** For now, this page is still under construction. As I add more movies to the list via Ten Things Tuesday posts, I’ll include them here. **
It was so very much fun to do the “100 Songs” page that I’ve decided to tackle 100 Movies, too.
As I disclosed in the song list, these are movies that I love for the reasons that *I* love them; I don’t have any snobby criteria for my films – I like them for the reasons I like them, and that’s it. I’ll try to be articulate about what those reasons are, of course, and everyone is free to agree or disagree as the mood strikes them. You may think my reasons are good enough for you, you may not, but I do ask that you concede that my reasons are good enough for me. Also, the order in which these are placed is entirely meaningless – I don’t love #1 any more than I love, say, #64. Okay?
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s go to the movies!
1. The Hunt for Red October. Even though I JUST got finished saying that the order the movies are listed is irrelevant, I still feel compelled to put this one on top. The Hunt for Red October is a film that I can watch over and over – and I do! – and never grow tired of it. I believe it is true that I can recite damned near the whole film from memory, but that doesn’t take away, one bit, from how much I adore this story and the actors who play in it.
I think that Baldwin’s Ryan is just right (though I love Harrison Ford, I don’t think he was right for Ryan as Clancy wrote him), James Earl Jones as Greer is just delightful (“JEEEZUS, Jack! Ya look like hell!“) and I don’t think there’s anyone else on the planet I would have chosen as Ramius over Sean Connery. Add to that Scott Glenn as the incredulous American sub captain, Courtney B. Vance on the sonar and one of the screen writers, Larry Furguson, who wrote himself a part as the hysterical Chief of the Boat, and you’ve got yourself the perfect outing. The plot is tight, the lines are delivered perfectly, and the payoff is satisfying. This was actually the first DVD I bought when we got our first player, and it will remain the corner stone of our collection.
2. Men in Black. I love this film for a lot of reasons. Both Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones rank right up there as my favorite actors on the planet (no pun intended), and they work so incredibly well together in this piece. There’s funny ALL OVER the place (“I’m not kidding, fellas, you’re lucky to be alive after a blast like that,” “while you’re at it, get a decorator in here quick because, DAMN!” and “you insensitive PRICK! Do you have any idea how much that STINGS?!” are some of my favorites), and never once does the plot stall. It’s a movie we can all watch together as a family, it’s never too yucky or too scary, and the special effects are just campy enough to add to the overall feeling of the movie. In short, I love it. (though, I ought to disclose here that we only have the first film; we went to see MIB II, but didn’t bother to buy it on DVD. It was okay, and there were some funny bits (the post office scenes were great), but nothing that made us feel like it was worth dropping the $20 to own it.)
3. Mississippi Burning. God/dess, but I love this movie! It’s difficult to watch. It’s sad and scary and infuriating, but it’s supposed to be those things – and it does those things exceedingly well. The film is based on the FBI investigation into the disappearance (and murder) of three young men, two white and one black, who were participating in the voter registration drives in the South in 1964. Gene Hackman’s performance in this film is one that gives me goosebumps, regardless of how many times I watch it. The filmmakers took some serious liberties with the facts of the case (and with the behavior of the primary players in it), but I don’t care one bit about that; it’s a movie, not a documentary. The fact is that I use this film a lot in my literature classes because Hackman’s character is such a GORGEOUS study – he’s complicated… or is he? Whose side is he really on? Does he even know? Really – if you haven’t seen this movie – or if you haven’t seen it in a while – go and rent it. You won’t be sorry.
4. So I Married an Axe Murderer. I didn’t think I’d like this film – I couldn’t quite reconcile Mike Meyers as a romantic lead – so I was surprised when it turned out to be one of my all-time favorites. I STILL laugh out loud at some of the scenes, especially the ones where Meyers is playing his own (cranky, cantankerous) father with the hysterical Scots accent (“Heid! PANTS! NOW!“). It’s camp at it’s best – a haggis plays a pretty central role in the formation of a love story, the police captain spends his days trying to find the right balance between caring and tough, and really? Steven Wright as an airplane pilot? – but I love it.
5. Braveheart. Yes, I know – it is WILDLY historically inaccurate and Mel Gibson has proven himself to be kind of an asshole in real life, but neither of those things takes away from the fact that I really do like this movie a lot. I’m drawn to almost anything Scottish in the first place, and this story of a man who does what’s right because it’s right – and whose friends stand right there next to him – inspires me. I sometimes wonder, within the context of the story as it’s told here, whether Wallace would have been a revolutionary if Murron hadn’t been killed, and I love that the question hangs over the entire film. I love the way rumors fly and stories get created. I love the humility of the character. I love the costumes. I LOVE Stephen (“The Almighty says, “Don’t change the subject, just answer the fookin’ question!“). It’s a really beautiful movie to look at, and the breathtaking romance – the belief that those we love stay with us even when they’ve gone – is what keeps me coming back to this movie.
6. Shooter. A lot of people are surprised to learn this about me, but I’m a sucker for a good, fast, loud action flick. While I’m generally uncomfortable with guns in real life, I LOVE them in the movies. Give me a man with a big gun and a bad attitude and I’m a happy girl (so much the better if that man is cool and smooth and quiet – I love me a “speak softly and carry a big stick” kind of guy). I’ve got a bit of a crush on the Wahlburg brothers (either of ’em; makes no difference to me) because they are those kinds of guys. In this movie, Mark Wahlburg plays a disaffected veteran. He was set up for a foreign mission and after his discharge from the military, he went off to live a quiet existence in the mountains with his dog. One afternoon, someone comes to him with a consulting gig, and he ends up in a world of trouble. The film is about him working his way through that trouble. He’s observant. He listens. He thinks ahead. He can think through a problem and anticipate the snags, and then do what he’s got to do to un-snag them. There are car chases, explosions and more than a little blood, and I love every second of it.
7. Ever After. This is a retelling of the Cinderella story, and it’s gorgeous for a lot of different reasons. First of all, both Drew Barrymore and Angelica Houston are PERFECT in their roles. Barrymore is a lovely combination of headstrong and pragmatic (and romantic, let’s not forget that). Houston’s portrayal of the wicked stepmother is so nuanced that we almost feel sorry for her. There’s humor, there’s romance, there’s a lesson in there about telling the truth and about how we should treat others, and the costuming and scenery are just gorgeous. It’s another film we can (and do) watch with the girls, which only adds to its appeal.
8. Amistad. Bowyer gave me this DVD for Christmas a while back, and I’ve watched it a bunch of times since then. I use this film in my literature classes and, sometimes, I’ll just pop it in to watch “just because.” It tells the story of the fate of the Africans who were captured and transported (illegally, even at the time) aboard a ship headed to sell them into slavery. They staged an uprising and attempted to sail themselves back to Africa when the ship was intercepted and, though a series of events, they were all brought to the U.S. where the government attempted to sort the whole mess out. The cast is fantastic – Djimon Hounsou as the Sierra Leoneian who insists on his regaining his freedom; Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams, who beautifully argues the case in front of the Supreme Court; Morgan Freeman as a free black abolitionist who seems both entirely sure of himself and utterly and completely homeless in his own country; and Matthew McConaughey as the property lawyer who really changes as a result of the experiences he has over the course of the film. Again, I have some doubts about the historical accuracy of the film (I’ve not yet done sufficient research about the case to know where liberties were taken with the story), but that doesn’t detract from either the scope or the message.
9. 50 First Dates. Mr. Chili saw part of this film on a trans-continental flight a few years ago, and he called me from the trip to tell me that we HAD to see it in its entirety when he got home. The idea of Adam Sandler as a romantic lead was just about as ridiculous to me as Mike Meyers as a romantic lead (and don’t get me going about John Candy as a romantic lead, but that worked, too!), but this movie works. Sandler is really a great actor, and his combination of puppy-dog eyes and sweetness against his acid sense of humor and skill with the one-liners makes this a movie I can watch again and again. I’ve liked pretty much every film Sandler and Barrymore have worked together for, and this one is no exception.
10. Dances With Wolves. Here’s another one of my all-time favorites, so much so that I got the extended director’s edition. If you’ve been under a rock for the past decade or so, this movie is about a Civil War-era soldier who volunteers to be posted in the far west – he wants to see the frontier “before it’s gone.” The bonds that he forms with his native neighbors is so complete and so convincing that I never leave this film without being ashamed to be a white person. Our nation’s history is terribly complex (and even more bloody), and this film does a really great job of peeling away a little of the shiny veneer that we got in history classes. The scenery is breathtaking, and the nuanced performances of all of the characters – but especially those of Graham Green and Rodney Grant – make this a movie that I couldn’t NOT have in my collection. Very soon, I’ll be sitting down with my daughters to watch and discuss this movie – I think it’s important that EVERYONE’S stories get told, and this one’s a doozy
11. Apollo 13. Here’s another movie that I can – and do – watch over and over. From what I’ve heard, it’s pretty historically accurate, the story is tense and tight, and the actors do a really fantastic job with their parts. I’m particularly in love with Ed Harris as Gene Kranz; he’s focused, he’s driven, he’s pragmatic and practical and damned and determined that those men in that capsule are NOT going to die on his watch. Mr. Chili and I toss quotes from this one around quite often; the most useful ones are “you are one steely-eyed missile man” and “what’ve we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”
There’s also the scene where Marilyn takes the girls to go and see Jim’s mother, who’s a little altered and in a nursing home, to try to tell her what’s happened. The younger girl starts to cry, and Blanche says “are you scared?” The girl nods, and grandma replies “well, don’t you worry. If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it.” It makes me cry EVERY. TIME (in fact, I’m welling up now, just writing it).
12. Beetlejuice. I’m not crazy about Tim Burton movies – there’s something just a little too weird about his perspectives for me – but this one works. Michael Keaton has a blast with his role as the troublemaking poltergeist, and I get a kick out of Gina Davis’s character – it’s the eye-rolling she does, I think, that makes me love her. There is some genuinely funny stuff in there – “IF I knew then WHAT I know now, I wouldn’t have had my little accident!” and the scene where they’re all dancing around the dinner table cracks me up -and I dig the funky soundtrack; how can you not love Harry Bellefonte? This is another movie we can watch with the kids, though they still miss most of the humor.
13. The Sixth Sense. I ADORE this movie. I love the subtlety of it. I love the nuances of the characters and the clues and the fact that, when I saw it for the first time, I didn’t catch on to the punch line until the hospital room scene. In fact, it makes me sad that I can never see this movie again for the first time, it thrilled me that much.
The characters were all just right; Bruce Willis was a fantastic combination of sad and lost and compassionate, Haley Joel Osment played his part perfectly – we could see the fear in his eyes and watch him literally bloom as he comes to figure out what his gift is really about; Toni Collette is perfect as the mom who desperately wants to understand the torment her son is suffering, but can’t quite bring herself to believe what she knows is really happening. I love the clues that get dropped very quietly here and there, and I love the perspective that the film takes on its subject matter. It resonates with me; it feels true.
I truly believe that this is M. Night Shymalan’s masterpiece; I’ve been disappointed with everything that he’s done since – he hit the jackpot on his first outing and I wonder if he’ll ever be able to tell such a good story so well as this one ever again.
14. Sommersby. This is a shameless chick flick, one of the few I have in my collection (oh, I should mention that, unless I say otherwise, I own all the movies I write about – I’ll let you know when an entry isn’t part of our DVD library). It stars Richard Gere and Jody Foster; Gere is a returning Civil War soldier with a secret, and Foster is the wife he “comes home” to. It really is a gushy-romantic love story with very few redeeming qualities – the plot is improbable, the supporting actors are a bit on the hammy side, the ending is formulaic – but I love it anyway. It’s about believing in something that you know isn’t true because you desperately WANT it to be true: not exactly a greater lesson, but I don’t care. Besides, Richard Gere is nice to look at…
15. I, Robot. I’ve never read the Asimov story, but I do enjoy this film. The special effects are fun, the personality of the main robot character, Sonny, is convincing, and I like that Will Smith plays his role as Del Spooner in a quiet, conflicted way. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Will Smith out loud – but this character wasn’t like that, and Smith captures that resignation and prejudice and self-loathing perfectly. The larger implication of the film is an important statement about freedom and prejudice and cooperation (again, I didn’t read the story, so I can’t say for sure if it’s echoed there), and I really like the way the ending of the movie put those ideas together without jamming them down the audience’s throat.
16. The Last Samurai. Oh, God/dess, but this is an amazing film. Very similar in feel to Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai is the story of an outsider who comes to truly accept, and be accepted by, a culture that is, initially, completely foreign to him. Unlike John Dunbar, Nathan Algren doesn’t go looking for entree into this culture – he’s captured as a prisoner of war – but he eventually falls in love with the people and their values and their way of life.
Ken Wantanbe is GORGEOUS to watch; his character understands that his way of life is coming to an end, and he’s trying to reconcile that knowledge with the fact that he knows no other way to live. He feels concern for his people and how their lives will change once he’s gone, and he seeks Algren’s advice on how to best prepare his followers for the changes he knows are inevitable. The scenery is beautiful, I love that most of the film is in Japanese, and the payoff at the end of the movie is intensely satisfying. There is nothing about this film that I don’t love.
17. Running Scared. Almost no one has heard of this movie (at least, not many people that I know) but it’s one of my comedy/action staples. It’s a cops-and-bad-guys movie that stars Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines (I miss him) as the cops and Jimmy Smits as the bad guy (and mmmmm, he makes SUCH a good bad guy!). The repartee between Crystal and Hines is spot-on perfect, there are some FUNNY lines (“deceleration trauma? Cement poisoning?” “OH, NO… the answer was Deuteronomy!” and “It’s not the volts that get ya, it’s the amps!“) and though the film is more laughs than not, there are still some pretty serious straight lines in there that keep reminding us that these cops are doing dangerous and vital work.
18. The Fugitive. This film is a retelling of an older story about a man wrongly accused of his wife’s murder. Harrison Ford is fantastic in this movie as Richard Kimball, a man trying desperately to clear his name while still mourning the loss of the woman he genuinely loved.
Tommy Lee Jones is amazing as the federal marshall tasked with finding the escaped Kimball. The plot twists are exciting, the characters are all believable, and the ending is satisfying. Not to mention the fact that Tommy Lee Jones is one funny mofo in this film; his skill with the one-liners is impressive (“think me up a cup of coffee and a chocolate doughnut with some of those little sprinkles on top, just as long as you’re thinking.” and “don’t let them give you any shit about your pony tail.”), his attitude is just right, and he’s willing to adjust his thinking if he’s presented with compelling evidence to do so. I love his character in this film.
19. Finding Nemo. This will NOT be the only Disney film on this list, so be prepared. I LOVE Pixar films (and there are a few straight Disney gigs that I’m awfully fond of, too), but this one is, I think, my favorite. The visuals are absolutely stunning – seriously; these guys NAILED water and the way things move in water. The characters are believable and funny and flawed. The plot moves along at a perfect pace for both small people and the big people who love them. There are some genuinely thrilling scenes and some laugh-out-loud funny parts. I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing about this movie that I don’t like, and I’ll gladly sit and watch this with my daughters (or on my own, even). I love revisiting Dory and Nigel and Crush. I love Crush. Observe:
20. The Big Lebowski (*it’s actually kind of funny how I’m thinking of movies to add. Running Scared made me think of The Fugitive – both are set in Chicago and the El plays heavily in both stories – and Finding Nemo made me think of The Big Lebowski – “Dude” plays heavily in both of these stories…). This movie is utterly ridiculous, and I love it. It tells the story of mistaken identity, friendship, deception, life and death, and a stoner-slacker who just wants his rug back.
Jeff Bridges is hysterical as Lebowski (better known as The Dude) who really just wants to hang with his buddies at the bowling alley and have a good time. Steve Buschemi and John Goodman play those buddies with a kind of neurotic craziness that seems the perfect backdrop to The Dude’s perpetual mellow buzz. There are kidnappings and ransoms, slimy, over-sexed bowlers and Jewish Shabbos, cremation ashes in the wind and the use of a toilet bowl as an interrogation tool. It’s got Sam Elliot as a narrator; I adore that man for reasons I can’t really put adequate words around, but suffice to say that his voice works for me. This movie is a riot from beginning to end… if you’re in to that sort of thing
21. My Cousin Vinny. I find myself stopping on this movie whenever I find it during a channel surf. The story is a comedy about a case of mistaken identity, robbery and murder in the back woods of the deep south. Two boys get themselves in trouble for a robbery they didn’t commit, and one of them calls his cousin Vinny, played by Joe Pesci, to serve as their attorney. The cast is hysterical; Marissa Tomei is a screaming riot in her crazy outfits and her thick New York accent (“Famous for your mud? How’s your Chinese food?“), and I ADORE Pesci’s Vinny. He’s a wise-ass, but he’s a smart wise ass (“Mocking you? No. I am not mocking you“). Finally, I always had a soft spot for Fred Gwynne, and I love his turn as the incredulous judge in this film; some of the faces he makes as he watches Vinny try the case in his courtroom send me right over the edge. I mean, really; just LOOK at him!
22. Mulan. This is another Disney film, and is probably my favorite straight-animation piece from them. It tells the story of a young woman who masquerades as a man and takes her old and crippled father’s place when he’s called into military service for feudal China. She’s aided in this deception by her horse, a cricket, and a little wise-assed dragon-spirit, voiced by Eddie Murphy. Murphy is a RIOT in this film, and I can watch it over and over and STILL laugh at some of his lines (“don’t make me have to singe nobody to prove no point!” “LOOK! It’s PORRIDGE! And it’s HAPPY to see you!” “How could you MISS?! He was three feet in front of you!”). There’s action, there’s romance, there’s reconciliation, there’s Harvey Firestein as a cranky recruit – it’s a great film, and I’m never sorry when the girls choose this one on a rainy afternoon.
23. Tombstone. This is, I think, the best of the Wyatt Earp films. It stars Kurt Russell as Wyatt, supported by Bill Paxton and Sam Elliot as his brothers. Val Kilmer, in what may well be his masterpiece performance, is Doc Holliday. The scenery is convincing, the characters feel true, and the action is compelling. I’m not much of a fan of westerns, but I like this film quite a lot. For all its dust and swinging saloon doors, it’s got a great story, and the friendship between Earp and Holliday gets me every time.
24. The Terminator. We watched this movie a few months ago; we’d stopped on it while channel-surfing, watched it on t.v. until the first commercial break, then popped in the DVD. It’s TOTALLY dated – Linda Hamilton’s hair couldn’t BE more 1980’s and the special effects are almost laughable compared to what even low-budget films can accomplish today – but it’s become such a staple of the classic action flick that I don’t really care about those things. I think just about everyone in America over the age of 35 can quote a bunch of lines from this film, and in bad, Austrian-accented English, too (“Give me your address there” and, of course, “I’ll be back“) and it serves perfectly as the launching-off point for the sequels that would follow (of the two that came after, I much preferred the second, but we’ll get into that later). This film is the perfect brain-break, if you can stand flippy hair and bad sound effects.
25. The Addams Family. I have a confession to make. I actively miss quite a few actors who have passed, and Raul Julia is one of them. I bought this film when I found it in a sale bin at the video store just BECAUSE it starred Julia, and I’m very glad I dropped the 12 bucks it took to make it mine. I grew up on a steady diet of The Munsters, so this sort of dysfunctional family is perfectly rational to me; a mother who tends to dead roses, a grandmother who starts her dinner planning with a machete, children who play William Tell with real arrows – it all works. Angelica Houston and Raul Julia are perfect in their roles as the adoring couple who anchors this weird-o family; Christina Ricci is a screaming riot as Wednesday (“are those cookies made with real Girl Scouts?”), and the story is just crazy enough to be plausible. Plus, they dance the Mamushka! HOW can that be BAD?!
26. Schindler’s List. I have another confession to make; this isn’t a movie that I watch all that often. In fact, I think it’s true that I’ve only seen it all the way through twice. It’s a heart-wrenchingly difficult film to watch, but I think it’s a vitaly IMPORTANT film to watch, at LEAST once. I use parts of it often in my classroom – the scene where Schindler goes to rescue his women and children workers who’ve been wrongly diverted to the death camp, and tells the officials a bullshit story about needing the tiny hands to polish the inside of shell casings is a truly gorgeous scene the way Liam Neeson plays it; when it’s all over and the people are being herded back on the train, the look on his face is almost indescribable. The scene towards the end, where he comes to the realization that he could have sold off more of his possessions to bribe officials and rescue more people – that his things equated to human lives – is just heartbreaking. These are the scenes I ask my students to respond to in their writing, and these exercises are always fruitful. I can’t bring myself to watch the film in its entirety too often, but it was important for me to own this movie. When the girls are a bit older, this will be a family viewing and discussion over a long weekend. It’ll be a wicked downer but, like I said of Dances with Wolves, EVERYONE’S story should be heard.
27. Uncle Buck. John Candy is another actor whom I actively miss. I didn’t go in for ALL of his films (Canadian Bacon?! Are you KIDDING me?!), but he hit this one out of the park. It’s the story of a desperate sister who calls on her bum brother-in-law to come and stay with his nephew and two nieces for a few days, and about the adventures this uncle – and the kids – have as they try to negotiate around each other. This was one of Macaulay Caulkin’s earliest roles, and he’s adorable in it, as is Gaby Hoffman, who plays his little sister Maizy. Buck is rude, crude, and I love the way he deals with the petulant teenage girl. He’s really not babysitter material… or is he? 28. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I’m probably going to put all of the Harry Potter movies in here – they are all fantastic in their own way – but I’m putting this one first because it’s my favorite (yeah, yeah; I know what I said. Shut it.) I’m especially fond of the relationship Harry has with Professor Lupin, I love the build-up to the final scenes, and the idea of a time-turner thrills me. It took me a little while to get used to Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, but I think he does a fine job in the role, and scenes with Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid are, as always, delightful; even more so with the addition of an actual magical creature in Buckbeak.
29. The Lord of the Rings; Return of the King. Falcon’s probably going to give me crap for having LoTR appear so late in the list, but I’m going to refer his ass back to my original disclosure. I ADORE this film; it’s my favorite of the three – all of which I am probably a bit too fond of. You never have to ask me twice if I want to watch any of them. It’s unusual that the last film of a series would be my favorite, but this one is. The action in it is compelling – all the tension that built up over the first two films comes to a very satisfying conclusion on ALL fronts; nothing is left hanging. The scenery is beautiful and convincing. The dialog is sparse and perfectly suited for the point the film makes. There are some gorgeous scenes where characters come to some very serious realizations – Arwen and Elrond, Faramir, and Pippin in particular – and the coronation scene at the end ALWAYS makes me cry.
30. The Matrix. Here’s a case where the first movie in a trilogy is by far my favorite. There’s very little about this film that I don’t love – the mind-bending premise, the snappy dialog, the very cool special effects. I can toss quotes from this movie out all day long (“No, lieutenant; your men are already dead.” “That’s some major boring SHIT!” “You think that’s AIR you’re breathing?” “Okay. Free my mind. Free my mind.” “Does anyone really know what Tasty Wheat tasted like? Maybe that’s why everything tastes like chicken!” “What’s REALLY gonna bake your noodle later is, would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything.” ALL DAY is what I’m sayin’.) I had such high hopes for the rest of the film series- there were such rich spiritual and existential depths to be plumbed with this concept – but I found myself disappointed with each subsequent outing (and, no, Wayfarer, I still don’t get what the Merovingian was saying in Reloaded – they TOTALLY lost me there. If anyone cares to explain it to me, I’m all ears….)
31. Akeelah and the Bee. I’m choosing this for two reasons; first, it’s a great film. We took the girls to see it at Local U. when it was out in the theatres (which reminds me; Local U. has a movie theatre that we really ought to make better use of…). It’s the story of a very smart little girl who wants to enter a spelling bee, but who doesn’t have a whole lot of means or support at home.
She finds a teacher (Laurence Fishburne, who is the second reason I chose this film!) who is, in typical movie teacher fashion, tough but kind-hearted. Is it a little formulaic? Sure. Does that matter a bit in the end? Nope. (A little extra tidbit about this film; when we saw it in the theatre, Beanie was literally on the edge of her seat at the end. We found out that there were two reasons for this – the first was that she told us she was “really, really interested in how it was going to end!” The second reason, it turned out, is that she had to pee, but couldn’t bring herself to leave the theatre because she “didn’t want to miss anything.” How freaking cute is that?!)
32. Green Card. It’s a chick flick – there are no two ways around it – but it’s good enough that I sprung for the DVD when I found it in the sale bin. It tells the story of two people – one who needs a green card to stay in the country (Gerard Depardieu) and one who wants an apartment that the landlords only want to rent to a “married couple” (Andie MacDowell). Through a mutual connection, these people meet and marry at the town hall (all in the same day, as a matter of fact). That should be that, but the INS gets involved and the pair are forced to get together and learn things about each other so they can convince the INS folks that they didn’t marry to cheat the government. Depardieu is an extremely unlikely romantic lead, and Andie MacDowell often comes off as shrill and unlovable – until the end, when they realize that there might really be something to this “relationship” after all. It’s a lovely story – genuinely funny in places and achingly sweet in others. For as little as I like the genre, this is a chick flick that works for me.
33. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I went in to this movie with great reservations. First, I wasn’t sure that the story could be turned into a convincing movie by anyone other than Peter Jackson – the novel is so dense and involved that I thought that anyone but the director of the Lord of the Rings films would mangle it beyond recognition. Second, I had been spoiled rotten by some great special effects in other movies (like the Lord of the Rings), and I didn’t want to sit through two hours of really unconvincing talking animals.
I needn’t have worried; this film is gorgeous. The story was handled well, though I have to admit that it’s been a long time since I’ve re-read the story, so I didn’t really stress about any changes or omissions that were made. The special effects are singularly stunning, and I LOVE Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan. This is entirely satisfying, whether or not you have children to watch with you.
34. Malcolm X. I don’t need much convincing that Denzel Washington is an extraordinary actor, but if I did, this movie would do it for me. Holy crap – have you SEEN this film?! Have you seen any footage of the actual Malcolm X? It’s as if Washington is channeling the man, I swear to Goddess. Here, look for yourself; here’s Malcolm;
and here’s Washington:
As a student of this era (and a few of Malcolm X’s speeches, which I’ve taught in several of my classes), I have to say that this movie worked on a number of levels for me. As far as the history goes, I think it’s pretty darned accurate, at least to Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X, but even if it weren’t, it would likely be enough to spark some interest in people and maybe get them to do a little investigation of their own.
I wonder what the world would have been like had Brother Malcolm – and Brother Martin – had lived…
35. The Rainmaker. I have quite a few of the Grisham lawyer-drama novel remakes, but this one is one of my favorites.
It stars Matt Damon and Danny DeVito as a brand new lawyer and his shady associate who take on a huge insurance firm on behalf of a boy who’s dying (and eventually dies) of cancer. The story is effectively told, DeVito’s character is a combination of crusty low-life and compassionate softy, and Matt Damon pulls off the “I may be a new lawyer, but I’m not a stupid lawyer” bit as well as anyone.
36. Contact. I watched this film long before I read the book, and I remember thinking, the first time I saw it, that I bet the book was amazing. I was right and, though the book is very different from the film that was inspired by it, reading the book didn’t make me love the movie any less (did that make any sense at all?!)
One of the things I appreciated about this film was the idea that religion and science can coexist, if people are willing to pry open their minds just a little bit. I also really loved the spiritual angle that the “aliens” take when contacting this planet. The film made me think, but didn’t leave me feeling like a moron because I couldn’t figure it out.
37. The Green Mile. Another movie based on a book; I saw this film before I read the novel, and I found that, uncharacteristically, I loved them both equally. If you see no other Stephen King film, see this one; I really think it’s a masterpiece of story telling. The cast is top-notch – Tom Hanks, David Morse, James Cromwell, Michael Clark Duncan, and Michael Jeter all come together to populate a death row prison block. The story is a nuanced and intriguing and extremely well-told. The payoff of this film is exquisite, and it’s played perfectly. I adore the characters, I love the lesson of the film, and I never have to be asked twice to pop this one in the DVD player.
38. Young Frankenstein. Really? Do I need to explain this one? There’s not a thing about this film that doesn’t thrill me.
39. Atlantis: The Lost Empire. This is a straight-animation piece by Disney and it’s my favorite right behind Mulan.
This story is set in the early 20th century and involves, obviously, the search for the lost city of Atlantis. Michael J. Fox voices the main character, a bony little dorky linguist who goes off with a group of mismatched explorers as they make their way into the unknown.
The main reason I love this film is the dialogue; there are some FUNNY lines in there. Don Novello, for example, voices Vinny, the explosives expert on the crew. Yeah, you read that right – Father Guido Sarducci is in a kids’ movie. One night, the group is laying around telling their backstories, and Vinny tells the group that his parents owned a flower shop and – oh, let him tell you – go to about 5:39 and watch from there…
“BOOM! No more Chinese laundry. Blew me right through the front window.” I love it!
My second favorite line is spoken by the doctor immediately after that – “Audry, don’t tell him. You shouldn’t ‘a told me, but ya did, and now I’m tellin’ you, YOU don’t wanna know!” The film is littered with funny little throwaway lines like that one, and I am never disappointed if the girls choose this film for a rainy Saturday afternoon.
40. Hamlet. I’ve already had this conversation with LOTS of people (Hi, Kizz!), so I’m not going to go into another apology for loving this version of the play. Yes, it stars Mel Gibson, but I bought this before he outed himself as an antisemitic asshole. Yes, some of the scenes are put out of order and yes, a lot of the dialogue is cut. All that being said, though, I still think it’s a great take on my favorite Shakespeare piece. The setting works – the entire play is set in a dreary, rainy, cavernous stone castle; it just feels like the right place for this story to happen. The costuming is fun to look at. The actors, regardless of whether or not they were too young or too old to play their respective characters, really make the play work for me. When I show Hamlet to my literature classes, this is the version I choose first (though I have Branagh’s Hamlet, and I’m sure it’ll make the 100 list, too). Sure, Branagh’s version is truer to the text of the play, but I think that this one is easier for students to understand and serves as a great launching-off point for in-class discussions. Besides, when Gertrude hauls off and smacks Hamlet in the closet scene? That alone is worth the price of the DVD.
41. Leon or The Professional. This film was my first exposure to Jean Reno, and I’ve loved him ever since. Reno plays the title character Leon, a loner assassin with a quite manner and a wide but well-protected soft streak. Through a series of coincidences, he ends up with the charge of Mathilde, the daughter of the people who were murdered in their apartment next door to Leon. Over the course of the film, Leon unsuccessfully resists a growing attachment to Mathilde and, in the end, both of them learn what it means to really care about someone else. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this movie – it may be time to pop it back into the DVD player.
42. Jerry Maguire. I’m not sure if this classifies as a chick flick – there’s a lot of football in the plot – but it certainly skirts the edges of girl-friendly entertainment. Tom Cruise plays Jerry, a sports agent who grows a conscience and tries to strike out on his own with a new ethical and personal way of practicing his profession. He ends up with one client in Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Rod Tidwell, a loudmouthed, egotistical football player who, because of his attitude, may well be at the end of his career.
I love this film for a lot of reasons; it’s funny, it’s touching and, well, it’s loaded with football. The scenes with Bonnie Hunt and Jonathan Lipnicki as Jerry’s sister-in-law and stepson are riotous, and the obvious affection between Tidwell and his wife, played by the incomparable Regina King, is really convincing. This film strikes a good balance between emotional and fun, and I’ve never once regretted buying it for my collection.
43. Brokeback Mountain. I have to admit here that I’m far more familiar with Proulx’s short story than I am with the film. I went to see the movie when it came to the theatres and I bought it when it was made available on DVD, but I believe that it’s true that I’ve never put the disc in my player. I do, however, teach the story to my literature classes, and have for several years. I’m not sure that there’s anyone on the planet who’s not familiar with the premise of the tale; two young men, self described “rough” cowboy types, fall in love over the course of a summer herding sheep on a mountain. What follows is a lifetime of aching longing and confusion that neither of them is ever capable of adequately addressing.
As I recall, the film was pretty faithful to the story. There were a few changes in the scenes and one or two extra bits put into the film so we get a better idea of what the men’s lives were like apart from one another, but the themes of the short story were beautifully carried through in the film. It’s a wrencher, for sure, but there’s a lot of value in it.
44. Beverly Hills Cop. Yes, I’m going to admit it; I love this film. Eddie Murphy, back when he was still funny, was one of my favorites. His laugh, his facial expressions, and his rapid-fire humor all worked for me, and all of these things are present in this film. I think one of the things I loved about Axel Foley was that he could turn on a dime; one second he was a sarcastic joker and the next he was dead-serious and all business. Plus, how can you resist the music?
45. What Dreams May Come. I saw this film before I read the book and I have to admit that I actually prefer the film. The story is about a man – Chris Nielson – who dies and crosses over into a fantastic world of color and motion and wonder. There, he’s met by kind and helpful people who aren’t who they seem to be. The plot centers around Chris’s efforts to find his wife, Annie, who’s committed suicide and is condemned to a hell where everything is grey and ominous and the faucets don’t work.
What I really love about this film is what it hypothesizes about what happens next without being preachy about it. Chris has to go and convince Annie that she’s only where she is because it’s where she believes she belongs. The movie posits that we get to choose our experiences in the afterlife (and, by extension, in this life, too) and that love wins out over all of it. It’s really a beautiful film; it brings me hope.
46. Forrest Gump. I adore this film. First, did anyone else recognize the elements of epic storytelling in it? It starts in media res, it has journeying away from and back to a home, there’s love and temptation and, if one is looking carefully enough, divine intervention. It’s broad in its sweep, but simple in its message.
There’s so much to love about this movie. Hanks offers a masterpiece performance as a man who is present through an entire era of his country’s growth but is never quite sure of his place in it. He makes and loses friends, he keeps promises, and he loves with a matter-of-fact devotion that gets to me every time.
A lot of people poo-pooed this film. I am not one of them. It’s childlike simplicity makes it all the more appealing; it tells us what’s important without telling us what’s important.
47. A Dry White Season. Here’s another film-from-novel effort that really, really works. The novel, written by Andre Brink in 1979, tells the story of a white school teacher in South Africa who insists on investigating the disappearance and “suicide” of his black friend. What follows is a series of terrifying events that puts the main character, his friends and his family at great personal risk, and eventually ends in tragedy for everyone involved. The cast of the film is top-notch; Donald Sutherland and Susan Sarandon, Marlon Brando and Zakes Moake give gorgeous, nuanced performances that get to the heart of what living under an oppressive regime really does to people – all people. I highly recommend this film – and the novel. Apartheid may be over as a governmental policy, but there is still much to learn from it about how we interact with each other.
48. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Really? Do I need to tell you why I love this movie?
49. Enemy of the State. Goddess, but I love Will Smith. In this film, Smith plays a lawyer who is unwittingly drawn into a conspiracy of murder and power in Washington DC. When Smith’s character, Robert Dean, is slipped a video disc that captured the murder of a prominent congressman, he finds himself the target of an unrelenting agent of the NSA. Dean’s life is essentially co opted by the government, and he finds himself with little choice but to seek the help of “Brill,” played by Gene Hackman. Brill understands espionage and surveillance, and may well be the only person who can help Dean get his life back.
I love this story not because it plays into my (very real) fears about the ease with which just about anyone can hack into and destroy another’s life (hello? Identity theft? Warrentless wiretapping? Anyone?) but because the film is quick and sharp and exciting. There are car chases and guns and quick-slips and double-crosses involving the mafia. It’s a fun ride with an underlying message.
50. The Incredibles. Here’s another Pixar offering that I just love. The story revolves around a family of former superheroes who’ve been forced underground by a litigious society; superheroes are sued too often to make their services as crime fighters viable, so the government puts them into a sort of witness protection-like arrangement where they go about trying to live “normal” lives. Of course, this can’t happen, and one “super,” Mr. Incredible, finds himself fighting against an old nemesis to save his family.
There are a TON of fun bits in this film, not the least of which being any scene with Edna Mode and the scene where Frozone is arguing with his wife and desperately looking for his super suit while the city is being destroyed outside his window.
Really, I never get tired of Pixar flicks.
51. Die Hard. I really like Bruce Willis as an action hero, and this first outing of – what is it now, four? – movies really, really works for me. It’s funny, it’s harrowing, it’s gritty and scary, and just when you think it’s over, it’s not. Besides, I’m not sure there’ll ever be a movie line to top “yippee-kay-yay, Motherfucker.”
52. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Numar. Aside from the absolutely gorgeous and completely convincing performances of Patrick Swazey, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo – which is nothing to cast aside, I tell you – this film is a touching, heartfelt, and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny look at people trying to figure out where they fit in the world and who believe, rightly, that there should be a place for them. Swazey’s performance hits me especially hard – the scene where s/he stops the car in front of the family home and watches as her mother steps back into the house is one that gets me every time.
53. Coming to America. There was a time – and I know some of you remember it – when Eddie Murphy was funny. This film – which, I think, was the first in his attempt at a more family-friendly brand of humor which would lead him away from his Delirious-like material to do things like Dr. Doolittle and the voice of Mushu in Disney’s Mulan – blends a kind of self-deprecating humor with Murphy’s keen eye for the ironic in our everyday lives. This film, like To Wong Foo, manages to be both critical of its material and respectful and sympathetic to it, too. Arsenio Hall is a screaming RIOT in this film. Don’t forget to check out Murphy and Hall in the barber shop!
54. The Negotiator. I’m not a huge fan of either Kevin Spacey’s or Samuel L. Jackson’s. Don’t get me wrong; I have a great deal of respect for the work they do, I’m just not in awe of them the way I know some people are (I’m still not sure I truly understand either American Beauty or The Usual Suspects). That being said, I ADORE the Negotiator. It’s tight, it surprises me every time I see it, and it’s satisfying at the end. When your friends betray you, the only people you can trust are strangers.
55. The Lord of the Rings; The Fellowship of the Ring. There is so much to love in this film. It is breathtakingly beautiful to look at, for starters. It does a perfectly thorough job of introducing us to the story and familiarizing us with the history. The film shows us the important characters and establishes their personalities and the relationships between them (and it does that without beating us over the head with it; we really do come to know them). There’s action and suspense, romance and heartfelt friendship, magic and love. We saw this almost as soon as it came out in the theatres (we had to wait for all the die-hard LoTR fans to give up their seats first, though) and grabbed this film on DVD as soon as it hit the shelves (then got it again when the extended version came out). I never hesitate to put this series back in the DVD player, and the first installment is, like the two that come after it, a masterpiece.
56. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I think this may have been my favorite of the books, and while I was disappointed by how little of the wonder of the book the film was able to convey, it still did a grand job with some pretty complex material. The kids are getting older and their feelings are getting more complex. The story is starting to get darker and more dangerous. The stakes are getting higher and, now more than ever, friendships and alliances are important. I remember reacting almost viscerally to Delores Umbridge and the feelings of frustration at knowing something that people in authority deny, and I remember the feeling of utter vindication when Umbridge gets hers in the end. Things really start to come together in this film.
57. Glory. I know I said that there’s no particular order to this list, but I can’t believe that I made it more than halfway through before getting to this film. If I were doing this list in order, Glory would easily be in the top ten.
This film is stunning in both its scope and its emotion, and it deserved every award it won (and all that it it didn’t, too). The acting in it is incredible; I thought, when I first heard about the cast, that I was going to have a hard time with Ferris Bueler as a Civil War commander, but about ten minutes into the film, I was hooked. Denzel Washington kills me in this film, and I regularly use the desertion scene in my literature classes (just look at the looks on their faces!). Morgan Freeman is, as usual, outstanding (“Shoes, suh.”). Not that it matters all that much to me, but I’ve heard, from someone who is an historian of the Civil War, that even though the film is an amalgam of a lot of different experiences, the feel of the movie is just about right for the time.
58. Moonstruck. This is just fun. I love Cher, I love Olympia Dukakis and I love Nicolas Cage, and they all did amazing work in this film. It’s tender and funny, it’s frustrating and frenetic, it’s over the top and ridiculous, but I love it. Mr. Chili can’t even hear the name Nicolas Cage without making a claw with his hand and shaking it in the air, but that’s a small price to pay for this thoroughly enjoyable love story.
59. National Treasure. Since we’re talking about Nick Cage, let’s knock off another of his films, shall we? National Treasure is an entirely enjoyable, family friendly action-adventure film that feels to me like the love child of Indiana Jones movies and The Da Vinci Code. Cage’s character is a treasure hunter who’s trying to unlock the secrets of a fabled treasure no one believes exists. The clues lead him through history to our Masonic founding fathers, and ends with the Declaration of Independence. He’s racing against his nemesis (played by a very creepy Sean Bean) and fighting against disbelieving officials and the security of the Smithsonian in an effort to see what he knows is there. The film combines edge-of-your-seat adventure with humor and a bit of U.S. history (and a huge dose of willing suspension of disbelief, but that’s part of the fun, really) to make a really engaging ride.
60. Batman Begins. I’ve enjoyed most of the Batman outings – I even got past my incredulity to accept Michael Keaton – Mr. Mom! – as Batman – but this one is truly my favorite of the franchise.
For someone who never in her life read comic books, I nevertheless have a great affection for the films that were inspired by them. Sometimes, I think that my ignorance of the original stories makes me a better consumer of the the films; I come to them with no pre-conceived notions of how the set is supposed to look or of which actors are appropriate for which roles, so I heartily enjoy them (even some of the “bad” ones) for what they are.
That being said, I think that Christian Bale is a wonderful Batman. He is in terns brooding and mournful, viscous and careful, self-assured and tortured, and I love that he can play all of those things in such a way that I’m entirely convinced. The supporting players – Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Liam Neeson especially – all contribute to why I really love this film. Someone can come to this movie with no idea of the Batman story and come away, two hours later, with a solid understanding of the character and his motivations (without feeling like they’ve been spoon-fed or bashed over the head with the blatantly obvious). The feel of the film is just right, and it’s one that I am only too happy to pop into the DVD player on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
61. The Birdcage. I love Robin Williams, and his portrayal of a gay nightclub owner who orchestrates an elaborate scheme to not piss off his son’s fiancee’s uptight parents is SO much fun. Add to that the almost-but-not-quite overplayed Albert – acted with gusto by Nathan Lane – and the fact that Hank Azaria makes me howl in nearly every scene he’s in (“I do not wear de shoes… because… dey make me afall down.“) and you’ve got a film I’ll happily watch over and over.
62. A Few Good Men. I didn’t realize, until years after I’d been enjoying this film, that it was written by Aaron Sorkin (he of West Wing fame). Sorkin’s work is most easily recognized for it’s rapid-fire, witty (sometimes biting) dialogue, and this film’s got all that. For as much as my overall opinion of Tom Cruise has diminished, I continue to love this movie; the themes are clearly established and well-developed, the actors are convincing, the film carries a strong moral, and the quotes just fall off the tongue: “My client’s a moron; that’s not against the law.” “…the witness will address this court as Judge or Your Honor. I’m quite certain I’ve earned it. Take your seat, Colonel.” “I strenuously object?” Is that how it works? Hm? “Objection.” “Overruled.” “Oh, no, no, no. No, I STRENUOUSLY object.” “Oh. Well, if you strenuously object then I should take some time to reconsider.” Love it.
63. Night at the Museum. Here’s a film I went to see in the theatres against my better judgment. There’s nothing about Ben Stiller that I liked, and I thought it was going to be exactly what I was expecting; lame, 10-year-old boy humor with no plot and lousy special effects.
I was wrong. I enjoyed this film so much that I bought it when it came out on DVD, and I’ve re-watched it several times with the girls since then. It’s a fun bit of nothingness, and has redeemed Ben Stiller a bit for me. I ate my words with this film, and I’m glad I fell on my Mommy sword when we took the girls to see it.
64. Rain Man. Again with the Tom Cruise? I know… but bear with me. This is a really well-done bit of movie. I use this when I teach The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, both because book and movie are similar in their depiction of relatively high-functioning autistics, but also because they are so different from each other. Even though the film is really about how much Charlie changes as a result of his experiences, it also manages to convey a sense of change and growth in Raymond, and that’s something that the audience doesn’t expect (and one of my favorite things to ask students to do is to set the “orbital people” – those who interact with the autistic main characters – against one another and see what they come up with). The students respond very well to this movie, and it’s one that I’m likely going to keep in my teacher tool belt for the rest of my career.
65. Othello. It’s no secret that I think Laurence Fishburne is magnificent; he seems to always have this strange, subtle undercurrent of power and danger that I find incredibly appealing, and he puts it to excellent use in his portrayal of Shakespeare’s tortured Moor. Kenneth Branagh plays Iago with a forthrightness that startles the viewer (and all my students); he has this unnerving habit of looking right into the camera during is monologues, and I delight every time I show it to a new class and watch them jump as the character first makes eye contact and invites them into his despicable plans. While I could do without Othello’s fits (when he’s really making himself crazy thinking about his beloved getting it on with another man, his eyes roll, he twitches and sweats), I find the entire play accessible, pretty to look at, and entirely satisfying.
66. The Secret Life of Bees. I’m going to make a confession here: I bought this film and let it sit on my shelf for more than a year before I could bring myself to watch it. Understand that Mrs. Chili has mommy issues (“no…really?!”), and I knew, after having read the novel, that this film would push some serious buttons. In fact, The Secret Life of Bees was the first novel ever that actually made me cry; sure, I’d felt emotional about books before, but none had ever actually wrung tears from me. This book did, and I was certain that watching the film would be a deal for me. I wasn’t wrong.
Queen Latifah is a force of nature. This woman manages to embody wisdom and childlike wonder, power and gentleness, strength and vulnerability, “don’t fuck with me” and “come here and let me love you” all at the same time, and I delight in every experience I’ve ever had with her. This film is no exception. I wept nearly from beginning to end, but it was a cleansing kind of cry, so it’s all good.
67. A Bug’s Life. This is a film I need to pop back in the DVD player sometime soon. I love this movie, and I’ve found that, lately, the Universe has offered me more and more opportunities to quote lines from it. My two favorites are when Flick yells “I’m OH-KAY!!” after he splats into a rock while riding a bit of dandelion fluff and when Molt, wishing to be part of the circus act, yells “Ooooh! Oooh! Pick me! C’mon! I’m askin’ ya with my brain!”
68. Remember the Titans. Remember, when I started this list, that I said that it was in no particular order; that I didn’t rank the films so that my favorites were listed first? Well, the fact that this movie is making its appearance on this list as number 68 proves that point. This is one of my all-time favorite films, and the reasons I love it are numerous and varied. First, I love the actors; Denzel (please; do I really need to explain?) leads an ensemble cast that works so well together that it doesn’t matter how many times I watch it, I’m struck by how quickly and completely I’m sucked in. The subject of the film – integration and the understanding that always comes about when people actually take the time to get to know one another – is something that is important to me. There are SO many quotes from this film that I love (“Man, I don’t have any people. I’m with everybody, Julius.” “Mobile, agile, hostile!”) The soundtrack is wonderful and besides, there’s football! Really? What more do you need?!
That’s a baaaad white boy, man!
69. A Time to Kill. I’m pretty fond of most of the films adapted from Grisham novels, but I have to tell you that this is my favorite book-to-movie example. This story was perhaps the most difficult to take in – the plot involves a man who exacts fatal revenge on the two white men who brutally assaulted his young daughter, and goes on to follow his own trial for murder. Samuel L. Jackson plays Carl Lee Haley just right; he has no use for anyone’s pity because he knew exactly what he was doing – and why he was doing it. What always gets me is the relationship between Haley and his lawyer, played by Matthew McConaughey; Haley understands far more about how the world works than his idealistic attorney:
America is a war and you are on the other side. How’s a black man ever going to get a fair trial with the enemy on the bench and in the jury box?. My life in white hands? You Jake, that’s how. You are my secret weapon because you are one of the bad guys. You don’t mean to be but you are. It’s how you was raised. Nigger, negro, black, African-American, no matter how you see me, you see me different, you see me like that jury sees me, you are them. Now throw out your points of law Jake. If you was on that jury, what would it take to convince you to set me free? That’s how you save my ass. That’s how you save us both.
The closing argument that McConaughey’s character makes hits me every time; he proves that he does get it, and he does save them both.
70. Bad Boys II. Seriously? This is nothing but non-stop fun from beginning to end. As proof of my claim, I offer the following:
See what I mean!? LOVE. IT!