#76. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
A Star Trek that definitely suffers from being a Star Trek (but then, a lot of it does), especially coming in between a film that really pleased the fans (The Wrath of Khan) and another that really pleased audiences (The Voyage Home). The trick is, this one’s probably better; even though it comes between them and doesn’t therefore have, technically speaking, a complete story, it makes for a more complete film experience, clocking in with an endless series of fearless events, from Spock’s dad telling Kirk, of all people, to man up, to McCoy having some of his best scenes ever, channeling, of course, Spock. In fact, Spock’s everywhere, more than ever, including behind the camera, but most of all at the emotional ending, when he finally, technically speaking, returns.
#77. A Few Good Men (1992)
Coming in at the start of the modern obsession of procedural dramas, at least on television (speaking of which, JAG still owes this film a thank-you), with an appropriate cinema-size cast, headlined by Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore (right before her career flared up and then basically died). But it’s Nicholson who really steals the show, with a single scene. You know which one.
#78. Taxi Driver (1976)
Scorsese and De Niro in their first immortal pairing, which I would term their On the Waterfront, not so much a portrait of a deranged individual, but a tapestry of modern angst, as vocalized by Peter Boyle in an unfairly unsung performance.
#79. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
This has been my favorite of the Indy films for a long time, since it’s the most strictly adventurous (and probably the one that inspired the young Dan Brown), and happens to co-star Sean Connery in one of his most fun performances.
#80. Return to Oz (1985)
Like a lot of kids, I grew up with The Wizard of Oz, but I also discovered the original L. Frank Baum book, which had a completely different feel, a lot less reverent but more real in its total immersive experience. I knew about this film for a long time, but only recently had a chance to see it. Sure enough, it’s a lot more accurate to the spirit of Baum’s fiction than Judy Garland singing about rainbows. I’m not knocking a treasured cultural classic, so much as suggesting…this one’s probably better.
#81. Gangs of New York (2002)
Scorsese and his other muse, Leo DiCaprio, in an early collaboration. If they aren’t quite in sync yet, Marty does have the benefit of Daniel Day-Lewis doing that There Will Be Blood bluster the first time around, and that much is absolute magic, with the actor legitimately tearing up the screen with pizzazz and dangerous charisma. There’s also Cameron Diaz in one of her periodic dramatic roles. Like Raging Bull, there’s also some pretty awesome imagery to be savored, even though no one seems to talk about it.
#82. The Phantom Menace (1999)
The first of the prequels is the last of the Star Wars on the list, with Liam Neeson kicking off the rest of his career as probably the definitive Jedi, even if that snotty council never wanted to admit it. George Lucas packs this one with so many details, it’s difficult to catch your bearing, and I think that’s what people notice, more than all that sniping that’s still so popular. Any film that’s awesome enough to dream up Darth Maul can’t possibly be that bad. The dude carries the best ever lightsaber battle. If Errol Flynn had done it, everyone would still be fondly remembering it. And I’m pretty sure Errol Flynn never actually did anything that awesome.
#83. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Oliver Stone has done a lot of Vietnam films (he’s been rumored to be developing even more), but probably none that explored more territory than this one. Clearly, Tom Cruise takes a big gulp of disillusionment, mostly because of personal tragedy and not because of any particular political beliefs (remember all that “Love it or leave it!” talk in the early scenes?), but that’s not really what the movie is about. And that’s what I love about Stone and what I wish more people would realize, that the dude likes to really study his stories before making them.
#84. The Godfather (1972)
This was like a men’s club, the perfect one, but I like to think of it as a study of two, Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, around whom the story clearly circles, two generations of Italian Americans struggling to handle the vagaries of fate. It’s probably the only time in cinema history where an epic was possible with little more necessary than a lot of bloody deaths.
#85. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
The last Star Trek in the top hundred is as much about ecological message-making as trying to recapture something that’s been lost, without having the slightest clue how to do it. Seriously, that’s what this one basically boils down to, Kirk stumbling into victory, the most clearly comedic Star Trek film, because it’s really a comedy of errors.
#86. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
What I eventually realized I loved so much about this one is that it perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Russell Crowe, a movie that broods big, on the perfect stage, the wide open seas, the only one big enough to capture it.
#87. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
No other film has been able to figure out how this particular era represented such a perfect romantic vision of the American outlaw, figuring out that it literally takes a romantic pairing to pull it off, with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty doing their iconic star turns to make it work. Gene Hackman has a supporting role, the one that probably made his career.
#88. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Ah, so what I said a little early was technically a lie. I’ve had a rather contentious relationship with this one, but it’s still a pretty memorable experience, especially as concerns the death of Spock, which ironically ties into that whole Kirk-never-really-faced-the-no-win-scenario thing from earlier in the film. First he meets the son who hates him, then he loses his best friend. Khan wasn’t much fun either.
#89. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Since this film, M. Night Shyamalan has been a consistent favorite filmmaker of mine. This list is littered with his movies, which has just consistently failed to wow audiences since. It’s the specific and unexpected pairing of Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment that really makes this one work, rather than the trick ending, which is what everyone else fixates on.
#90. The Fall (2008)
This is a mythic-sized glimpse at one man’s depression, and the unintended efforts of a little girl to make it better. I’ve been talking this one up since originally seeing it, trying to get it more awareness. Still working on it.
#91. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
You’ll begin to see a pattern or two in this list, and here’s at least one of them: this is the most clearly action-oriented entry in the Pirates films, everything that was awesome about the first one legitimately supersized, without becoming a gross parody, because secretly, the story is actually advancing. Jack Sparrow, for instance, is finally forced to confront basic causality, which until now he’s been able to effectively avoid, even when his former shipmates turned into the freakish undead. Bill Nighy represents the next generation of that one, by the way.
#92. Office Space (1999)
A former member of the top ten is one of the most consistently inventive comedies ever filmed, catching the wave when it was popular to point out that the work place really, really hates employees. Hey, whatever happened to that? (Well, see: Burn After Reading and Jim Carrey's Fun with Dick and Jane. They may be on the list later on.)
#93. Superman Returns (2006)
Bryan Singer had the balls to try and directly revive a franchise that had been down and out for twenty years, and to actually make it better than it ever was (funny thing to say, considering that I ranked two of that series ahead of this one, but I swear that, on the whole, this one really is better, just a little less surprising). What makes it work is that Singer presents a complete vision of what Superman means, which was both completely necessary and the exact opposite of what escapist audiences ended up wanting.
#94. Revolution Revisited (1985)
The film Revolution Revisited is an edit of the originally released Revolution, so it’s one of those experiences that was literally only possible outside of the theater, so whatever I have to say about it might not have much to say about what audiences would actually remember. That’s one of the things I love about movies, though, that unlike paintings or books, they can easily slip on new forms, and it doesn’t really matter how little some people want to accept that, other viewers have the opportunity to rediscover them, just as filmmakers can more easily tinker with their films (I appreciate artists who can remain passionate about their projects, especially when there’re so many opportunities to thwart their original visions). Anyway, all this is to say: watch this film. Al Pacino reaches Shakespearean heights in his hushed voiceover as he experiences the downside of excited patriots in the American Revolution. Another one waiting to be rediscovered.
#95. The End of the Affair (1999)
Ralph Fiennes is better known for Schindler’s List and The English Patient, but I think his best film is this lushly imagined romantic tragedy, another study of the vagaries of fate. Yeah, that’s another of my obsessions.
#96. Hollywoodland (2006)
Speaking of those vagaries, here’s Ben Affleck as another Superman, George Reeves, battling his demons, which possibly get the better of him, though other things may have happened. It’s the film that helped me remember that I actually like him, after a few too many performances where he was allowed to feel a little too pleased with himself. Actually, it wasn’t even his films. Sometimes I can get carried away with the way obsessive media spoils thing, too.
#97. Chicago (2002)
My favorite strictly musical musical, with a bang-up cast that nails a batch of really strong songs, and filmmakers who know how to stage them.
#98. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
When I was growing up, there were three kinds of film we watched obsessively: obviously Star Wars was one of them, but the others were Disney and John Wayne. Later, I stopped relying so much on Disney and Wayne for my entertainment, and while Pixar helped worm me back into one, there were precious few new John Wayne films being made, mostly because John Wayne died several years before I was born. Eventually, I started watching some of the classics that I hadn’t seen yet, and this was the best of them, probably among his most iconic, and ironically, most minimalist. Also, Jimmy Stewart’s in it!
#99. Unbreakable (2000)
So here’s another Shyamalan, the only other collaboration to date with Bruce Willis, riding the emerging wave of the modern obsession with cinematic superheroes by telling one of the most original stories about them, a real world fable that captures the inherent pathos of the genre better than anyone before or since.
#100. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Here’s another clearly much older film, one that stands out by standing out from the pack, on the surface obscenely dated (who would even remember George M. Cohan these days, basically, if not for this movie?) but, on the shoulders of James Cagney, playing against type, playing entirely timeless.