Top 100 Movie Review: #21 – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Degrading Capitalism.

I might be in favor of free markets, but damn does this movie show you all the problems with it. 

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American Film Institute’s Ranking: #21/100
Awards: Nominated for 7 winning 2 for Best Supporting Actress and Director.
My Rating: StarStarStarStar

I wish things were simpler.

I’ve been inundated with pro-capitalism news. Steven Pinker has no shortage of statistics showing how global poverty is being eradicated, environmentalism is thriving, and wars are being reduced due to the principles of free markets. It’s a compelling and important message to get out there given how easy it is to be nihilistic in present times; we live in the most abundant times, but feel as if we have nothing.

Then, something like The Grapes of Wrath comes along and shows you that all that cheery news has a darkside. There are real people this system grinds up. It makes us lose our humanity. It changes our relationships with each other.

By no means have I flipped to some socialistic view. Hell, if we followed the Joad family for a little longer, the post-WWII years would have lifted many out of this meager existence. However, it has made me rethink what we need to do to minimize the negative effects.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #39 – Dr. Zhivago (1965)

Everything’s Perfect Except the Ending.

A romance epic that’s damn good. 

doctorzhivago1965bq525lb.jpgAmerican Film Institute’s Ranking: #39/100
Awards: Nominated for 10 winning 5 losing out to The Sound of Music for the big ones.
My Rating: StarStarStarStar

I watched this movie over the course of three mornings. It became a mini ritual: waking up early, brewing some coffee, and watching this epic unfold as the sun came up. I didn’t expect to come out the other side with such affection. Like any good film, it has a little bit of everything. The historical context might be a little whitewashed, but the characters and scenery make up for some of the more superficial aspects.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #62 – Tootsie (1982)

This Movie Makes Me Uncomfortable.

I laughed but there was plenty to make me squirm. 

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American Film Institute’s Ranking: #62/100
Awards: Nominated for ten Academy Awards only winning one for Best Supporting Actress.
My Rating: StarStar

I rarely go social justice warrior, but something in this film made the progressive side of my values light up. Sure, some snide things were said in Some Like it Hot, another classic Hollywood film centered on cross dressing, but that film gets a pass for being from such a distant era. There is no way it should be more cognitive of possible offenses than Tootsie with its 1982 release date.

Well, get ready to cringe.

I laughed enough to enjoy the film (that classic gender confusion humor y’all), but there were three things that made me take pause:  the destruction the main character caused, the attempted rape scene, and how the best woman ended up being a man.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #71 – Forrest Gump (1994)

Cartoon Whimsical Bullshit.

Trying to defend just one of the messages in Forrest Gump would be a Herculean task, but trying to defend them all is impossible. 

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American Film Institutes Ranking: #71/100
Awards: Nominated for thirteen winning Best Director, Actor, and Picture.
My Rating: None.

I’ve never given a film no stars before.

I tried to do this top 100 thing in high school since I had too much free time. Back in 2005, I felt like the whole fabric of this movie was just nostalgia. I despised it: all the quotable lines rested on a bedrock of a greatest hits album, and everything else that happened was just fluff. After this last viewing, I’ve hardened my stance.

Reviewing the top moments in history and music for baby boomers to relive their fleeting lives is at least a palatable and a harmless goal. What I missed then was the multiple layers of incoherent moralizing wrapped in the cream puff of pastiche.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #56 – MASH (1970)

A Black Comedy That Isn’t Funny.

Everyone in MASH comes across as cruel, not humorous.

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American Film Institute’s Ranking: #56/100
Awards: Nominated for five Academy Awards winning for Best Adapted Screenplay.
My Rating: Star

Here’s some avant garde stream of consciousness for you.

War is horrifying. To participate and survive, people must cope. Some people do so by adhering to procedure and military culture. Others become self-destructive, running to drugs and alcohol. Then there are some that become unabashedly cruel. They live out crude and misogynistic lives to deal with the mangled bodies.

That last group is the focal point of Robert Altman’s MASH. We are supposed to sympathize and laugh because they aren’t doing this out of free will. In the words of Roger Ebert:

“Most comedies want us to laugh at things that aren’t really funny; in this one we laugh precisely because they’re not funny. We laugh, that we may not cry.”

Ebert’s take is ridiculous because we have nothing to cry about. The characters don’t become conduits for the horror of war because they are so deeply unlikeable. We don’t relate to them; we want to get as far away from them as possible.

To make matters worse, the director, following the new Hollywood template of hippie bullshit, created an episodic story where nothing matters, connects, or coalesces. Trying to pull the strands together in this one is intentionally made impossible.

It’s purposefully inscrutable because that’s all it has to offer: nonsense.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #77 – American Graffiti (1973)

The 30 Second Ending Makes The Movie.

It’s hard to make sense of how to digest this film. 

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American Film Institute’s Ranking: #77/100
Awards: Nominated for five academy awards.
My Rating: StarStarStar

Well, this is weird.

For two hours, I thought George Lucas’s American Graffiti was a bit flat; you have to do better than just capture an era and have a good soundtrack to be must see cinema. Set on the last day before everyone is meant to diverge, a group of teenangers spend the last night of Summer vacation in an intertwining adventure. The problem was none of it seemed important.

That is until the very closing segment, a 30 second epilogue that shows the final outcome of the main characters.

The previous night transforms from a bunch of coming of age tropes into events that dictate the rest of their lives. It’s no longer about drag races and cherry bombs but life and death. I’m not sure if it’s enough to save the movie, but it hit me hard and made me think: the “last time” is usually mundane and hard to recognize.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #64 – Close Encounters Of A Third Kind (1977)

Too Agitating To Be Great.

Kids will forever ruin movies for me, but so do aliens that play tubas. 

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American Film Institute’s Ranking: #64/100
Awards: Nominated for eight winning one for cinematography
My Rating: StarStarStar

Nestled within all the classic Steven Spielberg movies (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Arc, E.T., Hook, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List) is this little egg of a movie recounting human contact with aliens. It’s kind of the forgotten child of his filmography, and I came into it knowing very little other than its spiritual sequel Super 8. 

Overall, it’s a fun little ditty that has some amazing individual scenes and sequences that craps all over the endless CGI vomit of today.

However, there are some personal distastes that this movie puts on a pedestal: too many annoying kids; boring domestic disputes that end in yelling and crying; the powerless female in said domestic dispute. Adding this to the spell-breaking ending, I realized I was half pissed off for too much of this movie for me to consider it great.

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