Another batch of ten, another step closer to my absolute top picks of all time.
#70: “Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (2014)
There’s always bound to be some backlash against any film that wins Best Picture, with arguments positing that it was “overrated” or not deserving of the award. While we could debate about that topic, I see Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as a film worthy of that top honor. Yes, Emmanuel Lubezki’s technique of manipulating the whole picture to look like one continuous shot is cool and Michael Keaton is amazing as a caricature of himself. But the most impressive aspect, to me anyway, is how Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu managed to craft a compelling mouthpiece for the argument of theater vs. cinema without taking one side. I have rarely hated myself for laughing at some seriously dark moments.
#69: “The Martian” (2015)
Ridley Scott can usually be hit-and-miss, but he’s almost always at his best when working with science-fiction. His adaptation of Andy Weir’s The Martian proves as much, which expertly balances legitimate stakes with unexpectedly hilarious dialogue. Matt Damon turns in one of his best performances as an incredibly smart and likable guy stuck in a situation where he has to science the shit out of it to stay alive. Think Cast Away meets the urgency of Apollo 13. Not to mention that it has a genuinely positive message about humanity’s need to help one another, which feels all the more pertinent in a time where tragedies feel all too frequent on daily news.
#68: “Inside Out” (2015)
Yet another swashbuckling entry from Pixar, Inside Out is important for a couple different reasons. For one, it reaffirmed many people’s faith in Pixar creating original, highly entertaining animated films- including me. But it also came at a perfect time in my life when I needed to get my emotions out and, in some ways, I was not wanting to grow up just yet. Pete Docter perfectly and gorgeously visualizes these feelings.
#67: “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)
This is hands down, my all-time favorite foreign language film. I just love how Guillermo Del Toro is aware of how fairytales are generally supposed to work and then deliberately defies all of these rules. It is a dark, thoughtful, terrifically original fantasy film that proves that even a film with subtitles can still grab a hold of English-speaking audiences. Visually stunning and terrifying both in its human and fantasy characters, nothing is held back here. Hopefully, this teaches studios that you don’t have to pick up the most obscure dimestore paperback to create something truly great from the genre.
#66: “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” (1968)
Movies like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly make me wish that Sergio Leone had made more films in his lifetime. Better than anyone else in the business of spaghetti westerns, or westerns in general for that matter, he understands the importance of visual storytelling and character intros. I’m not even going to attempt to argue what’s the greatest western of all time. It just seems redundant, especially thanks to the glorious final Mexican standoff that’s sure to remain in the history books. Plus, is there really anything better than Ennio Morricone’s legendary score?
#65: “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” (1983)
Spoiler Alert: This will definitely not be the last entry in the Star Wars Saga that you find on this Top 100. While Return of the Jedi is admittedly my least favorite of the Original Trilogy, there’s still plenty that I love about it. In fact, if my memory serves correctly, this one was actually the first live-action movie that I ever watched. In that sense, it always plays to the little kid in me on every single rewatch, even if the Ewoks get in the way occasionally. But hey, the epic Battle of Endor more than makes up for that.
#64: “Hugo” (2011)
The movie that wants to be a loving ode to early cinema from 2011 that should have won Best Picture in The Artist‘s place. Martin Scorsese flexes his knowledge as not only a brilliant filmmaker but also an eclectic film historian for this Brian Selznick adaptation. It’s truly rare in this day and age for live-action family films to actually be appealing to both parents and children at the same time. But Scorsese brings Hugo to passionate life with wonderful visuals and an all-in cast. I can still remember after watching it for the first time, I actually researched a lot of the silent films referenced in it, just so I could learn more about the history of cinema.
#63: “Inglourious Basterds” (2009)
Is there any tradition in cinema or pop culture more American than killin’ some Nazis? While I wait for an answer, I can describe my love for Quentin Tarantino’s 6th feature film. Surprisingly, Inglourious Basterds is probably one of the director’s tamest and most grounded pictures to date. But it also shows his understanding of the power of language, with his signature dialogue being given to us in no less than 3 other spoken tongues than English. Plus, Christoph Waltz is positively despicable and terrifying as the Jew Hunter, perhaps one of Tarantino’s best characters. With his new film coming out next year, I eagerly await to see his stylized take on Hollywood whereas this one dealt with European cinema in a distinctly obscure way.
#62: “Apocalypse Now” (1979)
Vietnam was a troubling time for both the American military and public, and the late 1970’s saw a wash of films try to capture that. But nothing even came close to Apocalypse Now, a loose adaptation of Heart of Darkness that trades in any notion of romance for stark realism. It’s hallucinatory and befuddling, constantly blurring the line between civilization and savagery. Sanity and madness. With both a haunting opening and ending, Frances Ford Coppola immerses us in the thick jungles of ‘Nam while refusing to lose sight of humanity. Very few antagonists are as menacing as Colonel Kurtz, and the scariest part might be that he’s actually right.
#61: “12 Years a Slave” (2013)
Rarely will you ever watch an American film that approaches a harsh topic with such horror and sophistication as 12 Years a Slave. Rather than lecturing the audience on how terrible slavery was in the 1840’s, Steve McQueen makes us observers to the disturbing true story of Solomon Northup. There were moments I wanted to look away, but neither McQueen nor the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor would allow it. Easy to watch? Hell no. In fact, it’s clinical direction could be infuriating to some people. But the more I’ve thought about it since first watching it, the more I’ve come to appreciate the restraint. And at the end of it all, we see a man who keeps the hope of wanting to live, even in a degrading and shameful part of our national history.