#151. Zoolander (2001)
This is Ben Stiller’s Austin Powers, simply put, plus a really good movie for Owen Wilson. Blue Steel!
#152. Adaptation (2002)
Twisty-turny Nicholas Cage tour-de-force, portraying both Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother, who are trying to figure out how to make The Orchid Thief, a piece of nonfiction, into compelling fiction. One of my favorite Meryl Streep movies, too, before everyone started to believe too much of the hype, which kind of soured me on her in later years. The way to ruin a good actor is to start casting them, instead of their performances. That’s not as difficult to understand as it seems…
#153. The Break-Up (2006)
Superior relationship drama featuring Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston playing their iconic roles to best possible effect. Turns out they’re romantic losers, and it’s not a completely bad thing. Stick around for “Rainbow Connection” in the credits!
#154. In Bruges (2008)
Colin Farrell takes his Phone Booth and Cassandra’s Dream performances to their logical end, as a hitman cracking up after a botched job, with Brendan Gleeson attempting to help him past the trauma. Ralph Fiennes has a delicious supporting role as the man who gleefully seeks to make sure everything turns out as it should.
#155. The Majestic (2001)
Anytime a modern filmmaker attempts something that calls to mind the hallowed grounds of Hollywood past, critics take the automatic stance that it’s going to suck. That’s what doomed this Jim Carrey project, from director Frank Darabont, who had already made two exceptional prison dramas (The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), this time taking his impeccable eye for casting for a completely wistful vision of a man on an equally unlikely path toward redemption. “Too much like Capra.” Or, captivating.
#156. Shrek (2001)
The computer animated movie that exploded the myth of what animated movies are supposed to do, by completely turning the old tropes on their head. Excellent voice casting with Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow. None of the sequels make the list, but not because they aren’t worth watching. The second and fourth are of note.
#157. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
The best part of this Potter is the epic duel between Voldemort and Dumbledore, which is one of the best in cinema lore, no matter the context. This is exactly why the Hogwarts headmaster had to go.
#158. Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
If history takes a backseat to high drama, then I could think of worse fates than to play second fiddle to Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, and Geoffrey Rush.
#159. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Combine Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, and a jazzy John Williams, and you got pure cinematic dynamite. The story of Frank Abagnale is pretty fascinating, too.
#160. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Ron Howard walks Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Ed Harris through an amazing true story about the human spirit. It pays to lose yourself in its magic.
#161. I Am Legend (2007)
Will Smith in perhaps the purest presentation of his undeniable skills as a one man show, as seemingly the last man on a planet that has been overrun with zombies.
#162. The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
Natalie Portman and Scarlet Johansson spar as sisters caught under the gaze of Eric Bana, with Jim Sturges (star of Across the Universe and 21) playing a supporting role as their brother. Nobody wins, but it’s a lot of beautiful misery.
#163. World Trade Center (2006)
Oliver Stone guides Nicholas Cage, Michael Shannon, and others through the harrowing experiences of 9/11 with a transcendent feel throughout.
#164. The Perfect Storm (2000)
George Clooney, Mark Walberg, William Fichtner, Diane Lane, and others recreate a peculiar form of heroism, the courage to own up to your own mistakes, and try and make the best of it.
#165. Black Hawk Down (2001)
I was originally drawn to this one because of a personal connection, but Ridley Scott’s version of the battlezone of Mogadishu and his stellar casting (some of his stars weren’t even stars yet; Eric Bana and Tom Hardy appear, for instance, before anyone really knew who they were, which was still true for Hardy years later, at least until this year’s Inception, in fact) serve to create a true sense of the chaos of war. Josh Hartnett’s one real starring role, like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now.
#166. W. (2008)
Oliver Stone takes Josh Brolin, who was just starting to gain a film presence (after too many years), appearing in numerous movies clustered in their release dates, and retells the famous moments of George Bush’s life, leaving the ultimate conclusions up to the viewer. It was bravely stupid for many critics; me, I just saw Stone doing his visionary thing again.
#167. Stick It (2006)
Sometimes, an attitude can make a movie, and this one’s all about attitude, with Missy Peregrym displaying a distinct lead appeal (something nobody else seems to have noticed), with an assist from Jeff Bridges.
#168. 300 (2007)
Oh, and attitude is all over this, too, like the super-macho version of Black Hawk Down, with Gerard Butler finally finding his perfect role, after years of searching (seriously; you can see past efforts like Timeline and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life for evidence).
#169. Ratatouille (2007)
Lots of people would try and make the arguments with The Incredibles or Wall-E, but here’s where Pixar finally broke free of the formula, the only time, really, when it allowed a gimmick to truly transcend itself, looking past the rat chef and allowing food critic Peter O’Toole to deliver its true message: good things are easier to find than you think, but great things are rare indeed.
#170. The Illusionist (2006)
Edward Norton finally breaks free from his usual persona, but not his favorite gimmick, still pulling the wool over Rufus Sewell’s eyes, with admiration from Jessica Biel and Paul Giamatti.
#171. The Constant Gardener (2005)
Ralph Fiennes tries to improve his life by chasing the ideals of his late wife, Rachel Weisz. It ain’t easy, and Danny Huston doesn’t make it easier, but that’s the world for you.
#172. The Hurt Locker (2009)
This one just won the Best Picture Oscar, so I don’t have to make too strong a case for it, so I’ll just say how much I love that Jeremy Renner finally found some wide acclaim. Also, Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, Anthony Mackie, and Evangeline Lilly rock supporting roles.
#173. The 25th Hour (2002)
Spike Lee makes one of the earliest and most thought-provoking reactions to 9/11, with Edward Norton struggling to reconcile his life before heading off to jail. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rosario Dawson are among an excellent supporting cast.
#174. Nixon (1995)
Oliver Stone and Anthony Hopkins tackle one of the giant of 20th century politics, and end up figuring out he’s not just there to push around.
#175. Moon (2009)
Sam Rockwell found his perfect starring role, playing opposite himself as an astronaut trying to figure out how to make good with his assignment. Plus, years after audiences grew tired of him, Kevin Spacey figures out how to sneak his way back to the big screen. As a robot’s voice!