Wow...it's been almost a month since the last time I posted an entry in this series. I'm not sure how the time got away from me there, but let's get back into it, shall we? We're now entering the top fifty (although these rankings only get more "serious" as we approach the top of the list; my rankings in the top twenty will be more reflective of which movies I like more than others than this part of the list, where I'm just basically listing movies I love). How much longer can we go before I start writing about a certain group of movies conceived by George Lucas? Let's find out!
50. Dances With Wolves
It seems to almost be a shibboleth these days that this movie is at best overrated and at worst downright bad, and that its Best Picture Oscar (over Goodfellas) is one of the greatest injustices in Academy Award history. Well, I may be the only person left on Earth who believes this, but I think the Academy got it right. Dances With Wolves actually is a magnificent film. Visually it's terrific; the story is told exceedingly well; I actually like Kevin Costner's understated portrayal of Lt. John Dunbar. For more on why I like this movie, here's an old post of mine on the topic. Keeping it brief here, this film is one of those where I am never aware of the running time while I'm watching it.
Signature moment: Wow, so many that I could choose, but I'll take the almost-imperceptible smile of Wind In His Hair when he tastes sugar for the first time.
49. Say Anything
Any readers who were around at the very beginning of this blog may remember my outrage that Say Anything inexplicably failed to make the cut of the AFI's "100 Years, 100 Romances" list of the best romantic movies of all time. I continue to be mystified by this, as Say Anything is, quite simply, the best teen romance movie ever filmed, and I'll have words with anyone who claims otherwise. There's nothing in this movie that isn't terrific. Every character is sharply drawn, even the most insignificant extras or bit players, and of course John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler is iconic.
Signature moment: "I gave her my heart...she gave me a pen."
48. Jerry Maguire
Sticking with Cameron Crowe. Remember when Tom Cruise could be a romantic lead and not be really creepy about it? When did that all change? Anyhow, this movie's grasp of sports lore still holds true even now, twelve or thirteen years after its release, and the film's romance story works too. I love how it takes its time with its story, too; the movie's on the long side, but it ends up not feeling overlong to me.
(When this movie came out, the memory of the Bills' losses to the Cowboys in their third and fourth Super Bowls was still pretty fresh, so much so that in the theater where I saw Jerry Maguire the first time, a few audience members actually cheered during the Cardinals-Cowboys game at the end of the movie when an annoyed Barry Switzer was shown on screen. And Switzer wasn't even the Cowboys coach in either of the Bills' Super Bowls!)
Signature moment: I don't care if it became cliché almost instantly: "You had me at hello" always gets me. Every time.
47. Almost Famous
I might as well finish my Cameron Crowe triptych. I honestly can't tell which of these three movies is my favorite Crowe film (I liked his recent Elizabethtown, but it's not as good as any of these), which is why I lumped them together on this list. Almost Famous is one of those period movies that makes me wish I'd been around during its time. It's so convincing that, famously, lots of people actually claim to have heard the band Stillwater in concert in real life, when of course, the band is wholly fictitious. The movie's funny, bittersweet, interesting – and it has no plot. Just a bunch of people living their lives and dealing with consequences.
Signature moment: "I am a golden God!"
I love what Kevin Smith created here, with his true-to-life focus on the doings of a couple of ne'er-do-wells in their dead-end retail jobs. The film is raunchy, gritty, and harsh, but it's also funny and, in its way, wise.
Signature moment: Someone puts, for reasons passing understanding, a cat-litter box on the counter of the store. And then a cat comes along, and...well, you know.
45. Kiki's Delivery Service
It starts off seeming like some kind of Harry Potter-type of story: a thirteen year old girl, who happens to be a witch, must leave her family for one year to live in the world as a witch. Along with her black cat, with whom she has long conversations in which she shares her dreams and doubts, Kiki sets out into the unfamiliar world and confronts the evils of...well, that's just what makes this such a magical movie. Kiki doesn't end up confronting any evil at all. She just goes to a city by the sea and carves out a life for herself there, living in the upstairs apartment of a bakery, supporting herself by launching her own parcel delivery service (delivering packages via flying broom), meeting a local boy, and so on. This is a quiet, gentle movie about what happens in a world where there happen to be witches and where nobody much thinks about the fact that there are witches. It's everything you'd expect from Hayao Miyazaki.
Signature moment: Any of the flying sequences. Hayao Miyazaki's most wonderful sequences often seem to involve flight of some kind.
44. The Wind and the Lion
This is a grand-style adventure film made in the early 1970s, featuring Sean Connery as Raisuli, a Berber warlord and Brian Keith as President Teddy Roosevelt, who become adversaries after Raisuli abducts an American woman and her children. Despite the kidnapping, Raisuli quickly becomes one of the film's good guys. The film is both a throwback to romantic epic adventures and a complicated, thoughtful examination of how people can be adversaries without necessarily being enemies. Oh, Jerry Goldsmith wrote one of his greatest scores for this film. "Raisuli Attacks" is one of the best action cues in all of film music.
Signature moment: This movie has the third best closing line -- "Is there nothing in your life worth losing everything for?" -- of all the movies on this list.
43. The Emperor's New Groove
I can't imagine how this movie got made, what with the reputation the Disney folks have carefully cultivated for themselves as staid, corporate, "Nobody shall have any fun that we don't personally micromanage!" stuffed shirts. Seriously, The Emperor's New Groove channels the spirit of Chuck Jones far more than it does that of Walt Disney, and it's terrific for all that. Jokes the break the "fourth wall", cheerful leaps in logic, characters who are jerks and who are aware that they're jerks and are perfectly happy to be jerks – Daffy Duck would be perfectly at home in this movie.
Signature moment: "Now what are the odds that trapdoor would have led out here!"
42. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I need to watch this again. It's one of those mind-bending films whose story wraps in and around itself, jumping forward and backward in time, delving into mental states of its characters, doing all that self-referential stuff that's extremely compelling when done well (and, sadly, terribly lame when not – luckily, not the case here). Jim Carrey is a man who learns of a medical procedure whereby memories can be erased, so he decides to undergo the procedure to have his memories of his departed girlfriend (Kate Winslet) removed. However, he soon has second thoughts. At times it's a funny film, at other times it's a disturbing one. Jim Carrey is a terrifically talented actor, in my opinion.
Signature moment: In response to being asked if the procedure can cause brain damage, the inventor guy chillingly replies, "Well, technically, it is brain damage."
41. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
I think this film gets short shrift a lot of the time. I myself didn't really come to appreciate it until I was in college and got copies of the entire Indy trilogy on tape and watched them all back-to-back-to-back, and I was surprised to note that Temple holds up for me much better than Last Crusade does. (Last Crusade's plot is basically a reworking of Raiders, with a different Judeo-Christian relic substituted and, of course, that wonderful chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery.) Temple is a much darker film, with some moments that are pure horror. It's not perfect (a bit too much of the Kate Capshaw character being whiny), but I do like it more than Last Crusade.
Signature moment: Indy's about to drop Short Round into the lava pit to his death, when he winks and says, "I'm all right, kid". And then he yanks Shorty back from the brink and starts beating the snot out of Mola Ram's thugs.
And there we have it for now. Only 40 more movies to go! You'd think we'd get to one of those movies with the laser swords sooner or later. Maybe next time!