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Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

5 Nov

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Reclusive author Lee Israel is a miserable case. She used to have one of her novels on the New York Times bestseller list, and now she’s in her early 50s, lives alone with her 12-year-old cat, has her previous books selling for 75% off at a nearby bookstore, and can’t get her agent’s attention. When she finally barges into her agent’s office to ask for a $10,000 advance for a new book she’s writing so she can pay her bills and provide healthcare for her cat, the agent bluntly tells her that she couldn’t be able to give her a $10 advance because hardly anyone will buy her book. Lee smarts off to her, and her response is she’s not successful enough to be a bitch.

This is a scene set early into the proceedings of the indie drama “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” a film that tells Lee Israel’s story based on her own autobiographical novel of the same name, and I knew right away that director Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) and screenwriters Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty knew what they were doing here. And the rest of the film didn’t disappoint.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is a drama with little bits of dark comedy and cynical wit sparkled throughout, which is something I always appreciate in a film that strives for a realistic feel (and something most “serious” filmmakers also need to keep in mind). Sharp writing and solid direction keep it flowing, but the most important ingredient that makes “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” truly memorable is the leading performance by Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel.

McCarthy is best known for starring in mainstream comedies like “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” “Spy,” “Identity Thief,” “Tammy,” and “Ghostbusters (2016).” She occasionally plays it straight, such a solid supporting performance in “St. Vincent,” but she’s best known for her crass mouth and constant improvisation (which grates on me from time to time). Here, for “Can You Ever Forgive Me”, she takes center-stage, playing this loner, depressed, angry author who could easily be the life of the party (like McCarthy usually plays in other movies) but chooses not to be. And McCarthy does brilliant work here, in a performance that should land her an Oscar nomination.

The story for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” involves Lee Israel as she discovers a get-rich-quick scheme that gets her good money for a while: to forge letters “written” by talents such as Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward and sell them to collectors for a hefty price. She’s able to convince just about everyone she sells them to…for a while. Before it’s too late or too soon, the authorities catch wind of Lee’s scam. So, she enlists the help of her friend, the charming, flamboyant Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant, very good here) to take over the task of selling her future fakes. (Another thing I love about this film: McCarthy and Grant are fabulous together.) But soon after that, the jig is up…

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is based on a true story from the early-1990s, and the real Lee Israel (who died in 2014) wrote about the whole experience in a novel, which inspired the screenplay. You can tell how much detail was put into the production. There are enough biting insights to keep anyone who has only the slightest bit of interest in writing invested, you get a good sense of the world of collectibles and memorabilia, and cinematographer Brandon Trost also has a great eye for the era as well. And director Heller, who’s now helming the upcoming Tom Hanks Mr. Rogers biopic, has a bright future ahead of her. But first and foremost is Melissa McCarthy’s stellar leading performance as Lee Israel—she’s funny but also bitter and nonetheless earns our empathy. It’s one of the finest performances of the year in one of the best films of the year; a film that effectively blends comedy and drama without getting distracting.

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Signs (revised review with spoilers)

8 Oct

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I would issue a “SPOILER ALERT,” but how many people who read my blog don’t know about “Signs?”

When I first reviewed M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 hit “Signs,” I was naïve enough as a young reviewer (I think I was about 17 when I wrote the review) to try not to give away any spoilers for a film that was already getting a heap of backlash. “Signs” is a film that was receiving a lot of love before it was getting a lot of hate. And I didn’t even acknowledge the backlash in my review; it was one of the worst reviews I’ve ever written that, for some reason, I decided to post in my blog years later when I started it. Rather than go in-depth about a film that everyone was picking on left and right, I was heavily inspired by Roger Ebert’s review. He gave “Signs” the same star-rating I did (four stars out of four), and he kept it spoiler-free in his review. (I wish I could explain to 17-year-old Tanner Smith the difference between taking inspiration from someone’s work and ripping it off.)

Anyway, “Signs” is a film that gets a lot of criticism that I think is unwarranted. I’m keeping the four-star verdict for this “Revised Review,” because Shyamalan’s “Signs” is one of my personal favorite movies.

I’m not kidding—I love “Signs” un-ironically and wholeheartedly. So now, I’m going to give it the Smith’s Verdict treatment that it deserves.

The film centers on a rural-Pennsylvania family (“20 miles outside Philadelphia,” a caption states)—widower father Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), his younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), and Graham’s two children Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin). One morning, they awaken to find that in their cornfield are mysterious shapes bent from several of the crops. From above, they look like crop circles. If this were a prank, it’d be one thing; but apparently, it’s happening all over the world and it all seems to be a warning sign for a global invasion from an otherworldly force. Aliens are coming, it seems, and Graham isn’t sure whether to believe it or not, but the others are more than willing to accept the possibility. Before long, the looming danger draws closer and the family has to survive the night…

OK, here goes—it turns out there really are extraterrestrials that come to Earth and mean harm towards mankind. Let’s start off with the ultimate masterstroke in telling this particular alien-invasion story: it keeps the focus on just one part of the world, with one family knowing as much as they can possibly know, from listening to the radio broadcasts, watching TV broadcast news, and even encountering some aliens themselves. Therefore, we as an audience only know what they know. Unlike in “Independence Day,” which featured a large variety of characters in different parts of the world witnessing the extraordinary events as they unfold, in “Signs,” we’re given the absolute minimum of the attack. And I think that’s great—sometimes, less is more.

Unfortunately, this is probably the source of a lot of the complaints & questions people have about “Signs” that they just won’t let be. The aliens have trouble with wooden doors. Water seems to be the only thing that can hurt them. Why would they come to a planet mostly covered with water? Why didn’t they bring any weapons? Because we know so little about the invasion itself, aside from what the group of characters only hears about, many of us are too quick to assume that these are mere plot holes that can’t be filled. But I think they can be…

For one thing, the criticism of the water being the thing that burns the aliens like acid has never been warranted, in my opinion. Think of it like this—if we were on a whole other planet in a whole other galaxy, we could come across something that could be very lethal to us; something that is a natural resource to the planet’s inhabitants. I never understood why people find it hard to believe that the aliens would have a deadly reaction to something they haven’t encountered before.

As for the question of why they would attack Earth, a planet that is mostly composed of water, I refer you to a scene in which the characters listen to a radio broadcast, in which a witness believes that they didn’t come to take over our planet but rather to harvest humans. They couldn’t care less about our planet; they just want as many of us as they could get before they left. And they seemed to have left in a big hurry, leaving only their wounded behind, most likely because of the water. Again, we don’t know for sure because we’re only limited to what we see on this family’s farm, but if some of the aliens landed somewhere where it rained, for example, that’d be enough for a slaughter, a distress call, a retreat, anything.

The final encounter in the film comes when a wounded alien has made its way to the house and nearly kills Morgan with its poisonous gas (luckily, Morgan, having suffered an asthma attack prior, didn’t inhale it because his lungs were too closed up). This is the alien that Graham encountered the previous day at a neighbor’s house, before removing its fingers with a carving knife. So, obviously, because its brethren scattered quickly and left their wounded behind, the alien, after having busted out of the house pantry where he was locked up, must have followed the closest crop circle and found its way to this house. It’s a desperate act that people have also questioned.

Oh, and what about the wood? These things seem to have trouble with wooden doors. (“Scary Movie 3” even mentioned this at one point: “They mastered space flight, but they can’t get through a wooden door?”) But here’s the thing—they have no weapons to aid them. It’s possible that they didn’t find any use for them, because they were only here for us, not for our planet. And here’s the other thing—they did get through the doors! When the family is holed up in the basement, how do you think the aliens ended up outside the door? They busted through the doors upstairs (and the boarded-up windows too—you can see the broken planks near the end of the film). And more importantly, the wounded alien at the end was the same alien that was locked in a kitchen pantry before…so, he obviously broke out. (It’s going to take some effort, guys.)

Something else people love to complain about is how everything seems to come together at the end, with Graham, a former preacher, suddenly gaining his faith back after it seems his wife’s dying words were warnings for the future, leading up to this moment in which Merrill must kill the alien with his treasured baseball bat. (“Merrill…swing away.”) People complain that it’s an unneeded premonition that is forced rather than revealing. Maybe Shyamalan was going for a way for God to provide help, thus restoring Graham’s beliefs (and there’s even a scene early in the film about how there may not be coincidences in the world). But I never saw it as that big a deal. I just saw it as Graham figuring out the best way to save the day while considering the possibility that this is no coincidence. Everybody has their reasons to believe.

And while I’m on the subject, people also complain about Graham leaving the cloth because he originally lost his faith after his wife died. He’s a flawed man, as you can see as the film continues. There are moments, particularly when he talks with Merrill (and especially their conversation about hope and fear), that indicate not only is he not so sure about whether or not we’re all alone in the world with no one to look after us and protect us, but also that he was never entirely sure even when he was a priest. No one is perfect. That’s what I got out of it, anyway.

I will give the critics a little bit of credit—it is a bit odd that the concept of crop circles, something that was dismissed as a big hoax in real-life (and even mentioned in this film at one point), is something that the aliens in this film actually decided to perform (for use of navigational purposes). Kind of coincidental, isn’t it? But then again, don’t some people wonder what would happen those crop circles really were from otherworldly sources? It is the movies, after all—what’s wrong with some wish-fulfillment?

I’ve already mentioned in my previous review how effective the acting is from all four principal actors, how striking the production design is (right down to the stained cross on the wall, which I did not recognize before), how deeply unsettling it is the way Shyamalan uses silence to elevate tension, and how wonderful James Newton Howard’s music score is. But they deserve mentioning again because I think just about everything about “Signs” works. As with “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable,” “Signs” was a case of a filmmaker like M. Night Shyamalan putting his faith into his audience and telling a story using both big and little elements to both satisfy them and make them ponder. It’s just unfortunate that a lot of people didn’t fall for it. But I did, and I’m all the more glad that I took the time to truly think about all the things I mentioned in this review, rather than let the questions linger on in my mind before I decided I didn’t like “Signs.” I love “Signs,” and I will continue to love “Signs” to my dying day. It’s one of my favorite movies, and I will shrug off any more complaints I read about it. To those complaints, I say: it’s not a problem if it can be explained.

Black Panther (2018)

18 Aug

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

It’s no secret that “Black Panther” was going to be a big box-office hit. Ever since Chadwick Boseman’s African badass T’Challa clawed his way through “Captain America: Civil War,” fans were wondering when they would see him again in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Would they have to wait for “Avengers: Infinity War”? Nope. Along came director/co-writer Ryan Coogler (who made the excellent “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”) to give them a stand-alone dramatic action-thriller, simply titled “Black Panther.” But what was it that kept movie theater audiences coming back to it?

The answer, I’m afraid, doesn’t warrant much of an analysis. Everyone knows it—it’s because “Black Panther” is REALLY freaking good.

What’s especially impressive is that the previous MCU entry was “Thor: Ragnarok,” which was overall a fun, silly comedy (standing out among the other MCU movies which are mostly serious with comedic elements) and mostly poked fun at itself. “Black Panther,” on the other hand, is played almost 100% straight. It has a goofy moment here or there (mostly having to do with one of the key villains, played by Andy Serkis), but even then, it’s not forced in an attempt to wake the audience up if they were getting too bored. (The humor mostly comes from the human-interest-like interactions among the characters.) “Black Panther” didn’t need forced comic relief to be “good”—it just had to be GOOD in order to be “good.”

But maybe “good” isn’t enough to completely get across how I feel about “Black Panther.” Let me put it this way—I’m a big fan of “Iron Man” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” my two favorite MCU movies, and I think “Black Panther” is every bit as good as those two (if not better).

“Black Panther” is more or less self-contained (though there are a couple slick callbacks to one or two MCU elements—don’t forget the usual after-credits scene). There’s no origin story to show us how this superhero, T’Challa/Black Panther (again played by Boseman), became who he is, but it is the story of an important time that allowed the character to understand the highs and lows of becoming who he is. It’s more or less a “real” story, with many twists and turns among conflicting issues and a few extra details delivered along the way. Oh, and there are some bombastic CGI blockbuster-appropriate battles too. The film has it all, it makes for a great time at the movies and one of my (and several moviegoers’) favorite films of the year so far.

What else does it have? In my opinion, it also has the best MCU villain by far. Let’s face it, Loki is fun, but he’s more of a clown that wants what he wants. And Michael Keaton’s Vulture (of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) is sympathetic only to a point. But for “Black Panther,” we have Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, who’s becoming director Coogler’s trademark actor, having starred in “Fruitvale” and “Creed”). He has revenge on his mind and he’s a red-blooded killing machine, but when you learn more about him, you understand why he acts the way he does throughout the film. You see, Wakanda, where most of the key characters reside and T’Challa is ascending to the throne, is a hidden, independent African nation with many secrets that could benefit the rest of the world, including the most highly advanced technology that assists Black Panther and his companions, such as scientist sister Shuri (the scene-stealing Letitia Wright), superspy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira), on their missions. Killmonger is appalled that Wakanda’s leaders keep the nation’s magnificence to itself when its resources could help thousands of millions of people in need or maybe even the entire population of the world.

The guy isn’t someone you want to mess with and at times, he needs to be taken down. But there’s also more to him than what I’ve already said about him, and by the end, he’s the best villain because he wants different things for complex reasons and will take drastic measures in order to do so.

And that’s what makes the best MCU movies so great (I’m moving away from the word “good” this time). In “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” a hero who wants to do good is conflicted because the answers aren’t so easy. In “Black Panther,” T’Challa learns that same lesson, but there’s also more for him to learn, because he’s become King. He learns the hard way that the most difficult task in ruling a nation is to also be a good person. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Everything leads up to a huge battle between T’Challa’s loyal subjects and Killmonger’s growing army. It’s a lot of fun and visually pleasing, but…come on, we already knew that was going to be the case. But I won’t fault it for being done well either.

What have I left out? Two things. One is, the rest of the supporting cast is spectacular, including Forest Whitaker as T’Challa’s wise uncle Zuri, Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother Queen Ramonda, Daniel Kaluuya as T’Challa’s best friend W’Kabi, Martin Freeman as a trustworthy CIA agent who gets in on the action eventually, and Andy Serkis hamming it up as unethical mercenary Ulysses Klaue. The whole ensemble cast is especially incredible. The other is, Wakanda itself. Just when I think there’s no other visually-pleasing cinematic world to take me to, I marvel (forgive the pun) at the attention to detail given to this otherworldly place. Wakanda may join Hogwarts and Middle Earth as the great movie locales of the 21st century.

We all knew “Black Panther” was going to be good, but I’m not entirely sure we knew it was going to be THIS good. And yet, here we are. And we keep coming back to it after it graced us with its presence on DVD/Blu-Ray, and the year isn’t over yet! I’m certain people will still talk about it at the end of the year and maybe even after that. I know I will.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (2018)

10 Aug

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I don’t know the most famous comedians personally, but lately, I get the feeling they use their comedy as defense mechanisms. They can make me laugh, but I’m always going to wonder what they’re going through off-stage or off-screen. After watching the Netflix documentary “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond,” I can’t watch a wacky Jim Carrey performance the same way again. And now comes the HBO documentary about the life and times of Robin Williams, called “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind.” Ever since Williams allegedly committed suicide in 2014, it made me wonder why a funnyman who made so people (including me) laugh and feel good about themselves would feel the need to do that. Learning more about him through online articles which included interviews from those closest to him, it disturbingly made sense. “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” effectively backs up the truly sad notion that Robin Williams, for as brilliant as he was, was a sad man in constant pain.

Through in-depth interviews with Williams’ family & friends (including Billy Crystal, who was one of his closest friends), never-before-seen outtakes from his appearances on TV and movies (including a hilarious blooper from his appearance on “Sesame Street,” with Elmo), and even a retrospective interview from Williams himself (recorded 2013-2014) that provides an eerily effective voiceover narration in various portions of the film, director Marina Zenovich (who also directed the documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”) does a brilliant job in presenting us with the love & manic energy that came with Williams’ comedic antics while also being able to let us know just what was going on deep inside him. Balancing knowledge of his life in performance and his personal life painted a clear portrait of Robin Williams that is unforgettable and very powerful.

I realize the film that probably sums up the life and career of Robin Williams the most is the 1987 war-comedy “Good Morning, Vietnam.” That was a film about an entertainer who kept the troops in the Vietnam War laughing in times when entertainment didn’t seem possible or even necessary. The more I watch that film, the more I realize we know very little about the character…and then I wonder who he really is and what he’s going through outside his field job. Someone should create a film-theory subject based on the possibility that this character represents the real Robin Williams and the film represents both what we know and what we don’t know about him.

Overall, “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” is the four-years-late eulogy for Robin Williams that I needed. It hurt me deeply when I first heard the news about his passing, because I grew up with many of his performances (particularly in “Aladdin” and “Mrs. Doubtfire”) and was able to appreciate his more adult humor in his standup, in his R-rated movies (including “Good Morning, Vietnam,” which I already mentioned), and his more mature film roles (“Good Will Hunting,” “One Hour Photo,” among others). It was even sadder to learn more about his personal life, which included not only depression but also broken marriages and addiction, and what might have led him to do what he did. But this documentary reminded me why he was famous, why he was impactful to audiences, and more importantly, why he was so damn funny.

Lean on Pete (2018)

13 Jul

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’ve seen gritty, realistic indie films about the issues faced by young people. I’ve seen movies about a boy growing a special bond with an animal, namely a horse. I haven’t seen a film quite like “Lean on Pete,” which is a unique hybrid of both. I could try and describe this film to peers/colleagues, and I wouldn’t come close to being accurate. Yes, “Lean on Pete” features a boy and his horse, trying to get through a world that doesn’t understand them. But there’s far more on this film’s mind than what you might expect.

What “Lean on Pete” ends up being is a sometimes-sweet, sometimes-harrowing, always-emotionally-gripping drama about a good boy trying to find a place to call “home.” In the process of a teenage boy trying to locate the American Dream, we’re obliged to view something that could best be described as “The Grapes of Wrath” mixed with “The 400 Blows.” (As much as I hate to compare one particular film to two other particular films, that’s the best method I could use to try and describe “Lean on Pete” to people. But this is a review, so let’s try and move on.)

The thing that makes writer-director Andrew Haigh’s “Lean on Pete” even more special is that it’s not afraid to have it both ways with the audience—it wants to punch them in the gut with gritty realism and harsh truths, but it also wants to touch their hearts and make them feel hopeful and positive too. To do both is always tricky but also very welcome. When the film delves into scenes of deep, dark truth, it makes the lighter moments all the more appreciated.

Our hero is a 15-year-old boy named Charley, played excellently by Charlie Plummer (“King Jack”), who has recently moved to Portland, Oregon from Spokane, Washington, after his ne’er-do-well father (Travis Fimmel) got a new job opportunity. All his friends & football teammates are far away, he has a lot of time all to himself, and his dad spends more time with loose women than his own son, but Charley does his best to deal with it. (One of the most refreshing things about this film is that this kid tries to look at the bright side of things instead of mope and complain all the time about his plight.)

Things look up when he comes across a racetrack, where he’s offered a job from a horse trainer named Del (Steve Buscemi) to become a stablehand and help care for the horses, one of which is an aging quarter-horse named Lean on Pete. Charley enjoys the pay, but he enjoys the company of the horses more. (And of course, Del becomes a father figure to Charley; as crotchety as he may be, he does occasionally show signs of warmth. Not that Charley’s actual father is a bad dad; it’s just that he has a hard enough time taking care of himself, let alone a teenager.) Charley likes Lean on Pete more and more, but as Del and a vet jockey named Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) warn him, “Horses aren’t pets.” They see these horses as little more than assets that need to be used as long as possible. When Charley learns what happens to horses when they get too old and used up, he becomes more concerned about Lean on Pete’s wellbeing.

Through unexpected circumstances, which I won’t explain here, Charley runs away, taking Lean on Pete with him on an unpredictable journey. Together, they make their way across the American Desert to see Charley’s loving Aunt Margy (Alison Elliott), whom Charley hasn’t seen since childhood. Along the way, Charley meets many interesting characters who deserve films of their own. Some are willing to help him; others, not so much. But the most intriguing thing about these encounters is they all seem to represent different ideals of the American Dream, particularly the tragic types of those who have tried and failed. What’s even more tragic is that even Charley has to do some of these things in order to survive.

There’s a particularly telling scene in which Charley talks to Lean on Pete about one of the memories he often likes to look back on. It’s a simple time but it meant a whole lot to him. Back in Spokane, one of his football teammates invited him over to his house for breakfast one morning. In a nice house with a nice family and good food and pleasant conversation with good company, Charley felt like he was home. The way he describes the importance of this fond memory makes you realize what it truly is this poor kid truly wants, even if it’s just one more day like that. My heart went out to Charley, and I hoped against hope that he would find what he was looking for. And I can imagine other people who see “Lean on Pete” will have the same wish.

In the end, “Lean on Pete” isn’t about a boy and his horse so much as it is about a boy looking for home. With great acting, excellent cinematography, and a weight to the story that feels “real,” “Lean on Pete” is a very special film that I will call one of the best films of 2018.

My Next Top 150 Favorite Movies

28 Jun

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I love movies. Obviously.

I can’t just narrow them down to a list of a mere 100 personal favorite movies. (P.S. Here’s a link to that list: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/11/08/my-top-100-favorite-movies/) And often in my spare time, I enjoy making an even bigger list ranking the films I personally admire/enjoy watching the most… It was more difficult than I thought. That’s why I kept typing it out repeatedly and asking myself, “Am I sure I like this better than that, or vice versa?”

Hopefully, after this, I won’t be struggling too much. And also, don’t expect another list going past this number (with 100 favorites plus an additional 150, this is already a top 250) unless there’s an update, such as a new favorite that I need to include (which I will let you know about).

And I’m not going to lie. A few of these are pretty embarrassing. If you read my top-100 list and thought “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” “Holes,” and especially “Phantom Town” were odd choices, you haven’t seen anything yet.

But that’s why I love movies. They’re subjective. No one can tell you what your favorites are. If we all had the same favorite movies, we’d be robots with no individual thought. And as before, at no point am I stating that these films are the “best.” They’re just my favorites.

So, let’s down the Next Top 150 Favorite Movies…which is essentially a continuation of the Top 100, and thus a Top 250…you know how it works. I’m counting from 250 to 101. Here goes…

Groundhog-Day

250) GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)

Ok, we’re off to a good start. I doubt anyone’s going to look down on me for liking this sweet, funny 1993 Bill Murray dramedy as much as I do. This film is a gem, and its general concept (of a character repeating the same day over and over again until it meets satisfaction) has since been repeated (to good effect too), but none can be as funny or as moving as when Bill Murray uses his curse to pick up women or when he realizes he can’t repeat something genuinely nice until it’s genuine again. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/24/groundhog-day-1993/

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249) OPERATION AVALANCHE (2016)

Now you can look down on me if you want. I made it no secret that I’m a fan of Canadian indie filmmaker Matt Johnson (whose debut feature “The Dirties” made it at #25 in my first top-100). Whether you like him or hate him, you can’t deny that he has guts. How do I mean this? He made “Operation Avalanche” totally in secret, on location in NASA (and with fair-use laws on his side), to create a faux-documentary in which the CIA fake the 1969 moon landing. That concept alone makes me want to congratulate Johnson for a job well done, but the film itself is a lot of fun. And what he and his crew did to reanimate a 1960s-era Stanley Kubrick…you’ll have to see for yourself. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/01/28/operation-avalanche-2016/

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248) CASINO ROYALE (2006)

Yes, a Bond movie! I didn’t grow up with James Bond (and I haven’t seen that many of his movies either), but I’m glad I caught “Casino Royale” when I did. This is a damn good action film. Much of that has to do with two things: one is the action, which is handled splendidly with very little CGI (that constant car-flip looks real, it is real), and the other is Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond. He’s no mere super agent. We see another side to him that’s interesting and even tragic. But when the time comes for him to spring into action, he gets brutal. There’s more to James Bond than I would’ve thought, and I admire that about this film.

1977

247) SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977)

When I was a kid, my parents bought me the soundtrack to this film, complete with numerous exciting Bee Gees disco songs. I was not ready to see the film at that age. A few years later, I did finally see it and…didn’t think much of it. When I got older (closer to the age of the troubled main character played by John Travolta) was when I began to truly appreciate what it really was: a story about a thoroughly unlikable jerk (played effectively by Travolta) trapped in a bitter loop in life that can only be brightened by blowing off steam on the disco dance floor. When I realized that was the film’s true intention, I found it compelling. Gene Siskel’s favorite film? Kind of hard not to like it, isn’t it. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/12/11/saturday-night-fever-1977/

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246) MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

“Oh what a day! WHAT A LOVELY DAY!” I didn’t review this one, because honestly…what can I say about it? It’s pure adrenaline rush all the way through, with nonstop action, thrilling stunts, gripping visuals, frantic editing…and every other clichéd critic blurb you can think of. I love it, it’s fantastic, I get excited every time I watch it…moving on!

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245) SHATTERED GLASS (2003)

I didn’t think it was true. Several articles in the prestigious publication The OldRepublic printed several stories that were fabricated by the same reporter, Stephen Glass, and were ultimately found out when the Internet proved to be more useful in fact-checking. And yet, it was one of the things often discussed in several journalism courses I took in college. “Shattered Glass” is a good film that rings true to the story it’s based on, and it’s as disturbing as it is fascinating to watch, with a performance from Hayden Christensen as Glass that keeps me wondering when he’s sincere and when he’s lying. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2014/05/05/shattered-glass-2003/

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244) ROOM (2015)

I made a documentary about someone who has spent years being held against her will before finally finding both freedom and reason to continue through life. “Room” reminds me of that emotion. It shows us two characters in imprisonment for a very long time before they’re finally able to escape. That’s the first half, which is gripping by itself. The second half is what made it truly special for me, in which they try to find ways to get by in the real world long after being away from it. Excellent acting and several memorably beautiful and/or heartbreaking moments are what I’ll never forget from “Room.” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2016/01/08/room-2015/

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243) MINORITY REPORT (2002)

No, I’m not done with Steven Spielberg. I’ve had several of his movies appear in my original Top 100, and there’s even more I appreciate that will appear on this list, including “Minority Report.” This is a terrific sci-fi entertainment—exciting, visually intriguing, suspenseful, and thought-provoking—and one that a master filmmaker like Spielberg can make more interesting than any other.

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242) BULL DURHAM (1988)

I could easily just make a top-5 list for my favorite scenes in this film alone. The team meeting at the mound in the middle of a game. Susan Sarandon tying future-husband Tim Robbins to the bed…just to read him poetry all night. Kevin Costner listing without stutter the many things he believes in. Kevin Costner thinking about something other than baseball while at the plate. All four of those moments would make the cut, and there are many more scenes like that in this sometimes funny, sometimes romantic film that is filled with memorable dialogue in a great screenplay. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/23/bull-durham-1988/

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241) JERRY MAGUIRE (1996)

I could also say the same thing about “Jerry Maguire” that I did about “Bull Durham.” It’s the same blend of comedy and romance (and sports), with the romance arguably given more focus and development. Yes, the “you-had-me-at-hello” scene is easy to gag at, but come on—Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger are simply adorable together. This movie makes me laugh and makes me smile. And of all the stereotypical “Tom Cruise”-ish performances, this is my personal favorite of Tom Cruise’s, mainly because I think he became aware of his own persona at the time he was making the film. He’s fun to watch, and so is Cuba Gooding Jr (who won the Oscar for his performance as the excitable fame-seeking football player that becomes Cruise’s friend). “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” I should review this movie, because I think I have more to say about it.

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240) RUTHLESS PEOPLE (1986)

As I decided I was going to add descriptions to these titles as I count down, I didn’t realize it was going to be so difficult to explain why I consider most of them to be my “favorites.” And with an outrageous comedy like “Ruthless People,” that can be even more difficult. To review a comedy is one of the hardest things to do, because there’s only so many times I can say “that’s so funny.” But it is true—“Ruthless People” made me laugh and laugh and laugh. And it’s only continued to do so with each viewing. In addition, this is my personal favorite performance work from Danny DeVito, who is so ruthless and despicable that’s hard to keep my eyes off him. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/11/ruthless-people-1986/

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239) CHRONICLE (2012)

I can’t help it. I love “Chronicle.” The first-person camera perspective too much for you? Well, tough. That’s how the story is told. (Just be glad the camera doesn’t shake so much in this particular “found-footage movie.”) This tale of three teenage boys discovering and mastering superhuman abilities is fun to watch the first time around, and the second time around, it’s something deeper than I expected. And unlike most superhero stories, “Chronicle” didn’t feel the need to continue with additional stories about where to go next for these characters—instead, it tells the whole story, and I applaud it for that. Call it a “guilty pleasure,” but I won’t—I hold no guilt on this one. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/10/chronicle-2012/

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238) THE INCREDIBLES (2004)

A superhero family in an action/adventure made by Disney/PIXAR? Count me in! Call “The Incredibles” the “Fantastic Four” movie we all wanted. With a neat blend of comedy and adventure, as well as a memorable team of heroes with distinct personalities and abilities, “The Incredibles” is just a ton of fun. (Don’t know why PIXAR waited so long to make a sequel while they were making three “Cars” movies, but hey, better late than never, right?) This is one of those childhood movies that got better and better as I got older. Any film that does that and sticks with me is worthy of praise from me.

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237) THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013)

How odd is it that I didn’t care so much for the “Catching Fire” novel in the “Hunger Games” book series and yet hold the film adaptation in such high regard? But that’s how I feel. I really liked the first “Hunger Games” movie, and I think “Catching Fire” (the movie) is even better, because it expanded the universe further and asked more questions about what it means to be famous and what it means to actually stand for something—that’s always been the strength of “The Hunger Games,” both the book series and the film series. There are no easy answers and there are even more tricky questions that need to be asked. Add an intriguing heroine (played wonderfully by Jennifer Lawrence) to the center of things, and I’m down for what this series has to offer. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/11/24/the-hunger-games-catching-fire-2013/

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236) THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

Ok, maybe I’m stretching things a bit too far. I finally saw this movie last month (having missed it in theaters) and saw it about five times since then. I can’t help it—this movie is just plain awesome! It’s the Thor movie I didn’t know I wanted, and more importantly, it’s a comedy. A comedy with MCU-esque (Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque) elements in it. It was nice to see the MCU (which usually has it the other way around, with comedy elements in it) let itself loose and give us one hilarious and/or exciting sequence after the other. What resulted is one of my favorite entries in the MCU by far (and don’t worry—there are two more to come on this list).

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235) THE BORROWERS (1998)

Ugh. This list is getting more and more embarrassing the more I think about it. Actually, you know what? It’s my list of favorites, and I shouldn’t be embarrassed by anything. (Besides, I already listed “Phantom Town” in my previous Top 100. I can’t list anything more embarrassing…right?) I grew up with this movie, and it stayed with me as time went on, flaws and all. It’s fun, funny, features top-notch special effects, and is just a nice decent adventure involving miniature (about 3 inches) people trying to outsmart a brutish John Goodman…what’s wrong with that? It has very little to do with the “Borrowers” books it’s based upon, but it’s entertaining on its own. And I also admire the quick pace of it. Nothing seems slow, but nothing seems too rushed either. It’s just fine the way it is. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/15/the-borrowers-1998/

By the way, I ranked Studio Ghibli’s “The Secret World of Arrietty” (based on the same book series as this film) higher than this and yet I seem to enjoy this one more…man, I hate star-ratings. (For the record, “Arrietty” would’ve made the cut if the list expanded another 30-50…see what I mean about my love for movies and how hard it is to rank these things?)

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234) LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003)

To say “Lost in Translation” is “charming” is not even close to enough. It’s a gentle, deep film that isn’t too sweet or too profound or even tragic while it’s also a film about getting away from routine and wondering if staying away from it is suitable enough. With effectively real characters played brilliantly by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannsen, an intelligent script, and wonderful direction by Sofia Coppola, “Lost in Translation” is a nice little trip that I can’t help but take every now and again just to get away from my own routine.

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233) SE7EN (1995)

“WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!” That ending… I’ll be honest, the rest of the film building up to it is tense and unnerving enough, but that ending… That’s it, I got nothing else. Next movie.

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232) THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980)

This musical comedy has everything. It has a lot of laughs. It has a lot of action. It has a lot of music. It has a lot of heart… Ok, maybe it doesn’t have that much heart… Wait a minute, the main goal is to save an orphanage from closing down—how much more heart do you need? The Blues Brothers are “on a mission from God!” This movie is just one big ball of entertainment that I can’t just “watch” but “experience.”

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231) THE NICE GUYS (2016)

Take some elements of film-noir, add in some 1970s flavor, bring in two mismatched detectives, and just for good measure, have it penned and directed by “Lethal Weapon” writer Shane Black, and you have “The Nice Guys.” This film gets funnier (and better) each time I see it, with all kinds of little touches thrown in here or there that I missed the first time. On top of that, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are a perfect duo, with Crowe as a depressed bounty hunter who’s tougher than he is smart and Gosling as a dim-witted private-eye who acts way before he thinks. To make up for Gosling’s incompetence is his precocious pre-teenage daughter, played wonderfully by Angourie Rice in a role that could’ve easily backfired. I would love to see another movie with these three people. If only it did better at the box-office…

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230) CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” represents some of the best the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer. It showed us that not only were we going to get something bigger from the Marvel comic-book superheroes most of us were familiar with, but we were going to get something deeper as well. With a hero as simple as boy-scout Captain America, it was surprising to see just how compelling his plight could be—that he wants to do the right thing in a modern-day world where nothing is so black-and-white. It’s as thought-provoking as it is entertaining. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2016/12/10/captain-america-the-winter-soldier-2014/

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229) BADLANDS (1973)

Terrence Malick is sort of hit-or-miss for me. Sometimes, I find his work invigorating and moving. Other times, I find it pretentious and without substance. “Badlands” falls into the former category for me. It may be violent but it’s also something that hits something within me. The iconic soft music score is beautiful and adds to the lovely cinematography, particularly when it involves outdoor scenery. This is a film that takes advantage of all senses. Then there’s Martin Sheen, who was starting out back then as a rock-solid young actor. Here, he plays a psychotic killer who is strangely charismatic, and he’s somehow able to hit all the right notes in making us want to follow him even if we don’t identify with him. It’s strange the way this film works, but it’s one that I’m sure will always stick with me.

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228) HER (2013)

What is love? What is a relationship? What is interaction? What is communication? What does it mean to connect? In Spike Jonze’s “Her,” all of these questions are asked, and while the answers aren’t entirely revealed, it’s difficult to argue with the conclusions, as vague as they may be. Simply put, this film “made me feel things,” as bluntly as I can put it. Whether it’s the bitterness/sweetness of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance or the odd yet charming relationship between him and the voice in his artificial-intelligence (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) or even the subtle music score that is layered all throughout the film, there is just something about this film that keeps me captivated from beginning to end. I love this film.

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227) SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)

Well, enough of deep symbolic whimsy. Let’s talk about “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World!” Yes, it’s another one I gave three stars to on this blog, but…come on, it’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World!” But wait, its lead characters are so narcissistic that it’s hard to feel anything for them; but…come on, it’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World!” But wait, its “world” is difficult to figure out, as it seems to run on its own logic and rules; but…come on, it’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World!” You want something profound and thought-provoking? I got other films for that. There is only one “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” And it’s quick, sharp, witty, funny, great to look at, filled with numerous in-jokes, has a unique flair about itself, and overall it’s just a ton of fun. (I seem to be saying that a lot in this list: “a ton of fun.” Sometimes, for my favorites, that’s exactly what I need.)

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226) HUSH (2016)

I really like what director Mike Flanagan has been doing with the horror genre lately. With “Oculus” and “Gerald’s Game” and the surprisingly-good “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” Flanagan knows it takes more than simple tricks to scare/enthrall audiences. And my personal favorite of his works is none other than his intensely-creepy, wonderfully-made thriller “Hush,” a home-invasion chiller in which a sadistic killer stalks a lone woman in the middle of nowhere…and the woman is both deaf and mute. That alone has me hooked, and what follows is a nerve-racking series of scenarios in which she uses her wits to try and escape. The film is available on Netflix; check it out as soon as you can because I highly recommend it as one of my favorite horror films in an era of really good horror films. Hey, if Stephen King praised it on Twitter, it must be worth checking out! Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2016/05/11/hush-2016/

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225) WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)

A lot of people don’t particularly care for this one, and I can understand why. The ending is too fair. Tim Robbins’ survivalist character is a bit of a distraction. And while Tom Cruise’s lousy-father character is a fine protagonist, his children, played by Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin, can be really annoying. But I can never forget seeing it at age 13 on a big screen in the summer of 2005. It blew me away and kept me on the edge of my seat, and when it was over, I was glad to step outside the theater and feel like everything was OK again. An effect of the magic of Spielberg (yes, another Spielberg movie makes the list). Yes, those things I mentioned are bothersome, but the effects are top-notch, the aliens pose a legitimate threat, the sound design is amazing, and I like that the alien-invasion is only seen from the perspective of one family (much like “Signs,” #38 in my Top 100). I’d love to see it again on a big screen with surround sound if ever I get a chance. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/01/17/war-of-the-worlds-2005/

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224) DONNIE DARKO (2001)

Do I get it? Well…I’m not entirely sure. But when I first saw this movie at age 17 (and I saw the director’s cut first), every strange little thing that was happening in this strange little film kept me in awe and kept me thinking. And I can’t forget it. I don’t think the film wants me to forget it! It’s wholly original, truly bizarre, and riveting all the way through. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/08/donnie-darko-the-directors-cut/

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223) KING KONG (2005)

Any true movie buff would put the 1933 version on their “best” list. Well, this isn’t my “best” list; it’s my “favorites” list. So, the 2005 version, it is! And before anyone goes nuts, I do admire the 1933 version, mainly for its groundbreaking story & effects. As for the 2005 version, you could say it’s because I grew up with it and had an awesome theater-going experience with it (same as with “War of the Worlds”), but I really do like it better. Maybe it’s the 3-hour running time, but I felt more within the story and characters (including Kong himself) and was able to take in a lot more of what I was viewing. Naomi Watts is a very appealing lead, and I like that she has a developing connection with Kong, who’s rendered beautifully by Andy Serkis. And I like that there’s more adventure added to make life a living hell for a colorful group of supporting characters. And…I’ll say it again: it’s “a ton of fun.”

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222) HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004)

My third-favorite Harry Potter movie (with “The Chamber of Secrets” at #59 on my Top 100 and my second-favorite coming up on this list below), “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” took me by surprise when I first saw it as a kid. It had a different tone & style to it, which I had to get used to, having being used to the straightforwardness of the first two movies. Once I did, I couldn’t get enough of it. There was a darker edge to it that I enjoyed, the “magic” sequences were enjoyable, and I could see a change in Harry, turning from a wide-eyed innocent to somewhat of a snarky, cocky, even sinister hero—I could watch that scene where he blows up his rude relative like a balloon numerous times, it’s so damn funny. He’s still got a lot to learn, but then again, so do we. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/18/harry-potter-and-the-prisoner-of-azkaban-2004/

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221) TROPIC THUNDER (2008)

Oh, the controversy that spawned from this silly action-packed comedic satire of the Hollywood system and the war-movie genre…with blackface…and an overly exaggerated stereotype of a mentally disabled person… Ok, I’m not going to act like the controversy wasn’t warranted. It’s tough territory to make a comedy with. If the satire within these elements didn’t work so well, it wouldn’t have worked so well with critics & audiences. It’s sharply written and uses the film’s problems to its advantage. All the cast members are game and good company, especially Robert Downey Jr., who is nearly (yeah, right) unrecognizable playing an Australian actor playing a black Army sergeant. Good stuff here. Forget what the fist-wavers say; let them actually see the movie. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/05/01/tropic-thunder-2008/

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220) ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)

Well…maybe I should be more specific and say that it’s the director’s cut of “Almost Famous” that’s one of my favorites. (Or is it called “The Bootleg Edition”…or “Untitled”…the opening credits call it “Untitled”…?) It’s the film that filmmaker Cameron Crowe really wanted to make before it was cut down upon theatrical release. (Usually, that doesn’t work in his favor—look up “Elizabethtown” for an interesting festival/release story.) Whatever the version, I really like this movie. It’s a love letter to ‘70s rock, which I like, and it has colorful, memorable characters to follow on the road, including not-groupie (“band-aid,” as she prefers) Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), who’s the perfect Manic Pixie Dream Girl (before that phrase was even coined). Oh, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s music-critic character? One of the best representations of a critic I’ve ever seen in a movie! (Though, I disagree with him about The Doors. I like them fine.)

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219) LOVE & MERCY (2015)

“Love & Mercy” is basically two movies in one, each having to do with Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys. Movie 1 shows young Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) in his days making “Pet Sounds” & “Good Vibrations” while descending into depression & hopelessness, while Movie 2 shows older Brian Wilson (John Cusack) trying to overcome his inner demons. Personally, I enjoy Movie 1 better, but I feel like the film needs Movie 2 to bring it all full-circle. Based on the true life of Brian Wilson, “Love & Mercy” is sometimes disturbing, other times fun, and overall intriguing. I can never listen to a Beach Boys album the same way again. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2016/03/01/love-mercy-2015/

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218) FRUITVALE STATION (2013)

This film…broke me. Based on the real-life murder of a young black man named Oscar Grant III, “Fruitvale Station” shows us the last few hours of a young man’s life before it’s suddenly taken away from him via misunderstanding and some really, really inept police officers who never should’ve had the uniform, let alone weaponry… Even after reading about the true story online, the ending of this film makes me so angry. That’s because I was so invested in this guy’s life and I felt so bad that he was soon going to die. When the inevitable resolution finally happened, the first time I saw the film, I had to be alone and think to myself for a while before I could endure the tearjerking ending. This is not an easy film to watch. But it’s one that definitely made an impact on me. And it’s well-made and well-acted, particularly by Michael B. Jordan as Oscar. “Where’s Daddy?” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2014/01/25/fruitvale-station-2013/

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217) THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN (2005)

Ok, how about something silly to get police brutality off my mind? Actually, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” is more sophisticated than most “silly” comedies, because there is a romance in this film that is, as Roger Ebert eloquently put it, “too sweet to be funny.” Exactly—this is a romance that used humor to ease us in and set us up. Once it was settled, we already like Andy (the titular character, played by Steve Carell) and are glad when he finds somebody he can share something special with, that person being Trish (Catherine Keener), the hottest grandmother anyone could meet. They’re cute together, and so it’s easy to root for them to share a loving relationship together (oh, and of course, root for him to do the deed too). But in terms of the comedy, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” has some of my favorite laugh-out-loud moments in movie history. In fact, the one scene that has me cackling loudly in any movie ever…is the chest-waxing scene. There’s some Smith’s Verdict trivia for you. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/14/the-40-year-old-virgin-2005/

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216) DEADPOOL (2016)

It’s the ultra-meta anti-superhero movie that knows we’ve already seen many, many superhero movies, based on the ultra-meta comic-book anti-superhero that knows we’ve already read many, many comic books. “Deadpool” is the comic-book movie that we needed, whether we knew it or not. I like it for almost the same reasons I like “Thor: Ragnarok,” in that it hardly takes itself seriously and just has fun with conventions. (Except “Deadpool” does it while breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to us.) Nothing is left sacred, the energy is frantic, and nothing is played safe. And dare I say, it’s the best X-Men movie I think I’ll ever see, despite it only having a couple of X-Men. (Although, “Logan” came close to making this list. That film gets better each time I see it.) Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2016/05/18/deadpool-2016/

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215) STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)

I haven’t watched that much of the “Star Trek” TV show in my life, but in the few episodes I’ve seen, I’ve noticed its strengths—lots of creative ideas and rich, memorable characters. I did see all of the movies, however, most of which stayed true to my impression of the series episodes I saw before. And “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is the best of the movies that I’ve seen (I don’t think I’m alone in that either). It’s escapist entertainment, but it’s also dramatic when it needs to be. The blend of adventure, science-fiction, and drama truly fit together, and the themes of life and death prove effective here. And Ricardo Montalban makes a smooth, chilling villain. “Do you know the old Klingon proverb that states that revenge is a dish that is best served cold?” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/13/star-trek-ii-the-wrath-of-khan-1982/

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214) DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993)

If Steven Spielberg is my favorite director, then Richard Linklater is my second-favorite. In everything he makes, there’s always a group of people with something interesting to say, even when it seems they run in mundane circles. With “Dazed and Confused,” a movie about teenagers celebrating the last day of school, it’s no exception. Everything these kids say, whether it’s thinking about Presidents who secretly cropped pot or why jocks play sports and get laid or the reasoning of initiation into the upper campus classes, I’ll listen to them. Linklater always has a great ear for dialogue and a great feel for making the mundane into something more intriguing. And, of course, the soundtrack is pretty great too. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/03/08/dazed-and-confused-1993/

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213) MUNICH (2005)

Yet another Spielberg film, and this one is one of his most accomplished works. “Munich” is Spielberg’s attempt at trying to understand the “War on Terror,” using the 1972 Olympic murders as a parallel to what was going on in the 2000s, when “Munich” was being made. A secret team of assassins is hired to take out the terrorists responsible for the killings. One of those men may be played by James Bond (Daniel Craig), but these are not action heroes. It’s sad but also true that no one knows what can truly stop terrorism from occurring, and as Eric Bana’s leading character puts it, “Every man we’ve killed has been replaced by worse!” In addition to that, “Munich” also represents some of Spielberg’s best filmmaking (and that’s saying a lot), with one nail-biting scene after another. There’s one scene that involves a bomb and a telephone—the architecture of that scene is astounding; it deserves to be analyzed in film-school. Spielberg isn’t afraid to take chances, and “Munich” represents one of his most risky yet most captivating films in his long resume.

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212) INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

We move on from Jewish assassins taking out Palestinian terrorists to Jewish soldiers killing Nazis (or, “killin’ Nat-zees”). Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has fun with this audacious WWII-set comedy/thriller/drama in which history is bent just for the sake of suspenseful/hilarious entertainment. One of the things I enjoy seeing in movies is when horrible characters get their comeuppances, especially when said-horrible characters are bigoted, racist trashbags of filth. When Nazis are involved, I tense up when I know something terrible is about to happen, and then I get excited because I know they’re going to get theirs soon enough. Who better to take them out than Brad Pitt and his troop of guerrilla fighters who take no prisoners except when they need to make a statement (like carve swastikas on Nazis’ foreheads, for example)? Also, Christoph Waltz may be one of the most deliciously evil antagonists I’ve ever seen in any movie, and he’s just so brilliant at playing this slimy, no-good, pathetic son-of-a-bitch who just soaks up every bit of evil that’s in him. He deserved the Oscar for his performance.

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211) BREAKING AWAY (1979)

There are going to be people out there who think they’re better than you. When you show the slightest possibility that you might be able to beat them in something, they might (and/or will) try to unfairly cheat their way above you again. What can you do? Show them that you can take it or show them that you’re going to keep going? In “Breaking Away,” our main characters are underachieving young adults who are constantly reminded by college kids of what they don’t have. In the end, they have a chance to show them up and find their own self-respect in the process. When I saw this film as a kid, that was all I saw in it. I didn’t even pay attention to the other elements in the film, such as parents fearing their mistakes are being passed down to their children. That just shows that there’s more to “Breaking Away” than meets the eye, and I truly enjoy watching it. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/01/breaking-away-1979/

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210) THE ARTIST (2011)

“The Artist” is cinematic magic—proof that visual storytelling can still be proven effective if handled correctly. And in this homage to the silent film era, this Best Picture Oscar winner is enthralling from beginning to end. Many moments in the film are intense and depressing, but those moments are earned by the time they occur. We’re roped into this silent world where everything is going into sound, and we feel bad for those who can’t make the transition. It’s a film that deserves to be seen by anyone who cares about films. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/24/the-artist-2011/

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209) YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES (1985)

Sigh. Once again, I’m pushing it here. As with “The Borrowers,” there’s nothing that’s particularly high-class about “Young Sherlock Holmes” (except for, perhaps, the very first CGI character, seen on screen for a few seconds as a walking stained glass window). But it’s still (broken record here) “a ton of fun.” It’s a what-if scenario in which Sherlock Holmes and John Watson meet as schoolboys…in a Spielberg-produced movie that features Temple of Doom ripoffs. Ok, it’s not perfect. But it is fun, especially when it references Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lit elements in this particular setting. (And don’t think I haven’t thought of Harry Potter while watching this film with fantasy elements, set at a boarding school, with a bespectacled young hero at the center of an amazing adventure.) Nicholas Rowe is great as young Sherlock Holmes; it’s a shame his career didn’t really go anywhere, because he has such a charismatic presence in this movie. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/01/24/young-sherlock-holmes-1985/

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208) CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD (1986)

I really don’t like that title. It sounds like a title “The Mission” should’ve had. It doesn’t sound like the sweet love story that it truly is. It stars William Hurt as a teacher for the deaf, as he meets a strong, stubborn, completely deaf woman (Marlee Matlin) whom he falls in love with and wants to help her get by better in the hearing world. But she would rather let him be more comfortable in her quiet world, and so while there’s romance, there’s also struggle for compromise. Matlin is deaf in real life; it’s good that a deaf actress was chosen rather than a hearing A-list actress who could play deaf for a role. (And it paid off—she won the Oscar for her performance here.) She and Hurt are great together, and that their relationship is a tricky one is one of the key elements to the film’s success. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/14/children-of-a-lesser-god-1986/

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207) THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD (1995)

Yet another childhood movie that got better for me as time went on. I first saw it when I was 8; I didn’t even know this was based on a British series of five books until I was 16. I read the first three, and while they’re fine reads, they didn’t grab me nearly as much as this American adaptation of the first book. (As with “Catching Fire,” this is another example of a film adaptation outlasting its source material.) This is a terrific family film that teaches responsibility to children and does so in an interesting way: by having its 9-year-old lead character be responsible for a magical cupboard that can turn inanimate action figures into real, living people. He learns soon enough that these are real lives he’s playing with, and his friendship with one of them (the titular Native American) becomes an interesting father-son-like relationship—he has one hard-hitting line of dialogue that stayed with me throughout the years: “You should not do magic you do not understand!” The visual effects are outstanding, the acting is good, and I also love that there’s no antagonist to make things worse for the characters for a dramatic climax—the film did well enough just by letting the danger of the situation speak for itself. It’s a terrific film that works just as well for adults as it does for kids. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/03/27/the-indian-in-the-cupboard-1995/

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206) RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

“Reservoir Dogs” was Quentin Tarantino’s first film, and boy, did it pave the way for what was to come. His brilliant dialogue crossed with his unique style of filmmaking became his trademark. This film showed the sloppiness of gangsters, as well as what they talk about when they aren’t conducting business (hello, “Pulp Fiction”—#21 on my Top 100). What “Pulp Fiction” didn’t show was this ridiculous large amount of people turning against each other after spending so much time arguing about who’s trustworthy in such a delicate time when anyone could either bail, kill, or be killed. It’s a tense thriller, an even more tense drama, and with a lot of biting dialogue that I can’t get out of my head, no matter how hard I try. (Actually, I take that back—why would I try?) “Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie…or are you gonna bite?” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2015/05/30/reservoir-dogs-1992/

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205) LADY BIRD (2017)

The day I first saw this film in a theater, I was going to see another film immediately after. But after seeing “Lady Bird,” I decided it wouldn’t be fair to the other film because I would just be thinking about how much I loved this one, and so I skipped the other one. My admiration for the film still grows. I love “Lady Bird.” I tried explaining this film to a friend, and it sounded like I was describing a different coming-of-age movie about a high-school girl, something more conventional. But I haven’t seen a film quite like this one. It covers certain familiar topics, but it does so in an unfamiliar way. I was so glad when the Oscars recognized this film, beautifully written and directed by Greta Gerwig, this past year. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/11/20/lady-bird-2017/

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204) SOUNDER (1972)

Here’s another small film that was recognized by the Oscars. I didn’t know much about this movie. I had heard about a few times growing up and just assumed it was about a boy and his dog, like “Old Yeller.” Boy, was I way off.  (Hell, the dog is the least interesting thing about the movie, despite his name, Sounder, being the title.) Instead, it’s a quiet, gentle film about an African-American family trying to get by in the Depression-plagued South. It’s about how they live and how they persevere in times of trouble. With the right acting & script, you can make something great with that alone. As of now, I own this film as part of a multiple-DVD collection of ‘50s-‘70s family movies—“Sounder” sticks out like a sore thumb, and I mean that in the most positive way. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2015/03/23/sounder-1972/

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203) THE END OF THE TOUR (2015)

There are many different kinds of movies that I truly admire, and I think that’s what I’m trying to get across with this list. I’m not entirely sure what it takes to strike a chord in me that will keep me coming back to a certain movie again and again. But what I do know is that sometimes, a movie doesn’t need any social commentary or visually intriguing sequences or even necessarily a plot in order to keep me invested. Sometimes, all it takes is to be in the company of some very interesting characters saying some equally interesting dialogue. And that’s exactly what I get from “The End of the Tour.” Directed by James Ponsoldt (who also made “The Spectacular Now”—#83 on my Top 100), this film is based on the week writer David Lipsky (here played by Jesse Eisenberg) spent with famed reclusive author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). Lipsky wants the attention that Wallace has, while Wallace wants something more than attention; the dynamic between these two is fascinating, almost like a big-brother/little-brother mentorship. And the conversations they share, whether it be about addiction or self-pity or even Alanis Morrisette, are plenty enough to make me wonder why in the world it wasn’t considered for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. “The End of the Tour” is a wonderful film about how the greatest pleasures in life involve a connection and communication. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2015/11/10/the-end-of-the-tour-2015/

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202) ARGO (2012)

Here’s one that was definitely recognized by the Oscars (except Best Director—what the hell?). And for good reason—it’s really good! It’s executed perfectly, capturing the essence of the late 1970s, and fizzes with tension. It plays almost exactly like a thriller from the ‘70s, showing that director/actor Ben Affleck truly has affection for the genre, the era, and just filmmaking in general. It’s intriguing to watch and takes me on an intense journey each time I see it. “Argo f*** yourself!” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/01/22/argo-2012/

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201) SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003)

Here’s another film I grew up with. There’s nothing particularly profound about this movie. Jack Black’s lazy rocker character doesn’t learn anything, there are a lot of traditional tropes you could see in a similar prep-school film like “Dead Poets Society,” too many scenes of conflict/confrontation are resolved easily, and for a Richard Linklater film, I’m not even sure I learned anything from what the characters say. And yet…it rocks. This was the film that introduced me to Jack Black’s charisma, and I’ve been a fan of his ever since. Jack Black is this movie; he is what makes this movie a lot of fun to watch. You can tell he has this burning desire to create music and would sell his soul for rock and roll, and his energy practically bursts through the screen. He’s great, the kids are good comic actors, there are a lot of funny scenes I like to watch on repeat (like the scene where he auditions the kids that would be his lead band members), and if Linklater had to make a mainstream comedy, I’m glad it was this one. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/17/school-of-rock-2003/

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200) THE MIGHTY (1998)

We’re making our way to the beginning of the countdown for the Top 200, with “The Mighty.” I grew up watching both this film and a film similar to it that came out the same year; that film was “Simon Birch.” But whereas “Simon Birch” got worse with time due to its cloying, manipulative artificiality, “The Mighty” got better and better with time due to its ability to evoke emotion by giving us real characters in a realistic setting. I like these characters (young boys played by Elden Henson and Kieran Culkin) because I feel like I was these characters one way or another, and I think a lot of other people who see this film feel the same way. They’re outcasts who don’t feel special and find ways to prove themselves worthy. This is a film that I treasure so much that it totally makes me forget that this is the same director of the “Hannah Montana” movie. “Freak the Mighty!” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/07/02/the-mighty-1998/

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199) SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

I like to look at “Sunset Boulevard” like a classic horror film, complete with an unpredictable antagonist, offbeat style of filmmaking, chilling music score, and shot in black-and-white. The best horror-film villains are the unpredictable ones, and truth be told, I am terrified by Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). It’s bad enough she’s obsessed with the fame she used to have as a silent-movie queen, to the point where she’s having a nervous breakdown, but what she’ll do to ultimately gain the attention she craves sends shivers down my spine. But another reason I admire this film is because of the script. The dialogue, the construction, the use of narration—everything about it works. (How I first saw this film is when it was discussed in film-classes in college.) And the ending…yikes. I think I may like this film for the same reasons I’m frightened by “The Haunting” (#17).

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198) LIVING IN OBLIVION (1995)

When I’m not writing about movies, I’m a struggling indie filmmaker trying to make them myself. It’s hard as hell trying to make them, but I enjoy making them nonetheless. “Living in Oblivion” is a film about an independent film crew trying to make a film, and so many obstacles keep getting in the way. I relate 100% to everyone and everything here. If that’s not reason enough to call this film one of my favorites, well then, that’s why I’m not making a list of “the best.” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2015/12/16/living-in-oblivion-1995/

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197) PARADISE ROAD (1997)

I mentioned that the reason “Room” stayed with me was because it reminded me of a documentary I made about how hopelessness can be replaced with optimism. What I didn’t mention was that the main focus of said-documentary was imprisoned in a Japanese prison camp when the Japanese Army took over the Dutch East Indies during WWII. At the time I was making it, I didn’t even know about it. And I wondered if there was a film based on any part of that time in history. Surely enough, as I was searching through Google for images relative to it to use for my film, I happened to come across an image of Glenn Close. Why was that? Because Glenn Close was in a 1997 film about women held prisoner in Japanese-occupied Sumatra. That film is called “Paradise Road.” And I’m just glad that it exists.

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196) ALIENS (1986)

“Get away from her, you bitch!” This movie is one powerful rollercoaster. It eases you in nice and steady, and then it takes you on a wild ride that doesn’t let up until the final loop. And God bless director James Cameron for it—simply put, this movie is awesome! Badass Sigourney Weaver proves she can shoot with the men any day, the vicious aliens pose a legitimate threat, the action scenes are riveting, and I just have a freaking ball with this movie each time I watch it. When it comes to the theatrical cut and the Special Edition, I’m only slightly leaning towards the latter as superior, mostly because it makes the mother-daughter connection between Ripley and Newt a lot stronger. “Game over, man! Game over!” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/03/31/aliens-1986/

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195) REAL GENIUS (1985)

For all the dopey college comedies featuring all kinds of stereotypes, particularly the nerdy stereotype, “Real Genius” is the one I think people could learn from. It shows all portions of really smart people: the brilliant portion, the partying portion, the sociable portion, the not-so-sociable portion, the jerky portion, even the idiotic portion. Rather than being one-note dorky & nerdy, the characters in “Real Genius” feel real. Yes, amidst all the wacky antics scattered throughout the film (including one of the greatest comeuppances I’ve ever seen given to any comedy antagonist), it’s surprising to find that it’s happening with our titular “real geniuses” who feel as real as those you went to high-school or college with. It’s the best move to go with. That our main characters are likable on top of that makes it a charming movie for me to keep coming back to. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/06/real-genius-1985/

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194) WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)

“Little surprises around every corner, but nothing dangerous!” Yeah, right. After four out of five kids visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory end up with questionable fates due to those “little surprises,” Wonka (Gene Wilder) assures the remaining child, Charlie (Peter Ostrum), that “when they leave here, they’ll be complete restored to their normal, terrible old selves.” That was probably to assure the younger movie viewers that everything’s OK, but even today as an adult, I’m still not convinced. But it is a neat, effective way to warn children that there are consequences to being rude, crude, greedy, and addicted, and to get your reward is to be kind and true to your heart. And all it took was a unique trip into an odd, fascinating world of candy, wonder, and “little surprises around every corner,” with an odd, fascinating man like Willy Wonka to guide us through.

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193) BEETLEJUICE (1988)

This is one of my favorites just for its sheer originality and weirdness. There’s nothing particularly profound I learned from it, except if a strange family wants to move into your home after you’ve died…just let them stay, I guess. But whatever, I really like Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice.” The production design is outstanding, it’s an interesting look at an afterlife, and all the characters are unique and fun to watch, particularly Catherine O’Hara’s sophisticatedly odd sculptress and of course Michael Keaton’s ghoulish trashmouth Beetlejuice. It’s weird to think I discovered this movie on the Disney Channel when I was 7 (no, really—this was shown on the Disney Channel!), but I’m glad I did. “Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!”

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192) PLATOON (1986)

I feel the most effective way to make a war film is to just put us in the action and show the audience what it feels like to go through something as harrowing as war. Writer/director Oliver Stone based this film off of his own experiences in the Vietnam War, and the result is one of the most realistic exhilarating war films I’ve ever seen. I first saw it on VHS tape when I was 13, and even though I didn’t quite understand what the Vietnam War was all about (it took several other movies and a couple history-class lectures to get some idea…some), the film still grabbed me. The battle scenes felt brutal and the struggles between the platoon felt intense. It made me wonder what I would’ve done if I were in that situation. And…not to sound rude, but it may have turned me away from the idea of enlisting altogether. (I’m sorry, but it’s just not for me.) Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/05/02/platoon-1986/

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191) STOP MAKING SENSE (1984)

Jonathan Demme’s Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense” is nothing but music. People have labeled it as the best concert film ever made, and I can’t argue with them—it’s a great experience. Before I saw it, I had only heard a couple Talking Heads songs. When I finally saw it, I not only listened to those same songs (plus about 10 more) but I developed more of an appreciation for the band as artists. They put on a great show and they perform lots of different styles of music, borrowing from their influences while making their music their own. I didn’t feel I knew much about the band members, but I didn’t care, because “Stop Making Sense” is an hour-and-a-half of stimulating, uninterrupted music that I can’t get enough of. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2015/09/18/stop-making-sense-1984/

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190) NEAR DARK (1987)

If my #100 pick, “Let the Right One In” (and “Let Me In”), is my favorite vampire film, then “Near Dark” is my second-favorite. What do they have in common? Strangely, they have very little do with vampire conventions. Sure, the “vampires” (I use quotations because the word “vampire” is used either once or never in these movies) drink blood and avoid sunlight, but the styles their films are executed with are far from “Dracula” or “Nosferatu” or “The Lost Boys.” The vampires in “Near Dark” are represented as nomadic outlaws who travel from place to place and kill people…and drink their blood…and also have to avoid sunlight or die. The more grounded the supernatural aspect is, the more effective it is. Director Kathryn Bigelow (who’s certainly come a long way since making this film, eventually becoming the first female Best Director Oscar winner) shoots this film with a unique visual flair; she makes the night feel as bright as day, making the vampires’ outlook more efficient. And then there’s the vampires themselves, who are a unique, memorable, threatening, remarkable bunch (it helps that three of them are played by actors from “Aliens”). If I see these guys walk into a bar where I happen to be playing pool, I’m sneaking out the back (or throwing myself out the window) and running for my life. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/01/16/near-dark-1987/

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189) (500) DAYS OF SUMMER (2009)

What do I like more than a romantic comedy? An anti-romantic comedy. “(500) Days of Summer” is a story about a lovesick guy who is smitten by an interesting woman, but it’s not a love story. Like “Ruby Sparks” (my #15 choice), this is a film about a hopeless romantic learning the sad truth that his ideal significant other does not exist. While Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gets off easy in learning the lesson compared to the similar character in “Ruby Sparks,” it still hurts nonetheless. I like the way the film plays with tropes and also with linear storytelling, telling events non-chronologically and even pulling little tricks for comedic effect, such as testimonials from supporting characters about love, an homage to artistic French cinema, and even an outrageous dance sequence right after Tom gets lucky with the woman he thinks he loves. Its lack of cliché made me laugh out of unfamiliarity and its overall cleverness made me smile. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/14/500-days-of-summer-2009/

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188) PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008)

Hands down, the best stoner comedy I’ve ever seen…mostly because I haven’t seen that many. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen my fair share of Cheech and Chong, Harold & Kumar, and Kevin Smith movies. But something about David Gordon Green’s “Pineapple Express” kept me coming back. This is not only one of the funnier movies I’ve seen in the past decade, but it’s also one of the most ambitious. It takes advantage of its moderate budget to give us some nicely-shot-&-edited action scenes that were both funny and thrilling. (What do you do when you can’t see through the windshield in a car chase? Kick through the glass, of course! “Hey I can see through my leg-hole!”) And this is probably a strange thing to point out in a comedy, but “Pineapple Express” is very well-made. (And I enjoy listening to Green & cast/crew talking in the DVD audio commentary about what they went through to create certain scenes.) All the characters are fun and likable, particularly James Franco as perpetually stoned but always friendly Saul, and the film overall is just…don’t make me say it again, because I lost count of how many times I’ve said it on this list…”a ton of fun.” I’m a writer—shouldn’t I have more things to say about some of the more “fun” choices on this list?

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187) KUNG FU PANDA (2008) – KUNG FU PANDA 2 (2011) – KUNG FU PANDA 3 (2016)

Yes, I’m cheating again. Just as with the three “Toy Story” movies at #46 on my Top 100, I’m placing all three “Kung Fu Panda” movies together for this list. These are the ultimate “don’t judge a book by its cover” movies. No one would have ever suspected that these “Kung Fu Panda” movies with Jack Black as the voice of an overweight panda learning kung fu would turn out to be something not only fun/humorous but also surprisingly heartfelt and deeply philosophical. They’re movies that kids can watch for the slapstick comedy and the neatly animated fight sequences, but they can also get something more out of them, such as discovering your true calling, finding your inner peace, and using your skills for something you didn’t even expect. Extremely clever storytelling help make these films into more than they had any right to be, and I enjoy them all thoroughly. Those are things that children can learn, but adults can gain something from them too. “Kung Fu Panda” is for DreamWorks Animation what “Toy Story” is for Disney/PIXAR.

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186) MEAN CREEK (2004)

“Fruitvale Station” broke me when I was 21, “Mean Creek” broke me when I was 13. I caught this film on TV, and it was the most depressing thing I had ever seen at that time in my life. That it was about kids my age going through the biggest crisis of their lives hammered it even further into home. I wouldn’t have seen it again if it didn’t make me realize that I had to see it again, just to teach myself that the things that happen in this film probably do happen in real-life (and it became more clear to me as I got older that they do happen in real-life). Since then, I’ve seen other films that capture that particular mindset of scared kids who say/do irrational things because they don’t know what else to do (such as last year’s “Super Dark Times”). None of them had nearly as much of an impact as “Mean Creek” affected me a long time ago. Also, I have to mention Josh Peck’s performance—I saw this film around the same time I was a frequent viewer of Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh,” and to see “Josh” in this kind of role back then, as a lonely kid with a violent mean streak, was more than surprising to me. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/03/28/mean-creek-2004/

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185) STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006)

It’s not that I didn’t like this movie when I first saw it in a theater at age 14; it’s that I didn’t understand it. I expected a wacky Will Ferrell comedy (give me some credit; it came out the same year as Will Ferrell’s smash comedy hit “Talladega Nights”), and instead, I got a deep drama about facing mortality…starring Will Ferrell. But as time went on, it stayed with me. And it kept me coming back to admire it for its rich characterization, its cunning use of storytelling, and its ability to make me feel for the main character and think about what it means to truly “live.” And Will Ferrell is very good in it; he’s a stronger actor than people give credit for. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/14/stranger-than-fiction-2006/

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184) ALADDIN (1992)

So many of my favorite movies are movies that I grew up watching. (I think some day, I’ll make a list of childhood movies that did NOT hold up for me so well, just to prove to myself that there are some.) I grew up with many Disney movies, including Beauty and the Beast (#48) and The Lion King (#34) and Aladdin. And I like “Aladdin” for the same reason everyone else likes it. It’s not for Aladdin & Jasmine (though they’re fine protagonists) nor is it for the sinisterness of Jafar or his comedic foil Iago the parrot (though they’re fine villains) nor is it for the great soundtrack (though “A Whole New World” is a beautiful song—the lively version they use in the movie, definitely not the dull end-credits version) nor is it even for the beautiful animation (what’s to be expected of a Disney animated film?)—it’s for that big, blue, quick-witted, energetic Genie, voiced by the late Robin Williams. Williams was made for animation and was given the perfect character for him to play: a shapeshifting magical cartoon that can become anything and anyone, just as Williams liked to pretend he was in his stand-up and in his other movies. We should all face it: the movie could have been called “Genie” instead of “Aladdin,” and nobody would mind in the slightest. “You ain’t never had a friend like me!”

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183) CHRISTINE (1983)

Just listen to this premise: an awkward teenage guy forms a special bond with his car, and the car has a supernatural presence within it that runs down his enemies and also becomes jealous of his girlfriend. But the way “Christine” is acted and directed (by John Carpenter) is handled with utmost seriousness. Even when it seems preposterous, I can’t help but stayed absorbed to what’s happening on the screen. I like the slow pace of the film, causing the supernatural occurrences to just happen naturally, rather than rush into the fantasy/horror aspects with no real buildup. I like the change that the main character, Arnie, goes through when he lets the car take over his soul and what it leads to in the end. And I like the showdown between the car and a bulldozer in a battle to the death. Maybe the whole film is silly, but I love the film for taking itself seriously without making me laugh too hard at it. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/03/07/christine-1983/

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182) THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT (2015)

The low-key approach to something as psychologically drastic as the Stanford Prison Experiment for the film based on the experience works effectively in making the situations speak for themselves and tell you what to think. I recall seeing this film in a theater and taking a long drive immediately after. All I could think about was who might have been right and who might have been wrong in one scenario after another that was covered in this truly intense analysis of a psychological study that was supposed to last two weeks but ended after six days. Then I started to think of what I myself would have done if I were in one side of the experiment or in the other side. I was an observer, one of many people who had the opportunity to see the film and decide for myself what it truly meant. And to this day, I believe that there is no true answer. That’s what a great film of this sort can do—raise discussion, grab the thoughts of viewers, and keep you wondering for years to come. “The Stanford Prison Experiment” is a terrific study of an intriguing incident, with a great ensemble cast to lead us through. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2015/10/10/the-stanford-prison-experiment-2015/

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181) LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006)

I hate to admit, but…I was a P.A. on “Toddlers & Tiaras” for one day. It was one of the most miserable experiences of my life, and I consider myself lucky it didn’t continue for another day. The idea of innocent little girls being pressured by their parents (mostly their mothers—the mothers were horrid!) to be exploited for attention sickens me. For that reason, there are numerous parts of the final act of “Little Miss Sunshine” that brought back many unpleasant memories. Why is this film one of my favorites then? Because it all leads up to one of the biggest, most outrageously hilarious “f-you” endings I’ve ever seen in any movie. That said-“f-you” ending is directed at beauty pageants of this particular sort, but on a deeper level, it’s also directed at people who don’t see what they want to see in people whose failures shouldn’t be brought front-and-center. Before getting to that, there are numerous appealing characters, many memorable hilarious moments (such as the theft of a dead body and the unpredictable resolution of being pulled over by a trooper), and a big heart added for good measure. And it all leads to the message that you’re fine being who you are and no one can judge you otherwise…it just happens to deliver the message in one of the funniest ways possible. God bless this movie for being so devilishly clever. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/03/19/little-miss-sunshine-2006/

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180) THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017)

I love films about filmmaking, and films about the makings of some of the most notoriously bad movies ever made are strangely the most interesting (see “Ed Wood”—#22). When “The Disaster Artist” came along just a few months ago, I knew I was in for a real treat—a film about the making of “The Room,” one of the most laughably bad movies ever to grace the screen. James Franco directed the film and starred as director Tommy Wiseau. He captures the bizarreness of Wiseau but also manages to add a sense of pathos to the character. Even when we don’t know the character’s true origins or even what he’s thinking half the time (he’s harder to figure out than Ed Wood), we still feel for the character and are at least proud of him for making his dream into a reality. He’s dead-on, and the whole film is dead-on. I can’t look at “The Room” the same way again. Just called it one of the worst movies ever made is to miss the point entirely. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/05/05/the-disaster-artist-2017/

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179) IRON MAN (2008)

It’s the film that started the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which brought us many entertaining movies and is still going strong after 10 years! It began with “Iron Man,” which blew everybody away (including me) by being something more than a traditional action film. With the right blend of humor, social commentary, and thought-provoking questions (and of course, some action here or there), “Iron Man” didn’t give me what I wanted, but it gave it what I needed. (And like with everyone else, it prepared me for an even deeper, more harrowing summer-blockbuster journey with “The Dark Knight”—#31.) Much of what made the film special to audiences is the performance from Robert Downey, Jr., in a year where the actor made a major comeback. He is this movie; his cocky charisma gave us something we didn’t know we wanted in a “superhero.” Of course, future movies involving the character would give us more development (read my “Spider-Man: Homecoming” review for my thoughts on the character), but this is the film that introduced us to him. It’s a pretty solid one. And the ending—pitch-perfect. “I am Iron Man.” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/05/06/iron-man-2008/

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178) ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011)

Simply put, this film just kicks ass. It’s a fast-paced, exhilarating, urban sci-fi film about a tough gang of street kids fighting off a race of vicious invading aliens, and I must have seen it over a hundred times by now. As much as I hate critic’s similes, I’d say call it “Boyz ‘n the Hood” meets “Signs.” The characters are entertaining, the filmmaking is sharp, the editing is exceptionally terrific, the monstrous beasts are convincingly nasty, and the film just gives me one exciting sequence after another. I don’t even know what else to say about it; it’s just A TON OF FUN! I’ve used “a ton of fun” so many times; that might be the last (…for this list anyway). Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/01/16/attack-the-block-2011/

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177) FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)

I can’t help it; “Field of Dreams” got me in the feels. Call it “Feels of Dreams.” Is it emotionally manipulative? Perhaps. But it works. I feel the magic, I feel the love of the game of baseball, and I feel the family connection. Adding a dose of magic to everyday realism is something that rarely works, but when it does, it can be one of the best feel-good movies you could ever see. I can say the same about “Big” (#63) and “Groundhog Day” and also “Field of Dreams.” “Hey, Dad…you want to have a catch?” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/06/field-of-dreams-1989/

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176) STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)

Yes, have no fear, there is another Hitchcock film that I can call one of my favorites. (And if you’re wondering, “Vertigo” is not on this list. That’s a film I admire more than I like.) The funny thing is, I was introduced to “Strangers on a Train” via Danny DeVito’s “Throw Momma From the Train,” which is essentially a parody of the Hitchcock version. It is a neat, disturbing concept—swapping murders so that strangers kill someone for each other so that there are clear alibis for both murders, only for one stranger to not want to follow through. And Hitchcock uses it to great effect, with an uncompromising series of suspenseful scenarios. He’s also helped by a chilling performance by Robert Walker, as the one who comes up with the devious plan. His calm personality mixed with a sinister grin is both funny and chilling. On a side-note, as someone would either take or leave tennis, I have to give the film credit for the most suspenseful tennis match in the history of cinema.

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175) MEMENTO (2001)

I still haven’t “Memento” in reverse order (which would chronological order, since the actual film is told in reverse order…man I love this film). Honestly, I don’t think I need to. Sure, it’s probably still an intriguing thriller if it were told chronologically. But telling the story this way creates opportunity for more thought, more suspense, and therefore, more investment. Simply put, “Memento” is a wonder. It’s a dizzying mystery given a unique approach that has more going for it than the way it was presented.

Now…let’s move on from one of the greatest movies ever made…wait, I can’t say that about any movie, because I’d get in trouble…even though I’m certain only a few people read my blog anyway…whatever, let’s move on from it to one of my biggest guilty pleasures:

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174) HEAVYWEIGHTS (1995)

Oh, what do you want from me? I love “Heavyweights.” It’s cute. It’s funny. It’s entertaining. It’s likeable. And I thought I outgrew it…then I found the blu-ray with extensive bonus features, got excited, and realized, “Wait a minute! I love this movie!” That immediately made me rewrite my mixed review on this blog and bump up the rating from two-and-a-half stars to three-and-a-half. I like Ben Stiller’s zany performance, the kids are appealing and funny, there are numerous lines of dialogue that I like to repeat in public, and it just feels like the one summer-camp movie I grew up watching that still holds up to this day. I like it a lot. And you know what? I’m not alone. Critically acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson love this movie too, so HA! Actually…come to think of it, this means this is my favorite Judd Apatow-associated movie by default, now that I’ve already listed “Pineapple Express” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”…well, now I feel a little embarrassed. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/12/26/heavyweights-revised-review/

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173) RAIN MAN (1988)

“Rain Man” is said to be one of the least deserving Best Picture Oscar winners. I disagree for two reasons. One is, the competition wasn’t that stiff. (…Though, “Mississippi Burning” probably would’ve come close.) The other is, I think it’s simply a great film. It’s a film about the brotherly relationship between an impatient jerk and his autistic brother. Sounds like Oscar bait, right? Well, “Rain Man” never takes the easy way out. Dustin Hoffman’s character, who is autistic and is in his own world more than half the time, stays exactly the same and doesn’t change. (It’s actually a pretty thankless role, but Hoffman did a great job portraying it.) That makes it all the more special when Tom Cruise’s character, who is cocky, irritated, and intolerant, does change. It’s an interesting dynamic these two actors share—Hoffman can’t change, Cruise doesn’t want to change, Cruise wants Hoffman to change, and as a result, Cruise changes, as he thinks more about someone other than himself and also learns patience. It’s an interesting development for the character that I thought was the best part of the film. It’s just strange that Tom Cruise didn’t get as much recognition as Dustin Hoffman…

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172) SPEED (1994)

Pop quiz, hotshot! There’s a bomb on a bus. When the bus gets above 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do… Do I even need to explain why this awesome action thriller is one of my favorites? I feel like I’d be wasting my fingers just typing out another mini-review… Actually, why am I reviewing these movies anyway? Most of them already have reviews! I’m supposed to be listing them! Let’s move on to a film I haven’t already reviewed… Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/22/speed-1994/

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171) THE SWORD IN THE STONE (1963)

“The Sword in the Stone” was one of the last animated films supervised by Walt Disney himself and one of the most underrated. I get that it has flaws, such as certain repeats of animation and inconsistent voiceover work, not to mention a very rushed resolution. But it has memorably appealing characters and original ways of teaching lessons to children. Not to mention, it has several neatly animated moments, particularly the Wizard’s Duel, which is so much fun I remember watching it repeatedly as a child. The film isn’t perfect, but it’s still quite entertaining enough to treasure.

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170) BAD BOYS (1983)

It’s hard to say that one of my favorite films is called “Bad Boys,” because I would have to explain that it’s not the ‘90s action-comedy starring Martin Lawrence & Will Smith. No, this “Bad Boys” (1983) is a drama starring Sean Penn as a street punk who is sent to juvenile prison where he learns harsh lessons about himself while awaiting an inevitable fatal fight with his enemy. This is one of those reviews I may have to revise in the future, because I’m skimming through my writing in my three-star review, and I hardly agree with my nitpicks I threw in. I mentioned that one of the characters should have known better than to commit harsh crimes…couldn’t I have understood that that’s the whole point? That none of these characters learn from their wrongdoings? That’s what makes it all tragic. This is a great film that got better and better for me with repeated viewings. I love Sean Penn’s performance, I was invested in his character, the direction is fantastic, the script is great and hardly strikes a false note, the side characters are memorable and very real, and I could name over a dozen good scenes in the film. Remember, I’m talking about the other “Bad Boys.” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/03/01/bad-boys-1983/

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169) FROST/NIXON (2008)

I love seeing people in power get their comeuppance and appear foolish when not owning up to their mistakes, which may be why I really got into Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon,” which is based on the true story of how small-time talk show host David Frost managed to get what the American people wanted from ridiculed resigned President Richard Nixon. “I’m saying that when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal!” The exchanging dialogue between Nixon & Frost in the final act of the film, I could listen to over and over again. It’s a great battle of wits acted perfectly by Frank Langella (Nixon) and Michael Sheen (Frost). I’m sort-of hit or miss on Ron Howard’s directorial work, but “Frost/Nixon” is my personal favorite of his. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2016/03/28/frostnixon-2008/

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168) ALIEN (1979)

This film gave. Me. The. Creeps. I can’t exaggerate how I felt when I watched Ridley Scott’s “Alien” for the first time. Sure, I had heard about it before and so I thought I was prepared for what was to come. But nope. From the moment the Face-Hugger alien attached itself to John Hurt’s face out of nowhere, I was on-edge. It’s the chilling atmosphere, the feeling of claustrophobia, and the reminder of the tagline, “In space, no one can hear you scream,” that makes one of the most frightening horror films I’ve ever seen. And thankfully, I’m not alone on this, as it’s now achieved masterpiece status.

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167) INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)

Ok, remember—this is a list of my favorites. While much of the second Indiana Jones chapter is unnecessarily unpleasant and lacks the uniqueness of the first movie, there’s still a lot to take in with the darkness in tone and the sense of adventure, from the opening chase to the climactic bridge showdown. And…yeah, Willie (Kate Capshaw) is annoying, but…eh, I don’t know, I’ve seen worse damsels in distress, I suppose. Well, there you go—I’ve placed “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” over “Alien,” “Memento,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “Badlands.” Now, you can never take me seriously again.

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166) TREMORS (1990)

I hold no guilt whatsoever on this one. “Tremors” is one of the most entertaining horror-comedies I’ve ever seen, and with every viewing comes a great sense of excitement that I can’t shake. It’s a fun ride involving a group of small-desert-town people battling/surviving a horde of gigantic monstrous subterranean worms (now known from later movies as “Graboids,” because they grab you from the ground and take you under with them). Sounds goofy, it is goofy, and that’s what makes it fun. The practical effects to bring the Graboids to life are most impressive; they become an imposing threat. And the characters are a likable bunch to follow, with Kevin Bacon & Fred Ward as our good-natured but dim-witted heroes and Michael Gross & Reba McEntire as extreme survivalists who unload a good portion of their arsenal into one of the worms. The fun characters and the goofy tone make this more than a traditional monster film; it’s a horror film with a sense of humor that I enjoy watching every now and then…which is a lot more than I can say for the sequels, however.

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165) BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971)

Is it sad to say that this Disney fantasy was my introduction to the Nazis? No…though it would be sad if I continued through life not learning about who they really were, as opposed to the buffoons that they are here. Now that I’m much older than when I first saw “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” I could say that the climax, in which our heroes fight off Nazis in over-the-top comedic fashion, is somewhat in bad taste. I mean, they are portrayed as villains, but when I was a kid, I only saw them as conventional bad guys, because they don’t do anything that horrible here. That may actually make it worse, the more I think about it, and it’s making me wonder why the Disney studio thought it was ok to include Nazis in their lighthearted, magical Disney adventure that kids are definitely going to see. It’s not violent or bloody or anything like that; it’s just a goofy climax that helps serve the story, and so, whatever anyone’s sensitivity to it, it should be approached without thinking too much about it…which I guess I already did, even though I’m supposed to be listing these choices rather than reviewing them…actually, I haven’t even done that, because I’ve gone on and on about the ending to “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” without explaining why it’s one of my favorites! Ok, I need to move on, so I’ll just sum up—the rest of the movie is pure Disney magic. Wonderfully entertaining, uproariously funny, lovable characters, marvelous effects, great adventure going from one interesting place to another, and a delightful soundtrack filled with great memorable songs. That’s why I keep coming back to it, despite that controversial final act.

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164) SING STREET (2016)

My favorite film of 2016. Why don’t I just quote from my 2016 Review? “It made me smile, it moved me in a way I didn’t expect, it delighted me in each direction it took, and there was hardly a moment when I wasn’t invested or didn’t have a smile on my face.” Yeah, that’ll do it. I love this film. Well, that was easy. Moving on. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2016/11/18/sing-street-2016/

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163) RASHOMON (1950)

Finally, an Akira Kurosawa film! I have yet to see “Seven Samurai” and I’ve only seen “The Hidden Fortress” once a long time ago, but “Rashomon” is the one I’ve seen repeatedly and the one I find most enthralling. And even today, I still don’t know which of the four storytellers is telling the most accurate tale of what really happened. And I’ll never know. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. It’s a great way to tell a story, and it’s a gimmick that’s been used to great effect in other films as well, such as the great war-drama “Courage Under Fire” and the recently-released “I, Tonya.” It’s gripping, thrilling, and visually impressive. Now, I just need to see more Kurosawa films… Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2015/02/04/rashomon-1950/

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162) RISKY BUSINESS (1983)

“Time of your life, huh, kid?” We were all at that age when we were unsure about our future while also unsure about our hormones. “Risky Business” captures that anxiety perfectly, while it also adds a few outrageous plot elements to make things even worse for the teenaged main character. While it’s insightful in the minds of American youth (and not just in the 1980s), it’s also very entertaining due to the ingenuity of the script and the light-heartedness surrounding the central couple, played by Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay. It also has the best use of “In the Air Tonight” I’ve ever heard in a movie. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/05/04/risky-business/

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161) THE DEPARTED (2006)

The film that finally won Scorsese the Oscar, “The Departed” may not be as revered as other Scorsese films such as “Taxi Driver” (#56), “Goodfellas” (#51), and “Raging Bull” (…coming soon on this list), but it is still a damn strong piece of cinema. It’s one of Scorsese’s most compelling films; proof that Scorsese is still one of the most exciting directors working today. By the way, I have not seen “Internal Affairs,” the Hong Kong gangster film “The Departed” is based on. Maybe I’ll check that out sometime. But until then, I’m going to treasure “The Departed” for the American epic that it is.

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160) SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT (1999)

I’m a “South Park” fan, and so it’s inevitable that the only “South Park” feature-length spinoff, “Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” would make this list. It has that lowbrow “South Park” absurdity that works like a charm while fitting in great doses of social commentary. And it’s a musical, with many memorable, funny, catchy tunes such as “Blame Canada” and “Up There.” It’s also the film that made me aware of how odd the methods of the MPAA can be, as summed up in one phrase, “Horrific, deplorable violence is fine, as long as no one says any naughty words.” It made me realize the only reason films like “Stand By Me” and “Almost Famous” got R ratings by the MPAA is because of the multiple uses of the “F” word. Words. And soon as I found out this little piece of trivia, I wanted to applaud “South Park” creators Trey Parker & Matt Stone—when it takes over 400 profanity uses to warrant an NC-17 rating (according to the MPAA), this film…contains 399. Thus, the film was granted an R….right…because one more would’ve pushed it too far? Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2014/07/01/south-park-bigger-longer-uncut-1999/

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159) SHORT TERM 12 (2013)

This is a wonderful feel-good film that is “feel-good” without succumbing to oversentimentality. It’s “feel-good” because it shows realistic characters going through real issues, we follow them in the film’s documentary-like gritty fashion, we see how bad things can get, and then we’re able to see how good they can get too. Thus, by the end of the film, we hope for the best for all of these people and are glad to find that things already have gotten better for some of them. Its emotional authenticity is balanced with the power of the acting, especially from Brie Larson and John Gallagher, Jr. “Look into my eyes so you know what it’s like to live a life not knowing what a normal life’s like!” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/10/15/short-term-12-2013/

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158) 25TH HOUR (2002)

I love Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” (#68), but I have to admit, a lot of his other works don’t really do anything for me. But “25th Hour” is the film that reminds me of exactly how good of a filmmaker he can be. A film about the last 24 hours of freedom for a convicted drug dealer (played brilliantly by Edward Norton) before going to prison for eight years, this is a film about the finer things in life and how they should be appreciated before it’s too late. Everyone in the cast is great—not just Norton but also Phillip Seymour Hoffman & Barry Pepper as Norton’s friends, Rosario Dawson as his girlfriend, and Brian Cox as his father. Each of these characters deserve their own film. There are also three key scenes that amaze me with how well-done they are—one is the infamous “f-you” monologue, one is a conversation between Norton’s friends about how limited their friend’s choices are (while looking over the aftermath of the 9/11 Twin Towers destruction…yikes), and a shared fantasy between Norton and Cox about a possible escape plan. These scenes are nothing short of brilliant, and the overall film is compelling.

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157) 50/50 (2011)

As I mentioned with “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” in my Top 100 post, there’s something more important than a comedy that can make you laugh: a comedy that can make you feel. I certainly laugh at Seth Rogen’s antics in attempting to cheer up his cancer-diagnosed friend (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is going through enough pains without having someone make things worse. But I also certainly feel for the Gordon-Levitt character, who is likable and has so much piling on top of him, such as an overbearing mother, a cheating girlfriend, and of course, everything that cancer can use to try and destroy him inside. This is a great mix of comedy and drama, and the comedy doesn’t distract from the situation. It instead takes the situation and finds the humor within it. That’s how it goes with the real world anyway; you have to laugh every now and then, because what’s the point in staying miserable? It’s how we cope with our personal problems. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/07/5050-2011/

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156) WHEN I WALK (2013)

And speaking of finding ways to cope with personal problems, here’s a documentary about an independent filmmaker using his art/work to help cope with going through the quiet disease known as multiple sclerosis (MS). Ever since he fell one time and had trouble getting back up, filmmaker Jason DaSilva started taking his diagnosis more seriously, chronicling the following progressions of MS as it slowly but surely affected his abilities to move and other things along the road. This biographical documentary follows him in years of his life, as his condition develops. At times, it plays like a horror film, but it ends on an ambiguously hopeful note that suggests that DaSilva is finding more ways to get by with what he has and counting his blessings in the process. And I especially relate to it because…I have MS too. I never talked about it on this blog before, but I was diagnosed almost a year ago. I’m taking medication for it, and I’m mostly fine, but there are times when MS does become a hassle to deal with. That’s why I need this film in my life.

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155) THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE (1986)

More Disney animated fun. “The Great Mouse Detective” is the animated-mouse equivalent of Sherlock Holmes, with just as much mystery, energy, and excitement. With a deliciously dastardly villain in Vincent Price’s Ratigan and a wittingly intelligent hero in Basil (the titular mouse detective), “The Great Mouse Detective” is as fun as it is impressively animated. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/24/the-great-mouse-detective-1986/

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154) FIRSTBORN (1984)

Let’s just get this out of the way: the final act of Michael Apted’s “Firstborn,” which consists of a chase scene, doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. The fist fight that follows it, maybe. But not the chase scene. But with that said, the rest of the film is still great. It shows wonderfully the effects of a family in crisis. Somewhere in “Firstborn” lies an effective social drama, with great acting and a family dilemma that’s difficult for any family to go through. I feel for these characters and I want things to turn out ok for them. Maybe the chase and the fight are a bit much, but the very last shot sort of makes up for it. It’s a quiet moment that ends the film ambiguously with a hopeful note that things will return to normal for this family sooner or later. It’s to the credit of director Apted (responsible for the “Up” series—#12 on my list) and actors Teri Garr & Christopher Collet (and also Corey Haim, in one of his earliest movie roles) that I embrace this film, flaws and all. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/01/15/firstborn-1984/

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153) THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)

This is a tough one for me… My fiancée hates it. She finds it offensive to portray Jesus Christ in a negative light. I, on the other hand, don’t see it as “negative.” I think it’s an efficient parable that shows what Jesus might have been going through inside, being the son of both God and man. If he didn’t feel the same temptations as man, then what did he die for? It was His message that was delivered, and I feel it was a good way to show it by showing the struggles that Jesus must have gone through in order to accomplish His mission. I thought it was well-done and something intriguing to truly consider. I can see why my fiancée (along with other religious groups who denounced the film upon original release…though most of them did without even seeing it) doesn’t particularly care for it. Hopefully, she sees why I particularly do. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2016/03/27/the-last-temptation-of-christ-1988/

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152) A SHORT FILM ABOUT LOVE (1989)

I originally saw this film when it was 60 minutes long and called “Decalogue VI,” as part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog” 10-film series, each chapter based on one of the Ten Commandments. The source Commandment for this one was “thou shalt not covet.” “Decalogue VI” was a powerful, emotionally involving, tragic film about unrequited love and questioning the very meaning of love. It had a downbeat ending that hit too close to home for a lot of people who saw it. Its alternate cut, titled “A Short Film About Love,” is about 30 minutes longer and has a more optimistic ending. It’s only slightly better, but I’d feel like I was cheating if I simply included “Decalogue VI,” one part of a 10-part series in a list of my favorite movies. But since one feature is still technically better than one short, I’m counting it anyway. (And yes, I notice the irony of that statement about “A Short Film About Love.”) Either way, it’s a film that deserves recognition.

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151) DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)

I didn’t get this film. All the critics praise it as one of the funniest movies ever made, and at the age I saw it (around my late teens, I think). It was the same issue I had with “This is Spinal Tap,” which I had also started seeing around the same time. But as time went on, when I became more mature, I did catch on to the satirical elements of it, a lot of which were wickedly funny…the rest of which were pretty downright bleak. Then I realized that was the point of it all—to be one of the edgiest, most outrageous black comedies anyone could ever see. It’s a cautionary tale about how far things can go if the people that are supposed to protect our country aren’t careful enough with it, and the satirized targets are skewered mercilessly. What results is a comedy that is both hilarious and disturbing, and one of Stanley Kubrick’s best.

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150) TRUE GRIT (2010)

I really like the 1969 version of “True Grit,” which won John Wayne an Oscar. But I like it for being a typical rousing John Wayne Western. This 2010 update, I enjoy more, mainly because there’s more to be said about the hunger for vengeance. The cold performance of Hailee Steinfeld as a bloodthirsty teenage girl adds a layer of uneasiness to this quest for vigilantism, and the epilogue, showing that girl all grown up as a bitter, cold, unpleasant, unhappy stick-in-the-mud brings it full-circle. It’s not a happy ending or a sad ending; it’s not even an ending I would’ve expected. But that’s what made it memorable. And the more I watched “True Grit,” the more I began to notice just what something like this can do to a character like her. And of course, Jeff Bridges is perfect as the drunken, pursuant US Marshal, and the Coen Brothers’ script/direction is of course sharp, witty, and unforgettable. All of that and more make this enjoyably deep Western.

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149) HOT ROD (2007)

Look…I’m a human being, ok? I can’t control what I like/love and what I dislike/hate. And again, this is a list of my favorites, not the best! With that said, “Hot Rod” makes me laugh…and laugh…and laugh. I can’t help it. Maybe I still have that juvenile sense of humor that had me laughing out loud in the theater at age 15. Let’s move on to something a little more sophisticated, like…

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148) WAYNE’S WORLD (1992)

I said “a little more sophisticated.” And come on, “Wayne’s World” has more on its mind than juvenile humor and ‘90s pop-culture references. It has much to say about rock music, about guys with too much time on their hands, about fame, about public access television, and more. It’s both funny and smart—you can be a popular piece of entertainment and be both things, after all. Among my favorite moments include Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) playing hockey in their neighborhood street, the multiple different movie-endings, and definitely the best use of blatant product placement I’ve ever seen in any movie. “Contract or no, I will not bow to any sponsor.” Excellent! Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/20/waynes-world/

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147) DELIVERANCE (1972)

“This was the weekend they decided not to play golf.” Mess with an unfamiliar place simply for the sake of doing so, and there will be consequences. It’s a terrific man-vs-wild scenario in which four city men take a canoe trip down in the wilderness, come across a great deal of trouble, and find themselves hunted by someone that won’t let them get out alive. The great outdoors doesn’t become so great, the way it’s presented here. If anything, it feels like a scary new world from which there’s no escape. (Why do I get the feeling camping-gear sales went downhill for a while after this film was released in theaters?) The filmmaking at work here is excellent. I’m always a fan of lingering camera shots in which the actors are forced to stay in character for about a minute or two at a time. I’d seen it many times before, but here, particularly when they realize the danger they’re in and they have to make a decision quickly, it works brilliantly. Great stuff here.

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146) PINOCCHIO (1940)

This Disney-presented animated film holds up much better than “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” in my opinion. I loved watching it as a kid, I love watching it as an adult…provided that I get over the childhood traumas that resulted from the scenes involving children transforming into donkeys. (Seriously, I watched that one particular scene recently with my fiancée—you know the one I’m talking about. I needed her to hold my hand!)

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145) IT (2017)

One of the strongest aspects of Stephen King’s “It” was that it showed the importance of friendship as a way of overcoming personal trauma. I only got a pinch of that in the 1990 TV miniseries based on the book, which is entertaining in its own right, and I get even more of that in the 2017 theatrical re-adaptation. The gang of kids, the Losers’ Club, in “It” feel like real kids, which helps a lot in establishing the things they go through and eventually have to overcome, whether it’s loss, guilt, bullies, or horrid parenting. And being a horror film, “It” has some genuinely frightening moments (especially the opening scene) and a chilling villain in It, who can become anything/anyone and take shape of what the kids are afraid of. There are moments of terror amongst It and moments of camaraderie amongst the Losers’ Club, and they fit together very well. I’ve seen this film about 20 times since its release just a few months ago; it’s one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a while. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/09/08/it-2017/

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144) HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2007)

My second-favorite Harry Potter movie. It’s tightly paced and simple, which means it doesn’t rush or drag in telling a compelling story. And the story is indeed compelling, about Harry coming to terms with himself and trying to find what makes him different from his enemy and how he can use that to better himself. There are a lot of captivating elements that help support it, and it makes the overall film wonderful. My favorite scene is the ultimate payoff, in which Harry is forced to confront his inner demons and comes to a conclusion that sends shivers down my spine with how well it’s handled. This used to be my least favorite Harry Potter movie. It’s amazing how time changes the way you see things. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/05/16/harry-potter-and-the-order-of-the-phoenix-revised-review/

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143) MONSTER HOUSE (2006)

I saw this dark, exciting, animated family-horror movie three times in a theater when I was 14 years old. I was such a fan of this movie, I even played the video game that tied in with it. I rooted for it to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar and was upset that it didn’t win. (That was the first time I watched the Oscars, btw.) All these years later, I’ll still take “Monster House” over “Happy Feet” (the Oscar winner) any day. Take some elements of “Amityville Horror” and “Evil Dead,” add a dose of family-friendly horror like “Goosebumps,” make it animated, and what do you get? One of the most original animated films I’ve ever seen.

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142) RAGING BULL (1980)

Maybe I admire Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” more than I like it. Siskel and Ebert called it the best film of the 1980s, and maybe it is. In terms of “favorites,” however, there’s a reason it’s not in my personal Top 100. That’s because the character of Jake La Motta is a little too much for me to handle at times, making me wonder if the film could have been trimmed from two hours to an hour-and-a-half. But it is still a film I admire greatly, because it is a scathing portrait of a man in raging animal form, snapping out at people irrationally, seeing his woman as a possession rather than a companion, and ultimately losing his fame (as a champion boxer) and also losing his closest ones as well. It’s a cautionary tale that is brilliantly acted by Robert De Niro and equally brilliant in its execution. Shooting it in black-and-white makes it feel like a movie of the time in which it’s based (the ‘40s-‘50s) and there are other little things I didn’t notice the first time I watched it, such as the boxing ring getting bigger and La Motta getting smaller the more times he enters the ring, thus symbolizing his developing insignificance. Best film of the 1980s? Kind of hard not to like it, isn’t it. (P.S. Yes, I know La Motta was based on a real person, and I’m sure he was portrayed accurately. But there’s so much jackass-ery I can handle in one movie.)

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141) THE CLIENT (1994)

Ever since I saw Joel Schumacher’s “The Client” at age 11, I was absorbed by the filmmaking involved. The cinematography, the editing, the numerous ways of keeping viewers’ attention toward something that seems unimportant at first, the use of closeups, everything about it just grabbed me and captivated me from beginning to end. The opening scene is one of my favorite moments of movie suspense; a scene I’ll never forget. Maybe the rest of the film doesn’t top it, but it’s still entertaining, especially with the introductions/developments of Susan Sarandon as a lawyer with a rough past and Tommy Lee Jones hamming it up as a US attorney who quotes Scripture in court. Brad Renfro, in an impressive debut, is rock-solid in the role of the boy who knew too much. The antagonists are dull typical mobsters and the final act digs a little deep into “Hardy Boys” territory rather than John Grisham waters, but the strengths of “The Client” outweigh its weaknesses. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/01/23/the-client-1994/

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140) SCREAM (1996)

“What’s your favorite scary movie?” I feel like a lot of horror-movie spoofs don’t respect the horror-film genre too much. But Wes Craven’s “Scream” is both a witty sendup as well as an effective horror/murder-mystery on its own. That lets you know that a lot of respect was given to the set and that the makers genuinely love scary movies. It’s amusing to watch these characters talk about horror movies when they’re in their own horror movie with a serial killer on the loose. It’s ‘90s meta-horror at its absolute finest…though I don’t think there was much competition. I wonder what would happen if the same treatment was given to today’s horror films, seeing as how we’re a bit more savvy nowadays and we now have more original horror films than we like to think. Something could be done with that, I think… Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/07/scream-1996/

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139) SPOTLIGHT (2015)

“Spotlight” didn’t make my Top 10 in my 2015 Review (though it did receive an Honorable Mention). I must have been in a bad mood when I saw it in theaters, because I didn’t appreciate it as much as other critics did until I saw a few more times on DVD. Don’t ask why, because I don’t know myself. But if I were to redo my 2015 Review, I would’ve placed this film as #2, right behind “Inside Out.” Based on the priest scandal of the early 2000s, “Spotlight” is a silently captivating drama about newspaper reporters going through many lengths to expose a lot of covered-up wrongdoings in their hometown of Boston. It’s a film that reminds us not only that people can’t get away horrific deeds (or even knowing about said-horrific deeds and standing by) and that the power of the press is powerful indeed. And as someone who worked in journalism before, I can say that this is my personal favorite film on the subject. It deserves the Best Picture Oscar win. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2016/11/13/spotlight-2015/

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138) BATMAN (1989)

There are many interpretations of Batman that have been brought to the big screen, two of which are in my Top 100—Christopher Nolan’s (#31) and the animated series’ (#95). And now here’s another for my top 140: Tim Burton’s interpretation. It’s strange how different these Batmans are and yet how similar they are. Michael Keaton’s Batman is quieter as Bruce Wayne, which makes his louder moments as Batman the more interesting. It made me wonder what truly makes Bruce Wayne tick, especially when he does lose control. (“You wanna get nuts?! Let’s get nuts!”) That’s why I never understood the criticisms critics/audiences gave towards this portrayal, about how we don’t know as much about the character. I like that we had to fill in the blanks ourselves and what we saw was what we got. We also got a beautifully realized Gotham City, which is visually enthralling, and stellar production design, as well as a neat villain in Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Maybe it’s not The Joker we’re used to, but it’s still Nicholson displaying his slick, devious charm that he’s best known for. I enjoyed this version of Batman. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/05/23/batman-1989/

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137) ON GOLDEN POND (1981)

This film feels like the cinematic equivalent of a nice summer vacation. You come to a nice quiet place to relax, you do some swimming on the lake, you do some fishing, you talk with loved ones, you enjoy some company, and you leave with vivid memories to look back on. That’s what this film feels like to me, and maybe that’s why I like it so much. I actually might like it even more than the theatrical play it was based on (though, to be fair, I saw the play performed only once), because with film, it was able to expand upon it and give us more atmosphere to take in. “On Golden Pond” is among a series of movies I like to personally refer to as “Summertime” movies, along with “The Flamingo Kid” & “The Way, Way Back” (two movies that just barely missed this list) and “The Sandlot” (which is coming up on this list). They’re movies that live, feel, and breathe the essence of summer in such a way that I feel like going outside and doing some summer activities instead of sitting at home watching movies. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/04/on-golden-pond-1981/

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136) EXPLORERS (1985)

Welcome back, Joe Dante. This was the first of his movies I ever saw, at age 7. Soon after that, I saw “Gremlins” (#97) and “Matinee” (#93) and a few others, like “Innerspace” and “Gremlins 2,” before I learned who made them and became a fan of Dante’s ever since. And yes, I know there are many things wrong with “Explorers,” such as the incomplete feel of it. And I did complain in my review that the payoff wasn’t the slightest bit interesting compared to the excellent setup. But, on the other hand, I feel like it’s better than the payoff I would’ve expected. It’s more like a punchline, which may be taken the wrong way, but it’s still amusing. I like the characters, I like the time it takes in developing their discovery moment by moment, I like the little in-jokes from other sci-fi movies thrown in for good measure, and I even like the music score by Jerry Goldsmith; it’s a beautifully composed score. “Explorers” is a flawed but hugely entertaining sci-fi ride that I’m glad to take even as an adult. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/01/31/explorers-1985/

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135) THE TERMINATOR (1984)

“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is #14 on my Top 100; it’s my all-time favorite action film. But I can’t leave its predecessor, 1984’s “The Terminator,” out to dry, because it itself is a great, solidly-entertaining action/sci-fi thriller on a smaller budget. Sure, the effects, particularly the ones that involve stop-motion animation, don’t hold up so well anymore. But that terrible sense of being hunted still runs through the film and leaves me with suspense, because the very idea of a killer robot with no other priority than to come after you and kill you is a frightening one that still works today. Especially if said-robot is played by the ever-imposing Arnold Schwarzenegger. This leaves way for one edgy, nerve-wracking sequence after another with a lot of nicely-done action. “I’ll be back.”

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134) DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959)

“Darby O’Gill and the Little People” is yet another fantastic Disney film that has stayed with me through time. It’s just so downright pleasant and enjoyable, with a lot of interesting Irish folklore (…though, how much of that folklore is accurate, I’ll leave that up to Irish people). For a fantasy film made in the 1950s, the forced-perspective effects in which human-sized people interact with foot-tall Leprechauns still hold up marvelously, especially when Darby enters the Leprechauns’ lair. (Though, not every effect holds up today—the blue-screen shot of Darby falling down a deep well is hilariously awful.) The film even features a young Sean Connery singing! How often do you see that? Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/06/08/darby-ogill-and-the-little-people-1959/

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133) AT CLOSE RANGE (1986)

The first time I saw “At Close Range,” I only kind of liked it. The second time, I liked it even more (and wrote the review). Third time, loved it. Fourth time, called it one of my top 200 favorite movies. I guess it’s just one of those movies. This isn’t a pleasant movie. In fact, some people may argue that it glorifies violence. I don’t think so—I think the anti-gun/anti-violence message is very clear, and if it seems a little too pretty to look at, that’s just spreading the message even further because it shows how extreme the situations are. This is a film that shows the dark side of human nature, which we can see through the ruthlessness of Christopher Walken’s character and the impressionable minds of his young son and his friends. “At Close Range” may be cruel and sometimes quite sad, but I find it fascinating each time I watch it. I see more than the cruelty and sadness and violence; I see an interesting, investing portrait of the nature of these characters and how some people can get out of a certain lifestyle, others can not, and one simply doesn’t want to. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/04/at-close-range-1986/

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132) THE SANDLOT (1993)

When I was a little kid hanging out with friends at the local park, we often had our own legends—horror stories we thought were true or wanted to believe were true, whether to make each other more nervous or just to add more excitement into our lives. Maybe that’s why “The Sandlot” connected with me. This is a film about a group of small-town kids who go on their own little adventures surrounding a mythical beast, because they have no doubt that the neighborhood dog is a man-eating monster. (Come on, we’ve all been there, right?) People love this movie for the same reason they love “A Christmas Story” (#36)—we all recognize the emotions portrayed in these movies from some points of our youth. On top of that, “The Sandlot” has the perfect feel of the summertime—spending time with friends, playing baseball, watching the fireworks on the 4th of July, and going to the pool when it’s too hot to play. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/01/30/the-sandlot-1993/

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131) THE EXORCIST (1973)

Yes, with as many horror films on my lists, would it really surprise you that one of the popular horror films of all time is among them? I like “The Exorcist” for the same reasons as everyone else who likes it—it’s scary because it feels real. It takes skill to ground a supernatural element into a realistic setting, but when it happens, it can be one of the most effective horror films ever made, which “The Exorcist” certainly is. To sum up my thoughts on the sequels, I don’t think “Exorcist II: The Heretic” is one of the worst films ever made (and I posted a review that brought up some bright spots in the story) but it’s still not very good; but “Exorcist III” (or “Legion”) is a pretty solid psychological thriller. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/19/the-exorcist-1973/

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130) THE WAR OF THE ROSES (1989)

It’s a sad truth that a lot of marriages don’t last. Some of them even end terribly. But I don’t think any have ended quite like the Roses in “The War of the Roses,” an outstanding black comedy that takes this real-life concept and uses it in the most outrageous ways possible. We have a married couple who are sick and tired of each other to the point where each one would rather see the other one dead than have to endure another several years together. A simple divorce is not so simple since neither of them will give each other anything in return, and they are far too stubborn for any sort of compromise. The more time they reside in the same house, the worse things get, ultimately leading to a battle to the death. One of the joys of this film is watching everything go completely down the drain, and the climax is over-the-top is wildly (and darkly) entertaining.

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129) THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957)

I guess I just never got into the whole ‘50s-atomic-monster era of movies, as there’s only one on this list. But by God, it’s a great one—“The Incredible Shrinking Man,” about a man who gets physically smaller day by day by day and wonders if there’s anything that will become of him when he shrinks too much. It’s like a feature-length “Twilight Zone” episode with bigger production value. From a 2018 perspective, the effects hold up well (…for the most part, anyway) and the themes of existence and survival stay strong. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/10/the-incredible-shrinking-man-1957/ And with that said…let’s move on to another movie about shrinking characters that is hardly deep and is just flat-out fun to watch. That would be…

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128) HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS (1989)

Yes, I am aware of its flaws. But come on—it’s a dopey effects-driven comedy from Disney that’s been with me since childhood. It’s a great, fun adventure that I enjoy watching from time to time. I like the kids and the treacherous jungle trek that they embark on in their own backyard (pun definitely intended), and I like the comedy surrounding the adult characters played by Rick Moranis and Matt Frewer. It’s a film that works so well for me that I give up trying to find the answer to the question, “Where in the world did that scorpion that those kids had to fight off come from?” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2016/12/18/honey-i-shrunk-the-kids-1989/

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127) FORREST GUMP (1994)

Some people hate this Best Picture winner nowadays…hell if I know why. At least with “Titanic” (#54), I have some idea as to why that film was seen as “overrated” over time. But with “Forrest Gump”…OK, maybe “Pulp Fiction” or “The Shawshank Redemption” should have received the Oscar instead, but what if one of those did win…and then that one got the backlash? That’s an argument for another time, but I really do love “Forrest Gump.” It’s a pleasant, well-executed, sometimes-brutal portrait of the seekers of the American Dream, with great performances that anchor it.

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126) MUD (2013)

Yes, another Jeff Nichols film finally! You thought it would be “Loving” or “Midnight Special” if you thought there was going to be another one alongside his two first films in the Top 126 (“Shotgun Stories,” #49; “Take Shelter,” #84), but nope—it’s “Mud.” It’s a wonderful ensemble piece set in the South, telling the different stages of “love,” through a child’s point of view—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Those elements actually went over my head the first time I saw it, because I simply saw the film as an intriguing journey with the heart of Mark Twain and the aesthetic of Terrence Malick. With more viewings, however, I got even more out of it. Jeff Nichols is one of the smartest filmmakers working today; I always look forward to seeing his next film. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/05/05/mud-2013/

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125) AMERICAN SPLENDOR (2003)

I didn’t know anything about Harvey Pekar (but I knew a little bit about his friend/collaborator R. Crumb, thanks to Siskel and Ebert reviewing the documentary about Crumb). After seeing his biopic, “American Splendor,” starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar, I grew a fascination with his work. His work in comic books is unlike a lot of things that make comics popular; it’s about the little things that bug him or confuse him in life, like if Jerry Seinfeld did a comic book series. His “American Splendor” series is great stuff! And the “American Splendor” film, based on his life and career, is practically perfect, with a bleak sense of humor about itself and great homage to Pekar’s work, right down to using Pekar’s comic caricature actually entering the frame and talking to Giamatti as Pekar. What makes it even better? The filmmakers got the real Harvey Pekar to narrate the story! Part documentary, part comedy, part drama, “American Splendor” is a wonderful treasure.

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124) SERENITY (2005)

I like “Star Trek,” but the more lighthearted comic elements of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” entertains me more, personally. “Firefly” and its cinematic spinoff, “Serenity,” have grown a cult following; I think I can consider myself a member of that cult. I wish this got the same pull and drive as “Star Trek,” because “Serenity” is my idea of “fun” science-fiction, ranking right up there with “Star Wars: A New Hope” (#61). Both films have a strange new universe to explore, appealing characters to share the journey with, bombastic space battles, compelling themes and issues to get through in the sublayers, and upbeat comedy thrown in to humanize the characters and/or to make the audience breathe. I really like the “Star Wars” sequel series (so far) for taking new directions and using comedy to balance things out, but “Serenity” is the film I’m always going to compare them to. And that goes for any other new “Star Trek” film too. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/03/09/serenity-2005/

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123) THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (1998)

Hey! Wanna see an animated musical based on the Moses story just to save you an extra hour or two if you were thinking of seeing Cecil Demille’s “The Ten Commandments”? No? Well, too bad, we got “The Prince of Egypt!” This shouldn’t have worked as well as it did, but it is simply beautiful. The animation is striking with the parting of the Red Sea becoming a startlingly gorgeous image; the songs are actually quite memorable and help move the story along (and the music score is wonderful too); and, in my opinion, it has the better portrayal of Moses’ brother, Ramses, played here as a more tragic figure. “The Prince of Egypt” is a great film, and I have no reservations in saying that I personally prefer it over “The Ten Commandments.”

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122) THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985)

I don’t like “Sixteen Candles.” I read a lot of critics’ 1984 reviews of that film, praising it for being the gamechanging mainstream comedy about teenagers that treated its characters with utmost respect…I just don’t see it. (That’s an argument for another time.) With director John Hughes’ follow-up film “The Breakfast Club,” however, I definitely see it. This was a film that addressed the issues that teens faced head-on, by having its five central teenage characters of different high-school cliques talk about them to each other. The conversations they share comprise of some of the most hard-hitting dialogue I ever heard in a movie of this sort. Though…I doubt most teenagers would talk the way half of these kids do. But seeing it as a way of adults trying to understand the mindset truly counts for something. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/01/22/the-breakfast-club-1985/

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121) HOME ALONE (1990)

Oh leave me alone, I love “Home Alone!” It’s funny and surprisingly more heartfelt than you might expect. But what about the bratty behavior of the Macaulay Culkin character? Yes, that’s called character development—he changes throughout the film when he becomes more independent. But what about the slapstick comedy with the burglars and stuff? You don’t find that stuff funny, we got nothing to say to each other. But what about the oversentimentality about family and stuff? It’s Christmas; why would a kid need to spend it alone? You could throw in any sort of criticism at “Home Alone” (and I know I have, in my three-star review for the film—what was I thinking?), and I wouldn’t care in the slightest. And that, dear reader, is what counts as a “favorite.” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/03/15/home-alone-1990/

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120) SUPER SIZE ME (2004)

When it comes to personal documentaries addressing big issues in American society, a lot of people turn to Michael Moore’s work. But as for me, I turn to Morgan Spurlock. He’s more charismatic and has more entertaining ways of getting his points across. He even puts himself in the middle of his tests within his topics. 28-day diet of everything McDonald’s to see what it does to his body? You gotta admire his dedication, especially when it gets results…such as McDonald’s discontinuing their “Super Size” option…even though McDonald’s claims the film had nothing to do with that…yeah I don’t believe that either. “Super Size Me” ranks among my favorite type of documentary: documentary used as “performance art.” Really good stuff here.

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119) STREETWISE (1985)

If “performance art” is my favorite use of the documentary genre, then “cinematic non-fiction” is my second-favorite. The filmmakers for “Streetwise” simply got to know some homeless, streetwise kids, earned their trust, miked them up, and followed them around with cameras. No interviews, no manipulation—just simply seeing what they do and making a film out of how they live. It’s interesting and yet heartbreaking that what we see is real. It’s a compelling film that let me know at a young age that documentaries can be some of the most important films we see in our lives. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2014/08/24/streetwise-1985/

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118) COLLATERAL (2004)

For a high-school graduation present, a friend bought me a “Film Art” book, much of which covers the filmmaking behind Michael Mann’s “Collateral.” (Coincidentally enough, that same book became a source of material for a Cinema History course I took at the University of Central Arkansas.) I had heard about “Collateral” in passing, but it was when I received this book that I rented the DVD, watched it, and found a deep appreciation for it. Reading about the filmmaking involved (and also watching the DVD extras) made me realize everything that went into “Collateral” and what it means inside and out. And it truly is a classic. It has my favorite Jamie Foxx performance (nominated for Best Supporting Actor instead of Best Actor because he was already nominated in the latter category for “Ray”…it’s still a leading performance, Academy!) and one of my absolute favorite Tom Cruise performances, in which Cruise plays a cold-blooded killer who puts the hits first and human affection…I dunno, third or fourth—he’s essentially Daniel Craig’s James Bond in a sense. “Collateral” is an excellent film. “Yo homie…is that my briefcase?” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/13/collateral-2004/

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117) HAMLET (1996)

Yes, a Shakespeare adaptation! And if there’s a better one than Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet,” I haven’t heard of it. I’ve seen quite a few, some of which were made by Branagh. But I haven’t seen one with this much scope, this much passion, and this much power; it’s like Branagh put his soul into this production, and it paid off so spectacularly that he was able to buy it back. And the “may my thoughts be bloody” monologue that usually closes out the first act of the “Hamlet” play? I’ve yet to see it better-presented than in this film.

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116) INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)

My second-favorite “Indiana Jones” sequel. (I already mentioned “Temple of Doom,” and you didn’t really think I was going to mention “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” did you?) It has it all—great action (the train chase, the boat chase, the tank chase—good chases here), great suspense (the final confrontation to find the Holy Grail), great comedy (“No ticket!”), and best of all, a great amount of heart, thanks to the relationship between Indy and his father (played by Sean Connery—yes, Indiana Jones and James Bond together!). This is the “Indiana Jones” sequel that “Indiana Jones 5” has to live up to, if it can’t live up to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (after all, few films can).

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115) THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

The tense, horrifying psychological thriller that swept the Oscars, “The Silence of the Lambs” is a Best Picture winner that hardly anyone bats an eye over because they think it’s overrated. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/11/01/the-silence-of-the-lambs-1991/ Almost everyone loves it, and I love it too…but could there possibly be another film featuring Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter that I might like just a little bit more? And I mean a real little bit more? Well…

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114) RED DRAGON (2002)

Yes, Brett Ratner’s “Red Dragon.” I can’t help it, I love this film. I think the only reason I enjoy it more than “The Silence of the Lambs” (again, a real little bit) is the protagonist. Will Graham is a great hero to follow; he’s more of an anti-hero, someone who understands the mindset of a psychopath in order to understand/capture one, while he himself seems to be closer and closer to the dark side. It makes it all the more interesting when he has to get help from Lecter. Because they have a mutual hatred but also a mutual respect for each other, the scenes featuring Graham and Lecter together include a great sense of tension and an intriguing battle of wits. I love the scenes between Starling and Lecter in “Silence,” which cause Starling to search deep within herself, but to me, there’s something more interesting and frightening about the interactions in which one would surely like to kill the other. I could go on and on about it, but for the sake of this list, I’ll just say that’s the reason I enjoy “Red Dragon” so much. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/05/red-dragon-2002/

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113) MARY POPPINS (1964)

“Mary Poppins”—love it as a kid for the Disney magic, love it as an adult for the filmmaking…and the magic that takes me back to when I was a kid. This was apparently Walt Disney’s big passion project and it shows. There is a whole lot to admire here, from the joyous excitement of the “Step in Time” sequence to the dark, emotional weight of Mr. Banks’ long walk in the night. Everything about the film works, and I love it. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down in the most delightful way, indeed.

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112) SPIRITED AWAY (2002)

What?! A Miyazaki anime film on the list, finally?! Well, if I had to pick one, it’d have to be everyone else’s favorite: “Spirited Away,” a beautiful film soaked in originality. I don’t think I’ve seen a film with so many ideas that blend perfectly, and I don’t think I’ve seen this film’s before or since. If you’re wondering if there are any other Miyazaki films I hold in high regard, here are a few titles: “Castle in the Sky,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” and “The Wind Rises,” in particular. I like “Princess Mononoke” fine…just not as much as everyone else. But I love “Spirited Away.”

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111) THE IRON GIANT (1999)

I’m not going to lie…this ending gets me a little teary-eyed. Everything the film was building up to, what the Giant was meant to do for the people, “you are who you choose to be,” etc. led to the perfect moment of truth. What came before it was already terrific, with great animation, memorably appealing characters, and some great comedy having to do with the atomic age and society’s reaction to it (“duck and cover”—THAT’s what was being taught in schools back then?). All of that plus the ending make “The Iron Giant” a tremendous experience that keeps me coming back time and time again. And yes, the ending…he’s Superman! I can’t help but feel feelings! Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/04/the-iron-giant-1999/

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110) THE SHINING (1980)

It’s rumored that when Alfred Hitchcock thought about making “Psycho,” with so many people being against it, he pondered, “What if someone really good made a horror film?” And then twenty years later, along came Stanley Kubrick, master filmmaking perfectionist, to make a horror film only loosely based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name (and yes, King has stated his disappointment for that numerous times). If anyone could pull off making a polarizing horror film that would be remembered for years and years to come, it was Kubrick. Do I understand everything about Kubrick’s version of “The Shining?” Not quite. But the beauty of this film is that it makes me want to understand it more. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/17/the-shining-1980/

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109) ROCKY (1976)

“Rocky” inspires me each time I see it. Here’s a guy who comes from nothing, aspires to be something, gets his chance and takes it. The result isn’t quite what he expected, but what’s important is that he gains self-respect and the woman he loves. What inspires me more than the film’s story is the story of the writer-actor Sylvester Stallone in trying to get the story out there. He, like his character of Rocky Balboa, was going against incredible odds, and not only did he beat them but he also gained more than he expected, for better or for worse. I was already a big fan of this movie before I learned of its history; it made me appreciate it even more. The sequels that barely missed the list: “Rocky II” and “Creed.” Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/24/rocky-1976/

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108) BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)

Going to school where a lot of the punk kids I hung around with were homophobic, meaning being gay was either disgusting or a punchline to us, I avoided “Brokeback Mountain” like the plague. But as I went on to community college, and tolerance grew when I became acquainted with a few LGBT members, I decided I might as well check out this film that won several awards (and critics’ hearts). And I have to say, it blew me away. Whatever the sexual orientation of the main characters, “Brokeback Mountain” is a tragic romance about two people (played excellently by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) who share a secret affair in a time and place that wouldn’t accept them if it wasn’t private. When one of them finally realizes what he wanted in the 20 years he’s known the other one, it’s too late. “Brokeback Mountain” deserved the Best Picture Oscar; it should have received it.

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107) CASABLANCA (1942)

I need to see this film more. It’s celebrated as one of the greatest romances of all time (and one of the best films of all time, period), and it’s hard to argue with anyone about it. There are many classic films from the ‘30s and ‘40s that don’t hold up well by today’s standards; “Casablanca” is not one of them. Its “classic” status is no fluke, as it’s every bit as enjoyable now as it could’ve been back in the day. Why is it not in the Top 100 then? Well…I haven’t seen it enough times for that. It’s the best excuse I can come up with… Maybe this is why I don’t have a job writing for a major publication.

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106) THE GODFATHER (1972)

Yep, another classic that didn’t make the Top 100. I don’t know, maybe I could’ve made room for this masterpiece. But then again, this is a list of my favorites, not my list of the best. And I can’t make a list of the best, because that would indicate that I’ve seen every damn movie ever made. But “The Godfather” is great. It’s very powerful in its tragic story, of a man protecting his family even though it means selling his soul in order to do so, ultimately resulting in becoming the very thing he said he never wanted to be. Maybe I still prefer “Goodfellas” (#51) simply because of how ruthless it is in portraying the Mafia as downright scum, but “The Godfather” is still excellent in its tragic tale.

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105) UNBREAKABLE (2000)

It hurt me that while I included M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” (#20) and “Signs” (#38) in the Top 100, I couldn’t find enough room for “Unbreakable,” which is every bit as good as those other two. This film takes the superhero/supervillain concept and uses it with utmost seriousness that really works, thanks to Shyamalan finding the right tone and mood for the material. What if Superman didn’t know he was Superman? That’s the question that’s asked in this film, with a seemingly invincible character wondering if he’s meant to do something more than what he already does with his life. What follows is a deeply fascinating mystery that is delightful in the answers given to the many questions being asked in the story. And it only gets better and better as it goes along, with brilliant writing, top-notch filmmaking, and great acting from Bruce Willis as the hero in question and Samuel L. Jackson as the mysterious ally that strives to know more about him. And the ending twist is excellent—I don’t know why critics complained about it, because it makes perfect sense to me. That’s all I’ll say about it. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/03/07/unbreakable-2000/

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104) SPIELBERG (2017)

Just as “Life Itself” is one of my favorite documentaries because it goes in-depth in the biography of one of my heroes (Roger Ebert), “Spielberg,” which just came out a few months ago, is one of my favorites for telling me more about another one of my heroes (Steven Spielberg) that I didn’t even know before. I’ve seen this documentary about ten times now; I could listen Spielberg talk for hours, he has so many interesting things to say. I don’t know if I can watch a traditional Spielberg film the same way again without thinking about what his familiar elements truly mean to him. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/12/26/spielberg-2017/

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103) 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

The only reason I didn’t put “2001: A Space Odyssey” in the Top 100 is because I had no idea where to place it. There’s simply no other film like it. I felt like it didn’t belong in a list with so many “lesser” films, favorites or not. The first time I saw it, I felt like I was hypnotized. I didn’t know what I was seeing, I didn’t even know what I was feeling…but it mesmerized me from beginning to end. And that, dear reader, is the power of Stanley Kubrick.

Because of my inner conflict in ranking this film, I put it at #101 for a while. But wait, you may ask, then why is it #103? What are #102 and #101? Well…#102 and #101 are films that would have made it in the Top 100, had I thought more about it. What are they? Let’s see…

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102) FRANCES HA (2013)

This film got better and better with time. I didn’t see it as something that “special” at first (though I still really liked it). But it stayed with me. I love Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha”—wonderfully droll dialogue written by Baumbach and actress/writer Greta Gerwig (one of my favorite people working today; read my reviews for “Mistress America” and “Lady Bird”), and simply an all-around great mix of comedy and drama. I mentioned in my Top 100 post that I feel humor is the best way to reach the audience; if you can make the audience laugh at the characters before laughing with them, then the audience has found a way to connect with them and feel sorry for them when something tragic happens in the story. I laugh at how loony and unusual Frances Halliday (a would-be dancer, played wonderfully by Gerwig) can be in early parts of the film, then I smile when she’s aware of her behavior and tries to use it to her advantage, and then I feel bad for her when she feels like she’s running in no direction toward her dream of becoming a success. By the end of the film (which perfectly explains the meaning of the film’s title), I want to cry because I feel like she’s accomplished something in life, finally. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/06/30/frances-ha-2013/

And finally…

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101) WHIPLASH (2014)

I’ve written reviews for “Frances Ha” and for “Whiplash” upon first viewings, but none of them prepared me for my sheer admiration that would grow with repeated viewings. (And that’s basically the story with how films to which I previously awarded three stars would end up on my Top 100 Favorite Movies list in time—the good movies can get better…or worse, but that’s another story.) I truly love “Whiplash”—the filmmaking is utterly superb, the acting is excellent (especially from J.K. Simmons in an Oscar-winning performance), the ending is brilliantly ambiguous, and I fully related to the main character (played by Miles Teller) in how he has trouble conveying his passion for the arts to the people around him. Sometimes, it’s funny; other times, it’s dramatic; other times, it’s scary as hell; and overall, it’s 100% relatable and brilliantly made. For those reasons and so much more, Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” is one of my all-time personal favorite films. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2014/11/27/whiplash-2014/

“Whiplash” and “Frances Ha” are films that have been praised by critics and arthouse audiences, and I’m certain that in time, they’ll be remembered as indie-film classics. They’re certainly two of my absolute favorites.

Whew! That took a long time to sort out. There are undoubtedly going to be more movies that will inspire/influence me, probably even more than those in my Top 100. But I’m just going to state this in conclusion of this list: it will probably be five years before I decide to make another one of these long lists.

Man I love movies!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Revised Review)

16 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Yep, it’s “Revised Review” time again. This time, the subject is “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the fifth entry in the Harry Potter movie franchise. When I first reviewed it, I gave it three stars. I liked it, but I think my mind was more focused on the previous films, particularly “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (one of my personal-favorite films, period). To me, the pace seemed off, I was confused where the story was going, and I just knew that it was going to lead to another cliffhanger which would pave the way for another sequel which would pave the way for another cliffhanger which would lead to the ultimate climactic battle to end all battles in this Harry Potter universe.

(By the way, if you’re wondering, I haven’t read all of the books. I read the first three and then quit, only because I enjoyed the movies so much, I wanted them to surprise me.)

As time went on, however, I re-watched all the “Harry Potter” movies in a row, once in a while. And suddenly, as I was taking in more of what “The Order of the Phoenix” had to offer, I realized its success in what it was trying to do. This was a different “Harry Potter” movie—one that would provoke thought, ask questions about similarity/difference, and prepare us for something darker and heavier to come. As a result, it is now my second-favorite “Harry Potter” movie (behind “The Chamber of Secrets,” which is as fun as this is insightful).

“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” begins with 15-year-old budding wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) sitting bitter and alone on a swingset in a playground. This shot alone sets the tone for the film—Harry feels isolated and knows that something is coming that will transform him from a child to an adult, and he’s not sure he wants to let go of childhood yet. (Maybe I’m reading too deep, but that’s always what I got out of it.) In the previous film, the dreaded Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) was brought back from the dead, and Harry was the sole witness. For a while, it seems nobody believes him and he’s all alone. But after a seemingly-predetermined incident causes Harry to be expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry for using magic outside of school to protect himself, it turns out there’s a small secret society of witches/wizards called the Order of the Phoenix, including Harry’s godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), that has formed outside the Ministry of Magic since Harry’s allegation of Voldemort’s return. They’re preparing for a fight that is sure to come, and they try to keep Harry out of it as much as possible, despite Harry’s desperate need to get involved.

The Order, along with Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), manage to get Harry enrolled back in school, but trouble soon comes brewing, as it always does whenever Harry and his two best friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), get involved in whatever’s happening at this dangerous school (keep your kids away from this place, parents!). Firstly, most of Harry’s classmates think Harry is lying about Voldemort’s return to cover up another reason for the death of another student (caused by Voldemort). Secondly, the school is slowly but surely being controlled by a new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor: Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who also aids in the Ministry. She and Harry clash because of Harry’s “lies” and because she won’t teach defensive spells to students.

Oh, and need I also mention that hormones come creeping in during all of this, leading to Harry’s first kiss with his crush Cho Chang (Katie Leung)? Hasn’t this kid gone through enough confusion in his already-loaded life?

Once it becomes clear to other students that Harry is telling the truth, Harry, Ron, and Hermione bring them together to start their own secret group, called Dumbledore’s Army, to teach/learn defensive spells for when the time comes to battle Voldemort’s forces. And it seems they may have to begin defending themselves sooner than they thought…

I’m going to look at my original review (posted on this site) and point out some things I wrote then that I change my mind about now.

“It is […] my least favorite in the franchise.” Right away, I take that back.

“Harry’s best friends […] aren’t given anything special to do, save for a few short scenes of humor.” We already had four whole movies prior to set up the characters and their friendship together, and the focus in this one is entirely on Harry. So why did I let that bother me?

“And it’s annoying when Hermione is correcting Harry for something he knows is right.” Hermione doesn’t see the things that Harry sees, leading to a friendship with Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) who sees the strange and unusual (I mean, by Hogwarts’ standards). Jeez, younger-critic-Tanner—picky much?

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t like Luna Lovegood. It’s a one-note loony role that just plain annoyed me.” OK, fine, I did think that was the case for one of the most beloved characters in the series. Yes, I still think the character is one-note loony, but my feelings towards her have softened a bit the more times I watched the later Harry Potter movies. She’s sweet, she’s likable, and she didn’t deserve the slam I gave her in my original review.

It seems the problems I had with the movie were mere nitpicks for being “different.” Reading my old review of this movie again, I can’t help but be reminded of the initial reception critics/audiences had toward “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.” Now known as one of the greatest sequels of all time, it took a while for people to warm up to its new ideas back then. That’s essentially how I feel about “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”—I wasn’t ready for the darker directions it was going to take (and it was darker compared to the new directions taken in “The Prisoner of Azkaban” and “The Goblet of Fire”). Subsequent viewings caused me to admire it for taking the series in a more complicated turn, which was also used to develop the character of Harry even further.

And that’s something I didn’t even notice the first time I reviewed the film, let alone acknowledge in the review. Harry is a role model—he wants to do what is right, he wants to do his part in protecting his friends and others, and he demands justice for wrongdoings. That’s fine and all, but what makes the character more compelling here is his inner turmoil. He’s still a kid going through struggles in growing up, and on top of that, he’s experienced tragedy, such as the murders of his parents and peers, and he’s constantly being ignored for either negligence of knowing the truth or for a greater cause when he wants to be involved. This makes him angry, and he gets even angrier as the movie continues. At one point, he admits he’s afraid of becoming more and more like Voldemort. He even notices some similarities between him and Voldemort growing up as Tom Riddle.

Voldemort knows this. He wants to use Harry’s anger to tempt him into joining him and/or giving into the dark arts. In a wonderful moment near the end, Harry has a chance to kill one of Voldemort’s cohorts out of anger for the murder of one of Harry’s most trusted companions, and this is when Voldemort strikes into his mind, using his subconscious against him. Harry has experienced such tragedy and guilt and turmoil, which can lead to further such issues if he acts on them out of vengeance. An important line of dialogue from earlier in the film comes to mind during this scene, as Sirius Black assured Harry, “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” Harry is able to win the inner battle with Voldemort by recognizing the differences between himself and Voldemort. As he puts in a wonderfully biting statement, “You’re the weak one. And you’ll never know love. Or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.”

(I’m not going to lie—every time I watch this scene, I feel a lump in my throat every time he says that line. It’s delivered perfectly by Radcliffe.)

In my original review, I did praise the final half for giving us a gripping glimpse into “magic battle,” which both sides of the fight attacking one another, with Harry and friends in the middle. “Magic battle” would become better realized by “Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” but this climax is still intriguing. And I also praised Imelda Staunton’s performance as Umbridge. Who wouldn’t? She portrays one of the most despicable creatures in any movie I’ve ever seen, and I will not use that as an exaggeration. She punishes students severely for speaking out about issues that go against authority (whether she believes Voldemort is back and is trying to cover it up for the Ministry or not, it’s no excuse to scar Harry’s hand for telling “lies”). She won’t teach students to defend themselves for practically-conservative reasons. She has a sweet demeanor most of the time, but tick her off and she will find a way to get you. Staunton plays the role perfectly; it’s frightening, the way she pulls it off. I think it’s the smile… anyone who can do terrible things and keep that smile is worthy of hatred. (I mean hatred towards the character, not the actress—I’m certain Imelda Staunton is a nice woman in reality.)

This was director David Yates’ first going into the Harry Potter universe (and he would go to direct more Harry Potter films since). The tone he uses is very effective; it almost feels like we’re walking into a dream. We’re not entirely sure what’s real and what’s imagined, and so there’s that sense of unease that settles throughout the film.

I may have underappreciated “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” when I first saw it (and reviewed it), but this is my chance at redemption for my mistakes. I love this film even more today, and I have no second thoughts in giving it a four-star rating. (In hindsight, this deserves a four-star rating more so than “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” which does not hold up as well for me today. Maybe I’ll do a revised review for that one too, someday…)