Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TOP 20: #102 - #201

Before we jump into this TOP 20 list, let me just say that this was a really tough list to make. I don't remember my previous TOP 20 list being this difficult. I had to make the choice to completely cut some really good films and there are some movies that aren't even in the honorable mention section that are REALLY GOOD! However, the twenty films that I chose are, what I think, to be a good representation of the past 100 films that I've watched and I really think, for one reason or another, that they're the twenty best films I watched. I urge you to comment on the list and make your opinions heard. I realize our opinions will differ, as I had to make the decision to completely axe a couple of major film hitters. Without further ado, here is my TOP 20 movies of the past 100 movies I've watched from the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book. Enjoy!


NOTE: I've revised some of the ratings for the following 20 films, as some of them needed a bit of tweeking.

20. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) dir. Frank Capra 8/10
If it wasn't for that last scene, when Jefferson Smith is hoarse voiced and questioning Joe Paine about "lost causes", then this film probably wouldn't have made the list. That final scene is so damned powerful, that it has etched itself into my memory and I feel that it will be there forever. This movie lays a lot of groundwork to get to that final Jefferson Smith standoff, but the big payoff at the end is well worth it and luckily by re-watching the films for this project, I've seen the significance of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and am now able to appreciate it, like so many other have appreciated it for a long time.

19. Brokeback Mountain (2005) dir. Ang Lee 8/10
As I write this, I'm less than twenty-four hours removed from writing my initial review for this movie. My opinions haven't changed much in that short amount of time and my initial approval of this film, was enough to get it to this list. Heath Ledger is uncanny as Ennis del Mar and it only hammers home the fact that he is no longer with us and makes us wonder about what kind of a legacy he'll leave behind. In fact, everyone here turns in good performances, but it's the heartfelt love story that really gets to me. What most people write off as a movie about homosexual cowboys, I say it's more of a story about the importance of companionship and how companionship can come in all forms.

18. Bringing Up Baby (1938) dir. Howard Hawks 8/10
It's been a while since I've watched this one, but it's still pretty fresh in my memory and the main thing that sticks out about this one is how hilarious it is. Regular readers of my blog already know that I'm not a big Cary Grant fan, but this is one film where I feel he shines. Maybe because this is one film where his "sure of himself", seemingly pompous attitude is capped and he plays an awkward, clumsy scientest who is bested by the socialite Susan Vance (Hepburn at her best). This one always makes me laugh and try explaining this one to a friend and try daring that friend not to see it once you've explained it. Once you get into describing the plot, surely it will sound so outraegous that it must be a masterpiece...and it is.

17. Strangers on a Train (1951) dir. Alfred Hitchcock 8.5/10
I mentioned once that this one probably deserves a full blown '10', but that I ceased to give it that, stating that it didn't feel like a '10'. I stand by that statement, but why quibble with numbers. It's a great film and whether you give it an '8' or a '10', it's still a great film. The shots are immaculate, as we're treated to shots from the perspective of a murder victims' glass frames, a far away shot of our villain and a beautifully suspenseful final climax, that will have you clutching the edge of your chair...and fearing the dreaded merry-go-round. A true suspense classic from The Master of Suspense.

16. Dangerous Liaisons (1988) dir. Stephen Frears 8.5/10
I went into this one dreading it and came out loving it. "Dangerous Liaisons" is a tour de force of acting chops as everyone seems to show up with their game faces on, especially John Malkovich and Glenn Close. I'm not really big on films set in past centuries, but I'll certainly have to rethink that stance and be a little more open minded. It's not just the acting, but also the story that is appealing to me, as we're treated to an 18th century love quadrangle...I think that's the word I'm looking for.

15. My Left Foot (1989) dir. Jim Sheridan 8.5/10
This one dropped a bit from a '10' to an '8.5', but again we shouldn't quibble over numbers and just take it for what it is...yet another spectacular display of acting ability, this time by Daniel Day-Lewis. Immediately upon watching this, I deemed myself a Day-Lewis fan and marveled when reading some of the trivia tidbits on this one, such as Day-Lewis refusing to break character, even when the cameras weren't rolling. I also seem to remember a matter of broken ribs due to the fact that Day-Lewis refused to leave the wheelchair, that he was confined to as a result of portraying Christy Brown. It's not only the acting, but the miraculous story of Christy Brown that makes this film appealing and for a moment, with the help of Day-Lewis acting, we get a little bit of insight into Brown's life.

14. The Ice Storm (1997) dir. Ang Lee 8.5/10
Another one that is still fresh in my mind, as I only watched it a few days ago, as of press time. I can't for the life of me think of why I disliked this movie, upon my initial viewing of it, some years ago. It's got everything that I usually love: a really basic plot about really real people/families. The characters that are on showcase here aren't just characters, but seem take on the characteristics of real people: never doing anything amazing and basically just living their lives and dealing with the problems that come with that. The acting is good, the score is sublime and the photography takes on a pale element, possibly because of the title, "The Ice Storm".

13. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) dir. Robert Benton 8.5/10
"Kramer vs. Kramer" has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it many years ago. That is why it's a surprise, even to me, to see it this low on a TOP 20 list that is made up of films that I saw for the first time, just recently. Still, there was no way that I could deny this film a spot on the TOP 20 and despite lowering the rating from a '10' to an '8.5', it's still a favorite and one that I'll always enjoy re-living. When a film can bring you to tears then you know you're dealing with something special and "Kramer vs. Kramer" has brought me to tears on many occasions.

12. White Heat (1949) dir. Raoul Walsh 9/10
One of my biggest discoveries since starting the "1001" project? The discovery of James Cagney. When I started this project I knew the name and had seen the face in one movie prior. Now, I'm a huge fan, own a handful of his movies on DVD and even own his autobiography, "Cagney by Cagney". "White Heat" is one of his greatest showcases, revealing what a terrific actor Mr. Cagney was. It's not my favorite Cagney movie (we'll get to that), but it's right up there at the top of the list and it comes in at #12 on this one. Oh yeah, the story here kicks ass too, as it's so complex for a crime movie, with different facets being added in and different situations arising.

11. Frenzy (1972) dir. Alfred Hitchcock 9/10
Hitchcock - 2. Probably one of the funniest Hitchcock films, while still managing to squeeze out all the suspense, intrigue and ingenuity that comes along with most Hitchcock movies. I can still see Chief Inspector Oxford trying to choke down his wife's dinner, which looked like a combination of squid and eyeballs, and laughing my head off. Barry Foster and Jon Finch were also great finds in watching "Frenzy" and the introduction of nudity and profanity lends a darker, grimier feel to an otherwise classic Hitchcockian tale.

10. Halloween (1978) dir. John Carpenter 9/10
This movie has always been a favorite of mine, but not until I watched on this past Halloween night, did I realize that it was much more than just a fun, slasher flick. This one acutally possessed some real good movie making qualities that you just don't get with other slasher, horror films. In a genre that is meant to scare and scare only, "Halloween" does frighten, but also puts a really good story on display and the cinematography is excellent, considering Carpenter and his crew were working on a shoestring budget. This is one that can immediately transport you to a small, creepy town on Halloween night.

09. The Wrong Man (1956) dir. Alfred Hitchcock 9.5/10
Hitchcock - 3. Henry Fonda has always been a favorite actor of mine, but without the "1001" project, I may have missed out on some really good movies of his, like this one. Okay, who am I kidding, I would've eventually seen this one on my own. I mean, how could I not have eventually seen this...it's Henry Fonda and Alfred freakin' Hitchcock for God's sake...that's a dream team in my book. It's a dream team and they produce a great film together, giving you a character to really pour your heart out for - Manny Balestrero. I loved every single thing about this film...except...the little plotline of Manny's wife getting admitted to a psychiatric ward. Other than that, the movie is perfect.

08. Toy Story (1995) dir. John Lasseter 10/10
We've reached the '10' spot, where every film from here on out either received a '10' on initial viewing or is receiving one in retrospect. "Toy Story" is getting the retrospect treatment, because I gave it an '8.5' when I first watched it earlier this month. Who am I kidding though? This isn't just for kids, as it provides enough suspense and heart to make it something for adults to really love to...and I'm proof of that fact.

07. The Piano (1993) dir. Jane Campion 10/10
This was another amazing find, that without the "1001" project I probably would have NEVER watched. I really dreaded watching this, as it just didn't sound that appealing to me, but I was given the surprise of a cinematic lifetime and really loved this picture. Holly Hunter was the biggest find, coming out of this one, as I always envisioned her as the silly, quirky, weirdo from movies like "Raising Arizona", but in "The Piano" she proved she had the muscle to turn in a great performance and that she did as the mute, piano playing, Scotswoman Ada McGrath.

06. The Pianist (2002) dir. Roman Polanski 10/10
No I didn't intentionally put "The Piano" and "The Pianist" together, it just came out that way. Roman Polanski, being a holocaust survivor himself, knew how to tell the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, the piano playing holocaust survivor. Adrien Brody should also get some credit for turning in, what turned out to be, an Oscar winning performance. This movie is really sad and shows you what kind of brutality and horror took place during the holocaust.

05. Rear Window (1954) dir. Alfred Hitchcock 10/10
Hitchcock - 4. This is another longtime favorite that makes it to the TOP 20 list. I think this may have been the first Hitchcock film I saw, many years ago and I've loved it ever since. There's something about the main character this one piecing together a murder mystery, by using binoculars and peeping on his neighbors, that just really appeals to me. I love Jimmy Stewart, that's no secret and add in a dash of gorgeousness (that a word?) in the form of Grace Kelly and you have a recipe for greatness. Just let's not forget the cook himself...Sir Alfred.

04. Juliet of the Spirits (1965) dir. Federico Fellini 10/10
Like a lot of the films on this list, I rushed right to Amazon.com, immediately after watching this and purchased it. Someday I'm going to rewatch it and be treated to all of those gorgeous colors and images once more. I still stand by two facts coming out of this movie: 1) Fellini benefited from the introduction of color films, as he knew how to manipulate the colors in his films and provide a dazzling experience for the viewer. 2) This is Fellini's masterpiece. "8 1/2" was good, "La dolce vita" is overrated and the rest range from mediocre to really good, but it's "Juliet of the Spirits" that is, in my opinion, his masterpiece! This movie left me in AWE and that is NO exaggeration. See it. Love it. Be wowed!

03. Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) dir. Michael Curtiz 10/10
This one was pegged, by me, to be No. 1 for a long time and it's easily one that is #1 material. THIS IS THE MOVIE that made me fall in love with Jimmy Cagney. This IS my favorite Jimmy Cagney film. I love everything about this one, especially Cagney's facials expressions and the last line of the film: "Let's say a prayer for a boy who couldn't run as fast as me". But it's that final scene, with Rocky Sullivan being carted off to the electric chair that is one of the most powerful scenes I've ever seen. Rocky is a criminal, but we feel for the guy and we want him to clean up his act and get it together, something that he is never able to do and in the end, when he has to pay for his actions...it's a sad moment.

02. Shadow of a Doubt (1943) dir. Alfred Hitchcock 10/10
Hitchcock - 5. Until a few days ago, this was going to be #1 on the this list. Yes, this time around it's not Buster Keaton with five movies on my TOP 20 list, but rather Alfred Hitchcock. This is my FAVORITE Alfred Hitchcock movie and though I haven't seen his entire body of work, I'm quite certain that there is nothing better than this. Joseph Cotten stole the show for me, and turned me into a big fan of his. The whole story is just so engaging, as it sucks you in and spoon feeds you all that suspense that goes along with it. The story of Uncle Charly, the Merry-Widow Muderer being found out by his neice, Charlie. The fact that they share names shoudln't be misleading, as it is a good vs. evil battle, in the unlikeliest of forms.

01. Sideways (2004) dir. Alexander Payne 10/10
I saw this movie for the first time when it was released on DVD back in March of 2005. I bought the DVD soon after and have enjoyed it every sinlge time I've made the decision to rewatch it. I just couldn't put anything above this, as, for me, this is the best movie I've watched out of the last 100. When you spend time with a movie, as many times as I've spent with this one, then you have a hard time uprooting it and replacing it with new favorites. And honestly, I didn't want to uproot it, as this was genuinely my favorite film of the past 100. I find the characters in "Sideways" easily relatable. They're real people, with real emotion, desires and feelings, especially Miles. Jack is a real-life type character too, just not as deep as Miles. I love that character - Miles Raymond. He will always stand as one of my favorite characters in the history of cinema and that is one of the reasons that I placed this movie in the prestigous top spot of this edition of the TOP 20 list.

HONORABLE MENTION: Stella Dallas (1937), Le jour se leve (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Heiress (1949), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), Amarcord (1973), The Big Chill (1983), Roger & Me (1989)

Well there you go guys, that about wraps 'er all up. We'll, of course, do this again when we hit 301 movies watched and hopefully you've enjoyed this list. Again, if you're reading this, I invite you to make your comments known, whether you agree or disagree. I look forward to some feedback and I'll be back soon with more reviews as we make our way further through the pages of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die".

November 22, 2010 9:17pm


  1. I could make other comments, but Juliet Of The Spirits??? I couldn't stand it. I guess I will always be a pre-8 1/2 Fellini kind of guy.

  2. I definitely gotta' say that I'm a post 8 1/2 guy. I really liked 8 1/2, loved Juliet, found somg good in Satyricon and liked Amarcord a lot too.

  3. how is Cagney's autobiography? any other classic film star bios you'd recommend? haven't seen Sideways since its theatrical release, but I did think it was the best film of '04. are you a fan of About Schmidt?

  4. Oh how I love Halloween. John Carpenter is an amazing story teller. I put that one up there with The Thing.

  5. Anonymous - Actually just got Cagney's autobiography in the mail a couple weeks ago and have yet to crack it open. Haven't read any others, but I also recently bought Ginger Rogers' autobiography too. I love About Schmidt...it should be in the "1001" book, but sadly it isn't.

    Brian - Have yet to see The Thing, but also am a big John Carpenter fan. I remember watching "They Live" dozens of times when I was a kid and am also a big fan of Assault on Precinct 13.


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