Friday, September 30, 2011

Top 100 Films of the Last 50 Years (1960-2010): Part VIII

30. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) - "We Rob Banks". That classic line is only a simply introduction to one of the flashiest, funnest and most endearing crime movies of all time. Featuring stunning performances from Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway who have incredible chemistry and create one of the best duos in American film history. But I think the reason that people love this film, and why it has such an endearing film in the American conscious is that it suceeds in not only providing simply a great film, but also manages to create sympathetic criminals, which is not easy to do with the poise and greatness that was accomplished this time around. It suceeded in creating fully drawn emotionally human characters that is so rare nowadays, and did it with style.

29. The Apartment (1960) - Billy Wilder is one of the greatest American directors ever, and he was never better (at least in the last half century that is) than in his 1960 comedic classic, The Apartment. By breaking boundaries, and discussing comments that were taboo in the beginning of the turbulent 1960's, The Apartment was a groundbreaking American comedy that will forever be remembered as one of the best. Shriley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon, and the entire cast were impeccable, with zippy energy, and incredible chemistry that is so rare in modern day comedies. But what makes this film so incredible is the story, the deft blend of comedy and subtle drama, and the remarkable entertaining factor, make this film one that defies the conventions of the genre and manages to create something new and exciting.

28. All the President's Men (1976) - 1976, had to be one of the best films in memory with Rocky, Network, and this political classic lighting up silver screens across the country in the year of our nation's bicentennial. More importantly, the cast and crew of All the President's Men were daring to make a film about the Watergate scandal, with the actual event still fresh on the minds of Americans. Featuring two stellar performances from Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, All the President's Men never stoops to cheap political thrills, but instead gives us a straightforward poltical drama that manages to avoid ever being boring. Instead it is thrilling, impeccably entertaining, and in the 1970's was a timely tale that helped to make sense of what was otherwise a confusing and trying time in American history.

27. In the Heat of the Night (1967) - In 1967, the turmoil and dramatic social change of the Civil Rights Movement, had left an incredible imprint on American society. So the in your face social commentary inherent in In the Heat of the Night would have shocked and challenged audiences at the time. Today, it is considered one of the best films from this era, and also serves as an interesting crime film as well as a film of social importance. Not only is it magnificently entertaining and challenging of stereotypes, but it is extremely well made, and features two performances that rank for me towards the top in cinematic history. Sidney Poitier was completely robbed of an Oscar nomination, as his Virgil Tibbs was fiery and strong, and gave us a character that never let the color of his skin affect his abilities and characterizations. Rod Steiger was rightfully honored by the Academy, and plays the racist man, who is also capable of sympathy. That in many ways is why this film was so wonderful, its heros had flaws and its villians were also sympathetic, showing that all of us have prejudices, and it is up to us to be accepting and understanding of one another.

26. The Deer Hunter (1978) - Vietnam was a conflict that not only was a military disaster, but an event that struck deep within the very fabric of American society, particularly with the soldiers that suffered through its trauma. And no film was quite as good as depicting this precarious time in American history that Michael Cimino's 1978 classic,  The Deer Hunter.  Featuring stunning direction and cinematography, along with a dense and tense script, The Deer Hunter's exploration and showcase is incredibly well done. But what this is truly known for are the electrifying performances of Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, and a plethora of talented supporting characters that bring this harrowing tale to life. They are all powerful and emotional, and truly capture the demented life of post-Vietnam, and grasp the haunting nature with verocity. While some have criticized the narrative as being overly long and at times not contributing to the endpoint, I vastly disagree, believing that every moment of this film is calculated, if not for narrative, then for the development of these deep characters, which are brought ot life with impeccable skill and emotion.

25. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) - "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room." Oh the irony, and has there ever been a more brilliant portrayal of irony and the incompetence of the government than in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 classic, Dr. Strangelove. While not as science fiction charged as many of Kubrick's work, Dr. Strangelove shows that the man was simply capable of anything, as this frantic, tense film, is also funny. Incredibly satirical, while also featuring all the marks of a great Kubrick fim: an impeccable script, brilliant direction, and breakthrough film technology, Dr. Strangelove may have diverged from the usual Kubrick genres, but it did not lose any of the brilliance. The performances are also wonderful, particularly the great Peter Sellers, who plays three roles brilliantly, giving each a touch of his charm, while creating three individualistic characters. His performance, along with the supporting cast including George C. Scott, James Earl Jones, Slim Pickens, and others, make this a true ensemble piece, as well as directorial feat. Most importantly, it is a brilliant commentary on the ills of the Cold War, and in 1964 was a bold statement of cinematic satire.

24. Taxi Driver (1976)It is hard to pin down the greatest Martin Scorsese films, considering he has made so many that are worthy of recognition and worthy of a spot on this list (which makes his better-late-than-never win in 2006 for The Departed even sadder than it originally did). But surely, there is a spot in the top five (or three) for the unsettling experience that was Taxi Driver. Oddly similar to the new film Drive (both include the great Albert Brooks as well),  Robert DeNiro plays a Vietnam vet whose urges and outburts turn violent, particularly as he tries to protect a teenage prosititute. In many ways, Taxi Driver is almost a horror film, the story of a violent mad man who breaks down in violent rampages. But unlike cheap and seedy horror movies, Taxi Driver is simply brilliant, between its fascinating screenplay, steady direction, and particularly, and most importantly, the shockingly brutal and incredible performance from the great Robert DeNiro. He was simply unspeakably amazing in this role, definitely ranked as one of his best performances, and is what holds it together. More importantly, this film became a blueprint for Scorsese, as his directorial flourishes, which were scoffed at the time by some, are now what gives him his signature touch.

23. M*A*S*H (1970)When you think about the great war movies of the twentieth century a lot of names come to mind: All Quiet on the Western Front, Patton, Saving Private Ryan, etc. But any list of great war movies is simply incomplete without Robert Altman's 1970 classic M*A*S*H.  Like all of Altman's films, M*A*S*H features an all-star cast, all intertwined into one grand story, this time revolving around the traumas of the Korean War, and the methods used by a group of Army medical staff to endure. Yet despite that grim description, M*A*S*H is also one of the funniest American movies ever made, with perverted jokes, laugh out loud physical comedy, and a set of comedic actors that are at the top of their game. Despite the humor, it also manages to be real, utilizing its humor to cover up a more important historical lesson about how war can have a profound effect on the individuals involved. And that is what truly makes M*A*S*H one of the best films of the last half-century, is its ability to make you laugh, yet also make you cringe, cry, and feel the effects of war. It is a wonderful cinematic achievement, and one of Altman's greatest works, and that is saying something.

22. Toy Story Trilogy (1995/1999/2010) - In 1995, I was a total of five years old, and yet I will never forget going to the theater and being amazed by Pixar's first film, called Toy Story. Last year, as a junior in college, I went with excited to see the third entry in the Toy Story series, and by the end of the film I was bawling like, well...a five year old. I have grown up with the characters of Woody and Buzz, Mr. Potato Head and Bo Peep, and like an entire generation of Pixar kids, I have become engrossed in their adventures. But even as an adult I can appreciate, love, and laugh at Toy Story because it is so damn good, so well-written, so smart and sharp, and so damn entertaining. Animation is often ignored as an art medium of respect and reward, and year after year Pixar proves that that is simply not the truth. And Pixar has never been better than this trilogy. I was going to break them up and put them throughout the list, but it is so hard to choose which one I like better, plus there is no greater evening than watching all three of them back to back to back. If I ever decide to do a list of the best film series, this is surely going to be in consideration for the top spot.

21. Annie Hall (1977) - Woody Allen has made literally dozens of films over his lifetime, and in recent years he seems to be on a one off, one on basis (for example, last year he had You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, this year he had Midnight in Paris). But Woody was never more on that he was in this 1977 Best Picture Annie Hall. Between his Allen-esque script with zippy lines, a moving story, and a love story that avoids cheese and predicability, making us actually believe it. Plus, this was one of the few times that Allen really worked on camera, as well as behind it. Then you add in the effortlessly charming performance of the great comedianne Diane Keaton, and what you have is a perfect romantic comedy. The Oscars have rarely rewarded the craft of comedy, so it says a lot when they reward a comedy film over the likes of Star Wars. It says that this is a film that would have a lasting presence, and a couple decades later, it is considered a quintessential American film that is not to be missed.

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