The T&C 100 - #s 11-19
19. Finding Nemo (2003)
Nemo is probably Pixar's most beautiful film, speaking purely in terms of the visuals. The shimmering water effects, the stylized, soft neon glow of the underwater plant life, the way that working with fish lets the animators employ remarkably elegant, balletic movement - all combine to produce a film that is just a sheer joy to look at. But this is Pixar, and so Nemo also scores as story. It's a simple story, to be sure (father loses son, father seeks son, father finds son), but within those classic parameters, the Pixar folks have managed to create a completely absorbing, emotionally tale. And the subtext, that to be a parent is to relinquish control of your offspring - even at the very real risk of tragic consequences - is handled deftly.
Favorite moment: Not the reunion between Nemo and Marlin itself, and not the moment when Marlin believes his just-found son to be dead, but the key moment in between - when Marlin realizes that he has to let his son try and help the fish caught in the net. And not for the fish, or but for Nemo.
18. The Incredibles (2004)
What a one-two punch! One year later, Pixar delivered one of the most joyous, clever, and thrilling superhero spectacles ever with The Incredibles. What I love most about this film is how it took the benefits CGI offers an animator - the real-feel of actual physics and three-dimensionality without the restrictions posed with real physics and logistics (the same benefits CGI artists for live action films take advantage of all the time) - and applied it to a superhero universe. So we get great superhero sequences, like Helen's escape from the trap, that echo what has been in the average superhero geek's imagination for years, and that would look goofy in live action, no matter how good the CGI. And, to repeat myself, all in the service of an ingenuously constructed, airtight, deeply felt story.
17. Children of Men (2006)
I think what grabbed me the most about this film is how well it achieves its goal of portraying what could have come across as a pretty standard grim 'n gritty dystopian future in a novel way. By producing the film almost in the first person - I believe (haven't rewatched yet, so I may be off) that pretty much every shot is seen from the Clive Owen character's point of view. not literally (the camera is not his eye), but in practice he is the focus of everything we see. And this gambit ties in perfectly into the movie's already-famous long, long tracking shots. Because everything is filtered through the Owens character's perceptions, it makes sense that there would be very little cutting. It's a dark film, and a sad one (it's only upon reflection that I realized how many of the main characters die), but an immensely powerful one.
Favorite moment. The long one-take scene of the main characters being ambushed by outlaws and then the police - a jaw dropping achievement.
16. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
This film never fails to me me, and deeply, even though I watch it every Christmas. If that's not the mark of a classic, what is? What I love about it is that the great, unfettered sentimentality at the end comes earned; not just by the what-could-have-been fantasy sequence, but by the sacrifices we see George willingly shoulder all his life.
Favorite moment. The way George says "I'm going to jail!" after he comes home at the end; the meaning Stewart gets into that line, the way he makes us know that George doesn't care what happens to him because he knows his family is whole again, just gets me every time.
15. A.I. (2001)
This film is remembered as a critical disappointment, and yet while it got a fair share of pretty harsh pans, many of the big film critics loved it, and it made quite a few estimable top ten lists at year's end. For me the movie rests on Haley Joel Osment's shoulders; had his performance been too cute, or too mannered (or not mannered enough) the whole edifice would have fallen. But he nails the difficult role of a robot that thinks it's real perfectly, and carries the movie with him. I also have tremendous fondness for John Williams' great score, which marries the Williams trademark brand of melodic inspiration and sweeping crescendo with the mechanical, minimalist style of Philip Glass - a perfect mix for this marriage of Spielberg's sentimentality and Kubrick's coldness.
Favorite moment. When Osment "transforms" into a "real" boy who loves his mother at the beginning; a moment that never fails to inspire awe. Just phenomenal acting.
14. Braveheart (1995)
It's fashionable to sneer at this film's status as a Best Picture winner, but I think that Gibson turned in a beautiful marriage of old-fashioned melodrama and a modern film vocabulary. And none of the many films that followed have equaled its battle scenes - in much the same way that Spielberg's Private Ryan redefined the way war battles are films, so did Braveheart for swords-and-shields battles.
Favorite moment. Wallace kills the man who killed his wife. I love how Gibson eschews histrionics (or macho stoicism) and underplays the moment, showing us how dead inside Wallace has become.
13. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
A beautiful, perfect opening chapter for the trilogy. I love how Jackson gives the story time to breathe, taking his time with introductions and exposition. And Ian McKellan is at his best here, playing the more mortal, human feeling version of Gandalf. Add the epic, completely realized effects and thrilling action and you have pretty much perfection - it's hard to think of this kind of film being done this well again.
Favorite moment. A repentant Boromir is hit by arrow after arrow as he buys the hobbits' safety.
12. Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Not spilling more digital ink over this one. Just click here.
Favorite moment. Obi-Wan defeats Anakin. A moment waited for for 28 years, executed perfectly.
11. Pulp Fiction (1994)
A since-unequaled mix of violence, humor, inspired storytelling, and just-stylized-enough acting. What's easy to forget, I think, is how much fun the film is visually as well - Tarantino can write, but he can direct as well, and this film is jammed full of great images and shots.
Favorite moment. Jackson's last speech before leaving the restaurant. Has he ever been this good since?