Ranking the 50 Movies Project 2014: #50-26

Last year, I embarked on my annual 50 Movies Project using a “contemporary” theme (films from the 1980s to present day). Overall, it was another successful edition of the project, and it was great to finally tackle some films that I might not have otherwise seen. Today and tomorrow I will be ranking the selections, concluding with my favorite film of the group. Here we go, starting from the bottom:

#50 – Armageddon [1998]
Armageddon [1998]
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Movie Project #45-50: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Godfather: Part III, Miller’s Crossing, Pretty Woman, Thelma & Louise, Armaggedon

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford [2007]
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford [2007]
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford moves at a very slow pace (and I mean *very* slow), but it’s infinitely rewarding for those with the patience to see it through. This could very well be the most beautifully shot film I have come across in this year’s project. From Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography to Nick Cave’s equally enchanting score, this is a monumental audio/visual experience. The cast is terrific as well, led by Brad Pitt as the outlaw Jesse James, and Casey Affleck as the weaselly Robert Ford (not to mention memorable supporting roles from Sam Shepard, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner and Sam Rockwell, among others). This is a film that has grown on me the more I reflect upon it, and I can see why it has a loyal following to this day. 8/10
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Movie Project #40-44: Dirty Dancing, Being John Malkovich, A Christmas Story, Dances With Wolves, and Gomorrah

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Dirty Dancing [1987]
Dirty Dancing [1987]
I can see how this would be a “guilty pleasure” for some. I was honestly quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. It’s cheesy in all the right ways (“Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”), the performances from Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey are infectious, and the dancing is oddly alluring. I do have to say it was a bit strange that raising money for an abortion was a central plot point, as that’s not something I would have expected from such a wildly popular movie like this. I wouldn’t call Dirty Dancing a great movie by any means, but it’s fun, and sometimes that’s all that is needed. 7/10
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Movie Project #38 and #39: Amour [2012] and Driving Miss Daisy [1989]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Amour [2012, dir. Michael Haneke]
Amour [2012, dir. Michael Haneke]
It took me two years to finally work up the courage to see Amour. I highly expected it to be a great movie (and it very much is), but it’s hard to find the right mood to sit down and voluntarily watch something so emotionally challenging.
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Movie Project #36 and #37: Run Lola Run [1998] and The Orphanage [2007]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

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Run Lola Run [1998, dir. Tom Tykwer]
Oh, this was good. Tom Tykwer’s stylish film is like a shot of adrenaline with its frenetic techno soundtrack and its stop-start videogame-like structure. By the end of it, I had so much energy that I wanted to run until my body gave out. Yeah, it has that kind of impact.
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Movie Project #34 and #35: The Aviator [2004] and Misery [1990]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Aviator [2004, dir. Martin Scorsese]
The Aviator [2004, dir. Martin Scorsese]
Perhaps I am looking in all of the wrong places, but doesn’t it seem odd that a modern film with 11 Oscar nominations, including five wins, is rarely discussed these days? Especially when said film is directed by Martin Scorsese and features brilliant performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett, among others? Perhaps it is the fact that most involved have done superior work, but that doesn’t change the fact that The Aviator is a well-crafted epic.
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Movie Project #32 and #33: JFK [1991] and The Untouchables [1987]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

JFK [1991]
JFK: Director’s Cut [1991, dir. Oliver Stone]
In Oliver Stone’s JFK, damn near everyone is to blame for the assassination of our 35th President — the CIA, FBI, Mafia, LBJ, Castro, the Dallas Police Department, and Southern anti-Communist radicals. These targets are all linked together by New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner). The film follows his obsession with the case and his desperate attempts to uncover possible conspiracies.

Whether or not any of the theories presented in the film are true is irrelevant because JFK is simply a masterclass in the art of storytelling. So many different threads are successfully weaved in and out, and once you go down that rabbit hole, there’s no turning back. Our country will never truly know who all was involved in the shooting, but considering the fallacies in the “lone gunman” argument, I wouldn’t be surprised if the film held more truth than the government’s own Warren Commission.

For a film in which the director’s cut encompasses a whopping 206 minutes, time sure does fly by. Part of that is because the mystery regarding the assassination itself is so riveting, but a large part can be attributed to an absolutely stellar cast. Costner anchors the film, but just take a look at some of the other big names involved: Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker, Jack Lemmon, Walter Mattheau, Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, John Candy… Every single one of them delivers a memorable performance, all crucial to the plot in some fashion.

The film’s length is what put me off from watching it for so long, and that’s a damn shame. JFK still has me thinking to this day, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it near the top of my project at the end of the year. 9/10

The Untouchables [1987, dir. Brian De Palma]
The Untouchables [1987, dir. Brian De Palma]
Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables is a real crowd pleaser. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s got a sharp script courtesy of David Mamet, an Oscar-nominated score from the legendary Ennio Morricone, and it’s stacked with memorable setpieces featuring an all-star cast. Set during 1920s Chicago, the film follows the famous Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his group of “untouchables” (including a tough Irish bastard played by Sean Connery) as they seek to take down Al Capone (Robert De Niro) and his illegal bootlegging operations.

There’s a lot to like here, and it starts with the characters. Ness is a straight-laced agent, but there’s something admirable about his dedication to the law. His righthand man, the local beat cop played by Connery, is a real highlight, providing a certain energy to balance out the dry Ness. De Niro isn’t given a whole lot to work with as Capone, unfortunately, though there is one unforgettable scene where he does his best Babe Ruth impression with a baseball bat (except not on a baseball, if you know what I mean..).

Since this is a De Palma film, it is beautifully shot, and it makes brilliant use of its Chicago setting. In arguably the film’s most famous scene, a staircase inside the Union Station is used as an homage to the famous Odessa Steps sequence in the silent classic, Battleship Potemkin. Although the climax is a bit too over the top for my liking, on the whole The Untouchables is a highly entertaining film that still holds up today. 8/10

Movie Project #30 and #31: Apollo 13 [1995] & Philadelphia [1993]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Apollo 13 [1995]
Apollo 13 [1995, dir. Ron Howard]
Ah yes, “Houston, we have a problem.” Ron Howard’s spin on the near-disastrous real-life Apollo 13 mission certainly has its place in pop culture history. It also serves as an intriguing history lesson, especially for someone (i.e. me) who somehow had not seen this over the last nineteen years.

Apollo 13 tells the story of what should have been America’s third Moon landing mission, one that ultimately put the crew’s lives in danger due to a mechanical defect. Even though I had known at the very least that the crew would survive, the film remains a mostly suspenseful ride. The three men aboard the spacecraft, Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) and Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), frantically work together with Mission Control back in Houston (led by a flight director played by Ed Harris) in order to make it home alive. Naturally, there’s quite a bit of tension, and the moments where everyone is able to come up with possible solutions feel like genuine triumphs. By all accounts, the film is also technically accurate, and this really enhances its overall presentation.

The cast here is terrific, though I wish characters other than Hanks’s Lovell would have been fleshed out more. I felt bad for Bacon’s Swigert, as he gets little to no development after being selected as a last-minute replacement for an astronaut with possible impending measles (played by Gary Sinise). Paxton’s character is also lacking in depth, which is surprising since these three men are essentially considered equals on the same team, yet only Hanks is given proper attention. Still, regardless of these character flaws, Apollo 13 does remain an engaging account of a mission that could have been an awful tragedy. 7/10

Philadelphia [1993]
Philadelphia [1993, dir. Jonathan Demme]
Philadelphia has its place in history for being one of the first Hollywood films to tackle HIV/AIDS and homophobia, and for that, it certainly deserves some praise. It helps to have two powerhouse performances from two of the best actors in the business as well.

Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, an AIDS-stricken lawyer who is fired solely because of his condition. He enlists the help of Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), the only willing attorney in Philadelphia to file this wrongful dismission suit. Miller is homophobic, and the film makes sure to remind us this over and over again. Some scenes meant to establish this are laughable (such as one where Miller is hit on at a pharmacy by a football-carrying man), but Washington is so good that he transcends the sometimes cringe-worthy dialogue. Hanks won an Oscar for his performance, and perhaps deservedly so — this is among his best work.

Philadelphia has its heart in the right place — the fact that it helped deconstruct so many myths about AIDS is fantastic — but it fails in other accounts. For a film in which its main character is a gay man in a loving relationship with another (played by Antonio Banderas), I can’t recall seeing two men kiss at all during its run time. Perhaps the world wasn’t ready for this at the time, but it seems like a glaring oversight. Philadelphia is still a captivating watch, as well as a solid courtroom drama, but its issues are more noticeable today. 7/10

Movie Project #28 and #29: Pirates of the Caribbean [2003] & Master and Commander [2003]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl [2003, dir. Gore Verbinski]
It’s kind of amazing that I have managed to evade the Pirates of the Caribbean series over the years. It wasn’t until recently (say, in the last couple years) that I was even aware of the theme park ride that served as Curse of the Black Pearl‘s inspiration. Nowadays, it’s not inconceivable to make an enjoyable film based on something so shallow (i.e. The Lego Movie), but I imagine it was quite the surprise back then.

In a nutshell, Curse of the Black Pearl is a huge budget adventure flick that relies heavily on its uniquely strange — and charismatic — lead, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). There’s no denying Sparrow is a great character, and Depp delivers a performance so likable that it inspired him to basically play (mostly uninspired) variations of this for the next several years. Geoffrey Rush matches him step-for-step in the form of the villainous Barbossa, and the two of them make for quite the pairing. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley also play pivotal characters, but they are far less interesting. When neither Sparrow nor Barbossa are on screen, the film suffers slightly.

Curse of the Black Pearl overstays its welcome a bit, but it does manage to find the right mix of action and humor (with a dash of romance) throughout. It’s easy to see why this became a successful movie franchise, although it’s also surprising how dark it can be, given the Disney name attached to it. 7/10

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World [2003, dir. Peter Weir]
Whereas Pirates of the Caribbean is a fantastical adventure with skeleton pirates and an eccentric hero, Master and Commander comes across as authentic as it gets. While I don’t know a starboard from a poop deck, I was continually impressed with how this Peter Weir feature doesn’t dumb down its content for the audience. The very first scene throws us right into the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, with Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his HMS Surprise being ambushed by a French privateer ship that is significantly larger in size. It isn’t until the battle scene is over that the film sheds some light on what we just saw, thanks to some dialogue between Aubrey and others on the ship. Even then, the conversation feels natural, and not forced to enlighten us as viewers.

It’s this sense of realism that really impressed me with the film. Crowe makes Aubrey out to be a great leader, but not one without flaws. He is kept partly in check via his friend and ship doctor, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), a man who finds respite in the form of species observation and collecting. They provide a good balance for each other, with the doctor being the more levelheaded of the two.

Master and Commander makes for an excellent underdog story, as Aubrey leads the HMS Surprise across the high seas frantically in pursuit of the French ship that damn near destroyed them at the beginning of the film. Pursuing rather than retreating is a ballsy move, but this chase makes for an increasingly entertaining adventure. It’s a shame that Master and Commander has become a bit of a forgotten film, because this is a great piece of historical fiction. 8/10