Returning to our excursion through one hundred movies that I consider favorites (or, the Greatest Movies Ever If I Had My Way), we find ourselves counting down from 70 to 61. Or, at least I find myself counting them down thusly. You’re just reading this, not counting down anything. Yeesh.
70. Independence Day (ID4)
I don’t care how implausible it is. I don’t care that an entire starfaring species, capable of interstellar travel and able to construct spaceships whose force shields can withstand direct hits by tactical nuclear weapons, are nevertheless undone by a computer virus uploaded via an Apple Powerbook. I don’t care that Will Smith somehow manages to learn of Area 51’s existence, a secret kept for fifty years, when he flies over it in his jet fighter while in a combat situation. I don’t care that Smith later ups and goes to his old military base which he’s told has been destroyed, for no other reason than that’s how he gets reunited with his girlfriend. I don’t care that the movie has people outrunning fireballs and surviving firestorms by ducking into maintenance closets. I don’t care that Bill Pullman plays the President of the United States and delivers a pseudo-Churchillian pep talk before getting into a fighter jet to attack the alien ship. I don’t care that the movie gets the orientation of the Empire State Building wrong. I don’t care that the script tells us that the Communications Director for the President of the United States has her cell phone number listed in the phone book “in case of emergencies”. I don’t care how much of this movie makes absolutely no sense. Why? Because the movie is so infectiously fun that it makes me not care about any of those things. So there.
Signature moment: When the alien ships open fire.
69. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
I keep trying to think of where this movie makes a mis-step, and I’m not thinking of one. I love its reversal of the original Terminator, with Arnold as the good Terminator. It’s too bad that the advertising and reviewers gave away the game prior to the film’s release, because the first act is constructed to keep us in the dark as to which of these Terminators is the good one and which is the bad one, right up to the moment when Arnold grabs John Connor and whips the boy around so he can shield Connor with his own back. Oh well.
Signature moment: Arnold, naked, walks into the biker bar.
68. Total Recall
Remember, these are in no particular order in the “lower” half; I tried to rank titles for the top twenty or so and then I just listed titles as they came to me. That’s why I have two of Arnold’s best SF action flicks back to back. I’ve decided that this movie is almost underrated. Its premise is loads of fun, keeping us guessing as to which Arnold is the real Arnold and with some cool SF gee-whizzery at work. I also like the Paul Verhoeven SF violence – nobody does blood-spattering gunfights like Verhoeven. Oh, and in my opinion, this film boasts the last truly great score by Jerry Goldsmith.
Signature moment: “Get your ahss to Mahs!” (By the way, there are times when my sinuses feel like they could really benefit from the use of the gadget Arnold uses to pull the bug out of his nose.)
Come to think of it, I should probably bump this up a bit, but here it is. I love this movie, and when I watch it now, it takes on a different note as I watch Harrison Ford back then and realize what a talented actor was lost when Ford decided, roughly in the early to mid 1990s, to stop challenging himself. John Book is John Book, with nothing at all of Indiana Jones or Han Solo visible in the character. The “fish out of water” story is as old as anything, but it seems so fresh here by virtue of the Amish setting and by virtue of the script that finds gentle comedy in those scenarios but still treats both cultures with respect. The chemistry between Ford and Kelly McGillis is terrific, and the crime thriller plot is well executed. The film also contains two of the most memorable scenes I can remember in a film: Book dancing with Rachel in the barn, and the barn raising. Seriously, the only blemish on the film that I can ever find is in the rather dull score by Maurice Jarre. The barn raising scene is scored well, but it’s done with all synths; a recent compilation album of Jarre themes has the cue arranged for full orchestra, and it is stunning. Too bad they didn’t go with that for the movie.
Signature moment: “You be careful out among them English.”
66. Ben Hur
Biblical epics are kind of like…Christmas fruitcake. They’re all heavy and leaden affairs that sit in your stomach like a rock after you consume them, but some of them taste good enough that you don’t mind that feeling that the thing just won’t end. Ben Hur is one of the best, vastly superior to The Ten Commandments in my view. Yes, it’s long and parts of it drag to a degree that would bring a stampeding herd of bison to its knees, but those parts are offset by a number of thrilling set pieces, the best of which is (obviously) the famous chariot race. I like this movie…but like Christmas fruitcake, I can pretty much only indulge it once a year. (Its score, by Miklos Rozsa, is one of the great classics of film music.)
Signature moment: The chariot race is justly famous, but I always like the sea battle a little more.
65. Far and Away
This movie is pure, pure cheese. It’s a romance novel writ large on the screen; if it were an actual romance novel, the title on its cover would be done in large, looping cursive script over an image of the leads on horseback or something similar. The movie is totally predictable; there is not a single plot development in it that can’t be seen a mile away. It’s the tale of a young Irishman and a young Irish woman who emigrate to the United States, thrust together even though they’re from different classes and they at first don’t even like one another. It’s Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman doing faux-Irish accents. It’s got bare-knuckle boxing, pistols at dawn, and the big Oklahoma land race at the end. It’s got a big John Williams score that features the Chieftains and Enya. And I love it so! This is partly pure sentiment; when The Wife and I were dating in college, we spent our summers apart, and we always went to see a movie on our last day together for three months. This was one of those movies, and our favorite.
Signature moment: The land race, obviously. Terrific music in that sequence.
64. Eating Raoul
This is a weird movie, all right. It features a married couple whose dream is to open a restaurant, but they just don’t have enough money, so they decide to raise money by posing as swingers, and then when people come over to “swing”, they kill them by beaning them with a frying pan and then steal their wallets. It’s a black comedy, obviously. Not the kind of subject matter I’d usually choose for myself; actually, if not for my sister, I’d have never chosen this movie for myself. But I do think it’s pretty funny. Although I do have the bad feeling that I’m someday going to pay a price for actually having watched this movie with my grandmother.
Signature moment: The couple’s surprise windfall at the swingers’ party.
63. The Hunt for Red October
I remember reading a review of this movie before I saw it. Released in 1990, a year after the Fall of Communism, the review wondered if a movie like this could possibly still be exciting in a post-Cold War world. The answer is an obvious Yes; I still find it riveting every time I watch it. What’s better than a good cat-and-mouse movie? A movie with about half-a-dozen cat-and-mouse games going on.
Signature moment: “We get the right sort of American, this will work. But if we get some buckaroo….”
If there is a movie out there that recreates a specific time and place better than Amadeus, I don’t know what it is. The creation of late 1700s Vienna is as complete a cinematic illusion as I can think of. The famous story of the rivalry between the freakishly gifted Mozart and the desperately ungifted Salieri is well known; I simply note that the film holds up as well now as it did in its original release. I reviewed this film for GMR here.
Signature moment: Mozart on his deathbed, dictating his Requiem to Salieri, and Salieri’s struggle to understand Mozart’s compositional genius.
61. The Adventures of Robin Hood
What a great, great movie this is – it should probably be farther up this list. Oops. Errol Flynn, Olivia DeHavilland, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Nathan Hale; one of the all-time great scores by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. It’s such a classic that further comment here seems pointless, so I’ll just leave off there.
Signature moment: “What say you to that, Baron of Lockesley?” “May I obey all your commands with equal pleasure, Sire!”