“Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible, and I have no cause to complain since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kind of writing that they evidently prefer.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien
70. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings impacted me in the way Star Wars impacted generations that came before me. I watched the series and saw the full range of what escapist cinema could accomplish. These three movies have as unassailable a place in my heart as it’s possible for any three movies to have, and they’re all going to be featured on this list. I could probably get away with grouping them all together and counting them as one entry, but all three are distinct for me.
If The Two Towers is my least favourite, it’s largely down to personal preference. It’s the most desaturated of the three movies, the grittiest and most warlike. The most scattered, following a lot of story branches that stand alone completely and never directly intersect. These might be the qualities that might make this someone’s favourite of the trilogy, and I can’t argue with that.
I don’t think the “middle chapter” status of The Two Towers is a handicap at all either, if anything it makes the film all the more special. There’s something appealing about re-entering a world I’ve already been immersed in, and something comforting about knowing there’s more to come when it’s over. Given that the characters and situations don’t need to be established, The Two Towers is literally off and running from the opening. It actually has the best first act of the three movies, bouncing all over the map and keeping a wide array of characters in constant jeopardy.
My main problem is that I’m used to the Extended Edition, which had been the only version of the movies I’d owned for a number of years. Seeing the theatrical cut, it’s actually very close to the other two films in term of quality, but the TTT EE is far inferior. I can’t be too mad at it though, the longer version of The Two Towers taught me a lot about editing. It’s interesting to see what adding decent but unnecessary scenes does to the momentum of a story.
Whatever I may say, there’s Gollum and New Zealand vistas, freefalling Balrog battles and half hour battle scenes, along with just a generous helping of Christopher Lee scaring the shit out of everybody. So even if you call this one the least good, you’re really going to watch Fellowship and then skip to King? You’re going to get a box of Neapolitan ice cream and eat the vanilla and chocolate and leave the strawberry in the middle? Bad example, lots of people do that.
Look, it’s a great film. I just have to pace my LotR fanboying a bit.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. Gollum of all people is the comic relief. Poor Gimli…
Anxiety (Suspense): LOW. It’s by a long shot the least intense of the three films, all the bigger events are being saved for the third film…
Affection (Emotional Impact): LOW. The only LotR movie that doesn’t go for the heartstrings, really.
Appreciation (Construction): MODERATE. Especially the first hour, which intercuts multiple threads together into one story.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. Loses a bit of momentum between the first act and Helm’s Deep, but those two sections are tremendous.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. Brag, I visited the rock where they built Edoras and it looked fantastic in real life too.
69. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Is this movie a drama? A comedy? A tearjerker? A thriller? I don’t know, but just the fact that you have to ask gets my attention. I take notice of any film that cannot be pigeonholed into one genre. Because either it’s a disaster, or it’s a movie confidently navigating and combining tones you didn’t think could be combined. Either way, you’re in for a memorable time.
Between the casting of Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson, the dark comedy, and the Deep South setting, at first Three Billboards looks like it’s going to be something a bit derivative of the Coen Brothers. But the movie not only establishes its own voice, it unveils and accomplishes quite a To Do list.
A relatively simple story; a grieving mother puts pressure on an ineffectual police departure, is a jumping off point. There’s examinations of mortality, grief, guilt, shaming. The story touches on rape, sexism, PTSD, racism. And it’s all really funny! Except for when it’s not. France McDormand has never been better, and because the character is so outwardly stoic the moments in which she breaks your heart catch you off guard. Sam Rockwell puts in some fantastic work too.
Yeah, about him. There was a bit of a stir around how this is a racist white male character who arcs. Rockwell got a lot of deserved praise for an objectively great acting job, but from what I could tell there was some discomfort at that praise. Perhaps even some even conflated the praise for his acting with praise for the character. Who never redeems himself by the way, he just shows himself to have the capacity for change, but I even saw criticism of that. Which I’m worried is symptomatic of our tendency to look at people with repugnant traits and view them as one dimensional. And that’s led to this polarized climate in which we refuse to engage with each other because we’ve already decided we can’t affect change in our fellow man. We can disagree with each other, we can even dislike each other, but it’s dangerous to simplify each other. Racists can be complex too, and Rockwell’s performance is an uncomfortable, challenging, and ultimately pretty compelling depiction of that notion. Anyway.
Last, most important point. It’s tough for a movie to surprise me, but this movie surprised me. There’s a moment, not even halfway through, where Three Billboards just completely blows up its own premise. And at this point the direction and the writing has been so sure-footed, you’re not worried the film has gone off the rails. You’re excited to see how the story keeps itself going for another hour. It is a bold risky move in a bold risky movie.
2017 was I thought an uncommonly good year for film, but thanks to some bravado storytelling and acting, Three Billboards stood above the crowd.
Adrenaline (Excitement): LOW. Of the arson/bar brawl variety.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): MODERATE. Captures the feeling of needing to do something to redirect the loss and anger you feel after a tragedy.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. A movie full of volatile characters you’re worried might snap at any moment.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. Lots of affecting scenes, with special mention to Frances McDormand seeing the deer.
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. It’s not No Country but the southern cinematography is great.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. You never know where the story is going but the script always plays fair.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. All this and it’s funny too.
68. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
To a kid who loved James Bond, who then moved onto Indiana Jones and loved that even more, and who then got to the third movie and realized that Harrison Ford and Sean Connery were going to star in an action buddy comedy, what could be more exciting? Getting a driver’s licence? Sex? Raiders of the Lost Ark?
Well, yes to all three. Actually it’s no secret that The Last Crusade, with all its religious artifacts and Nazi villains, is pretty derivative of Raiders. Especially in the first hour, though there’s plenty to like, it does feel a bit like a lesser version of the first film.
But once Sean Connery shows up as Indy’s pappy and the two of them are on the run from Nazis, The Last Crusade comes to life in a way that surpasses even Raiders. Seriously, the chemistry between Ford and Connery, their shared quips and action scenes, and the emotional beats between them in the last sequence, are the best material the three movies have to offer.
The script and the direction should get a lot of credit too. How often do you get a hilarious cameo from Adolf Hitler? We get plenty of action scenes, including a ten minute tank chase I’ve probably seen a hundred times by now. Not to mention all the Indy tropes like a heroine getting icked out by a horde of gross animals, a temple full of booby traps, and a grotesque comeuppance for the villain.
But take out Henry Jones Sr, or hell, cast anyone but Sean Connery as this character, and you only have a pretty good movie as opposed to a great one.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Anxiety (Suspense): LOW. Never goes for scares like the first two films, though some tension surrounding Jones Sr’s fate near the end.
Appreciation (Construction): MODERATE. It’s a good caper/treasure hunt plot that never overwhelms the characters or action scenes.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. “Indiana… let it go.”
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. Looks like it’s shot on more soundstages than Raiders but still looks pretty good.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. Who knew Sean Connery did comic relief?
Adrenaline (Excitement): EXTRAORDINARY. Maintains that Indy standard.
67. The Raid 2
From the halfway point on, The Raid 2 becomes one of the most thrilling, most artfully made action movies of all time. The first half… is also quite good. That’s how you can tell we’re moving on up the list. We’ve talked about a lot of action movies that I’m featuring mainly for their great action scenes, and we’ll continue to do so. But the non-action parts of action movies are getting good in their own right. We’re a long way from Tequilla playing his saxophone or doing his taxes or whatever the fuck in Hard Boiled.
Like that film, The Raid 2 has another story about embedded moles and blurred loyalties that ultimately ends in some serious bloodshed. And had this just been a straight up thriller, the writing and acting is good enough that it would have been successful on those terms. But if you’re going to something called The Raid 2, you’ve got a set of ingrained expectations. You’ve seen the first one, you want some more action scenes, and the sequel is like “Oh, I’ll give you action scenes.”
Fun game to play at home if you’re watching the movie with someone. When a fight scene starts, each of you pick a character. Score a point every time your character keeps on fighting even after sustaining a potentially fatal blow to the head, whoever has the most wins!
It’s the kind of movie in which you feel the brutality of every single punch by proxy. The fists connect and the sound mixing has impact. And yet every character has superhuman endurance. How else to explain the last hour? Our lead character is put through an unfathomably long series of fistfights and car chases, takes seriously a dozen or so mortal wounds, and is still standing by the credits. I guess.
The Raid managed to be a lot of fun because it worked within tight parameters. The Raid 2 takes the restraints off and takes place over a few years in a wide variety of settings. There’s a lot to love about either approach, but there aren’t many sequels that expand and evolve as successfully as The Raid 2.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): N/A
Appreciation (Construction): MODERATE. Tells a nice suspenseful “going undercover” story.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. Any time a non-lead character is in danger it’s pretty intense.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. Some incredible shots and production values, special mention to the muddy courtyard.
Adrenaline (Excitement): EXTRAORDINARY. About a half dozen absolutely incredible fight scenes and one pretty great car chase.
66. Citizen Kane
Probably better to leave Citizen Kane off the list entirely if I’m not going to put it right at the top, because a 66th placement is maybe the worst thing I could have done. I am cognizant of the extraordinarily important place Citizen Kane has in history. But if cinematic impact is all that matters, it’d be the one non-incredibly racist film in a Top 3 that included Birth of a Nation and The Jazz Singer. History will only get you so far. It’s on the list because I sincerely enjoy watching it. But I enjoy watching it in a 66th place kind of way.
Citizen Kane stands above a lot of early classics for me because to this day it’s got modern feeling sensibilities. Pre-1940, movies were one thing, then Citizen Kane came out, and movies became another thing. Stories were told more visually, they were told subtly, non chronologically, with lead characters who operated within shades of grey.
His first time making a film at age 25, Orson Welles recognized what no one else was doing with cinema and innovated on his own, and that’s an inspiring thought to me. There are all kinds of new entertainment mediums in their infancy, just waiting to have their potential fully realized. We might someday see the Orson Welles of podcasts, or the Orson Welles of mobile app games.
Is it possible to to set aside how Citizen Kane innovated? How it was a thinly veiled attack on one of the most influential media figures of its day, or how the rise and fall of Charles Foster Kane paralleled Welles in his own life? So much discussion on Citizen Kane is about the impact of Citizen Kane, but can you watch it just as a movie? I think I can. And just purely as a jigsaw like portrait of its lead character, it’s wonderful. The intrigue is fantastic (I watched it young enough to have not had the Rosebud reveal spoiled for me) and it has an incredible sense of style.
And if in the future I’ve got, like, Supercop ranked higher, it’s with the unspoken acknowledgment that it might not exist if not for what Citizen Kane accomplished.
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A.
Anxiety (Suspense): N/A.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. Moments of wit, but not really a film that goes for laughs.
Affection (Emotional Impact): LOW. You’re watching this man rise and fall with more of a detached eye, the humanizing moments come right at the very end.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. What measure is the life of a man?
Awe (Visual Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. Stunning to look at, all the more amazing considering that Citizen Kane didn’t have a real template to work off of.
Appreciation (Construction): EXTRAORDINARY. Story is told masterfully, especially the first half hour (the death, the newsreel, the reporter framing device, the childhood scene).