This list is inspired by David Thomson's book "Have You Seen...?", which is subtitled "A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films - Including masterpieces, oddities, guilty pleasures, and classics (with just a few disasters)".
The thing is, I *have* seen most of them, and yet many masterpieces, oddities, guilty pleasures, classics, and disasters I'm interested in are missing, especially those from recent years. And while I respect Thomson's choices, and agree with many, being a generation younger than Thomson I don't share his appreciation for many of his arthouse picks of the 60s and 70s.
Rather than present my own list of a thousand (duplicating maybe half of Thomson's list), I thought it'd be more interesting to use his list as a starting point and add a thousand more of my own. That is, I've excluded from my list everything from "Have You Seen...?" - among those several hundred of my favorite movies. I find it stimulating to consider films beyond my favorites and the accepted classics.
Not all the movies in this list will stand the test of time - some already haven't, while others weren't good to begin with. But I hope you will find something interesting and unique about each one.
Having said that, it is a monumental effort to come up with a (second) thousand interesting movies - let alone comment on them - so I'm breaking it up into chunks of a hundred each.
To keep things simple, I'll restrict myself to feature films for the first hundred. As I scrape the barrel in later lists, I imagine, like Thomson, I will widen the field to include shorts, documentaries, and TV movies, series, and mini-series.
Will I make it to a thousand? Are there even two thousand movies in the world of interest to the general public? Stay tuned...
Kaisa is a Scot, a successful London lawyer, who snorts coke and has one-night stands with strangers... (113 mins.)
“ If Shakespeare were around today, would this be what his plays looked like? ” - clevecheng
An unrepentant ladies' man gradually begins to understand the consequences of his lifestyle. (114 mins.)
“ I like the remake as well (why does Jude Law get so little credit? He's great), but Michael Caine is really in his element here - a force of nature. Along with Georgy Girl, this is what I think of when I imagine the Swinging 60s. ” - clevecheng
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
A recently widowed woman is on the road with her precocious young son, determined to make a new life for herself as a singer. (112 mins.)
“ The last Scorsese movie I liked. What happened to these guys (meaning Coppola, Scorsese, and Lucas) after the 70s? ” - clevecheng
All About My Mother
Young Esteban wants to become a writer and also to discover the identity of his father, carefully concealed by his mother Manuela. (101 mins.)
“ Along with Talk to Her, the peak of Pedro Almodóvar's career. Here we get into Almodóvar's take on family values and womanhood. It is touching, but never cloying or taking the victim's way out. My personal favorite of his films. Cecilia Roth is fabulous. ” - clevecheng
Amélie is an innocent and naive girl in Paris with her own sense of justice. She decides to help those around her and, along the way, discovers love. (122 mins.)
“ The movie Jean-Pierre Jeunet was born to make. From music videos to Delicatessen to The City of Lost Children to The Film Which Shall Not Be Named, Jeunet steadily increased his storytelling ambitions until we finally have here a fully fleshed-out character. Stylistic ticks that come off as more annoying than quirky in more serious films are here right on key. I guess it helps that the story bears a faint resemblance to my favorite Jane Austen novel.
This is my favorite movie - no contest. ” - clevecheng
At a 1962 college, Dean Vernon Wormer is determined to expel the entire Delta Tau Chi Fraternity, but those trouble-makers have other plans for him. (109 mins.)
“ The current era of bread-and-butter feature movie comedy - dominated as it is by National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live alumni - all started here. Probably not as funny to today's audience as it once was, but it still retains enough of its freshness (and enough of a resemblance to actual fraternity life) to make one appreciate the floodgates it opened. ” - clevecheng
A silent movie star meets a young dancer, but the arrival of talking pictures sends their careers in opposite directions. (100 mins.)
“ One of the best silent films ever made. And why not? We have learned a thing or two in the seven decades since the Silent Era ended.
Original it is not. But clever enough to make me suspend many layers of disbelief and enjoy some good ol' fashioned cinema. ” - clevecheng
The Barbarian Invasions
During his final days, a dying man is reunited with old friends, former lovers, his ex-wife, and his estranged son. (99 mins.)
“ The film doesn't sugarcoat. In that unique Québécois blend of American and French sensibilities, it shows us untidy people in bad relationships forced to face the inevitable and discover what love is really about. It's deeply human, and as such makes us not only examine our own lives but feel too. ” - clevecheng
“ Let's remake Casablanca, almost beat for beat, only with Pamela Anderson in the Humphrey Bogart role. Could it have been anything but a train wreck?
Actually, it's not that bad in parts, and we have Casablanca's script to thank. Which is not so much my endorsement of the brilliance of Casablanca's script as my conviction that here is an object lesson in undervaluing all the other aspects of filmmaking. ” - clevecheng
Beauty and the Beast
A young woman whose father has been imprisoned by a terrifying beast offers herself in his place, unaware that her captor is actually a prince, physically altered by a magic spell. (84 mins.)
“ Broadway productions notwithstanding, the only Disney musical to reach the highest echelon of the artform - right up there with Singin' in the Rain, The Sound of Music, and West Side Story. The musical numbers are almost uniformly exquisite, and yet never showstoppers - in fact much of the plot takes place in song. ” - clevecheng
The relationship of a contemporary married couple, charting their evolution over a span of years by cross-cutting between time periods. (112 mins.)
“ Seldom have I seen romance developed so effectively as a tool for driving home harsh reality. A Requiem for Romance. ” - clevecheng
The claustrophobic world of a WWII German U-boat; boredom, filth, and sheer terror. (149 mins.)
“ The emotional center of the film, the audience's proxy, is the one actual Nazi. Yet how many millions of Americans are moved to tears by this movie? In its handling of a no-win situation, this film is unparalleled. ” - clevecheng
Boyz n the Hood
Follows the lives of three young males living in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles, dissecting questions of race, relationships, violence and future prospects. (112 mins.)
“ Sometimes, after watching later Singleton disasters like Higher Learning and 2 Fast 2 Furious, I wonder if this film resonates with those who did not grow up in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots. Then I consider that it launched Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lawrence Fishburne, and Ice Cube (as an actor) to stardom. ” - clevecheng
Breaking the Waves
Oilman Jan is paralyzed in an accident. His wife, who prayed for his return, feels guilty; even more, when Jan urges her to have sex with another. (159 mins.)
“ The Danes have a wonderful way of making everyday life seem like a horror film. ” - clevecheng
After being wrongly convicted as a traitor, Peter Blood, an English physician, is sent to exile in the British colonies of the Caribbean, where he becomes a pirate. (119 mins.)
“ The definition of Good Old Fashioned Fun. They truly don't make them like this anymore, and there's as many good things as bad things about that. ” - clevecheng
Armed with a licence to kill, Secret Agent James Bond sets out on his first mission as 007 and must defeat a weapons dealer in a high stakes game of poker at Casino Royale, but things are not what they seem. (144 mins.)
“ It was all flashy action and homage until that fateful day the two met on the train to Montenegro. The magic starts with the words, "I'm the money." That's the moment when Bond grows up. ” - clevecheng
Two melancholy Hong Kong policemen fall in love: one with a mysterious female underworld figure, the other with a beautiful and ethereal server at a late-night restaurant he frequents. (102 mins.)
“ One of the early disjointed narratives, still retaining much freshness and wonder. ” - clevecheng
The City of Lost Children
A scientist in a surrealist society kidnaps children to steal their dreams, hoping that they slow his aging process. (112 mins.)
“ I think Jeunet deserves a second spot on this list, because as sublime as Amelie was, if you look at his whole career, you can see that The City of Lost Children, with its ties to Delicatessen and Micmacs, was closer to his music-video-like heart. This is pure fairy tale, borrowing from so many sources, and yet absolutely original. One can only assume that Aliens 4 was his penance for having reached nirvana so early. ” - clevecheng
A day in the lives of two convenience clerks named Dante and Randal as they annoy customers, discuss movies, and play hockey on the store roof. (92 mins.)
“ Sometimes it's not the final product that counts - Clerks is already becoming an historical footnote - but the journey and its legacy. Kevin Smith wears his amateurness on his sleeve, and yet he's got talent. As stilted as the performances are, Clerks is still amusing. It still hits home. ” - clevecheng
Dr. Ellie Arroway, after years of searching, finds conclusive radio proof of intelligent aliens, who send plans for a mysterious machine. (150 mins.)
“ Neither upbeat nor overly sentimental, Contact nevertheless has no room for cynicism. Carl Sagan's legacy could not be better captured than with the hope and wonder conveyed by this movie. Some already think it naive, and no doubt more will in the decades to come. But Sagan's purpose was not to argue the fine points of capitalism, terrorism, cryptology, or international cooperation in space exploration, but simply to point out that the prospect of sentient extraterrestrial life - of finding out we're not alone in the universe - can be as powerful as religion, something that can uplift, energize, and hopefully unite us all. In that aspect, this movie succeeds entirely. ” - clevecheng
The Cranes Are Flying
Veronica plans a rendezvous with her lover, Boris, at the bank of river, only for him to be drafted into World War II shortly thereafter. (97 mins.)
“ Like other Soviet films I've seen (I admit, not many), the story and character development are crude by Hollywood standards, but even after 55 years the cinematography is still stunning. More than any other film I've seen, Cranes plays like a continuous series of perfectly-composed photographs - every time the camera stops, the image is suitable for framing on your wall. ” - clevecheng
A newly unemployed cellist takes a job preparing the dead for funerals. (130 mins.)
“ It's a movie about finding dignity in life through providing dignity in death. So a rather unusual topic, told in a sensitive, lyrical way. Not groundbreaking otherwise, but I find every film that touches me profound, without it necessarily having to be about something profound. ” - clevecheng
An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly finds a kindred spirit in a government agent who is exposed to their biotechnology. (112 mins.)
“ The metaphor is transparent, and yet the handling of it all is appealingly off-kilter. Is this another example of the stereotypical quirkiness and, for lack of a better word, humanity of Commonwealth (i.e., Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African) movies? ” - clevecheng
With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. (165 mins.)
“ The King of Style is back in his best film since Pulp Fiction. Whether shuffling along in leg irons, cantering a horse, or steppin' and fetchin', this film amounts to nigh on three hours of strutting. You'd have to be The Grinch to assess it on content alone, when it's clear that Tarantino is just having fun.
Having said that, Django Unchained is the polar opposite of its co-opener Les Miserables. Les Miz is a fabulous story, based on timeless material, while Django is characteristically devoid of real emotion, and neither does Tarantino have anything to say - and this hurts its chances at classic status. On the flip side, Tarantino's direction is flawless - confident and virtuoso, while the makers of Les Miz made a number of stylistic mistakes: live recording (and the excessive close-ups and lack of interaction between players engendered by it), uneven editing, and shaky cams arbitrarily mixed in with sweeping crane shots.
Combine Tarantino's directorial talent with Les Miz'es story and the production values of both and we could very well have the greatest movie ever made. Instead we have the first two flawed masterpieces of the new Mayan long cycle. ” - clevecheng
This big hit at the Sundance Film Festival had audiences cheering. Set during the Ming Dynasty, this... (88 mins.)
“ I came at this backwards, having been intrigued by the homage "Goodbye, Dragon Inn" (itself an interesting arthouse film about arthouses). Naturally I skipped right past the original "Dragon Inn" referenced in that movie to the remake starring my favorite Chinese actress, Maggie Cheung. And she does not disappoint. Possibly my favorite kung fu flick. ” - clevecheng
A mysterious Hollywood stuntman and mechanic moonlights as a getaway driver and finds himself in trouble when he helps out his neighbor. (100 mins.)
“ The coolest 80s music video ever made. ” - clevecheng
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a procedure to have each other erased from their memories. But it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with. (108 mins.)
“ In my mind, this is where Winslet, Carrey, and Gondry all finally clicked. I think of it as a romantic comedy, even though it's not the least bit funny or romantic - unless you find pain funny and falling out of love romantic, which I kind of do after watching this movie. Serves up life affirmation just the way I like it: with barely a trace of sentiment. ” - clevecheng
Marius has left, signed up for a five year hitch on a ship bound for the Indian Ocean. In his few letters to his father César... (140 mins.)
“ My favorite of Marcel Pagnol's Fanny Trilogy, and a standout early French sound film. Pagnol just had a feel for people that transcends regional culture or even language. ” - clevecheng
Farewell My Concubine
The story of two men, who met as apprentices in the Peking Opera, and stayed friends for over 50 years. (171 mins.)
“ Yeesh, this is sad. Interesting, beautiful, and sad. ” - clevecheng
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
A teenager becomes a major competitor in the world of drift racing after moving in with his father in Tokyo to avoid a jail sentence in America. (104 mins.)
“ The only one of this series (so far) that gets its home audience - that the source of SoCal ricer culture is not Chickasaw County or Mel's Diner, but Kanto. ” - clevecheng
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
A high school wise guy is determined to have a day off from school, despite what the principal thinks of that. (103 mins.)
“ John Hughes' masterpiece, and thus the flagship of my generation - some boys I knew in junior high/high school could quote it almost from start to finish. My favorite movie until well into college, and to this day, practically everything I know about Chicago (real or not) I learned from this movie. In attitude, pop references, soundtrack, and general dissipation a kind of thoroughly bourgeois bridge between the French New Wave and Quentin Tarantino. ” - clevecheng
An insomniac office worker, looking for a way to change his life, crosses paths with a devil-may-care soap maker, forming an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more. (139 mins.)
“ The antidote for Grrl Power, a call to arms for the pussy-whipped. Only the message is continually subverted. Four years after the Oklahoma City bombing, six years after the World Trade Center van bombing, and two years before 9/11, here was a film inciting terrorism in the name of... nothing, anarchy. And yet the filmmakers had the temerity to cast Meat Loaf and give him bitch tits.
Even five critically-acclaimed films later, David Fincher is still listed as "Director, Fight Club (1999)" on IMDb searches. ” - clevecheng
As a modern-day scientist, Tommy is struggling with mortality, desperately searching for the medical breakthrough that will save the life of his cancer-stricken wife, Izzi. (96 mins.)
“ I neither particularly like this film nor was I particularly moved by it. I'm not sure what it's about either. Kind of like 2001: A Space Odyssey, though, it's visually stunning and meditative to the point of stimulating thought to fill the void. ” - clevecheng
Gangs of New York
In 1863, Amsterdam Vallon returns to the Five Points area of New York City seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher, his father's killer. (167 mins.)
“ Accurate portrayal of history or not, the ending is such a non sequitur as to destroy what promised at the outset to be Scorsese's masterpiece. Disjointed and caricatured as it is, it's still worth seeing for its spectacular opening sequence and Daniel Day-Lewis' tour de force. ” - clevecheng
A homely but vivacious young woman dodges the amorous attentions of her father's middle-aged employer... (99 mins.)
“ It is a contemporary plunge into Swinging Sixties culture, with tantalizing teases of free love, but Lynn Redgrave keeps it all firmly planted with a beautiful, one-of-a-kind lead performance. British to a tee. ” - clevecheng
With only the plan of moving in together after high school, two unusually devious friends seek direction in life. As a mere gag, they respond to a man's newspaper ad for a date, only to find it will greatly complicate their lives. (111 mins.)
“ What would the roommates from Georgy Girl (or, more to the point, Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey from Heavenly Creatures) be like if they grew up in the nihilistic, utterly aimless L.A. of the 90s? A perfect counterpoint to Gidget. ” - clevecheng
A young girl discovers surfing and love (in that order) during one transitive summer. (95 mins.)
“ Having liked Sandra Dee in Imitation of Life (my only previous exposure to her had been the song in Grease), I picked up a used VHS copy of Gidget from my local bookstore, and fell in love at first viewing. The only problem was Gidget was shot in Cinemascope, but the VHS (and sadly the later DVD) release is full-frame, meaning almost half the picture is cut out. We can't even see both sides of a conversation at once.
Let me make a case for why Gidget is worth a proper release, why it is not just another beach movie that can only be sold as a VHS-quality three-pack. Yes, it does have a certain TV production quality to it, largely set-bound and blue-screen-reliant. But the parts that are shot outside - i.e., at Malibu - show Southern California at its sunny best. Yes, it has a dreamy, beach resort quality to it, but that's just what Malibu looks like.
And let us not forget that the story is a real one, based on the adventures of a teenage girl learning to surf with the big boys in Malibu, and the first exposure to L.A. surf culture for much of the country. It's not even as white-washed and sentimental as you might expect if you've only seen the TV show - after all, the plot centers on underage girls losing their virginity to older, mostly-destitute men.
Having said that, the main appeal is front and center on the box: the absolutely adorable Sandra Dee. Still pictures don't do justice to her bounce - and I don't mean something sexual by that, but just her effervescence. She's a ray of sunshine - the Endless Summer incarnate. ” - clevecheng
Weary of the conventions of Parisian society, a rich playboy and a youthful courtesan-in-training enjoy a platonic friendship, but it may not stay platonic for long. (115 mins.)
“ At the time, it was recognized as Vincente Minnelli's crowning achievement, winning a record-breaking nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Director.
Interestingly, it wasn't nominated for a single acting award. And I guess that makes sense, but that doesn't mean there wasn't some fine acting. The particular standout was Hermione Gingold, the level-headed (and inexplicably British) heart of the whole affair. Even Maurice Chevalier and Eva Gabor - set decoration more than actors - were cast perfectly.
The songs didn't enter the Great American Songbook (except perhaps, jokingly, "Thank Heaven For Little Girls"), probably because they're sung in thick accents (apparently Caron had to relearn hers) and are specifically about Paris. Nevertheless, they are catchy and develop the characters nicely - it is Lerner and Loewe after all. And then there's the ridiculously sumptuous Belle Epoque sets and costumes, which, even if you aren't into such things, are the definition of eye candy.
I am not generally a musical fan, but this would be my desert island pick. If what you want most is escape, Minnelli is your man. ” - clevecheng
When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an emperor's corrupt son, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. (155 mins.)
“ I just want to say that Connie Nielsen does a spectacular job as the woman caught in the middle of dynastic warfare - I too would love to see her as Emperor. I have to get that out of the way first because I'm going to spend the rest of this comment gushing about Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris, and Oliver Reed. There, I'm done. ” - clevecheng
Two boys begin a silence strike to press their parents into buying them a television set. (94 mins.)
“ Ozu being playful. Using all his stylistic tools and his keen observation of everyday life, he weaves a tiny story in a tiny place about the universal childhood need for... television. ” - clevecheng
American Grand Prix driver Pete Aron is fired by his Jordan-BRM racing team after a crash at Monaco that injures his British teammate... (176 mins.)
“ Unlike any other car racing film you've ever seen, this fiction film plays almost like a documentary, using real F1 drivers in real F1 cars on real F1 tracks, with some actual race footage, exhilirating in-car footage, and an unsentimental look at the life of a Formula One team. If for no other reason, see it for a peek at car racing at its most exciting, before safety regulations changed the face of the sport - for the very good reasons illustrated in this movie. ” - clevecheng
Grave of the Fireflies
A young boy and his little sister struggle to survive in Japan during World War II. (89 mins.)
“ The most devastating piece of feature animation ever released. The crowning achievement of Studio Ghibli, and one of the all-time great war films, live action or animated. Even considering just the content, it tells a story, an aspect of WWII, you almost never hear of in the States. ” - clevecheng
A weatherman finds himself inexplicably living the same day over and over again. (101 mins.)
“ Possibly the greatest concept (original or not) in the history of screenwriting. Bill Murray never lets the comedy flag either. ” - clevecheng
24 hours in the lives of three young men in the French suburbs the day after a violent riot. (98 mins.)
“ A French Boyz n the Hood (see Fish Tank for a British Grrl n the Hood). ” - clevecheng
A tough-as-nails cop teams up with an undercover agent to shut down a sinister mobster and his crew. (128 mins.)
“ Body count as cinema. ” - clevecheng
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
When deaf mute Singer moves to a small city to be near his only friend confined in a hospital, he grows attached to his landlady's sensitive 16-year-old daughter. (123 mins.)
“ You get a hint of the depth Alan Arkin is capable of in his modern incarnation as a character actor, but here, near the beginning, he's phenomenal. ” - clevecheng
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
A marine and a nun form an unlikely friendship. The marine is shipwrecked on a Pacific island and the nun has been left behind there; they find comfort in one another as the two wait out the war. (108 mins.)
“ Two of my favorite actors of the 50s stranded together on a desert island, with only their self-conceptions offering any barrier to their hooking up. ” - clevecheng
A French illusionist finds himself out of work and travels to Scotland, where he meets a young woman. Their ensuing adventure changes both their lives forever. (80 mins.)
“ The quiet alter ego of The Artist. None of the cleverness and fuss; just bittersweet wistfulness. ” - clevecheng
A thief, who steals corporate secrets through use of dream-sharing technology, is given the inverse task of planting an idea into the mind of a CEO. (148 mins.)
“ I was disappointed coming out of the theater, but after receiving it on video disc, I've warmed to it with each viewing. It's ...insidious. ” - clevecheng
Italian for Beginners
Several lonely hearts in a semi-provincial suburb of a town in Denmark use a beginner's course in Italian as the platform to meet the romance of their lives. (112 mins.)
“ I think film historians will look back on Dogme as a mostly failed but invaluable experiment that helped bring about a new synthesis in mainstream filmmaking between Hollywood storytelling and the expressiveness of guerrilla filmmaking.
There was, however, at least one Dogme film (this one, #12) that got the mix more or less right. And I don't think it's a coincidence that this movie's theme is the attitude adjustment Dogme needed: Danes, you're basically good people, but do yourselves a favor and lighten up. ” - clevecheng
When a sports agent has a moral epiphany and is fired for expressing it, he decides to put his new philosophy to the test as an independent with the only athlete who stays with him. (139 mins.)
“ Some quotes ("Show me the money!") soon wear out their welcome, while others ("You had me at hello.") are handed down through the ages. Every single performance is a joy, but those of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Bonnie Hunt are absolute perfection. ” - clevecheng
Judgment at Nuremberg
In 1948, an American court in occupied Germany tries four Nazi judges for war crimes. (186 mins.)
“ With so many big-name actors (William Shatner even!) and such a portentous topic, this could easily have been ponderous and self-righteous. Yet, despite the very real atrocities it deals with, the movie never veers over the maudlin edge, even keeping Judy Garland in check. And it is the mark of level-headed writing and directing that, despite the incredible ensemble, the best parts are reserved for the German, the relatively obscure Maximilian Schell, who won an Oscar for this performance (as did the screenwriter, Abby Mann). ” - clevecheng
The Tramp cares for an abandoned child, but events put that relationship in jeopardy. (68 mins.)
“ Chaplin doesn't do much for me. Jackie Coogan, though: awww. Who can resist? ” - clevecheng
Kingdom of Heaven
Balian of Ibelin travels to Jerusalem during the crusades of the 12th century, and there he finds himself as the defender of the city and its people. (144 mins.)
“ Were the Crusades the end of myth in Europe? The Innocents Abroad astounded to find they are not the center of the world? And yet, here is a myth, actually quite similar in structure to The Hobbit. (Was that where Orlando Bloom got into the picture?) A fitting companion to Gladiator.
While I can't say I've watched the Theatrical Release and Director's Cut back-to-back, I do recall being disappointed upon first seeing it, but then pleasantly surprised reprising the Director's Cut on video. ” - clevecheng
Lady Windermere's Fan
A society woman believes her husband is having an affair, a misconception which may have dire personal consequences for all involved. (120 mins.)
“ While the story is Victorian (or at least a Victorian satire of Victorian society), the direction is surprisingly modern - at least to those not familiar with Lubitsch's other work. Making characteristically sparing use of intertitles, Lubitsch created the most accessible of all silent-era films (I have to add "-era" now, because of The Artist) - and, in my opinion, the best. Who else could take Oscar Wilde's witty play and turn it into a just-as-witty silent movie? ” - clevecheng
Léon: The Professional
Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl, is reluctantly taken in by Léon, a professional assassin, after her family is murdered. Léon and Mathilda form an unusual relationship, as she becomes his protégée and learns the assassin's trade. (110 mins.)
“ There are a handful of great crying scenes in the history of the movies (Anne Hathaway in Les Mis, and Elle Fanning in Phoebe in Wonderland spring to mind), but none was as effective as twelve-year-old Natalie Portman, coming home with the milk, finding her whole family butchered with the murderers looking to finish the job, standing in the hallway, begging Jean Reno to let her in. Of course he does, and the audience is won. ” - clevecheng
Let the Right One In
Oskar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl. (115 mins.)
“ Finally, a vampire movie with humanity. Like all the best genre films, this transcends the genre by letting us relate. It sticks to the basic conventions of vampire life, but manages to make it seem almost normal. In the end we understand her, understand how she's survived all these years, and even understand why humans fall in love with her. ” - clevecheng
A newspaper man, his jilted fiancée, and his lawyer hatch an elaborate scheme to turn a false news story into the truth, before a high-society woman can sue for libel. (98 mins.)
“ More than any other film, Libeled Lady symbolizes for me the strength of the Hollywood studio system. Its plot is generic enough that I sometimes get it confused with Wife vs. Secretary and/or Platinum Blonde, but what I do remember is that it's a thoroughly enjoyable experience, the essence of charm and fun. There was a time - mythical though it was - when journalists, bluebloods, and secretaries mixed freely, constantly swapping places and partners, and the world was a better place for it. ” - clevecheng
The Lion in Winter
1183 AD: King Henry II's three sons all want to inherit the throne, but he won't commit to a choice. They and his wife variously plot to force him. (134 mins.)
“ Not much more than a filmed stage play, but what a script and what performances! Where Timothy Dalton - in one of my favorite roles of his - gets sixth billing, and I'm not even sure that's an injustice. ” - clevecheng
The Long, Hot Summer
Accused barn burner and con man Ben Quick arrives in a small Mississippi town and quickly ingratiates himself with its richest family, the Varners. (115 mins.)
“ Probably only sought these days as the movie where Newman and Woodward got together, but that's enough. Both of them are utterly fantastic in this movie, but it's Woodward I want to sit on the porch all day and watch. This might be my favorite performance of any actress ever. ” - clevecheng
A plane crash delivers a group of people to the secluded land of Shangri-La -- but is it the miraculous utopia it appears to be? (97 mins.)
“ I assume the strangeness comes from the novel, but this is quite an odd tone for Golden Age Hollywood, let alone Frank Capra. I'm not sure it would be even possible to make a film like this anymore - although they tried a Liv Ullmann musical. I want to dismiss it as claptrap, but it's so beautiful. ” - clevecheng
A Love Song for Bobby Long
A headstrong young woman returns to New Orleans after the death of her estranged mother. (119 mins.)
“ Overtly sentimental and romanticizing, it is nevertheless one of my favorite John Travolta performances, and an excellent, if overly tidy, script from Shainee Gabel. Not terribly original, but a well-made movie doesn't have to be, as long as all the elements work together. And they do here - New Orleans seems to bring it all together and make sense of it. ” - clevecheng
Mary and Max
A tale of friendship between two unlikely pen pals: Mary, a lonely, eight-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, and Max, a forty-four-year old, severely obese man living in New York. (92 mins.)
“ Maybe not the first claymation film that comes to mind, but easily the best. It takes maximum advantage of that medium's ability to endear us to physical ugliness. To be maximally patronizing to Australia's film industry, this is part of that comforting fringe that feels like the next state over from Canada. ” - clevecheng
A man juggles searching for his wife's murderer and keeping his short-term memory loss from being an obstacle. (113 mins.)
“ A screenwriting class unto itself. With its non-linear gimmick I imagined it would not hold up to a second viewing, but I was wrong: the storytelling is a perfect match for the story. I'd rank Christopher Nolan one of the top five directors working today. ” - clevecheng
Million Dollar Baby
A determined woman works with a hardened boxing trainer to become a professional. (132 mins.)
“ This movie crushed me in the theater - I don't think I've ever been more profoundly impacted by a single movie-watching experience. It is simply perfect. ” - clevecheng
In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after breaking parole, agrees to care for a factory worker's daughter. The decision changes their lives forever. (158 mins.)
“ When I saw the L.A. production of the musical in the late 80s, it didn't leave much of an impression. I figured as a teenage boy I just wasn't into musicals.
So, after seeing previews of the film version which looked like a filmed stage production, I didn't have high expectations. Having just watched it, though, I am struck by how good the musical actually is.
Because the parts of the movie that cannot be directly attributed to the musical were uneven. Russell Crowe's Gilbert was a noticeably weak link - both in his singing and acting (admittedly in a one-dimensional role). Also, zero comic relief was to be had from Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter - although I don't blame the actors for this.
Tobe Hooper's direction was similarly uneven, with too-abrupt cutting in crowd scenes involving more than one actor, emotion-robbing reliance on closeups in duets, and too many static close-ups in general. More generally, the modern tone of the direction seemed ill-fitted to the melodrama of the 19th-Century material. The flaws are serious, and caused the movie to drag in parts - to be honest, I'd prefer some of the lesser songs cut.
But when the director doesn't get in the way, this movie soars. There are shots within the crowds scenes that evoke the great filmmakers and street photographers of the Modern era, and the close-ups do work when they're appropriate (esp. Fantine's and Eponine's solos). There are four parts I love in particular:
- Cosette's introduction,
- the build-up to the barricade,
- Samantha Banks, and, above all,
- Anne Hathaway. ” - clevecheng
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
King Arthur and his knights embark on a low-budget search for the Grail, encountering many, very silly obstacles. (91 mins.)
“ Possibly the most-quoted film of my generation. I guess you have to have a certain mindset to appreciate it. But after all, it's not that strange a concept: simply that absurdity in and of itself is funny.
A typical comedian, say Mel Brooks, would latch on to the easy pickings of the absurdity of chivalry - and Python does this to some extent. But they really soar when their silliness is non sequitur, as in the coconuts, the shrubbery, the Holy Hand Grenade - too many to recount here. ” - clevecheng
Astronaut Sam Bell has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he, working alongside his computer, GERTY, sends back to Earth parcels of a resource that has helped diminish our planet's power problems. (97 mins.)
“ This is what I had hoped Solaris was. I never saw what others saw in Sam Rockwell until I watched this movie, but count me a fan now. ” - clevecheng
Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears
This is a life story of three girlfriends from youth to autumn ages. Their dreams and wishes, love, disillusions... (150 mins.)
“ It took them 58 years (I'm being facetious, since I've probably only seen half a dozen Soviet films), but finally the Soviets made a movie about people. A great film by world standards, and the Academy agreed. A great film still today, even after its social context is but a fading memory. ” - clevecheng
Muriel finds life in Porpoise Spit, Australia dull and spends her days alone in her room listening to Abba music and dreaming of her wedding day... (106 mins.)
“ Are Australians actually like their movies? Or did their filmmakers latch on to something (Strictly Ballroom?) that worked in the same way Hollywood latched on to D. W. Griffith? How come Hollywood never fused the world of the Coen Brothers and light romantic comedy as well as this? Because if there is something unique about Australian culture that these films are tapping, why do they feel so comfortable to American audiences? ” - clevecheng
A jaded former jockey helps a young girl prepare a wild but gifted horse for England's Grand National Sweepstakes. (123 mins.)
“ Not watched much these days (the DVD print is deeply flawed, and there's no Blu-ray), this is *the* family film par excellence. There is no finer coming-of-age tale, backed by a fine script and wonderful performances by Anne Revere, Donald Crisp, an impossibly young Angela Lansbury, and, of course, the incomparable Elizabeth Taylor in her first starring role. Even with braces, she's glorious. ” - clevecheng
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Warrior/pacifist Princess Nausicaä desperately struggles to prevent two warring nations from destroying themselves and their dying planet. (117 mins.)
“ While Miyazaki has refined his storytelling and animation since, this, the foundational film of Studio Ghibli, is still the most haunting. Much can be attributed to the score. But so many of the story and visual elements of his later films can be found here, and here they are at their most mythic realization. ” - clevecheng
Never Let Me Go
The lives of three friends, from their early school days into young adulthood, when the reality of the world they live in comes knocking. (103 mins.)
“ Maybe it's all Ishiguro (haven't read the book), but this is traditional science fiction at its very best: individuals dealing with the harsh consequences of revolutionary technology. It is a philosopher's guilty pleasure. It is also one of the most touching movies of the current decade. I questioned Keira Knightley's casting at first, but she turned out to be a good foil for Carey Mulligan's sweetness. ” - clevecheng
A man and a woman who share a party line cannot stand each other, but he has fun romancing her with his voice disguised. (102 mins.)
“ Okay, no modern viewer is going to believe in the virginal youth of Doris Day (here in her mid-thirties), but she has a way of making you forget the artificiality, even forget how bad the script is (although this is one of her better ones), once she flashes that smile and speaks in that soothingly-cracked voice.
The other reason to watch this is to take perverse delight in the barrage of homosexual jokes aimed at Rock Hudson. Which was all in good fun in 1959, when everybody knew Rock was a man's man. Only, Hollywood insiders and the movie-going public had somewhat different understandings of what "man's man" meant. ” - clevecheng
Reign of Fire
A brood of fire-breathing dragons emerges from the earth and begins setting everything ablaze, establishing dominance over the planet. (101 mins.)
“ Why is this an obscure film? It's got all the heart-pumping action, fantasy, and special effects of the best summer blockbusters and better than average acting (starring Christian Bale, no less). Don't tell me it's because the plot is ludicrous (Christian Bale unleashes a dragon apocalypse on the world while digging the Chunnel - and that's just the first few minutes), because I'm not going to bother to describe the plots of The Transformers, X-Men, or countless zombie flicks.
Suspend disbelief for a couple hours, and maybe you'll agree with me that slaying dragons with a bow and arrow is fun - but funner with tanks and gunships. ” - clevecheng
A young couple living in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s struggle to come to terms with their personal problems while trying to raise their two children. (119 mins.)
“ Blue Valentine for a slightly different class, a slightly different era. This is Winslet and Di Caprio's first pairing since Titanic, now both grown up as actors. In essence, Revolutionary Road is a what-if sequel to the Titanic story for grown ups. What would their marriage really be like within what remained essentially Edwardian society? ” - clevecheng
In a dangerous post-apocalyptic world, an ailing father defends his son as they slowly travel to the sea. (111 mins.)
“ A treatment of the apocalypse almost opposite from Reign of Fire; this one's unrelentingly, realistically bleak. And this is what I find interesting - that a film that makes so little concession to sentiment can be life-affirming. ” - clevecheng
Scent of a Woman
A prep school student needing money agrees to "babysit" a blind man, but the job is not at all what he anticipated. (156 mins.)
“ Whenever I find myself professing mystification over Pacino's status as a king among actors, I have to remind myself of this movie.
And then there's the tango with the titular (I love writing that) woman Gabrielle Anwar. Wait, you say: the movie's not about Gabrielle Anwar at all. To which I say: she's the only sexpot in the movie, ain't she? And ain't she got... Hoo-ah! ” - clevecheng
The Secret of Kells
A young boy in a remote medieval outpost under siege from barbarian raids is beckoned to adventure when a celebrated master illuminator arrives with an ancient book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers. (75 mins.)
“ Does for Ireland what Princess Mononoke did for Japan: evokes the magic of its prehistory, the source of its spirituality, effectively using animation to close the gap between the real and the mythic. And I love the unique style and haunting song inspired by Celtic manuscripts. ” - clevecheng
Secrets & Lies
A successful black woman discovers that her birth mother is a underprivileged white woman, but the woman denies it. As emotions run high, everyone's secrets are exposed. (136 mins.)
“ Mike Leigh is the greatest living director at what he does, which is show us how to find strength in the messed up world we live in. He is one of the greatest living directors, period. And Secrets & Lies, with its heartbreaking performance by Brenda Blethyn, is his best. ” - clevecheng
, a world-renowned Christian theologian, writer and professor, leads a passionless life until he meets a spirited poet from the U.S. (131 mins.)
“ This must have been a difficult role for Anthony Hopkins, playing the famous but closed-off, shy, and retiring C.S. Lewis. I think he succeeded, and the film does a wonderful job distilling life down to one basic decision: whether or not to love. ” - clevecheng
Shall We Dance
A budding romance between a ballet master and a tap dancer becomes complicated when rumors surface that they're already married. (109 mins.)
“ My favorite Astaire & Rogers pairing.
Maybe it's because I'm unusual in preferring Rogers to Astaire, acting over dancing. Astaire is too fussy, too eager to overact - but that actually fits the plot in this case. Maybe that's it: this is my favorite Astaire & Rogers plot.
Then again, my favorite number of all the A&R movies is also here: Let's Call the Whole Thing Off. And as undoubtedly great as the songs in Swing Time are, they can't top a Gershwin ditty. ” - clevecheng
The Social Network
Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg
creates the social networking site that would become known as Facebook, but is later sued by two brothers who claimed he stole their idea, and the co-founder who was later squeezed out of the business. (120 mins.)
“ I hate this movie. Not merely think it's bad (in some technical aspects, it's quite good), but actively despise it.
And I think it's because I feel talked down to by people who don't know what they're talking about. Does Fincher just assume we are acolytes in Zuckerberg's cult of personality? Because there is no attempt to engage those of us who are not. The movie has no action to speak of, no sympathetic characters, no character arcs, no resolution. It is mean-spirited, dull, and betrays a lack of real-world knowledge of Zuckerberg, Harvard, Stanford, tech startups, computer programming, and how college students actually speak. ” - clevecheng
A young driver, Speed Racer, aspires to be champion of the racing world with the help of his family and his high-tech Mach 5 automobile. (135 mins.)
“ I may be the only one I know who likes this movie. Strike that - I love this movie. I think it's the Wachowskis' masterpiece.
Less approachable than The Matrix, Speed is also more visually adept. And Speed's acting is better: Emile Hirsch is better than Keanu Reeves, Christina Ricci is, well, Christina Ricci (guilty pleasure? *raises hand*), John Goodman is pitch perfect, and Susan Sarandon is an absolute gem. Everything is way over the top, but that is absolutely the point.
I've never watched the original anime - at least not all the way through an episode - so for all I know this does not do justice to the spirit of the original show. But I have no doubt it does justice to the way the Wachowskis viewed the original. Because the vision is crystal clear and consistent - and groundbreaking - throughout. ” - clevecheng
Humans in a fascistic, militaristic future do battle with giant alien bugs in a fight for survival. (129 mins.)
“ That so few people got this parody of sci-fi fascism does not reflect well on the director, Verhoeven. Not that most people saw the irony in any of his works. Perhaps it was the too-heavy emphasis on eye candy. Or maybe they got the irony, but were offended by the way Verhoeven applied it with a trowel. Heck, I just liked Starship Troopers, even the Melrose Space parts. ” - clevecheng
A maverick dancer risks his career by performing an unusual routine and sets out to succeed with a new partner. (94 mins.)
“ The greatest sports film ever made.
Ballroom laughs at its subject while reveling in it, and brooks no thought of there being a contradiction. But it's not the generic sports story that makes this great, nor is it its satire of a patently ridiculous sport; it is Baz Luhrmann. He is a champion when it comes to dancing on the head of the pin of Camp, never letting the fun stop, never lapsing into solipsism or cynicism. Without him, this would be the stalest of feel-good movies (note the flaccid Japanese and American versions entitled "Shall We Dance?"). With him, it is a triumph. ” - clevecheng
Two co-dependent high school seniors are forced to deal with separation anxiety after their plan to stage a booze-soaked party goes awry. (113 mins.)
“ The only time I actually collapsed on the floor laughing in a theater. Easily the best teen comedy since the invention of the teen comedy. So much funnier than other comedies from the same filmmakers that I got to believe it's because they stuck with a tried-and-true story: never let a girl (even if that girl is Emma Stone) break up a bromance. It's not the most poignant bromance you're going to see, but the humor is a perfect blend of dirty jokes, coming-of-age embarrassment, and just plain randomness. ("These eyes...") McLovin it. ” - clevecheng
Talk to Her
Two men share an odd friendship while they care for two women who are both in deep comas. (112 mins.)
“ While All About My Mother is my favorite, Talk to is the more provocative of Almodóvar's masterpieces, and thus more interesting. Almodóvar makes us see just how fine the line is between our dreams of romantic love and our nightmares. He is not merely shocking us; he shows us the taboo in context, then encourages us to consider alternative explanations, alternative narratives before passing judgment. ” - clevecheng
The Tender Trap
Charlie Reader is a successful theater agent. He is also successful with young ladies. One day he is visited by his old friend Joe... (111 mins.)
“ An amusing script, playing up Debbie Reynolds as the freakishly marriage-and-motherhood-obsessed starlet making life miserable for poor Frank Sinatra whose only goal in life is to play the field.
Thoroughly conventional, but aren't conventions the starting point of all comedy? What detractors who point out the lack of chemistry between Sinatra and Reynolds may be missing is that the story is not about Sinatra and Reynolds. The supporting characters, played by David Wayne and Celeste Holm, explain the real point: that love never works out how you think you want it to, but fighting it too long only causes heartache. Not deep, but not the blanket acceptance of "family values" a surface appraisal might conclude. ” - clevecheng
Terms of Endearment
Follows hard-to-please Aurora looking for love and her daughter's family problems. (132 mins.)
“ Sadly, I can no longer see this title without hearing H. Jon Benjamin's immortal cry "Terms of Enrampagement!" ” - clevecheng
King Leonidas of Sparta and a force of 300 men fight the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. (117 mins.)
“ This is how you make a war film fresh: reduce it to black & white (& red) and tell the story from the warriors' perspective. Faithful to the graphic novel, yet using every advantage of motion pictures. Realism and revisionism have no place in the telling of legends. ” - clevecheng
A computer hacker is abducted into the digital world and forced to participate in gladiatorial games where his only chance of escape is with the help of a heroic security program. (96 mins.)
“ Of course the subject matter and effects have dated, but, keeping in mind when it came out, this was practically blue-sky thinking for Disney. And then there's the score: one of the all-time classics.
I make video games for a living. This is one reason why. ” - clevecheng
A story of two men drag-racing across the U.S. in a primer grey '55 Chevy. Dennis Wilson is the mechanic, James Taylor is the driver. (102 mins.)
“ What an earnest yet strange time capsule. But more than just that, a sort of precursor to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As a car nut myself, I am particularly amused by their encounter with a Porsche 911: still looks the same four decades later, and still driven by the same rich showoffs. ” - clevecheng
Selene, a vampire warrior, is entrenched in a conflict between vampires and werewolves, while falling in love with Michael, a human who is sought by werewolves for unknown reasons. (121 mins.)
“ Part Blade, part Matrix, all Kate with fangs, tight black leather, and silver bullets. Seriously, though, this one works better than the sequels because it has at its center the father-(surrogate-)daughter relationship, with the other end of that death-spiral being the enjoyable performance of Bill Nighy. Of course, there is the excellent set design and satisfying action sequences. Mostly, though, it's a fairly clever take on the Monster Mash genre, the concept being so well-conceived it has already spawned three sequels. ” - clevecheng
Seventy-eight year old Carl Fredricksen travels to Paradise Falls in his home equipped with balloons, inadvertently taking a young stowaway. (96 mins.)
“ All those years making five-minute shorts finally paid off in the first ten minutes of Up. The silent montage of Carl & Ellie's life together ranks among the greatest sequences in the history of film. Most of the rest of the film is the usual Disney filler, but the overall story arc is one for the ages. ” - clevecheng
When Harry Met Sally...
Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship. (96 mins.)
“ The iconic Gen X rom com, it is, at least in the popular mind, the source of the modern American concept of "friends with benefits".
Conventional, yes - even a little cheesy at times - and already (consciously) backwards-looking when it came out (I love how they talk in the DVD commentary about perfecting Sally's early 80s look... in a movie from the late 80s).
But ultimately it's the story that determines a Hollywood movie's staying power, and this story is one for the ages. There will be remakes, but people will be coming back to this original for some time yet. ” - clevecheng
Whisper of the Heart
A love story between a girl who loves reading books, and the boy who has previously checked out all of the library books she chooses. (111 mins.)
“ More realistic and grounded in the everyday world (of suburban Tokyo) than other Studio Ghibli features, Whisper of the Heart is the one I keep going back to the most often. It is, like so many of my favorites, a small movie about small people in a big world, yearning to find their place in it. The simplest of stories and morals, simple animation, simple setting - and simply perfect. ” - clevecheng
An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact. (100 mins.)
“ True Grit is fine mainstream entertainment, with sparkling dialogue and a touch of mortality to spruce up a tired old story. But when it comes down to it, "true grit" is not charging five enemies solo, nor is it a lone farmgirl seeking revenge for her father's murder.
It is the story of Winter's Bone, where a teenage girl, with no means of support, finds herself suddenly the head of her family, and does her duty, without complaining or lashing out at the world for the sorry hand fate dealt her, and without losing her dignity.
The setting may be utterly contemporary and based in reality, but the story is timeless. How silly True Grit and The Hunger Games seem in comparison. ” - clevecheng
Each member of a middle class Taipei family seeks to reconcile past and present relationships within their daily lives. (173 mins.)
“ A slice of life movie - as you can probably tell by now, one of my favorite genres - depends for its success on the sensitivity of the acting and directing. In both respects, Yi Yi is about as good as it gets. But it's also got an understated style that I find appealing, a sort of Zen center inhabited by the children in the eye of life's storm. ” - clevecheng
You Can Count on Me
A single mother's life is thrown into turmoil after her struggling, rarely seen younger brother returns to town. (111 mins.)
“ If you leave out ambition (epic scope) as a criterion for a great film, this is one of the greatest American films of all time. It is the simple story of a sister and brother who've had their share of tragedy, mistakes, drudgery, and joys in life, who are hardly different from you and me. It is feel-good without sap, honest without grittiness, universal without being generic, profound without pretension. ” - clevecheng