#226. L.A. Confidential (1997)
After Titanic, this was probably 1997’s most-loved movie by critics, but interest in it sort of petered out after a while. The cast is the greatest thing about it: Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, even Danny DeVito, who gives the film its pulpy gimmick with his narration.
#227. S.W.A.T. (2003)
You might almost consider this the junior version of L.A. Confidential, the TV age edition starring Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J, and Jeremy Renner in an early standout role. In fact, I came mostly to see Farrell, but it’s Renner who pretty much steals the show as his rival.
#228. The Losers (2010)
Here’s the 2010 version of Desperado, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan taking over for Antonio Banderas, and leading a gang of equally low-key but exceptional actors (this was the best version of a formula also seen during this year with The A-Team and The Expendables) including Zoe Saldana in one of her many recent supporting roles (which also happened to include Takers, another similar movie), Chris Evans, and in another of his chameleon roles, Jason Patric.
#229. Gattaca (1997)
Incredibly, at one time I basically overlooked this movie because it was something my brother was trying to recommend, and I was in a phase where it simply wasn’t cool to like what my brothers did. Well, forget that. This is a piercing drama that happens to take place in the future, with an effective and edgy cast headlined by Uma Thurman, Jude Law, and Ethan Hawke.
#230. Tigerland (2000)
Colin Farrell’s first starring role immediately landed on Hollywood’s A-list (which effectively screwed him over, because he became as inexplicably ubiquitous as Jude Law did for a while, and when critics and/or audiences don’t actually demand it, the overall perception of the audience will inevitably distort the actual quality of the resulting work). No wonder, anyway, because he’s absolutely dynamite here. I would without much hesitation call him Brando’s true heir.
#231. Lost in Space (1998)
Here’s another of those TV show movies that keep cropping up on this list (S.W.A.T. a little earlier is one of them, too, but aside from a brief cameo by that show’s theme song, you’d hardly know it). I don’t care one way or another about the original show, never having actually seen it, but any movie that can combine such eclectic actors as William Hurt, Gary Oldman, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert, and even Matt LeBlanc (in probably the one film role that suggests he really should have gotten a better break in this particular medium), has to be worth something, even if just as a curiosity. But it’s better than you might think. Hurt helps to ground it, but really just about everything works just fine.
#232. Doomsday (2008)
A lot of people got confused about how to react to this one because of the director (Neil Marshall, who’d done some minor pop cultural hits with Dog Soldiers and The Descent before it) and its apparent and overwhelming debts to earlier films like the Mad Max series, but they really missed the point. Here is sheer movie delirium, with a strong center in the underrated Rhona Mitra, whose charm is so elusive that it’s actually proven a detriment to her career, even though it’s undeniable. In fact, I would recommend seeing this movie just for her, but the rest of it is pretty fun, too.
#233. A Knight’s Tale (2001)
Here’s one of those period movies that tries to snag a modern audience with some contemporary cues. In fact, here’s pretty much the prototypical example of that genre, and that’s exactly how it was marketed, and how pretty much everyone remembers it, beyond the fact that it was Hollywood’s best bet to try and make Heath Ledger into the new Mel Gibson-circa-Braveheart (I gotta admit, whatever Hollywood was trying to do with Ledger, I never really understood it). Ledger is fine in the leading role, but he’s got a terrific supporting cast, including standouts Mark Addy and Paul Bettany, the actor who really did absolutely refuse to play the typical Hollywood game (something Ledger claimed to do, and what brad Pitt has made a career of attempting, even though he has failed miserably at it). Addy and Bettany, if you were wondering, represent the real tone of this movie. If Ledger had followed suit, or if he had been allowed to, everyone would have a lot different opinion of it. The Brothers Grimm, which he made with Terry Gilliam and Matt Damon, is probably an indication of the direction he would have pursued with a little more experience under his belt. Shannyn Sossamon has her debut role here, beginning a long chain of underappreciation.
#234. Whale Rider (2003)
A charming tale of great critical acclaim from New Zealand, which has unfortunately been somewhat forgotten in recent years, even though it really is just as good as it ever was.
#235. The Last Kiss (2006)
Zach Braff had a brief period where he was making acclaimed movies while he was still mugging on TV on Scrubs, and Garden State is the most well-known of these efforts, but The Last Kiss is probably the best of them, fully capturing his ability to convey real pathos, which is his most underrated gift. Rachel Bilson, another TV refugee, costars, as do Tom Wilkinson and Casey Affleck.
#236. Minority Report (2002)
During a period where he was trying to diversify in every possible sense, Spielberg turned to a great many unexpected sources for inspiration. Famously, he finished a Kubrick film with A.I. during this time, but with Minority Report, he also turned to Philip K. Dick, and ended up with future noir, which he layered with a considerable helping of Homer’s Odyssey, and had it star Tom Cruise. Remember what I was saying about Colin Farrell a little earlier, how filmmakers started putting him everywhere after Tigerland? Well, here was one of those projects. Max Von Sydow has one of his early standout latterday roles, which like Danny DeVito in L.A. Confidential helps set the tone perfectly.
#237. United 93 (2006)
It’s almost a shame that this will forever be remembered as a 9/11 film, because it deserves to remembered as a great film. But then, because it’s a 9/11 film, it will probably be remembered anyway.
#238. The Godfather, Part II (1974)
As part of Hollywood mythology, this is supposed to be the perfect sequel. I don’t know that I would necessarily agree, since there’s not a lot here that actually has anything to do with the first movie, so much as enriches certain characters and backstory from it. Part III is the true sequel, but then, that one doesn’t get any respect.
#239. A Clockwork Orange (1972)
Speaking of Kubrick, I guess no matter what they say, this is his true masterpiece, the movie that absolutely could not be made without him, a story that perfectly combines the twin concepts of anarchy and conformity.
#240. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
As part of Will Smith’s incredible hotstreak in the latter half of last decade, this is still a standout, a rare subdued performance whose only gimmick is that Smith is better than his circumstances. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much all of his movies…
#241. Mystery, Alaska (1999)
Russell Crowe headlines this ensemble drama about a small town’s pride, and how it can be entangled in petty things, which happen to involve hockey. One of the movie that solidified Crowe as one of my all-time favorites, where he, like Smith in the above movie, plays it a little more quietly than usual.
#242. Up in the Air (2009)
The movie that finally allowed critics to unabashedly embrace George Clooney as a movie star. Incredibly, even though he was born to be one, he spent years tooling away, and even when he caught his big break on TV (ER, in case you don’t remember), the transition to the big screen was a long and often painful one, and those pesky critics time and again found ways to downplay his natural charisma, until they finally found the movie where he finally worked for them. Up in the Air is up to the challenge, by the way.
#243. The Name of the Rose (1986)
Based on the best-known book by Umberto Eco, what you really need to know is that Sean Connery has a lot of fun in this movie, which probably did a good portion of saving his post-Bond career.
#244. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Another movie that’s made by its cast, which in this instance means Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett, who are forced to contend with Jude Law and Matt Damon. You could choose any of these actors to focus on, and you wouldn’t go wrong.
#245. Glory (1989)
Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington star, but this is basically the Black Regiment in the Civil War movie to me, a sort of gimmick that maybe doesn’t actually do as much as its reputation suggests, but is still an important film, one worth revisiting every now and then.
#246. The Commitments (1991)
Combine rowdy Irish and classic rock, and you can’t possibly go wrong, and this film doesn’t.
#247. Don Juan DeMarco (1995)
This one has long been a personal favorite, and why it’s been basically overlooked by everyone else can only be explained by the facts that Johnny Depp did not yet have the clout to interest audiences outside of gimmick roles (to be fair, he still doesn’t) and Marlon Brando at this point in his career had absolutely no respect at all. But combine the two, and you still have a surefire winner, no matter what people do (or don’t) say.
#248. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
One of my sister’s favorite movies and the source of a really adorable cat’s name, this is easily one of the best Pixar variations (y’know, combine unusual stars with a story that hides a Deeper Message), with John Goodman and Billy Crystal forming a surprising effective comic duo, much like Tom Hanks and Tim Allen before them.
#249. South Park: Bigger, Louder & Uncut (1999)
If The Simpsons Movie didn’t play to expectations, that’s exactly what this quick cash grab did for its predecessor (from a TV successor). But if South Park is not usually your cup of tea, then the movie ought to pull you in, including the instant classics “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” and “Blame Canada.”
#250. What About Bob? (1991)
You can actually think of this one as a live action Pixar movie before Pixar actually existed, with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss providing the mismatched laughs.
#251. The Patriot (2000)
How Heath Ledger ended up in the Hollywood mindset of the new Mel-Gibson-circa-Braveheart was by costarring in this actual Mel Gibson historical epic, set during the American Revolution. If you ask me, I actually prefer this to Glory, insofar as a modern perspective on old wars. Jason Isaacs memorably provides the nasty British snarl that earned the movie most of its complaints that it was “fair.” As a vivid slice of one version of events, though, it’s as good as moviemaking can be.
#252. K-PAX (2001)
A lot of the talk about this movie when it was released was based around the fact that Jeff Bridges had once starred in Starman, a nominally similar movie. I still haven’t seen that one, but I have this one, and Kevin Spacey provides one of his trademark roles in the lead, as a man who doesn’t quite fit in, but is eventually accepted in spite of his faults. Watch as the story both confirms and subverts your expectations.
#253. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Somewhere along the way, I became a true fan of this franchise, in the same way I love any franchise, by enjoying individual installments. This is the first one that didn’t have participation from James Cameron, but it doesn’t matter, because his replacements figure out that one of the key elements is actually watching how Skynet takes over, which provides an incredibly powerful ending to this one.
#254. Legends of the Fall (1994)
One of the movies where Brad Pitt played right into Hollywood’s hands, as a nominal but romantic outsider whose family undergoes a series of trials, and he suffers beautifully through all of them. Despite how that wording seems, I’m not really mocking this movie.
#255. U-Turn (1997)
Oliver Stone went from being one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed and beloved filmmakers to a goat fairly quickly. It’s too bad, too, because somewhere along the way, he easily became one its most interesting, and this is easily his most interesting film, a quirky examination of a small town Sean Penn has the sad misfortune of stumbling upon. On the plus side, he does get to stumble into Jennifer Lopez, still at a point in her career where it was okay to respect her as an artist, which ironically only became taboo once she proved she could sing, and then tried to make a career out of that, too. I swear, in some form of logic, that actually makes sense.
#256. Platoon (1986)
Hey! Well, here’s Stone when he really was loved, making Willem Defoe into a martyr in his best performance, smack dab in the middle of the Vietnam War.
#257. Red Dragon (2002)
Among all the Hannibal Lecter films, here, improbably, is my favorite, nominally a remake of Manhunter and “sequel” (or rather prequel) of Silence of the Lambs, with Edward Norton getting to try and figure out Anthony Hopkins. Also along for the ride is a game Ralph Fiennes.
#258. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
There was never a comic entity with a better sense of satire than the collective known as Monty Python, who even got away with skewering Jesus Christ, in this parody that follows a man who stumbles his way through a mediocre messianic career. Highlight: the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” the perfect singalong for all your crucifixions!
#259. Signs (2002)
Before his meltdown in the eyes of the public, M. Night Shyamalan snuck one last blockbuster past audiences, with the help of Mel Gibson (this is his last starring-role hit, too) and Joaquin Phoenix, an unusual and unexpectedly funny look at alien invasions.
#260. Planet of the Apes (1968)
Much as I like the Tim Burton version (can’t call it a remake, because like the two versions of True Grit, or The Maltese Falcon for that matter, the original is actually a book), I can’t deny good old Charlton Heston, who is the best reason to see this movie. Also, without it, you can’t really understand the parody The Simpsons did decades later…
#261. Hart’s War (2002)
This was another of the movies Hollywood did with Colin Farrell in the wake of Tigerland, and while Bruce Willis is supposedly the lead actor, it’s Farrell the film actually follows. Also present is Terrence Howard. If he was ever wondering why critics never really got behind him, even though they sometimes seemed like they might (such as with Hustle & Flow), Howard can always remind himself by remembering how they ignored him in this.
#262. The Lookout (2006)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has had a remarkably interesting career, but he officially became one of my favorite actors after this movie, in which his emotional performance plays well against his character’s desperation, as well as off of Jeff Daniels, an actor who doesn’t get any respect, even though he’s earned it time and again.
#263. 28 Days (2000)
No, not the Danny Boyle zombie flick, the detox drama starring Sandra Bullock, in one of the key performances that audiences overlooked on the road to the “surprise” successes of 2009 (The Proposal, The Blind Side), costarring Viggo Mortensen, Dominic West, Alan Tudyk, and Steve Buscemi.
#264. Shattered Glass (2003)
Speaking of overlooked acting showcases, here’s Hayden Christensen, supported by the likes of Peter Sarsgaard, Rosario Dawson, Steve Zahn, and Hank Azaria, game to prove despite reactions to his Star Wars performances that he really can act.
#265. Almost Famous (2000)
Kate Hudson and Billy Crudup run away with this movie, which sees Cameron Crowe reminiscing about his days writing for Rolling Stone, allowed to play all the awesome music he wants.
#266. Cloverfield (2008)
Like Signs, this movie is an unusual look at an alien invasion. It also happens to have J.J. Abrams involved, plus a terrific young cast that includes Odette Yustman. A lot of films, including the vastly overrated Blair Witch Project, have used the pseudo-documentary style, but this is probably the best of those efforts.
#267. The Book of Eli (2010)
Denzel Washington is an actor of singular magnetism, capable of making just about anything work (how is it that he and Tom Hanks have only worked together in Philadelphia?). Here he actually makes a credible action star, but the twist at the end is what really makes this movie. Costars Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis.
#268. The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968)
This otherwise entirely obscure movie is a family favorite, and my pick for the vintage Hollywood musical, filled to bursting with memorable songs, all built around the presidential contest between Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland, of all things.
#269. The Godfather, Part III (1990)
Just as part of Hollywood mythology as Part II being the perfect sequel is that this one is an irredeemable dud, but it’s here where Al Pacino really gets to shine, really replaces Marlon Brando at the heart of the saga, as he attempts to go legit. But as with the rest of Michael Corleone’s life, it ain’t easy. Joe Mantegna, who went on to become Springfield’s most famous gangster in The Simpsons, is a standout. Sofia Coppola, who later became an acclaimed director, is the subject of much scorn in a minor supporting role, but she’s not really that bad. Sweetly innocent, really.
#270. Dead Poets Society (1989)
Combine the usual earnestness of Ethan Hawke with Robin Williams in one of his most charismatic performances, and you’ve got a winner.
#271. The Rundown (2003)
Dwayne Johnson has become a real movie star, even though audiences and filmmakers still don’t really know what to do with him. I would suggest they look no further than one of his earliest transition roles after his WWE career as The Rock. Among his excellent costars are Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken, and Seann William Scott, who similarly stole Cop Out last year. Seriously, when he’s gonna get a break?
#272. Highlander (1986)
One of the best cinematic mythologies, Christopher Lambert is an immortal trying to survive not only an untrusting world, but others like him. I do think this is one property ripe for a clarifying remake, but the original, with its Queen soundtrack, Sean Connery, and Clancy Brown, is equally immortal.
#273. Superman III (1983)
I think it helps not to take this one too seriously, because it is seriously good, maybe not in comparison to the heavy mythology of its predecessors, but Richard Pryor is absolutely worth the price of admission. If you think this was a huge failure, consider that Paramount had every intention of basically doing the same thing with Eddie Murphy in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home three years later.
#274. Man of la Mancha (1972)
Sophia Loren and Peter O’Toole lend star power to this musical adaptation of Don Quixote. I guess this movie doesn’t have a very good reputation, but as always, I don’t really care.
#275. Yellow Submarine (1968)
The only Beatles movie I have seen to date is appropriately surrealistic, and animated! I can’t imagine how its live action predecessors can possibly improve on this.