Friday, April 23, 2010

Watch a Movie and Die (Part One)

We love lists here at Pop Culture America, so when yahoo put out its list of the 100 movies from the last twenty years that you must see before you die, it was like catnip for us. Cyber catnip.

This is a big ol' list (100 strong!) and I want to present it in its entirety, so we'll do this on the installment plan: the 1990s today, the 2000s tomorrow. After the yahoo choices, I've included five alternate picks for each year, just to get the debate rolling.

Remember, these are movies to see before you die. That means we're not just talking about some good flicks that we like: we're talking Absolute Musts that you will regret missing as you gaze down from the In-Between like Saoirse Ronan. This is serious effin' business. So without (much) further ado, here are the 100 Movies You Must See Before You Die as selected by yahoo and with alternates from that li'l ol' alternator, me.



I'm not sure that Misery has worn all that well over the years, but GoodFellas is a no-brainer. Might I also suggest ...

Edward Scissorhands
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Joe Versus The Volcano
Miller's Crossing
The Freshman

It might be hard to remember after the glop he put on the screen this year, but Tim Burton used to make lovely original fables like Edward Scissorhands. Joe Versus the Volcano is an underrated gem that I enjoy more every time I see it. Miller's Crossing got brutally overshadowed in its day, being released on the same weekend as both GoodFellas and Godfather III, but it holds up as well as the former and much better than the latter. Henry ... is one of the most chilling, harrowing films I've ever seen. The Freshman is a beautifully executed farce with Matthew Broderick at his befuddled best and an uproarious turn from Marlon Brando.


Beauty and the Beast
The Silence of the Lambs
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Thelma and Louise

All solid choices. I still think T2 is utterly unnecessary, but as unnecessary movies go, I'll admit it's one of the best. Might I also suggest ...

Barton Fink
The Commitments
Defending Your Life

Warren Beatty delivers what might be his finest performance in Bugsy. JFK has been raked over the coals over the years for this or that inaccuracy by people who completely miss the point. With Barton Fink, my Coen-love is showing again. The Commitments is gritty and joyful. Defending Your Life is Albert Brooks' best film and the first inkling that Meryl Streep could be funny.


Malcolm X
The Player
Raise the Red Lantern

I'm not as enamored of the Hong Kong chop-socky as the yahoo folks apparently are. Check out Hard-Boiled because its undeniably influential, but Supercop? It's okay, but I could have gone to my deathbed without seeing it and been perfectly content. Malcolm X, The Player, and Unforgiven are all absolutely essential. Might I also suggest ...

Batman Returns
Glengarry Glen Ross
Death Becomes Her
Reservoir Dogs
Under Siege

How did the yahoo folks leave off Reservoir Dogs? Mr. Blonde will not be happy. I think Batman Returns is audacious and brilliant; lots of people vehemently disagree with me. Death Becomes Her is a riot; more funny from Meryl Streep and a superb, understated performance from Bruce Willis. Movie dialogue has been trying to catch up to the desperate sales patter in GGR for years, to no avail. And Under Siege. Yes, a Steven Seagal film. Deal with it. It's great.


Dazed and Confused
Groundhog Day
Schindler's List

All fine choices. Remember when Matthew McConaughey actually bothered to act? Good times. Might I also suggest ...

The Fugitive
True Romance
The Remains of the Day

The Fugitive is one of the tightest action movies of all time (same director as Under Siege, not coincidentally). Kevin Kline is wonderful in the political fantasy Dave. Matinee is real under-the-radar stuff, but John Goodman as a schlock horror film producer has never been better. Tarantino might not have directed True Romance, but thanks to his script, every frame drips with Tarantino-esque-ness (new word!). And The Remains of the Day is exquisitely acted and paradoxically passionate; my fave from Merchant-Ivory.


Chungking Express
Ed Wood
Forrest Gump
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Pulp Fiction
The Shawshank Redemption
(Three Colors Trilogy)

More Hong Kong action? Someone's getting a kickback. I'll confess to never having sat down with the Three Colors Trilogy. Something to do before I die, I suppose. The others are inarguable; I'm especially glad they included Ed Wood which died a hideous death at the box office, but grows in stature each year. Might I also suggest ...

The Mask
Bullets Over Broadway
The Hudsucker Proxy
The Last Seduction
The Paper

The Mask gave Jim Carrey his most Jim Carrey-ish role, even more so than Ace Ventura. Bullets Over Broadway is a scream with one of the best ensembles of the era. Like Ed Wood, The Hudsucker Proxy couldn't give away tickets in its day -- I blame that unwieldy title. The Last Seduction barely got a theatrical release and was first seen on cable, which disqualified Linda Fiorentino from most awards consideration. Unfortunate because she's nothing short of incendiary in the film. And The Paper might be a little by-the-numbers, but another great ensemble acts the hell out of it.


Before Sunrise
Living in Oblivion
Sense and Sensibility
Toy Story
The Usual Suspects

Toy Story, Usual Suspects and Heat are gimmes. Babe is sweet, with great work from James Cromwell. Before Sunrise and Living in Oblivion are both influential post-modern romances. Sense and Sensibility is a competent bit of Jane Austen. Clueless is still cute, though it isn't holding up well as the years pass. After the first three, I wouldn't have the rest of these on the list. Might I also suggest ...

The Quick and the Dead
Rob Roy

Two tremendous medieval actioners in Braveheart and Rob Roy. The final sword fight between Liam Neeson and Tim Roth in the latter is one of my favorite scenes of the era. If Clockers isn't Spike Lee's best, it's dang close. Se7en still packs a wallop. As for The Quick and the Dead, it's an odd duck, to be sure; no plot to speak of but loads of attitude and a once-in-a-lifetime cast (Stone, Crowe, DiCaprio, Hackman) shamelessly chewing the dusty scenery.


Big Night
Dead Man
Ghost in the Shell
Lone Star
Secrets and Lies
Sling Blade

Lotsa good quotes here -- "You betcha," "Them french fry pertaters, mm-hmm," "You're money, baby!" "Choose life." Love Big Night, Fargo, Lone Star and Trainspotting. The rest don't feel quite as essential. Might I also suggest ...

Fly Away Home
That Thing You Do!

Tom Hanks is finally directing again this year! His first effort -- That Thing You Do! -- is an underseen jewel brimming with joy, but scratch the surface and there are serious, murky depths to plumb. Fly Away Home is a sweet triumphal family film -- and I normally hate family films. Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet is a magnificent folly with its four-hour runtime and oddball casting (Jack Lemmon? Robin Williams?). Kingpin is one of the funniest movies of the era. Full stop. And Bound is a gripping, sexy caper movie with not one but two femme fatales. Or is that "Femmes Fatale?" Stupid French.


Boogie Nights
Eve's Bayou
L.A. Confidential
The Sweet Hereafter

In the wake of Avatar, it's instructive to go back to Titanic and see just how effective the James Cameron formula is -- place a traditional love story in the foreground of a huge spectacle. Hey, it worked for Scarlett O'Hara. And Rick and Ilsa. All these are terrific choices. Might I also suggest ...

My Best Friend's Wedding
Wag the Dog
Grosse Pointe Blank
The Ice Storm
Starship Troopers

My Best Friend's Wedding is a great romantic comedy -- and I normally hate romantic comedies -- because Julia Roberts has the guts to be thoroughly unlikable in it. Wag the Dog is an all-too-incisive political satire with devious work by both Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. Grosse Pointe Blank is a sweet movie about a hitman (rare). The Ice Storm is a meticulously observed family drama with a young cast that would go on to rule the next decade's box office (Spider-Man! Frodo!). And then there's Starship Troopers, which is a political satire just as biting in its own way as Wag the Dog. Requires re-evaluation.


The Big Lebowski
Out of Sight
Saving Private Ryan
There's Something About Mary

Haven't seen Fireworks, but the rest are all worthy. Might I also suggest ...

Shakespeare in Love
Zero Effect
The Truman Show
Wild Things

Yeah, that's right. I have not one but two Denise Richards films in my 100 movies to see before you die list. Wanna make something of it? Wild Things is a twisty, turny roller coaster of a thriller. Rushmore's quirkiness caught me first, but it's the tenderness and the vulnerability of its principles that keeps me coming back. Zero Effect is a small miracle of a movie with a magnificent central character played to the hilt by Bill Pullman; I don't say this often but I wish there had been a sequel. The Truman Show was ahead of its time, anticipating reality TV before it had really taken hold. And Shakespeare in Love is THE BEST FILM OF THE YEAR! Cope with it, Oscar haters.


All About My Mother
American Beauty
Being John Malkovich
Fight Club
The Matrix
Princess Mononoke
Run Lola Run
The Sixth Sense
Three Kings

Wow. Pretty good year. Malkovich, Fight Club and Election are all in the running for any all-time favorite list I might make, let alone for just one year. The rest here are pretty good, too, though I've never been as wild about The Matrix as the rest of my geek brethren. Might I also suggest ...

Toy Story 2
Eyes Wide Shut
Sweet and Lowdown

In Toy Story 2, Jesse's Song breaks my heart. Dogma is sacrileg-a-rific! Eyes Wide Shut is a difficult one but it's worth the journey for one of the best punchlines in any film. Magnolia is a symphony of pain that prefigures a lot of what P.T. Anderson would do a decade later in There Will Be Blood. And in Sweet and Lowdown, Sean Penn takes his dates out to shoot rats at the dump!

Check back here tomorrow for a look at the 2000s. Then come join us on Pop Culture America on on Sunday, April 25, at 1PM Eastern as we break down this list even further still.

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