It’s time once again for an entry in the ongoing 100 Greatest Films Ever Made series. In our last entry, we covered #100-91, starting our list off right with a couple oldies and quite a few new entries. This week we’ll be seeing films from the Classic 70s, a couple of loving musicals from the 60s, an 80s classic, and more than a few game-changers, from the 60s to 2014. It should be a fun journey.
Before we begin, however, I do have one apology I’d like to make. My original plan was to have each of these articles up for the Wednesday Listicle every week. However, as I learned with the last article, as well as this one, these articles are a lot more lengthy and detailed than I imagined going into this. So while I still plan to have a new entry every week, there will be times where that just isn’t possible, and if that point should arrive in the near future, please accept my apologies.
I would also like to clarify something that will be worth noting in this edition of the list, as well as an upcoming edition: there are some films that were released in two or more parts that will earn one spot on the list. This does not apply to all movies and their sequels. It only applies to certain films that were cut into halves or parts and released individually, when in reality they should be looked at as one cohesive narrative, uncut and uninterrupted. This isn’t to say that each part cannot stand on its own-indeed, if that were the case, I would not have considered it for this list. That just means that to get the proper experience out of the screening, they should be paired together and watched straight through, be it four hours or fourteen. I’ll make sure to note which “part” of the film I consider the best in each case, though, for your benefit.
90. Mean Streets (1974)
Martin Scorsese is a name I’m sure you’re all familiar with. I mean, he’s given us no less than six classic movies (half of which will likely be appearing on this list). However, I don’t think there are many films in his canon that sum up the themes he enjoys working with quite like his first breakout hit, Mean Streets. Mean Streets has all the ideas and traits that would later make Scorsese a legend, but delivered in a tighter, leaner story that gets to the heart of what he’s trying to say. I mean, you could literally sum up his entire career with the opening montage, set to The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” as the characters engage in different levels of criminal activity. However, more importantly, this is the place where Scorsese first used his movies to explore the only two things he’s ever truly known or loved: the mob and religion. You see, Scorsese grew up on the streets of New York as an Italian Catholic boy, which left him with two options: either become a gangster or become a priest. And while we know he created a third option of his own, most people don’t realize that he was this close to choosing the latter. All of Scorsese’s films deal with how we, as humans, deal with our sin and our flaws in the face of God. And nowhere is this more clear than in Mean Streets, where main character Charlie must deal with his own sin as he tries to balance his faith, his family, and his friends. You see, whichever one he chooses will force him to give up on the other two. If he chooses faith (his only true love), he must give up the only life he’s ever known, as well as his family and friends. If he chooses family, he’s embracing a life in the mob, but choosing a life of sin and forced to abandon the only people to truly care about him, his friends. And if he chooses his friends, he will still be living in sin, as well as losing the love and security that comes with his familial ties. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation, and watching Charlie balance it is the heart of the film. It’s the very reason the opening line is, “You don’t make up for your sins in a church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. All the rest is bullsh*t and you know it.” The real penance for your sin isn’t the traditional ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys. It’s the day-to-day consequences that come as a result of your actions. Hell, the film’s so laced in these religious themes, the action of the movie literally forces them onto steps of the church. It’s a film laced with all sorts of religious, moral, and social context, all packed into a thrilling 114 minutes. And that’s what makes Mean Streets so compelling.
Well, that, and the great performances captured with electrifying, game changing editing. Harvey Keitel wows in his breakthrough role as main character Charlie, and he very carefully and skillfully carries the film on his shoulders. His constant use of flame after each and every sin represents his preparation for the flames of Hell, where he is sure he’s headed, and it makes for one of Scorsese’s most compelling protagonists (he’s certainly more compelling than Ray Liotta in Goodfellas). He’s surrounded by talented actors and actresses, including domineering uncle Cesare Danova, scumbag Richard Romanus, and especially Amy Robinson as Charlie’s star-crossed love interest Teresa. Amy plays Teresa as properly lovable, an outcast due to her epilepsy, seen as a sign of insanity and the devil by the hypocritically religious. Hell, even the man she loves (and who truly loves her) isn’t capable of opening his heart completely-all he can give her is physical love, forcing them further into the sin they are trying to avoid. However, if there’s anyone that truly makes this movie, it’s Robert De Niro as Johnny Boy. From the minute he burst onto the screen, blowing up a mailbox, it was clear that De Niro was going to be a star. He embodied that deranged energy that made him famous and earned him two Oscars, and his wild card nature ends up making the movie, both from an entertainment standpoint and from a thematic standpoint. He’s the id to Charlie’s superego, the reason that Charlie is always finding himself in trouble, and the reason that Charlie has to consistently sacrificing his own well-being for the sake of his friend. This may have been Scorsese’s third film, but it’s the first one that truly made him a star, and it’s the first of many that will be making an appearance on this list.
89. Mary Poppins (1964)
Honestly, who doesn’t love Mary Poppins? Old man Disney didn’t make many live action films (especially after the disastrous results of Song of the South), but when he finally brought P.L. Travers’ books to life on the big screen, he made literal magic happen. The magic isn’t only found in the special effects, bringing cartoons and flying and never-ending bags to life, it’s found in the music, and the acting, and especially the story. For this isn’t some humdrum tale of some nanny coming to teach kids how to be good. This is a deep, complex story about Julie F*cking Andrews (who may, very well, actually possess the magical powers of her character in real life) coming from the winds to help a family come back together-not just by taming the children through the channeling of their energy towards kindness and good heartedness, but reminding the parents of that joy and energy that made them good people. That’s what it’s all about, when you boil it down to its roots: the importance of being a decent human being, and the inherent innocence of childhood. Indeed, the entire film could be a representation of Mary’s lessons through the eyes of the children. Whether or not she actually performs the magic the children see is irrelevant (although really, really cool)-the fact of the matter is she makes chores fun for the children and teaches them lessons for being kinder to their parents and giving to the poor. Meanwhile, she helps uber-conservative father and proto-liberal mom remember the importance of spending time with the ones you love and just finding the simple joys in life. Sure, we may want to be Jane and Michael, going on the adventures with the flying nanny, whether for an afternoon inside a cartoon drawing or for a dance along the rooftops with the chimney sweeps, but the real lessons here are for the mom and dad who don’t remember to spend time with their kids (side note, can we address the fact that this is a kid’s movie about a bank that literally robs people and has a major subplot about the bank/family causing a near economic downturn? Who does that? I mean that in the best possible way). It’s a sweet, wholesome message delivered in an overall practically perfect way.
And I do mean practically perfect in every way. Direction by Robert Stevenson is absolutely sublime, and the textures, costumes, and cinematography pop off the screen and bring the magic to life. Of course, that magic isn’t possible without right proper special effects, and Poppins has these in abundance. Sure, not every effect holds up (the last about fifteen to twenty seconds of “Spoonful of Sugar” are hard to watch), but when you can convince me in 2017 that these characters are dancing with animated penguins and possess bottomless bags, you’ve done incredible work. The makeup doesn’t necessarily seem stunning, until you remember that Navckid Keyd is a pseudonym for Dick Van Dyke playing an ancient man and you really don’t recognize him. And then there’s the music, which is really the most impressive of all time. I’m referring to the score, which sends a chill down my spine every time Mr. Banks takes his infamous walk into the night (one of the most beautiful shots in film history), but let’s face it, when you think Mary Poppins, you think of the songs. You think “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee” (which is great, but the Oscar should have gone to several others), “Stay Awake” (the favorite song of famous pessimistic author P.L. Travers), “Feed The Birds,” “Jolly Holiday,” the recently beloved “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Step In Time,” the creepy-ass bank song (official title “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank”), and, of course, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (so famous that I spelled it right on the first try, AND my spell check recognizes it). The work that Robert and Richard Sherman did on these songs is an absolute wonder, and it helps that they are in the hands of true stars in this cast. Granted, child actors Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber are merely passable, but they’re still the go-to in your mind when you think of beloved child performances in film. I’m more shocked at the supporting cast of this film, which includes British and American character actors Elsa Lanchester, Ed Wynn, Arthur Malet, and Jane Darwell. I wish Glynis Johns and her proto-feminist (well, she tries) mother character had more screentime and a bit more fleshing out, but hey, she’s still a fascinating character in a 1960s kids movie. And I tip my cap to David Tomlison, the secret heart of the film, who makes George Banks memorable and lovable even underneath his disciplined and rigid nature. While the filmmaking can make The Walk legendary, it goes nowhere without Tomlison’s performance (side note, that walk leads to a dressing down by his bank commanders that is simultaneously satirical, depressing and ridiculous in all the best ways). However, let’s face it, you don’t really care about the family or the side characters. You’re here for Mary and Bert, the only two characters you remember. I won’t lie to you: Dick Van Dyke’s accent as Bert is one of the worst in film history. It’s awful. But that doesn’t make you dislike his wonderful, limber performance as Mary’s one true friend-or take away from his great songs. And then there’s Mary. It’s always been Mary. Julie Andrews gives one of cinema’s greatest performances as Mary-authoritative, stern, loving, kind, and above all, magical, both metaphorically and literally. When she walks, talks, sings, or, quite frankly, does anything, you feel the magic in the air that is her character, bringing to life a larger-than character. Look, if a film can stick with you from childhood to adulthood, and still be as great as you remember, that’s usually a sign you’re dealing with a classic film (unless you have terrible taste). So if you’re reading this and thinking back to your childhood, remembering, “Wow, Mary Poppins was an incredible film,” then congratulations, you understand why it is one of the greatest films ever made. If not, go watch it again, and report back to me.
88. Kill Bill (2003, 2004)
It may not have changed things the way his magnum opus did (trust me, we’ll get to that film), but Kill Bill will always be Quentin Tarantino’s most ambitious, creative project. This is because he’s working with such a sprawling story, filled with several genres, hundreds of delicious characters, and thousands of brilliant one-liners. A Western-samurai-martial arts-thriller-B-list-grindhouse-exploitation-anime mash-up, Kill Bill is designed to give audiences everything they’ve ever desired in a movie: a badass hero going on a quest to kill as many bad guys as possible in the most gruesome of ways. It’s a film only the truest of film fans can appreciate, because almost every sequence is a reference to a classic film. But that’s a bit of a reductive statement, because even if you haven’t seen the works of the wuxia genre, or the Japanese film Battle Royale, or a Blaxploitation film, you can still find something to appreciate about Tarantino’s workmanship. He provides several fantastic fight sequences to munch on, filled with backstory to explain his heroine’s quest, and a thrilling story you care about. When you combine this with terrific cinematography, great editing, a strong production design, a fantastic soundtrack, and great acting, from the villains to the heroine, you end up with a truly wonderful cinematic experience.
Oh, and while we’re talking about all of this, how great is it he gave this role to a woman? Most other directors would assume audiences would want to see another Joe-Shmo kicking ass and taking names, and while there’s nothing wrong with any of those films, there’s something extra-incredible about watching The Bride get a chance to sever limbs and execute creepy hospital nurses. Perhaps the reason it feels so cool is because of Uma Thurman’s performance as The Bride. She’s cool, suave, smart, tough, and pretty, all at the same time. She’s someone you want to root for in her quest for revenge, thanks to her sharp tongue and sharper blade. It helps that she’s surrounded by such great side characters, including Daryl Hannah as a rival assassin, Vivica A. Fox as Vernita Green (her fight scene with Thurman is a highlight of the film), Gordon Liu as Pai Mei, one of cinema’s most hilarious and fascinating kung fu masters, and, perhaps above all, David Carradine as the eponymous Bill and Lucy Liu as Yakuza leader O-Ren Ishii. Carradine gives Bill a slimy, yet charming sheen that makes you feel for him while also hoping that the Bride will get her revenge. Meanwhile, O-Ren is perhaps the coolest villain of the bunch. Filled with a rich backstory just as tragic as the Bride’s, she’s the only one you feel for in the Bride’s quest for revenge. Of course, it helps that she has a team of 88 henchmen at her disposal, leading to one of the greatest scenes in film history, when the Bride battles them all in one glorious black and white sequence. This is an example of a film that looks cool, feels cool, and is cool, while simultaneously being artistically and aesthetically challenging. If you have to pick one out of the two, I’d say Vol. 1 is the more entertaining/artistically cool of the bunch, but you don’t get the full experience if you don’t watch them back to back. Watching Tarantino play in this sandbox is one of the most enjoyable four hours you will ever spend.
87. Back To The Future (1985)
I made it abundantly clear when I started this list that part of my goal was to give recognition to absolutely stellar films that don’t often get the praise they deserve from lists such as this. One of the key films that inspired this decision was Back to the Future. Sure, it may not be the first to come to mind when it comes to classic films, but think about it: is there anything you really dislike about this movie? Is there anybody who could dislike it? Of course not, because this movie is perfect. It knows exactly how, when, and in what ways to make a great story in a fun manner that speaks to a generation. Back to the Future is the perfect example of creating great characters, putting them through a twist on a cliché (going back in time), and then flipping the narrative. You see, there are hundreds of films about going back in time and having to get back to the present. Hell, there are even dozens of films surrounding meeting your parents/grandparents/etc. However, while Back to the Future sets up its premise to follow this plotline, it decides to take an amazing detour that changes everything: that Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) has diverted his parents’ meeting, and thus set a course to erase himself from existence. What’s more, Marty has averted his mother’s affections away from his father…towards himself! This is one twisted, disturbing, odd premise-and it’s absolutely brilliant, hilarious, and game-changing. It also allows for the twist on the “parents just don’t understand” plotline by showing the teenager shocked that his parents aren’t the sticks in the mud he imagined them to be (well, his father is, but we’ll get to that). His goody-two shoes mother was, in fact, wild, crazy, and sex-starved. In many ways, she’s a predecessor for the teens in an 80s movie. It’s a reminder to both parents and kids that they aren’t so different in the long haul, having experienced the same emotions, opinions, and what not at the age of sixteen. Of course, there’s light humor about the changes over the course of thirty years, ranging from a joke about the president (“Ronald Reagan? The actor? Who’s the vice president, Jerry Lewis?!?” Incidentally, this joke was so popular to the man himself, they had to rewind the movie in the White House) to a brilliant scene where Marty McFly plays classic 50s music and inadvertently invents it (“Yo, Chuck, it’s your cousin, Marvin…”), but there’s also some sharper satire. You can bet that it’s intentionally a critique of small town America in the 50s through the 80s that the bully ends up muscling his way to a better life down the road, and as great a character as Lorraine Baines-McFly is, her treatment by the males in her life all around is pretty heinous. No wonder she falls in love with her son. It’s a pretty blatant critique of the “Greatest Generation,” as well as of the lasting effects of their ideals throughout time.
However, I don’t want to go too far into the social, historical critiques of this film, because above all, it’s just good fun. It’s funny, it’s witty, and it’s great writing and directing, thanks to the great Robert Zemeckis. He made a film that flipped the script, literally, on how to tell a time travel story (I went on about the twists on the genre, but let’s not forget that the time machine is a bad ass car), one that featured great one-liners, and one that was filled with callbacks to the more nostalgically inclined. And let’s not forget that it has one of the sharpest casts in film history. If I were to make a ranking of the greatest teenagers in film history (something I don’t want to give away the farm on, in case I do that in the future), I would have to say that Fox’s Marty McFly would be one of the top three, if not number one. He’s the perfect balance between cool and nerd, someone that can make the audience relate to while still being something of an underdog. Plus, his confused reactions are A+. His teenage parentals are played to perfection by Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover. Glover’s role is properly nerdy, and while Glover may be just a tad too creepy to make George McFly a great hero, when he does step up at the end of the film, man, do you want to cheer. Meanwhile, Thompson is sweet, sexy, funny, smart, and incredible, all at once, making her a star to watch coming off this film (warning to all rising actors: under no circumstances should you hang your stardom hopes on anything titled Howard the Duck). Fox interacting with the two makes for the comedy of the film, and speak to its success. Then there’s the villain, and boy does Thomas F. Wilson set the bar high when it comes to teenage bullies. In many ways he’s a predecessor for Gaston in Beauty and the Beast: a dumb jock who starts out as the town hero, only to watch his personality fall further and further until he’s an absolute monster (not that he’s very likable to begin with-him falling into manure is a laugh-out-loud moment), and rooting for his downfall could not be more enjoyable. But I’ve obviously saved the best for last, and that would be Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown. If you go back and watch this film, you’d be surprised how little Doc actually appears on screen, and that’s a testament to Lloyd’s talent. He only shows up sporadically to explain the plot and declare “Great Scott!” while making a funny face, as well as to set things in motion (people often forget that this movie opens with his death), but the fact he’s what you remember most from it is a testament to how brilliant a performance it is. He’s sort of like Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector, Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice, or Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth-they’re barely in their films, but dammit if they aren’t what you remember about it. It’s one of my favorite performances of all time, and his physical performance is almost solely the reason I feel the urge to clap during the truly cheer-worthy finale. There are certain films I consider True Cinematic Experiences-films that have something that appeals to everyone, captivate their audience, and just all-around rock. I truly believe that Back to the Future is not only one of those films; it is the epitome of them.
86. Toy Story (1995)
Animation gets a bum rap. Because it’s mostly meant to appeal to children, it is deemed the home of “children’s films,” and often forgotten from the conversation as “juvenile.” This is a stupid argument; we don’t forget about To Kill A Mockingbird just because it is a YA novel. Art is art, regardless of who’s making it or who it is for, and it’s capable of transporting us to just as incredible a world as any other film, if not more so-you can’t be quite as spectacular with real world limitations. So to commemorate the world of animation (there are two more films on the way, and they won’t be what you expect), I will be starting this off with the groundbreaking selection: Toy Story. Disney was famous for making films for kids, and they certainly have many great films that can be appreciated by children and adults alike (Beauty and the Beast is probably the best example of this), but it wasn’t until they “purchased” Pixar (I’ll save my rant on this for later) that they began to realize that the best films would be adult films made for children-after all, it worked for many great live-action films (the most famous of which will be in the Top Ten), so why not try it with animation? And so they made an animated film that was as much for adults as it was for kids. For Toy Story is not what you’d typically expect when you describe a kids film. It’s the story of two ideologically different beings-one of whom is being forced out by the other as “outdated” and “old”-who are forced to work together to return home and escape a sociopath. What’s more, the hero of the film literally tries to kill his rival. These are not things that appear in the mostly morally upright world of children’s entertainment. It’s even stranger when you learn this little drama is playing out in a world inhabited by toys, and they go inanimate whenever a human being enters the room. And yet, Pixar made a name for themselves by doing just that: taking strange ideas, complex with adult ideas and morals, and boiling them down for kids, as well as providing smart, intelligent dialogue and lessons, something that has been void in children’s entertainment during recent years. This alone would be enough to earn it a spot on this list, but wait-there’s more! It also decided to revolutionize the world of CGI animation. And sure, looking at what Pixar can do now (literally create photorealistic water and animal animation), the work they performed on their original breakthrough is a little…meh. However, any and all good critics would provide points for the original breakthrough, and as it was the original, a little coarseness around the edges of the screen are acceptable if you can still make ingenious designs for a cowboy and an alien driving a remote controlled racecar down the street. I honestly don’t remember a more joyful moment in all of my childhood viewings than when Buzz ejects his wings and finally flies as a score by Randy Newman bursts from the screen (yes, he’s a ridiculous musician, but it’s an undeniably great score, with great songs from “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” to the personally-infuriating-thanks-to-a-friend “I Will Go Sailing No More”), and the fact that Pixar managed to make anyone, from dumb kids to grown adults, actually want to cheer for normally inanimate objects (or cry, but that comes in Part 3) is an impressive feat.
Of course, Toy Story would never come to life (I’m so sorry) if it weren’t for the incredible voice cast. I’ll get to the leads in a moment, but let’s take a moment to look at the fantastic supporting roles. The humans gave us the innocence of the unknown in John Morris, who brings young Andy to life, the kindness of Laurie Metcalf, who makes Mrs. Davis a loving presence for her son and his toys, and the monstrosity of Erik von Detten (who grew up to be the hunk in The Princess Diaries), who provides the voice of sinister evil in Sid, a young Patrick Bateman without the brains. But it’s the toys that earn our sympathies. From R. Lee Ermey as Sarge the Green Army Man (even as a child with no knowledge of Ermey’s military history or Full Metal Jacket, you know this is great casting) to Annie Potts as Bo Peep (a sweet contrast to her normally sarcastic typecasting), and from John Ratzenberger’s Cliff-esque Hamm to Jim Varney’s lovably Western Slink Dog, each toy has a memorable personality and voice. My personal favorites include Wallace Shawn going against type as the timid, yet lovable Rex, ironically a T-Rex, and the incomparable Mr. Potato Head, a crotchety version of the real life toy, who’s vocalist, the inimitable Don Rickles, passed away in the midst of writing this article (a devastating blow, I assure you). And yet, as great as all of these side characters are (world-building is Pixar’s strong suit), it’s the two leads we root for. Tim Allen is the perfect actor to play the wonder that is Buzz Lightyear. Allen’s schtick has always been idiotic machismo, creating a character we root for while also knowing that his macho personality remains empty of actual worldliness, which lends perfectly to the act-first-and-think-never Buzz, who remains blissfully unaware of his status as a toy. And yet, while this type of character would often be infuriating, he instead remains lovable, and there’s a reason Allen’s delivery of “To Infinity And Beyond!” is one of the most famous lines in film history (maybe the last famous line in film history…). But this is a film that revolves around Tom Hanks’ Woody, and can you blame it? He’s the more interesting character, by far. In fact, he’s both the protagonist and the villain, at least for the first half. Infuriated, jealous, and cynical for much of the first half of the movie, this is a character that would be evil in a lesser movie. And yet Pixar-and Hanks himself-understand that great characters are much more complicated in real life, never wholly good or wholly bad, and that’s how they paint Woody. He may try to murder his counterpart and act quite awfully for the beginning of the film, but his ability to learn, empathize, and grow are why he’s one of our heroes, and perhaps the best role model children can have. Sure, there are Pixar films I like better than the original Toy Story, and there are films that objectively look better, but as a promise of what’s to come, a marvel of true achievement, and an example of how to create great characters for all ages, Toy Story has established itself as one of the greatest films of all time.
85. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Truth be told, I actually prefer Ken Kesey’s original novel to the film-Kesey’s story is more of a sprawling epic as compared to the simplicity of Miloš Forman’s movie. However, just because a movie is simple doesn’t mean it’s bad. Indeed, by cutting the story down into his version, instead of trying to be faithful to the novel, Forman managed to craft a much tighter and much more personal battle between the establishment and the outsiders-a powerful message in 1975, when the movements of the 60s were realizing they had lost to a man who would leave the office of the presidency in disgrace. You can find several parallels in the story between the 60s rebels, those of the Civil Rights, Gay Rights, and Peace movements, represented in the aptly named Randle P. McMurphy (R.P.M.-a revolution. Get it?), and the “conformist” establishment of Richard Nixon, who made it his personal mission to break down and destroy the “hippies” who had ruled before, represented in the fearsome (and aptly named) Nurse Ratched. It’s telling that in her quest to control her society, Ratched refuses or eliminates all activities that are known to represent freedom-television, basketball, parties, and fishing, and uses her surveillance abilities to snoop on those she is supposed to help-an act that reflects the world of Watergate and the infamous “Enemies List.” It’s also telling that, just like in real life, the hippies lose. There is hope, yes, but our hero ends the film forced to watch his friends be tortured into suicide (a popular technique of famous historical assh*le J. Edgar Hoover), himself forced into electroshock, and eventually lobotomized, a metaphorical “ultimate goal” of the 70s shift. Not exactly an upper movie. However, it somehow still feels uplifting, and maintains a message of hope. Sure, the 60s lost, but the ideas are still planted, never to be fully defeated. They are carried on in Chief Bromden and the merry band of “insane beings” that McMurphy inspired (I prefer the term “Merry Pranksters,” personally), as well as the audience privy to the film’s message. They are the ones meant to hear Mac’s call, and they are the ones expected to carry on the fight against the Nurse Ratcheds of the world.
In a film this metaphorical, the performances need to be spot on in order to make it work, and luckily, Forman put together a dream team. They perfectly embodied their characters and their themes, from their acting to their posture (Mac is loose and wild, Ratched is upright and rigid). Hell, even their costumes were perfect-Mac is dressed in loose, disheveled clothes and topped off with a knit cap, while Ratched is dressed in uniform white without a single noticeable flaw; it’s conformity at its best. Honestly, there are few performances in history as memorable as Jack Nicholson as Randle and Louise Fletcher as Ratched. Nicholson’s natural rebelliousness shines through in every scene, and he has rarely been better as the man who inspires freedom amongst the patients. Meanwhile, Fletcher’s monotonous and sinister tone instills fear and suppression in all who hear it, including the audience. She creates one of the most intimidating villains in history, carrying the weight of the symbolism and the terror with ease. And while the two leads are the ones to draw the most focus, let’s not forget the series of patients that add to the film’s talent: Christopher Lloyd, Sydney Lassick, William Redfield, Danny DeVito, and especially Will Sampson and Brad Dourif. As Mac’s key disciples, Sampson’s Chief is a symbol of inspiration the same way Dourif is a symbol of the film’s heart. Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the three films that won the Big Five at the Oscars-Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay-and when you watch it, even if you aren’t aware of the times it was released in, you still can appreciate it for the masterpiece that it was.
84. The Sound of Music (1965)
Man, what a triumph of a movie. From the moment it came out, it was a pop culture staple. The Academy loved it, people imitated it, and it broke Gone With the Wind’s record as the highest grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation, it’s still in the top five). And this is all rightly so, because The Sound of Music is a master class in every craft of filmmaking. You are already aware of the talent you’re dealing with the minute the camera pans down as the music swells, transforming from gorgeously wide shots of nature-the beauty of the beloved Austria that inspires and binds one of cinema’s favorite couples-into a close up of a twirling Julie Andrews belting about “the sound of music.” It’s an electrifying opening that never lets up after that fantastic first scene. The audience is regaled with a story of love, hope, family, music, the beauty of nature, and fighting for what’s right, led by a strong, passionate, angel-voiced woman as she manages to teach her children to find the joy in life and teach her boss/future husband both the importance of living and the importance of standing up for goodness. For every scene about the importance of music as an expression of joy and of finding the wonders of nature, there’s a reminder of standing up against the upcoming evil that is Nazi Germany, even as those you know and love may turn against you. The threat of Nazism looms over the film at every turn, from a flag to an arm band to a twist on the song “Edelweiss” (listen to the hope of the first version when compared to the hopelessness of the reprise-it’s haunting). However, where as other films may make this a larger, darker focus, it is used here as a mode of triumph-the idea that a family sticking together and relying on their faith, their music, and each other, they can refuse the ultimate evil was the type of uplifting message people needed when trying to comprehend the terrors of the actual events to come. On top of the uplifting message and story, the film proved itself a master of the crafts. The sets, from the abbey to the mansion, are each stunning and memorable, living in your memory even years after you’ve seen the film, and work perfectly opposite the actual locations and mountains that the cast and crew filmed on. Each set is gorgeously shot with some of the best cinematography in history and cut together seamlessly, from the wide shots of mountains to the intimate lighting of the gazebo at night. And then there’s the score. It’s no secret that Rodgers and Hammerstein are amongst the greatest composers to ever live, and it’s clear why in the work they do here. From the eponymous song to the beautiful “My Favorite Things,” from the hummable “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” to the oddness of “The Lonely Goatherd,” and of course climaxing in the phenomenal “Do-Re-Mi.” Each song is elegant and memorable, pretty much creating the Great Theatre Songbook, creating arguably the ultimate movie musical.
And then there’s the cast. As mentioned, Andrews shows up to prove that she may be absolute perfection, making Maria one of cinema’s favorite heroines (and pulling off that stylish bowl cut, something I never thought I’d say), and she’s joined in the theatrical training by the great Christopher Plummer. Plummer may have hated every day he had to make this “sappy little film,” and he may have been drunk during half the filming, but you’d never know it from his dry, sarcastic, and loving performance. He commands the screen, and even if that isn’t his voice singing, “Edelweiss” doesn’t work without his facial tics. Speaking of “not doing their own singing,” let’s talk about the children. Sure, they hired a children’s choir to sing all of the big songs, but like Plummer, that doesn’t take anything away from their actual performances. This is one of the greatest groups of child actors in history, with standouts being the almost-as-old-as-Andrews Charmian Carr as eldest Liesel-the one who gets the bulk of the non-Maria songs and an actual arc-Angela Cartwright as Brigitta, who possesses a natural screen presence and may be the actual most talented amongst the children, and little Kym Karath, who makes youngest Gretl absolutely heartwarming. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the nuns, because God, are they great. First, these are nuns that sass each other behind their backs (the entire purpose of the song “Maria”) and even call their friend a problem as she’s walking down the aisle to get married-that’s some major shade. Second, they are nuns that steal car parts from the Nazis. Like, that’s deserving of a movie in and of itself-Inglourious Basterds but in this case the Basterds are a team of nuns. I jest, but that’s just to show how much I love the nuns, from Anna Lee to the underrated Marni Nixon to the great Peggy Wood, who gets the classic “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” I could go on and on listing things about why this movie is so great, but chances are, I don’t need to. You’ve all seen The Sound of Music. We’ve ALL seen The Sound of Music. The question is, do you remember why it’s great? Because if you don’t, you should see it again, because you need to remedy that immediately.
83. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
The screwball comedy is pretty much an American staple at this point. Rising to prominence by finding sneaky ways to give audiences what they wanted at a time it was illegal (i.e. sex and physical comedy), it blended together several different styles to create one fabulous genre. And the birth of this style comes from the phenomenal film Bringing Up Baby. Essentially, the screwball comedy functions as a combination of the farce, the comedy of errors, burlesque, slapstick, the double act, the bedroom farce, and the comedy of manners in order to give audiences exactly what they wanted. It would feature two mismatched individuals, usually a rambunctious female and a cautious male, who must embark on a series of every-increasingly silly obstacles, rushing from one to the next and break-neck speed and exchanging witty banter along the way (also delivered rapid fire-there’s a reason the screwball is the inspiration for Gilmore Girls and Aaron Sorkin). Usually, this results in the embarrassment of the male in front of his coworkers and his current girlfriend (also a square), but don’t you worry-most of the time the guy and gal put aside their differences and get married anyway! The reason these films were a hit was based on the times they were living in. Devoid of sex on the screen, the audiences had to depend on the quick barbs as a form of seductions, finding themselves wooed by the witty double entendres that filled the script, and allowed their sexual tension through dialogue only. And sure, it can be interpreted that the only humor of these films comes from “emasculating the man,” and the thinking “Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if women were in power?” However, I feel this is a crass underestimation of what these films did. Up until this point, the men were in charge of the best lines, the wittiest dialogue, and the bulk of the material. That’s the way it was in the works of Oscar Wilde, and hell, as much as I love The Thin Man, and consider Myrna Loy’s Nora one of the funniest women in all of film history, even she is sold short by the original film’s material, giving William Powell the bulk of it. That’s what makes the screwball comedy, and inherently Bringing Up Baby, so magnificent: it flips the script. It gives the best jokes, the best humor, the best everything to its leading lady, here played by the incomparable and unmatchable Katherine Hepburn. She’s the one who gets to be footloose and fancy free, she’s the one with most of the best retorts (her costar’s best line comes from his own improvisation, not the script), and she’s the one you walk out of the film remembering. It’s a refreshing twist on tired genres, and it’s all thanks to Baby that we have that. And then there’s the gags. Every joke inside this wonderful little film still works today, even if it’s no longer absurd to see cross-dressing on film (in fact, imagining the time the joke took place makes it even better), from a swinging Brontosaurus to a pet leopard that can only be calmed down by singing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” It’s all so wonderfully absurd, quick, and charming, you can’t help but love the film.
It probably helps that Bringing Up Baby has a cast like this one to deliver its material. I could literally spend the rest of this entry writing about how wonderful Katherine Hepburn is, and not once mention this movie. She’s one of the greatest actresses to ever live, if not the greatest. Each facial expression is on point, each feat of physical comedy is flawless, and each line is perfectly delivered. She’s a godsend to the art of acting, and when it comes to her comedic performances, this is the best of the best. However, because almost every style of comedy only works with some sort of foil, you need someone who can stand toe to toe with Ms. Hepburn-something of the Elmer Fudd to her Bugs Bunny, if Elmer Fudd was an incredibly attractive man for Bugs to fall in love with. That’s where the peak of attractiveness that is Cary Grant enters into it. Grant was suave, sophisticated, and dashingly handsome-which is what made his performance in Baby so odd and so wonderful. Because here, he’s the nerdy straight man, the victim of Hepburn’s zany low-comedy, and overall, just the complete opposite of everything we expect from Cary Grant. And that’s what makes it such a great performance. That’s not to say that he doesn’t get any great moments or lines-his facial expressions to the series of horrors he’s put through are gold, sight gags such as his forced cross-dressing moment are humorous, and dialogue and delivery don’t get any better than, “It isn’t that I don’t like you, Susan, because after all, in moments of quiet, I’m strangely drawn toward you; but, well, there haven’t been any quiet moments!”-but it’s simply a matter of who’s allowed to steal the show. And Grant wisely chooses to let Hepburn have control of the silver screen. The two make a wonderful pair (they would go on to repeat their chemistry four more times), and, when combined with strong writing and brilliant directing, they make the case for why the screwball comedy is a beloved American institution. Other films may have come along, to varying degrees of success (the Coen Brothers are the current masters), but I’m not sure any are capable of coming close to the legend that is the original: Bringing Up Baby.
82. Easy Rider (1969)
If you thought I gushed over Cuckoo’s Nest’s embodiment of the spirit of rebellion in the 60s versus the system, amplify that tenfold and you get Easy Rider. The embodiment of freedom and the sixties, Easy Rider can be boiled down to the very things the 60s were fighting for: peace, love, acceptance, and lots of sex. The ultimate counterculture experience, the film has no real plot. It’s just two friends on a cross-country motorcycle trip, smoking weed and meeting like-minded individuals, just trying to get to New Orleans to enjoy Mardi Gras. They have no issues with the people they meet along the way-they are just as willing to accept a small-town redneck as they are a hippie from a commune. It’s just that they find acceptance more with the hippies than they do with the townies. Indeed, they reflect on the changes in America, once again thanks to the looming Nixon administration, which was once the land of the free cracking down and tormenting those who actually live free, and it shows: every major character who looks for a chance to live free is killed brutally by The Man, usually embodied by some redneck shouting a clichéd-yet-realistic battle cry like, “Why don’t you get a haircut?” Their martyrdom for the cause is so preordained that they splice images of the eventual carnage throughout the film, as if foreshadowing the death of the cause that is to come, even if the spirit will live on. It’s a film for anyone who’s ever been a rebel at heart, whether they live as radically as Captain America and Billy or just simply fight for the right to be free, like alcoholic lawyer George Hanson. However, while it’s important to describe the characters and themes of this film, they really don’t describe what this film is about, and to that I have one simple, easy answer: America. This film is a love letter to the spirit of America, from its gorgeous landscapes and roads (well, lovely in 1969) to its cities and towns, rich with life and tradition. It’s a film about the freedom that our ancestors died for, the freedom to live life the way you want to live it, and the right to die trying to protect that right from those who want to take it from you. And really, is there anything more American than wanting to drive through the American wilderness, enjoying nature in all its glory, as the music that speaks to you blares from Heaven above (here, that music is Hendrix, McGuinn, The Byrds, and, of course, Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild”)? It’s a beautiful, wonderful little film, and one that gets to the heart of what it means to be truly free, and truly alive.
It’s impossible to separate this movie from Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, for many reasons. First, Fonda and Hopper wrote it together. Then, Hopper directed it (presumably with Fonda’s aid). And, above all, they played the leads, modeled after themselves, to great effect. Fonda perfectly imbues Wyatt, aka “Captain America,” with a sense of knowledge, knowing what’s to come but willing to ignore it to embrace his freedom. He’s the undeclared leader of the duo, the one who does the talking as well as the navigating, and it’s arguably his best performance. Meanwhile, Hopper is the twitchy renegade in Billy, often quiet, but prone to outbursts, and always a bit rash in his decisions, but skeptical in his opinions. It can be assumed that the marijuana has left him permanently paranoid, but considering the hatred they experience throughout the south, can you really blame him? Fonda and Hopper are the heart and soul of this film, and they’re both excellent in it, but they aren’t the best performance in the film. Not by a long shot. That honor goes to the breakout star, and the two hippies’ talented-yet-undervalued friend, a young unknown named Jack Nicholson. From the minute Nicholson appears onscreen, the film becomes a whole different entity. As George Hanson, the alcoholic ACLU lawyer passing through one of the same towns as our heroes, he immediately draws our attention. He quips and squawks around like some sort of cartoon character, possessing the intelligence of The Man but the spirit of the heroes, never seen without a bottle of whiskey, and when he joins the duo on their quest, he rides on the back of Fonda’s motorcycle wearing a football helmet. And yet, as odd a creature as he is, he (at first) refuses to smoke marijuana with them. “That can lead to harder stuff!” he frets, as he chugs from his bottle of whiskey. And yet, he’s also the one who delivers the film’s philosophical knockout: “This used to be a hell of a good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.” As the epitome of the counterculture movement, these three gave the counterculture generation figures to look up to for the coming years that would bring Vietnam and Watergate. Other figures bring a naturalistic feeling to the film, from the flower-child hippies to the rednecks, and you even get cameos by Karen Black and Toni Basil (“Oh Mickey, you’re so fine…”) as prostitutes in New Orleans, but it’s the three leads that you remember. While New Hollywood (the period where the underdogs finally got a voice to fight the system, resulting in fifteen of the greatest years in film history) may have been born in 1967, it didn’t explode until 1969, when Easy Rider showed America that regardless of what happened, filmmaking could still be cool, and that freedom always would be.
81. Boyhood (2014)
This will be the most recent film on this list, but the reasoning behind it cannot be denied. The technical mastery on display in Boyhood is unlike any other film in history. On its own, it is still impressive, albeit fairly conventional: a boy coming of age and interacting with his family. However, the sheer execution of Richard Linklater’s vision is where this film shines: not only does he film it in real time, as in it took twelve years to make, but he did so by utilizing everything he could to demonstrate the changing times. The camera lingers on the toys of childhood and the technology of our teenage years, the music shifts like a time traveling jukebox, and the lyrical editing seamlessly blends each year into the next, the same way that we slowly age year after year. It isn’t so much a film as it is an experience: this is the one film that can claim it is truly life itself. It’s shocking Linklater managed to keep the vision in place for twelve years, ranging from the aesthetic to the writing to the performances. It creates the illusion of a Tolstoy-esque or Dickensian saga, spanning years in the life of one family. I think the reason the film works is that it isn’t so much a straightforward narrative as it is an interpretation of memories by one young man grown up. The things you remember aren’t necessarily the “big moments,” like your first kiss or your first breakup. It’s the little things that randomly come to you, like that baseball game with your dad, or that time you were drinking with your friends behind an abandoned house, or visiting your grandparents and going to church with them. Life isn’t a series of “big moments,” it’s the little moments along the way. And this is what makes Boyhood a truly remarkable picture.
Of course, it also helps that the cast is one of the most natural in the history of cinema. Young Eller Coltrane has the unenviable task of portraying what it’s like to grow up while in the midst of growing up. He’s not perfect, and he’s a little rough around the edges, but hey, who would be good if they were trying to act from ages 6-18? Besides, his rough acting style adds to the naturality of the character. His Mason is one of the most lovable child characters in film history, even when he becomes an “obnoxious” teenager. Meanwhile, director’s daughter Lorelai Linklater does a serviceable job as sister Samantha, playing a teenage girl in a highly clichéd, but still highly realistic way. However, while the story is told from the point of view of the kids (and specifically Mason), the heart of the movie belongs to the parents. Ethan Hawke plays Mason Sr. in the film’s biggest arc (in terms of growth, at least), and perhaps the one with the most interesting. You see, while Mason Jr. is starting to leave childhood, Mason Sr. finds himself reaching adulthood. When we meet him, he’s rebelling against everything-Bush, marriage, adulthood, and the status quo. You know, the way that most twenty-somethings do. And that’s fine-rebelling is a way of life, and usually the right way to go. However, part of growing up is learning how to channel the rebellious nature. This means watching Hawke go from screaming politics in a bowling alley to calming himself and channeling those feelings towards Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Hell, he even marries a Christian conservative woman, something that would have been unthinkable to him in the 2003 storyline. It’s an interesting arc, and one that isn’t often seen in film. And yet, he’s still outshone by his costar Patricia Arquette. Arquette is the true star of the film. On first viewing, her purpose might not stand out to you as much. She doesn’t really have any big moments like Hawke, and she’s more in the background than either of the kids. She’s just going on and on, with her only big moments coming in her second marriage and in a monologue at the end where she debates if her life really had any meaning. To answer that question, you need to see the movie again-and again and again. Sure, it may not seem like Arquette is doing much, but that’s because she’s playing things so naturally. She’s the one keeping things moving, keeping the family together, and keeping the entire cast balanced and happy. In short, she’s a mother-not receiving the thanks she gets for everything she does, but continuously doing what she can for her children, as well as anyone she comes across. A moment involving a friendly face from the past during brunch near the end of the film is the true tear-jerker of the film, showing the impact people, be it a stranger or your own mother, has on your life. It’s a heartwarming moment in a heartwarming film, one that captures the spirit of what it means to be a young man coming of age in modern America. It’s a film that knows what it means to be human, without plot points or pretension, focused instead on the art of living. It’s an astounding project, and the sheer size, scope, and execution of the film prove it to be one of the greatest films of not only this century, but of all time.
Well, I hope you enjoyed the next round of the Top 100 Greatest Films of All Time. You can see the updated list of right here, and you can see the list of previous articles below. See you all next week!
100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-1
one more week is one more step closer to Tommy Boy
Well done, Travis! You have some really great movies on that list!