Top 250 American Movies: 101-150

Things are changing! In honor of how far up the list we are (here’s the most recent entry), I’m giving myself a third sentence instead of just two to write about these movies, as a treat.


150) Tower (2016), directed by Keith Maitland

In documentaries with unusual forms, it’s most common that the function is, bass-ackwards, following that form: Waltz with Bashir, The Missing Picture, Flee, and so on. Tower, which uses rotoscoping on old footage as well as recent interviews, never loses sight of what the most essential element of the documentary is. The people around, near, against, hurt by, killed by Charles Whitman are the primary focus of Tower, and how they recall their experiences is given a slightly different and more legible form just as our memories often work.

149) Original Cast Album: Company (1970), directed by D.A. Pennebaker

It’s not just the recording studios (and presumably Stephen Sondheim’s sphincter) which are tight in this picture, but there are only so many people working on this at a time. Company makes a garage band look small but is still a minnow itself compared to a full-scale opera, for example, and Pennebaker, almost always in grainiest close-up, gets unlacquered expressions and feelings. With no person is that more effective than it is with Sondheim; Pennebaker found Bob Dylan’s hermeticism and idiosyncrasy in his salad days, but with Sondheim he skips straight to genius.

148) Sweet Smell of Success (1957), directed by Alexander Mackendrick

There are better movies (scroll above, see future posts, etc.) made in this country about people working in nonfiction media, or movies with more memorable screenplays and performances about working in nonfiction media. I’m not sure that we have a better movie than this about that genre, though, because even a Network shies away from the aspects of the job that are like being a grimly willing participant in a human centipede. In as many different ways to say it as you can think of, acceding to the journalistic process—a glitzy, fabulous process with radio shows and late nights at 21, sourcing every bit of the sausage before it’s even made—is shitwork.

147) Only Angels Have Wings (1939), directed by Howard Hawks

Jean Arthur falls hard for Cary Grant, and ex-flame Rita Hayworth hasn’t recovered from him yet, but the love of Grant’s life in this movie is Thomas Mitchell, a veteran pilot who looks old enough to be Grant’s dad but still goes by “the Kid.” The heart has its reasons, I suppose, which is the only way to understand why running an airmail line in the Andes or falling head over heels for a flyer in the pre-jet days of aviation seem like such important things to the characters in this movie. It’s got as much snappy patter as any other action-adventure flick of the day, but the passion crashes into this one like a condor through the windshield.

146) The Assistant (2020), directed by Kitty Green

The scariest movie about going to work since Alien, The Assistant is also a cautionary tale about disorganized labor. Julia Garner is just one woman at this workplace, and even when she tries to go out on a limb for another woman—one she has no ties to, just concerns for—it gets crystal clear and crystal sharp that to get out any further on that limb is to careen to the ground. Other #metoo films (especially those based on true stories) have ended with some kind of triumph, but this one, which merely hints at the Harvey Weinstein of it all, casts in stark light the protectionist impulses of institutions run by men, for men.

145) Little Women (2019), directed by Greta Gerwig

You’d think that nothing could be more like eating cinematic vegetables than watching a well-thumbed first-wave feminist story from the eyes of the fourth wave, and to think that would be arrant foolishness. Saoirse Ronan’s puts the Jo back in joy, although her portrayal of this most bombastic March sister takes the concept of joy not from puppyish romping but from Philippians. The rest of the cast (of course Florence Pugh, but also definitely Eliza Scanlen, and Chris Cooper, and oh let’s just name them all) follows her lead, Gerwig’s screenplay is exceptional, and the art design is a bubble bath for the eyes.

144) Personal Problems (1980), directed by Bill Gunn

Any movie blogger should be leery of saying “there’s no other movie like this,” but with that said, I really don’t know that there’s any other movie like this. Personal Problems, which is commenting on the idea of home movies as much as it’s critiquing what it means to be “at home,” is visually indelible, with the ugliness of the videocassette occasionally creating strangely beautiful effects in light. John Cassavetes would have envied the naturalism of this film.

143) The Kid (1921), directed by Charlie Chaplin

Given the stuff that happens in the back half, they could have called this Only Angels Have Wings. For all of the winged personages in that scene, this film has more in common with the closeness of A Dog’s Life than it does with the vastness of The Gold Rush, let alone something like Modern Times. Chaplin is quite moving in this, but he’s rather outshined here by Jackie Coogan, who sets the standard in humor and pathos alike for child acting for years to come.

142) Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), directed by Peter Weir

The soul of this movie is not so different from the soul of The Adventures of Robin Hood, or, to choose a more nautically fitting Errol Flynn, The Sea Hawk. “Lucky Jack” Aubrey is a swashbuckler at heart, though even in his time swashbucklers are in short supply. But Master and Commander, a move written in steel and Yale blues, is so richly about masculine closeness, fellowship, and maybe even a smidge of love that it lingers long after the storms have faded and the waves have subsided.

141) Before Midnight (2013), directed by Richard Linklater

Before Midnight does something more than a little unsettling during its famously lengthy and infamously unbearable argument sequence. It brings the intimacy of theater to the cinema, and if this is how they have to do it I wish they’d stop. There have been enough movies in the mold of Journey to Italy to see a sample, and while Charlotte Gainsbourg of Antichrist has sharper fangs and claws, in this blistered performance Julie Delpy comes closer to Ingrid Bergman’s work in the original than anyone else I’ve ever seen.

140) Modern Romance (1981), directed by Albert Brooks

Making Albert Brooks’s character a film editor is a nice touch, because here’s a guy who’s in charge of meticulously stitching films together who couldn’t make his own life cohere if he had enough duct tape to stick a Volkswagen to the Hollywood sign. It’s a nice touch because it gives us a chance to see the George Kennedy cameo performance which, dare I say it, is the greatest cameo performance ever in a film directed by a man named “Brooks?” And it’s a nice touch because movie people are insane, and there’s no other reason to believe that a guy like Albert Brooks would ever enter the “off-again” phase with a Kathryn Harrold for grounded reasons.

139) If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), directed by Barry Jenkins

Ochres, ambers, a camera that feels little regard for gravity, and a timeline that feels less regard for linearity. Tish and Fonny have a Miltonesque ability to make a heaven out of hell, at least when they’re together, and after some tantalizing scenes it becomes clear that the film means to rend us by rending them. Nicholas Britell’s score for this film is the leader in the clubhouse for “best American score of the 21st Century” until further notice.

138) Network (1976), directed by Sidney Lumet

Flamboyantly uneven, Network slides a little further into normie Democrat kitsch every time I watch it. Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay, quite possibly the most outstanding literary screenplay ever written, has the rest of the movie backed up against an alley wall with a knife to its throat; Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway aren’t that far away, wielding brass knuckles and nunchaku, respectively. What grounds the film in something close enough to reality that we can still feel something other than awe about this movie are the people who are actually inhabiting a business world we might reckon with: William Holden, William Prince, Wesley Addy, Conchata Ferrell, Bill Burrows.

137) Double Indemnity (1944), directed by Billy Wilder

I’ll never forget watching this movie for the first time and finding the opening credits, of all things, deeply unsettling; I didn’t know about the crutches business and so I got a very Fred Krueger vibe from the slow hobbling towards the camera. The only exceptional person in this movie is Barbara Stanwyck, who is wearing a Halloween costume that all of us (most of all Fred MacMurray) expect will reveal some hothouse flower underneath. MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson in particular have always felt especially human to me, except that one can be tempted and the other has taken solemn vows and prostrated himself at the altar of actuarial tables.

136) North by Northwest (1959), directed by Alfred Hitchcock

It’s the story of a man who has several bartenders depending on him fighting for his bartenders’ livelihoods, but more seriously it’s about how he learns how to tell a hawk from a handsaw. He begins the film as a lifelong caterpillar (or slug, who can really tell) who puts on some sunglasses for the chrysalis and emerges as a butterfly, in a relative instant, just in time to dodge a crop duster. More than any other Hitchcock film, this one builds the entire album out of hits; the layman’s legend of Hitchcock is written in that crop duster, in Mount Rushmore, and in the compartments on a cross-country train.

135) My Own Private Idaho (1991), directed by Gus Van Sant

Perhaps this isn’t quite as tremendous a film as Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, and the Wellesians will puff up the delightful Chimes at Midnight, but I keep coming back to My Own Private Idaho as the finest Shakespearean adaptation ever put to film. The story of Prince Hal enjoying Falstaff and then disposing of him once he becomes Henry V is retold with Keanu Reeves as the hustling scion of a business empire and William Richert as his ersatz guru, a prince of the unhoused set. An old story is made new again through River Phoenix, a hustler with no fortune or family, who can love sex with Reeves because it’s Reeves and not because there might be money on the other end, someone who Hal must have dropped and who survives that first heartbreak.

134) Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (1977), directed by the Mariposa Film Group

I’ve said already that how important a film is doesn’t matter to me when doing these rankings, and I stand by that. All the same it’s impossible to watch Word Is Out without feeling like these people interviewed simply, these people with normal backgrounds and perfectly normal careers, whose most unusual quality in the 1970s was not that they were queer but that they were out, were on a high, roaring wave of history. No one in the documentary, not even an Elsa Gidlow or Sally Gearhart, talks like they’re in a revolutionary vanguard, for the relief or regret or rebirth they feel is personal and not Historical.

133) Columbus (2017), directed by Kogonada

Think about the places of iconic American film and it’s really easy to come up with places where the vast majority of the inhabitants feel basically the same way about them: Casablanca in Casablanca, Cambodia in Apocalypse Now, Xanadu in Citizen Kane, Guadalcanal in The Thin Red Line, New York City in Taxi Driver, you get the picture. Columbus looks at place so differently, actively contrasting two people who are stuck there because of their parents, but who feel absolutely different about that place itself. That the film uses Columbus, Indiana, pound for pound the holiest towns in America (for architecture nerds) as that place lifts it to a new level of greatness, making the work of Pei and both Saarinens into objectives correlative for the quotidian people stuck in Columbus.

132) WALL-E (2008), directed by Andrew Stanton

Technopoptimism at its most ingratiating, the Pixar movie that owes the most to whatever crap Steve Jobs “believed” in, a film that thinks humans can come up with technological solutions to salve soullessness. What we leave behind will inspire confusion and longing in whatever is unlucky enough to follow us, whether it’s a plastic spork that has survived the apocalypse and defies all categorization or a shot from Hello, Dolly! that shows that hands were made for holding. WALL-E, a coelacanth with treads and a belly full of trash, is a creature of past, present, and it turns out, future as well; as far as WALL-E is concerned, WALL-E was there in the beginning with the Word.

131) Hester Street (1975), directed by Joan Micklin Silver

In the turn of the century New York of Hester Street, they are still generations away from that scene in Pinocchio where the bad boys go to Pleasure Island and leave as donkeys in chains. For Yankel, Pleasure Island might have gone on indefinitely if his wife, Gitl, had not come from the old country with their son, speaking Yiddish and evaporating Pleasure Island with the fact of her presence. The dream of America for Gitl is the fantasy of America for Yankel, and the quiet incendiary collision of those two intangibles leaves its remains, like the ghosts in the particle accelerator, all over the Lower East Side.

130) Reds (1981), directed by Warren Beatty

Beatty had enormous confidence, but there really is something metatextually hilarious about directing a movie in which he stars as a guy who tries to be something he’s not while everyone who cares about him tells him to go back to being what he’s good at. The people in Word Is Out might know that they’re etching in freshly uncovered granite, but they don’t act like it should change their lives; Jack Reed absolutely knows the value of the granite and the importance of his writing and it obliterates him. People in this film keep reiterating that the “taxi’s waiting,” a thin-lipped observation that their teenaged 20th Century isn’t going to wait around for them forever.

129) Heaven Can Wait (1943), directed by Ernst Lubitsch

My Better Half: The Motion Picture, and if that title sounds ironic, that’s good, because it’s not. Ernst Lubitsch was born to make at least half a dozen movies, but he deserved the color that Heaven Can Wait was made in, because it was a missing dimension to the glorious excess which defines the worlds most of his characters inhabit. Gene Tierney, characteristically exquisite, brings the color; Don Ameche, playing a roue who could have slummed it with most of the cads of Lubitsch’s previous pictures, brings the devotion.

128) The Godfather Part II (1974), directed by Francis Ford Coppola

In this film, it is the four true antagonists of Michael Corleone who we get the great performances from. Michael V. Gazzo’s raspy, squinting Frankie Pentangeli—Lee Strasberg’s composed, nondescript Hyman Roth—John Cazale’s prone, obtrusive Fredo Corleone. Above all, Robert De Niro’s young Vito Corleone, a rarer man than Michael, someone who possessed his capacity for greatness at that same young age, but a man greater because he could sequester some iota of his soul while damning the rest.

127) Stop Making Sense (1984), directed by Jonathan Demme

Justly unforgettable musical performances litter this doc which somehow gets us in and out in under ninety minutes. What sets this above all other concert documentaries is its backwardness, its brilliance in considering the image first and then putting some of the best rock music ever written into the frame with the images. You don’t have to know anything about this group to appreciate the big suit, the lamp, the cardio routine, and the terrific glee of getting “Girlfriend Is Better,” “This Must Be the Place,” and especially “Life During Wartime” clues us in on what it’s like to listen to stars twinkling.

126) The Social Network (2010), directed by David Fincher

Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and even I have to admit that “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars” is the kind of line 99% of screenwriters never cook up. The Social Network is on a quest to prove its thesis about nerds and girls and the interwebs with fanatical fervor, and no small part of that sojourn is in statements that might end with the character saying, “, period.” But that line, delivered by Justin Timberlake of all people, is the film, and the new aristocracy it chronicles, in seconds flat.

125) My Brother’s Wedding (1983), directed by Charles Burnett

Pierce Mundy is a true everyman (“qui tollis peccata mundi”), someone totally unexceptional by the standards of South Central; he is neither good nor bad, talented nor maladroit, passionate nor apathetic. The film ends with him in another nor statement, in attendance neither at his brother’s wedding nor at his best friend’s funeral. His inaction is the result of a moral compass that can’t find a true north, something to guide him, and what is occasionally a very funny movie ends with a deep ache.

124) Badlands (1973), directed by Terrence Malick

As an exercise in dissociated women narrators, Badlands may not have a rival until Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Sissy Spacek, placid in narration and languid in performance, is Orithyia to Martin Sheen’s Boreas in a film that extols the beauty of the windswept Great Plains. Badlands is, in some sense, a film about a profound unreality, not just in the way Holly tells the story but in the way that Kit acts like a newspaper account or, more aptly, a B-noir knockoff serial killer desperate to be remembered.

123) Widows (2018), directed by Steve McQueen

A Third Coast crime story in which Olivia gives the best dog performance since Skippy, and I guess a little more importantly in which the New York and Los Angeles heist subgenres are subverted. Sold as a heist movie, which did it no favors, Widows is an honest-to-goodness social drama which manages to swim across Chicago, its class wars, its race wars, its political wars, its historical wars, and come out without being hit by a single shell. Exceptional performances, stunning camerawork, and a story that feels denser and more difficult every time through.

122) Witness (1985), directed by Peter Weir

What Spider-Man 2 did for superhero movies, Witness does for the thriller: both films defuse the final encounter with the big bad so thoroughly that it makes you reconsider the way the rest of the genre chooses to tell their stories. When Josef Sommer comes out with his gun loaded, prepared to shoot his way out of Amish country, only to find that the town has been summoned and can bear witness to whatever set of crimes he means to commit, he gives up. On a practical level, surely he knows he’d run out of bullets even if he shot down enough of the Amish; on a moral level, the group courage on display is even a little chilling with expectation.

121) What’s Up, Doc? (1972), directed by Peter Bogdanovich

I have a list I keep of movies I don’t think are weird enough. What’s Up, Doc?, a film with a fairly straightforward elevator pitch—four suitcases are mixed up and havoc ensues in San Francisco—is not on that list. One of the most nostalgic movies ever made, a forthright horny ode to Howard Hawks, a movie where Bugs Bunny is dressed in Babs drag and where if you squint, you can almost see the fuzzy outline of Cary Grant behind Ryan O’Neal.

120) Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), directed by John Ford

America’s great heroes have defied the screen for as long as we’ve had screens; who, exactly, is giving the great cinematic performance of George Washington? Easier to get Henry Ford to play a…young Mr. Lincoln than it is to get someone to play even the slightly more venerable fellow who got himself elected president (see under Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and honestly no disrespect for Raymond Massey). In much the same way that Scorsese’s Christ is human, tempted, so too is Ford’s Lincoln human, grieving, a student of almanacs.

119) All That Heaven Allows (1955), directed by Douglas Sirk

Ian McEwan wrote one of the holiest prayers anyone can write when he penned the words “live without shame.” In All That Heaven Allows, that is exactly what the Rock Hudson character has done, and a man already an Übermensch in physical form and beauty is now an Übermensch in his ethics. Dragging Jane Wyman’s shame out of her body is like watching an exorcism, but in some of the most gorgeous Technicolor you ever did see.

118) The Little Foxes (1941), directed by William Wyler

Raises the stakes of Jezebel, stretches our ability to connect emotionally with Bette Davis, and presents period piece savagery unimaginable until the rise of Luchino Visconti. It’s not just that Regina can watch her estranged husband die in front of her, without any sign of pity; it’s that she recognizes this moment as the kind of perfect murder that only the fates can endow, and that it is an augur that the fates have chosen her and not her opponents. What is mostly a drawing room drama is shot with flair by Gregg Toland, and Wyler manages a cast essentially made up of career supporting actors short of Davis, the aging Marshall, and Teresa Wright in a breakout role.

117) Star Wars (1977), directed by George Lucas

Absolutely brilliant production design makes what could have been a kind of hooey experiment in pablum-dabblin’ into an instantly legible story of heroes. There are more shades of gray in the Empire’s internal style guide than there are in the plot of the film, and the geometric design of their cruel spacecraft —a spherical Death Star, hexagonal TIE Fighters, the pyramidal Star Destroyers—emphasizes the relative height of the ships against the underdog frames of X-Wings, Y-Wings, and the Millennium Falcon. A perfect movie for kids who would otherwise crawl through My Neighbor Totoro.

116) Short Cuts (1993), directed by Robert Altman

A more cruel movie than Nashville, probably, parceling out suffering to basically everyone in Los Angeles by the time all’s said and done. Perhaps even more than that, the film doesn’t really chart out a way forward, or perhaps to the left, in a way that Nashville can be read to do. What remains in Short Cuts is a really incredible set of stories about people who care deeply, more than they can tell, and who watch their pose of apathy wither in the face of events and people who do can still summon up the decency to give a good goddam.

115) Ninotchka (1939), directed by Ernst Lubitsch

Two of the great lines of dialogue coexist in Ninotchka, at different times and pulling in very different directions. Shot: Ninotchka looks at a fashionable hat, accuses the capitalists of decadence beyond compare and mutters more to herself than her idiot comrades, “It won’t be long now, comrades.” Chaser: Leon, trying to reassure a drunk and vaguely despondent Ninotchka that their romance will last, tells her, “There will be no Thursday for us.”

114) Paths of Glory (1957), directed by Stanley Kubrick

Probably the greatest film about World War I this side of Lawrence of Arabia, and to be honest much more about World War I than Lawrence has any interest in being. There is a razor-thin line between the two understandings of war in this film, both of which are understandings that Dax comes to in sequential order. The first is that war is a random undertaking, and that no matter how well-laid plans are or how great the victory or defeat, death just happens; the second is that this is a random undertaking which is also fundamentally pointless.

113) Boogie Nights (1997), directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

An essential film about filmmaking, a reverse Star Is Born where Dirk Diggler is Norman Maine and Jack Horner is Vicki Lester. In one scene, Anderson delivers a burlesque (I know, I’ll stop) of what most people imagine the moviemaking process to be, a procession of actors saying lines and dutifully performing some action. And then Anderson shows us what he thinks the moviemaking process is, and for him it is a look of great focus, almost like trying to squeeze out an ejaculation, while the camera is the most erotic being on the set.

112) Modern Times (1936), directed by Charlie Chaplin

Before the Depression, Chaplin was a clown; in the Depression, Chaplin was an icon of common men; in the tail end of the Depression, Chaplin was a Wobblie. Perhaps there is some steady employment in these factories, where men and their muscles are regulated to the point of madness, but if the wages are insanity, then what’s so good about the factories? Not even in a movie where he plays a bluebeard does Chaplin bring such a sharp hatchet to the running gags, even lacing a little horror into scenes where his primary costar is a machine.

111) Anatomy of a Murder (1959), directed by Otto Preminger

A great movie, but perhaps even more of a landmark than it is a great picture. Twenty years earlier, Jimmy Stewart’s voice was raspy with speech, heroically filibustering his way into Jean Arthur’s heart and Claude Rains’s conscience while condemning Edward Arnold to prison and disrepute, pontificating about the holiness of law and the American legal system. In this movie, Stewart is loud and even shrill, fending off a sexpot Lee Remick, a canny Ben Gazzara, and a furiously agile George C. Scott, and doing better legal work than he’s done in years in order to get a guy who murdered someone for sleeping with his wife off scot free.

110) All That Jazz (1979), directed by Bob Fosse

A portrait of the artist as a chain-smoking hemorrhoid, though Roy Scheider is so winning and doleful that you can almost talk yourself into keeping that bleary-eyed anal pain around for the laughs. An unpredictable fantasia which is an ode to gaffers and lighting technicians as much as greasepaint and old Broadway standards. For pure love of human movement, the “On Broadway” sequence has never been equaled.

109) The Strawberry Blonde (1941), directed by Raoul Walsh

Raoul Walsh, something of a tough guy actor himself, was terrific at letting tough guy actors reveal deep insecurities while keeping them tough: Aldo Ray in The Naked and the Dead, George Raft in They Live by Night, and never more for James Cagney than in this film. Read a plot synopsis and this film probably feels a little crusty to the touch, as it’s the kind of movie which seems to say things like “Be grateful for the good things you have” or “Everything that glitters is not gold” or “Money isn’t everything,” and other old saws. What it says instead is that Cagney’s Biff, a loser, a dope, a patsy, someone who wanted to be a dentist for crying out loud, is the kind of man who made one right choice—Olivia de Havilland’s Amy—and thus we can watch Cagney fall and rise again with such belief in his character.

108) Hoop Dreams (1994), directed by Steve James

When Steve James started making this movie, he must have expected he’d be able to get a good story about two Black boys from tough neighborhoods playing basketball at a suburban private (pasty white) high school on scholarship. When Arthur Agee was dropped from St. Joe’s because of financial reasons, James had an incredible story dropped in his lap. It’s edited better than it’s directed, and in almost anyone’s hands that story would still be there to put the film on cruise control; what makes it special is the access, and more than that the honest, occasionally brutal access that James has to his two subjects.

107) The Straight Story (1999), directed by David Lynch

Say, “Who’s got the best one-scene role in a movie?” and before you even finish the sentence people will leap out of their chairs to shout “ALFRED MOLINA IN BOOGIE NIGHTS” without remembering the tears in Harry Dean Stanton’s eyes in this film. He’s crying because he just saw a tractor. If you can look at that tractor without misting up, you’re made of sterner, colder stuff than I am.

106) Airplane! (1980), directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker

“Why not make the whole plane out of the black box?” is a canard, but “Why not make the whole comedy out of jokes?” is a triumph. Thanks to Zero Hour!, this thing has a plot and also a shocking amount of dialogue, but thanks to the stonefaced performances of the entire cast (excepting Stephen Stucker, who I can only guess must have swapped personalities with an especially mischievous gay housecat), it’s funnier than the human body is supposed to be able to weather. If there’s a scene which stands in as a metaphor for the film, it’s the one where everyone on the plane lines up to beat the bejeezus out of Lee Bryant, in which the audience is Bryant and the passengers are Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker.

105) The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), directed by Martin Scorsese

Hey, speaking of people who took a lot of physical punishment, here’s the movie where Jesus says, “God loves me—I know he loves me—I want him to stop.” Scorsese’s religious films are, for my money, the ones with the most magnificent imagery, and Last Temptation has a wealth of those in the scenes where Christ is being tempted. The disruption of the image of a bloodied Willem Dafoe at the end of the film (an accidentally opened camera), the fire and the lion in the desert, and perhaps more shocking and breathtaking than anything else in Scorsese’s entire oeuvre, the image of Jesus literally coming off of the Cross.

104) The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), directed by Orson Welles

There are films with athletic camerawork, and there are films that are Bob Beamon in Mexico City, Usain Bolt in London, Simone Biles in Rio de Janeiro; that’s what The Magnificent Ambersons is, and it is so aggressively modern that it seems like Welles and Gregg Toland must have come back from the future to film the way they do here. Ironically, the futuristic gaze of the camera in Ambersons does nothing to bring the Minafers, least of all George, into the 20th Century. Perhaps Welles, a great lover of Shakespeare, understood in time that this mutilated movie was to become his Lavinia from Titus Andronicus.

103) Dodsworth (1936), directed by William Wyler

As the poet says, “The world needs wannabes; the world loves wannabes; let’s get some more wannabes!” For much of the movie, Sam Dodsworth doesn’t wanna be anything other than what he is, which is a basically decent and curious man on a well-earned vacation; his wife Fran is the true wannabe in the family. She wanna be 21, continental, and revered, and while she can fake the first two long enough for people to snicker behind her back rather than in her face, reverence never really comes her way.

102) Amadeus (1984), directed by Milos Forman

Remember the first time you heard that the duck-billed platypus was proof that God had a sense of humor (or maybe it was you, maybe you have older siblings)? Mozart in Amadeus would have been absolutely fascinated by a duck-billed platypus, probably would have written a part for one in The Magic Flute after getting drunk with it one night. Salieri would have raised his eyebrow very condescendingly at the duck-billed platypus, rejecting humor, God, and his own self-awareness in a single gesture.

101) The Muppet Movie (1979), directed by James Frawley

It’s possible to believe in the idea of dreams coming true, or of making lifelong friends in a flash, or in the rainbow connection without having seen a puppet ride a Schwinn without anyone sticking a hand in the puppet, but I guess it’s a little bit harder to do so. There are so many lovely lyrics in this movie, bouncing from koanish (“Be a better drummer/Be an up-and-comer/Can you picture that?”) to silly (“Uh, Rowlf, tadpoles don’t have feet”), but the soul of the movie, apologies to “The Rainbow Connection,” is probably in a song that’s mournful with hope. “I’ve never been there/But I know the way/I’m going to go back there someday,” Gonzo sings, having returned to earth from an impromptu balloon flight earlier in the film which was played for nervous laughs in the moment and which is later revealed to be the sublime highlight of Gonzo’s life.

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