Top 100 Movies: #75 – #71

Speed, The Sweet Hereafter, Gone Girl, Home Alone, The Life of Brian

75. Speed

75. SpeedThere was a time in which I thought Speed could have been a perfect 80 minute movie about a bus instead of a really good 120 minute movie about a bus, an elevator, and a subway. But those bookends have grown on me. Even if they’re inferior to the bus movie in the middle, they’re still good enough not to diminish the overall experience. The hostage scenario in the elevator honestly does feel like a pretty solid film compressed into 25 minutes, and once we get to the subway Dennis Hopper is a strong enough villain to keep you interested. That said, we remember the bus. We’re here for the bus.

Speed is one of those movies that has no ambition to be anything other than an amusement park ride, but within those parameters, it excels. Considering the famous premise, bomb on a bus explodes if it slows down, by its nature nearly every scene in Speed is in some way an action scene. If you’ve never seen the trailer give yourself a treat, it’s like a highlight reel for five action movies. No wonder audiences flooded the theatres when Speed came out despite the (at the time) B-List cast. On the strength of their performances (screen presence might be a better word), Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock got some well deserved career boosts.

The movie is more giddy thrills than white knuckles, but any time Speed goes for suspense, it succeeds. I always forget how funny the film is too, unintentionally in spots but less often than you might expect. The script, which got a heavy polish from Joss Whedon, has some one liners that are at least a few cuts above the average 90s action flick. We don’t know much about the characters, its a movie where the people in it are defined by the circumstances we see them in, but they’re all likeable and/or entertaining enough to invest in. And the premise exceeds its potential in every way; every complication you could run into trying to keep a bus above 50 miles per hour is in this script and then some.

Here’s where I’d make some kind of pun with the title, like “You should speed out to see this movie,” but every reviewer beat me to the punch twenty-five years ago. So all I’m left with is

“This movie is worth watching.”



Affection (Emotional Impact): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): LOW. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?
Awe (Visual Impact): LOW. Those blazing hot L.A. colours I like in a 90s summer blockbuster.
Appreciation (Construction): MODERATE. Mostly in the bus section, the escalation and intensity of the obstacles is skillfully done.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): MODERATE. Sandra Bullock mainly, she steals the show.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. Especially the elevator rescue and the lead up to the freeway jump.
Adrenaline (Excitement): EXTRAORDINARY. All but a couple of early scenes are relentless action.

74. The Sweet Hereafter

74. The Sweet HereafterNow let’s talk about a very different 90s movie centered on an imperiled bus. A beautiful little Canadian film about the impact a school bus crash has on a small community, The Sweet Hereafter is a brilliant, devastating bit of construction. And if you’re put off by the thought of watching a movie with a scene of screaming children perishing on board a bus, I’m here to tell you that you need not worry, Atom Egoyan spares us that. What he does is less upsetting and more haunting, for two reasons. The crash is framed in a stark, distant way from the point of view of a helpless bystander. And the actual event happens halfway through.

The Sweet Hereafter isn’t told chronologically, it’s a mosaic like view of a small community wrestling with profound loss. We meet an array of grieving adults, seen through the eyes of an opportunistic lawyer (Ian Holm, doing some of his best work). And only when we have context for their grief do we see for ourselves the event that started it all.

This is not a melodramatic film, nor a visceral one. It’s a film carried by some wonderful subdued performances, and a compelling group of interrelated characters forever impacted by tragedy. Throw in the mountain backdrop and it’s almost Twin Peaks, minus the humour or any mystery elements. In fact it’s a story without a villain, the effort to find one as a means to alleviate grief is what drives The Sweet Hereafter.

Every aspect of this movie is impeccable, and it’d rate much higher on my list, except it almost feels as though The Sweet Hereafter doesn’t have a third act. When a character packs it in and announces that the movie is over, it’s as abrupt and startling to the viewer as it is to the characters. You don’t expect a solution, you don’t even expect a real catharsis, but I was left wanting more. And not in a good way.

Maybe that frustration is kind of the point Egoyan is making; a sense of loss is always looking for an outlet it can’t find. But watching the movie a second time with that interpretation in mind, it still doesn’t quite satisfy me. The Sweet Hereafter builds its town so well, weaves its characters together so tightly. On a second viewing it’s weird to realize “Oh I guess that’s this character’s last scene” even though there’s still 45 minutes left.

That’s right, this depressing as all hell movie about dead children, failed dreams, and parental incest isn’t long enough, dammit. I want to know what happened to these characters. In all likelihood, nothing too good. But even if that’s the case I’d like to know.

Amusement (Humour/Elation): N/A.
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. Every time you see that bus set out there’s a knot in your stomach.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. The gorgeous cinematography and setting is at odds with the devastating events of the movie.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. Story isn’t told chronologically, but in a way that allows the emotional arc to build.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. All too easy to imagine this happening in your community, the movie has a lot to say about grief.
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. Resists being a tearjerker, instead tells a story about how there’s no such thing as catharsis.

73. Gone Girl

73. Gone GirlOur second twisty sexy thriller after The Handmaiden. And our second consecutive abrupt ending after The Sweet Hereafter. “Ending” is too strong a word to use in association with Gone Girl, actually. We just kind of run out of movie. And it doesn’t need to be this way. The original novel (also written by Gillian Flynn) has more or less the same outcome, but a more satisfying final beat. Put that ending into the film, Gone Girl jumps up 15 or 20 placements in my personal ranking. Even so, it’s one of the best thrillers of the last decade, and one that has gained powerful resonance just a few years later in the #MeToo era.

A lot of men today hold two simultaneous, sometimes uneasily co-existing beliefs. First, women being believed when they speak out against abuse is absolutely a good thing. Second, the idea of what would happen to your life if you were falsely accused of sexual assault is terrifying. We shouldn’t kid ourselves; the idea that a woman as clever and sociopathic as Amy Dunne may take advantage of #MeToo for the purposes of revenge is completely plausible. Not only would an innocent man have his life destroyed, but when the truth came out it would give ammo to idiots. “This one woman lied, so all women are lying too!” Rosamund Pike’s Amy is maybe the perfect villain for our era. She ought to be terrifying to everyone on multiple levels.

So much of the movie is about the roles men and women play for each other, how they interrelate, how much the media uses gender roles to shape narratives. But if the world moves on and the 2010s are someday seen as a less enlightened time, I wonder if Gone Girl will seem like a relic? It’s possible.

Still, at its core, it’s a terrific character thriller with intrigue coming out the wazoo. Amy’s methodical destruction of Nick’s life, Nick’s hasty countermoves against Amy, you can’t wait to see what happens next. Not to mention the cast is perfect, with David Fincher drawing some great performances out of actors I normally don’t think much of.

I’m not even talking about Tyler Perry. Ben Affleck is far from my favourite actor, but he’s absolutely believable as someone who’s frustrated about his private relationship receiving unwanted media scrutiny. For some reason. But appropriately, Rosamund Pike gets more of our attention when she’s onscreen. She spent the first ten years of her career being the most luminous part of some truly awful movies, and now given a plum role in a fantastic movie she shines in the way she’s always deserved.

The almost perfect thriller for our time. But if Gone Girl ages poorly because we collectively become better people than the characters who populate this movie, that’s probably a small price to pay.

Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): N/A. It’s a handful of bad people doing bad things to each other.
Awe (Visual Impact): LOW. More of a small, character film, it’s not even that distinct as a David Fincher flick aside from its overall high quality.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): MODERATE. How over the top psychotic Amy is is good for some laughs.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. Of the ‘high intrigue’ variety, you can definitely feel the walls closing in on Nick.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. Brilliantly plotted, just don’t like the ending.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Amy resonates in this era and ought to be terrifying to everyone.

72. Home Alone

72. Home AloneIt was my favourite movie as a kid. Why? The New York cinematography is appealing, Tim Curry gives one of the most entertaining performances in history, the brick throwing scene is absolutely hilarious, the…

I can’t do this. I’m not going to put Home Alone 2 on this list instead of the first one. Even though I do have stupid love for the sequel. 2 is beat for beat the first movie in a different city, but I saw 2 first, so I liked it more. Nostalgia is stupid. But even now, all grown up, Home Alone 2 is a downright escapist experience compared to the first. Spending Christmas by myself sounds like a nightmare. Spending Christmas in a five star New York hotel sounds pretty great.

I like watching Home Alone 2 more than Home Alone. I do. But no, it’s objectively not a better movie. Here’s why:

Home Alone is maybe the perfect high concept family comedy. The thought of having free reign of the house as a kid is universal, and a (then) guileless Macaulay Culkin is the perfect choice to sell both the fantasy and the fear of the situation. If you’re a kid, you’ve fully identified with Kevin as he eats and watches whatever he wants. And when he decides to grocery shop and do laundry and generally be more responsible, you recognize yourself as being capable of that too. And when things escalate further and Kevin has to fend off a home invasion, you feel as though you’d be capable of outsmarting Harry and Marv too.

That madcap sequence at the end is a part of me at this point, and I’m not alone. All kids of the 90s divide up into two categories. You were someone who will admit to mentally plotting out how you’d booby trap your house if villains ever came a-calling. (If your parents were lucky, that’s all you did.) Or, OR… you’ll deny that you ever did any such thing, and you’re living your life as a liar.

Meanwhile the Christmas trappings make it an inevitable holiday watch, the pairing of Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci (at the height of his time with Martin Scorcese) is so bizarre on the face of it yet so perfect, and a jiffy-pop emotional arc is baked right into the thing as Catherine O’Hare’s Kevin’s mother gets fed up with her son, then goes to insane lengths to make it back to him in time for Christmas.

It’s all here. And it’s all in Home Alone 2, but that’s not important right now.

Awe (Visual Impact): N/A
Anxiety (Suspense): LOW. Old Man Marley is a bit fearsome at first.
Appreciation (Construction): MODERATE. A story structure good enough for John Hughes to clone about a dozen more times in the 90s.
Adrenaline (Excitement): MODERATE. Has a high level of energy throughout.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. “The old man got to me!”
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Definitely when you’re a kid.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. “Santy Claus don’t visit the funeral homes, little buddy.”

71. Life of Brian

71. The Life of BrianThe Python’s second feature almost, though doesn’t quite, transcend its sketch TV sketch comedy roots. You can still tell its a group written movie that largely breaks down into a series of sketches. But those sketches are funny. And they share a thematic cohesion. In fact, I can’t think of a film that uses comedy this hilarious as a means to make larger sociological points, especially about topics like humanism and the dangers of blind faith. Religulous is the product of a fucking hack. Sorry, that’s just something I blurt out sometimes. Especially when I’m talking about Life of Brian, which honestly does put all other religious comedies to shame.

The movie should be commended for a lot of things, including its production values. Shot in Tunisia (in the era of Star Wars and Raiders), there’s an authentic texture and a grand feel that Life of Brian could have got away with not having, but it’s here and it adds something. And the humanist streak of the film I really dig.

Anyone who’s watched the movie already knows the Pythons pass over every opportunity for sacrilegious humour. Making the story about a parallel Christ figure named Brian, who accidentally starts his own religion, is a brilliant idea. By leaving Jesus mostly offscreen and taking aim at the fervent crowds that surround Brian, the movie avoids mocking Christianity specifically and makes a general point about how blind faith should be rejected in favour of finding the joy in your own existence. Even when you’re facing death by crucifixion. It’s genuinely kind of moving.

But the point of the movie isn’t the point. The comedy is the point. Considering that the thesis of Life of Brian is that you have the freedom to do what you want with your life, it’d be hypocritical of the Pythons to start sermonizing. So if all you choose to take away are fond memories of Biggus Dickus, John Cleese’s manic stoner, conjugating Romans, UFO interludes, and the grandiose animated opening credits, it’ll still be a great experience.

And if you get mad about Life of Brian’s content without seeing it, John Cleese will find you and school your ass.

Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Anxiety (Suspense): N/A
Appreciation (Construction): MODERATE. It’s an excuse plot, but the comedy and social commentary are brilliantly blended.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. The last scene actually does kind of get me.
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. It looks like a real bible epic and that makes the comedy even better.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Some forever relevant commentary on faith and the problems it can cause.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): EXTRAORDINARY. “Anybody else feel like a widdle… giggle… when I mention my fwiend… BIGGus… DICKus…”

#80 – #76 | THE LIST | #70 – #66

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