Movie Reviews

Film-reel

This project started as a way to watch the top 100 movies of all time. Starting in the winter of 13/14, I took the top 100 from AFI (2007) and IMDB (as of November 2013), and plowed my way through until I finished in the fall of 2015.

Below are my quick reviews of the top 100 as well as other movies I came across. (Note: Use CTRL-F to search for a particular movie.) The next phase of the project is to come up with my top movies, so I have started that. Here is my first attempt at a top 20.

I would love to hear your comments and suggestions so feel free to share below.

5.27.16

Catch Me if You Can

Really enjoyed this movie. Totally unbelievable but it is based on real events. Obviously a Hollywood sheen has been applied but the performances of DiCaprio and Hanks are top notch. DiCaprio captures the tension between the thrill of the con with the desire to earn his father’s approval while Hanks is a man doing his job while seeing a boy in way too deep. A solid supporting cast enhances the created world and I could watch this again and again.

Special Correspondents

Rarely do I click on Netflix suggestions. However, when a blurb about a new movie with Ricky Gervais came up, I caved. Take your war correspondent meets cavalier media type looking for a break who is supported by a dutiful by unnoticed sidekick, mix in a prick boss and hilarious neighbors and you get this film. Completely unrealistic but these days what is believable? This buddy movie has some funny lines, some good chemistry between Bana and Gervais, and a light dusting of satire towards media coverage of major news events. Wag the Dog is far superior but this isn’t the worst way to kill 90 minutes.

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4.28.16

Batman Begins

When Tim Burton released Batman in 1989, I was excited. Counted down the days, bought the Happy Meal toys, saw it as soon as I could. After years of comic book reading, I enjoyed Burton’s take with a futuristic Batmobile combined with an outrageous Joker, a goth, twisted tone and some great tracks from Prince.

I said all that to say this. At that point in time, that movie worked. Has it held up? Not sure. I haven’t seen it in years and probably plan to revisit as part of this project. Nolan’s trilogy is a different Batman for a different time. Batman Begins kicked off the series and did so in a way that took existing material and crafted a film that is serious, well made and perfectly suited for comic geeks. Christian Bale pulls off the Bruce Wayne/Batman double feature with a decent performance and annoying Batman voice (but what are you supposed do?). Katie Holmes is tolerable and Liam Neeson shines. Love Gary Oldman and his portrayal of Gordon is solid. A bunch of story lines are in play during the film and Nolan navigates the audience through a tale of vengeance, redemption and self-discovery. I’ve probably seen this movie ten times (one of Larry’s faves as well) and could watch it 10 more.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I saw one of the original trailers and got excited. Did a little reading about what the movie was trying to accomplish and got more excited. Then the reviews came out. Most were down on the film and I got less excited. After finally seeing it, it wasn’t awful. In turns exciting and though provoking and violent and touching and stupid. This film was a hot mess on several levels: story, pacing and supporting characters. Another film working with a lot of raw material and not sure that Synder got the puzzle right. Is it man v alien, good v bad, differing philosophies of justice? The movie was all over the map. Then the pacing. At two hours and 30 minutes, the movie really dragged. Batman v Superman suffered in the same way as Man of Steel from over the top fight scenes. The big fight should have happened during the first confrontation, not when Superman needs Batman’s help and is in a time crunch. Plus Wonder Woman (who was super hot) takes time to go through the files setting up the next movie right in middle of aforementioned time crunch. And after all that, our heroes have to battle Doomsday/General Zod. That brings us to Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor. This is not your father’s Lex Luthor. Frail, anti-social tendencies and annoying.  I was not impressed and really am not looking forward to this Luthor welcoming Darkseid/pick a villain for the Justice League movie. Jeremy Irons as Alfred should have appealed to me—bitter, drunk and exhausted—but Caine’s Alfred was so good (warm, solid as a rock, loyal) that it has probably ruined future interpretations.

After having said all of that, I would probably watch it again just to see if my initial take is right or if I was too negative or if I missed something. Again not awful but not great either.

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4.5.16

Clerks

The fact that this movie is over 20 years old is crazy. Watching it again I was reminded that there was a time in my life when I was Dante. To a certain extent I still am but not to the degree portrayed in the movie. Another topic for another time. Kevin Smith takes the worse day ever standard and provides witty, insightful and culturally relevant (some of it still timeless) dialogue while using the absolute bare minimum in terms of camera work and sets. Worth watching every so often.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

This movie is nearly 30 years old. That took a while to sink in. Let’s just say it didn’t hold up . . . at all. It was 90 minutes of awful. So-crates and Genghis Khan going apeshit in the mall were about the best parts. It was sad to see George Carlin suffer through this and really just sad all around. Won’t even get into the time space continuum inconsistencies, which I don’t understand but didn’t seem to go together in the movie. Maybe a 3 out of 10 and if I never see it again, I’ll be ok.

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3.14.16

I Believe in Miracles

If you enjoy stories about the underdog knocking off the favorite, if you enjoy maverick coaches, if you enjoy stirring tales about team spirit, this is the movie for you. Led by the abrasive and arrogant Brian Clough, who was also a brilliant man manager, little known Nottingham Forrest rose to the top division in England and not only won the title but were also back to back Kings of Europe. This film does a great job of capturing the spirit and play of the team in the late 70’s with archival footage and interviews of the players from the era. Their thoughts provide insight and context into this moment in time, plus the soundtrack keeps things upbeat and moves the movie along. As a sports movie, it’s entertaining, even if you know nothing about the game or the team. As a soccer movie, it’s a great look back. I really enjoyed this and would definitely watch it again.

White, Blue and White

One of the 30 for 30 films produced in the summer of 2014 around the World Cup, this film focuses on the transfer of Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa from Argentina to England. Ardiles was a key player in Argentina’s 1978 World Cup win and arrived at Tottenham Hotspur with fellow countryman Villa and helped transfer the fortunes of the Lillywhites, culminating in a FA Cup win in 1981. But a year later, things were much different as Argentina and England were at war over the Falkland Islands. The film spends time setting the stage for this dramatic moment and how the conflict impacted Ardiles. The film is slow paced and focuses on how life can impact an athlete, but worth a watch especially if you are Spurs or Argentina fan.

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3.2.16

Reservoir Dogs

Another movie I had not seen in years. Looking back I think Tarantino changed my movie taste palate while also opening my eyes to the actual movie making elements (dialogue, soundtrack, and use of location to name a few). This film along with Pulp Fiction saw me more interested in raw, witty, atypical movies rather than the down the middle fare I had been accustomed to (comedies, inspirational, heroic tales).

In terms of the movie, honestly after seeing the opening sequence again, I could have been done. Captures Tarantino’s style with his use of dialogue and camerawork. The film is at times hilarious, insightful, edgy, and violent, all combined with a memorable soundtrack. During this viewing I noticed that very few locations used, with most being shot in the warehouse. Part of the decision was budget and another part style. I really enjoyed this and the film is high quality and has the possibility of being watched again and again.

Sin City

I would argue that Tim Burton’s Batman rebooted the comic movie franchise and in the intervening 25+ years, films of varying degrees of quality and interpretation have been released. Sin City ranks as one of the greatest representations of the original material ever seen on screen and together with incredible graphics and performances, Rodriguez and company created a raw, gory, edgy film.

I read the books on which the film was based beforehand and was surprised how close Rodriguez stayed to the source. Panels from the books came to life on screen as Marv and Hartigan and Nancy and the Yellow Bastard were made real in a way I didn’t think possible. Credit to the actors for going all in on their portrayals and even bigger credit to the make-up artists who were able to transform the actors into visceral beings from previously two dimensional, black and white identities.

I think my only complaint about the film is the length. Coming in at just over two hours, the ultimate confrontation between Hartigan and Roarke tends to drag. Other than that, I love this film and will watch it over and over and over again.

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2.16.16

Mad Max: Fury Road

Having not seen the Mel Gibson iterations, I really had no frame of reference of this movie. Saw a lot of positive reviews so sat down with a beer and gave it go.

I’ll say this, the movie is intense. The action sequences were a thrill packed, adrenaline fueled series of incredible moments and quite spectacular. But other than that, a story that kinda made sense. Max was trying to survive and escape his demons while Furiosa was trying to get the ladies to a safe haven, and they did this for the first 2/3 of the movie. Then they spent the remaining 1/3 trying to undo what they had just done? And how was it that their enemies could always catch up to them but never surround them and take them out? And hard to critique acting when it was a series of grunts and screams and barely understood dialogue.

The movie was fine and I’d probably watch it again if I was sick or bored or had time to kill. Would not search this out.

The Departed

Watched this again for the third time, and the plot is starting to make sense. Ignoring how slow I am, this film is intense, complicated and well crafted. Scorsese takes the mole motif and tweaks it, telling you who the moles are at the beginning before the big twist at the end. Think my only complaint is the huge shoot out at the end but what are you going to do? The cast is excellent and love the use of Gimme Shelter throughout the film.

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2.3.16

The Ref

Another holiday classic. I’m not sure if I like this because it’s good or because of Denis Leary. Huge fan and he really nails this role, conveying humor, anger and just a hint of compassion. The movie takes the hostage trope and twists it, creating some hilarious if unbelievable moments. The mom character is such a bitch and every character adds to the quilt. Spacey does a great job and interesting to see the comparisons between this character and Lester Burnham in American Beauty. Again not the best movie ever but one worth watching every once in a while, especially during the holidays.

Wayne’s World

Part of my list includes several movies that I watched growing up, and Wayne’s World is one such movie. This came in the days when I was still watching SNL, saw this movie multiple times in the theater (something I never do) and watched it countless times on the old VCR.

Watching it nearly 25 years after its release, let me just saw that it was a pleasant trip down memory lane. All the familiar dialogue came back as well as the memorable scenes (Bohemian Rhapsody in the Mirth Mobile, hijinks at the studio, and the multiple endings). The movie can appear dated at times but still has some funny moments and some hilarious time specific references (Terminator 2, Pepsi, ARCADES!!). Would watch it again in another five years.

1.27.16

Swingers

1.19.16

Burn After Reading

Saw this several years ago but didn’t remember a single thing about it. My reaction? It was fine? As the closing scene rolled, I wasn’t sure what happened or what we learned. The acting was really good, with each character unique and believable. But on the whole I’m still not sure what the takeaway was, if any.

Vanilla Sky

Part sci-fi, part eternal romance and part redemption story, this movie is interesting on several levels. Further research revealed that this was a remake of a Spanish film called Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), and these are precursors to Inception in terms of dreaming and what the mind can do in the dream state. Crowe’s film is visually appealing and well acted. There are some very poignant lines, especially from the Penelope Cruz character. As the film drew to a close I remembered what I didn’t like about it from previous viewings–the ending was too drawn out. Once the Tech Support figure enters, the pacing changes gears and the movie can’t get out of its own way. Again enjoyable, worth seeing every once a while but not a classic.

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1.7.16

Interstellar
Visually stunning but I have no idea what happened.

Gone Girl
Total mind fuck, pardon my french. Don’t even think I can review without giving away possible spoilers. Great performances from all involved. Just watch it.

Adaptation
When putting together my list, this movie did not come to mind but after another viewing, I’m adding it. The Charlie Kaufman character really spoke to me as he wrestled with confidence and inspiration. I enjoyed the character’s development, which was impacted by the events around him. Worth seeing again and again.

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12.22.15

12 Monkeys
Good but not great. Seemed like there were some holes in the story but an interesting premise. I suppose it’s not impossible for the survivors to develop time travel underground in around 30 to 40 years but not sure how they were able to keep tabs on the chosen and also send people back to the exact same time sequence. Also, in the normal timeline, the doctor just walks through and spreads the disease but how is that possible if Cole seems “himself” getting shot? Again, a head scratcher with some quirky elements and I’d probably watch it again but definitely not even in the top 50.

Looper
Another sci-fi movie featuring Bruce Willis. In reading about the development of the script, the author didn’t focus on the science of time travel but wanted to really zero in on the characters and their motivations. Good because I didn’t understand the film’s take on time travel, especially the alternate timeline thrown in. Levitt’s prosthetics were very distracting and took away from his performance. I didn’t really enjoy this one although I’m sure I was missing a key element to everything.

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12.9.15

Drive

This movie has been in and out of my brain for the last year or so due to the Adam Carolla podcast, which debates the merit of this film from time to time. It’s part Crash (the Haggis one not the Cronenberg one), part film noir, with a splash of 80’s font thrown in. The film has a great soundtrack and decent acting, including Ryan Gosling being particularly good as the quiet anti-hero. My only question is, how did he survive the ending? Sorry spoiler alert. Decent, maybe worth a second viewing but nothing special.

Pi
Simply forgot how much I enjoyed this film. When you boil it down, the movie is about math, which isn’t too sexy, but the amalgamation of a creative story, measured acting and interesting soundtrack created a tense and powerful piece that expands on math and touches on religion and materialism. Aronofsky shot making added a new element and became one of his stock moves, especially in his early films. After another viewing, two things: this is close to the top 20 and I am still confused why it was called pi when they were searching for a 216 digit number.

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12.1.15

American Beauty

Thoroughly enjoyed this film. The acting, tone, score and cinematography all come together to create an insightful and bittersweet tale of life in America. The transformations and breakdowns of the characters reveal much about motivation, desire and belief. I see more of myself in Lester Burnham, especially his state of being in the first act, but I was particularly struck by Ricky Fitts in this viewing as a dealer in illegal drugs with tech savvy and a deep spiritual thirst. Again this is a must watch, with many layers and interpretations and is a possible candidate to crack my Top 20.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

For those of you know me, I resemble the character of Neil Page very much–not one for chit chat, don’t react well to plan changes and have had less than spectacular road trips. This film is wonderful on so many level: acting, story, pacing. Far beyond a buddy movie, there is real insight into human interaction and why people do the things they do. After not seeing this for years, I was reminded of so many quotable lines (Have a point, it’s so much more interesting for the listener) and how much I enjoyed this. Definite Top 20 nominee.

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11.23.15

Adventures in Babysitting

This movie made the list based on two things: Elisabeth She and the opening sequence. Elizabeth was and is hot, and I can’t hear any part of “Then He Kissed ME” without thinking about this movie. Similar to “Lust for Life” in Trainspotting or Barber’s Adagio in Platoon or “Superfreak” from Little Miss Sunshine.

So that takes care of  the opening three minutes. After that, the movie doesn’t really hold up. Too long, too unrealistic, the film muddles through in it’s mid 80’s glory before coming to a predictable finish.

What I found interesting about this viewing was the cast: Elizabeth Shue, Penelope Ann Miller, Bradley Whitford, Vincent D’Onofrio and George Newbern (who I thought was Paul Rudd for a second).

Nice trip down memory lane but don’t have to see that it again.

The Usual Suspects

So glad I put this film on the list. The passage of time has not diminished a sharp, tense, and compelling film. Even though I knew the end, the lead up was fuzzy and worth another viewing. The cast is excellent even though I still could not understand Benicio Del Toro. I think my only complaint was the score, with occasional parts not complementing the action on the screen. Again my only complaint and maybe I won’t wait 15 years to watch this again.

OMG, just made connection that Giancarlo Esposito was Gus Fring on Breaking Bad. Crazy.

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11.9.15

Seven

As I wrote down movies for my top movies, this one sprang to mind. Even though I hadn’t seen it in years, the images were still in the remote recesses of my brain. Upon recent viewing I couldn’t believe how rainy and dark the atmosphere was. The elements set the tone of the movie and made the only sunny, dry scene at the end more jarring.

Morgan Freeman is fantastic as the jaded cop just counting the days until retirement, while Brad Pitt is marginal, giving a performance only a step up from Floyd in True Romance. Kevin Spacey is diabolical as John Doe and I am just now catching the similarities between him and Verbal Kint in Usual Suspects. I also noticed that David Fincher also directed Brad Pitt in Fight Club.

This movie is disturbing, gross, and compelling and not something I could handle over and over again.

Marvellous

United We Stand is a Manchester United fanzine and they produce a podcast, including interviews from the 2015 Summer Tour in the USA. Andy Mitten interviewed Lou Macari, who used to play for United back in the day, and most of the conversation centered around Macari’s involvement in the development and production of this film, which focused on the legendary Stoke City kitman Neil Baldwin. So I tucked that info away and finally got around to watching it.

See this film. Soccer is a key element but it is so much more. Despite my deep cynicism, I could not help but be uplifted by the story of this wonderful man and the performances of the cast. Baldwin is the living embodiment of life is what you make it and the film conveys this with measured, sweet, and encouraging steps.

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9.23.15

Stagecoach

Timeless in its cross section of culture, this movie was a pleasant surprise. The movie moved towards its inevitable climax and I thought it did a nice job of serving as a piece of social interaction. The gambler character intrigued me and would have liked to seen more of him. The casting order is interested as well with Claire Trevor listed above John Wayne and Thomas Mitchell. In reading about this film, this was Wayne’s breakthrough role. I don’t know if I would watch it again but glad I saw it.

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9.16.15

The Exorcist

Horror films are not really my bag, but again another what is the point film. If the point was to be creepy and ruin Linda Blair’s life then mission accomplished. For me the movie never got going but did appreciate how the different threads finally converged at the end.

Easy Rider

Enjoyable movie about getting off the grid, creating a new world and just living. For me the best parts are the soundtrack and the spectacular images of America. The opening track (The Pusher, Steppenwolf) sets the tone and each song adds an additional layer to each scene. As Billy and Wyatt make their way through the Southwest, the images of iconic landscapes made me long for a trip of my own. The ending, no matter how many times I see it, is jarring, unexpected, and brutal. Sad but completely realistic, the man almost always gets you down. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth seeing once. Loosely structured, not the best shot movie, performances are ok, but a real piece of Americana.

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9.9.15

Wuthering Heights

I was supposed to read the book for one my many college lit classes and didn’t finish it, and I barely finished this cinematic version. Filmsite.org noted that “it is still considered the definitive version – and one of the greatest romantic films ever made”. To that I retort, based on further research, the film only focused on half the book and the supposed love story is too melodramatic as Heathcliff and Cathy intentionally move away from their professed love. The acting was ok, with Merle Oberon a little over the top at times and David Niven being the only believable character in the entire film. After finishing it, I did some research as to why it could have made the list. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards (only winning one—Best Cinematography), and it was also was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Not convinced.

From Here to Eternity

Decent film but not sure what the point was. That a lone wolf can’t survive in the army. That the said army is led by cheating, egotistical buffoons? That secret love is the best kind of love but ultimately doomed? The movie was well acted, with Burt Lancaster giving a marvelous performance.

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9.2.15

A Night at the Opera

Maybe I’m jaded, maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, maybe I just don’t get it. I suffered through this one. Really glad it was just over 90 minutes because I had to sit through a lot of fluff and bad jokes for a handful of one liners. The stunts for the final scene and the musical pieces weren’t too bad but the rest was just ok. Suspension of disbelief can only get you so far. Pretty much see my comments for Duck Soup.

Sunrise

Of the handful of silent movies I encountered during this project, I think it was my favorite one. Very simple story—couple drifts apart, man tempted by another woman, rediscovers his wife and happily ever after. Of course it is not as simple as that and there are some elements used in A Place in the Sun. The necessary emotions were portrayed well, and the transformation of the husband was pronounced and added to the film. A little long but some of the filming techniques used in 1927 make this worth watching.

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8.19.15

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Didn’t know anything about James Cagney or George M. Cohan ahead of this movie but came away awed by their talent and a little inspired. Although liberties are taken in this biopic, it is full of wonderful numbers that are well executed by Cagney. Little bit of a patriotic bent to the piece but understandable due to the content and date of production. A very American film—over the top, rags to riches story,  and welcome to the land of plenty. If you like musicals this one is worth seeing. If not skip the numbers and see if you are uplifted by the story.

Bringing Up Baby

A whirlwind of a movie that is filled with a machine gun fire of clever, witty, and funny dialogue. Yes the movie is totally absurd that doesn’t mean it’s not funny and worth watching.  Grant and Hepburn have a wonderful chemistry and make this an enjoyable romantic comedy (I can’t believe those words came out of my mouth). Far better than most rom coms I have had to sit through whether for love, lust or other reasons, stop on this one if you come across it on cable or the interwebs.

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8.7.15

All the President’s Men

As a former journalism major this film did two things: one, excited me about the thrill of the chase and two, confirmed why I was never going to make it as a reporter. I would have never had the staying power or the determination to follow that story to the end. Even though it was one of the stories of the century, all those calls and interviews and research would have worn me out.

I don’t know how closely the movie followed the book or real events but it was enjoyable. Good pace, well acted, and nice use of Washington, DC as the backdrop. After reading the book or doing some research into the events, I would watch this again.

The Last Picture Show

A sparse, slow, sad film about a small town in Texas, this had elements seen in The Graduate and American Graffiti and something else I can’t quite put my finger on. The film is shot in black and white and adds to the dreariness and depression, with the plot revolving around Sonny as he makes the transition from high school to the next chapter in his life. Cybill Shepard is perfect in her role and her beauty is stunning. When doing a little research on the film I read that Roger Ebert gave it four out four stars and that it has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film captured teen angst and a dying town but I wouldn’t consider it a classic.

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7.23.15

American Hustle

Best movie ever. No but a well-crafted, fast moving story about personal re-invention, crime, friendship, love, and knowing your limits. Collectively the cast create a world in which people believe what they want to believe and no one gets out clean. I enjoyed Bradley Cooper–with his high energy, no holds barred, get the bad guy mentality–the best and really loved the small part of Louis CK as the conservative, paper pushing FBI boss. Christian Bale and Amy and her Adams kept the audience guessing with their motives and their fate in the story. The soundtrack added an additional element, either setting the scene with the lyrics or putting the viewer squarely in the late 70’s with a particular track. Would totally watch this any time it’s on.

12 Years a Slave

A film that I didn’t know anything about heading in, I was surprised by the brutality and graphic nature of the violence. Two scenes stood out in my mind: the first was Solomon beaten after first being captured and the second the whipping of Patsey. For the first, the captor is shown beating Solomon with a paddle and then a whip with no noticeable cutting away. Either the actor was really beaten or some clever camera work was used. As for the whipping scene, when the vantage point changes Patsey’s face to the plantation owner looking at Patsey, the skin being ripped from her back made me look away. I say all of this to a) warn viewers and b) state my dislike for graphic displays of violence or gore. The story itself is heart wrenching and inspirational as I would have given up far easier and far earlier than Solomon. Glad I saw it but not sure that I would watch it again.

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7.9.15

Pleasantville

Hadn’t seen this movie in years but my friend insomnia visited, so I ended up watching this.

Wonderfully shot and acted, the movie has an interesting premise and takes on several issues—race relations, growing up, city politics, and shared morality. It’s the last one that I’m most interested in. I have always wondered if the black and white environment is perfection, the Garden of Eden as it were, and that the addition of color is the entrance of sin into the world? Or is it the other way around, that color is introduced once a person starts fulfilling their potential? Either way, an enjoyable film that provokes thoughtful discussion.

Noah

Darren Aronofsky films appeal to me with Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain and The Wrestler being favorites of mine. When I heard there was a movie about Noah’s Ark I was skeptical and wasn’t sure Aronofsky’s style would be a good fit.

Ignoring the physical inconsistencies (having an entire forest but only using a small part to create a gigantic structure, using energon cubes to create fire, and Tubal Cain cutting a hole in the ark makes me question the integrity of the vessel) and not worrying about how true the movie stayed to the Biblical tale (only one of the sons had a wife, the definition of clean and unclean animal, and God’s blessing to Noah and his family), the film presents some interesting mental and philosophical dilemmas for the Noah character—self-worth, integrity, fortitude, annihilation. I enjoyed the film for the same reason I liked The Last Temptation of Christ—real people have to make real decisions and those considerations are complicated by all kinds of factors.

Aronofsky has a very distinct film making style and those elements were present. He created an epic, enthralling, thought provoking piece that was worth seeing and worth seeing again.

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6.28.15

Good Will Hunting

Really enjoy this movie. Watching it this time through I was struck by several things: 1) how young Matt Damon was when this was made; 2) the slow-mo fight scene. I had never really noticed before how cheesy it was; 3) the score oscillates between great and awful. There’s the Dandy Warhols (YEAH!) and whatever band ends the movie, but there is also some schmaltzy classical music towards the beginning that doesn’t quite fit. A well acted, well told story that is worth seeing if you haven’t seen it yet.

Unforgiven

The film, which may be the very epitome of a slow burn, is a well told story although I’m not sure about the point. Baseline is a man is asked to kill for money. Man, who used to be worst gunslinger in the West but is now a family man with children and mourning the death of his saintly wife, is asked to track down a whoring cowboy, who cut up a prostitute and forcibly gave up some sort of recompense, and kill him for a reward.

Really felt that this was a retelling of Shane, ie the gunslinger who put down his gun but has to pick it up again. Was it good that William Munny reached back into the past to secure money for his children’s future? Maybe the experiences of the young hothead will stop the cycle of violence. One of the reviewers on IMDB may have said it best: blurred the lines between heroism and villainy, man and myth. Finally I didn’t really like the soundtrack but some great shots of America.

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6.15.15

Rain Man

If I had seen this film before, then I didn’t remember a thing. A touching film that is in essence a road trip with a very insightful, well executed twist that is wonderfully paced and very enjoyable. Say what you about Tom Cruise (TomKat, Scienetology) but what an actor. The emotions he communicated were fantastic and he put in a really solid performance. Dustin Hoffman was great as well in a very unique role. A fabulous movie that is worth your time.

Non Stop

Friday night came around and the soccer game I wanted to watch was not available so I flipped around the HBO channels and settled on this. The plot puzzle was impossible to solve, which was good and bad. Good in that you were always guessing even to the very end and bad because the circumstances were totally unbelievable. For instance, once the media told the passengers they were being hijacked, why didn’t they immediately subdue Liam Neeson and re take control? Or the other flight attendent totally disappears five minutes into the movie. In the end, I was confused by the motivations of the hijackers. Maybe someone who has seen it will explain it to me. Time killer, that’s about it.

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5.31.15

Giant

I was not familiar with this movie at all but it turned out to be an interesting look at how Texas changed in the first half of the century.

Let me start by saying that I enjoyed James Dean much more in this film than in Rebel Without a Cause. His weird mannerisms and quiet intensity worked in this role. This was the first movie I had seen with Rock Hudson. I knew he was star and did he look the part. He was a tall, strong character and did well showing the evolution of Jordan Benedict. He physically dwarfed Liz Taylor, who provided a wonderful foil as the maternal anchor of the family.

The film covered the progression of Texas from being dominated by cattle to dominated by oil, plus it touched on social and racial discrimination with a hint of the battle between the desires of parents and their children. It was a little long and a little slow but probably worth seeing once.

Inception

My third time seeing this and I can’t get enough. For sure in my top 50, maybe even top 10. The film is visualy stunning with a well crafted story that reveals nuances with each viewing. For instance I finallly figured out why Mol killed herself due to the nature of Inception. (I was usually distracted by the interconnected of the dream sequences and trying to figure out the nature of time in the dream environment.) The action scenes are intense and engaging and I love the soundtrack. I think the only criticism I have of this movie is the clarity of Ken Watanbe’s dialogue. Very hard to understand him. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoy this film and love how Nolan movies usaully end with a question rather than a statement.

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5.17.15

Broken City

On paper this should have been a good movie–NYC, crime noir, great cast–but it doesn’t quite work. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but there too much going on lots of characters, and it was really hard to keep track. But that may have been the point. Several coincidences moved the plot along but they felt forced. Finally there was the dumpster scene at the construction company where Mark Wahlberg’s character arrives just in time to fish through the dumpster and witness the fight between father and son, which occurred on the lower level of a major corporation. I don’t think so. Anyway it was just under ok and I wouldn’t see it again other than to look at Catherine Zeta-Jones.

An American in Paris

I admit I didn’t enjoy this musical. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood or maybe it was the 10+ minute ballet scene to end the film. I continue to be amazed at the talent of Gene Kelly and I think my favorite part of the movie was the piano permanence by Oscar Levant (“Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra”). Very vibrant song with the fantasy of being every member of the orchestra and the audience. Might watch that on again on YouTube but not much more.

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5.3.15

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This was one of hardest reviews to write of the entire project. I really enjoy this film but can’t even really describe why. I guess I love the element of chaos that McMurphy introduced into the ward and thought Nicholson was quite good. I guess also it’s part buddy movie, part struggle between ruler and ruled, part commentary on American therapy system.

Terms of Endearment

Surprised about how much I enjoyed this film. As a son, husband and father I could relate to many of the spectrum of emotions and life events presented. There is humor, sadness, tension and uncertainty throughout the movie, and these are potrayed quite capably by the entire cast. Shirley MacLaine takes center stage and gives a wonderful performance, but the actor who played eldest son Tommy was spot on as the defiant, confused kid dealing with adult issues far too early in this life. Glad I watched this one.

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4.5.15

All Quiet on the Western Front

This moving film about WWI, made in 1930, had some real truths about the horror of war. Although it was a little melodramatic at times and the pace of the movie slows down at the end with a lot of stop/starts, it is a decent production for almost 100 years ago. There are elements of this film in future war movies and it’s worth seeing at least once.

The Pianist

I’ll be honest, movies about WWII depress the hell out of me. All that suffering, all that destruction, all that death. How could anyone survive that? Be that as it may, it was hard to turn away from this film. Władysław Szpilman’s tale of luck, hardship and eventual salvation is emotionally gut-wrenching. That’s about I can use to describe this one. I thought I would never see Schindler’s List again but I did, in part due to this project. Maybe in a couple of decades I would be ready to see this again.

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3.17.15

A Place in the Sun

Weird movie. I get the young up and coming who has an edge and get the girlfriend who got knocked up and wants to get married and I get that his rise up the ladder is halted due to tragedy. Didn’t really get him falling in love with a leading socialite. Did Monty Clift’s character even really “love” Liz? And if so, why? Obviously 1950’s vintage Liz Taylor was spectacular but it almost seemed like he was running away from one problem into another. Maybe the book (An American Tragedy) does a better job of explaining the relationships. **Spoiler Alert** At the end, the defense team has an awful strategy that can only lead to one decision. You don’t put the defendant on the stand and you don’t put the defendant on the stand and say he had thoughts of killing his pregnant girlfriend but “changed his mind”. I am not a lawyer but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.** Finally the pacing and tone of movie was just odd but I thought the acting was pretty good.

I Hate Christian Laettner

As a Kentucky basketball fan growing up and a fan of the 30 for 30 series in general, this was a must watch. For those of you who don’t know, Laettner crushed my dreams and dreams of every other Kentucky fan in 1992, which was when I was in high school. When he hit that shot against the Cats I was devastated.

The film strived to give greater context to his life, from his upbringing, his personality traits, his amazing college years at Duke, his mixed NBA career, and now his efforts as a coach and family man. You forget how successful he was a collegiate player, four straight Final Fours, holder of several NCAA Tournament records, two-time National Champion. I enjoyed it and loved flashing back to college basketball in the early 90’s—UNLV, UNC/Duke, and the re-emergence of Kentucky. If you like college basketball at all, this is worth seeing, and while he destroyed one of my fragile dreams as a youth, I don’t hate him.

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3.5.15

Man of Steel

So in all honesty I’m a Batman guy not a Superman guy. I did struggle through the Superman movies of the 1980’s, especially the one with Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and Richard Pryor. I didn’t bother with Superman Returns and I wouldn’t have seen this movie except that Larry got it for Christmas one year and on boring road trips, any port in a storm will do. Last week  it was on TV and I watched it again.

I was surprised by how much I liked it. Recently writers have gone anti hero and outside of the box with this character and have told some really good stories. Luthor and Secret Identity come to mind. This movie is in the same vein as Kal-el struggles with his place in an alien world, guided by parents who want him to make decisions full of integrity and virtue rather than relying on his powers. I thought Henry Cavill was quite good expressing the character’s struggle while also hinting at smugness. Amy Adams was decent although a little over the top as Lois Lane.

The Christ references were a little too on the nose for me, with Clark being 33 years old when he emerges, the stained glass image of Christ in the background at the church, and the whole savior of the world vibe, but I’ll leave that to more theological and cinematic minded people to unpack.

I liked the story telling far more than the action, which was way too gratituous and unrealistic. And long. The final battle goes on and on and on. So there’s that. Then the resolution of the conflict shocked me the first time I saw it. Superman’s whole thing was that he didn’t kill people yet here he is snapping Zod’s neck. He was put in a very tough situation and his choice was startling to me based on previous continuity not necessarily the world created by this film. Anyway, I would watch it again until right at the end and then just end it. Or skip ahead to the Daily Planet intro.

Clue

This was a movie of my childhood. Much in the same way that I watched Batman (1966) and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars over and over again, this movie was in the background. Rarely watched from start to finish but seen in parts throughout the years. Well I hadn’t seen it in probably 15 years but for some reason it bubbled to the surface so I rented it from the library.

The movie is not awesome. Some funny retorts and physical comedy but not much more. The film is ridiculous and over acted at times but it is based on a BOARD GAME (I have not seen Battleship) not a great novel from a college survey class of World Literature. Think I might have enjoyed it a little more with some adult beverages and I’ll have to test that theory in the future.

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2.21.15

Doctor Zhivago

For whatever reason I love Russian history. Took a class in college and am always interested in learning more. Having said that I probably liked this movie slightly more than I would have guessed. A grand, sweeping romance, the movie was a little long for me (three hours and ten minutes) but probably necessary to develop all of the relationships while putting said relationships within the context of history. The acting was a little over the top yet expected, and not sure if there was color correction or what but Omar Sharif’s eyes were the brownest I have ever seen while Julie Christie’s were a sparkling blue. Very striking on screen. Anyway, the film was tolerable but probably wouldn’t see it again.

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Maybe Western movies are not my genre but I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. First of all the title. Is Blondie really good or a precursor to the contemporary anti-hero? Then there’s the fact this movie would have been over had Blondie shot Tuco or vice versa at critical points at the movie and ended the relationship. Then there’s Blondie’s amazingly quick recovery at the mission. Add to this Angel Eyes somehow going from gun for hire to ranking officer in a prisoner of war camp. The plot of the movie has more holes than the proverbial swiss cheese. To top it all of it, the film comes in at almost three hours. Different era in filmmaking you say. Fine. But look at the padding—the opening scene, travelling across the desert, and top it all off, the standoff at the end. Didn’t enjoy this at all (apart from the memorable soundtrack including The Ecstasy of Gold used for the duel) and not planning on seeing this again.

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2.15.15

The Untouchables

Not a movie on either list but saw on the shelf and since I hadn’t seen this in forever, picked it up. In summary, I had fond memories of this movie but this time around not so much. Oozes schmaltz. Costner is not very good, too righteous and forced, and the musical score takes away from what’s going on. De Niro isn’t too bad and I totally forgot that Andy Garcia was in this. There were lighting issues and scene inconsistences and overall it was just not very good.  Speaking of the music, feel like the producers of BBC’s Sherlock were heavily influenced by this movie for the opening theme. So a couple of good lines but won’t be watching this any time soon.

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1.31.15

The Apartment

As the movie began, I thought it was going to be lightheareted comedy about the mishaps of renting out your apartment for your bosses’ indiscretions. Turns out the film was much darker and dramatic than that. I enjoyed it as Shirley Maclaine and Jack Lemmon gave great performances. I was distracted by the fact that Maclaine looked like Bjork, which was a little unsettling, but that was totally my issue. And for some reason I have had it my mind that everything in the 50s and 60s was above board, that everyone was straight laced (and people constantly smoking) but based on watching this and Mad Men, maybe this was not the case.

The Wrestler

Another movie not on either list but I really like this film. Darren Aronofsky loves to repeat images in his creations, and this one was no different as the Ram went through the motions of getting ready for matches, sharing moments in the locker room and inevitably coming home alone. Mickey Rourke gives a captivating performance which causes your heart to constantly break. Marisa and her Tomei’s had a performance that was compelling while Rachel Evan Wood’s cameo was touching. This movie is a slow burn and worth watching. Don’t know if it will make my top 100 but wonderful nonetheless.

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1.24.15

Hoosiers

Another movie not in the top 100 but Larry picked this one out at the library.  No prodding from me and I was surprised because Larry doesn’t even like basketball. A long time since I saw this and it was a wonderful, inspiring movie.  Really enjoyed Hackman’s character dealing with so many issues.   The basketball action wasn’t great but tolerable.  Putting historical accuracy to one side, I’m really glad I saw this again.

 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

 

A strange, very strange movie.  I think I got too caught up in the military’s secret operation with the aliens and the aliens themselves. Was the military in constant contact with aliens, which led to the meeting on top of Devil’s Tower? How did they know they would be there?  There was no explanation on the missing ships turning up in random places. And the aliens could control the weather as like Storm from the X-Men?  And why would the aliens return their original batch (presumably original) and take the NASA all stars and Dreyfuss?  All of this examination caused me to miss out on the wonder and longing shown by the Dreyfuss and the child character.  Anyway, might give it another chance to see if everything comes together.

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1.16.15

Fargo

Haven’t not seen this movie in years but I was stunned by how well all of the parts fit together and really enjoyed it. Ignoring the boneheaded moves made by every character in the film, this is a wonderfully crafted world with a simple premise—a plan gone wrong.  The brutal weather looms in the background as an extra character and the bleak, frigid conditions serve as a backdrop for acting that is perfectly executed leading to a dramatic conclusion. The Coen Brothers produce exceptional, unique films and this is a fine example of their voice.

LA Confidential

This movie is not on either list. Why?  Why is a movie that is well written, produced and performed not ranked?  No idea. Clearly better than a large percentage of eyesores that I have suffered through. The cast was amazing and created a world of sex, crime, violence and intrigue. Watching it this time I was struck by the cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Mentalist star Simon Baker in an early role.  And Kim Basinger. Wow.  Simply put this film is wonderful with everything fitting together seamlessly.  Definitely in my top 100.

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1.2.15

Ghandi

After getting over the shock of Ben Kingsley with hair, I was absorbed by this film.  Not sure about the historical accuracy but the commitment and execution of a non-violent philosophy was extraordinary.  I thought the filmmakers did a great job showing the characters aging throughout a film filled with desire and dedication. I really enjoyed this film and would watch it again.

Dances with Wolves

I thought I had seen this before but I didn’t remember a thing, so it was like seeing it for the first time.  As the credits opened the film, I learned that Kevin Costner directed the film in addition to starring in it.  All credit to him because he did well in both roles.  The expansive shots of the American Frontier were a sight to behold and  even though the film is over three hours long, I thought the pacing was measured and sure.  His performance was exemplary as well as he brought a humanity to the character who befriends the Native Americans and eventually leaves his native country behind.

12.27.14

Out of Africa

Another movie based on actual events, and I found myself surprised that I enjoyed it so much.  A slow burning love story, there were also elements of friendship, struggle and politics.  Set in Kenya, the movie produced amazing shots of the country which really added to the story.  Combine these elements with superb acting and a stirring soundtrack and you get a wonderful film.   I didn’t see the ending coming, and this led to a melancholy denouement, but I would watch this film again, maybe next time with the wife.

The Sixth Sense

Having not seen this movie in years I really wondered if it would hold up.  The answer: absolutely.  Even though I knew the twist at the end, I was engaged all the way to the end by the tension and suspense created by a well-crafted script and acting of a high level.  While not Bruce Willis’ biggest fan (although I don’t know why (Sin City, 12 Monkeys, Die Hard and Pulp Fiction), maybe still holding Armageddon and The Expendables against him), he shines in this film, bringing just the right amount of everything to the part.  Definitely one of my favorites of this project.

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12.20.14

Modern Times

This was the third Charlie Chaplin film I had seen during this project (City Lights and Gold Rush) and again meh.  I’m sure I’m jaded and not in tune with the comedic and cinematic sensibilities of the film, but what are you going to do? I did enjoy the way repetitive action of his factory job continued to affect him even after he left the line.  In the end, the movie came in under 90 minutes but was still a little drawn out.  Check another one off the list.

Mutiny on the Bounty

Ocean going movies are not a genre I know too much about although Master and Commander is one of my favorites, and there were definitely elements of that film in Mutiny on the Bounty–a driven captain, a long voyage in rough circumstances, exotic locales, and the motivation of king and country.

Even though the movie was made in 1936, it holds up pretty well and I didn’t realize until after that it was based on a real event.  Some liberties were taken with the story (I’m shocked!!) but the film explores leadership, with the captain showing several facets of leadership including poor man management, a desire to follow orders and the will to finish the task, and just how much suffering one can bear.  Clark Gable is his charming self and I thought the monologue by the Byam character at the end was quite moving.  This movie won’t get close to my top 100 but I wouldn’t mind watching it again.

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12.13.14

Shakespeare in Love

I have seen this movie several times, and it appeals to my romantic side, which I don’t show very often.  It was ranked 30th on the IMDB list I am using for this project, and let’s just say I wouldn’t put it that high. The IMDB list is skewed toward more recent movies and popularity rather than towards more critical elements.  Having said that, I really enjoyed how the film wove reality and art together to create plays that would last forever. The tone of the movie was light and moved quickly along, while the soundtrack was pleasant and not overbearing.  As for the cast, Tom Wilkinson was great as the playhouse owner who was all about the money but got caught up in the drama.  Joseph Fiennes was good enough, although I think any actor with a scruffy face and a little mischievousness could have played the part.  I’m not the biggest fan of Gwyneth Paltrow, but she brought a beauty and charm to this part.  Worth seeing every once in a while.

Tootsie

Really didn’t know what to expect from this movie.  While the gender roles and attitudes are not as impactful in this day in age, I was OK with the charade up until the trip up to the farm.  I’m not giving away too much here, but between the absurdity of the situation and the cheesy 80’s music on top of several montages, the movie really went off the rails.  Dustin Hoffman did a great job of expressing the frustration of an actor dedicated to the “truth” as he saw it, while Bill Murray was perfect as the sarcastic but understated friend and writer.  The live soap opera moment is absolutely crazy but wonderfully familiar.  Don’t know that I could struggle through this again.

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12.6.14

Amadeus

One of my most favoritest movies ever.  No idea how many times I have seen this film but I could watch it again and again. Love the soundtrack.  How can you not as Mozart is one of the greatest composers of all time? Love the malevolent Salieri as portrayed by F. Murray Abraham.  Love the talented and troubled Mozart that came to life through Tom Hulce.

This time through, I did two things. One, I watched the director’s cut.  Comes in at three hours (adding 20 minutes to the theatrical release) and doesn’t really add much.  You’re welcome.  Two, I read up on the historical accuracy of the film, which turns out is close to zero.  I learned that the film was based on a play of the same name, which in turn was inspired by Alexander Pushkin’s play Mozart i Salieri.  Most scholars don’t believe that Salieri poisoned Mozart and also there is not much evidence that the two were at odds.  The Wikipedia entry of Mozart paints a very different picture, especially of his last days, as he was gaining in popularity and getting out of debt.  As for his burial, scholars believe he was not buried in a pauper’s grave but in a common grave with several well attended memorial services.

So the film takes liberties with the truth.  Not the first time.  Regardless of the facts, the story is a wonderful tale of good versus evil and the nature and cost of genius decorated with musical of the highest order.  Highly recommend this movie.

Patton

Another movie about war, celebrating one of the greatest military leaders in American history.  George C. Scott is brilliant as Patton, and the film focused on Patton’s participation in WWII.  His great accomplishments were often overshadowed by his “big mouth” which resulted in reliefs of duty and may have cost him being the commanding officer in Europe.  He was no nonsense, brash and focused and led in such a way as to inspire respect, definitely not love, and action from his troops. Skimming Patton’s Wikipedia page, it is relatively accurate from a historical perspective, with some liberties taken regarding his language, voice and dialogue.

Although this is a war movie, war is simply used as a mirror in which to reflect Patton’s personality and character.  There is not too much gore, as battle scenes were kept to a minimum, focusing instead on the man and those around him.  I really enjoyed this and would watch it again.

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11.30.14

Chicago

I missed the whole brouhaha surrounding this film and probably would have never seen it except for this project.  Have to say that I really enjoyed it as it was a fantastic story about how fame works and what people will to do achieve it.  The musical numbers were entertaining, well done and moved the story along.   Richard Gere was perfect and I didn’t realize he was so talented.  Renée Zellweger was annoying but just compelling enough to make the audience not want her to succeed, while Queen Latifah was quite good.  In fact the entire cast was fantastic. Again another musical I liked and would probably see this again.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I didn’t know anything about this movie, so just started watching it and waited to see what happened.  What happened was two of the most uncomfortable hours I have ever experienced.  Richard Burton and Liz Taylor were captivating as a couple suffering through a deteriorating marriage.  Loved Burton’s character, with his voice, sinister laugh, sharp wit and insight, and drunken orations.  I still have no idea what the movie was about or what happened and wondered if it was the manners of those times that kept the other young couple in that house. Finally I could definitely tell this was a play adapted to a film with the blocking, dialogue, setting and time frame.  Very weird movie and I don’t think I would want to sit through that again.

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11.22.14

The African Queen 

Of all the movies I have watched during this project, I think this one might be in my Worst Top 10.  Why?  Two main elements: production and believability.  Almost every close up scene on the water had a fake backdrop and every long shot made you wonder if the actors were even on the boat.  This, combined with a series of lighting inconsistencies, made the film hard to watch.  Add to this the complete unrealistic nature of a film—a boat that is barely working, manned by a drunk sailor and a missionary, goes down an unnavigable river with the sole purpose of sinking a German ship—and you get a dud.  Bogart and Hepburn were ok but don’t think much of anything could have saved this movie.  Tell me why I’m wrong.

Rebel Without a Cause

Ugh.  That was my initial reaction to this movie.  After watching West Side Story and checking out films that Natalie Wood had been in, I realized I had never seen this supposed iconic American film.  It wasn’t on the AFI 2007 list but it was on the IMDB list.

What is the fuss about James Dean?  Besides the squinting eyes and the terrible posture and the uncomfortable giggle.  This film was so awkward and clunky and not believable.  Then there was the third wheel element of Plato, which was very weird.  So I’ve seen it and made further progress on this project, but pretty sure I would not watch it again.

Having said all that I did a little research and found AMC’s review.  Now while I agree about what the story is supposed to be about (search for honesty, friendship, maturity), just didn’t feel that it adequately did those things.  Again.  What do I know?

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11.16.14

West Side Story

Going into this film, all I knew was there was lots of snapping, it involved the Jets and the Sharks and it was a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet.  Of all the musical based films I have seen during this project, I think I enjoyed this one the least.  Some of the musical numbers seemed unnecessary and took away from the pace of the movie.  And the lack of specific athleticism (playing basketball and fighting come to mind) was distracting.  On the plus side I loved the overhead shots of NYC to open the movie and thought the film had some interesting comments on the quest for the American dream.

Duck Soup

Another cultural blindspot of mine is the Marx Brothers.  I was aware of Groucho Marx but had never seen one of their movies.  Let me just say I’m glad this one was on 70 minutes.  The premise of the film was absurd and rather than focus on that, I tried to look at production value or cultural impact. Pretty grand scale for a film based in physical comedy and witty one liners, of which there were several.  The movie moved along pretty well but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it and don’t see what the fuss is all about.  And I didn’t get the title reference either.  I did enjoy the mirror scene which took some coordination.  Finally, not sure if this is typical, but one of the Marx Brothers was relatively normal and barely in the movie.

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11.9.14

Network

My memory is horrible.  I am 99% sure I’ve seen this before but other than the Howard Beale “prophet of doom” stuff, I didn’t remember anything.  Didn’t remember the network politics or the cultural impact of TV or the affair between Holden and Dunaway.  Didn’t remember the startling ending.

William Holden might be thread that ties this project together.  Sunset Blvd, Bridge on the River Kwai, The Wild Bunch and this film.  Totally unknown to me previously, I have really enjoyed his performances.  His love interest is Faye Dunaway, an up and coming TV exec, and she is a raging bitch and I loved it.  She commanded the screen every moment she was on, but in terms total command, nothing beats the oration by Ned Beatty’s character. His character’s words are dark, prescient and terrifying.  Possibly the finest moment in a film of great moments.

This film is a nominee for my top 100 and must be seen.

Spartacus

Not as long as Ben-Hur and marginally better.  A historical drama, which could be seen as a metaphor for equal rights and fighting for moral truth against the back drop of the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, this film ticks all the boxes: slave rising up against his master, physical violence, love story, political intrigue, sweeping montages, a score that clearly tells you what’s going on, and ultimate sacrifice.  Another way to look it is that it’s a bad smash up of Gladiator and the recent Spartacus series on cable.  Kirk Douglas brought humanity to the character and the cause of the slaves, and Laurence Olivier is diabolically good as Crassus.  I’ve seen it, and now I know what I’m Spartacus is all about and I can move on.

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11.2.14

Toy Story

One of Pixar’s earliest offerings, this film is full of wonderful characters and storylines.  Larry and I watched this together for the first time in years, which made it even more special.  The animation is amazing, bringing each toy to life, along with the fine vocal talents of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and others. Adventure, cycles of life, friendship—not too much more to say about this other than it’s pretty high on my list so far.

Nashville

This film was released in the mid 70’s, and having already enjoyed MASH during this process and having always liked The Player, I shouldn’t have been surprised that  this Robert Altman film.  The audience is simply dropped into the middle of a familiar yet wholly created world and a story unfolded, a story that took aim at politics, the music industry and pop culture.  I also enjoyed the BBC reporter, who I took very seriously at the beginning until I caught on to her pretension and her eyes for the next blinking red light.  Finally, turns out that most of the actors performed their own songs, which added to the performance level of the film.  Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like country music but I really liked the soundtrack, which was almost entirely original.  This one is worth seeing.

10.22.14

Jaws

Having never seen this film, I didn’t know what to expect.  Kinda surprised it was in the top 100 of all time, but I felt that it held up surprisingly well.  Why?  Timeless elements–political shenanigans and terror.  While the special effects might pale in comparison to contemporary CGI, the movie slowly builds the tension and fear until the dramatic finale.  Really enjoyed Richard Dreyfuss as the scientist who knows the danger but is ignored.  This film probably won’t make my top 100 but I’ve got another cultural blindspot covered.

Blade Runner

Think this is the third time I’ve seen this and this time through it was as if I was watching it for the first time.  The movie does a great job creating its own world, with a future LA that is dark, dirty and wet.  Plus the film score is additional character fluxuating between futuristic synthesizer, classic music and background pop.  Loved the glowing umbrella handles and omnipresent advertising.  The idea of AI is tackled with the creation revolting against the creator.  Rutger Hutger gives a fine performance, really expressing the desperation of survival.  Harrison Ford does well too as his facade of control slowly deteriorates through the film.  Think the slave aspect of the replicants could have been explored more but that’s my only complaint.

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10.15.14

Sullivan’s Travels

Another movie that I knew nothing about.  Made in 1942, the story involves a director trying to make a meaningful, important movie rather than the comedic (and profitable) drivel he had been responsible for.  I loved the rapid fire dialogue to open the movie that sets the plot in motion.  I also enjoyed Veronica Lake’s performance as well as male lead Joel McCrea, and there are precursors to the current reality TV age we live in.  Felt the denouement wrapped up too quickly but all in all a fun film with an insightful message just below the surface.

Fellowship of the Ring

Full confession: I avoided these movies.  I haven’t read the books, and knowing that each film was going to be three hours long, I decided to pass up until this project.  This will inevitably be a cultural blindspot, but that’s the way it is.  The movie is fine, although I never felt I understood back story, possibly because Larry was distracting me during the opening sequences with random comments about what was about to happen and what happened in the Hobbit movies.  The plot moves along, touching on familiar themes like adventure and loyalty and the end of the world.  The constant barely escaping danger did get a little tiring but I understand why they had to do that.  Probably won’t see this again and probably won’t watch the last two installments.

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10.6.14

The Silence of the Lambs

Love this movie.  Love the unravelling of the mystery.  Love the control by Lechter.   Love the naivety yet ambition of Starling.  I haven’t seen every Anthony Hopkins film but can’t imagine he hits it out of the park any better than this.  Not a big Jodie Foster fan but she does capture a young, hungry trainee looking to put personal demons behind her in search of advancement.  Scott Glenn puts a nice veneer of disdain on this management persona.  The only complaint I would have is the compressed timeline—only 48 hours to interview Lechter, get him a deal, chase down leads, run into actual killer and then of course, the amazing flight from Calumet City, IL to Belvedere, OH for the dramatic conclusion.

The Deer Hunter

I watched this movie years ago and all I remembered was the dramatic Russian Roulette moment at the end.  What I didn’t remember was that the film was three hours long.  Be that as it may, this is one of the most raw and depressing movies I have seen.  The film goes to great lengths to explore the cycle of Vietnam War soldiers—the fear and anxiety before leaving, the horrors of war in country, and the sense of disconnectedness and injury upon return.  The cast gives a deep and thoughtful performance but there is no happy ending and as the closing credits ran, I was numb.  Worth seeing once, maybe every once in a while.

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9.28.14

Platoon

As with any war movie, I just need to state that I would not last 10 minutes in war time.  Watching this movie yet again, I really noticed Barber’s Adagio haunting Oliver Stone’s gritty and depressing take on Vietnam, with Charlie Sheen’s character suffering through the horrors of war.  Each of the main characters is well crafted, showing different aspects of the conflict.  Despite the bloodshed and graphic violence, I could watch this movie again and again as a reminder of ugliness and absurdity of war.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

The movie is pleasant enough and checks the one last heist/Western/buddy pic boxes, but I didn’t really enjoy it.  Maybe because I wasn’t in the right mood and maybe because I watched it in two parts.  Maybe because the one lasting memory I had from the first time watching it was the cliff dive that I thought ended the movie.  Anyway I really enjoyed Robert Redford’s performance as the sharpshooter with a soft spot for the teacher.  Not too much beyond that.  And Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head does not help.

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9.20.14

Swing Time

Two things I learned from this movie—Fred Astaire was an amazing dancer and Ginger Rogers was beautiful.  With dancing a big component of the plot, the musical numbers did not seem out of place, and the music added to the story.  The Mr. Bojangles segment was quite interesting in how they used Astaire’s shadow behind him and the actor was able to interact with his virtual self.  Finally, at an hour and 40 minutes, the film wasn’t that long, but the story could have been a little tighter.  All in all in fun film.

Do the Right Thing

Pretty sure this was my first Spike Lee movie. As with Woody Allen, if all of his movies are like this, then he is a director to get into.  The story uses the day in a life vehicle to explore some really interesting social and cultural issues.  I did not see the ending coming and was shocked by how the situation escalated.  Felt the conclusion brought a sad but poignant end to the situations that people face interacting in a world that is always changing and up for grabs.  Really enjoyed Danny Aiello’s performance, which is a rarity, and Spike Lee’s character Mookie faced the contradictions of life with a believable presentation.  Quite good and definitely late to the races on this one.

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9.9.14

In the Heat of the Night

Ray Charles singing the opening track really grabbed me.  How have I never heard that song?  As for the film, loved the tension between the character and the unraveling of the mystery and the exploration of racial issues. What really bothered me was the timing of the film.  How was the case wrapped up in a matter of days?  And don’t these people ever sleep?  And what train leaves at 4:05 in the morning?  Despite all of that I would see it again because there were some interesting snippets about first impression and relationship development.   And not sure how this became a TV show, but it did.

Pulp Fiction

Another anticipated favorite that I had not seen in years.  Love this movie.  Love everything about it—the soundtrack, the dialogue, the characters.  I can’t imagine creating my own world, much less a world in which every character is rattling off profanity laced quips.  I’m sure there is a greater lesson to this movie but I will never learn it because I will always been enthralled by Tarantino’s creations and a world of drugs and violence and brief moments of insight and camaraderie.  Looking forward to seeing it again.

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9.3.14

My Fair Lady

Again another musical which surprised me.  I felt the story was familiar and upon researching a little deeper, turns out this was based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which I must have read at some point.  Loved the interaction of Higgins and Pickering and the transformation of Eliza.  Don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie of Audrey Hepburn before.  Turns out she didn’t sing the numbers in the film but made up for it with her acting performance.  My biggest complaint with the film was the length.  At almost three hours, think the story could have been presented a little quicker.

Forrest Gump

I really love this movie.  I remember that I thought it was long the first time when I saw it, and maybe it is, but it is wonderful on so many levels.  Let me start with the acting.  Tom Hanks is spellbinding in the lead role; Robin Wright captures the discontent and ache of the restless American; and Gary Sinise battles many of the demons facing everyone.  Then there is the soundtrack.  Covering decades of rock, the montage during the 60’s section hits the sweet spot for me in terms of music—The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Mamas and the Papas, CCR and more.  Finally there is the historical scope of the movie–the Civil Rights movement, Free Love, politics, AIDS, Disco.  A truly American film guided by a character that simply does the right thing with the best of intentions.  Early contender for personal Top Ten.

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8.25.14

The French Connection

Standard good cop/bad cop team looking for redemption against an extremely shrewd enemy.  This movie was strangely compelling, with Gene Hackman emitting a gritty, visceral intensity.  In the end, decent effort although I was put off by the shoddy police work in terms of shadowing (Gene Hackman always wore the same hat) and the fact that a car was ripped apart and completely put together as good as new in just a couple of hours.

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8.16.14

American Graffiti

I had seen this movie before and it is wonderful.  The story of those angst filled days after high school and the transition between child to adult, there are elements of the movie that remind me of Dazed and Confused.  Such a great ensemble cast and a soundtrack that makes me long for the music of days gone by.  This will probably be in my top 100 and I could watch it again and again.

Rocky

I think the only Rocky movies I had seen from start to finish were IV and V.  As much as I loathe the contemporary Sylvester Stallone (CopLand notwithstanding), his creation really inspires.  Is he the greatest actor?  No.  Does this film have the greatest cinematography or soundtrack or cast?  No.  But it more than makes up for it with story telling and heart.  I was surprised by how much in enjoyed this and my have to give this a couple more viewings.

The Gold Rush

A Charlie Chaplin film from the late 20’s I somehow enjoyed this more than City Lights, which was also on the list.  There was some great physical comedy in this film, and the movie is a series of short vignettes moving Chaplin’s character from desperate Alaskan prospector to a millionaire who wins the heart of his love.  At #58 on the AFI list, might have been a touch high.

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8.10.14

12 Angry Men

Very interesting film.  In reading about it, almost the entire film was shot inside the deliberation room.  The movie explores so many things—American justice system, questioning perceived truth, staying true to one’s beliefs, peer pressure, behavioral response to environmental factors.  Henry Fonda gave a wonderful performance as the contrarian and makes his case softly yet with force of logic and belief.  The rest of the case contributes to different aspects of the human character.  Worth watching multiple to see how each character influences and is influenced.

M*A*S*H*

I’ve probably watched a total of 10 minutes of the TV show.  The first thing that struck me about the film was the opening sequence with the song Suicide is Painless playing in the background.  Very unsettling lyrics.  The film itself is darkly humorous and shows what people will do in a situation which was absurd, gory, and raw.  As with any war movie, I wouldn’t survive ten minutes in that situation.  I enjoyed the movie and would watch it again, especially to keep an eye on how the new doctors raise the level of shenanigans in the camp.

Ben-Hur

Movie got off to a slow start, and it took a while to even start really watching it.  At 4 hours it was hard to stay with it and I had my computer on most of the time.  All the elements of a good story were there but just took too long.  As for the cast, I felt that Heston overacted, but I really enjoyed Stephen Boyd as Messala and felt he was a dead ringer for Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty from the Wire and The Hour).  The scale of the movie was immense and when you think about how much effort went into the chariot scene, the Gladiator really underwhelmes.

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8.3.14

The Wild Bunch

This one was ok.  Criminal gang’s last score meets Western with some political conflict on the Mexican border.  The camaraderie of the group was at times wonderful and at others annoying, with most scenes starting with gentle ribbing, escalating to guns drawn and then ending with laughing and passing the bottle around.  I will need to research why this movie has made such an impact.  Didn’t see the reason on first viewing.

*SPOILER ALERT and QUESTION*             I will say that the heist of the train and the payoff of the general were well conceived but I do wonder why the gang didn’t just send the train off into the distance instead of reversing it back into their pursuers.

Goodfellas

Love this movie.  It had been a while since I had seen it straight through but the film is well acted, well directed and well paced.  The story is always moving forward, showing the life and the inevitable conflict at the end.  The violence and blood are not really for me, but these are minimal throughout the movie.One thing I picked up on this viewing was that Samuel L. Jackson has a small part which I had never picked up on before. I really don’t  know what else to say other than watch it tonight.

Taxi Driver

I had never seen this movie before.  Really enjoyed it with Scorsese’s pacing drawing me in and DeNiro’s psychological breakdown of Travis Bickle keeping me glued to the screen.  He was strangely subdued yet his mania was simmering just below the surface.  His moment of madness was predictable but it played out in such a strange way.  Why did he go after Palantine first?  Acting out against Betsy (who was wonderfully played by a beautiful Cybil Shepard)?  The confrontation with the pimp made more sense and I thought the movie was going to end with Travis dead on the couch and the camera pulling out into the streets.  I was surprised that there was an epilogue with him surviving (quick and total recovery by the way) and even being some sort of hero.  Could definitely watch this again and again although wouldn’t be advisable to see it in quick succession.

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7.27.14

A Streetcar Named Desire

This movie was uncomfortable to watch.  Three people in a tight space with all that tension drove the movie.  Vivian Leigh’s character Blanche was clearly deteriorating which created awkward situations with her sister, Stanley, and Mitch, yet I felt pity for her.  I’m not sure about the ending of the film as the situation that precipitated it was awful and must have been scandalous at the time of writing and production.  The film is well acted and well told but I probably would not have it my top 100.

Rear Window

So Jimmy Stewart’s character is laid up in an apartment and likes to people watch.  What’s so wrong with that?  In terms of suspense, I felt underwhelmed.  I much more enjoyed the interaction between Stewart, Grace Kelly and the actress who played the nurse. Also, special mention to the detective, who seemingly always had an answer until the very end.  Not the best Hitchcock movie I’ve seen.

Sophie’s Choice

Just uncomfortable and depressing.  Don’t even know where to begin and don’t even know if I liked this film or hated it.  Meryl Streep gave an amazing performance and communicated so many emotions and feelings, and the movie is worth seeing just for that.  Probably have to watch it again to form a better opinion.

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7.19.14

It Happened One Night

Amazing how a movie in 1934 is just like a movie made in 2014.  Since I don’t really like rom-coms, I tried to keep an open mind about this, and the film hit all the major plot points of a contemporary rom-com. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert had a wonderful chemistry that moved the story along to its inevitable conclusion.

Think the best part of the film was in how it was made. Directed by Frank Capra, he filmed the entire thing in four weeks, mostly without sets, and had to pay Claudette Colbert a significant amount of money, while getting her attitude every day. Result was five Academy Awards.

Shane

I really don’t know what this movie was about.  Former gunslinger trying to create a new life for himself, keeps his guns holstered until he acknowledges that he is a gunslinger, and then saves the day.  And I felt there was some sort of undercurrent with Shane and the wife.  Almost like they knew each other from a previous life.  I think what really bothered me is that Shane and the rancher fight for like ten minutes to see which one confronts the town bad guy.

The Sound of Music

I admit that it took me a while to get into this movie.  I was familiar with all of the songs but didn’t know any of the plot, with the Baroness and spiritual struggle storylines being interesting.  As with Cabaret, there was the inevitable Nazi invasion and that catalyst created the dramatic ending.  The music and singing was fine enough and I can now move on.  Not the best, not the worst one I’ve seen so far.

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7.10.14

A Philadelphia Story

I really shouldn’t like this movie.  Contrived, unrealistic, takes too long to resolve, yet I found myself enjoying it.  The cast is great with real chemistry between Hepburn, Grant and Stewart.  If it was on TV I would probably give it a watch again.

Midnight Cowboy

Depressing.  That’s really all I can say. Jon Voight’s character goes to NYC with dreams but finds life hard and troubling and terrible. In the end he makes a friend in Ratso, who was well played by Dustin Hoffman (including horrible teeth and constant sweating) and is able to create a moment of compassion.  More of a cautionary tale about drugs and sex and life goals than anything else.  Probably don’t need to see this again.

A Clockwork Orange

To be honest, the only thing I remembered from previous viewings was Alex’s eyes propped open.  I didn’t remember the violence or parental issues or governmental shenanigans. Malcolm McDowell puts in a fine performance as the lead character and I really enjoyed the devilishness of the Minister.  In the end, I’m not even sure I liked this movie.  Reading about it after, the film is close adaption of a book (which I didn’t know) and is treatise on morality, free will and behavior modification.  Guess it’s worth seeing once but understand how it’s not every cup of tea.

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7.3.14

Cabaret

After watching this I may have to recalibrate the brush I paint musicals with.  The songs and performers were quite good and the film was filled with several different plot lines looking at pre-WW II Germany.  With the rise of the Nazi Party in the background, the movie explored the relationship between a conservative academic and liberal artist.  The characters did not pull punches and I appreciated the honesty of the portrayal.  Special mention for the Master of Ceremonies, who moved the story along and provided a wide range of emotion and characters.  I did have a hard time reconciling the Liza Minnelli of this film with the actress from Arrested Development but that’s on me.  Anyway, good movie and I would actually want to see it again.

King Kong

All I can say is that I checked this one off this list.  Enjoyed the director character who would do anything for a film but felt the rest of the movie was a little threadbare.  Not much to say for 1933 special effects, but I’m sure at the time it was a spectacle.   And how did Ann Darrow not get crushed in the grip of Kong?

Shawshank Redemption

Quite simply one of the best movies I’ve seen so far.  I had not seen it from start to finish in a long time, catching pieces from time to time as it always seems to be on cable tv.   The story is brilliant, the performances are measured and sure and the production is not overdone.  Not much more to say about it. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading this and watch it.

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6.24.14

Bonnie and Clyde

Didn’t really enjoy this and probably my fault more than the movie’s fault.  Maybe I’m too jaded and too used to contemporary films.  After doing a little research turns out this movie is just like any other biopic—compressed, dramatized and largely fictitious.

As for the characters, I wondered about the relationship between the two main characters and the director taking the angle of impotence rather that the sex fueled crime sprees we see in today’s movies.  Didn’t enjoy the sister in law.  She added a dynamic to the gang but was very grating.  The CW Moss underling character was a little too dumb but created the moment of climax in the movie.  In the end, another Faye Dunaway movie that I didn’t like.

Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope

A couple of years ago, Larry and I watched all six Star Wars movies.  It was a chance to bond and to answer his questions and play with pretend lightsabers and revisit my childhood.  I thought episode IV and V still held up while VI was a little too nice for me.  The first three were a travashamockery that I might deal with in another post.

The story is very clear and straightforward and the characters identifiable.  What I noticed on this viewing was Luke Skywalker’s desire to shake off the shackles of farming and go be a fighter pilot.  Yes the pouting was immature but he’s young and desires to do great things.  Leia is very strong and there are certain parallels to Padame from the first three episodes.  As for the Darth Vader, for all his power I felt he should have been more knowledgeable and in control.

Anyway, for the 1970’s the special effects were pretty cool and this was my introduction to sci fi, which I dabble in from time to time.  This film is always worth seeing.

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6.18.14

Apocalypse Now

I was actually dreading watching this again.  Never felt like I ever enjoyed this movie, however this time the stripping away of morality and normality as the boat went farther down the river really struck me .  That and the nature of war.  I wouldn’t last five minutes in combat.  The soundtrack really adds to this movie.  In the end, I don’t think I will fully understand the movie until I read Heart of Darkness.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

It has been years, let’s face it decades since I’ve seen this.  A simple story and for animation in 1937, I’m sure it was quite good.  Didn’t realize it was so musical-ly.  One criticism of the film and I don’t want to over think this but it doesn’t seem like you keep the key to the vault filled with precious jewels just hanging on a hook outside the door.  I watched this on the train home from Dallas and it did feel a little weird watching it with other people watching Taken 2 and romantic comedies and whatever else.

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6.10.14

Annie Hall

Why don’t I like Woody Allen?  Rephrase.  Why have I not gotten into Woody Allen?  Annie Hall is exactly the movie for me—witty, introspective, sarcastic, awkward—and this movie was right in my wheelhouse. I wonder if all of his movies are like this and may have to search them out after this project is over.  Liked the cameos of Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum and enjoyed this movie about the nature of relationships and Hollywood and any number of things.

Double Indemnity

Really great movie.  Lots of plot twists and suspense even though the ending is laid out in the first five minutes of the film.  The three main actors— Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson—gave outstanding performances, with Robinson particular good as the surly, clever and anti-social claims officer.  The movie, released in 1944, holds up because its essence is timeless—crime doesn’t pay.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Not sure if the movie was a Bibllcal lesson about the pursuit of wealth or just a cautionary tale about never having enough or just a buddy movie/Western/man versus man.  Whatever it was trying to accomplish, it took a little too long to do it and could have got to the point sooner.  The old man was fantastic with a mixture of wit and wisdom and some crazy thrown in.

Dr. Strangelove

I watched this movie years ago and fell asleep so didn’t have a good experience.  Second time around loved the satirical nature of the film, exploring the dynamics of the military and politicians, and the many “gaps” of the Cold War Era.  George C. Scott was fantastic laying out the permutations of each scenario in the War Room.  Peace is Our Profession was my favorite slogan and it would probably take multiple viewings to catch all of the insidious references.

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6.4.14

The Maltese Falcon

Tense, puzzling detective drama featuring Humphrey Bogart.  What struck me about this movie is an era before cell phones and the internet.  For example, leaving notes at hotels and having to believe someone’s story rather than checking the Wikipedia entry.  The movie itself was ok and for some reason it didn’t hold my attention.  Maybe a second viewing would change my mind.  Bogart did well in walking the tightrope between all of the competing characters.  I also enjoyed Sydney Greenstreet as Gutman who was sinister and clever and gentlemanly all at the same time.

The General

Meh.  For the 1920’s probably pretty good and *Spoiler Alert* amazing stunt scene at the end when the train derails. Surely they only had one take for that but what expense to build and then destroy a bridge and lose a train.  I found the comedy of errors aspect of the movie a little much.  The soundtrack added on the version I watched helped a little, setting the characters and the context of the movie.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Another movie about a bridge being blown up.  Haven’t seen this in a while and I admit I did not catch the philosophical and ethical dilemmas on the first viewing.  In the end how do you make the most of an absurd situation?  All parties involved were faced with tough choices that revealed their character.

As for the acting, Alec Guinness’ character showed either extreme adherence to his beliefs or absolute madness.  I enjoyed William Holden’s early cynicism which gave way to a crushing conflict. Would be a good film for a class/group discussion.

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5.29.14

To Kill a Mockingbird

Not a cinematic marvel but simply a timeless, thought provoking story with considered performances by the entire cast.  Watching this, I was reminded of my time in the South–the manners, the hospitality.  I was also struck by how such a small area (believe the Radley house was on two houses down from Finch’s) could seem so big to children. Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch was stunning, and in searching Gregory Peck’s filmography I realized I don’t think I’ve seen another movie that he has been in.  A film worth seeing again and again.

Braveheart

Wonderful movie about rebelling against tyranny, with traces of humor and romance.  Mel Gibson is captivating as William Wallace and whoever played the king nailed the a-hole part of the role.  The battle scenes are grand and gory; the political intrigue in both England and Scotland is played to the hilt; and the love stories are romantic and speak to endless love.  And yet most the movie is a fabrication.  Despite that, can’t help but enjoying it viewing after viewing.

All About Eve

Another movie I had never heard of and another pleasant surprise.  Lots of themes in this film about the world of acting—dynamics between producer and director, between director and actors, between the actors themselves, and the dynamics between the entire production and the public, including the media.  Bette Davis gives a diva performance of exquisite quality that would not be out of place in any contemporary reality show.  Anne Baxter as Eve keeps the audience guessing about her real motives in the world of theater.  For me the star was George Baxter as Addison Dewitt.  Intelligent, clever, and cynical, he manipulates those around him and always stands while others fall.

The Best Years of Our Lives

A little long, a little slow but an earnest film about life after war for soldiers. Many themes were explored—finding work, renewing relationships, forgetting about war experiences—and each actor nailed their part.

In researching the film afterwards, I was surprised in the turnaround of the film.  Released in 1946, about a year after WWII ended, the movie was extraordinarily topical. Films about WWII focus on the patriotism and heroism of the soldiers but rarely on the effects.  This movie did that and I really enjoyed it.

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5.22.14

High Noon

Not sure how to feel about the narrative of this film.  Is it Will Kane’s resposnbility to leave and start a new life with a new wife or stay and protect the city while tying up loose ends?  Everyone asks and encourages him to leave and yet he stays and through a little luck and toughness succeeds.  As for the film-making, I enjoyed the use of the countdown to the train’s arrival.  Built up the tension while telling the story.  Higher marks for the philosophical dilemma rather than the crafting of the film itself.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Had always heard this movie referenced but now understand its importance.  Made in 1939 it is as true today as it was 75 years ago.  James Stewart is perfect in his role of Jefferson Smith—idealistic, honest and full of common sense.  I also really enjoyed the performance of Claude Rains as Senator Paine. Stately yet conflicted, his measured demeanor added to the advancement and resolution of the story.  The Saunders character was great as the jaded secretary but felt she was a touch melodramatic at the end.  The movie keeps the story and sets simple.  One man and his voice, surrounded by American history, against the powers that be.

Chinatown

Again I watched this film, again I was confused and just when I understood the plot, it’s over.  Maybe that was the intention.  Jack Nicholson is good as JJ Gittes but I have never understood Faye Dunaway.  Maybe I can’t get over her eyebrows in this movie, and I still don’t get how Mrs. Mulwray’s eye is shot out but the back of her head is fine. Anyway, the movie was ok, and after watching it, I did some reading.  I guess its legacy is more of a cultural and historical record than a cinematic masterpiece.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Despite this movie being on every Christmas, I had never seen it, probably only seen a couple of minutes ever.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  Ignoring the conversation between glowing galaxies at the beginning, the story is timeless (helping your fellow man, don’t realize how much impact you have on other’s lives, people are good when given a chance) and the performances spot on.  I was fascinated by the flaws of George Bailey—anger, uncertainty, resentment, depression.  I assumed the flawed hero was a relatively recent phenomenon but this movie definitely showed that this is not reserved for contemporary films.

Grapes of Wrath

This film was depressing yet strangely compelling.  Read the book years ago so not sure how it compares, although I don’t feel that the book ended with the common people monologue that the movie did.  Henry Fonda was quite good as the troubled younger Tom Joad.  Again a decent enough movie but one the medium’s greatest achievements?  Not so sure.

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5.19 (Steven Spielberg Edition)

Raiders of the Lost Ark

I watched this movie umpteen times as a kid, and Larry has seen the entire series many times, so we sat down and watched this together.  I have not seen this from start to finish in probably 15 years or more and was surprised at how well it held up.  The movie has everything—action, romance, political intrigue, religious mysticism, far flung locations, heavy drinking.  Harrison Ford nails the role completely and it is hard to imagine anyone else as Indiana Jones.  A great movie and a wonderful trip down memory lane.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Having not watched this movie in 30 years, I only really remembered the biking through the sky and the Reese’s Pieces.  The movie lacked in action but made up for it in tension and developing the relationship between the family and ET.  For some reason I thought “Keys” was much more malevolent but turns out he was just an older version of Elliott.  Watched with my family, which made a for nice experience.

Schindler’s List

As a note, do not watch this right after ET.  Poor decision for my emotional health.  What a film. Heart wrenching, sometimes hard to watch due to the physical, mental and emotional abuse.  In the end, how can you not cry?  Liam Neeson is truly exceptional, as is the whole cast, with fine performances by Kingsley and Fiennes.  Probably haven’t seen this in 15 years and it may be another 15 before I could see it again, not because it lacks in quality but because it is simply too much to bear.  Amazing achievement.

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5.15.14

City Lights

Another movie I knew nothing about.  Not a big Charlie Chaplin guy.  This silent movie, in black and white, had a hard time holding my attention.  But I was amazed what can be communicated by facial expressions and context.

On the Waterfront

Probably the best movie I’ve seen so far.  Very straight forward but amazing performances by the entire cast.  Karl Malden was compelling as the local priest looking to improve things for his parishioners.  Another film with Eva Marie Saint and she was good as well.  Marlon Brando won on Oscar for his role of Terry and thought he did a great job expressing the conflict of his character.  Set design was very simple and didn’t over complicate the movie.  Really good.

Psycho

Even knowing the ending, the film is mesmerizing and really enjoyed it.  *Spoiler alert* Still surprised that the female lead dies so early in the movie.  Movie stresses that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and Anthony Perkins is simply terrifying in his role as Norman Bates.  Enjoyed the layers of the film.  Each visitor to the Bates Motel revealed more and more about the situation and climaxes with a dramatic ending.

Sunset Blvd.

Another great film.  Touches on so many storylines—struggling writer, star crossed lovers, nature of fame, price of principle, history of Hollywood, complexity of movie making, power of money.  Great performances all around and loved the story structure.  Can see many of these elements in contemporary films while borrowing from the past.  Recommend this.

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5.8.14

Lawrence of Arabia

My initial, snarky comment is that this is four hours of my life I’m not getting back.  Putting that to one side, some of scenes are truly epic in terms of scale.  Peter O’Toole did do a decent job of expressing the moral conflict going on inside the main character, although it was over the top at times.  Turns out it was based on a true story, which is kind of interesting.

2001: A Space Odyssey

I admit that I don’t get this movie at all.  It opens with two minutes of dissonant music before starting with Richard Strauss’ symphonic poem Also sprach Zarathustra (yes I looked that up).  The Space Age stuff is pretty straightforward and the set design is extraordinary in regard to what the future may/might look like.  I’m sure the recurring obelisk has some grand meaning but the scene at the end is just too weird for me. The upside is that this closing scene is one of my sources of insomnia.  I think I’ve seen the film three times and I’ve fallen asleep all three times.

Gladiator

I went to this viewing thinking that I didn’t like this movie.  Don’t know why.  Probably because the CGI scenes in Rome are just awful and took me out of the movie momentarily.  The film does what it’s supposed to—makes a hero out of Maximus and a villain out of Caesar while twisting history.

Wizard of Oz

It had been over 20 years since I saw this movie and I don’t think I had ever watched it from start to finish.  Those flying monkeys really did a number on me as a child.  During this viewing I actually saw the back story that set up the rest of the movie.  Plus I made the connection that the characters in Oz had connections to Dorothy’s acquainatnces in Kansas.  (I’m not too bright.)  Decent enough movie and the songs are still going through my head, which is mildly annoying.

Some Like It Hot

I didn’t know anything about this movie.  When I saw Marilyn Monroe on the cover, I was like fair enough.  Then I saw the Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag and thought, what am I getting myself into. Turns a fun little movie.  During the opening credits, it stated that the film was “Suggested by a Story”.  What does that even mean?  Anyway, the movie did a great job making fun of relationships between men and women with some clever dialogue while keeping the pace of the film quick.  I was surprised by how much I liked it as opposed to how much I didn’t hate it.  One final note, was Heath Ledger channeling Jack Lemmon’s characters during his Joker performance?

The Searchers

Still not sure what happened during this movie.  John Wayne’s character was obviously flawed but made the right decision at the end of the film.  Interesting that the timeline stretched for so long (about 5 years if I was following the movie correctly).  The film was ok and had moments of tension and drama and comedy and action but not sure that it was one of the best movies of all time.

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5.1.14

Citizen Kane

I’ve seen this before and I enjoyed it once again.  The movie holds up because it is about the corruption of power, money and fame, and the nature of one’s love for another.  These are timeless themes executed by fine performances and cinematic innovations of the time.  The movies is just a touch long but that’s my only real criticism.

Raging Bull

My first time seeing this and I’m not sure about this being one of the Top 5 movies of all time,  The boxing scenes weren’t realistic (says a person who would never step foot in a ring) and the movie was all over the place.  I did enjoy the older La Motta.

The Godfather

What a film.  It does take time to develop, is a little long but so rich in story and performance.

The Godfather II

Simply too long.  I know it’s supposed to be a classic but I simply stopped caring and just waited for the end.

Saving Private Ryan

I survived the opening scene, barely, and war films are not my genre.  Depressing yet uplifting film about humantiy’s ability to survive and acheieve something even during war.

Vertigo

It has beeen many years since I watched this and did not enjoy it at all.   Definitely something there but the film lags and maybe I’m jaded to CGI.  I did marvel at how long portions of the film were without dialogue yet the plot advanced.

Casablanca

First viewing of the classic and it was decent.  Little hard to follow although to be fair I watched the movie in many sections.  Again another movie that holds up.

Singing in the Rain

I was only going to watch this because it was on the list but found that I enjoyed it much more that I thought I would.  Music was a nice change of pace and I marveled at the physical ability of the actors.

Gone with the Wind

Just too long.  The first hour flew by and I was enveloped by the story.  By the end of the disc one, I was trying to carve out time in my schedule to watch it.

I don’t pretend to understand everything about the film—adapation of the book, context of filming, but what really bothered me (besides the length) was the lighting inaccuracies.  If it’s the middle of the night, then the scene can’t be bathed in light and vice versa.  I was really intrigued in the morality of the Melanie character.  Forgivness, grace, benefit of the doubt, pleasant, giving.

The Graduate

What is the fuss about?  If the pinnacle of annoying is an achievement, then Dustin Hoffman wins in a landslide.  Maybe the movie’s awkwardness is supposed to be the point, a generation searching for their future, which from time to time, Hoffman does capture.  But the whole relationship with Elaine is troubling.  Why would she have anything to do with him after finding about the affair with her mother.  Think movie would have made more sense if “the other woman” had been another family friend.  Found myself constantly looking at the clock to see when it would be over.

North by Northwest

Again another movie that I had not watched in years.  And again another movie that I felt could have been tighter.  The dynamic between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint was enjoyable and the plot moved along to its inevitable conclusion.  It was also interesting to see American culture from a time gone by.

    • Jeremy
    • May 2nd, 2014

    Love this project…I’ve not gone after it specifically, but any time I find myself looking at one of those lists I’m definitely ticking off mental checkboxes.

    Citizen Kane: Haven’t seen this in a while, but do own it. It has a commentary track by Roger Ebert that is just great…love having the extra context on the behind the scenes stuff. Love Orson Welles’ performance here.

    Raging Bull: Love Scorsese. Love DeNiro. Only like this movie. Own this one too. I do enjoy the interplay between DeNiro and Pesci.

    The Godfather: My favorite film. In college, I named my cat Vito, to give you an idea. Can’t take my eyes off of Brando, well, really any of the actors. Lighting, soundtrack, script (so quote-worthy!) all great. Yep, got this one also.

    The Godfather II: Agreed. Love the back story on the Don. The Hyman Roth plot line draaaaaags. Own this one as well.

    Saving Private Ryan: Love it. Own it. Saw it in theatrical release with a crowd that was 80% WWII vets. Opening scene redefined war film cinematography. Oh, and “Tell me I’m a good man.”? Niagara Falls. Every. Time.

    Vertigo: Haven’t seen it.

    Casablanca: Love it. Own it. Was enamoured the first time I saw it, upon realizing how many lines from this film are in the common American lexicon. Amazing to think of how great some of these films were despite the crazy plug-and-play-writers-and-directors scene of the Studio System.

    Singing in the Rain: I had the EXACT same experience. Own this one too.

    Gone With the Wind: Own this one too. Didn’t think I’d like it when I first saw it, but did. Kinda a combo of what worked for me w/ Casablanca and Citizen Kane. The scene of injured soldiers in the town square is MIND BLOWING. That predates CGI by what, 50 years? Braveheart was one of the first films I was aware of to use CGI to digitally create a horde on screen. Not so here…the camera just pulls back…and back…and back….

    The Graduate: Own this one too. Will have to re watch to respond appropriately, but I’ve always liked this one. Maybe because I first watched it at the time in my life where I was similarly aimless? Didn’t pick up any mother-daughter action though, so can’t say this was THAT close to home.

    NxNW: Haven’t seen this one either. Clearly have a Hitchcock blind spot.

    Kudos on growing the list…I look forward to future dispatches.

    • Nicole
    • May 8th, 2014

    Gone with the Wind is my favorite movie and favorite book. The cinematography was done so well for as much of a brat as Scarlett was, you still wanted her to win. So I was sad you didn’t enjoy it.

    I laughed out loud about the 4 hours of your life you’ll never get back in Laurence of Arabia. I feel that way about many movies I watch…guess I’m just picking real winners.

    I realize in reading through your comments that I truly haven’t seen most of these. So I’ll be looking at your comments to see if I should watch any in between baby duties this summer (o:

    I will keep reading this to keep up with what are good picks!

  1. Wow. I was a lot stronger on your first dispatch–lot of these are in the category of “saw it once a long time ago.”

    Lawrence of Arabia – Meh. Remember being impressed by the battle scenes, but remember nothing else. Was wowed by this bit of trivia from IMDB:

    “King Hussein of Jordan lent an entire brigade of his Arab Legion as extras for the film, so most of the “soldiers” are played by real soldiers. Hussein frequently visited the sets and became enamored of a young British secretary, Antoinette Gardiner, who became his second wife in 1962. Their oldest son, ‘Abdullah II King of Jordan’, ascended to throne in 1999.”

    I imagine that the list of Hollywood films that resulted in the creation of monarchs is rather short.

    2001: Not even certain I’ve ever lasted through the entire film. I like a lot of Kubrick’s stuff but this is not one of them. Yawn.

    Gladiator: The 6th grader inside me (that would have been the D&D phase of my life) loves all the arena stuff. Story is fine, Crowe is Crowe, but I thought Joaquin Phoenix, who I like in a lot of other stuff is really, really bad in this film.

    Wizard of Oz: Grew up with this film (who didn’t?) but never really loved it. That being said, I really enjoyed reading the book Wicked (which of course was made into the mega-hit musical)–really cool way to disassemble and explore that in-your-DNA movie setting.

    Some Like it Hot: Have seen it once back in high school, with my mom, and remember liking it. I remember being amazed to see Jack Lemmon young, as that was the Grumpy Old Men days.

    The Searchers: Don’t *think* that I’ve seen this. If I have, I have zero recall.

    • Nicole
    • May 21st, 2014

    I always think it is interesting to watch movies the whole way through that you’ve only caught in bits and pieces over the years. We watched a movie the other night start to finish and I found myself saying “I don’t remember this scene at all!” I enjoy reading these to see what movies made this list as quite honestly I’ve not read through the list. ET and Schindler’s List made sense but wasn’t expecting Raiders of the Lost Ark so will have to check that out again. Plus am enjoying reading your takes on some of the older movies!! Hope you are enjoying your time off. Hoping baby girl will arrive soon.

  2. Glad that you enjoyed Cabaret…love Joel Grey as the MC, and if you haven’t done so already, look up clips of Alan Cumming playing the role on Broadway (he’s in a production of it now, and had played it years ago too), he has that same dangerous charisma that Grey had. Oh, and another quick note, Joel Grey is Jennifer-No-one-puts-Baby-in-a-corner-Grey’s dad.

    And yeah, Shawshank is one of those that I can always watch through the end if I flip through it on tv.

    I do enjoy Clockwork Orange–particularly the language and slang, find it all fascinating, and totally agree about MM…dripping menace, and then the reversal late in the film is just that much more effective.

    I’ll need to check out Mr. Smith, Doubke Indemnity, and Philadelphia Story…haven’t seen any of them.

    Oh, and if you haven’t already, read a little about the making of, but more particularly, the screening of, Psycho. It’s difficult to imagine a director today having that much clout with the exhibitors.

    • Nicole
    • October 22nd, 2014

    You should write a book. Seriously. I enjoy reading your commentary and because of your descriptions want to see some of these movies based on your imagery of them. Some I have seen and still enjoy reading what you wrote to see if I agree. I also am amazed by what is and isn’t in this list of films. Missing your commentary around the office too! Hope you, Erin and Larry are enjoying Georgia 😊

    • Jeremy
    • October 22nd, 2014

    Wow…didn’t realize how far behind I was on your reviews! So cherry picking my way through them:

    It Happened One Night – Haven’t seen it in a while, but remember being similarly struck by it.

    Taxi Driver/Goodfellas – As mentioned before–I’m a Scorsese fan, so dig on both of these, especially Goodfellas. Liotta is amazing in it, and it’s interesting to rematch this email post -Sopranos, given Lorraine Bracco’s starring role (and half of Tony’s captains are here too). Can’t believe that the batshit performance by Harvey Keitel escaped commentary…I swear he’s an acting idiot savant…he gives you Reservoir Dogs and then Head Above Water? If you haven’t seen it, try to YouTube it…I think his entire performance was off of cue cards.

    American Graffiti – Love your Dazed and Confused observation.

    Forrest Gump – Yeah, this is one of those that I’ll watch through to the end if I catch it on cable. Also remember this and Jurassic Park as being two of the earliest mind-blowing examples of modern-ish CGI.

    Pulp Fiction – Love Tarantino’s stuff. All of it. This is the place any newcomer should begin. Oh, and another Keitel Klassic, for those keeping score.

    Do the Right Thing – Love it. Always respect the writer/director/actors that can pull it off and this one is electrifying. You mentioned Sam Jackson in Goodfellas and this is another early role for him.

    Fellowship – Like Star Wars, the second film, I think, has the most to offer. Totally endorse you calling it quits early though…The Hobbit movies, like Episodes 1-3, are RUBBISH.

    Jaws – I chuckled to see this at the top of the list because I just suffered my way through all. Three. Sequels. I’ve been DVRing horror flicks I haven’t seen before so gave these a shot for background viewing. Jaws 2 was boooooring and way too directly a rehash of the original. Skip to the last 10 min and call it good. Jaws 3D was SO BAD as a horror film. The effects were just atrocious which made the accident of the first film having so few minutes of the shark in full view seem like a stroke of genius. The plot is riddled with holes too, I should add. The performances of young Dennis Quaid and Lea Thompson are interesting to see at least. Jaws the Revenge also has gaping plot holes and some really terrible performances. Good news here is that the stunt work on the shark attacks is very solid and the film also features Michael Caine, whom I could watch on infomercials for accounting software and be entertained.

    It was fun catching up on the reviews. Kudos for keeping it going!

  3. Network: Saw this years ago. This was one of the movies that was part of my formative movie nerd phase–as a high school junior (?) I needed to pick up volunteer hours for the NHS, so went to the Delton Public LIbrary to offer my services. And the project they had for me? Taking boxes and boxes and boxes of donated VHS tapes from a large private donation and creating catalog cards (remember those?!) for them. As a result, I watched a bunch of 1930’s-1970’s films that I likely wouldn’t have discovered without a project like yours. I really remember very, very little about this movie, other than remembering liking it. I will need to revisit it.

    Spartacus: I don’t think I’ve ever seen this one, other than clips here and there on Best Of-type shows. I honestly don’t know that I’ll see this….can’t imagine the circumstances that would lead to it.

    Toy Story: I haven’t seen this in a long time, and yet, can picture many, many scenes from it. What a fun premise, and so inclusive…who didn’t have at least a few toys like these? Mr. Potato Head? Check. Action figures like Buzz Lightyear? Check. Army men? Check. Dinosaur toys? Check. I would have been 16 when this came out, and am more than twice that age today, and would be equally engaged by it. CGI has progressed since those days, but this movie isn’t dated at all…engaging story, great voice acting, and the animations absolutely pull you into the emotion of the script.

    Nashville: Haven’t seen this. Need to. Added to the Netflix queue!

    • Agree that technology has gone past Toy Story but the story really does hold up, especially for youth who grew up with those toys.

      Don’t think you’ll be missing a lot by taking a pass on Spartacus.

      Network is really worth seeing again because it lays out reality TV in a way that is scary.

      On a side note, LOTR III is part of IMDB top 100. So. . . . do I skip it or watch part II so that part III makes sense or can I just guess what happens and watch part III (short version)? Ha!!

  4. I’d recommend watching II–it might be my favorite of the bunch. First, you have the landmark CGI-based acting performance with Gollum having a much larger part of this film than the first one, and the battle sequences at the end of the film are really remarkable.

    One way to cut down at least a portion of the viewing experience is, while watching III, when you feel like you’ve just watched the climax of the series, turn it off. There are about 4 more endings to endure after that moment with very little added value, and way too much schmaltz. Instead, just read the 55-word final paragraph of the Wikipedia plot section, and earn back about 30 min of your life.

    • You’re the man. I’m going to block out part of my Thanksgiving Holiday just for that!!

  5. Duck Soup: Well, you got Freedonia in your cultural lexicon now, which you might catch references to moving forward, so there’s that.

    West Side Story: I agree with you on this one. Very little works for me here, including much of the music itself. Reminds me of the old Gap ads that cribbed from this show.

    Rebel: Agreed re: James Dean. Makes me wonder how actors who died young as we’ve grown up will be regarded in another 20-40 years…Of the ones who spring to mind (Paul Walker, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix) are any comparable? Difficult comparison though…a “teen heartthrob” type of that era would have had far less competition from a bandwidth perspective, if you consider that more than 2-times the number of movies came out last year compared to 1955, not to mention the VAST difference of the amount of content/personalities delivered via tv and internet today.

    African Queen: I have warmer memories of this movie, but have only seen it one time back in high school during the library project. One thing I wonder about–after you’ve caught up on all of these high profile classics, you ought to take a short trip through old Loony Tunes cartoons…feels like you would probably recognize a lot of the personalities and homages that flew well over your head before.

    Who’s Afraid: Don’t know anything about it either, but will add it to the queue. On that note, did just get Nashville, but haven’t watched it yet.

    Chicago: I liked this one too…my wife is a harsher critic of all Broadway shows made into movies, so she has a problem with parts of this movie–most notably, she hates the Richard Gere performance, though I actually thought he pulled it off rather well. A HELL of a lot better than Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried in Les Miserables anyway. My favorite performances here, although both small ones, is from Christine Baranski and John C. Reilly.

    • Your comment on Looney Tunes is interested because I’m sure there are many references in pop culture that I have totally missed due to not seeing the classics. Think that’s why Community and Family Guy and other shows are so great. Well written and with a tip of the hat to the past to make for great entertainment.

      As for actors dying young, would say Heath Ledger had a nice body of work. Did Walker do anything beyond the Fast and Furious movies? (Lots of movies, very few that I had heard of) How many movies did River Phoenix make? (Dozen or so) Agree that’s it hard to stand out as every weekend another blockbuster comes out.

      Thanks again for your comments.

    • Nicole
    • December 14th, 2014

    Tootsie, although cheesy and totally an 80’s film is still one I watch almost every time I come across it on tv. I remember being too young to watch it when it came out so it reminds me of my childhood in a good way. Plus, I do love my 80’s music 😊

    Was just recently debating re-watching Shakespeare in Love as I couldn’t remember the movie but think you’ve cured me of that.

    Intrigued by the Amadeus review as I’ve never seen it, nor had a desire to, however, as one of your “most favoritist movies” I may be swayed.

    • So when you say I “cured” you, does that mean you know want to watch it or not.

      Amadues is amazing. The music is amazing and the spiritual and political conflict is excellent. Hope you enjoy.

    • Nicole
    • February 16th, 2015

    Seems like you have been watching a lot of films not on the list. So I’m intrigued as to why…are they not holding up to their award of top 100? If you had to craft a top 100 list is be intrigued to see what was on it.

    I laughed at description of Tootsie as I agree farm scene was way far fetched. I’m surprised too at how few of the we movies I’ve actually seen! But in reading your descriptions you have helped in aiding the decision to not ever see them 😊

  6. Library here doesn’t have some of the movies and haven’t taken the plunge for Netflix (although not all movies are on that either). Finding a video store is a lot harder than I thought but I’ll eventually finish. As for my top 100, that’s the next project. Will probably take years. Might start with my guess and then tweak over time. Thanks for reading and hope all is well.

  7. Do you have a posting of the full list? You said you combined from a couple of sources, so not sure how you selected from each site or if you are working from a ranked list or random…
    Thanks.
    Phred

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