100 Favorite Movies (070-061)

This is part four of my 100 Favorite Movies. Counting down from 070-061.

Part 1 can be seen here:  100-091

Part 2 can be seen here:  090-081

Part 3 can be seen here:  080-071

...and now for Part 4...

070  The Mothman Prophecies (2002) - This one is a slow burner...you have to be patient. Richard Gere stars as a reporter who is drawn to a small town in West Virginia where the locals report seeing a mysterious Mothman and other strange occurrences. He is drawn to the story because of things his wife said to him before she passed away after a car accident. His obsession with the Mothman is increased further when he learns of the small town and starts to experience some unexplained things for himself. And then one night in his motel, the mysterious Indrid Cold calls his phone.

This one is creepy rather than scary. Are things happening because of something easily explainable or because of some mysterious creature who seems to haunt the dreams of one of the locals? A nice tag for the movie is the fact its based on "true events". And the ending leaves a nice little question mark for the viewer. The movie relies heavily on mood and suspense by never really giving a direct answer for anything. Gere is good as the reporter and you're never quite sure if he's just lost his mind after the tragic death of his wife or if there's something more to it. Laura Linney is the local law enforcement officer and she represents a calmer more rational head amidst the more colorful characters. This is one of those movies I discovered late one night on cable and enjoy watching over and over. And no, I don't know exactly why but the Mothman might be out there...and I want to know as much about him as possible. lol. BEST SCENE: Richard Gere's reporter talks to Indrid Cold. Somehow Indrid Cold knows everything about him. Somehow Indrid Cold can see inside the room and where the reporter has hidden his watch...

069  Wall*E (2008) - You could pick one of about five different PIXAR movies to put in this slot but I picked Wall*E just because I was blown away by its simplicity. A very simple story played out with little dialogue, relying on the amazing animation skills of the PIXAR bods and the brilliant sound effects of Ben Burtt (He's responsible for R2-D2's beeps and Chewbacca's growls and roars too). PIXAR have proved again and again that story is king for their movies. Sure they can sell a million plush versions of their characters but they think about the story first. UP for example told the story of Carl and Ellie's life in a few brilliant minutes. If you weren't completely crushed during that sequence then you should go check if your heart hasn't stopped working. TOY STORY has been hailed as the greatest trilogy ever by some quarters, due to its fun packed stories and the amount of heart the stories have. FINDING NEMO was a tour de force of animation and voice casting, a perfect mix of story and design. I chose Wall*E because it boiled everything down to its simplest form and it worked beautifully. On top of that, the animation is stunning, almost photo-realistic at points. It's an amazing piece of work. Great movie for the whole family. BEST SCENE: A lovestruck Wall*E watches over a shut-down EVE and protects her from wind and rain as he tries to figure out what's going on.

068  The Illusionist (2006) - The Illusionist was somewhat overshadowed by the other "magic" related movie of 2006, The Prestige, because of it's all-star cast (Batman, Wolverine & Harry Palmer) and popular director - Christopher Nolan.  Instead, this movie is a more old fashioned love story. Set in Vienna at the turn of the century, it tells the story of a magician from a low social class who falls in love with a girl from a higher class. Their love is thwarted until years later where the know famous illusionist Eisenheim, played with aplomb by Edward Norton, recognizes his old flame and, using the skills he's learned over his lifetime, means to free his love from her impending marriage to the Crown Prince. Norton is superb as the Illusionist and he worked hard with real magicians to be able to perform his illusions without the use of special effects or stand-ins. Jessica Biel plays the love of his life and Paul Giamatti plays the dogged Inspector who's trying to figure out what's going on. The movie is directed by Neil Burger who has a fantastic visual flair, and shot the movie so that it was almost like looking back in time. The cinematography is great and the way the illusions are shot gives the impression of camera trickery but apparently most of the tricks were done for real. I found this movie to be engrossing, watching the sleight of hand performed by Eisenheim and it's fun to try and figure out the twists as the story unfolds.

067  Internal Affairs (1990) - Another movie with Richard Gere? Yes. And I have to say he's really good as the sleazy and manipulative cop Dennis Peck. However, the reason I enjoy this movie so much is because of Andy Garcia as the single-minded, and often explosive new Internal Affairs cop, Raymond Avila, trying to take Peck down. Garcia brings an unpredictability to his acting, and is known to like to improvise during scenes to bring out fresh moments. I'm not sure how much went on during this particular movie but it some of the best scenes are the little personal interactions he has with his fellow actors. Particularly when he's acting alongside his screen wife Nancy Travis and his partner Amy, played by Laurie Metcalf. I enjoy the intelligence of the script and the fact that once Peck comes under the scrutiny of Avila and his partner, Peck turns all his considerable talents on Avila and has him doubting everything around him. Metcalf is great as the more senior partner of the duo and the way the two build their relationship over the movie is really well done so that by the final reel, you can feel Avila's anger and frustration at what Peck has been able to get away with...but no more...

066  Wit (2001) - I'm breaking a rule here probably. This movie was made for HBO and never released theatrically but I'm including it because...well, I make the rules. lol. Wit is a brutal and often difficult to watch movie about a hard-assed English Professor who is diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. Yeah. Happy. However, there is humor in the movie, sometimes ironic and all observational and you shouldn't be deterred by the weighty and often heart-breaking story. What makes this movie a must-see is the bravura, tour-de-force performance by Emma Thompson as the English Professor. It is through her eyes that we see the cold and clinical nature of her treatment and its from her we feel the emptiness and loneliness of her character after choosing her singular path. She isolated herself as an English professor. She was tough and uncompromising and now, she is suffering the ultimate isolation, a slow and lingering death, alone. Thompson herself scripted the movie based on the play of the same name (the play won the Pulitzer prize). I would think that both her performance and her script would have earned her Oscar nominations had the movie been released in cinemas. It's commentary on the nature of being human, what we need on the most basic level and the nature of the soul is profound but never preachy. Don't watch this movie if you're in a bad mood or feeling down but DO find some time to watch this movie. BEST SCENE: Thompson's Professor is in so much pain and on so much medication she lies whimpering and barely conscious in bed. An old mentor stops by to visit (her first and only visitor) and seeing her suffering climbs up onto the bed beside her. Realizing that she probably doesn't want to hear any of the medieval works she taught at school, she pulls out the book she just bought for her great-grandson and proceeds to read her THE RUNAWAY BUNNY. It chokes me up every...single...time.

065  The Matrix (1999) - Forget the bloated sequels, this one had "bullet time", Keanu Kung-fu, Trinity! Morpheus! Agent Smith! It was wall-to wall with cool ideas and mind-bending concepts and allowed Keanu to furrow his brow and not try to act too much. Whenever there was any danger of acting - KUNG-FU! distracted everyone. The Matrix is one of the most original and entertaining action movies to come along since Die Hard. Its use of cool new digital age trickery solidified it in the consciousness of every movie fan and movie maker since. Without The Matrix there wouldn't be 300 etc etc. It was cool, exciting and they really should've stopped after the first one. BEST SCENE: Welcome to the new world...our first glimpse of Trinity, as she leaps and freezes in midair and takes out a bunch of cops immediately rewrites the rules for the action movie genre.

064  The Bourne Identity (2002) - If you're enjoying the new James Bond movies with Daniel Craig you may want to check this movie out because without it, James Bond might've never gotten a reboot. The start of what became a trilogy of movies, Bourne didn't initially have huge success in theaters. Instead, it found its audience through video stores. And I admit that's how I found this movie too. Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne, an amnesiac fished out of the ocean with bullet wounds on his body and a small device implanted in his hip with a bank account number on it. As the movie unfolds he discovers that despite his memory problems, he has no problem kicking ass, stunt driving and generally performing acts that normal people probably couldn't do. He is a weapon but he has no idea who his masters are and as he discovers things about himself, he's not sure he cares to play that game anymore anyway. Damon is excellent in a part that requires more from him physically than emotionally. The action scenes are exciting and energized by the camera work, by director Doug Liman, and the reveals as we discover things about Bourne at almost the same time as he does. What grabbed me the most when I was watching the movie the first time was when Bourne was planning an escape. Instead of just hopping in a car and being involved in a car chase, Bourne grabbed a map and assessed his escape routes. This little touch made his flight in a Mini from the police all the more believable because now you felt he knew where he was going, instead of it all just being random luck. Bourne comes across as fiercely intelligent and more of a thinking man's assassin than a simple action hero, and that made this movie all the more compelling.

063  Man on Fire (2004) - Tony Scott's recent suicide is a sad ending for one of Hollywood's most consistently audience pleasing directors. Famously, he worked with Denzel Washington on five movies: Unstoppable, The Taking of Pelham 123, Deja Vu, Crimson Tide and this one, Man on Fire, the movie I consider his best. Washington plays a burned out, drunken ex-CIA operative/assassin (Creasy), being handed an opportunity to work as a personal bodyguard in Mexico City. The job, which looks to be no more than a babysitting job for a wealthy couple's daughter, is likely to be Creasy's last as he attempts to take his own life, only the bullet doesn't go off. A fluke. Dakota Fanning plays Pita, the young girl Creasy is tasked with looking after. Pita likes Creasy and attempts to befriend him and despite his initial surliness he starts to warm to the girl. Eventually, Creasy's best friend, played by Christopher Walken, reallizes that Pita has given Creasy a reason to live again. Then we get to the part that gives the movie its title. Pita is kidnapped in broad daylight with Creasy shot and critically wounded in the process. When he wakes and discovers Pita is in all likelihood dead, Creasy is consumed by an anger that will not be quenched until he has brought death upon all those involved in Pita's death.

The movie works because of the time taken to build the relationship between Creasy and Pita so, when she is snatched and Creasy wakes ready to unleash his fury, you are with him all the way. Scott's direction is full of his usual hallmarks: flashy, kinetic and with choppy editing to give the film a very unique feel. Washington is excellent keeping his emotions under wraps but still letting the audience in enough to see what's really going on underneath and Dakota Fanning proves again what a gifted young actress she is by standing toe to toe with Washington and never being overwhelmed by the challenge. BEST LINE:  Christopher Walken explaining something to the cop looking into Creasy's actions: A man can be an artist... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece.

062  The Long Good Friday (1980) - Never mind all of Guy Richie's London gangster stuff, this is the stuff you should be watching. Bob Hoskins is at his very best as Harold "H" Shand, a successful London gangster who, while on the brink of a big money-making enterprise, suddenly finds himself under attack from an unknown source. All of this takes place over the course of one very Long Good Friday. In my opinion this is one of the best British movies of the last fifty years and considering this was Hoskins' first major movie lead role, his performance is extraordinary. Helen Mirren plays Victoria, Harold's strong and supportive love interest and look out for a very young Pierce Brosnan as 1st Irishman! Also worth noting is the music by Francis Monkman. It's all synthesizer but it fits somehow. Maybe 'cause its the 80's! BEST SCENE: The ending, which I won't give away except to say the camera spends a lot of time focused on Hoskins. The theme tune plays and there is no dialogue but you have a good idea what's going through his head. A fantastic ending to a great British gangster movie.

061  Little Miss Sunshine (2006) - This is one of the best comedies in the last decade. It deftly switches from comedic to dramatic beats and back again, the cast nimbly delivering a wonderful group of characters to the screen. The basic plot sees the Hoover family heading to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant so that the youngest of them, Olive, played with perfect sweetness by Abigail Breslin, can compete. However, the simple premise is complicated by the fact that the family is completely dysfunctional. The father, played by Greg Kinear is unsuccessful and unable to sell his self-help techniques to becoming succesful. The grandfather takes drugs and generally want to enjoy the last of his life which puts him at odds with his son. Olive's uncle is a depressed and suicidal Proust scholar and her brother has taken a vow of silence. So the simple act of getting Olive to the pageant turns into a bigger adventure than expected.

On paper, this movie would seem too broad and one would expect a minefield of schmaltz and saccharin character moments. However, the writing is superb and the dark humor works well allowing the dramatic moments to remain truthful and avoid unnecessary and false emotional moments. The cast: Abigail Breslin, Toni Collette, Greg Kinear, Steve Carell (very subdued and proving himself to be more than a one-note actor), Paul Dano and Alan Arkin are all superb, with Breslin's wide-eyed innocence providing the funniest moment towards the end of the movie. Arkin too is superb as the cynical but doting grandfather who works with Olive on her special talent for the pageant. This is a great little movie that did really well for itself and I think all the plaudits are well deserved.



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