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My Other Favorite Films


Either because they're good films or because I saw them at the right times, these are movies that are important in my life and that in various ways have stuck with me in a positive way. And some of them might, someday, move up onto my all-time-greats list.

About Last Night

Elizabeth Perkins and Jim Belushi darn near steal this movie away from Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. The storyline flows through the cliches of the eighties single scene in our post-marriage culture, so that it almost seems to be by the numbers, but the dialogue has enough snap and the acting enough fire and ice that we do end up caring about these petulant, childish people. One of the three sexiest films I like (with "Body Heat" and the Renee Russo "Thomas Crown Affair"). But you know what? Years after seeing this movie, I heard the Shirley Eikhardt song "About Last Night" and, much as I like the movie, the song is deeper, truer, more heartbreaking.

The Absent-minded Professor

Fred MacMurray's raison d'etre was to play this part in this first film version of Sam Taylor's story about flubber. Unlike the ludicrously stupid Flubber, this one is not an overproduced special effects extravaganza. Instead, it actually has people in it, and a sense of delight and wonder. I saw it at a drive-in with my family, back when families went to movies in their cars. I so wanted our car to lift us up and fly us home when the story ended. And thus another fantasist is born ...

Accidental Tourist

What Ann Tyler creates in her books is so fragile, so complicated, that it can't possibly survive on screen. Yet somehow in this film it does. Tyler's vision is tragic, and indeed, so is this film as a couple self-destructs in the wake of the death of their child and then seeks redemption as they can find it. This may be William Hurt's best acting. It definitely is Geena Davis's. Lawrence Kasdan is such a master of film about real people.

Ace Ventura, Pet Detective

With all the flaws inherent in a film that relies on Jim Carrey to carry it, this was nevertheless a wonderful surprise. I expected nothing and got a lot of laughs, and the rapturous moments showed a side of Carrey that, alas, we have not seen since.

Adam's Rib

The best of the Hepburn-Tracy teamups. Truly witty writing, superb performing, and ... still funny! By the way, that crying trick -- it works.

The Addams Family

This movie should have been as bad as The Flintstones, but instead they actually got a good script and a terrific cast -- Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, Christopher Lloyd, with Christina Ricci in her first big role -- and it's even, shockingly enough, funny. Not great art, but good entertainment.

Addams Family Values

Then they made a sequel and it's even better.

The African Queen

This pairing of Bogart and Hepburn was inspired. Their opposite acting styles meshed with amazing aptness, and the love story in the midst of hardship, leading to an idiotically heroic marriage in the face of death, is so well earned that you don't laugh (except in delight).

After Hours

My favorite Scorcese film, this story of Griffin Dunne's adventures on the streets of the city is a very tense comedy ... or a very funny thriller. But it is Scorcese; some of the turns are dark indeed.

Air Force One

Don't look too closely, or this story disappears. No way could this ever, ever happen. But the bad guy is terrific, and the film has the guts to let the hero sit by and let somebody get murdered when he could have saved her, because itwas better for all in the long run. Believe it or not, that's a brave thing for a filmmaker to do -- contrast it, for instance, with the awful cowardice of Stephen Spielberg in Hook and Schindler's List, who cannot let his heroes actually do the right thing if it makes them look momentarily bad. This film goes into hard places and makes them work, and as a result I can forgive the Hollywood crap that fills in the blanks in the action sequences.

Aladdin

Sometimes letting Robin Williams steal a movie is a good idea. In fact, it's worth pointing out that some comedians do better in a supporting role than when they have the lead. Meanwhile, these are pretty good songs amid very good comedy, with a better story than we're used to seeing in animated musicals. The ending even works. It isn't a beloved film like Lion King, but it isn't trying to be. It's trying to be funny and fun, and it works.

Aliens

Alien was inventive and fresh in its vision of a dark, shabby, believable future, and it changed the way we see space films -- sort of the anti-NASA movie. And with the visuals of H.R. Giger permeating the aliens, it is a visual masterpiece. Too bad the story itself is pure horror cliche. Once you've seen it, I can't think why you'd ever see it again. Aliens, however, brings Jim Cameron's magic touch. Cameron draws from a wellspring of pain -- which, in his personal relations, he then spreads around to everyone who works with him. But when he's writing, that pain turns into depth of storytelling in a genre -- sci-fi film -- that repels deep truth like an oil slick repels raindrops. Aliens takes its look-and-feel from the original, but it turns it into a story that matters, one you can actually watch a second time.

All About Eve

The queen of the scenery chewers, Bette Davis had this going for her: Absolute generosity as a performer. Like John Malkovich, she did not care whether she looked beautiful or was liked. She was going to act the hell out of whatever part she had. And unlike Meryl Streep, she never gave the feeling of being the "talented girl showing off." There was fury and pain in her performances, and in none more than this one. The weak link? The young actress is too hard-edged to begin with. They needed Debbie Reynolds or Donna Reed in that part. Doesn't matter -- between Bette Davis, the rest of the supporting cast, and sizzling writing, this film deserves to be the classic that everyone says it is.

All the President's Men

In the years since this film (and the book it was based on) we've had plenty of chances to see just how shallow, false, and hypocritical the press can be -- and, alas, how stupid and lazy. But this story gives us the professional myth, the noble hero reporters struggling against impossible odds to bring us the truth that will set us free. It is a testimony to just how good Hoffman and Redford are that in their roles (which are, in fact, nothing roles in the sense that all they do in this movie is find out stuff) that we think they carry the movie and we buy them as heroes. In fact, it is the secondary characters who make this film. Well-created by William Goldman and beautifully acted by an astonishingly talented cast, there are simply no holes in this film. It may be as empty-headed in its left-wing blind faith as any John Wayne film was on the right wing, but ... it's still damn fine filmmaking and you can't stop watching. The only real frustration is: Where were these boys during the Clinton administration? Oh, yeah, laboriously trying to find people to quote about how character doesn't matter.

All the Right Moves

A quiet early Tom Cruise vehicle that turns out to be just about the only truly realistic high school movie ever made. Very, very good, though it lacks the pizzazz that makes you phone up your friends to make them watch it too.

Amadeus

Peter Schaffer's play never recovers from the gimmick, and neither does this movie. Moreover, Tom Hulce's laugh is, if possible, even more grating than Dudley Moore's in Arthur. But Amadeus is on my list (and Arthur isn't!) because F. Murray Abraham and Elizabeth Barridge and Tom Hulce (when he wasn't laughing) made it feel important and true. Oddly enough, however, the emperor, portrayed as an idiot, was right: Too many notes. The flaw in Mozart's work is that it is overdecorated and too often lacks a core. But ... once someone is certified as a genius, anyone who criticizes him is certified as a moron. Including the emperor. And including me. Doesn't matter anyway. It's a melodrama dressed up fine, but it works.

An American in Paris

This is a dumb, self-indulgent movie. Doesn't matter. Lame as the big ballet sequence is, story-wise, I just love watching Kelly dance. Dim-witted as the story is (and man, is it dim), it doesn't matter, because Kelly is so utterly sincere (yeah, I know, he's faking sincerity, but nobody ever did it better). It's not a great musical, really -- nowhere near as good as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or Singin' in the Rain or Oliver! or even Brigadoon, and it would never have worked on stage in the post-Rodgers-and-Hammerstein universe, but I still love watching it. Admittedly while eating or talking, but I still look up, a lot.

Anatomy of a Murder

Without the bitter twist at the end, this would be just another courtroom drama with unusually good acting (including Jimmy Stewart). But there is that twist, and it gives the movie weight enough to last and be worth watching more than once.

Anna and the King

Chow Yun Fat didn't so much make me forget Yul Brynner as make me think of this as the "real" story that the musical was based on. Which is laughable, really -- the digression into a standard Hollywood action plot that was false to the history made me a little sad. Still, it doesn't change the fact that for the first time in recorded history, Jodie Foster played a character I cared about. (No, I take that back. I cared about her in Carny.) Through the coldness, in other words, this script allowed a little warmth to seep through. And the result was a magic onscreen relationship.

Antz

This is Woody Allen's finest performance since Love and Death. It's also a wonderful story with good animation that faces some hard moments with honesty. I like it much more than "A Bug's Life," the other insect movie that came out the same year. And the voice actors gave the animators wonderful performances to work with.

Apollo 13

It's real, we cared, no cheats. Tom Hanks. Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise. Director: Ron Howard at his best. Nuff said.

The Apostle

It's long and my wife fell asleep, but this is a movie, like Tender Mercies, that takes religion seriously as a life-transforming influence, in spite of all the hypocrisy that religion attracts. A beautiful little film -- this is what independent filmmaking is for, to tell true stories that the studios can't tell. Far better to see an independent film like this than the kind that is cynically designed to attract attention in order to advance an actor's or director's career in Hollywood.

Around the World in Eighty Days

It really needs a big screen, because spectacle is an important part of this film. Never mind -- it's still worth seeing. David Niven is the calm center of a grand adventure. You won't think it's the best film you've ever seen -- but you'll enjoy it, if you're not some kind of effete snob <grin>.

As Good As It Gets

Helen Hunt makes this great, though without the magic of Nicholson as the lovable son-of-a-bitch it wouldn't have worked. Hunt is the reality, the core that makes us love the story. And she is, bar none, the only actress today fit to make screwball comedies. Nobody else can handle the dialogue and maintain the credibility.

Awakenings

This is, in many ways, just a remake of Charly -- the story movement is the same. But it's a good remake of Charly. And it's the writing and acting of the Robin Williams part, not the De Niro part, that makes this movie work.

Backbeat

I couldn't care less about the early days of the Beatles, but this film won me over.

Back to the Future

Logically, it's so full of holes that you could use it as a colander. But in case anyone forgets why we loved Michael J. Fox, this movie is the perpetual reminder. He carries this film, beginning to end, with earnestness and genuine good will.

Back to School

Rodney Dangerfield? Yep. This was the perfect movie for him, with his lack of acting talent so complete it approaches perfection. Because he could simply do his shtick and let the world move on around him, and his obliviousness to the other actors worked because he's rich, and that's how rich people are! This was funny, it nailed academic pretension, and Sally Kellerman is as sexy as an actress has ever been on screen.

Bad Day at Black Rock

Spencer Tracy in a truly scary film about guilty people closing ranks to protect each other from the consequences of their own evil acts. You know, like the elite media and the liberal establishment closing ranks to protect the Clintons from punishment for their crimes.

Bad Lieutenant

A loathsome story about a loathsome character, you will not get a moment's pleasure from this film. But it's undeniably brilliant and deeply moral -- it never loses track of what good and evil are, and the difference between them. Also, our first cinematic glimpse of Harvey Keitel's penis. Much better than the anti-moral The Piano, by the way. Bad Lieutenant proves a film can be edgy and indecorous without being indecent or morally blind. The Piano proves that you get more Oscars by only pretending to be serious.

Bad News Bears

Walter Matthau and a cast of great kids in yet another losers-come-from-behind sports story that works because of fun, irreverent writing and a cast that makes it all seem absolutely real. Still fun, even now that "booger-eatin' moron" sounds tame. (Yeah, it was once shocking to hear a kid say that in a movie.)

Barefoot in the Park

Redford and Fonda are wonderful actors. And yet ... Redford was still the wrong actor for the part. I don't know who the right actor would have been, but what the heck, it doesn't matter. The material is still so strong that it works anyway. Mostly because Fonda, in this period, in a comedy, was simply the best around. For that time, she was the comedienne, the way Helen Hunt is now.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Charles Laughton dominates this film as the autocratic father of the poet Elizabeth Barrett, who is courted by Robert Browning and finally takes her freedom from the bleak, love-starved house where her ill health had imprisoned her. Without ever showing anything or even saying anything sexual, the deep sickness of the father's love for Elizabeth is made disturbingly clear. Usually in films I want the cute little dog to die, but this film so won me over that I actually rejoiced when they saved the dog. (What? Did I mix this review with Beethoven II? No, trust me, there's a cute little dog, and it absolutely works within the context of the story.)

Beauty and the Beast (Disney)

The first of the great modern Disney animated musicals, it proved how good it was by also working on Broadway -- the songs really were good enough for the stage, unlike the earlier, Disney-era musicals. They found the right voices, too. Rebecca Luker is as good as it gets.

Becket

The "other" play about Henry II, brought to film with Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton. The reason why it is merely almost-great? The tragic miscasting. We have to love Becket. Nobody can ever love Richard Burton in a film. Nobody can ever not love Peter O'Toole. The parts should have been reversed, and then this would be a classic. But who cares? It's still good.

Bell, Book, and Candle

This is the original dark comedy from which the perky TV show Bewitched was ripped off. James Stewart moves into the same building as the entrancing Kim Novak and only gradually learns that she is a witch and her impish little brother, Jack Lemmon, is a warlock. The linkage of witches with beat culture is apt satire -- if only the beats had had that much to offer! -- and the traditional love story is made fresh by the story twists and by the fine performances.

Ben-Hur

They don't make sprawling epics like this anymore, and when they do, there are spaceships in them. When professors teach American literature, they usually leave out the fact that Lew Wallace's novel Ben-Hur was the bestselling American novel of the second half of the 19th century, and was adapted to stage and screen again and again. This, however, was the last adaptation ... and should be, because I doubt it could be done better. Before Patrick Stewart, there was Charlton Heston in the will-of-steel hero role. And, unlike Gladiator, which is a mere shadow of this movie, there is a real religion, shared by most of its contemporary audience, which gave the story substance. There are a few excesses, but in fact this movie still works.

Beverly Hills Cop

The first action comedy where Eddie Murphy carried the film alone. Without him, no movie. With him, great fun.

Big Business

Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin do Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors in a contemporary city-vs.-country farce with some wonderful, well-written twists.

The Big Chill

Lawrence Kasdan's "Breakfast Club"? Well, sort of. Glenn Close provides the spiritual center of a story about old college friends who gather after many intervening years for the funeral of one of their number who has killed himself. Kevin Costner played that part, in flashback I assume, but it ended up on the cutting room floor. He is not missed. Few in this story are actually likeable, but the portrayal of the dynamics among them is dead on. And in case you wondered, when you get back with college or high school friends you do immediately revert to being whatever character you were when you were young together. It can be a very disturbing experience.

Big Daddy

Adam Sandler is this year's whipping boy, though why Jim Carrey is treated like a comic genius and Adam Sandler, who, unlike Carrey, can actually sustain a restrained and believable character, is mercilessly trashed I don't know. Big Daddy is a comedy with a vestigial premise but very good execution, and it does not go for the easy ending. I enjoyed every minute of it. So sue me.

The Big Easy

This independent film is one of the best thrillers I've seen. It was here that I realized that Dennis Quaid could actually carry a movie, and that Ellen Barkin could be a plausible love interest. You don't hear much about it these days, but it's worth watching just to remember that you can do thrillers with actual characters in them.

The Big Night

It's over the top, and in the end the story evaporates, but this tragicomedy about food as art is great fun.

Billy Budd

Terence Stamp and Peter Ustinov break your heart as the captain and the sailor fatally bound together by the law of the sea.

Biloxi Blues

When Woody Allen turned serious, we discovered there was nothing there. When Neil Simon turned serious, we found that he actually had a few stories to tell. Sort of a Jewish No Time for Sergeants, this film leans heavily on Matthew Broderick to carry it over the parts that otherwise wouldn't make the transition from stage to screen, and I must say I'm really bored now with scenes of "the virgin's first time" -- it's now about as interesting as watching baby's first poo-poo on the big-boy toilet: thrilling for those actually involved, mildly distasteful for everyone else. Still, the movie is enjoyable, especially when linked with its prequel, Brighton Beach Memoir.

The Bishop's Wife

When this was remade as The Preacher's Wife, it was wrecked by Whitney Houston's star power -- she couldn't even stand to give the little girl one single solo, but had to give her stage fright so she could sing that song, too. So forget the Streisandesque selfishness that killed the remake, and go back to Loretta Young, Cary Grant, and David Niven in this charming, sometimes moving story of an angel sent to earth to help an Anglican bishop remember what his religion is supposed to be about.

Blade Runner

I don't think it's one of the great sci-fi films, but it's a pretty good one, stolen by Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah away from Harrison Ford and Sean Young (who are, however, pretty good). The scene on the rooftop, where Hauer's character decides to be human before dying, is the reason to watch the show.

Blame It on Rio

This is film makes sex both dirty and cute at the same time, and Joseph Bologna's hammish acting seems out of place, but quite against my will I found myself enjoying Michael Caine, Demi Moore, and Michelle Johnson and ... I admit it ... the Brazilian scenery made me homesick.

Blast from the Past

Only one thing lets this movie overcome the politically correct "message" that has poisoned so many other films that trash the values of the 1950s: Brendan Fraser. His earnest good will overcome the occasional nastiness of the script so that I come away remembering only the many good parts.

Body Heat

The film that made Kathleen Turner a star. Oh, yes, there are also other actors in it. Lawrence Kasdan's twisty script is wonderful, and when William Hurt is left holding the bag, you can't help but shake your head and admire the wicked beautiful witch who did it to him.

Born Yesterday (1950 Judy Holliday version)

Stay away from the sad little Melanie Griffith remake and rent Working Girl so you can see her at her working-class best. Then get the Judy Holliday/William Holden version of Born Yesterday and enjoy yourself as much I do every time I see it. Judy Holliday apparently had a limited range, but this movie is entirely within her boundaries and she's great.

A Boy and His Dog

Don Johnson's first and best film role, in an adaptation of a Harlan Ellison story. As soon as they go underground we get the stock sci-fi crap, but everything that happens above ground is terrific.

Braveheart

You know, I don't actually care much about Scottish freedom, but by the end of this movie I thought it was worth dying for. Mel Gibson is at his heroic best, and the critics who sneered at him were really just admitting they were too uptight to let themselves get completely into the film. Surrender to it, and you'll get the closest thing to Ben-Hur-sized epic that can be made these days. Gibson established himself as one of the great filmmakers with this movie. I only wish he would direct more -- though I do not wish that he would act less. There's the contradiction ...

Brazil

Terry Gilliam's almost-best movie, marred only by an Owl-Creek-Bridge style it-was-all-a-dream-before-dying ending. As a brilliant vision of an alternate present, filled with ductwork and viciously ineffective plastic surgery, there is no better film. It's this kind of work that makes me look forward to Gilliam's next film, and the next after that.

Breakdown

I have never actually enjoyed Kurt Russell on film, not even when he was a child actor -- something about that jaw makes me want to see somebody bigger than me smack him and make him cry. But that personal idiosyncracy is easily overcome in this paranoid thriller about a man whose wife is abducted and can't get anybody to believe that she didn't just leave him. Usually the ending of a movie like this fails to live up to the set-up, but this one stays both tense and (mostly) believable right up to the end. And they never forget to keep the relationship between husband and wife -- and between the villain and his family -- interesting and important.

The Breakfast Club

Now I can see the seams and stitches, but when I first saw this movie I thought I'd been taken back to high school. Of course, the nerdy guy is the only one who ends up without a girl -- Hughes can't get away from that cliche, leaving the intellectual as a pathetic loser -- but this movie still reminds me of what John Hughes could do back when he still had some connection with truth.

Breaking Away

For me, competitive bicycling is only slightly behind bass-fishing and bowling as a soporific, but this is really the story of kids trying to find a meaning for their lives in a world where the old order is disappearing. They can't become stonecutters like their fathers were, and they don't belong in the university, either. This was nominated for best picture by the Academy, not because it had a chance of winning -- it's way too small and quiet for that -- but to salute the beauty of this simple story well told.

Bridge on the River Kwai

Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa go head to head in this drama that pits duty and loyalty against pride in one's creation. The film makes the mistake of thinking William Holden is the hero, but we never needed any of the scenes outside the camp for this story to work.

Brigadoon

OK, Gene Kelly can't sing and Cyd Charisse can't act, but who cares? This Lerner and Loewe musical has some of my favorite songs and heck, I directed my wife as Fiona in this musical and fell in love with her during rehearsals, so it will always mean more to me than just the film itself.

Brighton Beach Memoirs

An almost-too-neat memory play, the heartbreakingly beautiful performances by Blythe Danner and Judith Ivey lift it above the cliches that Simon seems oblivious to.

Broadcast News

Albert Brooks is unbearable in films he wrote himself, but in this James Brooks tour-de-force he gets some of the funniest and truest moments of his career. William Hurt and Holly Hunter are also wonderful in this darkly funny satire of the world of broadcast journalism. Hunter deserved her Oscar, and William Hurt didn't get credit enough for how hard it was to play a semi-dim but earnest-seeming character. (True, Al Gore has played that part his whole career, but he isn't actually acting.) There are moments when the film seems to think these characters are more important than they really are, but most of the time the story stays in perspective and it has moments that are deeply, painfully funny, especially Brooks's flop-sweat and Jack Nicholson's take on the cutbacks at the network.

A Bug's Life

The other animated insect movie of 1998, this one is not as claustrophobic as Antz, but not as clever, either. Still, it's funny and watchable over and over -- an important thing when you have a child controlling the VCR.

Bugsy

There are times when Warren Beatty, directing himself, comes perilously close to being as self-serving as Barbra Streisand, but in the end he never quite goes over the edge. The real Bugsy Malone was more vicious and smaller of soul than this film version, but when you ignore fact and stick with the myth, this is probably the life that Bugsy thought he was living.

Cactus Flower

Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman, and Goldie Hawn are such delightful performers (classic moment: Bergman saying, "When will you be sure?") that the thinness of the story and its shallow take on sixties culture are easily overlooked. Hawn got her Oscar for this, mainly for being luminous. But it's Matthau's movie.

The Caine Mutiny

Fred MacMurray's finest film ... as the bad guy, in a supporting role. This movie is not afraid to take sides, but with Humphrey Bogart as the irrational-seeming captain of the U.S.S. Caine, it forces you to have sympathy for everybody.

The Canterville Ghost

Robert Young and Margaret O'Brien are wonderfully sweet, but of course the movie belongs to Charles Laughton as the ghost in an absolute tour-de-force. As a war movie, it's silly; as a character study, it's a joke; as a farce, it's not funny enough. But as a comedy of humors, it's wonderful fun with charming performances and I love it.

Captain Blood

The swashbuckling pirate movie that made Errol Flynn's career. The novel by Rafael Sabatini is wonderful, and the movie is not as good -- I want a remake! -- but being not as good as the book is a sin committed by many good films, and this one is fun. People forget that pirates were never cute, and this story works in large part because in his heart, Captain Blood is never really a pirate, just a country doctor who got a raw deal from a soulless government. It will work better when it's filmed with an actor who is believable as a country doctor and only then becomes a pirate. But in the meantime, this black-and-white shwashbuckler will do just fine.

Casablanca

Come on, do I need to say anything? It doesn't mean as much to me as it does to some people, but I still enjoy it enormously.

Cast Away

Tom Hanks manages to hold the screen, not just in the difficult solo section (and I, for one, did not like the volleyball device), but also in the much-harder-to-bring-off opening sequences where he has to establish his relationship with Helen Hunt and show himself as a time-obsessed Fedex troubleshooter without making us dislike him. Considering that my idea of hell would be working for the character Hanks portrays at the beginning, Hanks's real miracle is that we like him and believe that the Helen Hunt character could be in love with him. And the ending is honest -- shockingly so -- giving us closure and, yes, satisfaction without Spielbergian fakery.

Cat Ballou

Lee Marvin's overdue but not undeserved Oscar came for his double role in this film. Jane Fonda and Dobie Gillis are wonderful fun in this movie, but it's Lee Marvin that made it unforgettable. "Happy Birthday to You," that's the moment that sends this movie over the top -- who the hell cares that the song wasn't even written till long after the period of the movie.

Charade

The twists and turns in this plot were the perfect vehicle for the two most beautiful actors ever on the screen: Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It's funny, it's scary, and we love both characters so much we really want them to be together and not get killed -- essential to a thriller, though it is too often forgotten by those who cast movies.

Charlie's Angels

This should have been a stupid movie. Instead, it's smart and funny and exciting. Now and then Hollywood surprises me and, in a project that should be predictably cynical, they actually put in some inventiveness and, yes, class. I can watch it again. I can even watch Drew Barrymore! And Cameron Diaz's casting as the nebbishy one was truly inspired. The action is hokey, but no more so than in the better Bond movies, so within the limits of its genre, this is a terrific film.

The Chase (1993, Charlie Steen)

Not the overblown Brando film of 1966. This one got almost no notice when it came out in '91, and it is, in fact, slight. But Charlie Sheen is very likeable, and the relationship that develops in the car between kidnapper and kidnappee is charmingly sweet.

Chinatown

I was devastated in the slapping scene near the end when we find out the truth. Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway are magnificent, and with John Huston as the evil root of the story, this melodrama rises above sordidness and has real power.

The Client

The best of the Grisham-based flicks, this story of a child in jeopardy being saved by his lawyer is made by Susan Sarandon's and Brad Renfro's wonderfully believable acting. Will Patton is also a master at making small parts memorable.

Clueless

Next to Sense and Sensibility, the best of the Jane Austen-based features of the nineties. Alicia Silverstone is fine, but when you're telling the story of Emma it's always the guy on whose shoulders the story rests, since he's the moral center of the tale, and in this film Paul Rudd absolutely brings it off. Amy Heckerling actually understood Austen so well that she could translate her novel Emma into nineties American culture more faithfully than the movie Emma was able to do within the original period.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (original cut)

Sorry, but I thought the mashed potatoes were inspired and had to be there, and the silly time-wasting when-you-wish-upon-a-star guided tour of the alien ship in the director's cut was just dumb. The original cut is the great ufo movie. The director's cut just turns it toward Spielberg's standard crapola. This is a guy who needs to have somebody else edit his films.

Coal Miner's Daughter

Sissy Spacek was brave to do her own singing in a biopic about a singer, but she brings it off absolutely, even into the boring parts after Loretta Lynn achieves success. Tommy Lee Jones is her equal partner every step of the way in his role as her husband. When I saw this film, I did not love country music. Since seeing it, I do.

Con Air

Despite the cheap plot tricks and the tacky Las Vegas splashdown, I liked this movie, mostly because of Nicholas Cage and John Cusack, who lent some gravitas to a film in a usually-dumb genre.

Cool Hand Luke

It's hard to rewatch this movie because it's so sad, but Paul Newman is that rare thing, an actor who can be a star and play a believable, unaffected character at the same time, and that's why this movie holds up far better than most star vehicles of its time. Newman was always a better actor than Brando, because he never let mannerisms come between his character and the audience.

The Coneheads

All the movies derived from Saturday Night Live characters have been stupid, but this was the least stupid. So why is it Mike Myers's lame stuff that made millions, while this one pretty much tanked? My favorite character in this: Chris Farley as the boyfriend. Farley was always so exuberant and heartfelt that you could even buy him as the romantic lead.

The Court Jester

"Get it? Got it! Good!"

"The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle. The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true."

Danny Kaye's best movie. Like all good parodies, it is an excellent example of the very tradition it is satirizing. And so, long after that tradition is dead, it's still a wonderfully watchable movie.

Crocodile Dundee

A funny take on America, still lots of fun. "This is a knife." Nuff said.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

If this movie had been filmed exactly the same, shot for shot, in English with caucasian actors, it would not have got much attention except for the flying effects. Only because we feel ourselves getting plunged into another culture does the magic really work. And it does work. Chow Yun Fat has magnificent screen presence, Michelle S??? is luminous and powerful as the mature woman who loves him, and Ang Lee's direction is inspired. When they first started walking up walls and flying, I fell in love with the movie. It helps, though, to know that yes, indeed, she does die when she leaps from the bridge. (Not a spoiler -- this is pure denouement; the climax and ending are earlier.)

Cyrano de Bergerac (Depardieu)

Doesn't matter that it's in French. Depardieu is the only actor ever to make this flamboyant character really work for me. He is brilliant. The film is an American-style film, too, which was the right choice -- no artiness here, just a straightforward telling of the great Rostand story. I cried. And I'm sorry, you just can't translate that wonderful last line -- "Mon panache."

Dances with Wolves

We've come to see Kevin Costner in a different light in the years since this film was made, and it's hard to keep Waterworld and Robin Hood and The Postman from interfering with our ability to rewatch Dances with Wolves. Now, more skeptical, we see the politically correct sentimentalizing of the Indians for what it really is. But the movie worked when it was new, and it will work again years from now when we forget what an annoying figure Costner has become.

Dark Star

This is an amateurish, silly film. But when you realize that the Star Wars parodies in it were done before Star Wars was created, you begin to understand that despite the low budget, John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon already were on the road to reinventing science fiction film.

Darling Lily

Julie Andrews and Rock Hudson in a musical spy thriller? Yes, everything you fear is wrong with this movie. But it's fun if you just switch your brain off and enjoy it.

Dave

Political correctness does not manage to kill this charming political movie, mostly because Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver really are wonderful, and Ben Kingsley as the vice-president offers a near-cameo that nevertheless makes you feel that all is right with the world.

Days of Heaven

Ponderously slow (it suffers from Out-of-Africa syndrome, with scenery endlessly but beautifully filmed), the story is strong and the overall effect symphonic.

Dead Again

Kenneth Branagh's best film, a clever and entertaining murder mystery.

Dead Man Walking

This movie is scrupulously fair to the people who want Sean Penn's character dead -- a surprise, given the dimwitted political correctness of Robbins's and Sarandon's public statements over the years. Maybe it was the nun whose story was being told who kept this film on track. The fact is that this is the most scrupulously honest and heart-wrenching death-row story I've ever seen on film, and I believe this is Sean Penn's best acting, ever. The score is unforgettably powerful within the context of the film -- and unlistenable outside it, that's how perfectly they were melded. Tim Robbins proved himself a good director with this movie, but it was his script that won my respect.

The Dead Zone

The best of the movies made from Stephen King's fantasy novels (only Misery, not a fantasy, is better), Christopher Walken does a marvelous job as the man whose life has been robbed from him twice over, in exchange for a psychic gift that he doesn't want. Martin Sheen was exactly the right actor to cast in the role of the politician. Would that in filming West Wing these days he would remember how he felt about hypocrisy when he played this guy.

Deathtrap

If you can remember the difference between this movie and Sleuth, the other two-character plot-twist duel, then you have a better memory than I have. Still, the one is not a remake of the other, and Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier make this movie as wonderful as Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve made the other one. Oh, no, wait -- I've got it backward.

The Deer Hunter

This film is not about what it pretends to be about. It's not about a bunch of American steelworkers being transformed by the war. It's about one moment with Christopher Walken and a gun pointed at his head. The film exists to create that moment and for no other reason. That is reason enough.

The Defiant Ones

Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier chained together as they escape from a chain gang. All the obvious racial issues are dealt with, but it manages to be a terrific movie instead of a politically correct tract. Maybe because political correctness had not yet become the established church of the American elite.

Deliverance

James Dickey's novel is savage, and so is this film, and I find it unbearable to know that Ned Beatty's perfect performance has been cruelly used against him in his career since making this film. Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds are also excellent in this story of a bunch of macho city guys going down a river in country that doesn't have much use for them. I still listen to the soundtrack album for the duelling banjos, too.

Destry Rides Again (James Stewart)

The myth of the gentle lawman, played to the hilt by James Stewart. The title is silly and, fundamentally, so is the story, but while I watch it, I buy it completely.

Dial M for Murder

Ray Milland and Grace Kelly in a tight little murder plot in which the intended victim is convicted of the crime.

Dick Tracy

Warren Beatty's take on the comic book hero got a drubbing at the box office, but I thought then and think now that it's a terrific, resonant film that simply was cut too long. Madonna is actually enjoyable and sympathetic for the first and only time in her film career, and Mandy Patinkin almost manages to steal the movie out from under Warren Beatty. Great fun interspersed with real sweetness despite the ponderousness of the edit.

Die Hard

No Bruce Willis, no Die Hard. The characterization is shallow and phony and by the numbers, and the villain, while momentarily original (we pretend to be terrorists, but we're just after the money), is just Basil Rathbone all over again. What makes this movie terrific is the fact that Bruce Willis, almost alone of the action stars, can do dialogue. He makes lame lines sing. In fact, he is one of the best actors in the Gary Cooper tradition -- he can say heroic things, and it's ok because you can sense that he doesn't take himself at all seriously when he says them, even though he takes the noble ideals very seriously indeed. If I were casting any of the great Gary Cooper roles today, it's Bruce Willis I'd look for to fill those shoes. Don't laugh -- I know he doesn't look right. Die Hard is that rare thing -- an action film I can watch again and again.

Die Harder (Die Hard II)

A surprisingly good sequel, carried (as always) by Bruce Willis but also well written and with a strong supporting cast. How this movie was pitched: Die Hard on a plane. (That's a joke, of course. It was actually pitched by saying, "Bruce says he'll do another." But they went ahead and wrote a good script anyway.)

Dinosaur (animated)

I feared something boneheaded and dull like Land before Time; instead, we got a fast-moving, exciting, and endearing movie that adults can actually enjoy watching along with their kids.

The Dirty Dozen

The ultimate caper film. When you have a cast this large, everybody has to be a stereotype just so you can tell them apart. But Lee Marvin, as the champion of a troop of losers desperately trying to save their own lives as they help win the war, does a brilliant job in the ultimate father role. This movie could have died, as most "training" movies die, when the training is over and the trainees get out in the real world. (Think "Stripes." Think "Private Benjamin.") But this screenwriter pulled no punches. Not only do guys we like die, but also they do a hideous thing -- they pen up and slaughter a whole bunch of enemy generals and their wives. With not a backward glance, either. It helps that the audience knows that no matter what you do to Nazis, they deserve it. But the fact is, it's still horrible and yet you recognize that this is war, and in war you do horrible things. (I remember the people whining about how awful it was that in the Gulf War, our bulldozers buried Iraqi soldiers alive. To which I answered, Oh, should we have been "fair" and given them a chance to shoot back? What do they think war is, a football game, where you mustn't interfere with the receiver or step offsides? Oh, yeah, they do.) A truly great film.

Doc Hollywood

The jokes are thin, but Michael J. Fox makes it work. I was charmed at the time and when it pops up I keep watching.

Dog Day Afternoon

Normally I don't cotton to ugly films about ugly people doing ugly things, but Al Pacino's passion, John Cazale's bleak innocence, and Chris Sarandon's portrayal of utter selfishness make this black-comedy-of-errors work.

$$ (Dollars)

Warren Beatty's and Goldie Hawn's caper movie. I love caper movies and this is a really good one.

The Dollmaker (TV original) Jane Fonda

I can't watch it again. This story of a woman struggling to support her family tears me apart too much. But if you have never watched it, you should watch it at least once. I think this may be Jane Fonda's finest moment.

Down and Out in Beverly Hills

This career-resurrecting movie is still funny, truthful, and marvelously entertaining, as homeless Nick Nolte enters and transforms the lives of a wealthy family played to the hilt by Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler.

Dragonslayer

Peter MacNicol, now best known for his comic-angst roles on Chicago Hope and Allie McBeal, was a wonderful sorcerer's apprentice in this fantasy movie that deserves to be better remembered than it is. The director, Matthew Robbins, co-wrote it with producer Hal Barwood, and I salute them for making something real in a film genre usually treated with contempt for believability.

Driving Miss Daisy

Politically correct critics trash this as a "massa" movie -- but that's because they're idiots. This movie takes the class- and race-conscious culture of the South during the transition away from segregation and shows it to us with all its ironies and dangers and contradictions, and then goes a step further, showing us how good people eventually are able to transcend the barriers their culture tries to place between them. The ending of this movie is as tender and beautiful a thing as has ever been shown on film, and Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy both personify love and dignity.

Dr. Zhivago

A sprawling epic that glorifies adultery, and I don't like that, but what still draws me to this film is the broader canvas -- the powerful evocation of the majesty of Russia even as it was being torn apart by revolution and counterrevolution.

Dumb & Dumber

It is not Jim Carrey who makes this movie work, it's Jeff Daniels, who is never over the top but always so honest in his acting that he allows us to remain within this outrageous story. The Farrelly brothers' script (with Bennet Yellin) shows us funny things that no one ever dared to show before (like the way snot freezes on your face when it's really really cold) and the whole sequence about the bird is still brilliantly hilarious. In the end, the story does collapse under its own weight, but what a ride!

Dune (multi-part TV)

It takes a miniseries to allow room for a sprawling story like this to be told. There are some flaws -- I still think nobody has cast Paul Atreides well -- but this version is powerful and effective, capturing much, though not all, of the power of the story. Certainly the worm effects work better this time around, and the Harkonnens are far more effective as villains. The doctor is a little too invisible before he makes his decisive move, so he feels like he's coming out of the blue, but on the other hand the Bene Gesserits are marvelously created and acted, and the navigators are both intelligible and fascinating. Worth the hours of watching, believe me, especially when you rent it and can skip all the commercials.

Eddie and the Cruisers

I generally have no patience with rock-and-roll films, but this one was on cable and therefore had a chance to grow on me. Misty and romantic, it's better than you expect, better than it looks while you're watching it.

Elephant Man

In spite of the oppressively arty direction (Mr. Lynch, we don't need meaningless shots of actual elephants just because the movie is called "elephant man"), John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins deliver brilliant performances in a truthful, beautiful story.

Elmer Gantry

I get down on Hollywood for its savagery toward religious people, but there really are profiteering hypocrites in the religion biz, and this movie is both powerful and fair in satirizing them. One of Burt Lancaster's best performances.

The Emerald Forest

The phony native language is obviously just English with some letters babelized, but as a Rousseauian back-to-the-natural-man story, this Boorman film is a masterpiece. It moves slowly at times, but it's the right pace, and I found and find it beautiful.

Empire of the Sun

Spielberg's adaptation of this J.G. Ballard memoir of a European boy trapped in Japanese custody during World War II is haunting and beautiful. It's Spielberg's only really honest movie, and apparently its lack of financial success sent him scurrying back to the world of safe, moneymaking bushwa. But this film is worth seeing in its own right, and not just as a marker of the filmmaker Spielberg might have been in an alternate universe.

Enchanted April

A delicate yet biting period love story/satire. Can you do all that at the same time? Yep.

Erin Brockovich

Julia Roberts's best work, with a brilliantly balanced script by Susannah Grant. Grant never reaches into the Hollywood bag of tricks, so that the romance and the legal struggle remain real and personal. A reminder that ordinary people can do great things -- without necessarily becoming wonderful souls in the meantime. Of course, given the way the Brockovich character is portrayed, Roberts is costumed in such a way that never for a moment are you allowed to forget how many breasts she has (two), but the film remains completely asexual. Instead, it is about deeper kinds of love and need. In an admittedly thin year, this is my pick among the nominees to get the best picture Oscar. I'll be shocked if it doesn't win Julia Roberts her overdue statue.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

Formulaic, manipulative ... and wonderful. Henry Thomas and C. Thomas Howell, who can act, and Drew Barrymore, who can't but is really really cute, steal this movie from the mechanical puppet. For the heart-that-lights up, Spielberg should be pilloried, and the Reese's Pieces remain in the movie as a permanent marker of M&M-Mars's short-sightedness as capitalists, but if you turn off your brain and live in the world of the film, it's still a terrific ride.

Ever After

Drew Barrymore's wonderful "feminist" Cinderella. Some of the updating works (I especially like having one of the stepsisters not be awful after all), and Doug-Ray Scott is so charming, Drew Barrymore so sweet in her artless (we're too kind to say "talentless") way, that we easily forget that dreadful revenge ending that has Cinderella punishing her stepmother instead of the king doing it, so that it is private spite rather than public justice. The feminism is not hateful, as in Thelma and Louise, but instead is teasing and fun, as when Cinderella bodily carries her prince out of harms way.

Excalibur

There are two terrific Arthur movies, Disney's animated The Sword in the Stone and this one. The script is an incoherent mess -- Boorman ends up almost throwing images at us -- but amid the chaos there is magic, and if the characters quickly become icons, that's not inappropriate for one of the great legendary tales. Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, and Helen Mirren are all terrific.

The Fabulous Baker Boys

Michelle Pfeiffer rules this movie the way Marisa Tomei rules My Cousin Vinny -- it's a star performance. The story itself is rather thin and frankly, it's hard to care about the brothers Baker. But when Pfeiffer enters the picture, it zooms. Oddly, though, she does it without ever, for a single moment, being what I could call "sexy." It really is lumens, not heat, that she generates.

Fame

Fantasia

Fargo

The Farmer's Daughter

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

A Few Good Men

The Firm

Cruise is good, but I watch this for Holly Hunter and the first-rate Grisham plot about decent but flawed people trying to find their way through a moral quagmire that soon becomes a nightmare.

First Blood (the original Rambo movie)

A Fish Called Wanda

The Flame and the Arrow

Burt Lancaster's first movie, and in some ways his best. Yes, he has had a long, brave, distinguished career -- a man who could have been the Schwarzenegger of his time, but instead became something better -- the action hero who could act and move us and make us laugh whenever he wanted to. This swashbuckler may well be the best ever made. All the cliches of the genre are here -- but with such class and verve that they feel new even now after I've seen the film a dozen times.

The Flight of the Phoenix

Forever Young

Forrest Gump

48 Hours

Frequency

The Fugitive

Full Metal Jacket

Like The Deer Hunter, this one makes my list for one scene and one scene only: In the lavatory. The rest of the film is fine, if slow. But for earning that unspeakable moment of confrontation, a moment of pure film that could not exist in any other medium, this film deserves to be watched and remembered.

Funny Girl

Galaxy Quest

Gaslight

Get Shorty

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Ghostbusters

Give 'Em Hell, Harry! (James Whitmore's one-man show)

Gladiator

Yeah, it's a mere shadow of Ben-Hur, mostly because the religion is fake and the issues at stake are pretty shallow. It wants to have the personal force of, say, A Lion in Winter, but won't allow the characters a chance to develop. No matter. It's still a grand show, and never mind that you can't actually walk from Germany to Africa (there has to be a boat in there somewhere) or that we know how that particular Caesar died, and it wasn't in the arena. This one may be painted on tissue rather than engraved in stone, but it's pretty and entertaining while you're actually watching.

Glory

Beautiful, moving film, but too sad to bear to see it again.

The Godfather

Coppola's normal heavy-handed style works well in this film, where the sheer evil of it gives it enough mass to bear Coppola's ungentle touch. Pacino gives the most subdued performance of his career, and James Caan his most sympathetic one. For me, though, it's in the smaller roles -- Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, and many others -- that this film becomes a world that can enthrall the audience for hours.  Morally, though, the film is bankrupt, only to be saved by ...

The Godfather II

The sequel that redeemed the original. Audiences cheered the baptismal massacre at the end of The Godfather, but this film, as it shows Michael Corleone becoming the ruthless life-snuffing dictator, brings you back to reality, that this family's power comes from killing and not minding that you killed. Pacino is good, but the film is stolen by Robert DeNiro in an all-Italian-language performance that provides the explanation for all the rest of the story.

The Gods Must Be Crazy

I can't make those clicks in mid-word, can you? But to this guy, it's his native language. Linguistically fascinating. Oh, yes, and the story is a lot of fun. It has the look and feel of a particularly inspired homemade movie -- my adventures in Africa -- and it's a delight from beginning to magical end.

The Good-bye Girl

Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason went on from here to prove themselves two of the most overwrought actors in film history (her tears run by faucet with an amazing amount of water pressure behind them) but in this movie by Neil Simon -- one of his best scripts -- they work together perfectly. The story of a young actor who sublets an apartment only to find that the previous renter's girlfriend and her daughter are still living there is paper thin, but Simon's trademark snappy dialogue keeps us enjoying and Dreyfuss's and Mason's most believable performances keep us caring. And Dreyfuss's role-within-a-role as a gay Richard III is one of the great moments of film comedy.

Good-bye, Mr. Chips

The Good Son

The Great Escape

The Great Waldo Pepper

A good small film all the way through, but the unforgettable moment is when Susan Sarandon forgets to hold on. Maybe if she hadn't been stealing the movie it would not come as such a shock. Hard to steal a movie from Robert Redford, but she does it.

Green Card

Andie MacDowell, the most wooden actress to have a career who wasn't blond (cf. Tippy Hedren, Cybill Shepherd), does not wreck this movie about a "green card" marriage that turns into love. It's Gerard Depardieu's insanely wonderful performance that makes this work. To be fair to MacDowell, one does not watch her the way one does Hedren, with horrified fascination that anyone would ever put this lifeless thing on the screen. MacDowell's woodenness merely causes her to disappear, and when the rest of the cast is strong enough, it doesn't hurt for her place on screen to be vacant.

Greystoke

The best -- dare I say "only good"? -- Tarzan movie.

Grosse Point Blank

A small movie that was hyped to be big, and so looked like a flop when in fact it was great fun. If it had been promoted like Heathers it would have been a wonderful discovery. Instead, we expected Hollywood and didn't really get it, except in the lame climax scene. Doesn't matter. John Cusack as the hit man who comes home to his high school reunion and finds his old house demolished is a sort of male Romy-and-Michelle that for me worked and still works.

Harold and Maude

Calculatedly edgy comedy about a semi-suicidal young man who finds joie de vivre through a relationship with an irreverent older woman, I saw this first when I was young enough not to see through it, and now I still enjoy it, if only for my nostalgia for my own younger self.

Heartburn

Heathers

A grim film about the rebel who turns out to be evil to the core, and the enamored girl who realizes that bad as the high school tyrants are, they may not deserve to be slaughtered by a psycho who has appointed himself their judge. Winona Ryder as the "normal person" and Christian Slater chewing scenery as the wacko -- both of them doing what they do best.

High Noon

His Girl Friday

Holiday Inn

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Honeymoon in Vegas

Nicholas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker face the same "my money for your wife" dilemma as in that more-famous Robert Redford and Demi Moore movie, but this one is funny and fast-moving and entertaining, and this one has the skydiving Elvises.

Hope and Glory

Horatio Hornblower (multi-part TV)

The Horse Whisperer

I hated the book. The book was stupid, dishonest, manipulative, and pretentious. I dreaded the movie, because Redford is not immune to these temptations himself. But the Richard LaGravenese script healed all the problems of the book. All of them. So the resulting story is moving, beautiful, and honest. What the book should have been. And with that script, Redford was able to prove that even old coots can play romantic leads.

The Hot Rock

Housekeeping

How Green Was My Valley

How to Steal a Million

Hud

The Hunt for Red October

The Hurricane (Denzel Washington, boxer Rubin Carter)

I, Claudius (multipart television)

An Ideal Husband

I'll Do Anything

Independence Day (1983)

Dianne Wiest is unforgettable in this sometimes boring, sometimes deeply moving film. Her character's story steals the film and became the indelible experience that put this film on my list.

Independence Day (1996)

Great promos got us into the theaters, a terrific roller-coaster ride of a story kept us hooting and laughing and saying, "Cool!" through the whole thing. Unfortunately, on second and later viewings the joy of that first time fades and you're left with some of the worst dialogue and shallowest characters ever put on film. So when I'm in the mood, I love it; and when I'm not, it's absolutely unwatchably bad. That's why this is on my list of favorites -- and also on my "Movies that made a lot of money that are pretty horrible" list.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The Indian in the Cupboard

I had never read (still haven't) the children's book this was based on, so I had no complaints. It was entertaining and adults can enjoy the repeated viewings that children often subject them to.

Inherit the Wind

In the Line of Fire

In the Heat of the Night

The Iron Giant

It Could Happen to You

Rosie Perez plays the wife so nastily that you almost expect her to twirl a moustache before the movie's over. That flaw aside, however, this Nicholas Cage/Bridget Fonda romance works swimmingly, and if the public-contributions ending feels implausible and contrived, aw, what the hell, the movie's over by then anyway and it was a fun ride getting there, wasn't it?

It Happened One Night

The Jagged Edge

A good legal thriller, with Jeff Bridges as a man on trial as a serial killer and Glenn Close his firebrand attorney. The ending may be predictable, but how we get there -- and how the actors do it -- is very good.

Jaws

The Jerk

This movie looked so dumb that I didn't see it when it was new. It wasn't until years later -- after coming to love Steve Martin for "All of Me," "Roxanne," and "L.A. Story" -- that I saw it on cable and realized that years before Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, Steve Martin did even the dumb-guy movies better.

Jerry Maguire

Joseph (TNT original)

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Judgment Night

Denis Leary steals this genuinely tense movie about four macho guys who witness a murder and have a hard time getting back home without dying. Not the kind of movie I would ever go to in the theatre (I'm too big a sucker for thrillers, I can't stay in my seat). But I've enjoyed it more than once on cable.

Jumanji

Who could have believed that Chris Van Allsburg's marvelous but enigmatic book could possibly have been made into such a wonderful movie? So much material had to be added for it to be a full-fledged story that it seems almost a miracle that it was all so very good.

Jurassic Park

The Karate Kid

Key Largo

The Killing Fields

An unbearable film about the Cambodian holocaust, but the characters are real, the filming magnificent, and it's not all medicine -- it's also entertaining in the relentless, heart-wrenching way that The Year of Living Dangerously is entertaining.

The King and I

The King of Kings (silent version)

Kramer vs. Kramer

L.A. Confidential

The Last Action Hero

Lawrence of Arabia

A League of Their Own

Legends of the Fall

Lethal Weapon (and the damn sequels, too)

Let's Scare Jessica to Death

Life Is Beautiful

Lifeboat

Like Water for Chocolate

The Lion King

Little Big Man

A Little Princess

I never much liked the story -- too sweet, even for me. But the Richard LaGravenese script and the lovely performances by the children took the curse off, and the magical presence of the Indian servant lifted the story out of its feel-good roots onto a higher plane. Only problem? The same false-justice ending that marred Ever After -- the punishment for the villain was stupid and wrong. Never mind that. This film is a delicate accomplishment that can be enjoyed by children and adults.

A Little Romance

Little Women (Susan Sarandon/Winona Ryder)

Beautifully shot and even more beautifully adapted, this one does no better than any other version of Little Women in solving the Beth problem -- Claire Danes still plays her as "the one who dies" from the start of the film -- but apart from that lapse, it does everything else right. Heck, it even made me like Fritz Baer, who in every other film is too jolly. The earnest, judgmental character here absolutely works, and Winona Ryder is as warm here as she is cold in the failed "The Crucible." Whether Ryder likes it or not, her energy is not sexual on film and "The Crucible" was hopelessly wrong for her (besides being an awful screenplay adaptation of a fine play). Little Women, on the other hand, is exactly right. Like Audrey Hepburn, Winona Ryder's screen persona is, inevitably, the girl child, the waif. There may be fire there, but it's intellectual and emotional, not sexual. Nothing wrong with that. Purity onscreen is a lovely thing. You don't have to be Demi Moore or Marilyn Monroe to be a wonderful screen actress.

The Longest Yard

Look Who's Talking

This was before Kirstie Alley self-destructed before our eyes, and back before Travolta became a Star. What made this movie was Bruce Willis's reading of the voiceovers.

Love and Death

Woody Allen's last good movie.

Lucas

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

The Madness of King George

Malcolm X

Spike Lee gave us the whole Malcolm X -- the young criminal, the firebrand revolutionary, and the mature statesman. Lee is wrong when he thinks he's the only one who can make movies about black people, and he has killed many a movie by assuming we're so dumb we have to have our lessons spelled out for us. But with Malcolm X he stepped back and let someone else do the haranguing, and the result was a fine movie about a great man.

March of the Wooden Soldiers (Laurel & Hardy)

Marty

M*A*S*H

Mask (Cher, Eric Stoltz)

The Mask

OK, nobody steals a Jim Carrey movie, so we'll have to say that Cameron Diaz saves this from being completely empty. The special-effects-driven comedy is actually funny (especially the stuff with the dog), but for a comedy to work, you still have to care, and it's because of Diaz, not Carrey, that we do.

The Mask of Zorro

Meet Me in St. Louis

The Member of the Wedding (1952)

Faithful to the play, this beautiful film about a child's longing to belong may not make you cry, but it still leaves you with a glow of understanding and a wistful longing for innocence.

Men in Black

Mermaids

Cher at her best. I still listen to the soundtrack album. It's the Hollywood cliche, and a lie -- the wacko irresponsible anti-social mother is not, in fact, better for kids than the stable, rule-following, self-sacrificing mom who manages to find a good husband and stay with him. But once you get past the "free spirit" nonsense (and, after all, we are so used to the cliche that we did elect Clinton twice and decline to impeach him, pretending, with Hollywood, that it doesn't matter), this is a wonderful, well-written, well-acted movie.

Midnight Run

Miracle on 34th Street (b&w version)

Forget the lame remakes. This one still works, because the Kris Kringle and the little girl are both spot on.

The Miracle Worker (Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke)

Misery

Stephen King's best novel, amazingly well adapted. And it brought us Kathy Bates.

Mission Impossible 2

I don't know why the first one made money. It was incomprehensible and the opposite of the tv series (the series, after all, was about how you need the whole team; the first MI movie killed off the team at the start). This sequel went back and repaired all the damage, showing Tom Cruise building a new team that absolutely works. It's still a big dumb action film, but Cruise gave it class and the writing works and the supporting cast is terrific.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The ending is so bad I just pretend it didn't happen. It doesn't matter anyway. It's not as if you watch this for the story. It still works even for kids who grew up in the post-Python comedy world where so many imitators have proven they watched Monty Python without ever understanding that their seemingly witless comedy actually requires alarming amounts of intelligence in order to work.

Moonstruck

If ever there was a perverse romance, this is it. And the motivation written here for Nicholas Cage's character is so lame you can't really believe it works. But Cage and Cher are so earnest and smart that they make it work, and there is even -- I could hardly believe it -- chemistry between these two. Also, without Danny Aiello -- the "ordinary guy" in this story of truly eccentric people -- this movie wouldn't happen -- but he's here, he's good, it works.

The Mouse that Roared

Mr. Mom

Much Ado about Nothing

The Mummy (1999)

Brendan Fraser tries on the Harrison Ford suit for the first time in this pretty-darn-good special-effects thriller. I'm no horror fan -- so I don't mind that it's a Raiders-like adventure rather than a horror film. And Brendan Fraser is slowly but surely convincing me that he can handle the big films.

Murder in the First (Kevin Bacon and Gary Oldman in Alcatraz movie)

Murder on the Orient Express

I hadn't read the Christie novel (a surprise -- I'd read many of them) so when I first saw this I did not know the premise. It surprised and delighted me -- but the movie continues to reward viewing even when you know how it comes out. And what a cast!

Murphy's Romance

James Garner and Sally Field in a charming, gentle story of love found late. Also, it teaches one how to wear a cowboy hat.

Murphy's War

Peter O'Toole in a bleak tragicomedy about the smallness of war and the personalness of death.

My Bodyguard

My Cousin Vinny

A very funny comedy of situation and character. Marisa Tomei deserved the Oscar. The only controversy should have been over putting her in the "supporting" category when she absolutely made the movie happen. Not that Joe Pesci and everyone else aren't wonderful, but that brilliantly written "supporting" role was fragile and had to be played with exactly the right blend of fire, intelligence, and cuteness, which Tomei found, perfectly.

My Fair Lady

Long, but worth it for Rex Harrison's robust and Audrey Hepburn's ethereal performances. Lerner's and Leowe's best songs and, of course, the brilliant George Bernard Shaw's best play at the core, with lavish design and brilliant costumes.

My Favorite Year

My Left Foot

The Daniel Day-Lewis section isn't really worth seeing. Think of this as a marvelous short film -- the story of the palsied child whose mother refuses to give up on him, until at last he is able to write by scrawling on the floor with chalk held in his left foot. The child who played the part is absolutely brilliant. Day-Lewis is also very good -- but the character he plays is obnoxious. Being crippled may get you an Oscar, but it doesn't make anyone want to spend more than an hour in your presence. No one would have made a movie about such a creep if he hadn't been crippled.

Naked Gun

Unlike the Airplane movies and various other awful spoofs, I found this and, to a lesser degree, its sequels to be genuinely funny. I think the difference that makes this stand out is Leslie Nielson's absolutely deadpan performance. Imagine Jim Carrey in the role, trying too hard, and see how quickly the thing collapses.

Nashville

National Lampoon's Animal House

The Natural

Naughty Marietta

Never Say Never Again

Night Work

High concept, Henry Winkler -- it was supposed to launch Winkler's post-Happy Days film career. Instead, it launched the career of Michael Keaton, the madcap supporting player in the "running prostitutes out of a morgue" plotline. As an overall story, it doesn't hold up all that well. But Michael Keaton is still terrific ... and so, I must point out, is Henry Winkler, who only "failed" in this movie because he was so famous from television.

Nine to Five

It does not wear well -- in these politically correct times, the lightness of this film is overshadowed by the extremes to which feminism has been taken in the real world. But it was fun in its time, and I still enjoy Lily Tomlin's and Dabney Coleman's dead-on performances.

Ninotchka

Norma Rae

Sally Field and Ron Liebman in a wonderfully written film about an unlikely woman who becomes the hero of the effort to unionize a southern textile mill. A reminder that labor unions were once something other than a mechanism for delivering votes to Democrats and laundering money for the mob. And as for Sally Field -- yes, I did and do like her.

North Dallas Forty

No Way Out

The Odd Couple

An Officer and a Gentleman

Old Yeller

Oliver!

The Omen

Once Upon a Time in the West (Henry Fonda, Jason Robards Jr.)

One Fine Day

I thought this George Clooney/Michelle Pfeiffer romantic comedy was honest, funny, and wonderful. I still do. So sue me. Meanwhile, I'll continue listening to the great soundtrack, too.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

On Golden Pond

101 Dalmatians (animated)

101 Dalmatians (live action)

One Magic Christmas

One True Thing

Only You

The premise (a ouija board foretells that this girl will marry a guy named Damon Bradley, whom she's never met) is paper thin, and the writing not actually very good. But Robert Downey Jr. is so winsomely entertaining that it's fun to watch. Only at the end, when we are forced to remember how false the premise is, do we begin to wish it had been more intelligently contrived.

On the Beach

Ordinary People

The Other

Pale Rider

The Paper

Ron Howard directed this Michael Keaton/Marisa Tomei/Glenn Close film about how a newspaper editor's career is wrecking his life. This is not the romantic comedy that, say, "You've Got Mail" is, nor is it a serious examination of the newspaper life. But it's charming and entertaining and you don't feel like you wasted a couple of hours.

The Paper Chase

Papillon

Parenthood

The Parent Trap (Hayley Mills)

The Parent Trap (remake)

Paris, Texas

Patton

Peggy Sue Got Married

Peter Pan (animated)

The Disney classic. What does it say about me that I always identified with Smee?

A Perfect World

Dark films with dark endings don't usually do well commercially, and this is no exception. After all, you don't come out of the theater thinking, "I've got to get everybody to come see this!" Instead, you're struggling just to keep from killing yourself. Still, when you start thinking that Kevin Costner's career is one long mistake, rent this movie and remember that with the right material, and the right director, he really can give a powerful performance.

A Period of Adjustment

I think this pre-sexual-revolution comedy of manners holds up very well, and not just as a time-capsule of the attitudes of an era in American cultural history. The ensemble cast is splendid, the writing solid, and I consider this one of my discovered-on-cable treasures.

Persuasion

Phantom of the Paradise

Pitch Black

I don't like horror movies and I especially don't like sci-fi horror movies, but my son gave this to me for Christmas because he knows that that's the only way he can get me to read books or see films that are "not my thing." I'm glad he did it in this case. This is a terrific sci-fi movie, which seems to have grade-B casting but tells a grade-A story with a grade-A cast. And it earns its ending, which actually isn't the one you expect. Or at least it didn't end the way I expected. Truly redemptive stories don't get told much any more.

Planet of the Apes

This could have been so bad. The actors made it work. People sneer at Charlton Heston nowadays for politically correct reasons, but if you doubt how rare it is to have an actor who can make heroic lines work on screen, rent Kevin Costner's Robin Hood and it will make you appreciate Heston's power. The only contemporary actors who can still do the truly heroic role, playedseriously, are, I believe, Mel Gibson and Morgan Freeman.

Please Don't Eat the Daisies

David Niven and Doris Day in a dated fifties comedy that nevertheless keeps its charm, even if only as a nostalgic return to a more innocent age. And it's always good to remember what a wonderful performer David Niven was.

Porky's

Yes, I do mean it. In the tradition of dumb teen sex comedies that are actually better than they had to be. I still have fun watching it, especially the parody of the climax of the Dirty Dozen as the kids take down the saloon.

The Postman (Il Postino)

A tender film that still breaks my heart and makes me feel like there really is love and romance in the world.

Predator

A truly original and scary monster. That's all, but it's enough.

The President's Analyst

Satire rarely holds up, but Coburn's deadpan comedy prefigures Leslie Nielsen's later triumphs.

Pretty Woman

People talk about Gere and Roberts but they forget that at the heart of this high-concept whore-to-wife pygmalion story is some terrific writing of character and social satire.

Pride and Prejudice (Olivier)

This black and white movie is not a very faithful adaptation, but given the era and the time constraints, it is witty enough and well-enough acted to make it still a pleasure to watch. The closest thing to a warm performance Olivier ever gave.

Pride and Prejudice (multi-part TV)

This version of the story had time enough to be absolutely faithful to the book, and did it with heat and wit and fine, fine performances. It is wonderful to devote the hours it takes to watch it all the way through.

Prince of Egypt

I wish they hadn't felt the need to modernize the story to fit contemporary sensibilities, but even with those story flaws, the animation and acting are so good that it is well worth seeing. And the marvelous handling of the dream sequence using hieroglyphic style animation-within-the-animation was absolutely inspired.

Princess Bride

The book is better. So what? This book is so good that the movie could be brilliant and the book would be better. And the movie is damn near brilliant. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright are delightful, but Wallace Shawn and Mandy Patinkin steal the movie right out from under them. Which is OK, they also steal the book. And Goldman's simplification of the frame absolutely worked. It's hard for a writer to adapt his own novel for the screen, but Goldman did it right. Hard to believe that the same guy who directed "North" directed this, and "Misery," too. Just goes to show you -- the director is important, but you can't make a good movie out of a bad script.

Rainmaker (Grisham)

Matt Damon's I-can-too-carry-a-film breakthrough. There is an honest core to Grisham's stories that makes them work on film much better than most novel-to-screen adaptations, and the two stories told here -- of the court case and the love affair -- both work well.

The Rainmaker (Nash)

Katherine Hepburn in Richard Nash's film-based-on-a-play about a spinster in a small town whose life is opened up by the visit of a con man who pretends he can make rain. I met this story through the musical 110 in the Shade, so I keep wishing I could hear the music while I watch this movie, but no matter -- the acting is good enough, with Burt Lancaster as the quintessential con man and a strong supporting cast.

Rainman

Anybody could have played the Dustin Hoffman part, and anybody who understands acting knows it. This is a good movie because of Tom Cruise, because almost nobody can play the ordinary guy whose take on things is the lens through which we see the story, and Cruise did it brilliantly. Showing, by the way, what a truly unselfish actor he is. He knew as he was doing it that he was giving the movie to Hoffman.

Random Harvest

Greer Garson and Ronald Colman in the ultimate heart-tugging amnesia-and-self-sacrifice movie. I'm not even embarrassed that I love it.

Ransom

Reds

The Remains of the Day

Remember the Titans

The Replacements

Revenge of the Nerds

Risky Business

It wasn't just Cruise in his underwear that made this film -- it was a fun high-concept story, cleverly written and well acted by everyone involved. And the ending they gave us was a lot better than the one the writer originally intended. Sometimes, folks, the "downer" ending isn't more "honest," it's just a way for writers to feel more "edgy." Why not have comedies that turn out well? It is the reason the genre exists -- for people to have fun. Why give them medicine when you promised a comedy -- especially since in real life things do turn out well as often as not?

The Road to El Dorado

The Road to Morocco

The Road to Rio

Robin and Marian

Rocky

Romancing the Stone

Romeo & Juliet (Zeffirelli)

A Room with a View

The Rose

Roxanne

Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book

Don't you hate it when they put the original author's name in the title? (The only worse thing is to put the studio's name there, as in "Disney's The Kid".) And Kipling wasn't even around to insist on it as the antidote to some ego-deprived director's proprietary credit. Anyway, title aside, this is a surprisingly good and serious retelling of a classic story, in the Greystoke tradition of rediscovering the truth at the heart of a mythic tale that has usually been treated like a cartoon.

Runaway Train

Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca de Mornay in a bleak, thrilling, unforgettable movie about ... um ... a runaway train. This one is actually about the people, not the special effects.

Ruthless People

Sabrina (Harrison Ford version)

The critics are all wrong. This one is much better than the original. Julia Ormond is better than Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn was just doing her cute thing. Julia Ormond created a real character who changed through the movie. And Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear did a much better job with their characters, too. Just forget that there was an earlier version and give this one a chance. It's wonderful, it's truthful (as good comedy must be).

Saving Private Ryan

Searching for Bobby Fischer

The Secret War of Harry Frigg

Seems Like Old Times

Chevy Chase's best movie ... and Goldie Hawn's, too. Genuinely funny at moments and charming throughout, while still maintaining a degree of believability -- mostly because Charles Grodin gives us a firm anchor in this film. Why isn't Grodin recognized as one of the finest comedians in American film? I suppose because he is at his best doing subdued takes rather than the kind of antics that make, say, Jim Carrey so obviously "funny." But ... Charles Grodin in "Liar, Liar" would have made it a wonderful film, whereas Carrey made it utterly false. Bummer, huh?

Sergeant York

Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Shadowlands

Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis, and Debra Winger as Joy, the American woman who wins the heart of this old bachelor, marries him, and then dies. I cried like a baby.

Shakespeare in Love

As William Goldman has pointed out, it's nice to have a comedy win the Oscar, but since it is never actually funny (jokes about doing a pirate play? How many times do they have to repeat a gag that was never funny in the first place?), it doesn't really count. And did anyone not being paid for acting in the film actually believe that Gwyneth Paltrow could pass herself off for one second as a man? In a part requiring someone who can act, why did they cast someone who exists only to make movies pretty? Never mind. Joseph Fiennes and the rest of the cast are so good we are able to set aside Paltrow's unbelievable performance and get caught up in the romance of the thing. Great fun. Of course, almost everything we liked about the story is owed to two uncredited sources -- a play by my friend Tim Slover and a British novel with the same premise -- but maybe that's just coincidence ... Don't get me wrong, I really liked this movie, and still do. But ... best picture? Best actress? Aw, hell, at least Meryl Streep didn't win again.

The Shawshank Redemption

Shenandoah

The Shop around the Corner

James Stewart and the luminous Margaret Sullavan

A Shot in the Dark

The original Pink Panther movie, and the best by far. Peter Sellers is hilarious as Inspector Clouseau, and the supporting cast are not yet completely over the top.

Silver Streak

A Simple Twist of Fate

Steve Martin's adaptation of Silas Marner, in which he adopts a child only to have the real father show up many years later to try to claim the girl. It's neither funny nor really dramatic, but there's a warmth and intensity to it that I found quite winning. Sank like a rock in the theaters, but on the small screen it works well.

Sister Act

Just turn off your brain and enjoy it.

Slaughterhouse Five

Sleeping Beauty (Disney)

Sleepless in Seattle

Sleuth

If you can remember the difference between this movie and Deathtrap, the other two-character plot-twist duel, then you have a better memory than I have. Still, the one is not a remake of the other, and Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve make this movie as wonderful as Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier made the other one. Oh, no, wait -- I've got it backward.

Smokey and the Bandit

Snow White

Some Kind of Wonderful

Something About Mary

Something to Talk About

Somewhere in Time

The Sound of Music

When it first opened, I loved it -- all except Christopher Plummer and the Countess, who seemed like they didn't even belong in the movie, they were so dull and low-key. Now, older and wiser, I realize that yes, those two were in a different movie from the others -- they were actually acting, and everybody else was mugging for the camera. Like the scene after the Captain has fired Maria, and then he hears his children singing, and he relents and asks her to stay. She's on the stairs, he's down below. Plummer is absolutely real. Andrews' take is pure mugging -- Broadway style performance for a camera, which is such a mistake. Except ... it was the mugging we loved. What can you do? The photography still works, and the only truly awful moment is "Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu." Forget how sophisticated you've become since then. It still works.

Space Cowboys

Speed

Keanu Reeves remains our most unfairly dissed actor. He has a marvelous core of reality that he never lets go of. He is not wooden. He acts with his eyes. And with dead-on line readings. Sandra Bullock as the frantic, nervous "volunteer" driver is the perfect foil for Reeves as the deceptively-calm action hero, and Dennis Hopper is a fun scenery-chewing villain. The thing about this movie is, it's well-enough written and acted that you can listen to it, and not just watch it.

Spitfire Grill

Splash

Splendor in the Grass

Stalag 17

Stargate

Starman

Jeff Bridges' best movie. Karen Allen's, too. This is, I think, the best of the alien-comes-to-earth movies, gentle and smart. And while the government-baddies plot was already trite when this film was made, it is ameliorated by having very little screen time and a government guy who turns the tables and gives the alien a chance to get home. One of the handful of truly fine sci-fi movies.

Star Trek: First Contact

This one makes all the "original-cast" movies seem a little sad. Not a great piece of storytelling, but lots of fun.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

After the first Star Trek movie was such a boring bust, it was a relief when Ricardo Montalban stole this movie and made it hugely entertaining despite the almost complete lack of talent of everyone in the original cast who did not have ear makeup.

Steel Magnolias

The ultimate chick flick. I loved it anyway. But then, I tend to like chick flicks more than the ones that are supposed to charge me with testosterone. Good thing I'm secure in my sexual identity.

Strictly Ballroom

Stripes

Like Private Benjamin and No Time for Sergeants, this film is wonderful only up to the moment the characters get out of boot camp. Then it becomes dumb, unfunny, a complete waste of time. But it stays on my list because everything up to "boom-shacka-lacka-lacka" is so funny.

Sunset Boulevard

Superman (Christopher Reeve)

Swiss Family Robinson

Taps

Taxi Driver

Tender Mercies

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

That's Entertainment

That Thing You Do (Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler)

The Thomas Crown Affair

Another remake that's much better than the original. I'm not a fan of Pierce Brosnan, but he works in this because Renee Russo and the director make it happen for him -- they take him seriously, and so we are able to. Russo is not a beautiful woman, but she is radiant here because of her intelligence. Yes, I know, this movie has the sexiest nude scenes I've seen, period, but you know what? The reason they worked, and weren't just semi-embarrassing porn the way most such scenes are, was because Russo was able to make us believe in her character, and her character was smart. It's easy, by the way, to play dumb. To play smart is hard.

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

Three Days of the Condor

Three Kings

Three Musketeers/Four Musketeers (Michael York version)

Time Bandits

Titanic

The first time I saw it, I cringed at dialogue like "Will you share it with us?" despite Bill Paxton's best effort to make it sound like a human could say it. And Billy Zane's character was so laughably and needlessly "evil" and the romance so obvious and shallow that I almost laughed out loud (which would, of course, have led to my being torn to pieces by the teenage girls in the theater, so I controlled myself). Nevertheless, the actual sinking is so movingly written and filmed, and the actors are so earnest in this shlockfest of a script (I especially salute DiCaprio, the unsung hero of this production), that I still enjoy watching parts of it. That's why Titanic ends up on my favorites list as well as on my "Movies that made a lot of money that are pretty horrible" list. Still, don't you all have to just laugh at Jim Cameron's bad, bad art-student-level drawings that he tried to pass off as proofs of DiCaprio's "genius"?

To Catch a Thief

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Live & Die in L.A.

When the guy you think is the hero gets killed long before the ending, it almost wrecks the movie. What saves it is that we care far more about Willem Dafoe's bad guy, a fascinating, enigmatic counterfeiter.

Tommy

This garish trainwreck of a movie is so over the top that it's fun to watch. The ultimate rock musical, and the definitive argument for why people shouldn't make rock musicals. Have plenty of popcorn and yell at the screen with friends. And don't tell anybody that you actually think Roger Daltrey does a wonderful job and you care how it all comes out. Plus, Ann-Margret was nominated for an Oscar for this film.

Tootsie

Nobody believes for a second that anybody could ever think Dustin Hoffman was a woman. You just swallow hard and enjoy the movie in spite of that. You know what is really at the heart of this movie, what makes it great? Sure, Hoffman's timing is good and Jessica Lange is radiant and Sidney Pollack is at his best in directing this and the script was good. But that's the thing -- the script was good enough to include the Charles Durning part and the director and editor were smart enough to leave it in. Because without Durning, without his rough sweetness (or sweet roughness?) this movie would not have worked. It wouldn't. It would have probably made money but we wouldn't still love it. Because it was the Durning part that gave it the heart.

Top Gun

Total Recall

Toy Story

Toy Story II

Trading Places

True Grit

Twelve Angry Men

All talk, it was meant to be a TV play. And causes that were once hot are a bit poisoned by our having seen where these good ideas led: To puritanical political correctness and a legal system that often leaves us despairing. Still, the individual performances are excellent and the writing is sharp and fine in a study of group dynamics as Henry Fonda wins over a jury from one verdict to another.

Twister

This gets such a bad rap as a badly written movie, when in fact it is very well written -- a cynical project that was lovingly written and shows it. The ensemble cast absolutely works, and the dialogue is wonderful. I'm disappointed in William Goldman, who usually sees into the heart of the story -- he trashes this film again and again, always citing the scene where the psychotherapist fiancee talks to a patient on a cellphone while they are on the fringes of a tornado with flying cows going past. Goldman thinks it's incredibly dumb -- I think it's brilliant, showing how unreal weather seems to people even while they're on the edge of disaster (think of all the hurricane parties that have ended up in tragedy), and in the meantime satirizing the way cellphones lead people to do ludicrously inappropriate things. In short, the scene is funny and truthful. We laughed at it because we knew this person. You'd think Goldman would have known her, too, and recognized the truth of it. I can watch this film over and over, because it's still fun. And I can listen to it, too. It doesn't hurt that it has Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton doing their I'm-a-real-person-no-matter-what-movie-I'm-in shtick. I mean, Paxton was the one who actually found a non-nauseating reading of the "Will you share it with us?" line in Titanic. And Helen Hunt ... well, she's merely the best screen comedienne of our time, inheriting Glenn Close's mantle as the actress who never looks like she's acting.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Actually, I think that everything that happens after our hero goes down into the monolith is bogus and doesn't hold up at all. The book is better, and some of the psychedelic light show stuff is just silly. But the stuff before that -- especially the inspired if simplistic caveman sequence, but also including the whole mini-movie about Hal and the boys on the ship -- is completely rewatchable. Yeah, we laugh at the very-sixties costumes. But the future as envisioned in the past is always funny.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

A paper-thin story, but I still love this first and best example of the sung-through musical on film. True, Michel LeGrand's score has only two songs, endlessly repeated, and the story is a bit bleak. But Catherine DeNeuve is winsome and I still enjoy the film all these years later. It gives me hope that with the right music (i.e., Robert Stoddard's!) my sung-through musical Pageant Wagon might make the great movie I think it will make.

Unbreakable

Somebody should point out to the director that just because a film is about "mirror images," you don't have to make us puke with all the reflected images you can think of. Never mind. Jackson and Willis are good enough, and the writing is good enough, that the film overcomes its sad little "what if hero comic books actually described the real world" premise.

Unforgiven

It's hard to rewatch a film as dark as this, but the black comedy makes it work even on repeat viewings. The nearsighted would-be killer who wakes up to what he isn't; the devastating cruelty; the simplicity of the good life that the Clint Eastwood character aspires to -- Clint Eastwood seems to have spent his whole career trying to turn the western into the great art that pundits said it was back when it still wasn't. Stagecoach is not watchable now, not to me, anyway, and all the old westerns have a kind of plasticky, tinny feel to them. Eastwood gives depth, or at least the illusion of depth, to the characters he plays, but more importantly, he has an eye for scripts that transcend horse opera.

The Uninvited

Maybe the best all-time ghost movie, at least before special effects made Poltergeist possible. A haunted house and a girl whose life is still in danger, apparently from her mother's ghost, until at last the mystery unravels in a truly thrilling revelation.

The Untouchables

Here's why it wasn't the hit it was expected to be: Sean Connery dies. Here's why it's worth watching: Sean Connery dies.

The Verdict

The court case at the center of the film fades from memory, but Paul Newman's career-saving performance as a ruined old lawyer coming back for one last case does not fade.

Wait Until Dark

I've seen the Marisa Tomei/Quentin Tarantino version on Broadway, and you know what? This is not a no-brainer. In fact, this can suck big time when you have a complete no-talent like Tarantino as the bad guy. Tomei did a good job, but if you don't buy the menace, you don't buy the movie. Thus, even though this is often regarded as an Audrey Hepburn vehicle, in fact it is an Alan Arkin vehicle.

A Walk in the Clouds

A gentle romantic movie about a lonely man finding a family and showing them what love means. Keanu Reeves at his very best. So low-key you never realize he's acting -- and all the while he creates a character that is, deeply, good.

The Way We Were

Casting Redford and Streisand was the only false step in this movie, because there was no way to forget the star wattage and take these people as real. But as the Forrest Gump of the era of the socialist intellectual -- the thirties and forties -- this movie still works. Plus, it's so tied to a time in my life that it also reminds me of who I was the year it came out, which is why it survives on this list despite the awfulness of the casting. (If you were remaking it today: Cusack and Garafolo.)

The Wedding Singer

Adam Sandler's screen persona at its gentle best. Has anybody noticed that this guy, while getting labeled as awful, is in fact about the only person trying forscrewball and romantic comedies? No special effects here, unless you count Drew Barrymore in a convincing performance.

Weekend at Bernie's

A movie that is far, far better than it should have been. The premise -- spending a whole weekend trying to fool people into thinking that a dead guy is still alive -- just begs for dumb sight gags and stupid complications. And, in fact, that's precisely what we get from beginning to end in this movie. But they're funny dumb sight gags and funny stupid complications.

West Side Story

In the end, Rita Moreno and Natalie Wood way outclass Richard Beymer and George Chakiris, and as has often been pointed out, there's no way that a guy can walk into a Puerto Rican neighborhood in the middle of the night, bellow out "Maria!", and have only one window open. Still, this apotheosis of the "serious" musical on film still works. And I mourn for the fact that dancing is gone from the movies.

What Women Want

An over-the-top premise is saved by good writing and charming performances by two actors who specialize in being better than the situations they have to act their way through: Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. And the writing is smart, not reaching for the obvious and cheap jokes. Or at least not always reaching for them.

When Harry Met Sally

Nora Ephron was still learning her chops as a screenwriter, but there are enough great scenes to overcome the weakness of the overall storyline as we follow two friends who should definitely not be lovers through their discovery that maybe it's only friends who truly can.

While You Were Sleeping

The film that made us fall in love with Sandra Bullock for her own sake, and not just because of her bus-driving skills, we actually have a romantic duo -- Bullock and Bill Pullman -- that we love, not for their looks or charisma, but because they seem real and good.

White Men Can't Jump

This "reverse prejudice" movie (i.e., hustling black basketball players in pickup games because they're sure white men can't play well) is still funny, even after we've seen in so many other films what a pretentious doof Woody Harrelson can be.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

A wonderful movie because, as with The Mask, we couldn't believe our eyes. Bob Hoskins does a good job of being cheerfully upstaged by every cartoon character in the world.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Finding out what the Oompah-loompahs were supposed to be in the racist original takes a lot of fun out of the movie, but Gene Wilder and the engaging child actor who plays Charlie make it mysterious and magical and funny after all.

Winchester '73

A "program" movie -- we follow a particular rifle and all the people who handle it -- this is still an intriguing and highly watchable Jimmy Stewart western.

The Witches of Eastwick

Never has Jack Nicholson chewed scenery to better effect than in this fantasy farce. The unbelievably good cast of women, though, is what makes it work. You can imagine other good scene-stealers as the devil, but it's hard to imagine this working without the blend of Cher, Sarandon, and Pfeiffer. And this is a special-effects climax that really works.

Without a Trace

A moving story that does not stop with the "happy ending" when the missing kid comes home.

Witness

I don't think this can be taken as a documentary on Amish life, and it has the standard Hollywood notion that people leading virtuous lives are really just bursting to be free. That aside, this is an unforgettable thriller that has more meat to it than most, in large part because of how haunting the kid's face is.

Witness for the Prosecution

Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich are both delightful, but it's the writing by Harry Kumitz that carries the day in this wonderfully twisted legal thriller.

The Wizard of Oz

This one is paper thin, really, and the book truly is better, but who cares? Margaret Hamilton is the jewel of this movie, and I even forgive the filmmakers for apologizing for the fantasy by giving it that stupid "it was all a dream" ending.

A Woman Under the Influence

R-rated when it was released, because it really is a film for grown-ups, this was the first "art" film I ever loved. A brilliant cast in a lonely, hopeless story about a woman who is in and out of mental institutions, now returning to a family that we soon realize would drive anyone crazy.

Woodstock

I couldn't care less about rock culture and actually going to Woodstock would be my idea of hell (next to having to listen to Alec Baldwin discuss politics). But this was a good documentary, split screens and all.

Working (tv)

You'll never see it, because it aired only the once, on public television, back in 1981 or 1982. But this tv presentation of the short-lived Broadway musical based on the Studs Terkel book made an indelible impression on me. I wish somebody would release the tape.

Working Girl

OK, so it's as unbelievable, ultimately, as Tootsie. Doesn't change the fact that it's a high-concept comedy that doesn't lose track of reality. And it's Melanie Griffith's best movie -- no one could have done it better. Sigourney Weaver proves her class by giving a great supporting performance in a film that belongs to another actress. And the rest of the cast is also terrific.

Wuthering Heights (Timothy Dalton version)

I always found the Olivier version to be cold. This one has a lot of problems, but Timothy Dalton actually delivered what Olivier was merely reputed to have achieved: A smoldering performance. I just can't enjoy the old one, because this one is realer and more powerful in my memory.

Wyatt Earp (Kasdan version)

So what if it's long? It's also real, well written, and well acted. Bunch of big babies, can't stand to sit still for three hours.... It's your fault that this movie didn't make it financially, thus seriously damaging Kasdan's career. It's a good movie. It just didn't happen to come out at a time when there was a good enough audience to sell tickets fast enough to please the studios. And then people wonder why they keep getting silly but fast-moving crap from the studios. Well, duh. That's what you keep buying tickets for, that's why you keep getting more of it!

X-Men

I expected this movie to be a dumb action flick. To my surprise, the writer and director and cast took it seriously enough to make it work. Has film sci-fi grown up enough that we now take believability to be the norm instead of a rare achievement?

Yankee Doodle Dandy

In all the years that, at signing sessions, I've been saying "I thank you, my wife thanks you, my children thank you," nobody has ever said, "Yankee Doodle Dandy! James Cagney as a hoofin' George M. Cohan!" Well, your loss, folks. The best black-and-white, pre-Rogers-and-Hammerstein screen musical, period.

You Can't Take It With You

The quintessential screwball comedy. Politically correct, and absolutely founded in the false idea that eccentric people know "the truth" that dull rule-following people don't understand, but it's still great fun. Just remind yourself afterward that it's only because of the rule-following, stodgy majority that these delightful eccentrics don't starve to death.

Young Mr. Lincoln

Henry Fonda's charming evocation of a relatively realistic Abraham Lincoln, saving a pair of innocent defendants' lives by skillful legal work.

Zardoz (a guilty pleasure)

I know, it has a flying head and Sean Connery wears what looks like a leather diaper. I still enjoy it, for reasons I can't even explain. Maybe just for the fact that Boorman was trying to create something original, and to a degree he even succeeded.


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