The next 10 entries.
Again thanks of the support and enthusiasm around this blog. If you have comments to make, I would love to hear about the entires your really agree with, the ones where you think I am way off and the movies that you might now see.
#80 “The Wizard of Oz”
Director: Victor Fleming
Stars: Judy Garland
Original Release Date: 21 Aug 1939
Oscars: 2 (Best Original Song, Best Music Score), four other nominations
The Wizard of Oz is a film that I admire more than I enjoy and recognize its importance to the medium. Don’t get me wrong, I do like it and have seen it many times. But is placement on my list is fueled more by the movie’s overall impact on society and pop culture. There are so many identifiable iconic moments. From “there’s no place like home” to “I’ll get you my pretty…” to … well the list goes on and on. When I was at the Smithsonian a few years ago, I found myself in complete awe of the ruby slippers on display. The show “Wicked” deepened my admiration for Wizard. How great and timeless is a story that is can spawn a back-story equally great and timeless.
Trivia: In 1939, legendary Director Victor Fleming made two movies; Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. Not a bad year at all. In both films, he was not the original director. He was hired after production started when both films were not going according to plan.
#79 “Letters from Iwo Jima”
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Ken Wantanabe
Original Release Date: 22 Feb 2007
Oscars: 1 (Sound Editing), 3 other nominations
In the past two decades, Clint Eastwood has gone from action movie anti-hero to auteur director, making some of the best and most important films of the last several years. Letters from Iwo Jima is a lesser-known entry but still stands as Eastwood’s best film. Nominated for Best Director and Best Picture, it tells the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima from the point of view of the losers. It’s a rare depiction of a sympathetic, loyal fierce Japanese army with the American’s as the ‘enemy’. It’s a daring and effective approach. It is a sad and visceral film that left me with a similar emotional impact as Schindler’s List. Letters from Iwo Jima is almost entirely in Japanese with English sub-titles but this increases its impact rather than diminishes it. Clint’s movies are lean, to the point and have no extraneous scenes. This movie is not to everyone’s tastes; it is dark and melancholy. If you have a penchant for heavier material, check this one out.
#78 “The Bride of Frankenstein”
Director: James Whale
Stars: Boris Karlokff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson
Original Release Date: 22 Apr 1935
Oscars: One nomination
“To a New World of Gods and Monsters”. So says the foul Dr. Pretorious to Dr. Frankenstein in James Whale’s classic Bride of Frankenstein. That quote spawned the title for the James Whale biopic in 1998. It also lays the groundwork for one of the greatest of all horror films. Boris Karloff pays the monster (whose name is NOT Frankenstein) with subtlety and sympathy, so good it is largely overlooked a in a swamp of bad remakes and parodies. The opening scene involving the parents of the young girl drowned in the first movie sets up the shock value that will carry on through the entire movie. Bride of Frankenstein is a visionary film. When viewed today, you wonder how some of the material made it past the incredibly strict censorship of the time. This is required viewing for any lover of film.
#77 “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
Director: Tim Burton & Michael Sellick
Stars: Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara
Original Release Date: 29 Oct 1993
Oscars: None, One Nomination
Here is a movie that I believe is ready for a stage adaptation. Tim Burton’s delightful, creepy, visionary and totally unique Nightmare Before Christmas is for me, highlighted by its ready-for-stage show tunes. Danny Elfman’s score and vocal work as the singing voice of Jack Skellington give this film, well, life. The film takes place in Halloweentown and another October 31 has past with its celebrations. The Pumpkin King, Skellington, is a little bored of the routine and walks into the forest where he happens upon gateways to other holidays. He finds Christmastown and is immediately taken by the snow the joy and the merriment. (What’s this? What’s this??) Nightmare is a film on two levels. Children will love and can follow the simple plot. Adults will love the sly humour and sheer wonder of the world Burton and Sellick have created. On my Top 100 list, I have this film as horror, animation, comedy and musical and it works as all four. That’s a rare achievement.
#76 “The Big Lebowski”
Director: Joel Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, John Tuturro, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Original Release Date: 06 Mar 1998
The Big Lebowski falls into the category of films that have a life of their own. The follow up to The Coen Brother’s classic Fargo, it was greeted by tepid box office results and modest reviews. Over time, its legend grew. Not because of plot or compelling story but because of the characters that only the Cohen brothers can bring to life. Mostly, The Dude, the laziest man in Los Angeles County, played by Jeff Bridges. It’s an exceptionally funny film with virtually no plot to describe. Count me among those who did not embrace the film immediately. But over time, it has grown on me and become a personal favourite. The Big Lebowksi has spot-on perfect casting, with Bridges as the vapid, perma-stoned dude and John Goodman as the profanity spewing PTSD-inflicted Polish Catholic Jew Walter. And really, if the latter doesn’t entice you to watch, then move on to the next one. The dude abides.
#75 “Army of Darkness”
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davitz
Original Release Date: 19 Feb 1993
Guilty pleasure #1. This movie is just pure audacious fun. James Berardinelli accurately described this movie as a mixture of horror, sword and sorcery and The Three Stooges. It’s a mix of a ludicrous plot, intentionally over-the-top campy humour and blood-spurting violence that blend to make a film that is raw, shut-off-your-brain entertainment. In this entry of the series, Ash is transported back in time to the 1300s with his shotgun, stump arm and chainsaw. The locals eventually take him for a chosen one who …. Etc etc. The plot is secondary. It fumbles along from action scene to action scene with gleeful abandon. Army of Darkness is by Sam Raimi, who went on to make the exceptional “A Simple Plan” and the three Tobey McGuire Spiderman films. Its production qualities are excellent. It works as a campy parody of the genre made with skill and self-awareness.
#74 “Hoop Dreams”
Director: Stephen James
Stars: William Gates, Arthur McGee
Original Release Date: 14 Oct 1994
Oscars: None, one nomination, for editing, not Best Documentary!!
I love the Oscars but sometimes they are so far off base it’s laughable. One such example was in 1994 when the critically acclaimed Hoop Dreams failed to even get nominated for Best Documentary Feature. This film was championed by the late Gene Siskel, a basketball fanatic and Chicago native and was named #1 movie of the 90s by Roger Ebert. Hoop Dreams tells the story of Arthur Agee and Williams Gates, two 8th grade inner city black youth in Chicago who are recruited off the playground into a private high school in Chicago, the same one attended by basketball legend Isaiah Thomas. It was originally intended to be a 30-minute short, but ended up covering 5 years with over 250 hours of material filmed. It was distilled down to three of the most compelling hours of human drama ever filmed. Hoop Dreams starts out to be a documentary about basketball becomes a film about life in America. If you don’t like or don’t have exposure to documentaries, start here.
#73 “Hannah and Her Sisters”
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Michael Caine, Diane Wiest, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow
Original Release Date: 07 Feb 1986
Oscars: 3 (Support Actor Michael Caine, Supporting Actress Diane Wiest, Original Screenplay), 4 other nominations
Can we for a minute set aside the fact that Woody Allen is a creepy weirdo and accept that he is a great filmmaker? He does not always hit his mark and he has gone through some lows, but over the years, directing nearly 50 films and amassing 24 Oscar nominations and four wins, he has made some gems. Hannah and Her Sisters is his best film. It tells the story of three Manhattan sisters, Hannah (Mia Farrow), Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Diane Wiest). They meet and discuss their lives and it’s the tiny details they leave out that lay the groundwork for this film. Hannah is married to Elliot (Michael Caine) who is in love with Lee and Holly dates the neurotic Mickey (Allen) who is Hannah’s ex. The film takes place over two years, starts and ends with Thanksgiving Dinner and has another in the middle, which is a turning point in the movie. Simple black and white title cards that carry their own humour as well separate the movie’s scenes. This is Allen at his peak, his most self-assured filmmaking. In recent years, he has had somewhat of a renaissance with Match Point, Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine, but Hannah remains and likely always will be his finest work.
#72 “The Producers”
Director: Mel Brooks
Stars: Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel
Original Release Date: 10 Nov 1968
Oscars: 1 (Best Original Screenplay), 1 other nomination
“Not too many people know this, but the Fuhrer was an excellent dancer.” If you find that line offensive, skip The Producers. It tells the story of down-and-out producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and sheepish accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder). In their attempt to pull the biggest scam of their lives, they venture to produce the biggest flop in Broadway History, Springtime for Hitler. It’s funny, farcical and irreverent and deserves a spot on anyone’s short list of the great comedies ever made. The late Kenneth Mars turns in one of my favourite performances of all time as Franz Liebkind, the writer of Springtime for Hitler.
Trivia: To the best of my knowledge, this film has the first ever use of the phrase “Achtung, Baby”.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh
Original Release Date: 08 Sep 1960
Oscars: None, four nominations
Spoiler Alert! If you have not seen Psycho, read no further and please don’t speak to me until you have seen it!!
When it was released into theatres in 1960, every theatre was given a large poster of Alfred Hitchcock pointing at his wristwatch. (see below). Theatre owners were given strict orders not to let anyone in the theatre after the film had started. Why? Janet Leigh had top billing and was dead in the first 20 minutes. To appreciate Psycho, observe the lukewarm remake from 1998. Skilled director, excellent stars, exact same script and a shot for shot remake. Yet the movie does nothing. I can still watch the original and have my blood run cold. Hitchcock was a director who could conjure apprehension out of thin air and in this film he shows that mood and tone mean more than script and camera angle. Made for a mere $800,000 and shot with a skeleton crew on a back lot sound stage, this was his most successful film. Its tense, scary and shocking even to today. Its influence on modern culture is immense. More than 50 years on it’s lost none of its edge. It can be summed up best by the words of Roger Ebert who described how this film plays on our fears. “Our fears that we might impulsively commit a crime, our fears of the police, our fears of becoming the victim of a madman, and of course our fears of disappointing our mothers.”
This was posted in the lobby of every theatre showing Psycho.
Recap so far…
71. Psycho (Hitchcock – 1960)
72. The Producers (Brooks – 1968)
73. Hannah and Her Sisters (Allen – 1986)
74. Hoop Dreams (James – 1994)
75. Army of Darkness (Raimi – 1992)
76. The Big Lebowski (Coen 1998)
77. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Burton /Sellick – 1993)
78 . Bride of Frankenstein (Whale – 1935)
79. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006 – Eastwood)
80. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming – 1939)
81. The Fog of War (Morris – 2003)
82. Moulin Rouge (Luhrmann – 2001)
83. Terminator 2 – Judgment Day (Cameron – 1991)
84 .Millers Crossing (Coen – 1990)
85 . 12 Angry Men (Lumet – 1957)
86. 21 Grams (Gonzales Irraitu – 2003)
87. The Princess Bride (1989 – Reiner)
88. The Philadelphia Story (1940 – Cuckor)
89. Ghostbusters (1983 – Reitman)
90. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry – 2004)
91. Juno (Reitman – 2007)
92. Star Trek : First Contact (Frakes – 1996)
93. Avatar (Cameron 2009)
94. Wall Street (Stone – 1986)
95. When Harry Met Sally … (Reiner – 1988)
96. Belle Epoque (Treuba – 1992)
97. Say Anything (Crowe – 1989)
98. Planet of the Apes (Schaffner – 1968)
99. The Breakfast Club (1983 – Hughes)
100. The Blues Brothers (1980 – Reitman)