Monday, January 16, 2012

TOP 20: #302 - #401

Well folks, here I am again, ready to present to you another TOP 20 list. As I've been saying a lot recently, it's hard to believe that I'm already 401 movies into tLinkhe "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book. I can vividly remember the day I decided to start this blog and it's a venture that I think is really paying off. I can say definitively that this wasn't too hard of a list to make. The great films that were contained in this 100 films separated themselves from the bad ones and when it came down to list making time, it was easy to distinguish which films deserved a spot and which didn't. I saw some fantastic movies over the past six months and I'm pleased to present to you the cream of the crop from #302 - #401. I hope you'll all enjoy it and while I usually don't, I urge you to comment on this post. Whether it be complaints, "sins of omission" or praise, please let me know what you think. Without further ado, my 4th TOP 20.


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

20. Deliverance (1972) dir. John Boorman 8/10
You'll see a lot of people classifying "Deliverance" as a horror film and while I don't think that's an incorrect label, to me, it's much more than that. What you have in this film is three separate stories: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature and Man vs. Self. When you intertwine those three ideas, what you get is a great motion picture, with a great cast to boot. "Deliverance" is a film that I enjoyed the first time I saw it, many years ago and when I re-watched it for THE BOOK, back in November, I had a strong feeling I'd be able to find it a home on this list.

19. Schindler's List (1993) dir. Steven Spielberg 8/10
Some of you may be surprised to see "Schindler's List" so low on this list, but I knew when I watched it that I didn't quite like it as much as most do. Don't get me wrong, it's #19, so obviously I think it's great and I don't want to speak negatively about a film on my own list. I just think a lot of times people take "Schindler's List" and automatically herald it, simply because it's a Steven Spielberg picture, it's a Best Picture winner and it's a Holocaust movie. Those three things don't automatically warrant a "must see" label, but they do make for a damn fine movie and that's what you get here. You can scorn Spielberg as much as you want and you can even accuse him of deliberately making a sentimental, artistic movie to sort of balance out all the big budget stuff, but what you get with "Schindler" is a really memorable film and something that I knew right away would deserve a spot here.

18. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) dir. Robert Aldrich 8/10
I just watched this one last week and raved about it then, so to come back and do more raving makes me feel like a broken record. "Baby Jane" is one that I had a got a feeling of greatness from before I even watched it. I just had that feeling that a Davis/Crawford film with a plot-line along the lines of "Misery" would appeal to me, and what can I say - I know my own tastes. The acting her is superb, but do I even have to mention it. I wonder if the acting would have been this great, had Crawford and Davis liked one another. I mean, you really get the feeling that they're pouring their hearts out in an effort to upstage the other one.

17. Saving Private Ryan (1998) dir. Steven Spielberg 8.5/10
It's funny how some movies get a full '10' rating when I first review them, but then when I examine them in the company of all the great things I've watched in the last six months, they fall a little bit. When I first watched "Saving Private Ryan" for THE BOOK, back in August, I had it pegged for a TOP 10 spot on this list. However, with the passing of time and with the inclusion of other masterpieces it slides to #17. But hey, that's still not too shabby for a war film, a genre for which I usually hold a lot of dislike. For me, this is more than a war film though and more a road movie, set during World War II. It really only uses the setting of war as a backdrop and then goes on to tell it's own tale of a platoon in search of a soldier who needs to get home before his mother is left with four dead sons.

16. My Night at Maud's (1969) dir. Eric Rohmer 8.5/10
Now here is one that I really had a hard time cracking when I first watched it back in November. By "cracking", I mean I really didn't know what to make of it. On the surface, I viewed it as a film that consisted of a few key characters throwing dialogue back and forth and making me feel like an ignorant school child, due to the degree of intellect in their conversations. However, my uncomfort didn't last long and when I dug deeper I found a film with a lot of meaning to it. This is one that came with a long review and a lot of though from yours truly. From my original review on November 17, 2011:
And let's talk about that bond between Jean-Louis and Maud for a moment, shall we. I think we all have people in our lives that we've happened upon, spent a very short amount of time with and then parted ways with, never to see them again. It's so sad really. In the film, when Maud and Jean-Louis are in her apartment and they part and promise to phone one another, it was, to me, a very sad scene, because you kind of knew that they were just going to forget about one another. For me this really hit home, because I've had so many friendships in my life that have blown away like dust in the wind. It's truly heartbreaking if you stop and think about it. You meet someone and for the time that you know them, they're special people to you, but then they go away, for one reason or another and soon they're nothing to you. To go from something to nothing is just heartbreaking. It was also very interesting how Francoise, at first, was completely uninterested in Jean-Louis, yet he was enamored with her. Maud, on the other hand, all but threw herself at Jean-Louis, yet he had already made up his mind that Francoise was the girl for him. It's something that I can't fully understand, yet am fascinated by and can understand on some levels.

15. Belle de Jour (1967) dir. Luis Bunuel 8.5/10
The hook here is amazing! That very first scene, with a horse drawn carriage being pulled through a vast foray of breathtaking foliage. Zooming in and happening upon a young couple, newlyweds perhaps, basking in one another's presence. All of a sudden, an argument breaks out, a mere tiff and from there the entire scene takes a complete 360. That's a scene that I'd put up there with some of my favorite scenes in film history, no joke. It's a scene that hooked me from the word "go" and didn't let go. The rest of the movie tells the story of Severine a.k.a. Belle de Jour, who spends her days living out her fantasies as a prostitute and night's fending off the husband that she can't bring herself to see in a sexual light. From my original review on December 20, 2011:
However, Bunuel isn't blatant when it comes to the sexual part of the movie. There is no nudity, sex is never shown and even the perversions that I mention above are never said outright, but only hinted at (sometimes more heavily hinted that others, but still). And, hey, don't get me wrong, this film isn't a piece of pornography (although in the 60s, I'm sure it was considered as such) and deals with much more than just sexual desires and urges. Bunuel also provides us with characters, most notably Severine, a woman who is conflicted inside because she has urges that she can't succumb to. Perhaps Severine's desires are so extreme that she knows that Pierre will never be able to satisfy her and so that she won't shame him, she just decides to tell him that she's not ready. Perhaps in her mind, the idea of a conventional sex life between a man and wife just isn't taboo enough, but to fit in with society she decided to marry a doctor and live a good life, in a nice home, where she'll shop and welcome guests. Perhaps all the shopping, welcoming guests and day to day life of a doctor's wife has made her feel like she's living a watered down lifestyle and perhaps Severine needs to have a secret, hole in the wall place where she goes to do unspeakable deeds.

14. Cool Hand Luke (1967) dir. Stuart Rosenberg 8.5/10
"Cool Hand Luke" is a film that I've loved from the first time I saw it. I can remember lying on the floor of mine and my wife's second apartment and watching this. The wife and I were trying our best, at the time, to finish off a different list and it was at a time before I learned to appreciate a lot of classics. In fact, back then, when I'd watch a classic film (or a film prior to 1970), I'd always assume that I just wasn't going to take to it, even before I began watching it. Watching "Cool Hand Luke" and liking it then, was a big deal for me. I took an immediate liking to Paul Newman and with the inclusion of "Cool Hand Luke" that makes three of Newman's movies on my collected TOP 20 lists ("The Sting" and "Butch Cassidy" being the other two). This is a hard film to dislike, at least I think it is. It's a prison film (which I love), has memorable, likeable characters and dozens of memorable scenes to keep you reminiscing. My personal favorite moment: Paul singing "Plastic Jesus" on his bunk, after getting the news of his mother's death.

13. Le Samourai (1967) dir. Jean-Pierre Melville 9/10
A French, film-noir and a fine one. "Le Samourai" casts Alain Delon perfectly as Jef Costello, a hitman and criminal, who steals cars with his giant ring of keys and kills men when the price is right. Alain Delon is excellent and as is this film, which comes with a really gritty atmosphere and mood. From my original review on August 12, 2011:
However, this is the kind of pacing that I like in my movies. I love movies that don't trip over themselves getting into a rush. This film just lets everything unfold and is very methodical in it's direction. Unlike "Bob the Gambler" this film is given distinct characteristics and to me, it's a one of a kind picture. From behind my eyes, there aren't a whole lot of movies where everything...and I mean everything, just clicks. From the acting to the music to the atmosphere to the pacing to the plot, everything is handled with care and the combination of all those things make "Le Samourai" a perfect movie.

12. Cabaret (1972) dir. Bob Fosse 9/10
There are some musicals out there, where if you were to cut away the musical part, you'd be left with a short-film. Take "West Side Story" for instance, a film in which every advantage is taken to incorporate music into the plot. As my good commentor Ray pointed out, this is a film that takes the music and delicately weaves it around the story, so that both can exist in and of themselves. The music accompanies the story and vice versa. I mentioned in my review that I'm really fascinated with old clubs and the trashy, crass women that headline on the marquee, dressed in sleazy attire, singing their flirtatious songs and toying with the men. Liza Minnelli was just as trashy, but they built a story around her and told us that she had a persona onstage, that wasn't necessarily the same as her offstage personality. Also, Joel Grey was nearly worth the price of admission alone and he looked like he was having a damn fine time up there. That's important, because I like to know that the people who are entertaining me are also having an entertaining time themselves.

11. The Blair Witch Project (1999) Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez 10/10
Holy crap! 11 '10/10' pictures? YEP! This is the most '10/10' that have appeared on a single TOP 20 list. This one may be my most questionable, but one that I'll fight for! I really think I said it best in my original review, so I'll let that piece speak for itself. From my original review on October 21, 2011:
The second key factor to success when it comes to "The Blair Witch Project" is that these same amateur filmmaker's didn't underestimate their audience. They realized that people DID have a brain and if you gave them a black screen, with people screaming that they could use their imaginations and conjure up things much more frightening than anything they could commit to celluloid. I commend them for sticking with that attitude and never giving us too much. There's never anything on the screen that is physically (to the eye) scary. All of the fright and scare that comes out of "The Blair Witch Project" came from your own mind. When you went to bed that night, after watching the movie, YOU were the one to blame for sleeping with the television on, because these filmmaker's technically didn't SHOW you anything worth being afraid of. It was all on you! Take for instance "Paranormal Activity", which gets a little silly at the end with the main character (the female) being dragged across the room by an imaginary ghost and then coming back to life, with evil in her eyes and attacking the camera. I mean, that's just going too far - that's underestimating your audience, in my opinion.

10. The Breakfast Club (1985) dir. John Hughes 10/10
This is simply a personal favorite of mine, that will probably never stop being a personal favorite. It's one of the earlier films that my brother showed me, when I was a pre-teen and if I were to make a list of the fifty most important films to me, this would almost have to be included. It's one that probably played a big factor in my eventual, overwhelming appreciation for film. It introduced me to the concept of putting a group of characters into a small space and letting them verbally duke it out. Also during this particular viewing of "The Breakfast Club", I noticed a little personal growth on my part, as a film watcher. From my original review on October 10, 2011:
When I was younger, my favorite part of "The Breakfast Club" was always the first half. That's the more jovial half, the half that is packed with the most comedy and the half, that as a young person, you can have more fun with. When I was younger, I remember always dreading the second half, because while it was still good, it got more serious and was more dialogue driven and as a youngster, that wasn't my cup of tea. However, last night, when re-watching, I enjoyed the second half much more than the first half and that's the part that now really hammers this film home as a true classic. As John Bender, my favorite member of "the club", sits on the floor with his four cohorts and the five sound off, arguing and sympathizing with one another and realizing that they have much more in common than they initially thought.

09. Sleuth (1972) dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz 10/10
Another thing I learned this go around was how much I adore films that are adapted from plays. Here is a prime example of that, as Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier put on an acting showcase and prove that they're two of the all-time greats. Actually, I've yet to fully appreciate Olivier (considering this is one of the very few films I've seen him in), but have always really appreciated Caine. If you've never seen this, get your butt over to YouTube and check it out, before they delete it, because it's something that every true fan of film will appreciate, I think. Not only is it LOADED with fantastic dialogue and acting, but it also gives us something to sink our teeth into, in the form of twists and turns. A true gem!

08. The Shop on Main Street (1965) dir. Jan Kadar, Elmar Klos 10/10
Again, another subject that I've taken an enormous interest in since my journey is the holocaust. It's almost a given that if a film is going to tell me a story set during the holocaust, that I'm almost always going to like it (see "Schindler's List" and "The Pianist"). However, I think this might just be my favorite, thus far. It tells the story of a carpenter living in Czechoslovakia during the time of the Nazi occupation. He's a supposed Nazi sympathizer, but really he has no political affiliation. When he's put in charge of Lautmann's sewing shop, he doesn't mind it when elderly Mrs. Lautmann hangs around and he takes joy in going to her shop everyday, fixing it up and spending time with his new companion. I think the reason that I like this is because the main character has no political affiliation. He's just a guy, who wants to make a living and support his wife and therefore, I'm really able to connect with him. The final scenes are both tense and heart wrenching and yes, "must see".

07. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) dir. Sergio Leone 10/10
Another find this 100 - Sergio Leone. If I were forced to define this 100, I'd simply have to include the name of Leone and with that would come mention of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". It's just a fun film that you can really indulge on! Remember that quote that I put up from Godard some weeks ago: "When Lumiere first invented cinema, the last thing he had in mind was a spectacle". Well the first thing Sergio Leone had in mind WAS a spectacle and the word grandeur also comes to mind. From my original review on November 6, 2011:
Prior to even popping the DVD into my player, I was very excited to finally be watching this iconic film and finally being able to say that, "Yes, I've seen The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". I knew, from the opening shot (a close-up of an extreme outlaw's face and a coyote walking across his/our field of view) that this was going to be something special. It only took me about ten minutes to see where Quentin Tarantino got a lot of influence out of Sergio Leone. I'm a big Tarantino fan, so that went a long way in helping me to feel more comfortable with a spaghetti western, a genre that I'm almost completely unfamiliar with. The score was legendary and it's no wonder that it became so memorable and so often imitated/stolen. The camera shots were also quite unforgettable and did a huge part in branding this film into my mind and I doubt that I'll soon forget this one.

06. Once Upon a Time in America (1984) dir. Sergio Leone 10/10
Let me start out by saying that Ennio Morricone's scores were a big part of this 100 and he single-handedly made me appreciate music in film 100x more. "Once Upon a Time in America" is no exception. When I reminisce about it, I don't even think about Robert De Niro or Sergio Leone, for that matter, but rather Morricone and his music. Of course, don't let that fool 'ya - De Niro was great here, as usual and Leone was at the helm. The three together pulled out a film that became an INSTANT favorite of mine. Most notable scene: Noodles and Deborah in the back of the limo - what an agonizing scene to watch. For those who have seen it, you know what I'm talking about. At a length of 227 minutes, it's one that you have to let yourself get lost in and consumed by.

05. Jaws (1975) dir. Steven Spielberg 10/10
From my original review on July 19, 2011: And the bar for the next TOP 20 just got set really high. 99 films have a chance to dethrone it, but as of now, this is the #1 film for the 4th TOP 20.

Well it didn't quite hang on through all 99 pictures, but DAMN!! It only fell four spots and it was the first movie watched for this 100, so I'd say that's pretty damn good! "Jaws" is one of the few films that I dare you not to love...or at least like. It's a hard one to dislike, as a matter of fact. It has everything normal movie-goers look for: suspense, thrills, adventure, action, good characters. It also has pretty much everything that the snobs look for: great acting, a great story, gripping music, good effects. Also, it has Robert Shaw and he just fucking rocks! From my original review on July 19, 2011:
Bottom line is this - "Jaws" is one of the few films that if you don't like it, then you almost have to give some sort of explanation. With this one there's no pussy footing around, chalking it up to boredom or anything of the sort. The words "boredom" and this film DO NOT go hand in hand. They don't make blockbusters like this anymore. It seems that back then, blockbusters had to be both big budget and good to boot, and now they just have to be flashy. "Jaws" is the real deal and it's a damn good film...a true "must see"!

04. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) dir. Mike Nichols 10/10
Again, a film that allows characters to verbally duke it out (that's putting it mildly) in the confines of one room (for the most part) and it's based on a play. That's the ingredients for a film that I'm almost sure to love and here we are at #4 and what do ya' know. Taylor proves that she was more than just a pretty face, but that when it came to acting, she could hang with ANYONE. Burton flexes his acting muscle too and they join George Segal and Sandy Dennis in bringing this uncomfortable picture to life. From my original review on December 17, 2011:
This film is very close to being perfect. From the dialogue, to the characters, to the setting, to the ways it makes you feel, it doesn't let up. I loved the little piece of music too, that started and ended the film and how when it played at the end, it kind of warmed me and wound me down a bit. I'm becoming more and more of a fan of films that are based on stage plays, because they almost always seem to appeal to me. Maybe I should actually start going to see plays.

03. Contempt (1963) dir. Jean-Luc Godard 10/10
Hey, I have a favorite Godard film, what do ya' know! In fact, this was far and above THE BEST Godard film of the seven that I watched this month and it's partly due to the visual feast that it allows you to enjoy. I spoke earlier today on "Landscape in the Mist" and how it was also visually breathtaking, but my money goes to "Contempt" and the imagery that it produced. Add to that the film's dialogue, uncomfortable relationships, themes and ideas and you have the recipe for greatness! From my original review on January 3, 2012:
In a word, I thought "Contempt" was marvelous. In several words, it was also beautiful and heartbreaking. This is a film that I really wanted to like and usually when I want to like something, I don't. This time I more than liked what I wanted to like, but rather, I loved it! Let's cover the basics and then we'll get into some of the more symbolic elements and some of my interpretations. The camerawork is breathtaking and I haven't seen anything this gorgeous since "Fellini Week", as far as film's from THE BOOK go. The acting is fine, with Palance being a surprisingly good fit and a really great pair of finds in Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot. They had great chemistry together, even though their characters, for the most part, lacked chemistry. And what about that music? It was almost tear inducing. There were times throughout the picture when it would strike up and I'd wonder if I was supposed to be feeling something at that moment. It was such a powerful score and it was played throughout A LOT of the movie. Played too much, perhaps? Well, it was just so good, that I can't bring myself to say that, but it's possible I guess.

02. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) dir. Frank Darabont 10/10
What can I say about "Shawshank" - it's always going to be in that upper echelon of films for me. It's hard for me to really put into words what the movies that I hold closest mean to me, but I've always tried. "Shawshank" is, yet another film, that was shown to me by my brother. It's one that always makes me cry, for happy reasons. You know what, just take a look at this excerpt, from my original review on November 20, 2011 - it pretty much covers it:
Also, like an old friend, I've learned to overlook the flaws, as few of them as there are. The good always outshines the bad when it comes to me and "The Shawshank Redemption". Maybe I only love this film because it's been a part of my curriculum for so long. It's been a film that for years and years has been brought up anytime I get into a conversation about films with a "commoner". In fact, "Shawshank" is the one film that I think EVERYONE loves. It's the one film that can be the favorite of a film snob or a film imbecile, which may be why it currently sits atop the IMDB TOP 250 Movies of All-Time list. I always have the hardest time writing about personal favorite films of mine. Sometimes, it just comes to the point for me, when I forget why I fell in love with a movie and I just know I love it. Why do I like "The Shawshank Redemption"? I just do! It portrays a beautiful friendship, taking shape in the most unlikeliest of places. It has fantastic acting and a Morgan Freeman narration (which is always good for at least a few brownie points). It made careers, in my opinion, for both Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and honestly, I don't think we'd still be talking about either of those actors today (especially Robbins) if it wasn't for this film. "Shawshank" has a commanding, powerful score that knows when to lay low and knows when to come up blazing. It provides a plethora of memorable scenes and even has a few key, intelligent twists and turns. Darabont proved here, with one film, that he is a master storyteller. He understood the source material to such a degree that he was able to sculpt a perfect film to immortalize that story and to keep the audience captivated.

01. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) dir. Sergio Leone 10/10
If you had told me before I started this 100, that "The Shawshank Redemption" would play second fiddle to a film that I'd be seeing for the first time, I'd have called you crazy. "Once Upon a Time in the West" is the film equivalency of the word EPIC. It has everything you look for in a picture. It has commanding music, composed by Ennio Morricone - music that tells you how to feel, when to take notice and when to get goosebumps. It has a marvelous cast, including Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards and Charles Bronson. It became apparent, about a week after I watched it that it was the clear cut choice for the #1 spot here and since, nothing has even come close to dethroning it (except maybe "Shawshank"). If you were to go back and read my original review of this movie, you'd see that I must have been in a bad mood or something because I did a lot of complaining. I was crazy! This film is perfect, trust me. Perfection in film is rare. I love A LOT of movies and I hand out a lot of '10' ratings, but a '10' doesn't always mean perfection. "Once Upon a Time in the West" is perfection!

TEN WORTH MENTIONING: The Manchurian Candidate (1962), My Life to Live (1963), Goldfinger (1964), The Graduate (1967), Rosemary's Baby (1968), Le Boucher (1969), Get Carter (1971), Pretty Woman (1990), Philadelphia (1993), The Celebration (1998)

WHEW!! That's like four reviews worth of typing right there. We'll of course do this again when we hit 501 movies watched. My goodness, "The ROAD to 500" had arrived and at the end of this road is a big sign marked "HALFWAY POINT". I can't wait to delve into this next 100 and come out with another twenty favorites (thirty if you count the honorable mentions). I'll look forward to any and all feedback and I'll be back sometime tomorrow with a big update on what you can expect in the coming months here at the blog, "1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die".

January 15, 2012 11:08pm


  1. Well wouldn't say I totally agree with all of these twenty. Although I do agree for the most part! I can't believe you are almost half way done! Great Job Baby! Love Ya!

  2. Love you too. Thanks for being so supportive!


SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #66: La piscine/The Swimming Pool (1969)

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