The T&C 100 - 80-89
Continuing my countdown of my 100 favorite (not the best - my favorite) films.
89. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
As good as Jim Carrey is in this film, it's Kate Winslet who really makes the movie. She's adorable, frustrating, off-putting and real, and she just commands the screen whenever she's on it. Of course, it's the twisty, inventive, Moebius-strip screenplay that's the real star, but it's worth highlighting that all of the inventiveness and formal play with structure is in service to a sweet, tender, and all-too real romance, and that it's the success of that romance - that oh-so-old-fashioned story - that allow the film to work.
Favorite moment--When we see that initial meeting on the bus again at the end, and realize the full import of what we saw in the beginning. A sterling example of the "show the audience something at the beginning and then call it back at the end, changing its meaning through new information.
88. Apollo 13 (1995)
Sometimes the best strategy is no strategy - Apollo 13 works as well as it does because it eschews fancy subtexts, framing devices, or other structural sleight-of-hand to just tell us, in a very straightforward, direct way, what happened, trusting that the suspense inherent in the story (and the audience's awareness of the story's truthfulness) is all that is needed. Add in rock-solid, non-showy performances from Ton Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, and Kathleen Quinlan, and perfectly pitched and economically used filming in real zero-g and you have a great, old-fashioned film.
Favorite moment: The elation in mission control when they get the image of the safely-landed astronauts.
87. Chasing Amy (1997)
The only Kevin Smith film in which his stunning inadequacies as a director are masked enough to let his stylized, original, and funny voice as a screenwriter shine. Ben Affleck may have never been better and Joey Lauren Adams is great in her specificity - she never connected as a real "star" precisely because she's so real. I see-saw on whether or not the whole "I must sleep with my best friend" ending is clever or completely contrived, but the rest of the movie feels organic and whole in a way none of Smith's other films do.
Favorite moment: The ending. I'd imagine there were forces (maybe even from Smith himself) pushing for more closure, but, like The Sopranos ending, ambiguity was absolutely called for.
86. Jerry Maguire (1996)
Another movie I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to hate, but Cruise is very, very good here, as is Zellweger. And Crowe does a very god job of keeping the love story as pretty much b-plot, and making the real plot more about Jerry himself and his struggle to change. And any movie that lets Bonnie Hunt do what she does best is doing something right.
Favorite moment: The clumsy and awkward, very naturalistic, seduction on the front steps after Jerry and Dorothy's date.
85. Boogie Nights (1997)
What I love about this film is how it doesn't moralize or glamorize the porn industry, but just portrays it in a very matter-of-fact way, while not shying away from the effect on the psyche that being a porn actor must have. And the cast is great, especially Julianne Moore (but when is she ever not good?).
Favorite moment: The Wahlberg character's first time on screen, and the way Julianne Moore plays the moment.
84. Superman II (1980)
As much as I might bemoan some of the more regrettable things in this film (the cellophane "S," the indulgence of too much heavy-handed comic relief, the cop out of an ending), the things it gets right (the big brawl in downtown New York, the emotion invested in Clark's decision to give up his powers, Margot Kidder's performance, the too-awesome-for words moment where Superman finally bows to Zod, in total silence, and then we hear a lone trumpet play the Superman theme, and we see Zod begin to grimace in pain as a still-powered Superman crushed his (Zod's) now-mortal hand) totally make up for them.
Favorite moment: I think I described it just now.
83. The Forty-Year Old Virgin (2005)
Sweet, raunchy, hilarious, touching, joy-inducing - this film is everything so many comedies--especially romantic comedies--try to be. And Steve Carrell puts in a performance for the ages, fully inhabiting the awkwardness, shyness, and clumsiness of the character.
Favorite moment: Music is used as a metaphor for orgasmic joy as Andy and the cast erupt into an extended song and dance number.
82. King Kong (2005)
I admit openly that this makes me a philistine - but in what way is the original superior to this remake? Kong is more of an actual character. The action is more intense and suspenseful. The acting is superior. The dialogue is less stilted and more natural. Maybe the score isn't as good. But, seriously, what else isn't? I think there's an odd tendency to lionize earlier special effects as more "authentic" than modern effects, as if a small puppet posed and photographed thousands of times is a more valid, "real" way of creating the illusion of a giant ape than animating a 3D model of an ape on a computer and inserting it into the film. They're both fake. The Kong in the original wasn't real, any more than the CGI version. But the second does a better job of creating the illusion of a real giant ape (as it should - if filmmakers hadn't figured out how to do a better job in 70 years that would be pretty sad, no?)
Favorite moment: Kong falls in love with Naomi Watts. (And all of the reviews that complained about the unspoken oddness of an animal loving a human have never seen a dog and its owner. Love doesn't have to be sexual. The Naomi Watts character loved Kong, and he she, but in much the same way that a human loves a faithful pet. And part of what I love about the film is that it doesn't hesitate to treat this kind of love with respect and awe.)
81. Glory (1989)
I honestly believe that this film would be half of what it is without James Horner's brilliant score. That much-commented on moment when the Denzel Washington character is whipped, and we see a single tear streak down his otherwise stoic face would lose a lot of its power without such wondrous music behind it. This film is one that, for me, really highlights the power music can have in film.
Favorite moment: Just described it.
80. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
The deliberate contrast drawn between the horrific violence that is a reality in our world and the dark and scary fantasy world of the little girls makes this movie. And del Toro's decision to not tip his hand, and not ever definitively tell us whether or not this fantasy world is real or not - and, by extension, whether or not the ending is triumphant or tragic - is the perfect one.
Favorite moment: The ending, with its juxtaposition of the tragic death of the little girl and her being received as royalty in the magic kingdom, and how neither reality is given favor over the other.