So it's time to continue my countdown of my 100 favorite movies, or the 100 movies that would be considered the greatest movies ever if I were the Grand Exalted Ruler of the Entire Freaking Universe, or whatever. This time, we count down from #90 to #81.
90. Henry V
The Kenneth Branagh version, actually; I've only seen a small part of the Lawrence Olivier version, so I can't do a direct comparison. Branagh's is wonderfully done; Derek Jacobi does terrific work as the Chorus, introducing the film from an empty soundstage, and when Branagh delivers the Bard's signature St. Crispin's Day speech, I'm ready to storm a field too. Patrick Doyle's score is a virtual classic of Shakespearean film music.
Signature moment: The afore-mentioned Crispin's Day speech. (Text and audio link here.)
89. In the Line of Fire
This taut thriller got overshadowed in 1993 when it came out -- that year's juggernaut hit was Jurassic Park, and the brilliant The Fugitive also stole some of Line of Fire's thunder. This one stars Clint Eastwood as an aging, near-to-retirement Secret Service agent who gets drawn into a game of cat-and-mouse with an assassin (John Malkovich) who is openly plotting the assassination of the President. It's an extremely well-made and entertaining film, with first-rate performances all around. (Fred Thompson plays the White House Chief of Staff.)
Signature moment: When Eastwood figures it all out.
I'm not sure how well this movie plays to people who didn't grow up at that exact moment of history, the early 80s when computers were first starting to become personal objects and when video games were all the rage. I watched it again a few years ago, and it still holds up for me. It's not a source of great acting or anything -- the "real world" sequences are fairly dull -- but the stuff "inside the computer" is just wondrous, as good an example of a movie creating a visual world as I've ever seen. Interesting electronic music by Wendy Carlos (with a strangely out-of-place song by Journey over the end credits).
Signature moment: Is there any other choice possible? The light-cycles, obviously!
87. American Graffiti
I was completely baffled by this movie when I first saw it. I was seven or eight years old, and the film was in re-release. My parents took me to see it -- they wanted to go, and I ended up along for the ride. My problem was that the film's opening titles are done in the same font as those for the TV series "Happy Days", and Ron Howard was in it too, so on some level I thought I was watching some kind of big-screen episode of the TV show, rather than a movie that preceded that show by several years. Anyway, I watched it again when I was in college and found it funny, bittersweet, and full of charm and wit as well as love for that era of automotive and rock-and-roll history. I recently read somewhere -- I think it was a blog, but I'm not sure -- that American Graffiti came out in 1973 and made people feel nostalgic for a time just eleven years in the past; can you imagine a movie coming out right now that would make you nostalgic for 1996?
Signature moment: Paul Le Mat's soliloquy in the junk yard.
86. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This always feels to me like three-quarters of a great movie. Disney had a real chance to do a tragic and dark ending here, but the farthest they could stretch themselves in that direction was to not give the hero the girl. Still, it's a nicely ambitious film, with lots of large-scale numbers.
Signature moment: The introductory number, "The Bells of Notre Dame".
85. Beauty and the Beast
This is definitely the finest of the "Silver Age" of Disney animation (i.e., the era that started with The Little Mermaid). Its story is perfectly paced, the animation is beautiful, and the musical numbers are the finest to come from the legendary team of Menken&Ashman. It's just an outstanding film, one on which I'm hard-pressed to identify any blatant flaws.
Signature moment: "Be Our Guest" is the more famous number, but the introductory "Belle" is my favorite as it weaves together a whole bunch of separate goings-on from the town into a wonderful bit of scene-setting.
84. An Affair to Remember
Sure, it's totally sentimental, but this film sports a nearly perfect first hour, followed by a bit of losing the way, and then ends with a scene that always makes me blubber like a little girl. Seriously, when Cary Grant suddenly puts two and two together and realizes just why Deborah Kerr wasn't there for their Empire State Building rendezvous, I always start to lose it -- and then he opens the bedroom door and finds the painting. Sigh. The film sags a bit in the second half, what with a horrible musical number involving some kids and some very unconvincing stuff with Cary Grant as a starving artist.
Signature moment: I think I just described it....
83. Die Hard
What a blast of a movie. What a total, absolute blast. And I've just realized that I haven't watched it in several years. Why not? Because I'm lazy. What makes it so great isn't just the production values and the editing -- although all that is sublime -- but the fact that it makes the hero and villain pretty much of equal intelligence. John McClane doesn't just bowl his way through all the bad guys; he actually has to figure stuff out and take huge risks, and in reacting to McClane's activities, Hans Gruber also has to figure stuff out and take huge risks of his own.
Signature moment: Hell, there are so many from this film, aren't there? For me, the most blood-pumping sequence is when the two helicopters are arriving on the roof.
82. The Music Man
And no, not just because I went to college in Iowa! I loved this movie well before I ever even thought of going to Iowa. So there. The Music Man never seems to get enough love when the subject of the great musicals comes up, and I can never figure out why. It's really extremely good, full of wit and hilarity and some absolutely beautiful songs.
Signature moment: My favorite musical number here is "Ya Got Trouble", when Prof. Harold Hill launches his own personal brand of flim-flam in River City.
It's not long enough, jettisoning too many numbers from the Broadway show (two of them because of risque lyrics). Its focus is more on operatics than on typical Hollywood musical production numbers, befitting Gene Kelly's more ballet-influenced style of dancing than Fred Astaire soft-shoe. But I adore its tale of the cursed town that only awakes for one day each century, and the love story that unfolds there.
Signature moment: "The Heather on the Hill".
And there we go for now. Look for another installment whenever I get around to writing one!