In January of 2005 (yes, I know), my then-future husband and I decided to embark upon a fairly ambitious movie-viewing project. Neither of us remembers what the impetus was, but I’m assuming since it was in January (as evidenced by his blog), it was probably some kind of New Year’s Resolution; an effort to gain a bit of a film education. Whatever the reason, we decided that we were going to watch the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the 100 Greatest (American) Movies of the last 100 years. (The list has since been updated, but we decided to stick with 1998.)
Since then, we have gotten married, graduated from grad school, moved from the Midwest to the West Coast to the East Coast, held a variety of library jobs, and are now preparing to become parents. All of that is by way of offering some slight explanation as to why we are just now reaching the halfway point. Admittedly, we have not watched “List” movies to the exclusion of all others, either. And sometimes, with a selection we weren’t looking forward to, we have been known to drag our feet. I think the record for that was about 2 months. Lately, though, due in part to my starting this blog and also to the offerings getting better all the time, we’ve gained some ground. And so, over the weekend, we watched #51, which I have been looking forward to since we started, and will most likely kick off the second half this weekend sometime.
By way of retrospective, I (with assistance from my partner in movie-viewing crime) have selected a “top 10” from numbers 100 to 51. These are movies we really loved or were surprised by. I will also point out that only one of them, I think, is one that both of us had seen before tackling the list. Admittedly, our favorites skew heavily toward comedies and musicals, but hey! We’re generally happy, musically inclined people, and we go with what works. Anyway. All of these movies come highly recommended. Four thumbs up!
In list order:
- #97-Bringing Up Baby (1938): Delicious, screwball lunacy starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. How can you go wrong? I know everyone thinks of Grant as being the picture of suave urbanity, but let me tell you something: the man is funny.
- #93-The Apartment (1960): Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon, and Fred MacMurray are all riveting in this smart, snappy, semi-dark comedy. We knew nothing about this one beforehand, and it became an immediate favorite.
- #82-Giant (1956): We were convinced that this epic drama would be, well, boring. Instead, it is superbly acted and utterly watchable, largely due to the sweeping cinematography and the impressive aging through which the cast goes during the course of film. Liz Taylor is a revelation, and James Dean (in his last role) gives us taste of the greatness lost as a result of his early demise.
- #81-Modern Times (1936): The “first” of three Chaplin films on the list, Modern Times is a really incredible and brilliant satiric commentary on industry, all wrapped up in the guise of the Little Tramp, bumbling through a series of misadventures. This was our first Chaplin film, and while husband would go on to prefer City Lights, I just don’t see how it gets any better than this.
- #68-An American in Paris (1951): You may already be aware that Gene Kelly is my absolute, all-time favorite movie star. And yet, I have a confession to make. Up to about a year ago (I think), I had never seen this movie. I had seen multiple times the clip of the final-act ballet, and I mistakenly thought that the whole movie was the same, which I thought would be really boring. I owe Mr. Kelly (along with Leslie Caron and Oscar Levant) a serious apology. In a word? Fan-Freaking-Tastic. I’m pretty sure I was grinning from ear to ear the whole time. Gene Kelly…is just the best that ever was. I’m gonna stop now. You need to see it.
- #67-The Manchurian Candidate (1962): Much has been made of Angela Lansbury’s fabulously evil mother in this political thriller, and she did not disappoint. Neither did Laurence Harvey in the lead role, and I was personally surprised to note Sinatra’s solid dramatic turn as well. Intense, and really enjoyable to watch.
- #63-Stagecoach (1939): Once again, our expectations for this movie were not very high (despite its inclusion on the list in the first place), but we were pleasantly surprised. A strong ensemble cast, including John Wayne (arguably in his prime), along with excellent cinematography and a nice, uncluttered story and script, make this Western one of the few (5 so far) that we have really enjoyed.
- #56-M*A*S*H (1970): I think I have mentioned this one previously, as one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. Here’s what I said: It’s a classic. I tend to dread war movies a little, but I was surprised by how darkly funny this one is. Strongly recommend, if you haven’t seen it. Not much to add to that. The ensemble cast, led by Donald Sutherland (surprisingly charming) and Elliott Gould, is strong all the way through. I don’t always get what Robert Altman is about, but when he is good, he is very, very good indeed.
- #55-The Sound of Music (1965): Please. Who doesn’t love this movie? It’s Julie freaking Andrews, people. And Christopher Plummer! And the scenery! And the music, and the kids, and…yeah. Obviously, we’d both seen this one before, but this time around I was struck by how it is consistently enjoyable (despite having seen it upwards of 20 times), and by how much there is always to notice. It’s a much-loved classic, yes, but it’s also a very well-crafted movie.
- #51-The Philadelphia Story (1940): Oh, number 51! This is the one I had been looking forward to from the start. I was a recent initiate into the works of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, and after Bringing Up Baby, I just knew this one had to be a winner. A wonderful, fast-paced comedy (I will need to see it again at some point to catch things I missed), everyone is utterly spot-on, and adding James Stewart to the powerful one-two of Grant and Hepburn is nothing short of inspired. Husband had seen it before, and kept downplaying it for fear that my high expectations would be disappointed. He needn’t have worried. Another one that had me grinning from start to finish.
And so, on to the next 50! We’re both looking forward to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and to many more before we’re done. I’ve seen all but three of the top 10, so I’m expecting those to be really fabulous. Hopefully, I’ll still be around to recap again in another 5 years, or however long it takes us to reach the end. I think going forward I may review things as I watch them, so stay tuned!!
PS. Consider this your weekend viewing post. You’ve got more than enough Banana Oil-approved movies here to keep you busy for a month of weekends, at least!