#12: Watch movies 90-71 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movies list

This is part of our 100 Things in 2015 challenge. Here’s the full list.

The American Film Institute puts out a list of the 100 greatest movies of all time, and we just can’t resist a good list. We watched ten of them in 2014, and we decided to do 20 this year. As before, we’ll include our reactions.

#90: SWING TIME (1936)

Becky: So ridiculous and not in a way I enjoyed. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not into many song-and-dance films and although the dancing was admirable the story and the underlying misogyny and racism were hard to ignore.

Ben: I liked this a lot more than Yankee Doodle, and I can see how the Fred-and-Ginger movies got so much play, what with the chemistry and the dancing and all. Was this the first time that “ugly” actors were cast as comedy relief? The comedy was pretty good at times, actually. The plot had some holes, though – Ginger’s character gets mad at Fred, so she immediately gets engaged to another man, and the wedding is the next day?

#89: THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Becky: So, so good. I’ve watched many times before, but it had been several years. I’m reminded of just how much I love M. Night Shyamalan’s films. Slow, deep, character-driven, symbolic. I love the quiet moments that let you contemplate. This was the one that got me hooked.

Ben: So yeah, I first watched this 10+ years ago, and I thought “yeah, that kid’s got it tough.” But watching this as a parent is heartbreaking. I find myself imagining what it must have been like to grow up like that. Also, I had no idea this was classified as a “horror” film. I’d put it in the same category as most of the Stephen King novels I’ve read, which are more on the weird-fantasy Dark Tower side of things. Still, it aged really well, and it’s still a great movie, even if you do know the twist.

#88: BRINGING UP BABY (1938)

Becky: So terrible. I have no idea why this is on the list. It even tanked at the box office when it was released!

Ben: I know it’s supposed to be the paragon of this era’s comedy-of-errors genre, but still. I guess it was well-made, and there were some decent moments, but I was uncomfortable 90% of the time.

#87: 12 ANGRY MEN (1957)

Becky: This was more entertaining than I expected, but was so obvious. I think it’s very telling of the era however, that so much needed to be spelled out for the audience. Each of the 12 men were a caricature, but it was fun to figure out which.

Ben: Apparently this was pretty early in the whodunnit genre? I couldn’t tell, exactly, but anyone who’s seen a Law & Order show in the last 20 years could have called the ending of this movie. Some of the acting was superb, but some was kind of lame. Still, there were some amazing moments, and I liked the symbolism of the 12 men as the different parts of your brain when you try to make a decision.

#86: PLATOON (1986)

Becky:Have I mentioned how much I dislike war movies?

Ben: I’ve loved war movies in times past, and I can’t believe I’ve never seen this one. It’s abundantly clear how much care was taken for authenticity, while still having a finely-tuned story arc. It’s also fun to see how many of the faces you see have turned out to be major stars in future movies. This one really ages well, highly recommended.

#85: A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)

Becky: Holy crap this was awful.  Not my kind of film at all.  Slapstick with full operatic interludes?  Yikes.

Ben: Who is this for? Fans of opera who also like sex jokes and lowbrow slapstick humor? Or is the opera aspirational, the equivalent of the gigantic apartments people occupy in Sitcom New York? Anyways, it’s clear the Marx brothers were pretty talented, and the film was relatively well-put-together, but I wasn’t really entertained as such. You can totally draw a straight line from this to modern Adam Sandler movies, though, and that’s interesting.

#84: EASY RIDER (1969)

Becky: I kept wondering when something was going to happen. At the end I realized, that the answer was never. This was weird, and I didn’t understand the why of the film. I think it wasn’t made for me.

Ben: Not sure I’m the right age to really get this movie. I understand the point about saying you value freedom vs. actually making choices like a free person, and the juxtaposition of “dirty hippies” (who are kind to each other) and “good American folk” (who are generally cruel to strangers), but the rest of the philosophy (if there is any) flew right by me. The LSD trip scene was some pretty great editing, but some of the other choices seemed just weird. And for most of the movie, nothing happens. I’m not sure I’m a better person for having seen this film.

#83: TITANIC (1997)

Becky: I saw this for the first time when it was released in theaters. I cried for a full 24 hours after. Not because of the love story, but I was so vastly affected by the horror and terror of the boat sinking and all the needless death. I was’t able to comfort myself with the “it’s just a movie” either. This happened in real life. I did okay on our re-watching, but I’ll admit I tried to distract myself during the last half of the movie. Cinematically speaking, this is an excellent and well-made movie.

Ben: I think it’s been 15 years since I’ve seen this. The set design and props are exquisite, and I’ve heard all kinds of stories about how authentic they tried to make it (custom china, etc.). I noticed this time that the writing for the treasure hunters was pretty stilted, and the delivery (especially on the part of Bill Paxton) was weak. Still, there’s lots of good stuff here, and it’s much less painful to watch than some of the others on this list.

#82: SUNRISE (1927)

Becky: That was my very first silent film. A very different type of experience. The overacting was hard to swallow, but I understand that’s how it was done. I feel that it was probably an hour longer than it needed to be to get the story across. I mostly didn’t like it, but by the end I had been drawn in somewhat.

Ben: Apparently this is on the list to show what silent films were at their peak. We seem to be amazed that you can tell a story in film with no dialogue (and it’s rarely done these days), but as it turns out, that was the default for decades. There’s lots to like about this movie, though across the gulf of almost a century it’s also hard to sit through the 20-second reaction shots, and the overacted emotions. There’s a decent story, and I had real feelings watching it. Not bad.

#81: SPARTACUS (1960)

Becky: Interminable. Thought it would never end. Funny how this came about simply because Kurt Russell didn’t get the role he wanted in Ben Hur.

Ben: Turns out Gladiator was a remake. And it turns out I like this one much better than Ben Hur. The scale of the film is really impressive: 10,000 actors. The reaction shots and close-ups are still kind of jarring having watched movies in the intervening 50 years, but the editing is super well done. It annoys me that they keep saying “Italy” (when that wasn’t really a country until the 1800s), but I also have confidence they thought about that a lot before writing it into the script.

#80: THE APARTMENT (1960)

Becky: Oh the gender bias and stereotypes. This was hard to watch. It was interesting to watch a very young Shirley McClaine be all girly.

Ben: This one actually holds up pretty well. Apart from weird 50s gender roles, the characters seem almost real, and you can empathize with them at least a little. The long shots, the lighting, the sets – this is a well-made film.

#79: THE WILD BUNCH (1969)

Becky: Interminable. So violent. I understand that it was an attempt to put reality into the myth of the Western Cowboy, and I respect that effort, but I did not enjoy this at all.

Ben: Apparently this was the film that killed the spaghetti western. There are no “good guys” in this story, only bad guys who aren’t killed violently. There’s definitely a plot, but no overarching theme – these guys fail one heist, and while running away they plan another one, pull it off, then run away again… Maybe that’s the point, that this is what their lives were like. The violence now seems kind of cartoony, but at the time they had to rewrite the ratings system to accommodate it. It’s well done, though, and I found myself enjoying it in the same way I enjoy Tarantino films.

#78: MODERN TIMES (1936)

Becky: I’ll admit that this was more entertaining than I was prepared for, but I was prepared for it to be abysmal. I felt like the story was schizophrenic, as it wandered all over the place. There were some decent antics and a whole lot of political commentary.

Ben: Okay, yeah. Not so bad. But still pretty bad. I didn’t exactly laugh, but I did see the moments when the audience would have laughed. It was put together pretty well, the sets were large and intricate, and there was a lot of attention to detail. Turns out that I Love Lucy scene with the chocolate is based on this movie. Who knew?

#77: ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976)

Becky: Fairly entertaining. I didn’t have much background into the Watergate Scandal, so had to do a little research to understand what was happening. I appreciated how nothing made it into the screenplay without being fully fact-checked.

Ben: Super well done. I loved the non-dialogue storytelling, and how the audience isn’t treated like dummies. The tension built almost without me realizing it. The worst part is how it ends; it seems like there’s a build to a climax… and then credits. But I guess it was already 2½ hours long, so maybe there wasn’t another way.

#76: FORREST GUMP (1994)

Becky: This movie has become the punchline of so many jokes that I forgot just how serious and full of emotion it actually was.  This is a great film.

Ben: It’s been a loooong time since I’ve seen this movie, but it holds up really well. Even the visual effects are well-done enough that they aren’t jarringly fake. The story is great, the performances are perfect, and it hits all the right joyful and sad notes. The thing I’m noticing the most about doing this challenge is how many of these films are so reflective of their time, but still somehow timeless. This one is no different; there are no cringeworthy 90s gimmickry or tropes, it’s just a good movie.

#75: IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967)

Becky: This was really good. And so uncomfortable to watch. Sidney Poitier was incredible. During my research I learned that they couldn’t even film this in the south as he received too many death threats and refused.

Ben: Wow. This makes me not want to ever visit small-town southern America. Apparently to be a successful black person in the 60s, you had to be completely unflappable, because you were held to a much higher standard than anybody else. The plot was standard cop-show fare (which I’m now realizing traces back to this film), and I’m a bit confused how Tibbs solved it, but maybe I just haven’t thought about it enough.

#74: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

Becky: This was my first thriller ever, seen back in my high school days and I was blown away.  I’ve seen it several times since, but this time I really concentrated on comparing my first viewing as a teenager, to now as a full adult. I’ve come to the conclusion that I didn’t know half of what was going on the first time around…  Still such a fantastic film. It ages well.

Ben: This was only my second time seeing this movie, which was very surprising to Becky. It holds up amazingly well over 25 years. Anthony Hopkins is nothing short of amazing, I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role as well.

#73: BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)

Becky: Within the first few minutes of the film, before even looking up any facts, remarked at how very “late sixties/early seventies” this period western was.  It was mostly interesting, but there were a few musical interludes that just felt very out of place; most notably the bike riding montage.

Ben: What a difference from the other western we watched this year. In this one, both the protagonists were basically likeable guys, as opposed to the anti-heroes in The Wild Bunch, though this might be down to the charisma of the two leads. I generally enjoyed this one.

#72: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)

Becky: Such a great film. I’ve seen in several times, but this time I read all the background info and it really added to the experience.

Ben: So so so good. This film doesn’t really seem to age, but maybe that’s because I’ve seen it so many times. The behind-the-scenes facts and trivia provided by having a phone while watching added quite a bit to the experience.

#71: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)

Becky: I’ve been avoiding this movie for 17 years, but a list is a list! I’m not a fan of war movies in general and everything I knew about this movie led me to believe it would make me have too many of the negative feelings. (Those who know me well know that I have an overabundance of empathy, which makes movies like this almost torture to watch.)  Anyhow, I made it through, but I will admit that I wasn’t fully engaged.  I can see why it won so many awards.

Ben: This was even more violent and shocking than I remember. The core story is a great juxtaposition between duty and fairness, and this time through I actually was getting some of the symbolism – the Captain’s shaking hand is his troubled conscience, for instance. The parts I don’t like are the same as they were 10 years ago; the present-day emphasis on blind patriotism and family. They seemed clumsy and heavy-handed, when the rest of the film was gritty, real, and at least a tiny bit subtle.

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