100 Movie Challenge: #90 Swing Time

A-

Swing Time - 1936
Swing Time – 1936

The 90th film on AFI’s list brings us to our oldest film to date. One of the movies’ most delightful duos, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, join up for what is arguably their greatest film in the 1936 musical: Swing Time. Reminiscent of other non-integrated musicals of the classical and post-war era (like #98 Yankee Doodle Dandy), Swing Time finds ways to “naturally” work songs into the script by making both of the lead characters professional performers. In this case, Astaire plays a gambling-addicted dancer named Lucky, and Rogers portrays a local dance instructor, Penny. The film follows the pair from their meeting, to their magical first dance, and through a combination of romance and performances as they begin to gain success. All the while, Lucky attempts to keep his engagement with another woman a secret from his new companion.

As anyone who has seen an Astaire-Rogers’ picture could guess, the film is endlessly delightful. The witty dialogue, the unmatchable chemistry, and the seemingly-endless number of magnificent dance-steps keep audiences enthralled from top to bottom.

But perhaps what sets Swing Time apart as an all-time great is the music by Broadway pioneer: Jerome Kern. Kern was instrumental in founding what some have called the most American art form: the musical. In the early days of Broadway, Jerome made his name with hits like Show Boat and Ziegfeld Folliesand with future standards like “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “All the Things You Are.” In one of a few notable collaborations, he teamed up with Astaire in 1936 and the result is wonderful. Out of Swing Time came a few more of Kern’s most recognized tunes, including “Fine Romance” and the absolute classic: “The Way You Look Tonight.”

 

Couple these members of The Great American Songbook with some upbeat dance numbers and you get your full dosage of Astaire/Rogers whimsy.

t100_movies_swing-timeLike some of the older films on the list, Swing Time may not be life-changing. It does not tackle any major issues. It does not subvert any poignant symbols. But it does provide a foundation from which some of our most beloved musicals began to build. And while any film that stars this beloved couple brings joy, there is something uniquely well crafted about Swing Time, which is why it earns a strong A-. And while, with a fairly simple plot, it earns just a out of 10 on the Liberty Scale, that does not make it any less enjoyable.

We have nothing that can compare to Fred and Ginger today; no triple threat couple that brings constant smiles to the silver screen, but perhaps that’s the beauty of musicals on film. The stage offers so much, but when the show is over, it is over. With Swing Time, the magic is immortalized.

We’ve finished the 90s! Next on the list is the modern thriller, #89 The Sixth Sense.

What about you? Are you mesmerized by Fred and Ginger? Or do you require more substance in your pictures? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

 

100 Movie Challenge: #91 Sophie’s Choice

A

Sophie's Choice 1982
Sophie’s Choice 1982

Our  journey through film’s finest has brought us to one of the all-time tearjerkers.  Based on the novel by William Styron, the 1982 drama, Sophie’s Choicefeatures a dazzling performance by a young Meryl Streep and comes in at number 91 on our list. And while the story may not make a perfect transition from page to screen, the high-intensity drama and Streep’s masterful work are something to behold.

The plot follows Stingo, a small-town novelist who has just moved into an apartment complex in Brooklyn; played by Peter MacNicol. Once there, he is befriended by the charming but unstable Nathan (played by Kevin Kline) and his girlfriend, Holocaust survivor Sophie.

On paper, it’s by no means a perfect film. The action is slow at times, the plot is extremely vague, and the character development is certainly limited at best. Most of this can probably be blamed on the film’s novelistic background. Even if you’ve never read the book, you can get a pretty good sense of how it reads from watching the film. There’s an amazing attention to detail and characterization that is certainly unique on screen, but lacks some of the cinematic qualities we’ve come to expect.

However, that wealth of character background is perhaps what made these characters so lively on film. Every one has a seemingly endless breadth of past experiences to draw upon. And as those past experiences are revealed, the film picks up an intense amount of dramatic steam.

A young Meryl Streep as "Sophie" alongside MacNicol as "Stingo"
A young Meryl Streep as “Sophie” alongside MacNicol as “Stingo”

If you want to talk about a film that is at risk of spoilers, this is it. The film culminates in an emotional  scene that literally left me with my mouth open. If it hasn’t already been spoiled for you, I will say no more in order to preserve your innocence, other than it is quite possibly one of the most tense, emotional, dramatic, and well-acted scenes I’ve ever seen. The film is worth it for this scene alone.

But that’s not all that’s there! Which is why Sophie’s Choice earns an A, and for the constant debate over socialist themes and theories, earns a 6.5 on the Liberty Scale. It is truly a lesson in acting from one of film’s all-time greats, and surely would compete for the title of Streep’s greatest role. Fans of Streep, fans of acting, and fans of drama alike should all have Sophie’s Choice in their cinematic vocabulary.

We’re shifting gears next time with the lovably upbeat Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in #90 Swing Time.

Were you floored by Streeps performance? Or were you unable to get past the novelistic style of Sophie’s Choice? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

100 Movie Challenge: #92 Goodfellas

B+

Goodfellas 1990
Goodfellas 1990

It’s our third straight crime-thriller and this one splits the difference. Martin Scorsese’s 1990 neo-noir gangster staple, Goodfellas, was one of those films on the list that inspired me to take the 100 Movie Challenge. As a fan of the ever-evolving gangster archetype, from the classical era to modern day, Goodfellas was a film I had always wanted to see, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Like last week’s film, The French ConnectionGoodfellas is based on a nonfiction, true crime book, Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. The story follows the life of Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta), an Irish-American born into a blue-collar family who managed to reach his dream of becoming an associate of the New York Italian mob family, the Luccheses. The film follows Hill as he works his way up the mob-hierarchy.

Liotta is complimented by a stellar supporting cast, including acting elite, Robert DeNiro, an Oscar nominated performance by Lorraine Bracco, and a show-stealing, Oscar-winning performance from Joe Pesci. Pesci’s performance was so good, it even outshined his other famously brilliant performance of 1990, as burglar Harry Lime in one of my favorite movies of all time, Home Alone. (How he missed a double nomination that year, I’ll never know).

The film simply has great scene, after great scene, after great scene. According to Pesci, the spectacular screenplay by Scorsese and Pileggi was enhanced by countless improvised lines. Whether it’s the brilliant dialogue of the “How am I funny?” scene or the brutally nonchalant manner in which heinous crimes are carried out, the script rarely displays a moment that is anything short of excellent.

Pesci's beloved "Am I funny?" scene
Pesci’s beloved “Am I funny?” scene

And it goes without saying, but the performances are masterful. From top to bottom, each actor delivers a compelling interpretation. The quality performances take an action-driven biopic and make it deceptively poignant.

My only gripe with Goodfellas is perhaps, partially, a byproduct of the film’s “based-on-a-true-story” foundation. The climax of the film falls flat for me. At risk of spoiling the ending, I’ll say only that it comes with an unconventional twist, which is drawn from the true life story of Henry Hill. My complaint isn’t with the twist, indeed it is what makes Hill’s story so interesting and offers a noteworthy question on liberty and loyalty, but after so many consecutive great scenes, one would expect the climax to blow you away. Instead it leaves something to be desired. The audience (or at least I) was left with the feeling that the greatest scenes of the film were found early on, while the rest were there simply to complete the story. It certainly didn’t destroy the movie for me, as I would still highly recommend it as one of the greatest gangster flicks of all time, but it is perhaps what kept Goodfellas in the 90s of our list rather than higher up.

Ending or no ending, Goodfellas earns a quality B+, and with a plot that addresses the underbelly of corruption and the breakdown of individualism, our #92 film ranks a 7 on the Liberty Scale. For the performances, the screenplay, the style, and the impact on the gangster paradigm, Goodfellas certainly merits its location amongst the greatest films of all time.

Our familiarization with acting’s elite continues next week with Meryl Streep in #91 Sophie’s Choice.

Are you a fan of Scorsese’s Goodfellas? Or does it shrivel in comparison to some of the other gangster-greats? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

100 Movie Challenge: #93 The French Connection

C

The French Connection 1971
The French Connection 1971

Woof. Our walk through film history hit a significant bump with William Friedkin’s 1971 thriller, The French ConnectionI was so indifferent about our #93 film that the article is coming a day late. (Actually, I’ve been traveling; but the sentiment is still the same). To be brutally honest, I fell asleep during my first attempt at watching it and had to restart.

The crime-thriller stars Gene Hackman as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, a New York City detective assigned to interrupt a multi-million dollar heroin movement. The case unfolds through a series of investigations, shootouts, and some “riveting” undercover stakeouts. The film is based on the non-fiction book of the same name, that tells the story of real life narcotics officers Sonny Grosso and Eddie Egan. The two NYC cops famously busted a record-setting 112 pounds of heroin in 1961. The subsequent book, and especially the 1971 film, have since been heralded as masterpieces of crime-thriller storytelling. The French Connection enjoyed acclaim from its contemporaries (winning 5 of 8 Oscar nominations) as well as today (being deemed “culturally or aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress and cracking our list at #93).

But to me, it just doesn’t stand up. The hell-bent, loose-cannon, case-obsessed cop story is one that no longer phases audiences. The same conventions have been used and re-used since Cagney and G-MenSo while Doyle’s obsessively driven character is well developed, it fails to jump off the screen as highly original (and I feel as though the case would have been the same in ’71). The plot is difficult to follow, the pacing is a little bi-polar, and the film is mostly lacking when it comes to the great bits of dialogue we’ve come to expect from films on this list (although, admittedly, some of the lines in the office are superb).

 

Gene Hackman in his Oscar-Winning role as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle
Gene Hackman in his Oscar-Winning role as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle

 

I felt like I was missing something. Even other films that have received a low score, like The Last Picture Showdemonstrated certain feats that brought credibility to its critical acclaim. For me, those elements were almost no where to be found. There are, however, two saving graces:

  1. The Car Chase – Anyone who talks about The French Connection will talk about the ground-breaking car chase that occupies about 15 minutes near the end of the film. Turner Classic Movies lists the chase as one of the primary reasons for the film’s ability to withstand the test of time, describing it as “breathtakingly innovative.” It’s true. The rest of the film aside, I was on the edge of my seat for the chase. I know it seems strange for an action sequence to be so good that it draws this kind of attention and acclaim, but you have to see it to understand.
  2. “Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon” by The Three Degrees – I watched an early scene in which Doyle goes to a nightclub over and over, not because I needed to retrace the dialogue or because I was enthralled by the drama, but because the scene includes a great tune by the Supreme-like Three Degrees. The upbeat motown song immediately made it onto one of my spotify playlists and I’ve been listening to it on repeat. A pleasant surprise hidden within this movie, though for some reason, “Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon” was not nominated for Best Song.

However, neither the epic car chase nor The Three Degrees’ nightclub jam could save The French Connection for me, which is why it earned a lowly C. However, any film that has a protagonist this focused on maintaining justice (despite how selfish his motivations may be) ranks high on the Liberty Scale, with The French Connection coming in at 7.5 out of 10. All in all, if you’re looking for a crime thriller about a major narcotics move, ditch on The French Connection and watch The Usual Suspects instead. You get all the action plus more compelling characters and some fantastic dialogue.

Back-to-back-to-back crime thrillers? Yes indeed. Next week its the notable gangster flick Goodfellas.

Who among you thinks I’m tragically misinformed when it comes to The French Connection? Or does everyone share my apathy? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

100 Movie Challenge: #94 Pulp Fiction

A

Pulp Fiction 1994
Pulp Fiction 1994

It’s just a great movie. Anyone who’s been within earshot of a film school student knows it. Quentin Tarantino‘s 1994 crime drama, Pulp Fiction, has emerged as the quintessential example of what is now referred to as a “cult classic.” Although, by now Pulp Fiction has grown so popular that it is less of a cult and more of a major religion. It simply has everything: great performances, auteur directing style, an innovative temporal structure, and some of the greatest dialogue ever put on screen. Though Pulp Fiction is frequently viewed a somewhat progressive / experimental film, by classical critical standards it still holds up.

Prototypically postmodern, Pulp Fiction follows the stories of several Los Angeles mobsters and the people they encounter. The film’s nonlinear structure spends time focusing on several different characters, eventually revealing how all of their storylines intertwine in the end. The structure was uniquely inventive, especially for the time, and has since inspired hundreds of other filmmakers to tell their stories in an anti-linear fashion.

Don't Worry, John Travolta Dances
Don’t Worry, Travolta Dances

The performances are equally compelling. Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Travolta (20 years before Adele Dazeem) each received Oscar bids; not to mention a slew of equally engaging supporting performances from Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, and Christopher Walken, among others. The actors are aided by Tarantino’s phenomenally nonchalant dialogue and his mastery of character chemistry. Throw in a gimp and a Royale with Cheese and you’ve got a recipe for neo-noir glory.

Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield and John Travolta as Vincent Vega
Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield and John Travolta as Vincent Vega

If you search hard enough, you’ll find some uppity film snob who thinks Pulp Fiction is wildly overrated, or they’ll insist it is not even close to Tarantino’s best work. They’re out there. But from this critic, Pulp Fiction is a well earned A. Like some of the others we’ve watched up to now, it’s one of those that the modern film-goer simply has to know in order to engage in an intelligent conversation about film. So if you haven’t seen it, go watch it!

Take a bit to unwind, then get ready to watch #93 The French Connection.

What about you? What do you cherish most about Pulp Fiction? Or are you one of those who scoffs at its critical success? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

100 Movie Challenge: #95 The Last Picture Show

C+

The Last Picture Show 1971
The Last Picture Show 1971

Yeah.  That’s a low score for a film that experts and historians have agreed is one of the 100 greatest films of all time.  So maybe I’m missing something, but while I could recognize the provocative commentary on the redundancy of small-town life, Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 critic’s choice, The Last Picture Show, left me bored and uninspired.

Set in the ’50s, the film focuses primarily on the lives of three highschoolers, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms), Duane (a young Jeff Bridges), and Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), as they navigate the monotony and legalism of their tiny Texas town. All three come-of-age through a variety of tragic events, sexual experiences, and unexpected responsibilities.  The film includes some standout performances, garnering 4 acting nominations, including wins for lonely adulteress Cloris Leachman and wise mentor Ben Johnson.  Those accolades are well deserved, but for this movie-goer, the acting alone cannot justify The Last Picture Show’s lofty status.

It is extremely slow. Many would argue that the pacing is necessary to indicate the tedium of small-town life, but it is so uneventful that I found it difficult to stay fully engaged. Perhaps this is just one post-modern baby’s opinion, but the lack of action, though thematically intriguing, fails to provide any sense of jeopardy or consequence, making it challenging to care about the characters and their journeys.

Cybill Shepherd in her Film Debut
Cybill Shepherd in her Film Debut

In a strange way, it reminded me a lot of Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker. Both films use a non-traditional structure and methodical pacing to push the theme of monotony to the forefront of the viewer’s mind.  In The Hurt Locker, it’s an episodic structure used to assert that war is not always a glorious journey with a begining, middle, and end; but rather that modern warfare is, in the vast majority of cases, a banausic series of never-ending tasks. A similar technique is used by Bogdanovich to emphasize the inconsequential nature of life in Anarene, TX. There are few moments of hightened intensity, but they can feel a bit contrived or irrelevant in the context. As a critic I can recognize and appreciate the

A Contrived Comparison
A Contrived Comparison

cooperation of theme and formal structure, but as a distracted entertainment junkie, it left something to be desired; which is why it garnered just a C+.

Still, you may not want to just take my word. After all, the film is heralded as both an homage to classical and post-war greats like Orson Welles, and an extremely progressive experiment in the artistic limitations of censorship and morality. You’d be hard pressed to find many film critics who doubt the mastery of The Last Picture Show.

Next week we move to the cult-classic: #94 Pulp Fiction.

How about you? Do you share my opinion about The Last Picture Show‘s monotony? Or are you appalled at my post-modern naiveté? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

100 Movie Challenge: #96 Do the Right Thing

A

Our progression through AFI’s list has brought us to back-to-back films that were

Do the Right Thing 1989
Do the Right Thing 1989

underappreciated in their time.  Last week was #97 Blade Runner and this week we have Spike Lee’s 1989 dramedy Do the Right Thing.  Both were nominated for just two Academy Awards, and both left the ceremony empty-handed. And while the retrospective outrage over Blade Runner’s Oscar snubbage is deserved, it should be even more so when considering Lee’s 1989 masterpiece. The film follows a day in the life of Mookie (played by Lee), a slacker pizza-delivery man living in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The seemingly lighthearted story turns dark when racial tensions between Mookie’s white co-workers (John Turturro and Danny Aiello in an Oscar nominated performance) and his African-American neighbors grow uncontrollably large. The film is jaw-droppingly poignant and eloquently interweaves formal film styling with a moving message on the dangers of prejudice and intolerance.

Do the Right Thing is the first film we’ve encountered so far whose directing style is intentionally experimental.  Unflattering close-ups, a purposefully disorienting sound-design, and the occasional breaking of the “fourth wall” all point to Lee’s innovative methods of communication.  And while some choices may be polarizing amongst viewers,

Do the Right Thing's famous "Love and Hate" sequence
Do the Right Thing’s famous “Love and Hate” sequence

they all seem deliberate and purposeful, rather than original just for the sake of being original.  Lee shows a propensity for everything, from the creation of dozens of brilliantly compelling characters (Samuel L. Jackson’s performance of Mister Señor Love Daddy is one of the most memorable), to the attention to the smallest details: like the Jackie Robinson jersey that Mookie wears throughout the film.

Spike Lee’s magnum opus is simply a great example of what film has the potential to do. A film can make us laugh, make us gasp, make us cry, but all of that is ultimately fleeting if a film doesn’t make us think; doesn’t have us re-examining our lives outside of the theater.  Do the Right Thing masterfully combines these elements of raw emotional reaction with thought-provoking content, and for that it receives a giant A.  The film also gets an 8.5 on the Liberty Scale for calling into question the “innocence” of small prejudices.  I had not seen Do the Right Thing before I started the 100 Movie Challenge, and it affirmed my faith that this is going to be one incredible ride through film.

We’re 5 films in!  Next is #95 The Last Picture Show.

What did you think of Do the Right Thing?  Were you struck by the social commentary?  Or were you less inclined to buy into Spike Lee’s directing style?  Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

100 Movie Challenge: #97 Blade Runner

B+

Blade Runner 1982
Blade Runner 1982

I know this might ruffle some feathers. Members of the Blade Runner cult are sharpening their pitchforks at the fact that it is not our first A+, and perhaps with good reason.  After all, the 1982 dystopian sci-fi holds a special and influential position in the film history hierarchy.  The concept is phenomenally inventive, the characters are extremely compelling and oddly relatable, the visuals are stunning and progressive, and the theme is one that leaves you questioning your worldview as you exit the theater.  Blade Runner is one of the first films to reach beyond the suffocating tropes of the science fiction genre and use it as a viable and effective means for telling a poignant story.  At this point, I have almost convinced myself that I rated it too low.

The story follows Deckard (Harrison Ford), a retired police officer who is forced to accept a mission to eliminate several illegal “replicants” (bioengineered humanoids).  The journey that follows combines thrilling action with a very compelling question: what does it really mean to be alive?

However, while all of the elements seem apparent, there is just a whiff of something missing for me.  It was the second time I’ve watched Blade Runner and, for whatever reason, I find the conversations that occur after watching to be far more enjoyable than the actual viewing experience.  I know I may be claiming my own private island here, but it can be slow at times

Daryl Hanna as replicant Pris
Daryl Hanna as replicant: Pris

and failed to keep me fixed to the edge of my seat. And it seems I’m not alone!  Blade Runner is one of a few members of the AFI List that struck out entirely at the Academy Awards, winning 0 Oscars out of only two nominations.  Now, this is not a perfect indicator of the film’s quality, especially since 1982 was simply a great year for movies (#91 Sophie’s Choice, #69 Tootsieand #24 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial from our list were all released that same year); but it seems as though much of the appreciation for Blade Runner has come in retrospect.

Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard and Sean Young as Rachel
Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard and Sean Young as Rachel

Still, it’s one of those movies you just have to see.  No film junkie’s vernacular is complete without the occasional reference or parallel to Blade Runner, and its impact on the future of film is extremely apparent.  For that, Blade Runner earns a solid B+and a Liberty Rating of 7 for its commentary on the ways in which outside forces influence individual freedoms.  I won’t question it’s inclusion on the list, I just can’t say I’m as blown away as some of my peers.  Maybe I’m missing something.

Alrighty.  Are you keeping up?  Next is #96, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.

Okay, bring it on.  How do you feel about Blade Runner?  Can you help me see the light? Or are you equally underwhelmed by the hype?  Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

100 Movie Challenge: #98 Yankee Doodle Dandy

B

Only three movies in and we’re already at our first movie musical!  As a huge fan of musicals, it is rare to find a one that I don’t appreciate.  Add one of the greatest film actors of all time in James Cagney and you get the 1942 classic Yankee Doodle Dandy.  So how could the 

Yankee Doodle Dandy 1942
Yankee Doodle Dandy 1942

cosmic combination only amount to a B rating?

As much as I hate to say it, the film’s downfall resides with its star, James Cagney.  One of the all-time greats, known primarily for founding the classic gangster archetype, Cagney plays the role of George M. Cohan, a lovable song-and-dance man.  Based on a true story, the film follows Cohan as he goes from blossoming child star to blacklisted prima donna to Americana stage icon.  Despite his infectious showmanship and superb dancing throughout the movie, Cagney’s performance falls short because he simply doesn’t sing!

The film is extremely reminiscent of classic non-integrated musicals (meaning musicals where the characters themselves are performers and, rather than breaking into spontaneous song, do all of their numbers on stage in front of an audience). It reminds one of some of the great Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers pictures (The Astaire-Rogers hallmark Swing Time is #90 on our list).  Yankee Doodle Dandy is lighthearted and captivating, but the element it lacks is Astaire’s light baritone.  Instead, Cagney, a big name not known for his singing voice, sort of speak-sings all of the tunes.  The lack of musicality from our main actor keeps the numbers, which are otherwise spectacular, from really taking off.

Now, it goes without saying that Cagney gives an otherwise compelling performance (he

George M. Cohan's Famous Stair Descent
George M. Cohan’s Famous Stair Descent

won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as George M. Cohan), and that his lack of musicality does not fully detract from what is otherwise a delightfully enjoyable picture.  The film is worth seeing if not for the dance numbers alone, where Cagney does demonstrate a remarkable amount of skill.

Despite my qualms, the enchanting nature of Yankee Doodle Dandy earns it a B, and the somewhat nostalgic sense of patriotism that permeates the film leads to a ranking of on the Liberty Scale.  In my opinion, it’s the sort of movie you just can’t dislike.  Like me, you may not walk away considering your life permanently changed, but you likely won’t walk away regretting the two hours you invested in the life of George M. Cohan.

We’re moving right along.  Next is the science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner.

Do you disagree?  Do you feel worse-off for having invested time in Yankee Doodle Dandy?  Or did you find the film refreshing and nostalgic?  Were you a fan of Cagney’s speak-singing song style?  Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

100 Movie Challenge: #99 Toy Story

A

Okay, I may be a little biased on this one.  Of any film ever made, none has affected me more than the 1995 Pixar masterpiece, Toy Story.  I was Woody for countless Halloweens, I collected dozens upon dozens of the authentic toys, and, to this day, have

Toy Story 1995
Toy Story 1995

a set of Toy Story bed sheets on my bed at my parents’ house.  I even went through a phase where I was convinced my toys were alive.  I’ve seen it 50 times, I can quote it effortlessly, and I still get choked up at the end.

But that’s because it’s simply a magnificent movie.  Like #100 Ben-Hur, which we talked about last week, Toy Story had an ENORMOUS impact on the future of film;  only, in my opinion, Toy Story‘s innovation is almost unmatchable. The bold choice to do an entire film exclusively with computer animation has led to an absolute revolution not only in the world of animation, but in the world of film at large.

The amazing part is, that may not even be the most noteworthy aspect of Toy Story.  It was the first animated movie ever to be nominated in the category of Best Original Screenplay, which is a no-brainer when you consider the magnificently original concept, the superbly witty comedy style, and the highly compelling character development, something we had not seen much of in “children’s films.”

Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear and Tom Hanks as Woody
Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear and Tom Hanks as Woody

Toy Story also set the standard for a series of terrific Pixar scores.  Composer and songwriter, Randy Newman was nominated twice for Toy Story, and began a trend of these beautiful images being accompanied by beautiful music. (The first time I cried in a movie was in Finding Nemo; not because of the initial tragedy, not when the family is finally reunited, but in the opening title sequence.  The music combined with the images of the coral reef overwhelmed me to the point of tears).

Toy Story is an A movie, also earning a 6 on the Liberty Scale with a plot that revolves around competition.  If, for whatever reason, you have yet to see the story of what happens when Woody, Andy’s favorite toy, has his status challenged by the new-coming, hi-tech space figure, Buzz, I could not more highly recommend it.  For both young and old, it is a brilliant story of friendship and fantasy.

That’s two movies in the books.  Next for us is the 1942 Cagney musical Yankee Doodle Dandy.

How about you?  Do you love Toy Story as much as I do, or is the Pixar film debut highly overrated?  Let us know!

100 Movie Challenge: #100 Ben-Hur

B+

We begin our journey through filmmaking history with the 1959 epic, William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, starring Charlton Heston in his Oscar-winning role as Judah Ben-Hur.

Ben-Hur 1959
Ben-Hur 1959

To this day, Ben-Hur maintains the record for the most Academy Awards for a single film (now tied with Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), winning an unprecedented 11 Oscars out of 12 nominations.  This then begs the question, how could the most decorated film of all time only strike the list at #100?

It’s a good question.  Like the two other films tied for the Oscar record, Ben-Hur effectively melds a wonderful story and great acting with a superbly high production value (the $15+ million budget was the most ever seen at the time of production).  The film follows Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince on a quest to rescue his mother and sister from unjust slavery.  The story is paralleled with the story of Christ, including a climactic scene at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur in the famous Chariot Scene
Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur in the famous Chariot Scene

While Ben-Hur certainly holds up over time, it is admired now primarily for its influence on the future of film.  The stunning biblical/historical epic defined a genre and re-established the bar as to what was possible in the world of film.  Scenes like the infamous “chariot scene” or the naval battle are as realistic today as ever, despite being made over 50 years ago (which is definitely some rare praise).

Ben-Hur earns a solid B+.  Perhaps it isn’t quite the life-changing movie now that it once was, but without it, films like Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, and, the upcoming biblical epic, Noah, may never have existed.  And on the liberty scale, Ben-Hur earns a walloping 9.5 out of 10.  The entire story is centered around the dream of attaining freedom, which is perhaps what makes Judah’s quest so noble.  For him, nothing compares to the notion of being truly free; a theme that rings just as true today as 2000 years ago.

Wyler’s masterpiece continues to prove why it holds a place as a film history juggernaut.  My only regret was not being able to see it on the big screen.  My tiny Macbook screen probably doesn’t do justice to the originally intended epic-widescreen experience.  (If you, for whatever reason, have the opportunity to see this in 35mm, do not, I repeat DO NOT miss that chance).  So why only #100?  I suppose that remains to be seen.  We’ve got a lot of movies to go.

That’s one down.  Next up: Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story.

  • 100. Ben-Hur
  • 99. Toy Story

What did you think of Ben-Hur?  Were you totally blown away?  Or were you snoring by the start of hour 3?  Let us know!

 

The AFI 100 Movie Challenge

The AFI 100 Movie Challenge

The Academy Awards happened recently; a night where most of the country gathers around their TVs to celebrate the one thing we all have in common: a love for the movies.

However, for as much as I pride myself in film knowledge, the famous Oscar montages tend to inform me as to how few of Hollywood’s greatest pictures I’ve actually seen.

This led me to a challenge; an attempt to tackle 100 of the greatest films of all time.

Every 10 years the American Film Institute revises what they assert to be the list of the top 100 films ever made.  Here it is: 100 Years 100 Movies 10th Anniversary Edition.

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