#81 Snatch (2000)
I had a teacher, forever ago, that used to say (well, maybe she still says it, honestly how would I know) that a novelists second novel is often their best novel. I believe the entire basis of this assertion was based on Pride and Prejudice being Jane Austin’s second novel, but it did make me wonder if there is any truth to that with directors. I mean, intuitively it makes some sense. Film #1 you are learning, making mistakes, figuring stuff out; by film #2 you are more self assured, have a steadier hand, and haven’t had all the artistic passion sucked out of you. Or so goes the theory. Here are some of the #2 films from the all time great directors: Hitchcock The Mountain Eagle (1926), Coppola Tonight For Sure (1962) (even I haven’t heard of that one), Scorsese Boxcar Bertha (1972) (getting a little bit warmer), Spielberg Jaws (1975) (now we are getting somewhere), Cameron Terminator (1984) (keep it up), Tarantino Pulp Fiction (1994). Okay, those last three look pretty good. I could also have pointed out that Edgar Wright’s second movie was Shaun of the Dead (2004) or Nolan’s second movie was Memento (2000) or, most critically for this discussion, that Snatch was the second film from Guy Ritchie. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a good bit of fun, but Snatch kicked everything up a whole bunch of notches. Sure we remember Brad Pitt’s performance, which is amazing, and that this was a bit of an introduction to the world for Jason Statham, who is also great, but how about Lennie James as Sol, the pawn shop owner who finds himself in over his head right quick, or Alan Ford as the biggest of big bads Brick Top who memorably teaches us all why you should be fearful of pig farmers? Benicio Del Toro as Franky Four Fingers, Vinnie Jones as Bullet-Tooth Tony, Rade Serbedzija (you know who he is, you’ve just never known his name) as Boris the Blade the list goes on and on. And it isn’t just the performances, Ritchie builds a plot with a lot of moving parts that still feels clear (quite impressive). It is fitting that Ritchie’s first name is guy because this is very much a guys movie about guys acting like guys doing guy things for guy reasons (you might have noticed there were no women in my little listing of performances), but I guess I must be a guy (hey, wait, I am a guy, the fat film guy, see what I did there?) because I love every bloody second of this picture.
#79 The Incredibles (2004)
Hey, what do you know, Brad Bird’s second movie. I’d love to say I planned that but this was simply a beautiful accident. Anyway, I have found a kind of odd thing about The Incredibles, on lists of the best Pixar movies it seems to tumble a little further than it should, but on lists of best superhero movies, well, it gets pretty close to the top. Sure, you can say The Incredibles is little more than a family friendly version of Watchmen (not quite true, but certainly has some of the same beats, particularly in the set up), but that is dismissing the thing that really separates the film. If you want to know the movie list that The Incredibles should sit atop it is middle-life crisis movies. What movie better shows the drudgery of middle-aged life, when you are stuck in a job that doesn’t fulfill you, with a boss you hate and the pressures of a family making you feel trapped. What movie better illustrates how that middle-aged disappointment impacts the people around you, makes their lives lifeless and grey because they feel that emanating from the protagonist. More importantly, what movie better illustrates that your happiness and passion isn’t as much about your job or boss or what life hasn’t given you or even what you have lost, its about finding joy in what you have. Honestly, it sounds trite when you type it, but maybe more than any Pixar movie this is a film about being “past your prime” and how you deal with that, and it is better at showing that than any other film.
#78 Se7en (1995)
Alright, now this is kind of freaking me out because I honestly had no idea when I made this list, or when I rambled on about Snatch, that I was going to go three in a row. Yup, David Fincher’s second movie is Se7en. It is like we have entered the twilight zone. Anyway, “what’s in the box? what’s in the f***ing box?!” Honestly, I really shouldn’t say anything else. Honestly, I’m not going to say anything else.
P.S. Don’t watch the clip unless you want to know what’s in the box. Or, maybe, don’t watch unless you already know what’s in the box.
#77 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Few, finally we get to a movie that isn’t the directors second film. My film professor in school argued, quite vehemently, that this was not a good movie. To him it was a narrative mess, an almost text book example of how not to structure your three acts, and he couldn’t understand how it became a success. Craziest part of that story, he was buddies with Redford and actually showed us behind the scenes footage of Redford and Newman joking around on the set. Anyway, my professor at once wasn’t wrong and yet missed the whole point. Butch and Sundance is not a narrative, not in any classic sense, it is a handful of stories strung together and only feels like a narrative because the first story and the last story feel like a beginning and an ending. What Butch and Sundance is is a movie star movie; it is Redford being his best Redford and Newman being his best Newman and the chemistry the two of them shared in full wattage, and honestly, that is kind of all you needed. The Sting may be a better plot with a tighter narrative and so on and so on, but nothing is quite as fun as watching Butch and Sundance … AND this is one of the best endings ever!
#76 Leon: The Professional (1994)
We always talk about Shawshank and Pulp Fiction when we argue for 1994 being the greatest year in the history of movies, but we forget The Professional too often in that conversation. Young Natalie Portman, Jean Reno being introduced to American audiences, Gary Oldman being the craziest Gary Oldman you have ever seen. The Professional was Luc Besson’s follow up to the huge success of Le Femme Nikita (and The Big Blue which I cannot recommend highly enough) and it fit perfectly into the cinema of the moment that was the mid 1990’s. Leon is, and not in the least bit creepy way, a rom com between a socially stunted hitman and a 12 year old girl built into an action movie about corrupt cops. How many people could pull that off?
#75 Bull Durham (1988)
You know, I have noticed that this list is kind of bunched in a way. I didn’t mean to do it that way, and there are certainly exceptions in each batch of 10 I have written so far, but still it kind of seems to be there. Like our list so far, forget the second movie things (which was honestly freaky), Snatch, Se7en, Butch and Sundance, The Professional, now Bull Durham, this is like a guy movie night when we put in all the flicks are wives have no interest in watching. Sure, we have The Incredibles in there (a movie about a middle aged man who almost looses his family) but, man, I think of myself as a more enlightened film watcher and lover. Anyway, I suppose I just need to own it. Hello, my name is Rob, and I like guy movies. Okay, now I feel better. Here is a better written thing than I could ever do debating what kind of a movie Bull Durham really is (kind of amazing the Grantland article still pops up). Whatever it is, it works.
Oh, and the guy that hits the home run in this clip, I played high school football with him, so that’s cool, right?
#74 Notorious (1946)
Ingrid Bergman and Claude Raines star a movie about intrigue surrounding WWII, I know what your thinking, we did this movie 10 spots ago at #84 and its name was Casablanca. Sorry, nope, this is the better movie starring Ingrid Bergman and Claude Raines … you get the point. Notorious really shows off one of Hitchcock’s greatest talents, he can ratchet up the intensity without having to speed up the plot. Normally the suspense and intensity of a movie is driven by a plot picking up speed, like a rock rolling down a hill, but Hitchcock can do it with almost nothing happening, in fact he uses stillness to greater edge of your seat suspense than most can get through action. Also, this movie has the famous for the longest, and what some call the sexiest, kiss in movie history. As the story goes the Production Code (kind of like MPAA today, but much more strict) at the time had a strict limit on the length a kiss on screen could be, 3 seconds. So, Hitchcock has Grant and Bergman break lip contact, although only barely, every 3 seconds and so on and so on for 2 1/2 minutes. It really is kind of amazing, which is why it is the clip attached below.
#73 The French Connection (1971)
It is interesting what movies stay at the forefront of the collective consciousness and which ones seem to drift away. If you ask people to rattle off what iconic movies they remember from the 1970’s you’ll get The Godfather and Jaws and Rocky and Taxi Driver and Star Wars, maybe you’ll get a Deer Hunter, a Chinatown, the occasional Apocalypse Now (yes, all of those movies are in my top 100), but The French Connection, almost never. Which is strange because in the 1970’s it would have absolutely been one of the first handful mentioned right out of the gate. Jimmy Doyle’s car chase scene alone would get you there. But, for whatever reason, maybe because it was very much a movie of its moment, it hasn’t stayed in the forefront of our collected memories, but it should. It really, really should.
#72 Once Upon A Time in the West (1968)
I have a new theory about movie reviews. I believe the reviewer should have to say, right up front, whether or not they are fans of the kind of movie the movie they are reviewing is. If you didn’t like any Transformers movies I don’t need to hear you tell me you didn’t like the last Transformers. If you don’t like comic book movies I don’t need to hear your take on Spiderman: Homecoming. And the opposite is equally true, if you LOVE Marvel movies tell me up front so I understand the bias you are coming at the movie from. As this list will demonstrate, I love spaghetti westerns. Wait, that’s not true, I love Sergio Leone westerns. Granted, just about ever spaghetti western you have heard of was director by the Italian master filmmaker, but still I feel like the differentiation should be noted. Once Upon A Time in the West is kind of an interesting one because it seems to ebb and flow out of the cable TV western rotation. The Good The Bad and the Ugly is always going to pop up on TNT or AMC a few weekends a year, same with A Fistful of Dollars and True Grit and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Once Upon A Time in the West is one of the movies you see pop up every 5 or 6 years, it seems like, and then they will play it a bunch for a few months, and then it will be gone again. Which is odd only insofar as it kind of has the most classic plot of all of them. As the title suggests Leone really set out to make the quintessential western, filmed in Monument Valley, dealing with the railroad and the collision of industry with the lawlessness of the wild west, it has very bad bad guys (Henry Fonda is amazing as the baddest bad guy, famously killing a young boy in his introductory scene which was kind of a mind-blowing thing to see from an iconic actor like Fonda, watch the clip below to see what I mean), only slightly better good guys (Jason Robards’ Cheyene is perhaps my favorite character in any western ever made), and a woman, who is far from helpless, caught in the middle (Claudia Cardinale who makes her case quite convincingly as the most beautiful actress who ever lived in this movie).
#71 Rocky (1976)
I have heard and read and listened to debates ever since Creed came out in 2015 about whether or not Rocky holds up. The closest thing to a consensus seems to be that it absolutely holds up for those who loved it when they were kids but maybe doesn’t hold up as well to kids today who have been raised on movies that are simply paced differently. That sounds right, probably, I suppose, and is something one could likely say about roughly 75 or 80 of my top 100 movies, so obviously it doesn’t mean much to me. I still love Rocky. I love “cut me Mick” and “Yo, Adrian” and I really want to “eat lightnin’ and crap thunder” every time I watch it.