Friday, February 26, 2010

#240 - Spartacus

Breakdown: Spartacus (1960). Novel written by Howard Fast. Screenplay written by Dalton Trumbo. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Starring Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons.

The slave Spartacus leads a violent revolt against the decadent Roman empire.

Review: The first Kubrick film on the list (oh yes, there will be many more), Spartacus is a 184-minute, highly influential, epic historical drama. It's so epic, in fact, that midway through the film, a blank screen is displayed and you are presented with a short intermission. This would have been great to experience in a theater, as it presents the viewer with two options: get up for another bag of Milk Duds and commit to the rest of the movie, or get up and leave. If nothing else, we suggest you stick around for the famous and often spoofed "I am Spartacus!" scene. Spartacus is a great start if you're looking to catch up on the classics. Just don't expect three hours of edge-of-your-seat action.

Favorite Quote: "Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That's why he's not afraid of it. That's why we'll win."


Sunday, February 21, 2010

#241 - Monsters, Inc.

Breakdown: Monsters, Inc. (2001). Written and directed by Pete Docter. Voiced by John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi.

Monsters generate their city's power by scaring children, but they are terribly afraid themselves of being contaminated by children, so when one enters Monstropolis, top scarer Sulley finds his world disrupted.

Review: At some point as a child, you probably heard your parents say, "Now Gary, don't be afraid. They are probably more afraid of you than you are of them." There's also a good chance you never believed them. Well, score one for the 'rents, because this is actually the case in Monsters, Inc. This film puts you in "eye" of the monster (pun intended), and with the familiar voices of John Goodman and Billy Crystal, Monsters, Inc. is a fun and enjoyable watch for all ages.

Favorite Quote:
Yeti: Abominable. Can you believe that? Do I look abominable to you? Why can't they call me the Adorable Snowman, or the Agreeable Snowman, for crying out loud? I'm a nice guy.


#242 - Anatomy of a Murder

Breakdown: Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Novel written by John D. Voelker. Screenplay written by Wendell Mayes. Directed by Otto Preminger. Starring Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott.

In a murder trial, the defendant says he suffered temporary insanity after the victim raped his wife. What is the truth, and will he win his case?

Review: On paper, Anatomy of a Murder has all the ingredients you might find in a sure-fire snoozer of a film: it's nearly three hours in length, black and white, a courtroom drama, and it takes place in Michigan's upper peninsula. Stay with us. Jimmy Stewart and George C. Scott sell their roles as battling attorneys so well, the movie becomes just as much about drawing your own conclusions as it is the verdict itself. It may be the closest you'll feel to being in a jury without having to sit in a courtroom. (This statement may be challenged later in the list, but for now...motion sustained.)

Favorite Quote: "As a lawyer, I've had to learn that people aren't just good or just bad, but people are many things..."


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

#243 - Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows)

Breakdown: The 400 Blows (1959, France). Written and directed by François Truffaut. Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud.

An intensely touching story of a misunderstood young adolescent who leaves home without attention and delves into a life of petty crime.

Review: So, say it's a Saturday night and you and your buddies want to get together to watch a movie. You know, just a lighthearted, fun, enjoyable movie. So you go to the movie store and all the movies in the entire store are gone. All of them. Except this...and Toy Story 2. Here's why you pick Toy Story 2:

A semi-autobiographical work, The 400 Blows takes a darker look into a brief window of writer/director Fançois Truffaut's adolescence. This film shows just how easily parents' neglect and lack of support can lead to psychological and emotional torment for their children. It's a tough pill to swallow, but the movie's message is clear and valuable, thanks in part to a stellar performance from then 14-year-old Jean-Pierre Léaud.

Favorite Quote: "Every time I cried, my father would imitate me on his fiddle, just to drive me nuts. One day I got fed up and I knocked him out."


#244 - Toy Story 2

Breakdown: Toy Story 2 (1999). Written and directed by John Lasseter. Voiced by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack.

When Woody is stolen by a toy collector, Buzz and his friends vow to rescue him, but Woody must decide between reuniting with his collectable toys or staying with his old friends.

Review: Here's a sure-fire way to make the sequel to your hit movie tank – plague the movie with obvious references to the original and forget about what made your audience love the first film so much. Here's a sure-fire way to make the sequel to your hit movie not tank – do what Toy Story 2 did. The sequel to one of the most highly-regarded animated films in recent history, Toy Story 2 maintains its integrity as far as the loveable characters we all met in the original, the distinct toy-world humor, its story line that feels so personal, and its "positive without feeling forced" message. Gary Busey, what do you think?

Favorite Quote:
Mr. Potato Head: I say we stack ourselves up, push the intercom and pretend we're delivering a pizza.
Hamm: How about a ham sandwich? With fries and a hotdog?
Rex: What about me?
Hamm: Ah, you can be the toy that comes with the meal.


Friday, February 12, 2010

#245 - His Girl Friday

Breakdown: His Girl Friday (1940). Play written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Screenplay written by Charles Lederer. Directed by Howard Hanks. Starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell.

A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying.

Review: What we've learned about 1930s-1940s cinema so far: Frank Capra was a monster. We'll be hitting on more of his films as a director (It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, among others) later in the list, but our first two films with Capra as an actor, although reputable, don't quite compare. In His Girl Friday, Capra and Rosalind Russel steal the show with their all-too-believable roles as cynical ex-lovers, but its predictable ending leaves whatever happens until then feeling a bit lackluster. Really, we're just waiting for North by Northwest.

Favorite Quote:
Walter: Sorta wish you hadn't done that, Hildy.
Hildy: Done what?
Walter: Divorced me. Makes a fella lose all faith in himself. Gives him a...almost gives him a feeling he wasn't wanted.
Hildy: Oh, now look, junior...that's what divorces are FOR!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

#246 - Brazil

Breakdown: Brazil (1985). Written by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Starring Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro.

A bureaucrat in a retro-future world tries to correct an administrative error and in turn, becomes an enemy of the state.

Review: Watching Brazil is the equivalent to watching Back to the Future, Dick Tracy, and a David Bowie (Bowie reference #2) music video all at once...while tripping on acid. Another dark comedy on our list, Brazil takes a look at a dependence on technology, the problems with bureaucracy, and obsessions with self-image. Today, living in a world where so many are heavily invested in technology, governmental issues, and plastic surgery, it's fun to watch a film like Brazil and realize how close they actually were to the truth.

Favorite Quote:
Jill Layton: Care for a little necrophilia? Hmmm?


#247 - Arsenic and Old Lace

Breakdown: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). Original play written by Joseph Kesselring. Screenplay written by Julius and Philip Epstein. Directed by Frank Capra. Starring Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair.

A drama critic learns on his wedding day that his beloved maiden aunts are homicidal maniacs, and that insanity runs in his family.

Review: One of the earliest examples of black comedy in cinema, Arsenic and Old Lace makes light of your typical grandmotherly, cake-baking old ladies...who murder people. The story closely follows the plot of the original play, which often makes it feel more like watching a play than a movie (one main set, over-the-top acting common of the era, etc.). Naturally, most fans of the play will be fans of the movie and vise versa. Also, fans of the movie are mostly dead.

Favorite Quote:
Jonathan: You mean that you and Aunt Martha have murdered twelve...
Abby: Murdered? Certainly not. It's one of our charities.
Martha: Why, what we've been doing is a mercy.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

#248 - Mou gaan dou (Infernal Affairs)

Breakdown: Infernal Affairs (2002, Hong Kong). Written by Alan Mak and Felix Chong. Directed by Wai-keung Lau and Alan Mak. Starring Andy Lau, Tony Leung.

A story between a mole in the police department and an undercover cop. Their objectives are the same: to find out who is the mole, and who is the cop.

Review: If you've seen The Departed, you've seen Infernal Affairs...almost literally. The Departed is the American remake of Infernal Affairs. The biggest difference between the two (other than Leonardo DiCaprio not speaking Cantonese) is pace. Infernal Affairs is almost a full hour shorter than its successor. The biggest similarity? They both kick ass.

Favorite Quote:
Wong: Let me tell you a story. Two men need an organ transplant, but there's only one organ. So they play a game. They each put a card in their pocket. Whoever can guess the other's card wins the organ.
Sam: You know I can see your card.
Wong: I see yours as well.


#249 - Hauru no ugoku shiro (Howl's Moving Castle)

Breakdown: Howl's Moving Castle (2004, Japan). Novel written by Diana Wynne Jones. Screenplay written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. English version voiced by Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, Billy Crystal, Lauren Bacall, Emily Mortimer, John Hutcherson.

When a shy young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent wizard and his companions in his legged, walking home.

Review: Walking castles? Check. Labyrinth-era David Bowie-esque flying wizards? Check. Evil spirits with barbershop quartet hats? Check. On a weirdness scale, this movie makes Alice in Wonderland look like Wheel of Fortune, but its respectable story line and surprisingly good visuals save it from complete obscurity.

Favorite Quote: "They say that the best blaze burns brightest when circumstances are at their worst."


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

#250 - The Truman Show

Breakdown: The Truman Show (1998). Written by Andrew Niccol. Directed by Peter Weir. Starring Jim Carrey, Laura Linney.

An insurance salesman discovers his entire life is actually a TV show.

Review: With solid performances from both Jim Carrey and Laura Linney, The Truman Show is a kickass way to kick off our list. Truman's life as a TV show from his conception and until, well, the end of the movie, doesn't seem like as much of a far-fetched concept today as it did in 1998. You might even wonder what sort of impact this movie had on the reality TV explosion of the early 2000's. Regardless, The Truman Show's great balance of comedy, heart, and suspense make it a worthy candidate for the top 250. Iss'a good one.

Favorite Quote:
Network Executive:
For God's sake, Chris! The whole world is watching. We can't let him die in front of a live audience!
Christof: He was born in front of a live audience.