#176. The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Chances are this was released about a decade too late to truly be relevant, but it was still amusing, with a format that was completely unexpected (the only real song was “Spider-Pig”!) and a complete story that really worked, a disaster for the town of Springfield and Simpsons family that Homer was responsible for and was able to fix (both of them). Anyway, I really like The Simpsons and so it was easy for me to like this, too. It was also about as far from a Pixar movie as it could get, too, and that was pretty awesome, too.
#177. Planet of the Apes (2001)
The Tim Burton remake with Mark Wahlberg and a host of familiar actors in fantastic and fantastically realistic chimp makeup deserves a lot more praise than it gets, but that’s what you get when there was no real interest for a remake in the first place. This one was released before the summer blockbuster tradition really made its comeback a few years later, and that might explain what happened to it. Best of all is the clever Charlton Heston cameo. Seriously, if you love nothing else about this film, you’ve got to love how Tim uses Chuck.
#178. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
A slightly less naïve version of Forrest Gump, you can also consider this Hollywood’s most shameless effort to milk audiences for what Brad Pitt was supposed to elicit out of them, especially as he ages backwards all the way to the young face he sported but never really capitalized on, a heartbreaker cross between Thelma and Louise (when he really did settle for that role) and Meet Joe Black (when audiences really rejected him for it) But then you’ve also got Cate Blanchett in what amounts to her most mainstream role, and a good running bit about a guy who keeps getting hit by lightning. A lot of the attention this one got was for the effects, but it’s the movie’s own magic that wins out.
#179. Erin Brokovich (2000)
Otherwise known as Julia Roberts Wins Her Oscar, with an unabashed performance and truly outstanding supporting actors around her, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart (no really, under all that mustache), who let her be just another actor, even if she does get to enjoy the most boobs she’s ever had onscreen.
#180. State of Play (2009)
Russell Crowe as a crusading journalist, attempting to take the opposite role he sported in The Insider, and finding corruption at every turn, as he tries to figure out what the heck Ben Affleck was up to. Turns out, Affleck isn’t as innocent as he first seems. But yeah, Rachel McAdams is.
#181. The Hunting Party (2007)
Hardly anyone’s heard of this one, and those who have probably only heard the tepid reviews, but the moment I saw the trailer, I knew that it was an important film. Richard Gere and Terrence Howard star in this story based on real events, about TV journalists who become embroiled in an improbable series of events, and a story that’s bigger than they can handle.
#182. In the Valley of Elah (2007)
Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, and Josh Brolin star in this drama that attempts to take a nuanced look at the war on terror. It’s one of those message films that drove audiences away with its politics, and on some level, it’s one of those films that seems like it’s got a certain message, but it’s really just an excellent and piercing narrative. I don’t necessarily agree with Jones when he suggests at the end of the film that the US is itself in trouble, but when a story makes you think anything at all, and this one does, I call that a success.
#183. Insomnia (2002)
Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hillary Swank have the good fortune to star in Christopher Nolan’s first foray into regular Hollywood fair (that number would pretty much include this and, nominally, his two Batman films), after the success of Memento. This was during the period where Williams was receiving a renewed bit of critical acclaim, but I’d say the show really belongs to Pacino, who gives one of his classic haunted performances.
#184. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
During the period (like the one I just mentioned with Robin Williams, relatively brief) that Kevin Costner could do no wrong, he pulled off an American-accented version of a classic English character. But really, everyone let it slide because of Alan Rickman. That man really can do no wrong.
#185. Avatar (2009)
James Cameron, giant blue people, Pocahontas, the environment, billions of dollars at the box office, 3D…I still like to think of this as a film starring Sam Worthington and Zoë Saldana, with Worthington pulling off a challenging lead performance after a breakthrough supporting one in Terminator: Salvation, solidifying him as one of my new favorite actors. It’s easy to see why Saldana seemed so listless in Star Trek, meanwhile, when she had this huge challenge otherwise.
#186. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Known as the Kubrick film that Spielberg finished, starring that kid from The Sixth Sense…I think Jude Law stole it, with his charismatic Gigolo Joe, easily, and the journey Haley Joel Osment undertakes, and its mystical conclusion, works better than E.T.’s, a far better payoff. Plus the robot teddy bear! And how can you discount Robin Williams’ Doctor Know? As Joe puts it, “He’s who you see when you’ve got to know.”
#187. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
I love the first couple of acts, when Picard has to track down Data after the android runs amok on a surveillance mission, especially the chase sequence. I love Anthony Zerbe as Admiral Dougherty, and F. Murray Abraham as the villain, who is among the most straight-forward Star Trek villains since Christopher Lloyd in the third film. I love Donna Murphy. Oh, in the movie. The movie itself, well, I don’t know that Jonathan Frakes had as keen a grasp of this one as he did First Contact. But there’s still a lot to love here.
#188. Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Tom Hanks gets to play almost himself here, in a story that helps makes sense of how complicated the modern world really is, while Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman have a good time along with him. In fact, you might say having a good time is a little of why things get so screwy. But there’s food for thought. We’ll see.
#189. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Jack Nicholson in the prototypical Jack Nicholson role, before old age just made him seem crotchety, playing opposite Louise Fletcher, who would perfect this performance decades later in ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.’
#190. Toy Story 2 (1999)
I don’t mean to keep picking on Pixar, because this sequel (unlike this past summer’s kind of grossly overrated Pixar Effect threequel) really did have a lot of magic to it, with an inspired parody of one of the most celebrated sequels as Buzz learns his archnemesis is his father, and, hey, Stinky Pete. Plus I loved Robert Goulet singing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”
#191. Rent (2005)
The famed Broadway musical translates beautifully to the big screen, thanks in no small part to Rosario Dawson joining what is otherwise pretty much the original stage cast.
#192. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
It seemed like a sweet and innocent children’s story, in the beginning, and that’s because that’s exactly what it was, with child stars being children (but who would grow into real maturity soon enough). So let’s say Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane really run this one, and keep the magic alive. It’s the original John Williams score that really helps set the stage anyway.
#193. Meet Joe Black (1998)
Ah, yes! I just referenced this one back at #178! Here’s Brad Pitt in the apparently thankless role of traditional leading man, with Claire Forlani acting luminously as his love interest, and Anthony Hopkins lending the gravity as he rarely actually does. Usually he’s just the classical sounding guy, the one who lends credibility. But here he really does get to play the old and wizened man he actually is. It suits him, just as playing the ethereal, not-quite-what-he-seems does Pitt.
#194. Lords of Dogtown (2005)
As a portrait for alienated youths developing and thriving in their own culture, this one is fairly by the books. As a vehicle for Heath Ledger to unexpectedly stretch his character instincts, this one’s off the charts. Seriously, you don’t need his death or the Joker to enjoy this performance.
#195. The Bingo Long-Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (1976)
As a study of the Negro Leagues, it’s fascinating enough, but with a cast as terrific as Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and Richard Pryor, you don’t need to define it any further than great drama and a really good time.
#196. Brazil (1985)
Terry Gilliam in an early effort to really explore his potential is a wild trip, and one of the most awesome things about it is Robert De Niro casually appearing now and again as an unassuming sanitation worker. Anyone who claims they understand De Niro needs to see and really watch him here. And then watch and rewatch this movie until you can safely claim you understand it, too.
#197. Sideways (2004)
The cast is terrific and the camaraderie is, too, almost like visually drinking one of the many fine wines flowing across the screen as Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Sandra Oh, and Virginia Madsen try to figure out life.
#198. Body of Lies (2008)
Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe, and Leonardo DiCaprio do their part in trying to make sense of the absurdly complicated modern world we live in, a sort of modern version of the historical epics Scott and sometimes Crowe have been doing.
#199. Juno (2007)
Ellen Page, Michael Cera, and J.K. Simmons have a good time exploring the angst of modern youth, reliable fodder for fiction of any stripe.
#200. North by Northwest (1959)
I don’t have a lot of experience with Hitchcock or Cary Grant, but I know this one really works. Plus it involves Mount Rushmore. I happen to love Mount Rushmore.
#201. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
In some of my younger years (we may even say circa 1994), this would have been in the top ten, easily. It made Jim Carrey a star, and it’s still a classic. I wouldn’t need Friends, the Scream movies, or Cougar Town to remember Courtney Cox. And Dan Marino will live forever. Laces out! Come to think of it, I may have to worm it back further up the list in some later edition…
#202. The Fifth Element (1997)
In fact, we’re entering into a whole stretch of films that’ve been nosed out of rightful spots…I’ve loved this one almost as much for almost as long. What is essentially almost a parody of a Bruce Willis film also does a good job by Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker, Ian Holm, and Gary Oldman. Did I mention Milla is perfect? It’s a silly movie, but it also has an awesome alien opera singer. It’s better than it seems, that kind of movie.
#203. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
Without this, Will Ferrell would never have become a big star. Okay, maybe that’s just me. Also, Mike Myers becomes an icon twice over, and Elizabeth Hurley is guaranteed immortality. Plus Seth Green almost definitely owes his career to this film.
#204. Galaxy Quest (1999)
Somehow, even with Home Improvement, The Santa Clause, and Toy Story, I still think I will always best remember Tim Allen for this Star Trek spoof, with Alan Rickman in another classic role, while Enrico Colantoni and Sam Rockwell basically steal the movie in supporting roles.
#205. American History X (1998)
Edward Norton in what will probably remain his career defining role, absent a lot of the gimmicks he’s employed in other famous roles, except that of a reformed Neo Nazi who finds his way back and then has to help his kid brother do the same. One of the few movies Avery Brooks, the commanding lead actor from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, managed to make, too, and he makes the most of it as Norton’s spiritual mentor.
#206. Liar, Liar (1997)
A movie my brother loved so much, he couldn’t stop watching it. So it’s possible to love a Jim Carrey movie even if you’re not technically obsessed with Jim Carrey, and this is an easy one to love, and even become obsessed with, in many ways more a pattern for his later comedic performances than Ace Ventura (see: Yes Man, Fun With Dick and Jane), with Maura Tierney and Cary Elwes (hilariously butchering Carrey’s “The Claw”) trying their best to keep up. Some of the best stuff is in the outtakes that follow the feature presentation…
#207. A Shot in the Dark (1964)
The Clouseau film that basically set the standard for all the Clouseau films is by definition a classic, wouldn’t you say?
#208. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Likewise with this debut Tarantino, which if it doesn’t have quite the complete thrust of later films by the director, coasts amiably on a terrific cast, great dialogue, and a clever story, the three keys to any Quentin Tarantino masterpiece.
#209. The Santa Clause (1994)
Tim Allen tackles the ultimate gimmick in his quest to break out of television and become a movie star, and it totally works, because as it turns out, Tim Allen was born to play Santa Claus. Who knew? You just have to see it to believe it.
#210. Mortal Kombat (1995)
A direct product of my particular childhood, since this still to this day defines the martial arts flick for me, even though it’s based on a video game. I loved the game, and loved this movie, with a handful of classic performances (notably Cary Tagawa, Christopher Lambert, Linden Ashby, and Talisa Soto, plus the immortal Trevor Goddard as Kano). The sequel wasn’t as good, but it did have Brian Thompson, and retained the essentials (Soto and Robin Shou, the nominal lead actor).
#211. The Negotiator (1998)
The acting showdown between Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson is enough to make this memorable, but the story and the supporting cast (including perennial standouts Ron Rifkin and Paul Giamatti) are equally gripping.
#212. Schindler’s List (1993)
Spielberg assured his legacy when he made it, and Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes assured their careers when they did.
#213. Following (1999)
This is Christopher Nolan’s first movie, and you can see shades of it all the way through to Inception (you may hear a familiar name among lead characters if you’ve ever seen it). A clever study of identity, just in case you were wondering.
#214. Hoodwinked (2006)
One of my favorite computer animated movies (a sequel has been delayed for a while now), packed with more cleverness than any of the Shreks or Toy Storys, with the only problem being a lack of a truly lead character, at least a really good one. Plenty of excellent support, though, including a goat who is (or may not be) cursed to sing everything he says. Andy Dick and Patrick Warburton are among the voice actors.
#215. Hamlet (1990)
Mel Gibson proves his dramatic worth (if not his PR skills) in this adaptation of the Shakespeare staple, and that’s the best reason to see this one.
#216. Cast Away (2000)
Tom Hanks in his acting tour de force, proving he can make it interesting acting against a volley ball (Wilson!), while Helen Hunt proves a perfect romantic foil for a story that doesn’t take the obvious way out once Hanks returns to civilization.
#217. Grumpier Old Men (1995)
Lemmon, Mathieu, Burgess Meredith, and the whole cast work absolutely wonderfully together in this sequel that’s better than the original, proving that a little snow can sometimes be a good thing indeed.
#218. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Joseph Fiennes’ best chance to prove his own cinematic worth is really stolen from him by an enchanting Gwyneth Paltrow, while Geoffrey Rush and Ben Affleck offer ample support. If Shakespeare were writing in modern times, he might do something like this himself. Though the title would be a little awkward.
#219. Apollo 13 (1995)
A fantastic score ushers Tom Hanks into space (and cruelly keeps Gary Sinese right here on Earth) in this dramatic retelling of the failed attempt to reach the moon again, but the successful effort at bringing the crew back home. An early Ron Howard blockbuster.
#220. Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
For a lot of people, this was merely the fourth Lethal Weapon, but for me, it was actually the first, so I enjoyed Chris Rock just as much as any of the established cast, though Mel Gibson fighting Jet Li was pretty awesome, too.
#221. Patch Adams (1998)
Robin Williams had reached the end of another phase of his career, and critics really hated to see him go. They hated seeing him right out the door! They hated saying goodbye! They hated being the ones to relay the message! Anyway, I find it to be perfectly enjoyable, and I loved discovering Philip Seymour Hoffman in it, and I liked Monica Potter, too, and not just as a slightly older version of Emma Roberts.
#222. The Insider (1999)
Combine Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, and Christopher Plummer in any feature, and you’ve got a winning cast. No, please, do it again, Hollywood.
#223. Road to Perdition (2002)
You’ve got Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, and some of the best-ever cinematography. You’ve got a story of redemption, a father and son team, a son who isn’t a distraction from the rest of the movie. Why does this movie not have more love?
#224. Walk the Line (2005)
I actually didn’t hate Reece Witherspoon in this, and this was a first. But I loved Joaquin Phoenix in it, and I love Johnny Cash. The origins of the title song, as depicted in this movie, are some real movie magic, too. Crazy Heart was like the coda to what seemed like the inevitable conclusion to this film. But Johnny had other ideas.
#225. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Leonard Nimoy waits until one of his last performances to give one of his best portrayals of Spock, or at least what I would call one of his most cinematic, while Christopher Plummer steals the movie as a bold Klingon. It would have to be Plummer for something like that to happen. As a final goodbye to the complete original cast, it’s pretty nice, too.