Top 100 Movies: #15 – #11

Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Rear Window, Jaws, Psycho, The Godfather


15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

15. Monty Python and the Holy GrailWe talked about Life of Brian way back when, and you can make the argument that it’s the better film. It’s definitely got a lot more happening beneath the surface. Objectively speaking, it’s probably about as funny as Holy Grail too.

But imagine you’re kind of a weird kid. Your best friend and one of the only people who really “gets” your sense of humour brings over a VHS tape of something called called a Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Right from the moment the opening credits start imploring you to why not try a holiday in Sweden that year, you’re never the same. You can’t beat that.

There’s not much to really get into with Monty Python and the Holy Grail aside from it being one of the most laugh out loud movies ever made. But that in itself is notable, given how hit and miss the TV show is. I’m not sure what’s the all time funniest episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but the best it could hope for it about a 50% success rate in terms of laugh out loud sketches.

Holy Grail isn’t all that different from the show, it’s not shot in a studio but it’s basically a triple length episode in which every sketch has a medieval theme. The achievement is that every single sketch is at a minimum quite funny (Sir Galahad’s temptation, Tim the Enchanter) and at best drop dead hilarious (The Black Knight, the witch hunt, the French taunters, the Knights Who Say Ni, the killer rabbit…).

It’s hard to imagine anyone reaching a certain age without having been exposed to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That’s not me being myopic, because if you haven’t seen the film you definitely saw the two weird kids in your class reenacting entire scenes complete with bad British accents. And my friend and I are sorry about that, we were 14 and we didn’t know any better. But off putting as we might have been, don’t let us sour you on the movie.

Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Anxiety (Suspense): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): N/A
Appreciation (Construction): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. It is Terry Gilliam co-directing, the film actually has some visual sense and makes Scotland feel bleak and inhospitable.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): EXTRAORDINARY. “What a strange person!”

14. Rear Window

14. Rear WindowAt long last, our first Hitchcock. We’ve had films that could have been made by him (Purple Noon, Sleuth, Diabolique) but now that we’ve arrived at Rear Window there’s no mistaking the real thing. How can we be sure it’s a Hitchcock movie? Probably because there’s blonde actresses being sexually harassed off camera. ZING. Take that, director whose… films became a part of my soul before I found out some shit about him. These are confusing times.

Rear Window itself is of course phenomenal. It was always fun to see Hitchcock place these restrictions on himself and then achieve massive success by working within them. In this case, he makes a movie about an immobile guy named Jeffries who can’t do anything but look out the window.

The camera stays in the apartment until the very end, though Rear Window never feels claustrophobic because Jeffries’ bay window opens up on a great big apartment courtyard. This place, which incidentally is the film set I would most want to visit, is full of busy people with busy lives, but Jeffries’ eye of course lands upon the man who may have murdered his wife under everyone’s nose.

It’s one of the most enjoyable pure suspense movies ever made, but Rear Window at one point threatens to harsh our buzz by delving into the ethics of voyeurism. Jeffries’ girlfriend Lisa comes right up to the line of telling him that he ought to be ashamed of himself for spying on his neighbours, only to catch a glimpse of something suspicious herself. From that point on she’s creeping out the window as much as anyone, and we in the audience feel relieved about that. If it’s ok for someone like Grace Kelly to people-watch, we can feel ok about ourselves. Because at this point we’re dying to know what’s going on too.

That’s Hitchcock’s accomplishment with Rear Window. By getting us to relate to a lead character who’s doing exactly what we’re doing, i.e. sitting there watching other people’s lives, we put ourselves in the movie. And once we’re in the movie, it starts getting pretty intense.

We’re the ones who feel helpless to warn Lisa when she’s sleuthing where she ought not to be sleuthing as the murderer approaches. And when Raymond Burr realizes who’s spying on him and looks directly at the screen, he’s seen us. Neat trick, that. One of the most ingenious and nastiest tricks in all of Hollywood history. The director must be a real bastard to come up with something like that.

Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): LOW. Almost, but doesn’t quite have social commentary about voyeurism.
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. I love love love that courtyard set.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): MODERATE. I didn’t mention her in the All About Eve review either, but Thelma Ritter is a national treasure and gets all the best lines.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. There’s a couple cheats in the actual case itself, but the escalation of tension and intrigue is masterful.
Anxiety (Suspense): EXTRAORDINARY. We’re at the edge of our wheelchair! I mean seat. We’re not in the movie. I don’t think.

“I just think of a period in my life when I was much younger than I am right now. And I think because I was much younger, I was more courageous. Or I was more stupid. I’m not sure which.” ~Steven Spielberg

13. Jaws

13. JawsThis movie hits the screen in 1975, Hollywood is like “Aha, of course! Sharks!” No one had ever really tried scaring us with sharks before Jaws. Incidentally I tried to verify that assertion by googling shark movies, and oh boy. It really is just the one masterpiece (Jaws), two minimally entertaining B movies (Deep Blue Sea and The Meg), and then nothing but crap, isn’t it? Jaws started a subgenre, I only wish it could ended it at the same time.

It is absolutely infuriating how good Steven Spielberg is this early on. As both a piece of storytelling and filmmaking, Jaws is as accomplished as anything he’s make over his career, and I’d make the argument that it’s his most entertaining film. That might be because it’s actually two films. Jaws is about terror in a small town plagued by shark attacks, and once we got all the mileage we can get out of that premise, Jaws is then a potboiler about three men being stalked out on the sea. It’s one of those exceedingly rare movies without a single dud moment.

The cast is great, and Roy Scheider especially is low key one of the best protagonists of all time. Brody isn’t particularly cool or traditionally heroic, he’s just a competent guy keeping a handle on things in the face of great adversity and he never once doesn’t feel like a real person. Scheider is Goldblum without the tics.

But even his return didn’t save Jaws 2. Though in fairness, Spielberg’s return wouldn’t have saved Jaws 2. There’s nothing he wouldn’t have been able to do that he didn’t get perfectly right the first time.


Awe (Visual Impact): LOW. Not an especially stylish or visually driven movie.
Affection (Emotional Impact): LOW. You do hate to see something like that happen to Quint.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. There’s some chuckles sprinkled throughout.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. I have a soft spot because the community in Jaws so deeply resembles where I grew up (Atlantic Canada) both in terms of how it looks and how much tourism drives local politics.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. The shark attack movie reaches a natural endpoint, and then the trapped at sea movie starts up.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. Some high seas adventure as the movie goes on, which contrasts well with the…
Anxiety (Suspense): EXTRAORDINARY. …terrifying last few sequences, along with some moments of pure horror throughout the first half.

“It wasn’t a message that stirred the audiences, nor was it a great performance. They were aroused by pure film.”

12. Psycho (1960)

12. PsychoMovies that are driven by plot and predicated on twists alone don’t endure. It’s fun to be bamboozled on the first watch, it’s fun to look for the hints you missed on the second watch, but if the story is just exposition without some kind of emotional impact, it won’t hold up on Viewing #3. It sounds obvious to say, but you need sequences that are compelling in and of themselves. Moments that are still funny or exciting or harrowing the tenth time you’ve seen them. You need dialogue that you want to hear again and again, and you need great performances. You need basement skeletons, swinging bulbs, and Anthony Perkins in a wig.

Psycho could have been a movie that shocked you on the first go around, and that’s pretty much it. But something about the sheer quality of the filmmaking keeps drawing me back even though I already know the surprises. There’s plenty of value to the discussions about the manipulations in the early scenes of Marion Crane fleeing with the money. How Hitchcock subtly cues us to believe that Janet Leigh is indeed the lead of the picture by giving her a lot of unfinished business, simply to make her ultimate end more shocking.

But I’d rather talk about how fantastic she is portraying an essentially good person who’s made a bad mistake. Or the Bernard Herrmann music as she drives and drives, or how frightening that police officer who looms over Marion is. All the plot machinations could have felt like a huge waste of time on a rewatch, knowing the true story to come, but the atmosphere, suspense, and the performances make the first act enjoyable no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

Over time, I’ve come to think of the Marion and Norman dinner as my favourite scene in the movie. It passes the baton so skillfully, gradually making Norman Bates the lead character through script and performance. Anthony Perkins does one of the all time great acting jobs, there’s no one else in cinema who’s strange in quite the way Norman is. His stammering and his wavering smiles are so interesting to watch, but he feels real up until the big ending.

There’s a whole lot of lesser Psycho related material out there. Like with Jaws there’s three sequels that just get worse and worse. I watched all five seasons of Bates Motel and Norman Bates works best in the context of a horror thriller, turns out an in-depth psychological profile of the character is just kind of grim. And then of course there’s the Gus Van Sant remake, which only elevates the original all the more. It proves that it’s not enough for a talented director and a talented cast to faithfully recreate what came before. Psycho’s greatness lies in the little things.

Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Amusement (Humour/Elation): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Awe (Visual Impact): LOW. Something about that towering house overlooking the hotel will always be a part of me.
Anxiety (Suspense): EXTRAORDINARY. The actual horror/murder scenes are actually low in number but dread and anxiety hangs over nearly every scene in the picture.
Appreciation (Construction): EXTRAORDINARY. One of the Top 3 filmmakers of all time playing the audience like an fiddle.

11. The Godfather

11. The GodfatherWhen I made it my goal to see every American classic way back when, I saved The Godfather for last. And about twenty minutes in, as the opening wedding wore on, I remember wondering if The Godfather was going to be like The Deer Hunter, aka another movie I would have to pretend I liked. That film also begins with an opening scene at a wedding followed by a second scene of a hunting trip literally an hour later. “I guess we all just have to act as though we like boring long-ass weddings in 1970s movies,” I remember thinking.

But then… and (as though it matters) this is a spoiler warning for The Godfather… the wedding ends and the titular character is gunned down barely 45 minutes in. Shit just got interesting, people!

As I’ve grown up I’ve learned to appreciate how important that opening at the wedding is, of course. It’s vital to establish the characters, to see the way family and business is intermingled in the mafia, to establish that Michael is living a life uncorrupted by crime. But it’s the attack on Vito Corleone that knocks over the first domino. From that point on its a epic story of escalating violence and Michael’s downward spiral as he takes control of the business to protect his family.

It’s a series of events that would serve as the climax in any other movie, but here it’s just a stepping stone to something even more momentous. The Godfather does an extraordinary job blending tension with tragedy. The sepia tinted imagery has never made a life of crime look more decadent. But at the end of the day, it’s mainly just a story well told.

Everyone has genres they don’t really care for, and I don’t like movies with mafia protagonists. I feel apathetic to what happens to them. You haven’t seen me talk about an objectively good movie on here like Goodfellas, and you won’t. You won’t see me talk about The Godfather Part 2, for that matter. But this movie transcends the genre in every sense.

The Godfather is The Godfather of movies.

Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. You’ve got to love Luca Brasi, the most unlikely comic relief character of them all.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): MODERATE. Maybe the key to the movie’s accessibility is its angle that the mafia places value on family, same as us.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. It all looks so lavish, aside from the murdering.
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. It’s one of the best known American tragedies, after all.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. Once we’re past the set-up it’s at least two hours of winding uncertainty.
Appreciation (Construction): EXTRAORDINARY. One of the great stories in all of cinema.

#20 – #16 | THE LIST | #10 – #6

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