The third installment of the 100 Movies list!
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 Tuesday (“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….)