by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Part Two of my answer to Jim Johnson’s challenge to rank my 100 favorite movies of all time. To recap from my previous post: this was more or less arbitrary, I have WAY more than 100 favorite films, these rankings are not set in stone, but since this is how lists work, here we go.

75. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003) – The third chapter gets the edge because of its epic battle sequences during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. It’s with this movie that Peter Jackson brings all the story threads together for one of the greatest wrap-up films in history. (What’s that, you say? Too many endings? That’s just, like, your opinion, man…)

74. SKYFALL (2012) – While the new Casino Royale (2006) firmly established Daniel Craig as the new Bond, Skyfall dove even deeper into the hitherto unknown origins of 007. It also upped the ante for any and all Bond films forever after with a memorable villain (a creepy Javier Bardem, whose interest in Mr. Bond may not be purely professional) and a series of plot twists that would surprise even Joss Whedon. If a perfect Bond film is possible, this comes closest to it. [All due respect to Goldfinger which, while laying the groundwork for every Bond film thereafter, qualifies as a GREAT film without necessarily being one of my FAVORITE Bond movies. Crucial distinction.]

73. BOUND (1996) – Before the Wachowskis wowed the movie world with the Matrix trilogy, they created one of the best pure thrillers in recent memory, one that shakes up traditional gender roles without making that fact a plot point. Two women, one a petty thief, one a mobster’s moll, get romantically involved and plan to steal $2 million from the mobster, but as with all simple plans, complications arise, leading to a scene with a corpse in the bathtub, two cops in the living room, and a blood-soaked carpet. Hitchcock would have LOVED this movie. [Unsolicited plug: you might also want to check out 1978’s The Silent Partner, not affiliated with the Wachowskis, but it’s right up that same alley, plot-construction-wise.]

72. LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) – The genius of this movie is not in what is being said by the main characters, but in what ISN’T being said, the pregnant pauses punctuating their conversation, each one laden with the threat of tipping their relationship over the edge from casual acquaintance to mutual cheating. This is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I speak from experience when I tell you this movie gets the vibe and emotionally charged silences JUST right. (And Bill Murray has never been better.)

71. TOY STORY (1995) – Pixar burst onto the scene with this movie that made you forget it was all done on computers. In 1995, that was NOT easy to do…but that’s another column. The story of Woody and Buzz Lightyear – Woody and Buzz, uh-huh-huh, huh-huh – trying to get back home after getting lost struck a chord with audiences and critics alike and began a remarkable string of box-office successes that continues to this day. (Well…except for Cars 2 and Cars 3…but we’re not going to talk about them…)

70. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988) – In the same vein as Toy Story, Who Framed Roger Rabbit accomplished what was considered impossible at the time: make an entire movie where animated characters walk and talk side by side with human counterparts. While it’s a little more commonplace today, thanks to computers and motion-capture technology, in 1988 everything had to be done completely analog with hand-drawn animation and onscreen props and stand-ins that would be obscured by the animated characters. The result is an animation aficionado’s dream, with icons like Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse sharing a scene together, not to mention MY two favorite characters of all time in a piano duel. There will never be another movie like this one.

69. INCENDIES (Canada, 2010) – Before director Denis Villeneuve broke onto the Hollywood scene with Sicario and Arrival, he was creating smaller-scale films in Canada and France. One of those is Incendies, an intense character study of the extent of a mother’s love. Describing the plot might destroy the fragility of its structure, which leads you down a garden path to one conclusion, then neatly pivots into something else entirely. It’s a mystery, a melodrama, and an urgent plea for peace, all at once.

68. LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (Italy, 1997) – Many attempts have been made to find humor in the unspeakable, some successful (Jojo Rabbit), some not so much (Jakob the Liar). Roberto Benigni’s masterpiece succeeds in ways no other movie can touch. It finds ingenious ways to present hilarious slapstick humor against a backdrop of impending doom, and then challenges itself to take its cinematic conceit all the way to its logical conclusion. When that final scene played out, I nearly wept with joy. NEARLY.

67. STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006) – Will Ferrell has never portrayed more depth of character than he did in this surreal fable about an IRS accountant who suddenly starts hearing a disembodied voice narrating his every move as if he were a character in a novel. The explanation for the voice, the heartbreaking subtext when he says, “I think I’m in a tragedy”, and how his favorite wristwatch is involved combine to create a movie experience that transcends its simple trappings and becomes rather profound.

66. THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) – Boy, did I not want to see this movie when it came out, even though it was directed by David Fincher. A feature-length commercial for how great Facebook is? No, thank you. Then the reviews started coming in, I went to see it anyway, and…wow. Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue combines with Fincher’s impeccable direction in ways I did not expect. The result is one of the most intellectually and visually stimulating biographies I’ve ever seen.

65. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016) – This movie worked WAY better than anyone, including me, expected it to. Partially bridging the gap between Episodes III and IV, Rogue One provides a thrilling backstory on the Rebel missions and operatives that delivered the Death Star plans into the hands of its most trusted messenger. From the new characters to the inspired inclusion of re-edited footage from Episode IV, Rogue One is a jewel in the crown of the Star Wars Cinematic Universe.

64. INSIDE OUT (2015) – Yet another Pixar success story. This one goes directly into the brain of a 12-year-old girl as she struggles to work out her feelings about her family pulling up stakes and relocating. Her feelings are portrayed as individual characters: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy, and Sadness. What sounds like a cutesy-tootsy Disney-marketable concept evolves into something heart-wrenching as Joy tries to suppress Sadness, with devastating results. Any movie that successfully argues for the necessity of sadness in one’s life deserves recognition.

63. EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (2022) – Much like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Everything Everywhere All at Once defies description. How many films have you seen or even heard of that combine surrealism, absurdism, comedy, science fiction, philosophy, slapstick humor, martial arts, and hot dog fingers? HOT DOG FINGERS, PEOPLE. There are virtually infinite ways this movie could have gone wrong. Its success is a testament to the actors and director, yes, but also to the editor, who deserves recognition at Oscar time.

62. READY PLAYER ONE (2018) – Okay, this movie isn’t particularly deep or insightful, but it stands as one of the most sublime movie-going experiences of my life. My entire childhood, or at least the pop-culture part of it, was put on display, and seeing it made me feel like a kid all over again. I saw it three times in movie theaters, and every time I had the most ridiculous grin on my face. (Hello, old friends…) I’m not sure how audience members who are not part of my generation feel about it, but I think it’s magical.

61. ROMA (Mexico, 2018) – I do so enjoy being wrong about a movie – at least when it works in my favor. Roma’s plot description makes it sound like a “spinach” movie: good for you, but not the best meal ever. But right from the opening credits, Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical period piece sucked me in and kept me involved until the final credits. The experience of watching Roma is like looking through someone’s old family album of black-and-white photographs and seeing them come to life and walk and talk. Nostalgia at its finest.

60. ALIENS (1986) – James Cameron’s 3rd-most-highly-anticipated sequel (after Terminator 2 and Avatar: The Way of Water) can make a legitimate claim to being the best movie in his filmography, especially if you have access to the Director’s Cut that brings even more depth to an already stacked movie. Ripley returns to the planet where she first encountered the bloodthirsty Xenomorph, this time with a squad of Colonial Marines in tow. What unfolds is one of the most successful exercises in sustained suspense and action ever made. To shamelessly quote Roger Ebert: “I’m giving the movie a high rating for its skill and professionalism and because it does the job it says it will do. I am also advising you not to eat before you go to see it.”

59. JAWS (1975) – Since I can’t give two movies the same rank, I’m putting Jaws just ahead of Aliens, but in my opinion they’re equals. Jaws gets the slight edge based on the technological limitations of its day, which makes its success as a suspense thriller even more admirable. Spielberg’s adaptation of Peter Benchley’s runaway bestseller performs a neat slight-of-hand that so many contemporary thrillers forget about: not truly showing the shark until the final reel. The result is a thrill machine that lodged in the collective subconscious of an entire generation…and scared a lot of them out of the water for good.

58. MAGNOLIA (1999) – One of the best films from a year that rivals 1939 as Hollywood’s best year of all time. (Seriously, look at 1999’s output some time.) Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus tells the story of a group of characters whose connections are not immediately obvious to the characters themselves, each of them living their own lives and crossing paths with each other only rarely. It’s all capped with a meteorological event that is based on fact, but which struck many viewers as too improbable to believe. No matter. The acting and direction on display in Magnolia makes it feel like a Robert Altman screenplay directed by Martin Scorsese. Yeah. It’s that good.

57. FIGHT CLUB (1999) – So, yeah, remember what I just said about 1999 being a great year? Here’s more proof. I’ll leave aside the philosophical discussions (is it fascist? pro-social-terrorism? absurd macho posturing?) and I’ll just make the point that, when I first saw it, I had NO idea what it was about, and after intending to only watch the first hour, I was immediately sucked in and watched it all the way through. It was jaw-dropping and eye-opening. And funny. And irreverent. And transgressive. And arresting. I’ll never forget that first time watching it. And I won’t stop recommending it to anyone who hasn’t seen it.

56. THE STING (1973) – There has never been a screen duo as charismatic or who exhibited more chemistry than Paul Newman and Robert Redford. It’s one of the great cinematic tragedies that they only made two films together. But at least one of them is The Sting, a stunning period-piece comedy/drama about a couple of grifters who team up to take down a mob boss who killed a colleague of theirs. The costumes, production design, and top-notch acting would mean nothing without its clockwork script that carefully lays out the details, so nothing is overwhelming or left out. Well…ALMOST nothing is left out…

55. THE PIANO (New Zealand, 1993) – I know Jane Campion has had a long, illustrious career, but none of her films have had more of an impact on me than her semi-tragic romance, The Piano. The love story is basic enough, even a little soapy, and some viewers may be distracted by the occasional graphic nudity, but after the initial shock, I realized that those graphic scenes were entirely necessary to convey the shock the heroine herself feels in those situations. But what really got me was that final sequence with the piano and the rope…I still get a little goose-bumpy whenever I see it play out. On just about every level, The Piano is one of the cinema’s greatest romances.

54. THE APARTMENT (1960) – Many directors would figuratively kill to have Billy Wilder’s track record: The Lost Weekend, Double Indemnity, Some Like It Hot, Stalag 17, Sunset Blvd., etcetera, etcetera. The Apartment is one of his best, a romantic serio-comedy that daringly, for its time, involves a man who loans his apartment out as essentially a whorehouse, an emotionally abusive married boss who blackmails his employees and strings a poor elevator girl along in a pointless (for him) affair, and an attempted suicide. Credit the screenplay and the performances by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine for somehow making the combination of light and dark material work flawlessly. (For those keeping score, it also has one of the best closing lines in cinema.)

53. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (Taiwan, 2000) – Director Ang Lee’s tribute to the martial arts films of his youth plays like the far-East version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The surprisingly deep and affecting story is balanced by some of the most visually astonishing fight scenes ever created, with heroes and villains gliding over rooftops and balancing on bamboo stalks. Plus…probably the greatest girlfight since Ripley took on the alien queen, as Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi face off with a dizzying assortment of swords, sticks, and knives for what feels like 10 minutes. Stellar entertainment from top to bottom.

52. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975) – Milos Forman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel, a touchstone of ‘60s counterculture, is as life-affirming as it is depressing, if that makes any sense at all. The gruesome violence in the final reel is justified and tempered somewhat by the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) McMurphy is unable to achieve his goal. Anyway, that’s just the final reel. Everything leading up to that moment is pure gold. There have been many, many films about a lone voice rebelling against an oppressive system, but few are as funny, poignant, and provocative as this one.

51. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) – Billy Wilder’s definitive film noir. While Bogey and The Maltese Falcon essentially jump-started the genre, Double Indemnity clarified it, refined it, and disturbingly succeeded in getting audiences to root for the bad guy, like Hitchcock would do to even greater effect in Psycho, sixteen years later. This movie has everything: the voice-over, the flashbacks, the cheesy tough guy talk (“She was a tramp from a long line of tramps”), and, per the Hays code, the bad guys eventually getting what they deserve. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that makes the movie predictable.

…to be continued…

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