Tag: John Ford

Rebooting my top 100 movies list

It’s been a few years since I first made my top 100 movies list. Since then each yearly iteration has felt like just that, an iteration. Some new movies appear and there’s some shifting in the numbering but mostly it’s all the same stuff. So this year, with the help of Letterboxd‘s clever Seen It and Lists features, I’m making a new one. In the spirit of The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s time for a reboot. I’m sure there’ll be 50 or so similar films, if not more. That’s not really the point. The idea here is to attack the list with new eyes, eyes of a guy that has seen 2311 movies over the course of his 25 years instead of probably around half that when I made my first list those years ago.

Letterboxd came into my life only recently, with its nifty design and clever social-networking twist on the movie database website. I started by just chronicling the new movies I’d seen. Maybe writing a brief review; a line or two. And then I started going back through the years and clicking the little eye on every movie I could remember seeing. I started in 2013 and went backwards towards the dawn of cinema. It was, in part, a trip through my childhood. As I approached the middle of the 2000’s I noticed that I was clicking fewer and fewer films for any given year. It seems that 2006 or 2005 was the start of my real love affair with film, though even through 1999 I had gone back and seen a lot of the big films. After ’99, though, it was mostly a wasteland of horrible kiddy movies and some of the tent-pole blockbusters of my youth. Godzilla‘s poor attempt at taking over the US, the intense stupidity of Kazaam, that other dinosaur movie from 1993, We’re Back. None of these have a shot at my top 100, unfortunately. And then the 80’s came along and I clicked even fewer of those little eyes, since I was only a kid for two of those years and I probably wasn’t watching any movies at the time. Even if I was, I certainly wasn’t going to remember them. So the 80’s contain some of the bigger films from the era, but it’s a bit more slim pickins. About 1/3 of the movies I’ve seen come from the last ten years. The first 80 or so years of cinema, up through 1979, account for less than half of the movies I’ve seen. Basically all of this is to say, don’t judge me, I’m still new at this.

I’ve seen a lot of the classics, though. I just crossed off Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Cabaret, and Aguirre: The Wrath of God in the past few months. I’ve got to start delving into the kind of second-tier movies from the 70’s back. Looking at the movies I love from these past few years, it’s often those smaller movies that I latch on to and begin to have a shot at my top 100 list. You’ll also probably notice a lot of movies from three directors of the golden age of Hollywood’s studio system: Howard Hawks, John Ford, and Frank Borzage. When I was at the University of Connecticut I took one class four times, each semester focusing on a different director or genre. Each of those directors was the focus for a semester, with the last being a general comedy class. So I got to see between 12 and 15 movies from each of them, mostly great ones. You’ll notice at least two from each on my previous top 100 list. Everybody knows Hawks and Ford but fewer know the wondrous Borzage. I urge anybody reading this to seek out his films. They may be hard to find but if you give them a chance you’ll likely fall in love with his romantic and passionate style. He’s the best.

So here’s how it’ll work. After checking off every movie I can remember seeing, I went through and added any movie I though might be top 100 material to a list. There are 205 movies on that list at this moment, though there may be another by the end of tonight (I’m going to complete the Before trilogy with the Midnight entry after work). From that list I’ll pick out the movies that are must haves. Magnolia, my number one last year, will certainly be making a return appearance. I watched it again very recently and was only reminded of just how great it is. Blade Runner, obviously. Jurassic Park, assuredly. But the rest, you never know. That’s why it will be so much fun. Stay tuned for either further updates or the beginning of The List posts. And be my friend on Letterboxd.

Top 100 Films: The _4’s

The 4’s contain, by a lucky coincidence, the oldest and newest films on my list. They span a period of 85 years. Every movie but one is in a well defined genre, the other being mostly just a drama. Besides also containing the longest title on my list,  four of the movies are from before I was born.

94. Hanna (2011)

Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett

I just missed your heart.

A fever dream of a movie. Hanna is a coming of age tale with a dark side, told like a fairy tale and impeccably directed and acted. It is always moving forward, whether it be plot driven or character based. An early contender for the best film of 2011.

84. All the President’s Men (1976)

Directed by Alan J. Pakula. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford

You’re both paranoid. She’s afraid of John Mitchell and you’re afraid of Walter Cronkite.

When a movie about reporters figuring out a story is so compelling you know the movie is great. It takes a lot to get a movie that involves almost no action to feel so stimulating. Of course, the acting helps, as does the direction. There’s a lot of All the President’s Men in Zodiac, and even though I like the latter better, the former is still fantastic.

74. In Bruges (2008)

Directed by Martin McDonagh. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson

I’m sorry for calling you an inanimate object. I was upset.

As dark a comedy as you can get, Martin McDonagh’s feature length directorial debut is one of the best first movies of all time. Intricately constructed and immaculately detailed, it’s got a lot going on so it might take a few times to get everything. But that’s just an excuse to watch it over and over and over again. As if you needed one.

64. The General (1926)

Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton. Starring Buster Keaton and Marion Mack

If you lose this war don’t blame me.

Buster Keaton is known for incredibly complex stunts that intensify as he goes along. Some of the action scenes here are 15 minutes long. There’s a lot to be awed by, but one of the best elements is how Keaton is able to build a character through these actions scenes. By the end of the film you really know who Johnnie Gray is and why he does what he does.

54. The Quiet Man (1952)

Directed by John Ford. Starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara

I have a fearful temper. You might as well know about it now instead of findin’ out about it later. We Danahers are a fightin’ people.

A good old fashioned love story. Full of kisses in the rain and fighting and dragging your wife across the Irish countryside. Almost mythic in how big it plays the emotions, The Quiet Man is a wonderful romantic comedy with great chemistry between Wayne and O’Hara, perhaps the only woman that could match up to Wayne’s powerful presence. If only there was a restored print that was widely available, the current dvd is a muddied mess that does no service to the beauty of Ireland and O’Hara.

44. The Social Network (2010)

Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield

I like standing next to you, Sean. It makes me look so tough.

When The Social Network hit theaters there was some controversy over whether the movie portrayed the truth of the founding of Facebook. There are exaggerations and outright lies in the movie. Luckily for us, it’s a movie and not a historical document. As a film it is a fascinating study of ambition and the things you lose when you get what you want. It is certainly biased but it is no less of a movie for that.

34. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Directed by Shane Black. Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer

Wow, I feel sore. I mean physically, not like a guy who’s angry in a movie in the 1950’s.

Delightfully meta and self-aware without being too cute about it. The relationship between Downey and Kilmer is the heart of this film. It makes you remember how awesome Kilmer is. Shane Black knows his buddy cop movies and works with the tropes quite well.

24. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Directed by Andrew Dominik. Starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck

Look at my red hands and my mean face… and I wonder ’bout that man that’s gone so wrong.

One of the half-dozen or so recent westerns that take a more thoughtful track than the typical good guy vs. bad guy idea you see in so many older films of the genre. This movie is about fame and adoration and legend. And it is beautiful. I can’t wait to see what Dominik does next.

14. Sunshine (2007)

Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Cillian Murphy and Rose Byrne

At the end of time, a moment will come when just man remains. Then the moment will pass. Man will be gone. There will be nothing to show that we were ever here… but stardust.

Sunshine gets a lot of crap for its third act. Allow me to state, here and now and for eternity, there’s nothing wrong with the third act of the film. It’s a different way of explaining the same idea that runs through the rest of the film: what do we do in the face of such power? And the final five minutes are supremely beautiful in both the visuals and the themes they express.

4. Blade Runner (1982)

Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer

Fiery the angels fell. Deep thunder rolled around their shoulders, burning with the fires of Orc.

The future never looked so grimy and gorgeous at the same time. This neo-noir is the best sci-fi movie ever made. It’s not perfect, there’s a romantic subplot that I don’t particularly care about, but that’s small fries when it comes to the sheer brilliance of the rest of the film. It’s telling that Ridley Scott started as an art director because the look of the movie is so singular.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section

Top 100 Films: The _5’s

I guess it makes sense that as we go along the movies will get better and better overall. I think this might be my favorite of the bunch so far. We have 6 horror films (well, at least semi-horror for two of them), 5 movies from before I was born, 3 movies that reference a location in their titles, 2 movies in black and white, 2 shots of girls with blood on them, and 1 movie where it was hard to find a shot that wasn’t full of naked people.

95. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Directed by Tobe Hooper. Starring Marilyn Burns and Edwin Neal

My family’s always been in meat.

As a kid I saw a few shots from this movie and they scared me so much that I vowed never to see it. Then I grew up and realized that I liked horror films. When I watched it a few Halloweens ago I was terrified. It’s one of the most visceral and immediate films I’ve ever seen. And the scene at the dinner table is truly horrifying.

85. The Fly (1986)

Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis

How does Brundlefly eat? Well, he found out the hard and painful way that he eats very much the way a fly eats. His teeth are now useless, because although he can chew up solid food, he can’t digest them. Solid food hurts. So like a fly, Brundlefly breaks down solids with a corrosive enzyme, playfully called “vomit drop”. He regurgitates on his food, it liquefies, and then he sucks it back up. Ready for a demonstration, kids? Here goes…

The Brundlefly is one of the more tragic characters in movie history. A simple accident melds his DNA with a fly’s and then he begins to lose his humanness as bits of his body turn into a fly. It’s body horror of the truest and grossest sense. Goldblum manages to keep the humanity of the situation in the forefront for as long as he can, which is why the movie is on this list.

75. Manhattan (1979)

Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton

I had a mad impulse to throw you down on the lunar surface and commit interstellar perversion.

I only started to watch Woody Allen movies this year, starting with Midnight in Paris and ending, so far, with Manhattan, with nothing else in the middle. Manhattan is funny and smart and all that jazz, but nobody warned me how good it looked. Allen has a way with the frame, and working with Gordon Willis certainly helps.

65. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman

I have seen one or two things in my life but never, never anything like this.

A dream of a movie. A surreal comedy about Tom Cruise’s inability to get laid. It’s unfortunate that this movie got caught up in the real life story between the two main actors and Kubrick’s death because it’s a really great film in its own right. Give it a chance.

55. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Ron Pearlman and Doug Jones

Now, see, I love this song. And I can’t smile, or cry. I think I have no tear ducts.

A mix of del Toro’s two modes, Hellboy II is an artsy superhero film and an action filled art film. Clever and thoughtful, tragic and swashbuckling, this movie has everything going for it. And it’s better than that other superhero sequel from the same year.

45. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Directed by John Ford. Starring Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell

Well, maybe it’s like Casy says. A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody.

I’m not a huge fan of the book this film is based on, but the humanity brought by Fonda and Darwell in particular make this such a great film. As usual, John Ford directs an excellent film, but it’s these two performances that raise it above the rest.

35. Zodiac (2007)

Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jake Jyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.

I… I need to know who he is. I… I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it’s him.

The first in the second stage of Fincher’s career, Zodiac is much more understated than Fight Club or Panic Room. It follows the obsession of three men as they try to find the real identity of the Zodiac killer, though their quest is ultimately unsuccessful. It says a lot about Fincher that he can make such an unsatisfying conclusion seem like the only way the story could end.

25. Halloween (1978)

Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence

It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.

By today’s standards this is barely a horror movie. There’s only a tiny bit of blood at the beginning of the film and the rest is mostly tension building. But it does that mood so well you can’t help but be scared. When you have an audience jumping in their seats because your bad guy steps out from behind the bushes for a moment you’ve got a truly great film on your hands.

15. Miller’s Crossing (1990)

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Gabriel Byrne and Albert Finney

All in all not a bad guy – if looks, brains, and personality don’t count.

One of the few mob-based films that doesn’t annoy the crap outta me, Miller’s Crossing is a genius movie. Gabriel Byrne’s central performance is so strong and he’s surrounded by such a great supporting cast and a great story told wonderfully. Truly the best gangster movie of all time.

5. There Will Be Blood (2007)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano

I see the worst in people. I don’t need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I’ve built my hatreds up over the years, little by little, Henry… to have you here gives me a second breath. I can’t keep doing this on my own with these… people.

What I like to call a character epic, TWBB is half a grandiose tale of oil and religion and half a character study. With an all-time-great performance by Daniel Day-Lewis and a better-than-he-gets-credit-for performance by Paul Dano, this movie needed only to be shot reasonably well to be great. But Paul Thomas Anderson brought all of his tricks with him and we got an amazing movie out of the deal. I have no hesitations calling this a masterpiece.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section

Top 100 Films: The _7’s

Today’s portion of the list leans heavily on the romantic side, with 6 of them containing heavily romantic elements. There’s also only two movie from before I was born. And it leans towards the generic side, with 2 period epics, a rom-com, a courtroom drama, a con film, a 2 crime dramas, and 2 films about artists and their works. And dinosaurs.

97. Gangs of New York (2002)

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis

That’s what preserves the order of things. Fear.

Another mini-epic, this film survives thanks to strong performances by DiCaprio and Day-Lewis and remarkable directorial work by Scorsese. He’s not a favorite of mine but here everything works. It is forgotten all too easily.

87. The Scarlet Empress (1934)

Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Starring Marlene Dietrich and John Lodge

I want to play with my toys!

This telling of the story of Catherine II is probably the best looking film on this list, at least in terms of set design. The opulence on display is overwhelming, and Dietrich’s performance matches it. Then there’s the hilarious Sam Jaffe’s over-the-top Grand Duke Peter, amping everything up to 11.

77. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson

I didn’t ask for a shrink – that must’ve been somebody else. Also, that pudding isn’t mine. Also, I’m wearing this suit today because I had a very important meeting this morning and I don’t have a crying problem.

The best Adam Sandler film takes the typical Adam Sandler shtick and puts it in the real world. Mostly. It’s funny and romantic and thrilling and sad. All the things you want a movie to be.

67. Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

Directed by John Ford. Starring Henry Fonda and Marjorie Weaver

By jing, that’s all there is to it: right and wrong.

More great Henry Fonda, more great John Ford. And there is another on the way. This one shows a small part of the beginnings of Abe Lincoln’s career. It’s mostly a courtroom drama, and a great one at that.

57. The Brothers Bloom (2008)

Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Rachel Weisz and Adrian Brody

The perfect con is the one where everyone involved gets just what they want.

I’ve not seen a great deal of con movies, though I have seen some of the big ones. This one has a lot more heart to it than any of the others. It’s also hilarious and all of the con stuff works. The ending is super great. So’s the middle and the beginning.

47. Out of Sight (1998)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez

It’s like seeing someone for the first time, and you look at each other for a few seconds, and there’s this kind of recognition like you both know something. Next moment the person’s gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it.

Cool and hot, this movie has it all. Clooney’s on top of his game and Jennifer Lopez has never been this good since. A tale of impossible love and criminals, there’s a lot of humor and violence. That’s how you know it’s a good romance.

37. Black Swan (2010)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis

Perfect? I’m not perfect. I’m nothing.

A movie about art, the pursuit of perfection, and going crazy. There’s much melodrama in this film, everything is black or white. It’s not subtle, but I love it. The final performance is one of the best things I’ve seen recently.

27. Fargo (1996)

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring William H. Macy and Frances McDormand

There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand.

Sometimes you just gotta laugh at some of the silly things that people do. The Coens know this, which is why their seminal Fargo is at once real and hilariously un-real. The accents just enhance everything to another awesome level.

17. The Fall (2006)

Directed by Tarsem Singh. Starring Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru

You should ask someone else. There’s no happy ending with me.

A movie about storytelling and why we do it. With two amazing performances at the center, filmed all over the world in what must be the most beautiful places, this film is something to get wrapped up in. The story within the story doesn’t always make sense, but it shouldn’t, really. The ending is, again, amazing.

7. Jurassic Park (1993)

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Sam Neil and Laura Dern

But with this place I wanted to show them something that wasn’t an illusion, something that was real, something they could see and touch. An aim not devoid of merit.

Dinosaurs always fascinated me. Things that did exist but don’t any more. But Jurassic Park gives us a glimpse at what might happen if we weren’t the top of the food chain anymore. It’s thrilling and thrilling and thrilling. Also, Jeff Goldblum is amazing.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section

Top 100 Films: The _8’s

Today brings the films in my top 100 whose spots end in the digit 8! Arbitrary-ocity!

In today’s list we have two films that have two female leads (and one with no women at all), two or three horror films, and one movie by a bad director! And now, the list.

98. In the Loop (2009)

Directed by Armando Iannucci. Starring Tom Hollander and Peter Capaldi

Well, I don’t want to be accused of micro-managing, but I cannot understand why I Heart Huckabees is on a list of DVD’s considered suitable for armed-forces entertainment. That self-indulgent crap is not suitable for combat troops.

The fastest movie since His Girl Friday, In the Loop is a hilarious look at the run-up to a war in the Middle East. Peter Capaldi’s frothy, foul-mouthed string-puller who has lost track of which strings are which is the breakout star of the film, and Tom Hollander plays a guy who seems to have risen to a position that he is horrendously unqualified for. It’s complicated, swift, and one of the best comedies I’ve seen.

88. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Directed by Rob Reiner. Starring Michael McKean and Christopher Guest

As long as there’s you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll.

The best of the faux-documentaries I’ve seen, This Is Spinal Tap is widely loved. There are so many great segments, and the frame of a documentaries makes everything even funnier. If you haven’t, check out the DVD commentary track, which sports the guys in character complaining about how poorly the movie makes them look. It’s almost as good as the  regular movie.

78. How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Directed by John Ford. Starring Roddy McDowall and Maureen O’Hara

Huw, I thought when I was a young man that I would conquer the world with truth. I thought I would lead an army greater than Alexander ever dreamed of, not to conquer nations, but to liberate mankind. With truth.

Notorious as the movie that beat Citiczen Kane for the Best Picture Oscar, How Green Was My Valley gets too little credit for being a great movie in its own right. A coming of age movie and a love letter to Wales, it feels like an epic while being a study of this family. It’s also impeccably directed, as you would expect from John Ford.

68. RoboCop (1987)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Starring Peter Weller and Nancy Allen

Let me make something clear to you. He doesn’t have a name. He’s a program. He’s a product.

Much like his other films (Total Recall, Starship Troopers, and even Showgirls) RoboCop is steeped in genre elements and is a darkly comic satire. And let’s throw a little Christ imagery in there, too. Also, lots of blood and stuff.

58. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Directed by George A. Romero. Starring Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea

Now get the hell down in the cellar. You can be the boss down there, but I’m boss up here!

This is, I think, the only film on my list that is directed by a bad director. George A. Romero has continued to go back to his zombie filled universe with diminishing returns. I feel like he almost lucked into this one, working within such limited constraints can sometimes get you a better result than when you have even a little more freedom. Unlike any of the sequels, this movie is terrifying, oddly pretty, and the message is hidden rather than the raison d’être, which is a problem with all of his other movies. But this one is awesome.

48. Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Directed by David Lynch. Starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring

It’ll be just like in the movies. Pretending to be somebody else.

I feel like I understood this movie less and less as it went along. Then I mostly understood it directly after watching it. And now I have no clue. I do know that it’s a fascinating film to watch, at times funny, strange, scary (the Winkies man still haunts my dreams) and gorgeous. Most of it probably doesn’t happen or something, right? If none of this makes any sense I suppose the writeup will emulate the film.

38. 12 Angry Men (1957)

Directed by Sidney Lumet. Starring Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb

I don’t believe I have to be loyal to one side or the other. I’m simply asking questions.

12 guys yelling at each other in a room. None of them have names for most of the film, and you can really get to understand the people behind the juror number. Henry Fonda is, as always, an amazing actor, and Sidney Lumet gets a lot out of his single setting. It feels as claustrophobic as it should. And it’s a cool look at the U.S. justice system.

28. 127 Hours (2010)

Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring James Franco and a rock

This rock has been waiting for me my entire life. Its entire life, ever since it was a bit of a meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It’s been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I’ve been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I’ve taken, ever action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface.

That’s a really long quote, so I’ll be brief here. A movie about being alone and the necessity of other people. James Franco’s performance practically is the movie, and although he’s a bit hit and miss in general, he’s truly great here. And Danny Boyle’s camera adds so much to the film, going crazy when Franco’s being frenetic, settling down as his body starts to slow. Check my review.

18. The Exorcist (1973)

Directed by William Friedkin. Starring Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair

You’re telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor? Is that it?

I have a lot of horror on my list and, though there are a few more above this one, I don’t know if any are as objectively terrifying as The Exorcist. Sound design really makes this one tick. And Ellen Burstyn’s performance grounds the film in a mother’s love and fear for her daughter. It’s as real as a horror movie gets.

8. Lucky Star (1929)

Directed by Frank Borzage. Starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell

You’re a cannibal and a dirty, no-good low-down little thief!

Borzage does transcendent romance so well, everybody else might as well give up. The tale of an injured soldier and a lovable scamp, the two must fix each other through the power of their love. When filmed with Borzage’s wonderful, poetic camera you believe that true love will conquer all.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section