Sunday, January 27, 2008

One Hundred Movies!!! (21 through 30)

Only thirty spots remain on my list of One Hundred Movies Everybody Who's Worth Anything As A Human Being Had Better Love, as objectively selected by a committee Let's fill another ten of those slots! Because what's more fun than filling slots? (Besides playing Missile Command, that is.)

30. The Silence of the Lambs

What I always find interesting about Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of Hannibal Lecter is that it's so distinctive that virtually nothing of it carries over into his roles in other films. I've seen Hopkins in lots of movies, and I can't think of a single scene in any other movie of his that makes me think, "Yup, that's the same guy who played Lecter!". And it's not an illusion of makeup or appearance, either; the only thing distinctive about Lecter's appearance is his slicked-back hair. The way Hopkins is able to fill his eyes and voice with quiet malevolence is astonishing, and so completely does he create his character that when Lecter makes his escape, we already know that there's no way he'll ever come after Agent Starling, even before she says that he won't because "he'd consider it rude".

The movie's an amazing thriller, by the way.

Signature moment: My favorite line of Lecter's is when he comments on the grisly death of one of his former patients: "Best thing for him, really. His therapy was going nowhere."

29. Wayne's World

It's not mentioned enough, I think, that the proper making of a lowbrow comedy requires quite a bit of sophistication. Wayne's World is full of cheerful humor from beginning to end, it's stuffed full of pop-culture references ("We gotta get him to Rampart, stat!"), it genuinely seems to know its subject matter ("I have an extensive collection of nametags and hairnets"), and it wisely never dwells on a single joke, allowing them to pass as quickly as they come.

Signature moment: "It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine!"

28. Pulp Fiction

Oft-imitated but, to my knowledge, never equaled. I saw this movie on the strength of two particularly enthusiastic thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert, when they raved about the film's intelligent dialog. The first time I saw it, it was an afternoon showing and the theater was completely empty save for me. The second time I saw it, a couple of months later, the film's stature had grown, and this time the theater was packed. I've always admired the film's cyclical structure in its narrative, as well as the admittedly brilliant, if profane, dialog.

Signature moment: There's a terrific little exchange when Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and his dealer (Eric Stolz) are about to administer an adrenaline shot to Mia Wallace's (Uma Thurman) heart. The dealer guy mimes the forceful motion Vega is to make with the syringe to get it through her breast bone, making the motion three times for emphasis, and Vincent, who isn't too bright, asks, "Do I gotta stab her three times?"

27. ET: The Extra Terrestrial

Wow, it occurs to me that I haven't seen this movie in way too long. I suppose its story is known by pretty much everybody. It bugs me that ET hasn't become an annually televised movie on some network, the way that The Sound of Music and It's A Wonderful Life have, because it's just about the single best "family" movie I know.

Signature moment: "I'll be right here" is one of the greatest closing lines to a movie that I've ever heard.

26. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

And here we go, with the first appearance of a Star Wars movie on my list. Its pacing is a bit off at times, I admit, and the Ewoks are played too much for laughs; I'd have made them a bit more savage and fearsome ("short" need not indicate a lack of fearsomeness). However, the Ewoks have never offended me as they do most Star Wars fans; the space battle is amazing; the final confrontation between Luke and Vader is powerful, powerful stuff. I've also never agreed that Han Solo's character is rendered uninteresting in this movie; his official joining of the Rebellion seems to me the logical conclusion to his character's growth over the course of the Original Trilogy. Nor do I think that he should have died. So yeah, ROTJ is a good movie. So there.

Signature moment: The quiet scene between Luke and Vader on the Endor moon is, I think, a very underrated scene. It sets up the conflict in the heart of Darth Vader quite nicely.

25. Star Trek: First Contact

The Trek films have been an odd bunch, but overall I think that most of them have been halfway decent, with only one real honest-to-goodness bad movie among them (and no, it's not The Final Frontier, although that one does come close). Although the record of the four films featuring the Next Generation crew is more spotty than the previous six featuring the Original Series crew, First Contact is the best of the TNG films and one of the best of the series. What's good about it is that it doesn't get overly bogged down in bizarre technobabble, that its story is grounded in both TNG and TOS lore, right down to the fact that Zefram Cochrane's experimental warp ship sports nacelles that are modeled on those of the Enterprise from the very first TV episodes way back in 1967. It's too bad that the next two TNG flicks were, respectively, middling and then downright awful.

Signature moment: Data utters the classic Borg line, "Resistance is futile". (If only they'd called that the last word on Data's quest to be a human.)

24. Raiders of the Lost Ark

It's Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark; just Raiders, thank you very much. I wrote about the Indy Jones movies last year, so suffice it to say that this movie made the three-year wait between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi much easier to bear.

Signature moment: The desert chase; one of the greatest of all action sequences.

23. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

I've spilled lots of cyber-ink about this, both in praising it and mentally remaking it, so I'll just leave it there.

Signature moment: Sunset on Coruscant. This effects shot lasts all of ten seconds or so, but it's utterly beautiful. For all the bitching about CGI, what the PT establishes is that in the hands of dedicated artists, CGI turns out to be just another medium for the creation of beauty.

22. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

For more, check the Star Trek Redux series of posts linked in the sidebar. Suffice it for now to note that I value this film more highly than the usual pick for the best of the Trek movies, The Wrath of Khan.

Signature moment: The signatures of the TOS actors at the very end of the movie.

21. Superman

X-Men 2 and Spiderman 2 have come close, but neither has quite managed to knock the original Superman from my personal perch as the best superhero movie ever. I love the epic scope of the production and that it has a "look" all its own, apart from the SF movie craze that was in full swing at the end of the late 70s (gee, I wonder why). Even more amazing is that the movie turned out good at all, given its turbulent production. (The nickel version is that the original intent was to shoot all footage for Superman and Superman II at once, but a falling-out between the producers and director Richard Donner resulted in lots of ad-hoc editing, rewriting and reshooting of sequel material by new director Richard Lester.) Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor is one of my favorite movie villains, and John Williams served up one of his classic scores.

Signature moment: Lex Luthor's line, "We all have our little faults. Mine's in California!"

And that's it for now. Next time we'll enter the Top Twenty, in which we'll discover my favorite Disney movie ever, my two favorite romantic comedies ever, and my favorite Tom Hanks movie. Zap! Pow!

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