62 Movies That Deserved a Better Shake

I promise that I am going to watch Fred Astaire dancing his heart out soon and provide my feedback, but I thought that for just a moment, I’d pause and talk briefly about 62 movies that are NOT on the AFI top 100 list. Some came out after 2007 and thus could not have been included on the list as published, but surely deserve consideration for any updated list. Some came out before 2007 and I think are clearly superior to at least a few of the films that I have already seen at the bottom end of the list. Presented in no particular order, here they are:

Doubt (2008) – the story of a 1960s Catholic priest who may or may not have sexually assaulted a young boy who may or may not have wanted him too. Virtuoso performances by the late Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, Viola Davis and Meryl Streep. An outstanding film.

Animal House (1978) – call it low brow if you want, but this story of a flailing fraternity is pure comedic genius, including John Belushi’s best performance.

Fantasia (1940) – a pure work of art that got me interested in classic music as a young kid, this animated masterpiece is timeless.

Amadeus (1984) – the story of Mozart’s all-too-short life is as captivating now as it was 35 years ago when it came out.

Groundhog Day (1993) – the brilliant Bill Murray’s finest film and the pinnacle of high-brow, subtle comedy.

Caddyshack (1980) – Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield kill in the laugh fest.

Black Panther (2018) – the best super hero movie ever made – visually stunning, brilliant action and has actual social commentary.

Moneyball (2011) – One of the most fascinating true stories of the past 20 years and one that changed sports forever. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are outstanding.

The Usual Suspects (1995) – I know we are all supposed to hate Kevin Spacey now, but it’s hard to argue with his performance in this brilliant mystery/drama about the mythical Kaiser Soze.

Clerks (1994) – Kevin Smith’s first and best film. Yes, some of the acting is bad and yes, some of the plot makes no sense, but the jokes are edgy and Smith spawned a revolution around what can be done with a handheld camera and $20,000.

The Social Network (2010) – a brilliant and thought provoking look at the founding of Facebook with the brilliant dialogue-writing of Aaron Sorkin.

Us (2019) – Jordan Peele’s second film is disturbing and thought-provoking and Lupita N’yongo gives the performance of a lifetime. Peele has grown into what we hoped M. Night Shamalan would be.

A Few Good Men (1992) – a brilliant courtroom drama that gave us “you can’t handle the truth!” Jack Nicholson’s best showing since Chinatown.

School Daze (1988) – in my opinion, Spike Lee’s best film, although Do the Right Thing, which did make the AFI list is close. This one is more complex and more thought provoking to me.

The Truman Show (1998) – a film that has aged extremely well in the age of social media shows Jim Carrey delivering a dramatic performance few knew he was capable of.

Her (2013) – a thought provoking and beautifully shot film about a sentient AI and the complexities of love and relationships. You realize how great an actress Scarlett Johansen is when you can’t see her and she still kills.

Quiz Show (1994) – the true story of the rigging of the game show 21 gives us brilliant insight into human weakness and the naiveté of the 1950s.

Fargo (1996) – this charming North Dakota whodunnit from the Cohen Brothers should never have been dropped from the top 100 list.

Good Will Hunting (1997) – this story of an abused, depressed and brilliant teenager showed the acting brilliance of Robin Williams and Matt Damon and the screenwriting brilliance of Damon and Affleck.

Rain Man (1988) – the story of an autistic man and his arrogant brother is both highly quotable “10 minutes to Wapner”, touching and enlightening.

The Crying Game (1992) – although the movie suffers from some pacing problems, Forrest Whitaker and Miranda Richardson deliver epic performances and the great surprise completely upended my world the first time I saw it.

The Hangover (2009) – similar to Animal House, it doesn’t speak to a higher purpose, but never fails to make me laugh when I see it.

Mary Poppins (1964) – it’s not a deep film, but it is delightful fun and brilliantly acted and sung. If I’m going to include Fred Astaire dancing on my list, I don’t see why this wouldn’t make the cut.

Airplane! (1980) – arguably the most complete comedy ever made. Uproariously funny and unafraid of taboo, this movie stands the test of time.

The Exorcist (1973) – this movie absolutely terrified me the first time I saw it. The Catholic Church gave this horror film positive reviews, attesting to its theological accuracy. I realize by today’s CGI standards it may not scare the same, but, for me, it still holds up.

Norma Rae (1979) – Sally Fields’ best acting performance about small town unionization and feminism is an important period piece and worth a watch feminists and everyone else 40 years later.

Scent of a Woman (1992) – Al Pacino’s most touching role is a little bit cliched but brilliant nonetheless.

The Full Monty (1997) – as funny, touching and smart a film as you will find. Made on a shoestring budget, the tale of some unemployed and flabby Brits who dream of launch on all nude male revue is as good an independent film as has been made.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are electric and brilliant in this uplifting dramadey about mental illness, family and Philadelphia.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) – Kal Penn’s comedic timing is brilliant and in spite of perpetual absurdity, this celebration of New Jersey, marijuana and friendship is as touching as it is funny.

The Matrix (1999) – a movie way ahead of its time, The Matrix is full of action and sobering commentary about technology that Hawking would have loved, in spite of some scientific absurdities.

Fight Club (1999) – a truly original movie that deals with split personalities, Occupy Wall Street-esque themes and masculinity with a dark brilliance.

Full Metal Jacket (1987) – it is just downright disqualifying to the AFI list that this absolutely brilliant movie about the Vietnam war and the Marines didn’t make the cut.

Reservoir Dogs (1991) – Quentin Tarantino’s first major film includes the same type of brilliant dialogue as Pulp Fiction in much more scaled down set – it has the feel of a single-scene play from hell but every minute is captivating.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) – everything about this film is funny and smart. As funny now as it was 44 years ago.

Ghostbusters (1984) – okay, I’m a sucker for Bill Murray. But who didn’t love this film that spawned, sequels, an animated series and a 2010’s reboot?

Ferris Buller’s Day Off (1986) – the slacker’s manifesto for Generation X still holds up as a vibrant celebration of cutting class, outsmarting the grown ups and young love.

Wall-E (2008) – it’s rare an animated film can cover pollution, technological dependence, obesity, love and courage so completely. In fact, Wall-E is the only film I know that has that much to say and is still undeniably entertaining for all ages.

The Sound of Music (1965) – a movie that is at once feel-good and deeply socially conscious, dealing with religion, love and escaping the Nazis.

Barbershop (2002) – a brilliant combination of the story of a neighborhood business and much deeper social commentary. Unafraid, this film deals with everything from reparations to the definition of blackness to education. It is stunning how relevant it is today.

Friday (1995) – before Chris Tucker became a born again christian, he was one of the funniest guys alive and he does not disappoint in this story of one day on a block in Compton.

The Da Vinci Code (2006) – anything formally condemned by the Catholic Church is probably worth watching, as this film was. Tom Hanks is brilliant in this thriller about a murder in Paris.

Back to the Future (1985) – this movie is pure 80’s despite being set mostly int he 1950s. A prime Michael J Fox portrays Marty McFly, a slightly daft, slightly arrogant teen that we can all relate to as he attempts to “fix” his parents lives and prevent his mentor’s death.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are absolutely brilliant in the true story of the excess and greed of penny stock flippers.

V for Vendetta (2005) – a compelling Orwellian tale of government control and rebellion, this film is both wholly original and strikingly raw.

Trainspotting (1996) – this deeply disturbing look at heroin addiction left me with a pit in my stomach but is somehow at times charming, funny and sad.

Finding Nemo (2003) – this touching story of love, loss and courage, told through the lens of fish is simply a masterpiece.

The Big Lebowski (1998) – this film spike the sale of White Russians and spawned a generation of slacker comedies. It is worth another watch 21 years later.

The Princess Bride (1987) – a wonderful story of true love, combat and human perseverance, you’d be lying if you said you didn’t watch it whenever it came on TV.

Cool Hand Luke (1967) – the story of a man on the chain gang is full of hilarity, iconic imagery and bitterness. It is brilliant.

Deadpool (2016) – Ryan Reynolds is simply brilliant in this hilarious and absurd comedy that pokes fun at the superhero genre while somehow also staying true to it.

The Bourne Identity (2002) – serious action, serious mystery and a great performance delivered by Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, this film spawned a generation of sequels, but the original is by far the finest in the series.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984) – this parody of a documentary of a rock band is both hilarious and iconic. Who hasn’t wanted to turn it up to 11?

The Hustler (1961) – Paul Newman is fantastic as billiards great Fast Eddie Felson, a role he would later reprise in 1986’s The Color of Money, which was more financially successful but not nearly as good of a film.

Apollo 13 (1995) – the geek in me loved the science, the history student in me loved the too-absurd-to-be-true-but-it-is plot and the film buff in me appreciated the virtuoso performance by Tom Hanks.

Shrek (2001) – Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy are charming and brilliant in this touching and deep story of an ogre grappling with his identity.

Boogie Nights (1997) – this is the movie in which we discovered that Mark Wahlberg could act, that Heather Graham was insanely hot and that 1970s porn was full of drugs and problems (okay, we knew two of those three things already, but still). Brilliantly written, acted and shot, this movie is just fantastic – you’re a star, you’re a star, you’re a star.

The Blues Brothers (1980) – this ode to blues, rock and oddly-fitted suits makes me smile and laugh ever time I see it.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) – it is hard to understand in 2019, but this movie absolutely terrified people when it came out and it is still a fascinating period piece.

Why didn’t these movies make the AFI cut? I have a few theories

  1. Bias against comedies and animated films – precious few of either of these genres make the list. Even the comedies that do make the list, such as Annie Hall are of the dramatic comedy variety.
  2. Bias towards older films – I understand that movies have to be appreciated relative to the period that they were made, but including The French Connection but leaving off The Usual Suspects is ridiculous. Including Ben Hur but excluding The Matrix is non-sensical.
  3. The AFI “experts” play it safe – they go with the tried and true. The films that have always appeared on lists. But there have been a lot of great movies made in the past 30 years that deserve more consideration.
  4. My own bias towards faster pacing and character development – maybe these are by-products of growing up with 80s and 90s cinema, but I struggle to get behind movies where I can’t relate to the characters or where the scenes meander for long periods with no discernible purpose. Maybe it’s just me.

At any rate, by and large the films look like they get better as I get higher up the list (Titanic not withstanding, can’t wait to write my review of that snooze-fest). I promise I’m getting behind some 1930s dancing in my next post!

#91 Sophie’s Choice

1982’s drama Sophie’s Choice clocks in at #92 on the AFI list, although, as we will discuss later, I do not understand why.

Sophie’s Choice is set in 1947 Brooklyn where a young writer from Virginia named Stingo has just moved to a boarding house. His first night, he sees a couple breaking up in the hallway and has words with the boyfriend. The next day, Sophie, the girlfriend, brings him some food and while he is returning the dishes, he sees them making up.

The next day, Nathan apologies for the prior night and invites Stingo to hang out with them. While hanging out, he learns that Sophie is a Polish Catholic who was at the concentration camp at Auschwitz and Nathan is an American-born Jew who works as a biologist for Pfizer.

We see a flashback scene where Nathan meets Sophie after she collapses from anemia at a library and he helps her get help.

Nathan sets Stingo up with Lesley, a self described “nympho”, who it turns out, loves to say “fuck” but is psychologically unable to actually have sex. After a failed date with her, he returns home and Sophie has a drink with him and tells him about her prior life. She tells him her father and husband were rounded up and killed by the Nazis because her father was an anti-Nazi academic lecturer. She shares that she was sent to the camp for stealing a ham. She shows Stingo marks on her arm from where she tried to commit suicide after being released from the camp. Stingo also learns Nathan is obsessed with the Nazis and with them not being dealt justice. Nathan comes home and is accusatory about why Stingo is there. Sophie calms him down and he apologizes.

The next day Nathan comes to see Stingo and reads his writing. Stingo and Sophie go to a movie and upon their return, Nathan takes them to the Brooklyn Bridge and toasts Stingo as the next great American writer.

At a picnic the next day, Nathan announces he has made a major scientific breakthrough at Pfizer. Sophie and Stingo go to get him champagne and gifts, but upon returning home, Nathan accuses Sophie of having an affair and belittles her for surviving the holocaust while so many Jews died. He pushes Stingo out of the room.

The next day Sophie and Nathan have disappeared. Stingo goes looking for them and while searching for them, comes across a Professor who knew Sophie and shares that her father was, in fact, a Nazi sympathizer, who gave many anti-semitic speeches. When Sophie returns to pack up some of her things, Stingo confronts her about the lie. Later that night, she tells him more about her story.

Her father was an anti-semite, a fact she only learned while transcribing a speech for him where he talked about “exterminating” Jews. He and her husband was executed anyway because the Nazis executed all of Polish academia. After her husband, she had a lover named Josef, who was involved in the Nazi resistance with his half-sister Wanda. Sophie had refused to help them and they were rounded up and executed by the gestapo.

After she was taken to Auschwitz, she was given a job working for the commandant because of her language skills. She is asked by a member of the resistance to steal a radio from the commandant’s daughter to help them. The commandant attempts to kiss her but is interrupted. She begs him for the release of her son (her daughter had been killed shortly after coming to the camp), citing her father’s anti-semitism as proof that she is loyal to the Nazis. He initially refuses but eventually agrees. She attempts to steal the radio, but the commandant’s daughter catches her. After fainting and talking to her about her swimming competitions, she apparently decides not to turn Sophie in. The commandant does not keep his word and her son is not released.

Flash forward and Sophie and Stingo wake up in each other’s arms. Nathan shows up at the front of the house and Sophie and Nathan reconcile and move their stuff back in.

Nathan’s brother gets a hold of Stingo and lets him know that Nathan is not, in fact a biologist. He is a paranoid schizophrenic who is addicted to cocaine. He asks Stingo to keep an eye on him.

Nathan proposes to Sophie and asks Stingo to be his best man, but the next day, almost breaks Sophie’s arms and calls Stingo to “god damn” him to “hell”, accusing them both of an affair. He says he is coming to kill them and fires a gun. Sophie and Stingo flee to a hotel in Washington.

In Washington, Stingo proposes to Sophie and asks her to come to Virginia with him. Sophie says she will come to Virginia but not marry him and shares more of her story from the concentration camp. On her first night, she was forced by a German officer to choose between her two children. She pleaded with the officer, saying that they are not Jews and are “racially pure” but he is not moved. She ultimately chooses her daughter to be killed and her son to survive.

Sophie and Stingo have sex, but when Stingo wakes up the next morning, Sophie is gone and has left a letter saying that he is a fantastic lover but that she must return to Nathan.

We then cut forward to Sophie and Nathan dead in a bed, Nathan had poisoned both of them with cyanide.

I struggled a lot with this film and its inclusion in the top 100 list. Let me first be positive and list the things that I liked about it:

  • Meryl Streep (Sophie) gives an absolutely outstanding performance and the two other key roles Kevin Kline as Nathan and Peter MacNicol as Stingo were also solid
  • The movie was clearly impactful enough that the term “Sophie’s Choice” has become part of the lexicon
  • I loved some of the elements of moral ambiguity in the film – Sophie is a victim of the Nazi’s but also does despicable things to try to save herself such as aligning with anti-semites

There was, however, a LOT that I didn’t like about this film:

  • The movie spent way to much on set-up without really setting anything up. We are more than halfway through the two and a half hour film before we even see the first flashback. I’m all for character development, but even after an hour and fifteen minutes we don’t know much about any of the characters. The epic “Sophie’s Choice” that the film is named for gets a scant few minutes at nearly the end of the film with no context or discussion around her thought process.
  • The film has an odd tone of anti-semitism to it – Nathan as the raging Jew, Sophie as the blond-haired girl pushing her privilege over the Jews at the camp.
  • The movie has an incredibly uneven feel to it between the 1947 scenes between Sophie, Nathan and Stingo and the flashback scenes in Sophie’s past – it’s almost two completely different movies jammed together as one that don’t meld particularly well.

I’m baffled at this film’s inclusion on the list. I’m not saying it is a horrible film – it is above average, primarily due to Streep’s performance and the wonderfully stylized camera work, but it is not great. At the time, the film received mixed reviews and didn’t even receive a nomination for the Best Picture award (Chariots of Fire, a good but not great film won that year and On Golden Pond and Raiders of the Lost Ark, two MUCH better films, were nominated). It was not on the original 1997 AFI list and I struggle with how this movie bumped some great films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Amadeus, Frankenstein, Fargo and Fantasia from the list. Oh well, I guess we are all entitled to our opinion.

Overall Assessment:

Production Quality 8/10

Screenplay 4/10

Acting 9/10

Rewatch Value 4/10

Overall Score 25/40

Next up, 1936’s Swing Time.

#92 Goodfellas

Martin Scorsese’s 1990 biopic of the life of mobster Henry Hill clocks in at #92 on AFI’s list. Full disclosure – I’ve seen this movie over 100 times before and it has been one of my favorite movies for as long as I can remember.

The film opens with a scene from a car where Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), along with mob friends James Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) are in a car and there is a banging on the trunk. They pull over and open the trunk and a badly injured man that they have in the trunk struggles to get out. Tommy stabs him multiple times. Henry Hill then self-narrates “for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a gangster”

We flash back to 1955 and learn about young Henry Hill, an Irish-Italian kid in the New York who connects up with local mobsters through a part time job at a cab stand running numbers and doing other odd jobs. He struggles with his parents – his father who beats him for skipping school and his mother who objects to the criminal element. He meets Jimmy Conway, a young legendary gangster, who is spreading money around town. Henry gets arrested for selling illegal cigarettes and his mob cronies are very pleased when he takes his punishment and doesn’t rat anybody out.

Cut ahead to 1963, Henry, Jimmy and Tommy are partners-in-crime, robbing cargo shipments at Idlewild airport (the airport that would later become JFK).

We learn that Tommy is a hot head, first through the famous “I’m funny like a clown? I’m funny, I amuse you?” speech between he and Henry and then when he breaks a bottle over the restaurant owner’s head when he is bothered about his running $7K tab. Seeing an opportunity, Henry convinces the restaurant owner to go partners with Paulie, the local boss and they proceed to steal from the restaurant until it is broke and they burn it down for insurance money.

Henry goes on a double date with Tommy and meets Karen. We learn through the next few scenes how despite a rough start, Karen falls for Henry as she becomes enamored with the power, status and money he commands. After a neighborhood man tries to sexually assault Karen, she calls Henry and he beats the guy to a blood pulp with the handle of a gun. Karen and Henry soon get married.

An out of town mobster named Billy Batts is back in town at a bar with our three leads. Billy starts picking on Tommy, reminding him he used to be a shoe shine. Tommy later comes back to the bar and kills Billy, which is a huge problem for Tommy as Billy is a made man and Tommy is not (as the movie explains, made men in the mafia are untouchable by non-made men). This brings us to the first scene of the movie, killing Billy Batts and disposing of his body.

We learn more about a mobsters life and that “Saturdays are for the wives, but Fridays are for the girlfriends”. Henry sets up his girlfriend, Janice, with an apartment nearby.

At a card game, Tommy is unhappy with the drink service he is getting from a young man named Spider and winds up shooting him in the foot. The next time we see them at that card game, Spider’s foot is in a cast and Tommy continues to pick on him. Spider tells Tommy to “go fuck yourself” and Tommy kills Spider. This scene is an interesting moment as it is one of the few times we see Henry Hill upset at the actions of his mobster friends as he comes to near tears over Spider’s body.

Henry and Karen begin to fight a lot about Henry always being out all night. Karen sleuths out Janice and calls her a whore over her intercom. She trains a gun on Henry as he is waking up and threatens to kill him. He eventually talks her out of shooting him, gets the gone and leaves the house. Paulie sits him down and tells him that he has to go back home to his wife, after a quick trip to Florida to collect a debt.

Henry and Jimmy head to Florida and collect the debt by threatening to feed the debtor to the lions at the zoo by hanging him over the ledge. It turns out his sister is a typist at the FBI and Henry and Jimmy get arrested when they return home and sentenced to 6 years in jail.

We learn about life in jail for mobsters. They have most of the guards on the take and as such, they get their own private room, premium meats and seafood they can cook and even wine and scotch. Henry is also running a drug distribution ring from prison.

Karen visits Henry in prison but see that Janice was also on the visitors log. She and Henry proceed to get in an argument. We then cut ahead 4 years to Henry’s release from jail.

Once out, Paulie warns Henry not to get involved in the drug trade. Henry agrees and then proceeds to set up a distribution ring anyway, using the connections he made in prison.

A small-time wig shop owner names Maury gets a lead on a huge Lufthansa cargo shipment and Jimmy pulls together a crew and pulls off the biggest heist in history to that point. Jimmy then proceeds to kill almost everybody on the crew rather than give them their cut.

Jimmy and Tommy learn that the bosses are going to make Tommy. We learn that of the three, Tommy is the only one eligible as Jimmy and Henry both have some Irish heritage and made mobsters are required to be 100% Italian. Tommy’s making ceremony proves to just be a set-up to execute him for killing Billy Batts and he is shot to death in the face. This is one of the few senes where Jimmy shows some real human emotion, being over wrought with the loss of his friend.

We cut to 1980 and Henry is leading a crazy life. He is attempting to cook a full Italian dinner, mix and ship a drug shipment to go with his former babysitter Lois and pick his brother up from the hospital. At this point, he appears fully addicted to drugs and frantic. There is a long sequence of his day which ultimately culminates in his arrest by narcotics agents at the FBI.

Karen’s mother mortgages her house to get Henry out on bail. He goes to see Paulie, who gives him $3200 but says he has to turn his back on him for dealing drugs behind his back. Karen goes to see Jimmy but speeds away when she suspects Jimmy is going to kill her. Henry goes to meet with Jimmy in a cafe and is asked to go to Florida for a hit, something that Jimmy has never asked Henry to do before. Henry believes Jimmy is going to have him killed in Florida.

Henry decides to turn state’s evidence and go into witness protection. He testifies against Paulie and Jimmy at their trails and then is relocated to a suburban neighborhood in parts unknown. He self narrates how his life is unexciting now, he doesn’t get the respect that he got before and the food stinks “I ordered spaghetti marinara and I got egg noodles and ketchup”. We learn that (as of the making of the movie), Paulie died in prison and Jimmy was still in prison (James Burke, who Jimmy’s character is based on, died there in 1996) and Henry and Karen had separated. As a post-script, Henry Hill died in 2012 in Los Angeles after become a more public figure in his later years.

Several things strike me about this film.

First, Henry, Tommy and Jimmy are all absolutely terrible people. Henry sells out all his friends to save himself. Tommy kills innocent people for little or no offense and has no conscience about it. Jimmy kills an entire crew of people just because he doesn’t want to share a massive heist. They do awful things to people and have little remorse or regard for anything but their own gain.

Second, the movie is exceptionally raw in terms of how it presents violence, drugs and everything else, even 29 years later. Blood and death is ever-present and portrayed graphically.

Third, this is an exceptionally well acted movie. I’m not sure why Ray Liotta didn’t have a bigger career, as he is brilliant in this film. De Niro and Pesci are brilliant in their roles, as is Lorraine Bracco (who plays Karen).

As you would expect with Scorsese, the production, screenplay and pacing of the film are all pitch perfect and we get to know all the characters in depth without any heavy-handed plot devices.

As mobster movies go, Frances Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” is ranked much higher on the AFI list at #2. I will have to get to that film to reach a definitive conclusion on which movie I like better, but I can tell you this, I have been compelled to rewatch Goodfellas a lot more times than The Godfather and that’s a pretty strong endorsement. Goodfellas is a phenomenally made movie that launched a generation of inferior films about the mafia as well as one really great HBO series. Goodfellas moved up 2 spots form the 1997 list to the 2007 list from 94 to 92 and I would argue that it should be ranked far higher.

Overall Assessment:

Production Quality 8/10

Screenplay 9/10

Acting 10/10

Rewatch Value 10/10

Overall Score 37/40

Up next, 1982’s Sophie’s Choice.

#93 The French Connection

1971’s The French Connection clocks in at #93 on the AFI list.

The movie opens with some shots in France and a murder in a stairwell.

Next, we meet Popeye Doyle, played by Gene Hackman and his partner, Buddy Russo, tossing a largely African-American bar and then running down and beating a suspect. After beating him they try to get info about drugs from him, but to no avail. It is during this, that we hear the famous line “have you been pickin’ your feet in Poughkeepsie?”, a nonsense line that Popeye uses to confuse suspects.

Back in France, we meet Alain Charnier, who is supervisor a dock expansion in France and mentions that he is heading to the US, for reasons unknown. We later learn that he will be accompanied by a film star, Henri Deveraux, who is supposedly looking at locations to shoot a film.

Back in Brooklyn, Popeye invites Buddy out for a drink, then reveals his ulterior motive, that he is casing a small-time crook named Sal Boca, as he has been associated with bigger names in the drug trade. Sal owns a small shop called Sal and Angie’s with his girlfriend.

Popeye goes to see an informant and finds out that there is supposedly a big shipment of heroin coming in next week from somewhere.

Popeye goes to a bar and gets drunk, Buddy finds him the next morning handcuffed to his bed by a woman, either a prostitute or someone he picked up the night before. They head out and follow Sal to a restaurant where he eats with Alain. There is a funny contrast of Buddy and Popeye eating pizza on the street and Sal and Alain enjoying fine dining.

Popeye follows Alain, but Alain makes him and tricks him off a subway car. Alain heads down to DC to meet with Sal without a tail and lets him know the deal has to go down by the end of the week.

At the scene of an unrelated fatal car wreck, Popeye argues with FBI agents assigned to the case that they should keep pursuing their leads. The police chief tells him that they are off the investigation. Walking down a street a short time later, a sniper attempts to shoot Popeye. Popeye chases him to a subway but can’t catch up to him before the car departs. This starts a long chase where Popeye takes a car from the street and chases the train car, wrecking it several times, before ultimately shooting the sniper when he gets out of the train after it has crashed.

Buddy tracks down Henri’s car in a garage and he and Doyle stake it out. They arrest some guys who approach the car, but they turn out to just be car thieves. After that, they impound the car and strip it down but find nothing.

Henri goes to the police station looking for his missing car.

Buddy figures out that the cars weight is too heavy and they ultimately find the drugs in the floor board. They give the car back to Henri without saying anything to let the deal go down.

Alain drives the car to the deal spot and money is exchanged for the 120 pounds of heroin. Popeye has a bust set up and Alain drives right into it, then attempts to flee back to the deal scene. A gunfight ensues and Sal is killed in the fight. Most of the rest of the guys surrender but Alain is nowhere to be seen. Popeye goes into the building and accidentally kills one of the FBI agents. Alain gets away. There is a post-script under which most of the remaining suspects either get minimal time or get away, except for Henri, who gets 4 years.

Of the movies on the list that I have watched thus far, this was honestly the hardest to get through. Most of the characters are pretty one-dimensional and undeveloped. Popeye is a sort of despicable human – mean, violent, abusive, racist and doesn’t even seem to care when he kills an innocent FBI agent. The big chase scene is entertaining, but a lot of the rest of the movie drones on. And, boy, was New York ugly in 1971 – dirty, run down looking and unappealing. Maybe the point of the film was to give viewers an insight into how messed up policing was in New York in 1971. Or maybe it was just supposed to be a cops and robbers film. I’m honestly not 100% sure, but I didn’t love the movie. Gene Hackman has exactly one speed in the film, hot and bothered, and there is no subtly, empathy or personality to most of the performances. This would not be on my list of the 100 best movies ever made. I suspect its placement on the list is due primarily to the fact that this was the first in a long string of police dramas over the next couple of decades and its chase scene has often been copied (and is very well done.). It was #70 on the original AFI list and fell 23 places to 93rd in the 2007 list. I suspect it would be left off a new list entirely.

Overall Assessment:

Production Quality 7/10

Screenplay 5/10

Acting 6/10

Rewatch Value 5/10

Overall Score 23/40

Next up, the gangster classic, Goodfellas.

#94 Pulp Fiction

1994’s Pulp Fiction was my favorite movie growing up, bar none. It came out when I was 16 years old and I’d never seen anything like it. A bizarre gangster mashup of blood and guts, witty dialogue and colorful characters, in rewatching the film I reached the conclusion that it is still the perfect film for a 16 year old boy.

The plot is not chronological, but here is brief synopsis, in the order presented:

Two petty thieves named Yolanda (or Honey Bunny) and Pumpkin (?) are sitting in a diner, discussing how dangerous it is to rob liquor stores. They decide they should rob the diner because the risk is lower.

Cut to Vincent and Jules, two gangsters on a way to a job. They discuss Vincent’s recent time in Amsterdam and the differences between Europe and the US. There is literally too many good lines to repeat here in what is probably the best sequence of the movie. Vincent is nervous because he has been asked to entertain the his boss Marcellus’s wife Mia. They enter the apartment they are headed to, where some geeky guys are hold-up with a suitcase that belongs to Marcellus. They have some more hilarious dialogue and then brutally kill everyone in the apartment except 1 guy, Marvin, who they take with them.

Cut to Marcellus talking to Butch, a boxer past his prime who is taking a payoff to take a dive in his fight. Vincent enters the bar to meet with Marcellus. There is a cold exchange between he and Butch – they clearly don’t like each other.

Next, Marcellus visits his heroin dealer at his house and buys some dope. There is a lot that happens here – discussions about piercings, various grades of heroin, coke versus heroin, cars being keyed and a nasty racial slur. Vincent shoots up the heroin and leave to pick up Mia.

Vincent goes to Mia’s place (presumably also Marcellus’ place) to pick her up. She has him fix himself a drink, then they head out to dinner at a 50’s retro place called Jack Rabbit Slim’s. This is a vehicle for more great dialogue (uncomfortable silences, milkshakes, etc.) that eventually leads to them entering and winning a dance contest there. They return to Mia’s place and Vincent goes to the bathroom to give himself a pep talk to not get sexually involved with Mia. While he is in there giving his speech, Mia finds his heroin, snorts it and overdoses. Quick fun side fact, injection-grade heroin is much purer than the stuff that is snorted, which may explain Mia’s overdose, if that is something Tarantino knew when he made the movie. Vincent comes out to find Mia and rushes her to his drug dealer’s house, in spite of his dealer’s protestations not to do so. There, after some more hilarious dialogue, they give Mia a shot of adrenaline to the heart which snaps her out of her overdose. Vincent takes Mia home where they agree to never let Marcellus know about everything that happened that night.

Cut to a flashback scene where young Butch gets a family watch that his father’s friend smuggled out of a Vietnam prison camp in a most uncomfortable way. Fast forward to “present day” Butch, who did not, in fact throw his fight and in fight kills the other fighter in the ring. Butch sneaks away and finds a cab. At the fight, Vincent and Jules show up and Marcellus puts a hit on Butch. Butch stops at a payphone and we learn that he bet on himself after the odds went up when word got out the fix was in and he has won a fortune. Butch arrives at a hotel, where his girlfriend (or maybe wife, we never know for sure) Fabian is.

After a few scenes of domestic bliss at the hotel, Butch learns that Fabian forgot to pack his family watch when she was packing up the apartment and he heads back to get it. He parks a ways away and walks to the apartment. Inside, he finds a gun and then discovers Vincent in the bathroom. The toaster pops up and it surprised him and he shoots and kills Vincent. He leaves the apartment after getting his watch. While driving back, Marcellus crosses the street right in front of him. He runs into Marcellus. The are both hurt in the crash, but when they both come to, Marcellus starts shooting at Butch and Butch runs. Butch runs into a weird store where he ambushes Marcellus when he comes in. The store owner pulls a gun, separates them and ties them up in his basement. Thus ensues a bizarre scene that involves an anal rape of Marcellus, a gimp (I can’t explain) but ultimately leads to Butch escaping and deciding to return to save Marcellus, killing his captors. They agree that Marcellus will forgive Butch if he leaves LA forever. Fabian and Butch ride off to Tennessee. This is the chronological end of the movie.

Now we flash back to the second scene of the movie, right as Vincent and Jules are killing the kids with Marcellus’ briefcase. After executing what they thought were most of the kids, one more comes out of the other room shooting, but misses them multiple times. Jules concludes it is a miracle while Vincent is skeptical. They continue the discussion in the car where Jules said he is retiring, having seen the miracle. Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin after Jules drives over a speed bump. With a bloody car with a dead body, they head to Jules’ friend Jimmy’s place.

Jimmy flips out at Jules and Vincent – his wife has no idea he knows criminals and she will come how soon. Jules calls Marcellus for help and Jules sends Winston Wolf, his clean-up man. He has Jules and Vincent clean up the car, then he hoses them down in the back yard and fills the cars with sheets and blankets to disguise the blood. They head to a junkyard where the car is destroyed. Vincent and Jules decide to get breakfast.

This is when the weird timeline coverages – they walk into the diner that Yolanda and Pumpkin are about to rob. At breakfast, Jules says he is going to just “walk the Earth” and Vincent pushes back, telling Jules he is going to become a bum. Vincent goes to the bathroom before the robbery takes place. When Pumpkin comes around to collect Jules money he asks to see Marcellus’ briefcase. While he is looking at the briefcase, Jules disarms him and gets a gun pointed at him. Vincent comes out of the bathroom and gets a gun on Pumpkin. Jules convinces Pumpkin and Yolanda to take his money but leave them the briefcase. Vincent and Jules walk out and the movie ends.

What I loved:

  • The dialogue is the best written of any movie I’ve ever seen, bar none. From quarter pounders with cheese, to foot massages, to pot bellies, to uncomfortable silences, the screenplay is just utterly brilliant.
  • The soundtrack is the best movie soundtrack I have ever heard
  • The characters are interesting, colorful, well developed, morally ambiguous and, for the most part, have meaningful character arcs
  • The acting performances, in particular Samuel L Jackson, John Travolta and Uma Thurman are exceptional

What I didn’t like:

  • At the end of the day, this is a movie about nothing. It doesn’t portray anything realistic, tell us a story about history or transport us anywhere real – it is a 16 year-old’s fantasy. But it is the best movie about nothing I’ve ever seen.
  • Quentin Tarantino’s obsession with shocking for the sake of shocking with his use of the n-word is both offensive and an utter distraction. I get “accurate portrayals” – Do The Right Thing (previously reviewed) used the word a ton – in context – by people who would use it. But what does it reveal about a geeky guy helping some gangster out talking about “dead n***** storage”? What’s the use of some shop owners in LA who own a gimp (hard to explain) using it? It’s just being offensive for the sake of being offensive.
  • What exactly was the point of the scene with the gimp? It wasn’t entertaining and didn’t have enough context to make any sense?
  • The out-of-sequence timeline is one of several plot devices that seem like overly self-indulgent film-making. Why hide what’s in the briefcase? Why do the opening dialogue two different ways – once in the beginning and once in the end?

This movie was 94 on the 2007 list and 95 on the 1997 list. I think it is probably still an underrated film. This is a film-makers clinic in making a fantasy film for smart testosterone.

Overall Assessment:

Production Quality 9/10

Screenplay 9/10

Acting 9/10

Rewatch Value 10/10

Overall Score 37/40

Our scores so far (out of 40)

#100 Ben Hur – 27

#99 Toy Story – 28

#98 Yankee Doodle Dandy – 32

#97 Blade Runner – 26

#96 Do The Right Thing – 35

#95 The Last Picture Show – 31

#94 Pulp Fiction – 37

#95 The Last Picture Show

1971’s ode to 1950s small town Texas, The Last Picture Show clocks in at #95 on the AFI list. Like Do The Right Thing (which I review last), it was not on the 1997 AFI list but was added to the 2007 list.

A couple of interesting notes about the film. It was shot in black and white, presumably as an artistic choice, as color films had been the norm for a long time by 1971 (by the early 1950s, color had become the norm). It is set in 1951 and 1952 in Anarene, Texas, which was a real town, but was largely abandoned in the late 20s and early 30s (the town had a population of 100 in 1929, but was down to 20 by 1933). It seems to have been selected as an “every Texas small town” from the time period.

A quick summary of the plot. Sonny is a high school senior who plays on an abysmal football team. He lives in a boarding house even though his father still lives in town (the exact reason they are separated is never fully explained, although he sees his dad in a rather cold exchange at one point in the film). His best friend, Duane plays in the backfield (not sure if he is a quarterback or a running back.). Early in the film, Sonny breaks up with his girlfriend, Charlene, while Duane is trying to get further than second base with his girlfriend, Jacy, who appears to be the town beauty.

Sonny is asked by the football and basketball coach to drive his wife Ruth to a clinic. This forms the basis for an affair between the 18 year old Sonny and the 40 year old Ruth that runs most of the film.

There is a mentally handicapped kid named Billy in town, who the boys in town decide to buy the town hooker for. She gets mad at Billy and gives him a bloody nose. Sam, the proprietor of the pool hall, the cafe and the movie theater gets mad at them and bans them from his businesses.

Sam eventually forgives Sonny and take he and Duane out to a lake. We learn that his sons died many years ago and his wife went crazy and that afterwards he had a crazy affair with a married woman.

Sonny and Duane decide to go party in Mexico for a weekend. While they are gone, Sam has a stroke and dies, leaving the pool hall to Sonny.

Duane tries to have sex with Jacy but can’t get it up and she kicks him out of the hotel room in disgust. They later complete the deed after graduation, but she breaks up with him shortly thereafter. Duane decides to leave town to work the oilfields in Odessa.

Jacy gets Abielene, an older oilfield hand, to take her to the pool hall after closing and has sex with him. Abielene drives Jacy back and then kicks her out of the car.

Jacy decides she wants to date Sonny. She pursues him but refuses to go too far with him. Sonny starts to ignore Ruth while Jacy and he are starting to see each other.

Duane comes back to town for a weekend and confronts Sonny about seeing Jacy. He eventually bashed a beer bottle over Sonny’s head, putting him in the hospital. After that, he quits the oilfield and joins the army.

Jacy proposes to Sonny and they sneak off to Oklahoma to get married. Jacy’s parents track them down, drive them back to town and get the marriage annulled. Sonny learns that Jacy’s mother is the married woman from Sam’s story. Jacy moves to Dallas and isn’t seen again.

The next year, Duane comes back to town while on leave before deploying to Korea. The movie theater is closing and Sonny and Duane make peace and go see the last picture show at the theater. Duane deploys having made his peace with Sonny.

Billy is hit by a truck while trying to sweep in the street during a sandstorm. Anguished, Sonny drives out of town and then drives back and goes to see Ruth. She reads him the riot act for ignoring her all those months.

What I liked:

  • The stylization of the film is wonderful. The black and white actually works in helping to transport us to that place and time.
  • The moral ambiguity and lack of preachiness of the whole film is fantastic. The principles are presented as they are – with their good points and flaws. There is nothing heavy-handed about the film and the viewer can draw their own conclusions.
  • The characters are rich, deep and complex
  • You really feel the anguish of a middle-aged woman trapped in an unhappy marriage, of an old man who has had a tough life and is growing old alone, of a kid from a broken family struggling to find his way in the world.

What I disliked:

  • The ending was a bit odd to me – maybe the point was that nothing was resolved, but it frankly seemed kind of abrupt
  • While sex is always a part of coming of age films, at times it feels like that is all small town life is about – there is a lack of dimension to some of the plot lines – the other issues of small towns – economics, alcoholism, etc. are sort of glossed over

Overall, this was an outstanding film. The best movies transport you to a different time and place and I was fully engrossed in small town Texas in the 50s – the visual portrayals, the subtle acting performances and the intelligent but authentic screenplay is fantastic. I’m not sure I would watch this movie over and over again, but being one of the ones on the list I hadn’t seen before, I’m very glad that I saw it.

Overall Assessment

Production Quality 8/10

Screenplay 8/10

Acting 10/10

Rewatch Value 5/10

Overall Score 31/40

#96 Do The Right Thing

Clocking in at #96 on the AFI list is Spike Lee’s 1989 classic Do The Right Thing. Set in New York in the summer of 1989 in chronicles the tale of one neighborhood’s struggle with racial issues. Clocking in at two hours, it is an average length dramatic film.

New York is in the middle of a crushing heat wave (the “hot summer” plot device is one that Lee likes a lot and uses again in his later film “Summer of Sam”). Mookie (played by Lee himself) is a young, struggling father who delivers pizza for Sal’s pizza, the neighborhood shop. The early scenes give us character intros – Mookie going to work, Sal opening up the shop with his two sons Pino and Vito, a group of older black men talking about Mike Tyson and global warming.

A older, alcoholic character we know only as “Da Mayor” offers to sweep the front sidewalk at Sal’s. Sal gives him a dollar and he quickly goes to buy a beer.

We meet Radio Raheem, who always is carrying a boom box with him.

A character that we are introduced to only as “Buggin’ Out” comes into Sal’s and is complaining about the prices and then about how Sal’s “Wall of Fame” doesn’t include any black faces. Sal says his wall is reserved for Italian Americans. Bugging’ Out starts an argument with Sal and is eventually kicked out.

The next scene is people playing in an open fire hydrant. A white driver in a convertible approaches and warns the guys playing that they better not get his car wet, as it is a classic. As he pulls through, they aim the spray and him, soaking him. The cops arrive on the scene, but he is unable to tell them anything about the guys who soaked him.

As the cops roll out, the white cops and the old black men sitting on the corner share a look of mutual disgust. After they pass, the old men remark that a Korean family that just arrived in the US a year ago already owns a store. One of them remarks that either Koreans are geniuses or black men are dumb as they own a store and men that have lived there their whole lives do not. This leads to a debate about racism versus ambition.

Pino slings some racial insults and Mookie pulls him aside. They start to talk but wind up trading racial slurs, leading to a montage of different characters reciting a list of slurs against blacks, Italians, Jews, Chinese and many other groups.

Pino and Sal have a conversation where Pino tries to convince Sal to leave the neighborhood because he “doesn’t want to be around those animals”. Sal says that he has been on that street corner for 25 years and “I’ve never had no trouble with those people.”

A lot more charecter-revealing scenes happen – Mookie’s sister Jade comes to the pizzeria and Mookie gets mad at Sal because he thinks Jade is hitting on her, Da Mayor saves a young boy who was about to be hit by a car, the mother of Mookie’s son, Tina, order a pizza just to see him. Vito and Pino fight over whether black people can be trusted. Radio Raheem and Sal get into it when Radio doesn’t want to turn off his boom box in Sal’s restaurant.

The pizza joint closes for the day. Sal tells Mookie that he has been like a son to him. Just then, some neighborhood kids knock on the door and Sal agrees to reopen because “they love my pizza!” Behind them, Bugging’ Out and Radio Raheem come in, boom box blaring, demanding black faces on his wall of fame. An argument ensues that ultimately leads to Sal flinging racial epitaphs and taking a bat to Radio’s boom box. This spawns a brawl that spills out of the pizza pace. The cops arrive and attempt to arrest Buggin’ and Radio but wind up choking Radio to death.

Da Mayor tries to diffuse the angry crowd, but just as they are starting to disperse, Mookie throws a trash can through the window of Sal’s shop. A riot ensues, burning the pizzeria to the ground. The cops arrive and spray the rioters with high pressure water.

The next day, Mookie goes to find Sal sitting on the stoop of his burned down pizza shop. He asks him for his weekly pay, $250. Sal gives him $500 and yells at him that he is now a rich man. They have a back and forth and Mookie eventually leaves with the $500, after trying to return the $250 he is not owed.

The closing of the film is two dueling quotes, one from Martin Luther King Jr. advocating non-violence in pursuit of social justice, the other from Malcolm X, advocating that violence is necessary in the pursuit of social justice, followed by a picture of them together.

This film is powerful, well-written, well-acted and amazingly relevant 30 years later. I was completely captivated throughout the film, heart-wretched by the apex of the film and saddened by how little has changed about the issues addressed in the past 30 years. The moral ambiguity and imperfection of the characters and their actions is both moving and thought-provoking. Honestly, there was very little that I didn’t like about the film, other than the slightly dated feel of the opening credits and the under use of Samuel L Jackson and Rosie Perez, who were fantastic but had very bit roles.

We are only 5 films into a 100 film list, but this is far and away the best film I’ve seen on this project so far.

Overall Assessment

Production Quality 7/10

Screenplay 10/10

Acting 9/10

Rewatch Value 9/10

Overall Score 35/40

#97 Blade Runner

1982’s Science Fiction blockbuster Blade Runner clocks in at #97 on the AFI list. Starring Harrison Ford, Daryl Hannah, Sean Young and a very creepy Rutger Hauer, the film was one that I recalled loving as a kid, but also a movie that I hadn’t seen in close to 30 years. Set in 2019, which must have seemed like a long way in the future 37 years ago, it is fun to see how the Blade Runner version of the future world looks and does not look like the actual 2019 world.

First, a quick plot synopsis, as always. The Tyrell corporation has developed genetical engineered beings called Replicants who look and act like humans but are actually manufactured beings with a 4 year life span. Because Replicants are stronger and faster than humans, there are some issues on Earth and Replicants are banned to slave colonies on the outer worlds. Replicants that are found on Earth are systematically executed or “retired” in Blade Runner lingo.

Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a Replicant hunter or Blade Runner as they are referred to. 6 Replicants have escaped from a mining colony and made their way to Earth. They have attempted to infiltrate the Tyrell corporation and 2 are killed on the first attempt. Deckard’s job is to hunt the other 4.

Deckard goes to see Tyrell, the genius CEO of the Tyrell Corporation. In this meeting, he is introduced to Rachel, a woman who he discovers is, in fact, a Replicant, even though she is unaware of that fact, because, unlike other Replicants, she has been given implanted memories.

Deckard uses a piece of synthetic snake skin (long story) to hunt down one of the Replicants who is posing as a showgirl and kills her. Another one of the Replicants attacks him and is about to kill him but Rachel shows up on the scene and shoots the Replicant. Deckard and Rachel have sex afterward.

The two surviving replicants, Roy and Pris, get a lonely scientist named JF Sebastian to help them get in contact with Tyrell. Roy tries to get Tyrell to extend his life beyond the four years, but learns it is scientifically impossible. Roy kills Tyrell after learning this news.

Deckard sleuths his way to Sebastian’s apartment and finds and kills Pris. Roy hunts Deckard in a weird game, but ultimately saves him from falling to his death. After saving Deckard, Roy expires, his four years up.

Deckard goes back to his apartment and heads off with Rachel for parts unknown.

What I liked:

  • The futuristic Los Angeles portrayed in the film is absolutely beautiful
  • For 1982, the foresight to issues around genetic engineering is pretty impressive
  • Harrison Ford is excellent in the lead role

What I disliked:

  • The character arcs, with the slight exception of Roy, are fairly non-existent. We get no back story on Deckard – does he have a family? Why does he hunt Replicants? Does he have moral conflict about it?
  • There is a ton of subtext to the world that is just unexplained – it’s raining all the time in LA, why? LA has lots of abandoned housing as people move to the outer worlds, why? Replicants are allowed in the outer colonies but not on Earth, why?
  • It is probably an unfair standard to judge a 1982 film’s portrayal of 2019, but the movie looks incredibly dated. Rampant smoking in places it isn’t allowed. Omnipresent flying cars but monochrome monitors. Video calls, but on pay phones. All the women wearing big shoulder pads. So, basically 1982 with some flying cars.

Overall, I’m sad to say, this movie doesn’t hold up at all for me. Science Fiction is a very hard genre to make timeless films given changes in technology and perception of the future (it would have been hard to get the Internet and the iPhone right), but beyond that, I just didn’t find the characters or story compelling in rewatching the film. This film was not on the original AFI list from 1997, and I think there are many better science fiction films that didn’t make the cut (Alien, The Matrix, Back to the Future, Gattaca, to name a few) that would have made better choices.

Overall Assessment

Production Quality 9/10

Screenplay 4/10

Acting 8/10

Rewatch Value 5/10

Overall Score 26/40

#98 Yankee Doodle Dandy

One of the older films on the list, 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy was the perfect 4th of July watch. It chronicles the life of Irish-American playwright, song writer, singer and vaudeville performer George Cohan. This film was interesting for a few reasons. First, my sad ignorance of late 19th century and early 20th century culture was on full display as I actually didn’t know who George Cohan was prior to seeing the film (he wrote Grand Old Flag and Over There – his two most famous claims to fame). Second, this was one of the films on the list that I had never seen before.

The movies influence is obvious – it is structured as a flashback from a conversation that Cohan has with FDR while he is receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. This is the first film that I know of that used that structure, which has been borrowed for everything from Citizen Kane to Forrest Gump to Pulp Fiction. And the structure works exceptionally well to tell the story of Cohan and highlight in majestic fashion his musical work and stagecraft.

A brief plot synopsis – George is born in Rhode Island to two parents in the theater. While he is technically born on July 3rd, he is born late in the day and his parents declare him a July 4th baby. We flash forward to when he is 13 year sold and he, his parents and his little sister are performing a show as the “Four Cohans” – he is an arrogant little kid, believing he is the best performer in the world. This causes some internal family angst and also causes him to get beat up in the street by some local kids.

Flash forward to him in his twenties. He is portraying an older man in a play in Buffalo. There is an incredibly creepy scene where he slowly unveils to a 17-year girl named Mary that he is, in fact in his 20s and not an old man while hitting on her.

He is eventually fired for putting Mary on stage to perform a song he wrote without permission. He later learns that his family is being black-listed because of his behavior and he lies to them and tells them he is making a film so that they will go on performing without him.

He is at a bar after failing to be able to sell any of his shows and overhears a man named Sam Harris pitching a financier on a show that isn’t going well. He pretends he is Harris’ partner and saves the pitch. Cohan and Harris become partners for life.

Cohan and Harris produce a show called Yankee Doodle Dandy about an American man trying to win the English Darby cup with a horse named, you guessed it, Yankee Doodle Dandy. The play is a smash hit and he uses his new found reputation to reunite his family in performance. Cohan continues to have success but develops a reputation as a brash flag waver and not a serious writer.

His sister leaves the group to get married and his father retires. He gives his father a share in his corporation, guaranteeing him a future income stream.

To attempt to show he is a serious writer, he writes a dramatic play called Popularity but it is critically panned. He attempts to cancel the play and send an apology letter but the Lusitania is sunk at the same time, prompting the onset of World War 1. Cohan tries to enlist in the Army but is told he is too old at 39 and instead writes “Over There” which becomes the victory hymn of the war.

His father passes away and Cohan decides to retire from stage work, travel the world and then return to his family farm. While relaxing at the farm, some kids stop by and have never heard of him or any of his work. This inspires him to allow Sam Harris to pull him out of retirement to play FDR in Harris’ new play.

The movie ends with him receiving his Congressional Medal of Honor from FDR.

I loved the stagecraft, the story-telling and the interweaving of world events (World War 1 an 2 mostly) in the story. I learned a ton about Cohan – I knew a lot of his work obviously but didn’t know his name or anything about him. The acting is absolutely outstanding (James Cagney, who plays the lead, knew his craft). The family dynamic with the Cohans, in particular his relationship with his father which goes from jealous to loving during the course of the film is fantastic.

There are some cringe-worthy moments in the film. There is a scene early on where the family is performing in blackface (yikes!). The scene where he hits on Mary is, as I mentioned, extremely creepy. There are other more subtle racist aspects of the film – blacks appearing only as servants, black performers praising Abraham Lincoln but then not even appearing at the curtain call. This is obviously a by-product of the era of the film but is frankly a little hard to watch in 77 years later. But, to be fair, it is historically true to the time of the film.

Overall Assessment

Production Quality 8/10

Screenplay 8/10

Acting 9/10

Rewatch Value 7/10

Overall Score 32/40

I believe, only 3 films in, that this movie likely deserves to be on the Top 100 list. It is hard to compare films across very different eras, but the amount of things that this film does right is high – it was entertaining, it told a story, it developed its characters right and the great musical tributes to American patriotism make it something worthy of watching more than once. It was on both the 1997 list (at #100) and the 2007 list we are using (at #98). Far from a perfect film, it is definitely a great film.

Next up, the 1982 science fiction classic Blade Runner, one of my favorite movies. Stay tuned.

#99 Toy Story

In some ways, you could not find a sharper contrast than between #100 Ben Hur and #99 Toy Story. Toy Story clocks it a mere eighty one minutes (and is actually about 5 minutes shorter than that when considering credits) versus Ben Hur’s 3:45+. It is a light-hearted, animated, not a live-action epic.

In a few ways, though, the films are similar. Both were revolutionary for the time and influenced future films immensely. Ben Hur was the model for future epics and the chariot race scene became the standard for racing and action scenes for decades to come. Toy Story broke new ground with computer animation, providing a quality not previously seen for computer generated graphics and spawning 20 years of copycat films. The moving van chase scene, while ironically borrowing heavily from Ben-Hur in its design, set the standard for animated action scenes and clearly influenced live-action scenes from films such as The Matrix Reloaded and Pirate of the Caribbean as well.

As before, a quick plot synopsis:

Toys are sentient and can think, feel and talk. Our heroes are toys belonging to a kid named Andy, led by Woody the Cowboy. Andy is getting his birthday presents and receives a brand new Buzz Lightyear toy. Woody immediately dislikes Buzz, in part because Andy likes him and plays with Woody less as a result, and in part because, for some reason, while all the other toys know they are toys, Buzz actually thinks he is an interstellar commander. Woody conspires to kill Buzz by pushing him out the window – he gets him out the window but doesn’t kill him. The other toys boot Woody out for trying to kill Buzz. Woody tricks Buzz into following him to a galactic themed pizza place that Andy will be it, making Buzz believe it is, in fact a star port. A long sequence entails that leads Buzz and Woody to become prisoners of the kid across the street who likes to break and blow up toys. Buzz eventually learns his true nature and goes into a funk. Woody plans an elaborate mistake, but after the kid hatches a plan to strap a rocket to Buzz and kill him, Woody hatches a plan with the other toys in his house to save him. They eventually put a scare in the kid, make their escape, chase down Andy’s moving van (did I mention that Andy was moving for some reason?) and make it back to Andy.

It is obviously sort of an absurd premise, but in the realm of animation, it has some charm and makes some sense.

I saw Toy Story 20 years ago, but a few things struck me in rewatching it. First, Woody is awful. He attempts to commit murder and then continues to manipulate and lie to Buzz, who has done nothing wrong. This is all kind of brushed under the table in the happy ending. Second, all of the circumstances surrounding Buzz coming to be aware of his true nature are curious. Why he is the only toy who doesn’t know he is a toy to begin with is never clear. The unveiling and his emotional fall out from finding out he is a toy is never very well explained and moved much too quickly (bear in mind, the film only has 75 minutes of content). Third, the clearly somewhat disturbed bully who likes to blow up toys kind of made me cringe in an era of mass school shootings – I kept having the reaction that somebody should be helping this kid, but since he is just playing the simple part of villain, his motivations and origins are never explored.

Objections above aside, the animation holds up incredibly well 24 years after the fact and the standard that it set and industry it helped to spawn are obvious. It has a star-studded lead cast (Tom Hanks and Tim Allen) who play their roles with a depth seldom seen in animated films. And, as I mentioned, the van chase scene is a true classic.

Overall Assessment:

Production Quality – 10/10

Screenplay – 5/10

Acting – 8/10

Rewatch Value – 5/10

Overall – 28/40

On balance, I don’t think this is a film that belongs on the list at the exclusion of what I would consider better animated films that do not make the list (Wall-e, Fantasia, just to name a couple from a couple of different eras), but I understand, similar to Ben-Hur, the basis for inclusion being the far-reaching influence of future films. It was not on the original AFI list in 1998 and obviously just barely made the cut in 2007.

Next up, yet another very different film, the 1942 musical Yankee Doodle Dandy. Stay tuned!

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