I checked my 100 Movies page up there and saw that we’re up to #31. Whaddya say; ready to reach 40?
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 (Lawrence Fishburn, 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.