#301. Batman (1989)
I’m always a little surprised when I see how low I have ranked this one, because it’s not only a long-time favorite, but something of a touchstone (for instance, when it was originally released I found out that Robin wasn’t universally beloved) for my childhood. What keeps it down is its singular characterization of Batman, as something of more of a, shall we say, freak than I tend to think of him. This in itself is not surprisingly, given that the filmmaker in question is Tim Burton. But Jack Nicholson’s Joker really does overpower Batman, presence-wise. It’s not hard to see how much more interesting Burton finds his villain (which is even more true in Batman Returns with the Penguin. It’s a completely different way than Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger’s revelatory (and superior) Joker. Jack’s Joker is a glorified gangster, and not much of a clown, and that’s what I find interesting, and perhaps an inspiration for some of the later Batman comics, where gangsters really are prominent again (as they were originally, when Batman was created, when real gangsters were running around), and even Nolan’s movies. I love Kim Basinger, and the bold choice of Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, which even Burton didn’t know what to do with. I don’t know. I still don’t. I love this movie. But here it is, at least for the time being.
#302. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
The last listed of the Potter films, possibly because it’s not Harry who really stands out, but Kenneth Branagh’s Gilderoy Lockheart who truly dominates, as well as Jason Isaacs, and Doby. Loads of critics blame Chris Columbus for the first two films seeming too much like kid material. The truth is, the first two books really are. It’s in the second film where Columbus is the one capable of seeing what’s there to elevate it to more adult interests, and it’s loopy Lockheart, who really isn’t much of a character (though I still loved him, and wished he’d made more than just a glorified cameo later on), and Branagh, who are up to the task. At this point, you must remember, J.K. Rowling had only published the first four books. While a definite turns take place in the third one, it isn’t until the fifth one where real maturity begins to develop. One might argue that Columbus is owed more credit than he’s been given in shaping the legacy of this franchise. Then again, here I am, listing this one pretty low, too…
#303. Valentine’s Day (2010)
Speaking of movies without a lot of critical support, I guess because the filmmaker was Garry Marshall, who had previously made the iconic ‘Pretty Woman’ (which I still haven’t seen), a little too much pressure was placed on this one. The truth is, it’s magical. The cast alone is magical, even if not everyone sees it that way: Ashton Kutcher (who is basically the lead actor, and carries it better than a lot of the movies Hollywood has put him in), Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper & Eric Dane (involved in a wicked twist), Patrick Dempsey (maintaining a cinematic record as a douche bag, the complete opposite of McDreamy), Jennifer Garner (with a really sweet subplot), Topher Grace (who like Kutcher and Mila Kunis has been struggling to finally establish his movie bona fides), Anne Hathaway, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Emma Roberts, Taylor Swift, and yes, Julia Roberts. He’s Just Not That Into You from a year previous used the ensemble/vignette formula almost as well, but this one really nails it, with a perfect romantic formula (and gimmick).
#304. Spaceballs (1987)
I mentioned the love for Mel Brooks earlier, and so this one doesn’t need a lot of explanation. Probably the most pure Mel Brooks experience possible, with enough of an excuse for a plot and parody to pull off a lot of nonsense. Bill Pullman probably deserves to have a little more big credits to his name, but he could do worse than this and Independence Day.
#305. Amistad (1997)
Spielberg somehow didn’t get a lot of love for this one, possibly because it seemed a little too obvious, but it’s still great and continually relevant drama, gave Hollywood Djimon Hounsou, allowed Matthew McConaughey to give one of his great lawyer performances, and let Anthony Hopkins walk around as John Quincy Adams, a forgotten but pivotal member of US history, which this film helps to illuminate. What more could you ask for?
#306. Jerry Maguire (1996)
One of Tom Cruise’s unqualified hits, and perhaps the one that will truly endure, is a modern romantic classic. Renee Zellweger made a palpable mark in this one, and led to an extended run that has only recently fizzled, while Cuba Gooding, Jr. scores big in his perfect role. If only other films or audiences had been as kind to him, he might still be relevant. Considering what happened to Cruise’s career, you might consider something of a Jerry Maguire curse to exist…
#307. Malcolm X (1992)
This is another movie I’m still trying to digest, but I know this much: Malcolm X is an important film; it’s Spike Lee’s best film; and, possibly, Denzel Washington’s best as well.
#308. Good Will Hunting (1997)
The movie that officially announced the careers of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck was a hard one for both of them to live down, or rather, live up to. Robin Williams is there to support them in one of his last truly great dramatic roles.
#309. Rosewood (1997)
Think of this as the period Malcolm X, only instead of a historical figure, replace it with a mythical hero archetype played by Ving Rhames, in probably his most significant performance, supported by a host of talented folks, including Jon Voight, Don Cheadle, and Bruce McGill.
#310. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
There are so many talented actors supporting Spielberg’s epic vision of WWII that I can list them and that’ll be enough: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel (yes, talented), Ted Danson, Jeremy Davies, Paul Giamatti, more.
#311. Batman Forever (1995)
What a lot of fans consider the beginning of Joel Schumacher’s Folly is a treasured moment in my formative years. Keep in mind that I am a big fan of Jim Carrey, and Batman’s not too bad, either. In fact, there’s not a lot of Batman here at all, really. Val Kilmer gets to play Bruce Wayne, a lot more than Michael Keaton did (and mind you, I liked Keaton, too), and opposite Nicole Kidman, who perhaps has less of a character than Kim Basinger or Michelle Pfeiffer before her, but smolders enough for all three. But the real star and attraction for me is Robin, whose story is related through Chris O’Donnell, who may be far too old to represent the traditional version of Dick Grayson’s own formative years, but it works for this movie, and that’s all that counts.
#312. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, and Keanu Reeves, plus some dude named Francis Ford Coppola present a lively and expansive version of the familiar story, famous at the time, mostly for radically breaking off from Hollywood tradition, but deserving of another look, since it still holds up.
#313. Aladdin (1992)
Part of the Disney animation renaissance that…quickly ushered in the Pixar era (hard to believe, but Toy Story was only three years away) and a treasured peace of my childhood, and still enjoyable now, thanks to Rob Williams as the unhinged Genie, plus Iago, as voiced by Gilbert Gottfried.
#314. Bad Boys (1995)
Will Smith’s cinematic breakthrough was a buddy flick with Martin Lawrence and Tea Leoni. This film may or may not also be responsible for Michael Bay.
#315. Rush Hour (1998)
This is another buddy flick, pairing Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, who decided to hang his entire Hollywood career on this franchise. He could have done worse.
#316. Batman and Robin (1998)
Okay, now that you sat through my justification of Batman Forever, what could I possibly say to redeem this one? Well, for starters, what I was saying about Val Kilmer, multiply that by at least two for George Clooney, because until Christian Bale, no one made a more credible Bruce Wayne/Batman than Clooney, who was at this point still trying to convince people that he was a movie star. Maybe this particular film wasn’t the best argument, but Clooney himself is typically impeccable. There’s also Michael Gough’s best turn as Alfred; the only actor (besides Pat Hingle, but that was a Commissioner Gordon who was irredeemably superfluous almost from the start) to appear in all four Batman flicks prior to Christopher Nolan’s relaunch. I’m not talking about the appearance of Alicia Silverstone as Alfred’s niece and eventual Batgirl. She manages to spoil Chris O’Donnell’s Robin. No, I’m talking about his health crisis, which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comically poignant Mr. Freeze inadvertently resolves. Uma Thurman is pretty game as a silly Poison Ivy. She makes both Batman and Robin themselves more relevant than any other element of the movie.
#317. Home Alone (1990)
This Christmas classic and origin of Macauley Culkin’s brief superstardom…actually, that’s pretty much it right there.
#318. Die Hard (1988)
Alan Rickman really shines in this movie. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, or Rickman, but you might check it out. Also, I think Bruce Willis began his movie career in it.
#319. Elizabeth (1998)
A riveting piece of drama that helped launch the career of Cate Blanchett, but has mostly been forgotten, even though it eventually led to a sequel, which is pretty rare for period pieces, and even more rare for period pieces starring women. That’s how awesome Cate Blanchett is.
#320. The Alamo (2004)
Dennis Quaid, Jason Patric, Billy Bob Thornton, and others finally made the movie that more famous people couldn’t, and that might account for why it isn’t better known, because critics probably lamented for what could have been, and, well, audiences only sometimes care about period flicks.
#321. Young Guns (1988)
For instance, audiences definitely cared when a bunch of hot young actors starred in this game effort at revitalizing the Western. What it really did was feature a bunch of hot young actors. But it’s actually still perfectly safe to view for anyone who loves movies.
#322. Syriana (2005)
Only when he really started to lean into politics did critics give George Clooney some love, and gosh darn it, they did have a good option to go with.
#323. The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
Lost in all the mockery of Marlon Brando was the fact that David Thewlis was actually the star of this, and that would-be Brando, Val Kilmer, was a co-star. The truth behind the mockery also spells that Brando used this as another of his platforms to comment on the human condition, and his unique vantage point. But mockery is so much more fun!
#324. Salvador (1986)
This early and little-known Oliver Stone flick is pretty fascinating, and gives both James Woods and Jim Belushi (yes, that one) career performances.
#325. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Though I was technically two years old when this movie was released, I grew up more with its reputation than an actual experience with it, since I didn’t see it until many years later. But stands on record as being one of the few films to elicit tears from me, when it appears that the little guy has died. That’s movie magic, folks.