“Citizen Kane” – What Makes A Classic?

It seems like a simple enough question. What makes a movie a classic? What makes a movie great? Are the two even the same thing? I started thinking about this after reading a post on a fellow film blog, The Critical Cinephile (which I highly recommend). That post, “Can Oscar Spot a Classic?”, looked at the Best Picture winners from the Oscars throughout the 1980s and placed them along with lists of other films that debuted that year. It would be a waste of time to run through them here (since you can easily hop over to The Critical Cinephile and check them out for yourself), but the overall idea is that what gets considered a classic film, a great film, the best film is A) not always the same thing and B) not always what we would pick to watch on a Saturday night with some friends. Why is that? Why is it that few people argued with 12 Years A Slave winning this year’s Best Picture, but I doubt that many people are going to pick it for a movie night flick or choose to watch it more than once (a common barometer of a classic film)? And yet I know plenty of people (myself included) who would happily watch Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues on loop, a movie that was sufficiently snubbed by the award show circuit this year. Obviously, 12 Years A Slave is a much heavier film (DISCLAIMER: I have not yet seen 12 Years A Slave so take everything I say with that in mind). It’s the type of film we should watch, the type of film we need to watch, but it’s not necessarily the film we want to watch. On the other hand, there is no reason in the world that I need to watch Anchorman 2but you better believe I will, over and over again. They’re both great films in their own ways. Are they both classics? Are either of them? Is there a world where these two movies could be described by the same adjective?

If you’re looking for an answer from me, you’re out of luck I’m afraid because I have no clue. I think there are movies that are important to watch. I think there are movies that are fun to watch. I think there are movies that are important to appreciate for their historical or technical significance. I think once in a long while, there are movies that hit all of these marks, and those are the ones we can safely call classics. But I don’t think a film needs all of these to be a classic. To me, movies are so diverse and watching a movie is such a subjective and personal endeavor that it’s almost foolish to come up with a definition for what a classic is or needs. What makes a movie classic for you? What movies do you consider to be classics? Post in the comments!

Now that I’ve spent three paragraphs rambling about how I don’t know what a classic movie is, let’s talk about a movie that is almost universally considered to be one. When AFI came out with their original list of the 100 greatest movies in 1998, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane pulled down the top spot. 10 years later when AFI updated its list, Citizen Kane refused to budge from its top perch (FUN FACT: Citizen Kane lost the 1941 Academy Award for Outstanding Motion Picture to How Green Was My Valley). My parents and I had never seen it so we decided to culture up and watch the greatest movie ever made. Here’s what I thought:

1. Citizen Kane

Released: 1941
Big names: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Ray Collins and Agnes Moorehead
One sentence summary: A reporter looks back on the life of a powerful newspaper magnate (Welles) to try and decode his mysterious dying words.
Scene that sticks out: Shots of Kane’s massive private island of Xanadu are impressive especially given the mature vintage of the film.
Thoughts: I was nervous going into this one. I mean it’s Citizen freaking Kane. The greatest movie of all time. What if I didn’t like it? Would I be able to show my face in a movie theater again? Luckily for me, I was spared that foul fate because I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I loved the story centered around power, vanity and the media. I loved the painfully flawed Charles Foster Kane (played wonderfully by Welles) who showed us the dark underbelly of the American Dream. I loved the storytelling technique of using several narrators to tell the story of Kane’s life entirely in flashback. I loved Welles’ use of space throughout the film to demonstrate Kane’s distance from those around him. And I loved the simple question of Welles’ dying words (“Rosebud”) which carried the film and was finally answered justly at the very end.
Ranking (out of 10): 7-10 – It was a great watch, but I don’t know if I would choose to watch this repeatedly like I would some of the other films on this list.

And the Oscar Goes To…

A spot on the AFI 100 Years…100 Movies list may prove a film’s lasting impact, but the measure of a great film in any given year comes in the form of a small, golden man named Oscar. Since 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy to its friends and family) has named one film the best of each year. Since 1962, that award has been known as the Best Picture. So you would figure that the 100 greatest films of all time would be locks for such an award. You would be wrong.

A look at how the AFI 100 Years…100 Movies have done in the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards.

NEXT WEEK: As I head back home to school after spring break, we meet up with everyone’s favorite alien in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. 

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“The Silence of the Lambs” – Our Sick Fascination

There’s something wrong with us. Like, seriously. We are obsessed with the worst among us. We are fascinated by the lowest of our society: rapists, kidnappers, mass murders. Whether it’s in Stephen King novels, television shows like Law and Order and Criminal Minds or any of the far too many real world examples (the Sandy Hook massacre and Boston Marathon bombing to name two), we continue to tune in to programs that offer us a window into the minds of the criminals who commit some of the most heinous crimes imaginable.

Why? What in the world possesses us to focus so much of our (free) time and attention on the sick, twisted, demented minds of criminals? NPR’s Talk of Nation did a segment on this back in 2009, and the show brought in crime writer Walter Mosley and Law and Order writer Rene Balcer to give their perspectives. Mosley puts out the idea that we’re interested in crime and criminals because it’ something that we’re worried about. “They want to know: Could that happen to me?” Mosley said. “And they want to know: How can I make it so it doesn’t happen to me?” Balcer throws out a slightly more interesting, and certainly more disturbing, hypothesis. He says that some of the appeal may come from people imagining themselves as the criminal. “They may think, you know, it’s kind of a vicarious way of seeing how it might play out for them if they were that person robbing the bank or killing their spouse,” Balcer said. Chilling, right?

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m not a part of this phenomenon. I’ve been watching Law and Order (and its myriad spin-offs) since grade school, and I love Criminal Minds which is explicitly billed as a show that goes inside the “criminal mind.” And as I watched The Silence of the Lambs this past week, I felt like I was watching Criminal Minds: The Motion Picture. Check out what I thought:

65. The Silence of the Lambs

Released: 1991
Big names: Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins
One sentence summary: An FBI trainee (Foster) looks to a deranged cannibal (Hopkins) for answers on an active serial killer.
Scene that sticks out: Serial killer Buffalo Bill getting ready in his underground bunker is short on dialogue and long on creepy.
Thoughts: I am definitely not a horror movie guy, but this is definitely not your standard horror movie, which is probably why I liked it. I enjoy watching Criminal Minds because you do get to look inside the criminal’s head and try to figure out how in the world someone could do such horrible things. And as disturbing as that is, it’s fascinating. So taking that idea, expanding it to a feature film and throwing in Anthony Hopkins as a terrible yet alluring serial killer and cannibal played right into my wheelhouse. The exchanges between Hopkins’ Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Foster’s Clarice Starling are fantastic. I think one of the most genius aspects of this movie is that the prime villain, Lector, isn’t the active killer in the movie. Instead, he is (almost) entirely docile to the point where you form a connection to him despite the fact that, you know, he eats people.
Ranking (out of 10): 7-10 – I really liked this movie, but I wish there were more scenes with Lecter and Clarice sparring. Those were dynamite.

The Baddest of Them All

Like I said above, one of my favorite parts of The Silence of the Lambs was the fact that even though you were terrified of Hannibal Lecter and knew he would eat your face off in a heart beat, you kind of liked him or at least respected him. It’s a true work of art to take such a terrifying villain and make him almost sympathetic. Take a look at the worst of the worst when it comes to movie villains. What do they have in common? What are their differences? Do you agree? Who was your most terrifying movie villain? Share in the comments (also feel free to share any thoughts on why we are fascinated with the criminal mind).

The top 5 movie villains of all time according to AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains.

The top 5 movie villains of all time according to AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains.

NEXT WEEK: It’s spring break so I am catching some baseball in sunny Florida. So I’ll be watching this week’s movie with my parents. Come back next week to see what they pick!

“Pulp Fiction”: The Valley of Darkness

“Seriously?”
“Did you have a deprived childhood?”
“You NEED to see it!”

The above refrains should sound familiar to anyone who has ever had the audacity to tell someone that they haven’t seen what is apparently a jaw-dropping piece of cinematic greatness. I have a few problems with this practice. First, I don’t appreciate someone telling me what it takes to fulfill my life. I know what you’re going to say: “Ryan, they don’t actually think you’ve been deprived.” And I know that. But it still ticks me off. No matter how innocent, innocuous or in-jest it may be, telling someone that their life isn’t complete for not seeing a movie (or any reason for that matter) is just not cool. Also, if I decide that I actually want to see that movie, my expectations have been built up so much that the odds of me actually liking it decrease significantly.

Which segues us nicely into this week’s film, Pulp Fiction. I arrived on the Quentin Tarantino scene relatively late. I didn’t see my first Tarantino theatrical production until Inglorious Bastards and that was several years after it was released. I liked it, but didn’t love it. It was a fun movie but by the end of it, I’d seen enough blood for a good while. Then two years ago, Tarantino finally got me. And he got me good. With the help of Jamie Foxx, Christoph Walz, Leo DiCaprio and a disturbing yet wonderful Samuel L. Jackson, Tarantino grabbed me hook, line and sinker with Django Unchained. It was funny, thought provoking and, most importantly in my mind, original. When I would talk to people about Django, a lot of them would bring up Pulp Fiction and when I told them I hadn’t seen it, it was like I had kicked their dog. So this week, I blocked out two and a half hours and took the plunge. Check it out:

95. Pulp Fiction

Released: 1994
Big names: 
John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Tim Roth, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Ving Rhames, Amanda Plummer, Steve Buscemi and Quentin Tarantino
One sentence summary: Still not really sure.
Scene that sticks out: John Travolta accidentally blowing a kid’s head off in Samuel L. Jackson’s car and acting like he had bumped into a guy in the supermarket. BONUS: All scenes with Jackson, specifically the ones where he quotes Isaiah.
Thoughts: I just didn’t get it. That’s really the long and short of my Pulp Fiction experience. Sure, there were some fun scenes. John Travolta getting his boogy on with Uma Thurman; John Travolta and his drug dealer trying to save an OD-ing Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis looking surprisingly attractive and just about every scene with Samuel L. Jackson. But that certainly didn’t fill two and a half hours. And the rest of the film didn’t feel like it was advancing any real plot line. You had Travolta and Jackson serving as muscle for the gangster Marcellus Wallace, Travolta entertaining Wallace’s wife Mia and Willis going on the run from Wallace after winning a boxing match he was supposed to lose. And yeah, they intertwined and connected eventually, but it all felt very…huh? After two and a half hours, I felt like I had spent a lot of time watching a lot of images and…I wasn’t really sure beyond that. My boyfriend explained to me that was the point, that it was supposed to be raw and unfinished. So maybe I’m just not a mature enough film consumer to appreciate it, but for me, it didn’t do the job.
Ranking (out of 10): 4-10 – Whether I fell prey to too-high expectations or I’m not a smart enough movie watcher, I was very underwhelmed.

What Actually Happened?

My biggest problem with this movie was that I felt that some things happened but I wasn’t really sure why or how or how it connected in a significant way. And that confusion persisted for two and a half hours. So I decided to go back and see what actually did happen (don’t worry, no spoilers). I’m not sure what this actually says or if it proves anything but you should still check it out. This was going to be a very sad attempt to recreate a much more impressive graphic from Fathom Information Design about the Rocky film series that is super cool and you should totally check out. But after 10 minutes, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. What’s below is what I came up with.

What Actually Happened-PS

NEXT WEEK: Grab some fava beans and a nice chianti because we’re watching The Silence of the Lambs.

Short, sweet and straight down the line

So I have an apology to make. I told you all that this week you would to get to find out what I thought about Quentin Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction. I was planning on watching it on Wednesday night but due to a conspiracy of the gods (AKA other work I had to do), it got pushed to Friday night. And then due to a continuation of that same conspiracy of the gods (AKA more work) my film watching experience was pushed to 11:00 PM on Friday night. So in this new time slot and with my proclivity for falling asleep as the night progresses, my critique of Tarantino’s 2.5 hour film would not have been up to the standards that I want to bring to you, my loyal readers.

So I started looking for a new film with a new criterium: short. After a bit of hunting, I found that The Maltese Falcon comes in at a cool 100 minutes. Unfortunately, Netflix does not stream The Maltese Falcon. But, fear not. To make up for its inability to provide me with TMF, it suggested that I might like either Double Indemnity or The African Queen. Well, it just so happens that both films are on our list and they run a crisp 107 and 105 minutes, respectively. After consulting my partner-in-crime and boyfriend, Fares Akremi, we selected Double Indemnity (which he then proceeded to sleep through in its entirety).

38. Double Indemnity

Released: 1944
Big names: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson
One sentence summary: An insurance salesman gets more than he bargained for when he falls in love with a woman and helps her kill her husband and collect on his insurance.
Scene that sticks out: Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson staring at me from behind the wheel of the car while MacMurray’s Walter Neff kills her husband. Ice cold.
Thoughts: Why does it seem to take older movies so long to get to the good stuff? The first half of this movie is meh at best. MacMurray’s Neff tells us (through an on-screen narration which I liked) from the start that he killed Mr. Dietrichson, but the movie still spends close to an hour showing us how he does it. And it’s not exciting. He meets Phyllis, falls in love right away (don’t get me started on the love story. Is this a pre-Frozen Disney movie?), and quickly agrees to covertly sell her husband accident insurance, kill him, collect the money and run away with her. That could’ve been 15 minutes. Instead it’s an agonizing hour of lead up until the deed is actually done. And then it gets good. Edward G. Robinson is phenomenal as a claims adjuster who sniffs out phony claims with the help of his “Little Man” inside (its his gut – get your mind out of the gutter). His fast-paced, quick witted dialogue is brilliant and he’s at his best when he tears apart his boss’ attempt to rule Mr. Dietrichson’s death a suicide. From that point on, the movie picks up and we learn things that we haven’t known since the opening scene. The twists are shocking (but not altogether unsurprising), and the last 40 minutes provide all the action and intrigue you were looking for out of the whole movie.

Ranking (out of 10): 6-10 – If I was watching this movie on my own, I wouldn’t have made it all the way though. But I’m quite glad I did.

It’s How You Use It

The time crunch I had backed myself into this week made me curious about how long each of the AFI 100 Years…100 Movies were. Turns out that brevity is not a sin when it comes to great motion pictures. In fact, 14 films on the list have running times of less than 100 minutes and two more, King Kong and the aforementioned The Maltese Falcon, are 100 minutes on the dot. Take a look.

Out of the 100 "best" films of all time, nearly 1/6 have run times of less than 100 minutes.

Out of the 100 “best” films of all time, nearly 1/6 have run times of less than 100 minutes.

NEXT WEEK: We give Pulp Fiction another try.

15 down, 85 to go

Hello, gorgeous.

Welcome to Films and Figures. I’m so glad that you’ve decided to join me on this lovely tour through AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list (I’m using the original list because I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy). I’ve always loved movies and making my way through this list as always been a goal of mine. Unfortunately, watching 100 movies is relatively time consuming and does not always fit well into a busy high school or college schedule. But frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. I’m going to do it. And you’re going to be the beneficiaries because you are going to get the benefit of my wit and wisdom on each of these “classic” films.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!

Not only will you get to read what I’ve thought of the films I watch, each film will be accompanied by an informative and beautifully designed infographic that imparts some valuable information about the film and my feelings on it.

But before we can start on this journey, I have a confession to make. I’ve already seen 15 of the movies on the original AFI list. So I figured we’d start with a review of those that I’ve already seen and then next week we can jump on the other 85.

So fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night. (Note: Numbers next to film are their ranking in the 100 Movies…100 Years list)

How I rank the AFI Top 100 films I have already seen.

6. Wizard of Oz

Released: 1939
Watched: A lot
Big names: Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr
One sentence summary: A plucky girl from Kansas tries to find her way back home after a twister plops her in the magical world of Oz.
Scene that sticks out: I’m a sucker for “I’m melting…I’m mellllllllttttiiinnnnggg.” Classic.
Thoughts: I love this movie. Love it, love it, love it. I’m so glad that this is one of the movies that TBS and TNT have decided they need to randomly air at least once a month. Whenever I see it’s on, I’ve found what I’m watching. The story, the music, the message, the visuals are all incredible. I will admit that the Wicked Witch terrified me as a child to the point where I was afraid of her when she was part of a parade at Disney World. But I was cool with the flying monkeys. They were chill. This movie is great because not only is the book it’s based off of a classic, but I am also a huge fan of the stage progeny The Wiz and Wicked. But it all comes back to Minnesota-bred Judy Garland and an incredible ensemble cast that brought L. Frank Baum’s world to life.
Ranking: 10/10 – This is an all-time favorite. Will watch it whenever.

14. Some Like it Hot

Released: 1959
Watched: 2009
Big names: Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis
One sentence summary: Lemmon and Curtis try to avoid a mobster’s gun by assuming female identities in an all-girl’s orchestra where Cupid starts having some fun.
Scene that sticks out: Marilyn Monroe.
Thoughts: I watched Some Like It Hot as part of a Film Studies class I took in 9th grade. Honestly, I don’t remember much about the film. It just didn’t really leave an impression on me. I remember that Marilyn Monroe was in it but that’s about it. I think I remember my teacher telling me that Monroe was high almost the entire time they were filming, but I very well could be making that up. Although from reading a summary, it sounds like it had some pretty forward thinking views on gender which I can dig. But that could also be BS because I really don’t remember this film.
Rating: N/A – I don’t remember it well enough to give it an honest ranking. File this under the “Need to Re-Watch” list.

15. Stars Wars: A New Hope

Released: 1977
Watched: 2005 (and numerous times since)
Big names: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, James Earl Jones and Sir Alec Guinness
One sentence summaryA young Tatooinian learns the story of his past and begins to fight the Evil Empire with the help of a two whiny robots, an old codger, his (SPOILER) sister and Harrison Ford.
Scene that sticks out: I love the bar scene. It’s just great. And Han shot first.
Thoughts: So I had a deprived childhood. Not actually but it did take me until Episode III: Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005 for me to watch any Star Wars films. And when I did, I watched them in episode, not chronological order. So for all you prequel haters out there, we don’t need you. Liam Neeson, Darth Maul and I don’t need you guys. Back to this movie. Because I had watched the new ones first (and was an uncultured 5th grader), I was not initially impressed with the film that started it all. But as I have aged and matured, I have come to fully appreciate the beauty of this film. Alec Guinness is great as Old Ben, Darth Vader is a brilliant villain and Princess Leia kicks some serious ass. Plus you have Harrison Ford being classic Harrison Ford and a complex yet simple story of good versus evil.
Ranking: 8/10 – Classic film that I truly enjoy watching. But I can’t watch it on demand. I need some down time between viewings.

18. Psycho

Released: 1960
Watched: 
2009
Big names: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles
One sentence summary: Leigh steals money from her bosses and ditches town ending up in a motel run by a guy with a serious Oedipal complex.
Scene that sticks out: Hitchcock has a way of ending his films with a splash that leaves an indelible mark upon your psyche. This holds true in Psycho where the last scene beats out the shower scene in my mind.
Thoughts: I was in a Film Studies class in 9th grade and we had to do a final project. My partner and I had made a great video about a murder mystery dinner party involving all the teachers and staff at our school portrayed by our friends. We shot it, it was great…and then we realized that the camera we used couldn’t connect to a computer for editing. So instead of turning in a great, hysterical original film, I wrote a paper on three AFI Top 100 films. I had already seen one Hitchcock film, Vertigo (see below), and I had always wanted to see Psycho. It did not disappoint. It takes a little bit to get cooking but once it does it’s action packed. Hitchcock makes his own rules and he knows just how to play with your emotions.
Rating: 9/10 – Incredible film but the slow start keeps it from cracking the elite 10/10.

29. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Released: 1939 (not a bad year in cinema)
Watched: 2009
Big names: James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains
One sentence summary: Idealist Jimmy Stewart becomes a U.S. senator, stands up against corruption and does a filibuster the right way.
Scene that sticks out: Stewart’s filibuster scene is a classic that makes you wish our senators were a little more like him.
Thoughts: I watched this movie during Civics class in 9th grade. 9th grader + class he despises + black and white movie from the 1930s is usually going to equal automatic rejection of the film. But not this time. I enjoyed this movie. I didn’t love it, but I certainly understand why it’s considered a classic. Jimmy Stewart gives a great performance per usual and the subject matter is heartwarming and patriotic. A classic feel good American movie.
Ranking: 6/10 – I like it a lot but it’s not the type of movie I need to watch again and again. If it was on TV, I might watch it, I might not.

34. To Kill A Mockingbird

Released: 1962
Watched: 
2007/2008-ish (I think)
Big names: Gregory Peck and Robert Duvall (in his film debut)
One sentence summary: A tale of racism in the 1930s and the most upstanding, honest lawyer you’ll ever meet told through the eyes of a precocious six-year-old girl.
Scene that sticks out: Gregory Peck delivers in a courtroom scene that displays both incredible acting chops and noble values.
Thoughts: I read the novel To Kill A Mockingbird for 8th grade English, and it remains one of my favorite books of all time. Film adaptations rarely live up to their source material but this one comes damn close. The subject matter is so real, the narrative is told so well and Gregory Peck’s acting is so phenomenal that it’s almost like the filmmakers looked into my head as I was reading it and produced that film. The fact that these filmmakers could apparently time travel and read minds likely also contributed to their success. And young Robert Duvall is eerie and excellent.
Ranking: 8/10 – I love the story and the acting but I’d still rather read the book then watch this over and over again.

41. West Side Story

Released: 1962
Watched: Not really sure
Big names: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer and Rita Moreno
One sentence summary: Romeo and Juliet retold through 1960s Puerto Rican and American gangs in New York whose initiation involves several years of intensive dance classes.
Scene that sticks out: I really like the dance scene where the Puerto Rican boys and girls sing “America.” Fun song and poignant message about racism in America.
Thoughts: This is a solid flick. I’m a big fan of musicals, and I like a lot of the music in this movie. I’m not a huge fan of films styled after Romeo and Juliet, but this certainly is one of the best attempts at updating that classic story. The move to 20th century America rife with racism and classism and the quality score make it a good, not a great film.
Ranking: 6/10 – I wouldn’t hate if I had to watch it, but I would look around for a while before settling on it.

49. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Released: 1937
Watched: Who knows
Big names: Doc, Dopey, Bashful, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy and Happy
One sentence summaryA princess hangs out with seven old guys while waiting around for a good looking dude to save the day. Classic Disney.
Scene that sticks out: Mirror, mirror on the wall is a classic line that does not have anything to do with seven old, emotional dwarfs.
Thoughts: I, like most American children, watched this movie at some point during my early childhood when Disney films are about all that our entertainment platter consists of. This isn’t a bad movie, but it certainly isn’t my favorite Disney movie. It’s not even my favorite classic Disney or Disney princess film. But it is notable for being Disney’s first full-length animated feature, which seems to have paid off okay for the Disney family.
Ranking: 4/10 – Not bad but I’d rather watch Netflix.

53. Amadeus

Released: 1984
Watched:
 2010
Big names:
F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce
One sentence summary: 
A crazy old Austrian composer recounts his contentious relationship with the brilliant yet eccentric Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Scene that sticks out: No specific scenes come to mind but the film left me with the clear impression that Mozart was quite cookoo.
Thoughts: I watched this film in my 11th grade European History class while we learned about Classical music. It was certainly an interesting film, and I believe much of that has to do with its subject matter. It did do the trick of taking a period of time and a topic that I care relatively little about and made it interesting. The intrigue that Salieri introduces is fascinating and his storytelling perspective adds even more layers.
Ranking: 7/10 – Interesting film that I enjoyed watching once. But that was likely enough.

55. The Sound of Music

Released: 1965
Watched:
Many times
Big names: Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer
One sentence summary:
Julie Andrews melts the heart of an old Austrian military man after turning his children into an epic vocal group.
Scene that sticks out: Comes down to the opening scene on the hills and “So Long, Farewell.” Give the nod to “So Long, Farewell.”
Thoughts: This is such a fun movie. Again it’s a musical, which is almost always a plus in my book. Julie Andrews is outstanding and I learned my musical scales from this movie. It is fun, fast-paced and intriguing. The warmth of the musical numbers with the family contrasts nicely with the dark tension of Nazi control over Austria. As an added bonus, my dad loves to randomly belt out, “The hilllllllllls are alive with the sound of muuuuuusic.” Always a good time.
Ranking: 8/10 – I would absolutely stop to watch this on TV, but it’s still not an all-timer for me.

59. Rebel Without A Cause

Released: 1955
Watched:
2008
Big names: James Dean, Natalie Wood and Dennis Hooper
One sentence summary: James Dean is a kid who just can’t stay out of trouble, and his parents just don’t understand him.
Scene that sticks out: The chicken scene is disturbing yet all too predictable.
Thoughts: This was another movie I watched for English class and it didn’t suck. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this movie. It has its tense moments and it’s nice scenes, but nothing about it really grabbed me. I didn’t connect with James Dean, and I really didn’t care what happened to him. It was a crisp less than 2 hours which is always nice.
Ranking: 4/10 – Not bad but nothing special in my mind.

61. Vertigo

Released: 1968
Watched: 2009
Big names: James Stewart and Kim Novak
One sentence summary: Jimmy Stewart is a semi-retired private investigator who has some killer vertigo. (Get it?!)
Scene that sticks out: The ending is crazy, twisted and leaves so many questions unanswered. And it’s great.
ThoughtsI lost my Hitchcock-virginity to this movie and I couldn’t have asked for a better first time. I am affirmatively not a horror fan. I don’t like being scared. Who needs that? I want to laugh, not scream. But I like Hitchcock and I loved Vertigo. Jimmy Stewart is an incredible actor and Hitchcock’s suspense and twist filled plot is breathtaking.
Ranking: 8/10 – Great film but not quite elite in my book.

66. Network

Released: 1976
Watched: 2009
Big names: Robert Duvall, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and William Holden
One sentence summary: Satire on news media that gets too crazy and made me mad as hell.
Scene that sticks out: It’s all a terrible, terrible blur.
Thoughts: This was another one of the movies that I watched for my Film Studies final project in 9th grade. It was suggested by my mother who said that it was a “grrrrrrreaat movie.” I call shenanigans. This movie is supposed to be a satire, but it just turns into 2 hours of people yelling and doing more and more ridiculous things. This movie did absolute nothing for me.
Ranking: 2/10 – Only avoids 1/10 because I’m correcting for remote possibility that I was not as attuned to well-crafted sarcasm as a 9th grader as I needed to be.

75. Dances With Wolves

Released: 1990
Watched: 2008
Big names: Kevin Costner (also directed)
One sentence summary: Costner plays a Union soldier who abandons his post for the simplicity of life with a tribe of Sioux Indians.
Scene that sticks out: Costner rocking his Civil War-era mustache. And that scene where he legit dances with wolves.
Thoughts: I did not like this movie. Not one bit. Granted, I was in 8th grade American history class and I was beyond done with the Civil War and westward expansion. Still, not a fan. I honestly don’t remember all that many specifics from the film, other than Costner’s epic stache and what seemed like a relatively simplistic and non-nuanced view of Native Americans. But I remember with incredible clarity that I did not like this movie.
Rating: 2/10 – Only avoids a 1/10 because I’m correcting for the fact that I was a snotty, pubescent 8th grader when I watched it.

79. The Deer Hunter 

Released: 1978
Watched: 2013
Big names: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep
One sentence summary: De Niro and Walken go to Vietnam, make it out alive but not alright.
Scene that sticks out: 40 minute Russian wedding that has almost nothing to do with Vietnam or the rest of the plot.
Thoughts: I had to watch this movie for a class last semester during a unit on the Vietnam War. We couldn’t find the movie online or at the local rental store so we watched it on a TV cart in a small room in the basement of MU’s Academic Support Center which feels eerily like an abandoned pre-school. Anyway, the film was okay. The acting by De Niro, Walken and Streep was phenomenal, but the plot was kind of all over the place. It’s a three hour long movie and they don’t even get to Vietnam until hour number 2. Once we get to Vietnam, the story does get very interesting. It displays the horrors of the Vietnam War and the terrible consequences for all the soldiers involved. Christopher Walken’s character in particular pays a brutal price for his service.
Rating: 6/10 – Good movie but took too long to get to the goods.

NEXT WEEK: We get things started with Pulp Fiction.