Very very few movies on this list are without their flaws, and Skyfall is the furthest thing from an exception. I mean, James Bond is pretty definitively killed in the cold open, then is just alive after the credits with no explanation. Plus, my own lifelong, unshakable love for the 007 franchise almost biases me against Skyfall. It’d be real easy for to just fill my Top 100 with James Bond, so I’m all the more ruthless about which movie(s) I put on here. Still, this film has lodged itself in my heart like so many uranium bullet fragments I could have had removed months ago but didn’t for some reason.
When I left the theatre and was asked what I liked most about Skyfall, I said “The color.” The… wait, what? I don’t think I’d ever consciously paid attention to color, lighting, or framing, in any movie. At least not in a movie ostensibly based in our reality. What Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins do in Skyfall is make “our” world look like a more wondrous place than any sci-fi landscape, simply through shot composition and ingenious lighting. London in the midst of a downpour. Shanghai basking in neon. A Macau casino lit by candles and fireworks. Blazing Scottish highlands. What Skyfall lacks in overall story cohesion, it makes up for in standalone sequences that work on pure visual bravado.
Skyfall very possibly spurned my photography hobby (and occasional career). I now travel whenever I can to wherever I can and roam city streets at night, my trusty camera in hand, dimly conscious not only of the male privilege that keeps me from getting molested, but of the fact that I’m just trying to imitate what Roger Deakins did with that Shanghai sequence. Plus I now watch movies more aware of cinematography and visual storytelling, which has enriched both new releases and old favourites alike. This is one of those extremely rare films I can rightly claim is a personal turning point. Others may fall in and out of favour but Skyfall is permanently assured a slot on this list.
Plus I didn’t even get into how this is another magnificent Javier Bardem villain with fucking weird hair. Or how it’s a career performance for Judi Dench in a lifetime comprised mainly of career performances. Or how the Adele song perfectly matches an ethereal, haunting opening title sequence that as a rule I’m watching on YouTube except for when I’m being talked at by people who don’t understand that they’re preventing me from watching the Skyfall opening title sequence on YouTube. Take Deakins, Bardem, Dench, and Adele out of Skyfall and what do you have?
You have Spectre. And this is a celebratory place so there’s no need to get into that.
***FULL REVIEW COMING SOON***
Appreciation (Construction): LOW. Good thing this movies has looks because it sure don’t have brains, though several of the longer dialogue scenes are terrifically crafted.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. Other movies in the franchise are much funnier, intentionally or otherwise.
Affection (Emotional Impact): LOW. A rare time a Bond flick primes the audience for a heartbreaking ending… and it just kind of goes by you, somehow.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): MODERATE. One of those Ripped From The Headlines type Bond stories, complete with Julian Assange lookalike villain and questions about whether or not good old fashioned spywork (and by extension the series as a whole) is obsolete.
Adrenaline (Excitement): MODERATE. The pre-titles sequence hogs all the more traditional 007 thrills, the rest of the action scenes are more artistically satisfying than they are exciting.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. The film’s tone is kind of cool and calm and that dulls the tension a bit, despite this being a very rare Bond movie where the stakes are so personal that the villain might very well win.
Awe (Visual Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. I say this sincerely; Skyfall is so visually perfect it changed my life for the better.
99. 2001: A Space Odyssey
I’m at the start of a long journey with 2001. Seeing it in high school, I appreciated what an achievement it was even if I felt kind of ambivalent about it. Only the scene in which HAL springs his trap on the crew drew me in, mainly because that’s the only section of the film with something that approaches traditional dramatic tension. The rest of it creeps along, and when it was done I’d felt no desire to revisit the movie. After all, The Simpsons and Futurama have between them recreated every sequence from 2001, so I could just experience the story again that way if I wanted.
But I got on a bit of a Kubrick tear in the fall of 2017, and when I’d run through my Clockwork Oranges and my Barry Lyndons and my Eyes that were Wide Shut, I only had one Odyssey left to take. Well, two. I’d just bought Mario Odyssey for the Nintendo Switch. Tickled by the symmetry, I decided I’d play the game on the handheld screen, glance up at the movie playing on the TV screen any time there was a nice shot, and count it as a rewatch. Fifteen minutes in I was watching Space and glancing at Mario, and thirty minutes in the Switch was off.
2001: A Space Odyssey shouldn’t be at Spot #99. If I stop talking around the film and start talking about the film, I’ll expose myself as a phoney. There are people who have spent their lives watching 2001, interpreting 2001, writing about 2001. I turned off my Nintendo game because I thought 2001 looked pretty. That’s where I’m at. I appreciate the movie like I appreciate a particularly good screen saver. But my love will blossom from here.
Funnily enough, the scene of HAL’s sabotage and Dave’s attempt to get back inside the ship is now the one sequence that just kind of gets in my way. It’s a little drawn out, and lacks the majesty of the movie’s other sequences. I want more beautiful pre-dawn, pre-historic establishing shots, more spaceships docking to classical music, more in-camera tricks that gives the appearance of a lack of gravity, more kaleidoscopic voyages through technicolor landscapes. You don’t see that in every movie. As it is, 2001 leaves me in a state of sort of primitive ape-like wonder, but I have a lot of evolution in front of me. It can only rise through the ranks of my Top 100 as time goes on and I can’t wait.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): N/A
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): LOW. The human element is by design next to zero and that’s ok, it’s HAL’s final scene that brings the pathos.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. The unseen, ambiguously motivated alien race that presides over the movie lends some very real cosmic horror to the encounters with the monoliths (the unearthly music does a lot of heavy lifting too).
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Even if the year 2001 has long passed us by a lot of the film still feels aspirational, and doesn’t have the pessimism of most Kubrick movies.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. Told in four distinct segments, all of which tell complete stories in themselves while adding up to a complete narrative.
Awe (Visual Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. It doesn’t need to be said that this film is astounding to look at; to the point where I wonder if 1968 audiences assumed they were watching something actually filmed in space.
98. Hard Boiled
Skyfall gets a spot on the list for being the most visually impactful movie I’ve ever seen, 2001 is the most technical astounding movie I’ve ever seen. And now, Hard Boiled is here because… and I don’t know how else to say this… it has action scenes good enough to get off to. I have a DVD shelf dedicated to pornography except who has a pornography DVD anymore so the only thing in there is Hard Boiled. It’s not often you see a gunfight and think “There’s the money shot.”
In between action scenes, a plot happens. Boy does it happen. And I specifically watched this movie just now, simply so I could write this little capsule from an informed place. I now stand before you as a man who continues to not retain anything about the story in Hard Boiled. There’s cops and moles embedded within criminal organizations, but it’s nothing Internal Affairs or The Departed didn’t do a lot better. For all the forlorn sax music and clandestine meetings and supposedly suspenseful scenes of near discovery, in the end, that’s the good guy, that’s the good guy who’s undercover, that’s the villain, that’s the villain with an injured eye. What they do when they’re not shooting at each other is making time. There will be other movies that’ll make it onto this list almost purely for their action scenes, but those aren’t burdened overmuch with convoluted plots. Half of Hard Boiled is hammy expository dialogue scenes.
But still, that means the other half is lovingly filmed shootouts. John Woo is at the height of his abilities and is seemingly out to deliver his final essay in Hong Kong gun-fu before he departs for America. If something can erupt into flame, or get blasted apart by a shotgun, or hurled through a glass pane, Woo never misses his chance. There’s the teahouse, the warehouse, the docks, all leading up to the hospital shootout that starts a little over halfway through the movie and then turns out to be the rest of the movie. That last setpiece is so long and gives you so little room to breath, at a certain point you almost start longing for those early scenes of Tequilla being yelled at by his boss.
In fact, watch this movie until you see an establishing shot of a hospital, then pause and come back to finish after you’ve rested up a bit. I’m dead serious. Hard Boiled is a marathon, not a sprint.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): N/A
Appreciation (Construction): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): N/A
Anxiety (Suspense): LOW. You have to care about the characters to feel worried for them, but babies are in danger at one point and we don’t want babies to die.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. Fire, debris, shattering glass, every gun fu staple and it’s all beautiful.
Adrenaline (Excitement): EXTRAORDINARY. The best action sequences ever put to film.
“When I do go out, people always want to touch my hair. It happens every time.” ~David Lynch
97. Blue Velvet
David Lynch loves examining the seedy, maggoty underside of Americana imagery. And he loves otherworldly avant garde sequences that operate on pure dream logic. And nowhere has Lynch fused those characteristics more successfully than he has in
Well, Twin Peaks. Let’s be honest. But Blue Velvet is a damn good motion picture. Dang good, at the very least.
The story of a young man who finds a severed ear, brings it into the police, and exposes and becomes involved in the seedy underbelly of his hometown, this is a cleanly told, linear plot. Which allows Lynch, for once in his life, to communicate his themes in a forceful, unobscured way.
The ear is a great hook, leading us into a neo-noir mystery that is itself a warm-up act for the real story to come. The developing romance between Jeffrey and Sandy is unexpectedly sweet. And Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper put in their defining performances.
If there’s a downside, I think Lynch is pulling his punches a little bit. Had Blue Velvet come later in his career, I feel as though the story would have punished Jeffrey a lot more for his voyeurism. I think his innocence would been more irrevocably shattered. He would not have been so easily forgiven by Sandy, nor by Dean Stockwell’s character for dragging his daughter into such danger. Even though there’s undercurrents of unease, the ending is tonally at odds with the darkness that comes before.
Still, as a Twin Peaks aficionado, I’m here for Kyle MacLachlan’s slicked back hair, even if his grin is not yet irrepressible. Angelo Badalamenti’s score stops a step short of being “too dreamy,” but occasionally has that jazzy tempo. Rossellini’s voice isn’t quite as ethereal as Julee Cruise’s, though at least she sings in front of a red curtain. And you can’t match the depravity and monstrous otherworldliness of Killer BOB, but Dennis Hopper comes pretty close. Would I like Blue Velvet as much if I didn’t recognize it as the crucial stepping stone to the television show that is my actual true love? Hard to say, but on its own merits this movie has a lot to offer.
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. A bit of Lynchian quirkiness early on but not as much as you might expect.
Appreciation (Construction): LOW. I like how the seediness of the story escalates but don’t love the ending.
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. Great Norman Rockwell type small town imagery.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. Rossellini’s situation is devastating, and I found myself more invested in the Jeffrey/Sandy romance than I would have expected.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. Frank is a dangerous, frightening character, and the movie milks several encounters with him for all the tension it can.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Why do there have to be movies like Blue Velvet?
It’s a caper movie, and I usually love those. But there’s girls in it? Ewwwww.
The writer of Gone Girl and the director of 12 Years a Slave have teamed up to make a movie that is somehow kind of what I would have expected based on that pairing. And if we’re lucky it’s only the first of many collaborations between them. Widows is still in theatres as I write this so I’ll keep it vague and spoiler-free, but I do have to give this away: it’s about widows. Widows of thieves specifically, whose husbands leave them with some serious debts to pay, forcing them to stage a heist of their own.
It’s a nice, natural way into a female empowerment story that doesn’t feel like it’s pandering (a danger for storytellers in these tricky times). Widows also touches on money in politics, class disparities, and racial tensions, the last of which occurs in a genuinely devastating instance of police brutality later in the film. But it’s all here to give context and motivation to the characters in what is primarily a terrifically executed thriller.
Given that Widows is so recent, it may need a little more time to digest. The story holds up for me as it stands now, but in time it may be that that’s no longer the case. Because this is far more than a heist thriller, between the intrigue surrounding a political race, the criminal factions, and an incredible array of character actors even in tiny roles, there’s enough going on for a Chicago based season of The Wire. But given a choice between a movie that under-reaches or a movie that overreaches, I know what I’m picking any time. Widows is not a perfect movie to be sure, but it’s not perfect in just the way I like.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. Elizabeth Debicki gets a few funny moments, but a movie largely centered on brand new widows isn’t going to be SUPER hilarious…
Awe (Visual Impact): LOW. Not exactly an appealing portrait of Chicago.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. That flashback scene with their son…
Adrenaline (Excitement): MODERATE. The two heists at the beginning and end of the film are thrilling.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. Covers a lot of ground and doesn’t fully explore everything, but what matters is fully fleshed out.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. Especially any time Daniel Kaluuya is onscreen, Jesus he’s intimidating in this movie.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Has real world issues that inform but do not consume the onscreen action.