#100. AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973, George Lucas)
Ah, how I love the late 50's, early 60's nostalgia pic, of which AMERICAN GRAFFITI is the beloved grandaddy. Though I and many of the genre's admirers cannot lay claim to having experienced the era firsthand, so many films which I deeply enjoy (THE WANDERERS, STAND BY ME, CHRISTINE, etc., etc.) use it as an effective template for imparting profound lessons about the nature of adulthood and what it means and feels like to be on the cusp of it, the cusp of that storied abyss. (They also use it as an effective template for cramming in as many great Oldies tunes as is humanly possible!) In retrospect, I can't help but feel that these films go even further, sort of imparting mythical lessons about what life was like Before Things Got Shitty, or the fairy-tale time When People Had Something To Look Forward To. Now perhaps I'm being somewhat facetious, but it certainly feels that way these days. Regardless, this is a humanist masterpiece with a vital young cast (Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Charles Martin Smith, Paul Le Mat, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, among others) and a bittersweet ending that speaks toward What Came Next. It's George Lucas (or was it really Marcia?) at his best.
#99. SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980, Jeannot Szwarc)
I'm not exactly a fan of the 'Romance' genre by any means, but the genuine aura of tenderness and melancholy which flows forth from this movie can play my emotions like a piano. As he has proven again and again, Richard Matheson's mastery of time travel as a narrative device is rarely (if ever) matched; he tackles it not as science, but as a reverie, an abstraction, a wandering sense of nostalgia and regret. John Barry's score is a pleasure to the point of pain, and Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour's connectedness easily make us forget about pop culture personas like "Superman" and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." A beautiful film, and one which didn't blow 'em away at the box office, but which has inspired a rabid cult following, including an extremely dedicated fan club which predates the Internet.
#98. RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985, Andrei Konchalovsky)
A prison escape film, of sorts, which passed through the hands of Akira Kurosawa, Paul Zindel, Eddie Bunker, and Golan & Globus before it became white-knuckle reality. RUNAWAY TRAIN is scraping steel, snowy vistas, blood and oil and grease and steam. The sheer, absolutely brutish intensity of Jon Voight and John P. Ryan is mind-blowing- we see men become animals, we see animals become men. Eric Roberts gets in on the action, too– this thing is a goddamn master's course in acting. One of the most potent, well-constructed thrillers in recent memory.
#97. THE PENALTY (1920, Wallace Worsley)
Some of you know that I'm quite the Lon Chaney devotee; I've said in the past "from his achievements in self-mutilation to his mind-blowing makeup effects to his mastery of the crazy-eye to his portrayals of mad jealousy, mangling frustration, and unfettered pathos; he assembled a vast body of work that really can't be matched for variety, commitment, or poignancy- and half of his films are lost!" The man's masochistic streak and tortured countenance are well-demonstrated here in THE PENALTY as he plays a frightening gangster named "Blizzard" whose legs were mistakenly amputated as a boy. The apparatus he uses to sell the effect is astounding, as are the nuances in his facial expressions, particularly given the fact that he was in enormous pain and hence prone to losing consciousness for the duration of the shoot. This is silent melodrama at its finest: whether it's slugging you in the gut or tugging at your heart-strings, you feel as if you've utterly surrendered yourself to the experience– it grabs you by the lapels and takes you for a ride, and isn't that what cinema's all about?
#96. ACE IN THE HOLE (1951, Billy Wilder)
Ah, the "newspaper flick." They're full of gritty, fast-talking men who're part-time wordsmiths and full-time swindlers, the sort of men who'd rather die than see some rival publication get the scoop. Enter Kirk Douglas, a gal-slappin' sonofabitch named Chuck Tatum who turns manipulatin' the masses into a spectator sport. I applaud this film and its ridiculous cynicism; it knew that that the days of aw, shucks truth-bending ("when the legend becomes fact, print the legend," anyone?) would one day give way to poisonous, THEY LIVE-grade distortions on a global scale. The alternate title was THE BIG CARNIVAL, and how goddamned right they were, what a big fucken carnival, indeed. As this list progresses, I'll likely say that a number of films seem prophetic in today's world (including this one!), but then again I suppose the repressers of the truth have always been sonsabitches; just who knew to what scale they'd end up takin' it? ACE IN THE HOLE is a movie that takes you by the throat, leads you toward the glory of "The Information Age," and shows you a few of the uglier pit-stops along the way. I also highly recommend: SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and NETWORK.
Coming up next...some Carpy, some Polanski, and possibly the biggest, baddest tear-jerker of all time!