Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #94

94. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Based on one of the most controversial plays to open on Broadway in the 1960's, producer-screenwriter Ernest Lehman trusted his adaptation of Edward Albee's dark character drama to a young stage director and first-time filmmaker named Mike Nichols. The result is a riveting and mind-blowing dramatic film that is a must-see. Lehman convinced Jack Warner to bank on Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (rather than Henry Fonda and Bette Davis) in the coveted roles of George and Martha, the condescending professor and his shrewish wife. Burton and Taylor were the Brangelina of their day and Lehman knew how to use this. Nichols draws the best performances of their respective careers out of them (as well as from George Segal and Sandy Dennis as the younger couple).

In addition to the brilliant adaptation of Albee's language and fervor that Lehman supplied, Mike Nichols brought a frenetic quality to the film that you cannot quite get on stage. True, the stageplay is brilliant (especially in the hands of great actors), but the stage is a different animal. On stage, actors have to play to the balcony and have to (in the words of Gypsy's Mama Rose) "Sing Out, Louise!" In this film, Nichols uses close-ups and quick cuts to help build the energy of the heightened moments around the softer scenes (especially the heartbreaking final one). It is also a good choice to film this movie in black and white instead of in color (which is supposably what Jack Warner wanted). The black and white adds to the darkness and empty quality that fills the lives of George and Martha. One would think from the way the film moves that wherever George and Marta go, the black and white follows them. Not a bad first film for an amazing director who constantly challenges the audience's minds.

Next Post: #93

The 100 Best Movies: #95

95. Munich (2005)

A very controversial choice, but Steven Spielberg's tale of the Israeli response to the terrorist actions taken by the PLO during the 1972 Munich Summer Games is one the best films in recent years. And 2005 was a big year for controversy especially in the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards, where Munich faced Brokeback Mountain and eventual winner Crash. As with most of Spielberg's lesser valued work, there are audiences who are divided on this film: they either love it or they hate it. What I love most about this film is not just Spielberg's unmistakable style. Nor is it the stellar cast (that includes Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush and the always welcome Ciaran Hinds). Nor is it John Williams' haunting Oscar-nominated score. Though an argument can be made for each of those brilliant elements, for me, it is the intelligent screenplay by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) and Tony Kushner (Angels In America). Both screenwriters were criticized from both sides of the aisle claiming that the film was either too Pro-Israeli or too Anti-Israeli. What I found was that Spielberg and his writers were showing audiences the debate and where both sides were coming from. The scene I especially love is when Eric Bana's lead character is discussing Middle East politics with a PLO operative (touchingly played by Tony Award nominee Omar Metwally) and the operative has a short speech about "just wanting to find home and fighting to keep it." It really makes you think about a very polarizing issue and Spielberg is a master at that.

Next Post: #94

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #96

96. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

This movie is one I discovered I liked on DVD. When I first heard about it, I thought pretty much the same as everyone else: another girls-can-do-sports-just-as-well-as-the-boys-so-girl-power! movie. But when I finally saw it, I found that it was a little more than that. It's not just about a girl playing football (or soccer for American audiences), it's about an Indian girl defying her family's expectations. That angle made the movie more interesting to me and therefore, more enjoyable. Also, the writing is quite clever. The parents (from both cultures) are more than just stereotypes and they each try to understand their children, in their own way. Plus, the performances of the British cast is fantastic, especially Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra. Just like the film's heroine, the movie defies expectations and has more to it than one would think.

Next Post: #95

Monday, June 28, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #97

97. Network (1976)

There's not much I can say about this brilliant film. It appears on almost every list of great American movies. Paddy Chayefsky's intelligent and darkly satirical drama is woven perfectly by director Sidney Lumet. It is a must-see film for anyone planning to pursue a career in the Arts and Media. Several of the themes Chayefsky explores are still relevant today, especially those about network and studio politics. It is rounded out by a stellar ensemble cast led by the great William Holden and the wickedly brilliant Faye Dunaway. And, of course, who could forget Peter Finch, who won a posthumous Oscar for his phenomenal performance as Howard Beale, the Network News anchor driven mad by the troubles in the world. His speech near the beginning of the film is widely known now because of its catchphrase. The film also includes the shortest performance to win an Academy Award. Beatrice Straight, playing William Holden's put upon wife, appears onscreen for a total of less than 10 minutes and yet, received 1976's Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Next Post: #96

The 100 Best Movies: #98

98. Oklahoma! (1955)

It may seem a strange choice for something like this but as I said in my introduction, Musicals will feature prominently on this list. I have loved Musical theatre for a very long time (possibly even in the womb). And this is the one that helped define American musical theatre as we know it today. In 1943, composer Richard Rodgers (Pal Joey, Babes In Arms) and lyricist-librettist Oscar Hammerstein II (Show Boat, Carmen Jones) collaborated for the first time on a new musical to be produced on Broadway by the legendary Theatre Guild. With Oklahoma!, a partnership began that influenced a Golden Era of Broadway musicals throughout the 1940's and 1950's. The show was a massive Broadway hit 1943 and ran for 5 years, followed by several successful national tours.

When 20th Century Fox purchased the film rights to the successful stage property, they saw it as the perfect opportunity to show off some of the technical advancements made by Mike Todd. Mike Todd was a filmmaker and producer who revolutionized the size and scope of movies through widescreen technology. With Todd-AO (one of the first major widescreen advancements), 20th Century Fox convinced Rodgers and Hammerstein to produce the film version of their Broadway smash. The only drawback the new technology had (at the time) was that every shot, every scene and even every musical number had to be filmed twice because several theaters were not equipped to show the film in the new Todd-AO format.

Now that the background is out of the way, let me explain why I love this movie. First of all, it is a great adaptation of a landmark Broadway musical. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote some of the most memorable songs in Broadway history and this show has some of their best including "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "The Surrey With a Fringe On Top" and, of course, the title tune. Second, the performances are quite delightful especially Shirley Jones (in her film debut) and Gordon MacRae as the leading lovebirds. Lastly, if you watch the DVD in widescreen, you truly get the scope of what 20th Century Fox and Mike Todd did with their new technology. And when you remember what year the film came out, you realize how revolutionary it really was. True, there were other films the same year and the following year that used (and even perfected) widescreen technology, but the fact this was the first is just amazing. It also happens to be one of the few "Westerns" on my list (that is if you count it as a Western).

Next Post: #97

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #99

99. Remember the Titans (2000)

Every time I see this movie, I realize how much I like it. The Walt Disney Company in association with Jerry Bruckheimer's company have produced a number of films together including the mega-successful Pirates of the Caribbean series, the National Treasure movies and a series of sports-based films inspired by true stories. This film was the first of that type and they couldn't have done better. This story (as compared to other Disney-Bruckheimer sports-themed movies) is about an unknown and frequently untold story in the sports world, primarily because its about a high school football team. It revolves around the T.C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, Virginia in the 1960's at the beginning of the integration of Southern high schools. The story is about the relationship between the integrated members of the team and how they deal with the tensions surrounding them. It also focuses on the relationship between Denzel Washington's character, head coach Herman Boone, and Will Patton's character, assistant coach Bill Yoast. Both actors bring their best to these roles and you care about each of their viewpoints. Washington is especially good in his role as always. There are also several actors before they were famous in smaller roles like Ryan Gosling as a country music-lovin' football player or a young Hayden Panettierre (of TV's Heroes) in a charming performance as Will Patton's daughter. While formulaic at times, it still works even though some of the events are exaggerated for dramatic effect. If you haven't seen this Disney gem, then get it on DVD because it is worth a watch.

Next Post: #98

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #100

100. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

This sleeper hit-turned-Oscar darling is low on the list I'll admit, but it is a fairly recent film. I did not see this film until after it had won all the major awards, including the Academy Award. I remember reading about this film in Entertainment Weekly while it was still in Art House movie theaters. Of course, I had heard all the raves and in particular the Oscar buzz. When I finally got around to seeing it, about a month after the Oscars, I went in with lower expectations than most. I thought it wouldn't live up to the hype. I thought it was just another one of those films that people say is really good but is actually just average. As the film ended, I was never happier to reveal that my preconceptions were wrong and it was truly amazing. It really was one of the best films of that year. And that is saying something because I enjoyed other films from that year.

The story is truly about the underdog (or slumdog as the case may be), which is a story I can always get behind (you'll notice a lot of the films on this list have an underdog theme to them). And the performances of the fresh-faced newcomers are touching, charming and even brilliant at times. But what really made this film work for me was Danny Boyle's direction. One minute its fast-paced and jarring, then the next its slow and intense. You really feel like you are sitting in the Millionaire hot-seat. If you haven't seen this movie, take a look at it because it is what people were saying about it: an inspiring and amazing movie. Plus it ends with a musical number! That was just a bonus for me. It's a great film and a wonderful way to begin the countdown.

Next Post: #99

The 100 Best Movies: Introduction

At least in my opinion they are. Over the next several days, I will share with the world my 100 favorite movies, one at a time. Now, you may be asking yourself: "Why is this guy's 100 favorite movies important?" and the short answer is: They're not. But the long answer includes the reasons I started this blog. I have loved movies for as long as I can remember. My father always took me and my brother to the newest blockbuster and we always rented videos, watched classic films on TV, etc. I have seen tons of films and I feel it is time to make a list of my 100 favorite. I also like to hear about other people's favorite films. I enjoy a great discussion and if someone out there has a favorite film I've never seen, I might want to take a look at that film. I also have a lot of films on this list that would most likely be on other people's lists. I hope that by mentioning these films (in their own post within the blog), I remind people of their favorites and the positive memories that film may bring them.

Now, you may be asking yourself: "What kind of movies will be on this list?" and in order to answer that, you need to understand a little bit about what genres are my favorites. For as long as I have loved movies, I have loved the theatre and musicals for even longer. Musicals is one genre you will see a plethora of on this list. Another couple of genres that dominate this list are Animation (particularly Disney), Comedy, Fantasy, Adventure and Science-Fiction. My appreciation for all these genres can be traced somewhere in my family, in particular my brother, who perhaps has been the biggest influence on my movie watching life (aside from musicals that is). However, because this is a personal 100 list, there are a couple of genres you may not find on this list. Westerns are not very prominent on this list but that is a personal preference. I've just never been that crazy for the genre. Another genre missing is horror films, especially slasher films. Growing up in the '80's and '90's, there were tons of these, but they just aren't my cup of tea. But most of the films that are on the list do come from different genres. I find I am very eclectic in what are my favorites. Some of the films are on the list because they have a personal connection for me. For example, it could be a film I watched with a beloved family member or a good friend. That said, some of the entries on the list will have a page-long explanation and others might be just a short paragraph.

I cannot say enough times, this is a personal 100 list. These are films that are favorites of mine, for various reasons. You are perfectly free to disagree with me. In fact, open discussions are widely encouraged. I do, however, have a few rules when it comes to discussing and commenting. They are not bad rules. They are pretty standard.
1. No name calling or swearing. As said before, you are perfectly free to disagree, but let's not put this on a childish level. Any comments like these will be deleted. Let's have some class and dignity in our comments, please.
2. Disagree but with reason. It works if you disagree but I like open discussion. If you say: "That movie SUCKS!," it doesn't give me much to respond to. Give me a reason why you believe the movie "SUCKS!"

One more suggestion, at least to those who might disagree with some of the choices. If you dislike (or have negative memories of) a particular movie, I suggest that you re-watch the film with fresh eyes. Make sure that it truly is as bad as you think it is. Your reaction might surprise you. Sometimes it takes a couple viewings for me to like a film. That said, most of the films on this list, I enjoyed after the first viewing.

So to sum up this introduction: This is a personal list of my favorite 100 films that I am sharing with the world. I wholeheartedly welcome discussion and differing opinions. I would especially love it if I remind someone of a favorite of theirs.

As I am revealing this list one at a time, I will try to keep updating with one film a day. I may double up with two (or even three if I feel adventurous) in a day. So please be patient with me when waiting for the next post. With all that said, let's begin the countdown!

Next Post: #100

Monday, June 14, 2010