Top 100 Movie Review: #2 – Casablanca (1942)

Play it Again, Sam.

Okay – I know that quote never happened, but what did happen is Hollywood’s template that it still uses today: love story, playful characters, happy ending, good always prevails.

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Sam (Dooley Wilson) , Rick (Humphrey Bogart)  and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman).

American Film Institutes Ranking: #3/100
Awards: Nominated for eight winning three: Picture, Director and Writing/Screenplay.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

This movie.

From the first moments in Rick’s cafe, I realized that I was going to really enjoy this one. What Hollywood does so well is pulling the wool over our eyes. The movie’s plot and characters feigned, pushing against the boundaries of reality, but time and time again we find the magic produced so enticing we suspend our thinking minds and tap into our imaginations.

This doozy of a WWII flick combines anything you can consider to be Hollywood and does it at a high level. The dialogue, the characters, the setting, and the plot all swept me up, transporting me to a time that no longer exists (and truthfully never did) for one of the best films of all time.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #100 – Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Somehow I Enjoyed a Musical 

I don’t know who I am anymore — enjoying a film based on theater and stage.

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James Cagney plays in this biographical movie about George Cohen, the man who ruled broadway and had his beginnings in vaudeville America.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #100/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for several: best picture, actor, screenplay, supporting actor etc. Won for Best Actor (James Cagney).
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

My dislike for theater runs deep and goes to my early days of college — VCU was home to a vibrant theater community, and early every morning they would flood the dining hall dressed in straight black forgetting that they weren’t on stage. It was kind of like a qualitative study where I got to see what the stress of performance did to one’s life first hand, not to mention the suspense of what Shafer Hall would do to my GI tract.

I set up my netflix cue with a bunch of random movies, so when Yankee Doodle Dandy arrived, I really had no idea what it was about. Once I read that summary on the DVD slip, I started to worry.

Somehow, I came out not only pleased, but ready to recommend this film to anyone who would listen to me Yammer about vaudeville, WWI and this “American as you get” film.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #1 – Citizen Kane (1941)

Easy to Enjoy This Seminal Movie

The cinematography, the art direction, and the chopped storyline of thousands of other movies owe their derivation to this original piece. 

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Orson Welles as the protagonist Charles Foster Kane.

American Film Institute Ranking: #1/100
Academy Awards: Received nine nominations, but only winning for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

So the best movie of all-time, eh?

A movie with that distinction has rightfully been sliced and diced from a million different angles, and with having such an interesting figure in the middle of it all (Orson Welles) there is plenty of of wood to stoke the fire when discussing this piece of significant Americana.

First and foremost, the movie is very enjoyable. From the get go you realize this isn’t run-of-the-mill, early Hollywood; the movie opens up with an electric use of film angles and art direction, creating amazing intrigue with nothing more than ingenious camera work. This is followed with an inverted story, jumping back and forth between present and past in a way Quinten Tarantino would approve. Then, the fascinating main engine that keeps everything runningL the search for what “Rosebud” means.

What materializes is a move that has a little bit of everything: an intriguing story, well-written characters, a period piece of 1940s America, and a commentary on life, capitalism, power and fulfillment.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #98 – Unforgiven (1992)

A Ho-Hum Western

The moment you’ve been waiting for finally comes 4/5ths through the movie, but it all seems too late and anti-climatic. 

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Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Jaimz Woolvett. 

American Film Institutes Ranking: #98/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for several: best picture, actor, screenplay, director, supporting actor. Won for supporting actor (Gene Hackman), Director (Clint Eastwood) and Picture.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-star

I’m okay with Westerns. My favorite book of all time happens to be a Western (Lonesome Dove). Older generations who display the red,white and blue at every door and buy cars made only in Detroit view Westerns as a quintessential American representation. The West represents the idyllic egalitarian society with no centralized government and each small community creating their own standards for law and acceptable behavior — no need for big government here!

It all works out for you as long as you are the swashbuckling cowboy and not one of the the characters regelated to the edges such as women, children, seniors, and those not willing to be violent. Unforgiven continues with this deconstruction of the Western narrative, focusing on a protagonist that isn’t glistening with moral righteousness while showing the real toll of vigilante justice. So while Unforgiven is certainly a Western, it tries to butt up against the glorification of the genre.

My problem is that in the process of flipping the script, you lose connection with the characters leaving a resolution that is ultimately unsatisfying.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #3 – The Godfather (1972)

The Offer We Just Can’t Refuse

A front row seat to the underbelly of Mafia crime, the movie about the Corleone family has plenty of malevolent retribution to enjoy.

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Marlon Brando who won Best Actor as Vito Corleone.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #3/100
Awards: Nominated for eleven awards with one being revoked and winning Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

This is one of the heavy hitters of film, obvious by how high it is ranked (#3!) but also by its universal acclaim. Unfortunately, I’m not 100% on the bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong. I find this movie very good and enjoyable, but I’m not quite sure I would put it in my top five movies of all time.

There is something intoxicating about seeing the inner workings of the mafia, and Francis Ford Coppola’s movie does a wonderful job of characterization — there are rememberable people, interactions, and changes amongst the cast over the course of the movie. The fact that no one is safe from the violence adds an additional level of intrigue, never knowing who might be the next one to “sleep with the fishes.”

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Top 100 Movie Review: #34 – To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Who Doesn’t Want to Emulate Atticus Finch?

Even with a slightly white-washed script, “To Kill a Mockingbird” can swell the spirit and can recreate the magic from the book. 

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Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson.

American Film Institute Ranking: #34/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for eight, including best picture and director, while winning three for Best Actor (Gregory Peck), Best Adapted Screenplay (Horton Foote), and Best Art Direction.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

First, I think it has to be appreciated the challenge this director and screen writer faced: they had to take one of the most beloved pieces of literature and transmute it onto the silver screen. This was no small task.

Their approach was to put more focus on Atticus Finch than Scout which is a pretty-big deviation from the book. There are both positives and negatives because of this narrative change, and people’s feelings about this movie can usually be tracked back to how they view this slight of hand. Atticus is such a beloved figure of moral inspiration that having him be the center brings his edifying persona to the forefront, allowing fans of the book to get more of a favorite character. The downside is that the story strikes an odd tone, being almost silent on the African American plight.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #97 – Bringing Up Baby (1938)

I laughed — Once.

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Katherine Hepburn as Susan Vance, Cary Grant as David Huxley, and the titular character Baby the Leopard.

American Film Institute Ranking: #97/100
Academy Awards:
None
Director: 
Howard Hawks
My Rating: smooth-star

What is comedy?

It’s a tricky question to answer and is the crux of my problem with this movie. What makes someone laugh: do you prefer witty, ridiculous, crass, situational, ironic, play-on-words, role reversals, self-depreciating, or some combination of the above? This movie has universal appeal with a resounding unison of positive reviews. This is quite different from how it was described at the time of its release, with phrases such as “box-office poison” and such a bomb that it threatened Hepburn’s film career with critics.

Somehow through syndication, this movie gained a steamroller of momentum and now is regarded as the quintessential screwball, romantic comedy that created an entire genre. I can’t help but agree with the original opinion. While the movie appealed to my love of wacky and imaginative, the delivery made this one of the most frustrating films I’ve ever watched.

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