Saturday, May 9, 2009

The 100 Greatest Movies (part five)

Our last entry before rounding the corner into the realm of the fifty finest movies in existence. Let's not waste any more time getting to numbers 60-51, then:

60. Apocalypse Now (1979). Martin Sheen plays a young and cagey Cptn. Willard, a semi-freelancer in the special forces whose prowess at bagging the tough assignments wins him the job of traveling upriver into Cambodia to find a certain Colonel Kurtz, apparently gone rogue. "Your mission is to Pick up Colonel Kurtz's path at Nu Mung Ba," Willard is told at Nha Trang by Col. Lucas (Harrison Ford), "follow it and learn what you can along the way. When you find the Colonel, infiltrate his team by whatever means available... and terminate the Colonel's command."

What follows can only be described as history's most terrifying zoo -- with vignettes featuring bizarre characters holding positions of unacceptably high responsibility, alternating with scenes where confused and terrified nobodies do whatever they can to stay alive in the absence of any real leadership. (In the former category, Robert Duvall plays an especially memorable supporting role in command of an "air cavalry" unit tasked with putting Willard's swiftboat on the river in the very middle of a battle zone; in the latter, the night scene at Do Long Bridge is particularly memorable). In other words, the movie captures -- in a way that none other has before or since -- precisely what America's presence in the Vietnam War must have felt like for the soldiers on the ground: rudderless, savage, incomprehensible. Horrific. "Who's in command here?!?" demands Cptn. Willard of a young mortar expert trying to hold-off the NVA at Do Long, to which the soldier pauses for a long, troubled-looking silence before replying, "Ain't you?"

Over the years literally hundreds of lines of dialogue from this film have forced their way into the pop-culture vernacular ("I love the smell of napalm in the mornin'"), with almost everyone harboring his or her own favorites, and I am no exception. Honorable mention goes to, "Charging someone with murder around here is like handing-out speeding tickets at the Indianapolis 500." But the cake-taker, the line that still raises the skin on my forearms, has to be when Cptn. Willard is released from captivity by Col. Kurtz and simply left to roam Kurtz' compound un-escorted. "On the river, I thought that the minute I looked at him I'd know what to do, but it didn't happen," Sheen tells us in that trademark drowsy voice-over for which the film has become so widely emulated. "I was there with him for days, not under guard, I was free, but he knew I wasn't going anywhere. He knew more about what I was going to do than I did."

59. Last King of Scotland (2006). James McAvoy is Dr. Nicolas Garrigan, the recently graduated Scottish MD who flees the stifling constraints of his father's small-town practice to do humanitarian work in Uganda. By chance Dr. Garrigan has the opportunity to see Ugandan President Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) make a speech to a small village, and he becomes instantly and hopelessly transfixed by Amin's irresistible charisma. A few short miles away the President is involved in a minor traffic accident, and Garrigan is pressed into the service of attending to his injured hand. After an extremely tense incident the two become friends, and Garrigan -- young, impish, unable to gauge the depths of the circumstances into which he is immersing himself -- accepts the job of Personal Physician to the President.

Just as with Apocalypse Now, this film works on the basis of its ability to hold unflinching authority over the genuinely bizarre moments it endeavors to portray about its time and place -- including one memorable scene in which Garrigan has been dispatched to a meeting of "hospital planners," only to find out after he has arrived late and seated himself breathlessly in a non-descript corner of the table, that it will be his job (without training) to select the final architectural design for the reconstruction of Kampala's only major medical facility. Eventually, as with all the other people who ever got close to Idi Amin, Garrigan finds himself at once despised and adored by his benefactor, realizing only now that the benefactor is a homicidal psychopath from whom he cannot possibly hope to escape intact.

Forest Whitaker so nails the "title" role that his performance probably merited some even higher accolade than the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, if only there was one. Among the other arresting things that Whitaker did to embrace the method, was his consumption -- for several months before principal photography -- of the precise diet that Amin himself had eaten every day of his life: Plain white rice and green bananas, still in their peels, all purreed together in a blender.

Not every great movie is one that I would necessary tie myself in knots for the privilege of seeing again. Some of them are exceedingly tough-going, indeed so tough that for days or even weeks afterward I can't quite bring myself to watch even a different movie, out of fear that it will be in some way evocative of the discomfort I've just experienced. Last King of Scotland is just such a movie -- but it's also one of the finest and most important films of the present decade. It demands to be watched.

58. Apollo 13 (1995). It's official: Director Ron Howard has come a very, very long way from his days as Opie and Ritchie Cunningham. Indeed, how much farther from a Milwaukee drive-in can a person come, than to the far side of the moon, to which Howard and his who's-who of the finest actors took us all so utterly convincingly in Apollo 13?

We know the story by now: A third moon-mission bearing the number 13 lifts off from Cape Canaveral with three astronauts aboard -- Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and backup Command Module Pilot Jack Swaggart (Kevin Bacon), while original Pilot Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinese) sits grounded in Houston on suspicion that he will soon contract the measles. When on the third day out an explosion cripples the spacecraft, what was supposed to be a voyage so banal and un-inspired that the networks refused even to cover it, becomes a global vigil in which all stops are pulled to do whatever can be done on the ground to bring the astronauts home. "The President wants odds," Deke Slaton (Chris Ellis) tells Flight Director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) as they quietly confer over his console at Mission Control. "One chance in three?" To which Christopher Kraft (Joe Spano) replies unbidden, "I don't think they're that good."

Most people don't know just how not-that-good the odds really were, but the astronauts did. "We were looking for a trajectory that intersected with the earth's path in some way," the real Jim Lovell once told a documentary interviewer. "What we didn't want was to become an orbiting memorial to the space program for all time." This is how bad it was, folks: The three men, trapped in an all but impossibly confined and quickly freezing space, weighing the options of dying a slow death in orbit or a quick one in the atmosphere, and then calling-down their preference for the quick one.

This may not be true of all great films -- even all the great films on this list -- but what makes this one worthy of an earlier claim to my top overall spot is the total, absolute, unwavering suspension of disbelief. There comes a time in each viewer's experience of this movie, when the very idea that we are sitting in comfy seats on the ground simply and unceremoniously leaves us. For me that moment comes 2:25 into this youtube clip from the film, just after liftoff, as the spacecraft is climbing-out. We see an interior shot of the command module, the rumble everywhere around us, with a clear view of the instrument cluster. And there is just enough shake, just enough terror, just enough mechanized life to the spacecraft, to let me know that I'm on the ride of my life. I wept like a baby when I first saw that moment in a theater -- and I was on a date.

Inspired genius abounds in this one, suffusing even the seemingly minor details with as much timely creativity as Howard's unfailing loyalty to the historical record will abide. His decision to crane-shoot the scenes at Mission Control, providing us the very sort of un-grounded, summons-to-greatness vibe experienced by the controllers themselves, is but one example. The pitch-perfect performance of Jean Speegle Howard as Lovell's aging mother Blanche, is another. Upon being introduced to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (tasked with keeping her preoccupied during the tension of reentry), Blanche raises her eyebrows and asks, "Are you boys in the space program too?"

Then there is the zero-G footage -- which actually comprises far less of the film than our disbelieving brains would lead us to suspect (much of what looks like zero-G is instead good actors, planted firmly on the ground, swaying rhythmically). The true weightless shots were accomplished by building a second command module and a second LEM inside a zero-G training plane, meaning that each shot could only last a few seconds and could not be immediately re-taken if it didn't go right, a fact that only added to the realism and tension of the actors' performances.

The set for Mission Control, meanwhile, had been replicated from the real one to such exacting standards that the real Gene Kranz would leave the set at the end of each day in his capacity as creative consultant, only to find himself startled anew by the absence of an elevator to take him "down" to a Houston parking lot. Pop tunes from the era are slipped effortlessly into the ground-based scenes where their placement closes the deal on a family dynamic or a believable gathering among friends, while James Horner's score is grand and glorious when it needs to be, mesmerizingly tense when that's what the picture requires, and only present at all when its presence won't compete with the talent on the screen.

Shortly after this movie came out on video I had occasion to stroll the aisles of one of those icky big-box electronic stores, noticing in passing that one of the end-cap displays was playing Apollo 13 as its demonstrator. When those first desperate moments of emergency broke over the astronauts, every single customer in the store -- and most of the staff -- ceased whatever they were doing and crowded around the screen, as if this were really happening and we were really standing there, in a store someplace, terrified for the safety of our three brave astronauts. They say millions of people missed their trains when John Glenn lifted off for the first time; well, tends of people were made late for their next appointment by watching a movie depiction of a crisis for which every last one of us knew the outcome. ...You know what? I'm through apologizing for loving this film.

57. American Beauty (1999). I suppose if someone said to me, "Hey, Dave, I'm going to take you to a movie about a guy who, deep in mid-life crisis, decides to quit his job and go to work at a burger joint, buy a '70 Firebird, and pull every trick in the book to try to bed the best friend of his high-school-aged daughter -- and you're going to love this movie so much that you never forget it," I'd have suggested some sort of evaluation for head trauma. But ladies and gentlemen, this is no ordinary movie about a guy who, deep in mid-life crisis, decides to quit his job and go to work at a burger joint, buy a '70 Firebird, and pull every trick in the book to try to bed the best friend of his high-school-aged daughter.

Oh, no. This is a movie about the fascist / white supremisist next door (Chris Cooper, in his breakthrough role) and his dreamy and possibly genius-inspired teenaged son (Wes Bentley); this is a movie about the mid-life-crisis guy's wife (Annette Benning) and her desperate attempts to hold authority over her own life; this is a movie about the mid-life-crisis guy's angst-crippled daughter (Thora Birch) and her inability to break free of a melancholy that she consciously senses is eating her personality alive; hell, this is a movie about the daily-jogging gay couple down the block.

Director Sam Mendes weaves just enough fractured narrative into this tale of spoiled-suburban alienation, just enough prejudice, just enough fear of mortaility, just enough hate -- to turn what must have seemed a fairly linear idea into a film that I rarely go more than a week without actively thinking about in one way or another. "My name is Lester Burnham," Kevin Spacey's booming voice-over intones as we take in an overhead shot of a typically faux-bucolic suburban neighborhood, somewhere, "and in thirty days, I'll be dead." Fortunately for us, not before we all have a chance to sit front-and-center on the unfolding inter-familial drama that eventually claims his life. Another movie of great lines, my personal favorite is when Burnahm, on the occasion of quitting his job, looks poker-faced at his erstwhile boss and says, "Brad, for fourteen years I've been whoring myself for the advertising industry; the only way I could save myself now is if I start firebombing."

Of course Lester doesn't start firebombing; what he does, instead, is everything else he can think of, from lifting weights to smoking pot to throwing his dinner against the wall when his status-obsessed wife tries to shout him down at the table. And of all that he tries, what works? None of it, naturally: none of it ever does. We're all dying of this terminal disease called life, and sometimes it takes a genuinely poignant moment -- what alcoholics call a moment of clarity, what Mendes might call a moment of beauty -- to realize that such a condition isn't something to be feared and detested and conquered, but celebrated.

56. The 400 Blows (1959). Francois Truffaut is another of those famous directors with a pretty big bone to pick with me for the shoddy treatment he will ultimately receive at the hands of this list (though not as big a bone as Jean-Luc Goddard, who might have been forgiven for expecting at least a low-nineties slot kept warm for Breathless). Still, Truffaut's one film to make the grade is an unqualified must-see.

Antoine (Jean-Piere Leaud) is a troubled pre-teen kid growing up in a house where his parents pay him little attention, and when they notice him at all it's usually negative. Antoine descends into low-level hooliganism, both out on the streets of the roughneck neighborhood in Paris where he lives and steals and cuts class and occasionally even sleeps, and at the school where his own bad behavior seems consistently to be the only bad behavior being caught and punished.

Somehow -- by a chain that seems as baffling to Antoine as it is to us -- this particular young and bad-behaving boy finds himself exiled to a grim reform school, far from the streets of the neighborhood which has seemed so edgy to us and so full of promise and diversions, to him. Indeed it's a marvelous touch that Truffaut brings to the project to set the reform school at the seaside, since it enables us to see just how a child's inherent biases in favor of what he already knows and has already embellished with his own imagination, can render disconsolate and uninteresting even the most treasured of grown-up settings.

One of my close movie-loving friends vehemently disagrees with this interpretation, but I for one believe that the movie is less about the cumulative weight of all these "four hundred blows," and more about the ways in which a single blow -- a single, relatively insignificant-seeming fork in the road of our main character -- could lead him into a deeper and deeper thicket of trouble and alienation and despair. Through this author's eye at least, Truffaut wasn't so much talking about how hard it would be to carry four hundred bales of straw on one's back, as he was about how difficult it is sometimes to recognize the straw that's breaking it at the time. You'll have to watch and decide for yourself but that's a good thing, because it means you'll have to watch.

55. Princess Mononoke (1997). "Look closely: I'm going to show you how to kill a God."

Far fewer people know the name Hayao Miazaki (Spirited Away, Howell's Moving Castle) than are familiar with his work as a feature-length animator. But something tells me that's quite alright with him -- since the work itself is at once so unmistakable, and so good. It is fitting that our only animated film to discuss on this list would be a Miazaki project; it's fitting, too, that it would be the one that not every Miazaki fan has seen.

It is the time of feudalism in Japan, samari protect village noblemen and isolated towns exist as if their own tiny universes, cut off from the outside world by impenetrable wilderness and antiquated technology. When a young prince named Ashitaka is infected with a curse by a wrathful spirit animal, he is sent by his family to a village deep into the forrest to find the cure. Instead he finds himself squarely in the middle of a battle-to-the-death between a mining town hoping to deforest its surroundings to exploit the mineral resources underneath, and the animal gods who will do whatever it takes to stop it from happening -- led by a teenaged human girl who was raised by wolves, Princess Mononoke.

Of the many things that make Miazaki films so distinctive and so superlative, none is better-exemplified by this film than the boldness with which he embraces complicated plot-lines. No Miazaki picture could be selected if it did not include this trait, the B- and C- stories rippling along beside the main premise of the story like babbling streams along a hiking trail, the confluences and interactions of those stories feeling as unforced and inevitable as the fallen-tree footbridges that ford the streams.

Neither does our filmmaker shy from difficult emotional situations and unhappy turns. Not every one of the endearing and sympathetic characters in a Miazaki movie survives, there is no progress through the sophisticated conflicts of the picture without prices to be paid. There is lust, there is anger, and the good guys don't always win or for that matter even do the right thing, though they just might when the critical moment comes along. Make no mistake: This may be an animated film, it may be principally about kids, it may have an ostensibly child-like premise with which to deliver an ostensibly one-dimensional message about man's place in the world, but, friends, Princess Mononoke is a movie for grown-ups. Or at least, for grown-up lovers of movies, anyway.

54. Airplane (1980). Comedies are tough to put into a list like this, for two reasons: First, comedies are more difficult to enjoy on re-watch than are other film genres, and it probably goes without saying that a film is unlikely to claim a spot on a list such as this one before it's been seen at least twice. (Though I must interrupt myself here to observe in passing that this bold and authoritative statement I just made, isn't even true of my own list: I haven't seen The Sweet Hereafter, The Station Agent, or Kieslowski's Rouge more than once, any of them.) The bigger reason, though, is that try as we may, we just can't quite bring ourselves to put "great" and "comedy" in close enough contact that funny movies are left with much of a shot. Comedy is supposed to be easy, for us if not the filmmakers. Greatness is supposed to be hard for everybody. So when a movie aficionado decides to argue for a comedy, he'd better have a damn good reason. Fortunately, I do in this case: Airplane is a truly great movie. Period.

Based quite closely on the 1957 airplane emergency movie, Zero Hour! (indeed, so closely that many of the funniest jokes don't make any sense if you haven't seen the original), a plane-load of passengers and all three of its crew become sick after eating tainted fish as their evening in-flight meal, and the job of getting them all down safely falls to a passenger, Ted Striker (Robert Hays), a former military flying ace who doubts his own abilities after a tragically mistaken judgment call on a bombing mission in "the war." (Though just which war this is supposed to be is kept thigh-slappingly obscure and indeed chronologically impossible.)

Shaking off his neurosis, Striker assumes the controls to do what he can, all while desperately trying to resolve his conflicted feelings toward his erstwhile lover, the lead flight attendant Elaine (Julie Hagerty), and also toward former commanding officer Rex Kramer (Robert Stack), now the air traffic controller who must somehow talk the errant pilot down. Unafraid to borrow inconsistently, there is also a B-story that was appropriated directly from a much later air-emergency picture, Airport '75, involving a critically ill patient en route to receive a transplant, and attended to by a Doctor (Leslie Nielsen) who takes it upon himself to try to keep the unwilling pilot held together emotionally for long enough to safely land the plane.

Scene settings then alternate between the plane (in which any number of mostly deadpan sight-gags are plowed straight through as if they weren't even there), the flashback story of the love affair between the pilot and the flight attendant (complete with a peace-corps vignette in which Striker teaches an impoverished African village how to play basketball), and the hand-wringing in the control tower, played with stupefying hilarity by Stack and Lloyd Bridges. According to directors Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, Bridges in particular was having a lot of trouble getting his line-readings down, that is until one day Stack finally pulled him aside and said, "Lloyd, you don't get it: We. Are. The Joke! Just read the fucking line!"

Oh, and about those jokes that require the original picture for their context: Remember how funny it was that co-pilot Roger Murtoch is not only played by Kareem Abdul-Jabar, but that throughout the movie people keep identifying him as Kareem Abdul-Jabar, instead of by his character's name? Remember, "Tell your old man to drag Walton and Laneer up and down the court for forty-eight minutes"? Well, in the original picture the part of the pilot is played by Elroy "Crazy-Legs" Hirsch, at that time a quite extraordinarily famous football player. When the filmmakers were kids, they saw this movie -- and every time the pilot was refered to as Cptn. Bill Wilson, the filmmakers were sitting there in the theater, thinking to themselves, "Are you kidding? That's Crazy-Legs Hirsch!"

Also, all those establishing shots of the exterior of the plane in mid-flight? Remember the foley sound that went with those shots? It was a jet plane, mind you: a Boeing 707, but the foley the filmmakers used every time they wished to establish the plane scenes was that of a multi-prop, exactly as had been done in the original. The fact that both gags work without knowing this is further tribute to the inspired genius of this uproariously funny movie.

It's a hilarious movie the first, second, third times a person watches it -- but at the precise moment that it begins to lose its legs, it affords a second universe of rib-aching belly laughs, by listening to the commentary track. Among the many ridiculous things that come out as Zucker, Abrams and Zucker discuss the picture are: (a) The fact that Kareem Abdul-Jabar agreed to do the film in exchange for a particular oriental rug he'd been coveting at his local Persian rug store; (b) a pointing-out of the location in the airplane set where the cabin of the plane is held together with beige masking tape; (c) the shot in which the best-boy grip can be seen playing out cable ahead of the lead actors as they walk down a jetway; (d) Producer Michael Eisner's demand that the prop-plane foley sound be ditched in favor of jet-noise, which the filmmakers agreed to do -- and then politely didn't; and (e) the astonishingly funny story about how the German dubbing artist handled the dilemma of how un-funny the "black" dialogue would be, in German. Here's a hint: All on his own, he took the liberty of translating their lines into a language that neither a black man nor a German would be expected to speak fluently -- a fact that Zucker, Abrams and Zucker only deduced when they viewed the film in a theater in Germany and couldn't understand why the black-guy scenes were laying people in the aisles.

53. 8-1/2 (1963). I've heard it said that most of the cache of this film is dependent on having seen a significant portion of director Frederico Felini's other works, in general, and on appreciating the title as a self-directed jab at the creative drought that descended over Felini after completion of his immediately previous -- and eighth -- film, La Dolce Vita. And I'm here to tell you that it doesn't matter: Just as Airplane works without having first seen Zero Hour, this film works regardless of one's familiarity with Felini the director, or with the angst-ridden impetus that went into this particular project, either one.

In a move that must have been the inspiration for Charlie Kauffman's assorted and ham-fisted ripoffs, Felini writes and directs this story of Guido (Marcello Mastroiani), a famous but suddenly uninspired director endeavoring to make a picture in a town not quite remote enough to spare him from the demands-for-access of his assorted film gliterarti, or his assorted female lovers either one. Already totally committed to the completion of the project, Guido careens from one preposterous request being placed upon him to the next, eventually retreating into a blurred similacrum in which the best fever-dream vignettes infect his waking life, and ultimately his plans for how to complete the picture.

Bucking the conventional wisdom, I took in this particular Felini film before any other, and the approach had both an up- and down-side. On the one hand, it has rendered all other Felini films far too accessible and linear for me to place them on the same tier of greatness that they enjoy with so many other film buffs -- I sat through the last half of La Dolce Vita more out of respect than any impulse that would sound more like actually giving a shit -- but it also rarefies the experience of 8-1/2 itself, which commands a special place in my heart as one of those "I'll always know where I was the first time" sorts of films.

52. To Kill a Mockingbid (1962). I don't know how many among us will believe this (or even how many are still reading), but I did not consciously set out to produce a list of great movies that all came from the same half-dozen years, and so help me I have no idea exactly what it was about 1962 -- or 1974, or 1999, or 2000, or 2003, that made them such hothouses for the best motion pictures. Actually, I can understand '74, since between Watergate and Vietnam I wouldn't have wanted to be watching television that summer if I were old enough to take myself to the movies, either.

Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch, the trial lawyer brought into small-town, racially divided rural Alabama in the 1930s to defend a young black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Everything is against Finch, of course, and almost from the outset it becomes obvious that the town's white-folk know far more about the case than they are letting on. Of course. But what makes the picture work to peerless perfection as a statement on prewar race relations in the south is that we view the events through the eyes of "Scout" (Mary Badham), a six year-old whose child-like innocence makes her both more flexible, and more sympathetic in revealing her own forced perspectives on the case. Supporting cast is also a key component of this one, from a young Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, to William Windom as the unwavering prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer.

Director Robert Mulligan had come to this project more-or-less directly from television, and yet knocked the job straight over the centerfield fence -- balancing close-ups with far-corner ceiling shots, especially inside the courtroom, with cutaways between the two timed intentionally a half a beat too early or a half a beat too late, elevating the tension of the proceedings by enabling us to hear someone's testimony, or someone else's cross-examination, without always or even generally being able to look directly into the face of whomever is speaking. Instead, we spend as much time watching the person who is listening: We gauge his reactions, we watch the lines in his face deepen and sag with the realization that he knows more than he is telling, that he is about to hear an answer he didn't want to hear, that he might be getting ready to lie.

It is interesting to me that Mulligan went on to direct fourteen more pictures and didn't score anything like the same creative or commercial success until his very, very last one, The Man in the Moon (1991), the only other picture he ever made about race relations in the rural south. It's enough to make a person wonder how ubiquitous this man's stature over filmmaking would've been if he'd kept loyally to that subject-matter and ridden it all the way back to the paddock. It's enough to make a person wonder how many bold and important pictures we never got to see.

51. LA Confidential (1997). It is 1950s Los Angeles and the city is adrift in a sea of corruption and sleaze that makes today's LA look like a Sunday-school class for twenty-five million people. Kevin Spacey is Jack Vincennes, a bit-rate cop whose principal conduit for validation comes from his job as creative consultant to a slimey television show, while Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce play two other cops at opposite ends of the bad-cop / good-cop spectrum (respectively), in the characters of Bud White and Ed Exeley, whose reputations have been "made" by nailing the assassins who brutally slaughtered all the patrons of a posh LA nightclub.

But the harder each of the three men pull on the strings of their shared story, the less is obvious about its boundaries, or about the motives behind the killings either one. What begins as a simple story of a daring mass-robbery gone terribly wrong eventually leads to the doorstep of a powerful businessman who runs a call-girl ring consisting of hookers who have been surgically altered to resemble movie stars. In the classic style of all James Ellroy novels, each of the three principals must painfully reassess exactly what it is that he is after, and what it is that he is willing to give up, to resolve his own conflicted feelings about truth and status and right and wrong. Nobody gets away clean of the taint of ambition, and nobdoy fools with people more powerful than he without taking the ultimate risk.

Noire thrillers always have a very high standard to meet: They must be enthralling enough that the depressing nature of the genre doesn't bog-down the audience in a melancholy so overpowering that they fail to enjoy the picture. They must also avoid the risk of self-caricature, since the noire vehicle -- especially the L.A. noire vehicle -- is so self-evident from the opening scenes of any film that attempts to cover it. Their creators must also be unafraid, as then-little-known director Curtis Hanson was unafraid, to stand toe-to-toe with some of the finest movies that the art of cinema has ever produced, and not concern themselves with critical dismissal as second-rate imposters. Perhaps this last challenge, that of summoning greatness in a genre that has already shown us so much greatness, is in the end what made LA Confidential so impeccibly great.

It's embarrassing for me to admit this, but LA Confidential was my introduction to Kevin Spacey; I'd never heard of him before. I've heard of him now --an astonishingly talented and versitile actor whose co-ownership of three of the slots in this list feels, if anything, like it might be something of a slight. Certainly a person would have no apologies to make, to anybody, if he or she placed this particular movie at the number-one position overall, and I don't think I can quite say that about any of the other movies we've covered to this point in our journey.

So there you have it, folks: The first half -- the bottom half -- of the 100 finest movies. Will the oxygen stay thick enough for somebody's specific, favored title to yet squeeze itself in? Only time will tell....


isuyankee said... you're talking my language. Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue! And Dave, do you like movies about gladiators?

Dave O'Gorman said...

No, no, no: My name is Murtoch. See? MURR-toch. I'm the co-pilot.