reiner's second entry on the list; you should check out his commentary on the DVD. Very good. My favorite part is how he forgot that Christopher Guest was even in the movie because it was such a non-Christopher Guest type of role.
32. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982): The first of two straight movies written by Cameron Crowe, Fast Times deals with the wackiness of an average high school in the early '80s. The screenplay is actually adapted from Crowe's book of the same name, written when Crowe posed as a high school student to observe a school year. I've looked all over for this book, but it's out of print and the cheapest copies from Amazon are around $95. The movie launched the careers of Sean Penn, Forrest Whitaker, Pheobe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Anthony Edwards, and Eric Stoltz. In looking through IMDB, I came across this bit of trivia, which I love: "For his masturbation scene, Judge Reinhold brought a large dildo to work with him, unbeknownst to the rest of the cast. Phoebe Cates' look of horror and disgust is very real."
31. Jerry Maguire (1996): The second of two straight movies written by Cameron Crowe. It is the guy chick flick, where we can root for Jerry and Dorothy, but also root for a 5'10" wide receiver. This is the movie most guaranteed to make me tear up, during the "You had me at hello" scene. The funny story about this one is that the first time I saw it was as a pre-edited cut while I was in college, with boom mikes hanging into some of the scenes. In the "Help you help me" scene in the locker room, the original cut had Cuba Gooding with full frontal nudity the entire time.
30. Swingers (1996): Can this movie's effect on pop culture be overstated? It added any number of new phrases to the popular lexicon. It even made swing dancing popular for a little bit. Jon Favreau's writing captures perfectly how a group of guys reacts to each other. Almost every time a group of guys gets together, say at a bachelor party, you have a guy who is driving himself crazy by being too sensitive, a guy who is too raucous, a guy who takes every slight way too seriously, a guy who is unhappy with his career and how people see him, and a guy who just doesn't care and says, "This place is dead anyway," when it's time to leave. Culture reflects this movie because this movie reflected reality so well. I sat around my apartment in college, playing NBA Live endlessly. Same deal with Vince Vaughn, but he was more interested in video game hockey:
29. Caddyshack (1980): As Kenny Loggins' infectious music runs through our heads, it's time for the tale of Bushwood Country Club and its wacky members and employees. I'll knock Danny's girlfriend for having the worst fake Irish accent ever, but you can't knock much else. I've written a lot today, and feel like I need to write a lot about the more obscure movies, so I'll just let this one talk for itself. It's one of the funniest movies of all time. It has that going for it. Which is nice.
28. Bulworth (1998): Written and directed by and starring Warren Beatty, this political satire deals with a senator, who after hiring a hitman to kill him so his family can collect life insurance, decides to throw caution to the wind and speak freely, particularly on the issue of race. Beatty is tremendous, as is Halle Berry as his love interest and Don Cheadle as an L.A. gangster. The point of the movie is that avoiding the topic of race does not mean people aren't racist, which is all too true. The sight of Warren Beatty wearing a ski cap and rapping is absurd, but he manages to make it poignant.
27. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001, Mexico): This, my top-ranked foreign film, is Alfonso Cuaron's examination of the conflicting forces of youth and death. Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal co-star as two teenage friends who come from very different backgrounds and decide to take a road trip to a hidden beach. They meet an older woman, who they convince to join them. Along the way, they both lust after her and she helps them to learn more about themselves and each other. Cuaron intersperses the trip with dry observations about the every day tragedy the group passes on the road. I have a short list of favorite directors and this movie was enough to put Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) on that list. The writing is brilliant, the camera work is brilliant, the last scene is as real a scene as you'll see in any movie. Obviously, I like every movie on this list (and many off of it) but this one holds a particular place in my heart. It is truly cinema as art.
26. American History X (1998): If you did a list of the most underrated movies ever (I'm not doing it), this would be near the top. In fact, lest you worry that the top quarter of my list has some of the obscure movies that the bottom three have had, I'd say that this is the most underrated film left. Ed Norton was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a neo-Nazi gang leader who goes to prison after brutally (*shiver*) murdering a black kid. In prison, he learns that his beliefs were wrong and, upon his release, the principal of his high school (Avery Brooks) asks him to intervene with his younger brother (Edward Furlong) who is going down the same hateful path. Norton is clearly one of the best actors of his generation and this is one of his two defining roles, the other being in Primal Fear. The ending was a bit controversial because the studio made the director change his original one, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work.
25. Back To The Future (1985): Eh, no explanation needed here, except to point out this funny Family Guy clip:
24. The Godfather: Part II (1974): I'm going to assume that people will think that this movie and the next one are very low. I've seen this one fewer times than the first in its series, so I'm less into it. It's very well acted and shot and it has iconic scenes, like DeNiro and the party in Cuba, and Fredo's death. It gets up this high on pure quality.
23. The Shawshank Redemption (1994): But this one may come as a bigger surprise. I'm a big Stephen King fan and I've read everything he's ever written. Generally, adaptations of his books -- or short stories, in this case -- do not end up well. There are a few exceptions, including this film by Frank Darabont. Which isn't fair, because this isn't just a rare good adaptation, it's a very, very good movie. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are fantastic together and the screenplay does real justice to King's writing. A lot of people would have this in their top ten. #23 isn't too shabby, especially as you see what I have above it.
22. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982): I hadn't seen this for a long time, but stumbled across it on HBO a few months ago. I think people sleep on what a great movie this is. I believe it's the first movie that I saw more than once while it was in theaters, which means, since I was six when it came out, that my parents loved it, too. This was before Steven Spielberg made "serious" movies, when he put his prodigious skills towards making movies that were huge in scope and visually stunning. In addition to that, E.T. required that Spielberg get the most out of child actors, who carried the movie with a blend of innocence and determination. It's much more epic than I remembered.
21. The Lion King (1994): Speaking of epic, we come to Disney's tale of betrayal and redemption. It's Hamlet with a happy ending, done by lions, a meerkat, and a farting warthog. Granted, "Hakuna Matata" became as ubiquitous and annoying as "Don't worry, be happy," but the music is damn catchy (I hummed "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" to myself for twenty minutes after writing this) and the story-telling is top notch. It has the humor and the darkness of most Disney films, but it goes about presenting them at a higher level. Maybe Beauty and the Beast was the one nominated for Best Picture, but this is the modern Disney cartoon that I enjoy watching the most. And, since this is the end of the post, let's ask Elton John and company to help us out with a huge, swelling, epic ending to present this blog post that I just gave birth to:
Noticed which films are missing so far? Tomorrow: Action, Comedy, Drama. The biggest directors and movie stars in the world combine to bring you the top 20. But what will be #1? It might surprise you.