Top 100 Movies: #55 – #51

The Matrix, Inception, Little Shop of Horrors, The Fellowship of the Ring, Requiem for a Dream


55. The Matrix

55. The MatrixWhen this standalone flick became the first part of a trilogy, we lost sight of how good it really was. That may be because the problems with The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions didn’t come out of nowhere, they were rooted in the original movie, and things had changed in four years. Mind blowing slo-mo action scenes in 1999 became hack in 2003. Philosophical dialogue became circular, pretentious double speak.

But it’s worth going back and seeing how The Matrix threaded a needle in a way that the two sequels didn’t. In fact, I implore anyone who hasn’t gone back to this movie since walking out of Revolutions in a disappointed and vaguely confused haze to give The Matrix another chance. It’s nearly perfect.

Aside from the ending. Sure, let’s have our final, biggest plot point pivot upon the love between two characters who had to this point not expressed any romantic interest in each other. And now that we’ve got a lead who’s both invincible and romantically involved with someone he has not bit of chemistry with, lets make two more movies about him. What could go wrong? But we’re talking about the last scene of an otherwise flawlessly executed 135 minute film.

Anyone who wants to worldbuild should study The Matrix carefully. A potentially complicated premise is dolled out to us at a perfect pace. Exposition is given in interesting and visual ways. Neo’s journey is our journey, the character is kind of a blank slate, which allows to put ourselves in his shoes. And once we’ve got a handle on the situation, the filmmakers twist the world and send us off with one of the most exciting final half hours I can remember seeing.

Up until that ending. We’ll talk about it.


Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. As usual in their films, The Wachowski’s humour sneaks up on you every now and then.
Affection (Emotional Impact): LOW. The scene where Cypher goes on a bit of a murder spree is somewhat agonizing.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. Great job introducing the world piece by piece.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. Neo’s “awakening,” and the agents are pretty fearsome in this movie.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. I’m a sucker for all the shadows, dilapidated buildings, and wacky shot compositions.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Easy to imagine yourself in the world of the movie and wonder how you’d deal with it.
Adrenaline (Excitement): EXTRAORDINARY. Once Neo and Trinity suit up, it’s a wild wild ride.

“BWAAAAAAAM” ~Hans Zimmer.

54. Inception

54. InceptionA movie that might owe quite a bit to The Matrix, actually. Not only does it take place in a dreamworld, not only is it a bit more cerebral than the typical summer blockbuster, but it’s got the same story structure. A surreal opening action scene that makes more sense on a rewatch, an experienced team takes on a new member, worldbuilding as the aforementioned new member is introduced to the dreamworld bit by bit, and then all those elements coming together in an extended closing action sequence.

For a while I’d thought Inception had significantly improved on The Matrix, and it was even my favourite movie of the 2010s for a while. I still love it like crazy, but a bunch of repeat viewings have exposed some issues. You do start to notice how Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb is the only person with any kind of definition. There’s a lot of actors in Inception who are demonstrably capable of headlining movies, but they aren’t called upon to display any facial expression besides ”vague smugness.” Ellen Page especially is really just here as a conduit for exposition, good luck finding more than a handful of lines that AREN’T her just asking questions about the plot.

And Christopher Nolan is one of the few directors who doesn’t use a second unit crew for action scenes. Considering how many shots there are of indistinguishable people in white hooded parkas chasing each other around near the end, maybe he should.

If I’m complaining though, it’s about things I didn’t notice until I was on the fifth or sixth viewing. The storytelling, the editing, and the soundtrack is so accomplished, all you really care about is what the movie does right. When your premise is about people invading people’s dreams and committing heists, you naturally want to see as wide a variety of settings as possible. It might all feel very episodic, but the dream-within-a-dream structure stacks all the heists on top of each other, and all four scenarios are brilliantly intercut in a way that allows the excitement to snowball.

It feels like Inception begins to climax less than halfway through then manages to carry on for over an hour. It’s tantric filmmaking, and that’s got to be worth something no matter the flaws.


Amusement (Humour/Elation): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. All, and I mean all of it pertains to the tragic story of Cobb’s wife, no one else has any kind of arc.
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. It’s a men’s fashion magazine photoshoot meets James Bond.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. The characters aren’t much but a potentially confusing premise is made very digestible.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. Given that a fate worse than death awaits anyone who “dies” in the dream, the stakes feel very high.
Adrenaline (Excitement): EXTRAORDINARY. Thrilling as all the various dreams start to intercut.

53. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

53. Little Shop of HorrorsThe future lyricists of Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, directing all their considerable talent towards a movie with a dentist who indiscriminately punches people in the face, Rick Moranis dismembering a corpse, and a gun wielding plant who says “Tough titties” at least twice? Is that something I wanted all my life? Yes it is, even though I didn’t realize it until I watched Little Shop of Horrors.

Another genre mash-up that might have gone disastrously, Little Shop of Horrors is everything except, weirdly, a horror. There’s sci-fi, music, comedy, Rick Moranis as a romantic lead, and it all works. The movie gets on a roll early on, sequences that are meant to be funny, dark, or sweet and romantic come right after another, and all of them are complete successes. If it falls off a bit at the end, there’s a good reason.

Infamously the movie originally ended with the deaths of the two leads and Audrey II’s plant army overrunning the world. It was a five million dollar sequence and is impressive in terms of the special effects, but it’s shocking in its absolute bleakness. There’s no comedy, it’s just sad deaths and then huge crowds of civilians helplessly falling to an alien invasion. It’s insane. Like, what if there was an alternate ending of Star Wars where Luke got shot out of the sky by Darth Vader, and the Death Star just started going around annihilating entire planets?

It does kind of lend some tension to the theatrical version we grew up on, knowing we were on the verge of a complete apocalypse but for the heroism of Seymour. We need more fully produced, incredibly depressing alternate endings that depict villains winning. Wasteful, maybe. But if we gave up just one $250 million dollar Transformers per year we could pay for fifty Little Shop of Horror endings. Wouldn’t you rather see that?!

Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Anxiety (Suspense): LOW. Very little, until you see the other cut.
Appreciation (Construction): MODERATE. Nothing but good scenes, especially in the middle of the movie.
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. I’m rooting hard for Seymour even after he becomes, I guess, an accessory to murder?
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. Shot on a massive soundstage in Pinewood, and Audrey II is an incredible creation to this day.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. There’s so much energy in the musical numbers.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): EXTRAORDINARY. Such a funny, happy film. My kingdom for a chance to see the air just get sucked out of the room during that original test screening though.

52. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

52. The Fellowship of the RingIf you’re predisposed to enjoy the world of The Lord of the Rings, sitting down to watch or rewatch The Fellowship of the Ring is a treat. Not only because there are two more movies of comparable quality when you’re done, but because Fellowship in itself is a film of generous proportions. Not just in terms of running time, but there’s so many location changes, monsters, heroes, battles, chases, deaths. By the time you reach the end of Fellowship and think back to where it started those many, many hours ago, it feels like Peter Jackson has already thrown an entire trilogy of events at you even though only one book has been adapted. Something something Hobbit trilogy joke.

The only one of the three Lord of the Rings films to largely follow a single story branch throughout, The Fellowship of the Ring is far and away the most episodic and most travelogue-y of the three. The Two Towers and The Return of the King have smaller, somewhat more sedentary groups, and although Frodo and Sam are on the move, their journey leads them through increasingly deadened, dangerous landscapes. The first film is the brightest and most varied visually of the three movies, and for that reason never gets boring.

The scale of the trilogy increased with each movie. Partly because that’s the direction the story heads in, but it also seems that New Line sent Peter Jackson a blank check for the other two film’s post productions. Those movies have CG monsters and visuals painted into every corner, and Fellowship by comparison seems downright intimate. Not only is the look of the film is achieved more often with practical effects, we spend a lot more time with the characters. So it packs a punch when the fellowship is torn apart by mistrust and even death.

As much as the three Lord of the Rings films obviously flow one into the other, they do offer something a little different for me. The Two Tower is the war flick, The Return of the King is full on operatic. The Fellowship of the Ring is the adventure. And it’s done so brilliantly, the filmmakers were like “You saw our movie that’s just a seemingly endless series of situations… would you like us to add another half hour on DVD?” and we were like “Yes. Please.”


Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. The further the story gets from The Shire, the more heavy hearted it becomes.
Appreciation (Construction): LOW. Moves us between a long series of mini-adventures with a minimum of fuss.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. The Ringwraiths and sections of Moria are pretty spooky.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. Tons of great action sequences, especially in the second half.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. I had to go to New Zealand based on how amazing it looked on film.
Affection (Emotional Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. Tears will be shed in the last few scenes.

“I have eaten the ribs of GOD!” ~Homer Simpson

51. Requiem for a Dream

51. Requiem for a DreamThis’ll be kind of a shallow review, because I saw Requiem for a Dream the one time about ten years ago and I promise I’m never going to see it again. Usually movies that are skillfully made yet incredibly difficult to watch wind up being movies I admire, not ones I’m liable to call one of my favourites. If you make a film about brutal subject matter and find a way to make it both devastating and palatable, like The Sweet Hereafter or Blue Velvet, I’m more impressed by the level of skill it takes to do that.

So for a movie as un-rewatchable as Requiem for a Dream to make it onto this list speaks to how impactful it is. And it’s something that has to be seen once. Hell, we could forget this whole War on Drugs thing and save a lot of time and money just showing this film in junior high. It’s not propaganda, it’s just a representation of all the worst case scenarios of drug addiction, and that’s information we all ought to have. Though it goes without saying Requiem for a Dream is a lot more engaging than any Drug PSA.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had my life relatively untouched by drug use. And had this movie simply followed Jared Leto, Marlon Wayons, and Jennifer Connelly’s characters, who are addicts when we meet them, I totally admit that in my naivety I wouldn’t have felt much sympathy for them. I might have assumed they were where they were because of their own bad choices.

It’s Ellen Burstyn’s character that’s key to the whole movie. Her life is defined by qualities that are universal and familiar. She’s bored, she’s lonely, she watches too much television, she wants to lose a bit of weight. And from there, she’s pinballed around by her apathetic doctors, and legally prescribed drugs take her down a road as dark and hopeless as anyone else in the story. I’d never really realized how drug addiction can be rooted in such mundane circumstances. I’m a more empathetic person as a result of having seen Requiem for a Dream.

That’s what I owe the movie, but that’s about as much as I want to keep thinking about it.

Amusement (Humour/Elation): N/A
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. Darren Aronofsky can shoot a film, that can’t be denied.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. Four separate stories told in parallel that feed off of each other.
Affection (Emotional Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. You’re either stronger than me if you’re not shaken by what happens to these four characters, or you’re more dead inside.
Anxiety (Suspense): EXTRAORDINARY. One of the most frightening movies I’ve ever watched, mainly because…
Applicability (Real World Resonance): EXTRAORDINARY. …this kind of thing happens to people like you or me, every day.

#60 – #56 | THE LIST | #50 – #46

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