"Shawshank Redemption" (1994) - RE-WATCH

Rank on the AFI List: #72

Synopsis (according to IMDB.com)
Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.

I remember seeing this movie for the first time on cable television.  I was in high school, it came out about five years earlier, and I didn't really know much about it.  After I watched it, it was on my mind practically nonstop for several days, along with the thought: "that was such a good movie!"  Ergo, this has been one of my absolute favorite movies ever since.

The casting is terrific, the story compelling, and the characters are easy to like and really care about - even if they are convicted felons.  The examination of Fear and Hope is also well done, as there are plenty of "I never want to go to prison after seeing that" moments, right alongside several scenes that give me goosebumps and make me think "what a great moment".  I love this movie.

What makes this a "Top 100" Movie?
This is one where I firmly believe the story was simply too good to not be recognized as one of the best in film.  I mean, what other movie could involve prison life and a river of s*** and leave audiences feeling so good??  "Shawshank Redemption" is superbly acted, paces well, and was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay.

I always feel sad when it ends.  Not with how it ends, but I come to love the characters so much that I want to stay with them and see where their stories go.  I guess that could be considered more a kudos to the film for its character development and storytelling ability, but I still feel like complaining that this movie has to end.

Great story.  Great characters.  Great themes.  Great acting.  Great direction.  Great screenplay.  Great movie.

MY RATING: 10/10 (no change from my previous rating)

"Saving Private Ryan" (1998) - RE-WATCH

Rank on the AFI List: #71

Synopsis (according to AFI.com)
James Ryan, who has parachuted into France during the Allied invasion of Europe, has just lost three brothers in combat. Government policy dictates that he should return home lest his family be deprived of all its male offspring. A team of soldiers, led by Captain John Miller and fresh from the beaches of Normandy, is assembled to find and save Private Ryan.

Having never served in the military and experienced the terror of war, movies are really the only avenue to help me imagine what it might be like.  And while there are other war movies on the AFI List, none of them seem as realistic and uncensored as "Saving Private Ryan" (Platoon probably comes the closest, but it definitely falls short in terms of effects and absolute realism).  For example, the film's opening with the D-Day invasion is one of the most incredible scenes in movie history.  It sets the stage for the rest of the film - being as true to war and battle as possible, without being gratuitous nor restrained in any way.  That balance alone is a credit to Spielberg and everyone else who worked on it.

In addition to the incredible production value, the story carries an ethical question that adds to the confusion of the situation - when is one man's life worth risking the lives of 8 others?  Given the situation presented in the film, there's no easy answer...except perhaps, FUBAR.

What makes this a "Top 100" Movie?
I would argue it's because this is the most true-to-life, realistic war movie ever made.  It's meticulously produced, extremely well-acted, and so realistic I remember hearing about all the vets who got flashbacks while watching it.  It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning 5 of them including Best Director, Cinematography, Sound Effects, Editing, and Sound.  It's a travesty that Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture over "Saving Private Ryan".  I would also argue Tom Hanks deserved the Best Actor award, but 1999 was quite a bonanza when it came to great movies and acting performances, with Edward Norton in American History X and the winner Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful.  Wow, that makes "Shakespeare in Love" winning Best Picture even more absurd, knowing those films didn't win it, either.  Sheesh.

Having credited this movie with outstanding production, I do have to point out three very minor details that have always bothered me.

1) During the D-Day invasion, when Wade, the medic, is administering morphine to the dying soldiers, it looks like he just holds the morphine over the guy's leg without actually pricking him with it (like they do later on in the movie).

2) Also during the D-Day invasion, after they break through and are about to flamethrow that big square shooting room thing, they throw 2 grenades into the trench leading to it, but only one explosion occurs.  I always expect them to wait for the second explosion, but they proceed as if only one grenade was thrown.  Hmm.....

3) In the final battle scene, when the Nazis shoot that huge 20mm gun at the tank swarming with US soldiers, one soldier is clearly a dummy standing straight up in one place before getting literally shot to pieces.  The rest of the soldiers appear real and are moving, so that one in the middle really stands out like a sore thumb to me.  (Check out the scene below to see what I'm talking about.)

Amazing movie with incredibly realistic effects and an ethically compelling story.  Perhaps the closest thing one can get to experiencing World War II for themselves.

MY RATING: 9.5/10 (0.5 higher from my previous rating)

"The Sixth Sense" (1999) - RE-WATCH

Rank on the AFI List: #89

Synopsis (according to imdb.com)
A boy who communicates with spirits that don't know they're dead seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist.

Here we come to the "Twist" movie.  I remember "The Sixth Sense" was huge when it came out and made M. Night Shyamalan a household name.  Since then, the famous twist ending has been referenced so many times in TV shows and pop culture it's basically become a punchline.  It also introduced a new wave of making movies with crazy twist endings, some good, some bad, but none that compare to this one.

Even without the twist, this is still a great movie.  It's well-acted and well-paced as the story builds and progresses steadily.  It also hits on all the emotions, and is scary without being gratuitous.  And the movie does a fantastic job of looking at several different types of relationships (mother and son, husband and wife, doctor and patient) very genuinely, and very equally throughout, which may have impressed me the most (just try to answer the question of which relationship was truly the most prominent in the story, or the most genuine).

What makes this a "Top 100" Movie?
"The Sixth Sense" has the greatest twist in film history.  On top of being an exceptionally-made movie, the twist must have been what solidified its place on the AFI List.  It was nominated for 6 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and two acting nominations for Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette.

Even though the movie introduces "rules" that ultimately make the twist ending work, it never explains what Bruce Willis does immediately before or immediately after certain scenes where some of the rules would really come into play (like when Cole comes home and finds Bruce Willis sitting down with his mom like they had been talking - what was going on before that scene and what did Bruce Willis seem to think was going on?).  There's just a few holes like that that make me a little less impressed with the twist overall.

Very well-done movie with the biggest twist in film history, even if a few holes exist in its logic.

MY RATING: 8/10 (0.5 higher from my previous rating)

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) - RE-WATCH

Rank on the AFI List: #34

Synopsis (according to imdb.com)
Snow White, pursued by a jealous queen, hides with the Dwarfs; the queen feeds her a poison apple, but Prince Charming awakens her with a kiss.

I hadn't seen this one in quite some time.  The story is certainly a classic, but the entire 84 minutes really only has about 15 minutes of actual story (if that).  The rest is just songs and doing mundane things like cleaning a house and washing up before dinner (I can understand the songs since it's Disney, but the other stuff?).

It's also pretty incredible what kind of freaky stuff Disney included in their classics, such as the Queen telling the huntsman to cut out Snow White's heart and give it to her in a box, the freaky branches-turning-to-hands that kept grabbing at Snow White as she ran away through the forest, etc.

It's a classic story and introduced the iconic seven dwarfs, but - except for its animated groundbreaking-ness - it's not all that great of a film.

What makes this a "Top 100" Movie?
It was the first ever animated feature film.  That's it.  It was nominated for Best Musical Score in 1938, and won an honorary award from the Academy for "a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field (one statuette - seven miniature statuettes)" the following year.

I know it's just a fairy tale cartoon, but the story rarely progressed and was pretty boring.  First, you get the story setup via the "Once upon a time" book opening, then Snow White sings with animals, then a little progression in the story, then Snow White sings with animals, then the dwarfs sing, then Snow White sings with the animals and dwarfs, then Snow White sings with just the dwarfs, then progression to the story's climax, then the dwarfs are sad, then a quick wrap-up ending.  I like a little more story than that...

The first animated film in history, of course it's on the list.  It's a classic fairy tale that's fun enough, but there's virtually no story and too much singing for me to really enjoy.

MY RATING: 4/10 (No change from my previous rating)

"Pulp Fiction" (1994) - RE-WATCH

Rank on the AFI List: #94

Synopsis (according to imdb.com)
The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster's wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.

As a Christian, I think I have a pretty high tolerance for "adult" themes and elements in film.  Some examples: I'm not a fan of swearing, but I can tolerate it rather easily in movies like Phone Booth, Die Hard, and other films with potty language; I abhore violence, but even disturbingly violent Apocalypse Now captivates me, and I enjoy watching The Following on TV.

Having said that, two "adult" elements that really turn me off in movies or TV are sex and drugs (read my post on The Last Picture Show to get an idea of how I feel about the former).

In "Pulp Fiction", drugs are quite rampant and practically celebrated throughout, so it's a movie I would normally be repelled by.  The peculiar thing is, I like the film.  Even with all the drug elements, the way the story is told is so different, and the dialogue so unique (many of the conversations remind me of dialogue from Seinfeld, where the characters are just chit-chatting about seemingly random, irrelevant stuff), that I appreciate the film as a whole.  It's so unconventional that I don't know of any other movie out there that this compares to in terms of structure.  On the other hand, my wife really doesn't like this movie, and after it ended she asked the simple question, "what is the point of this movie?"  Aside from the excuse to break as many conventions as possible in storytelling and shocking the audience, I didn't have an answer.

What makes this a "Top 100" Movie?
I'll leave it to a well-written AFI description of "Pulp Fiction": Maverick director Quentin Tarantino exploded conventional cinematic storytelling and single-handedly created a new genre – one that re-purposed well-worn pop cultural tropes into something fiercely original and uniquely his own. His non-linear crime story broke new ground with its irreverent dialogue, eclectic soundtrack, stylized violence and quintessentially cool ensemble cast – including Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta as two contract killers at the beck and call of the city's kingpin.  The movie was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, winning only one, deservedly for Best Original Screenplay.

It's too long.  The infamous "Zed" storyline feels like the climax with the ending just around the corner, yet there are two more stories after that.  "The Bonnie Situation" in particular tends to drag and slows the whole film down.

Another complaint is that "Pulp Fiction" is so low on the AFI List, at #94.  I think this deserves to be much higher.

One of the most uniquely original films ever made.  It's a stylized yet gritty film that pulls no punches when it comes to language, drugs, and violence especially.  It's a bit too long for me, and extremely lurid (the word used as part of the definition for "pulp" at the very beginning of the film), but very well done for what it is.

MY RATING: 7.5/10 (0.5 lower than my previous rating)

"E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) - RE-WATCH

Rank on the AFI List: #24

Synopsis (according to AFI)

An extra-terrestrial is accidentally left behind on Earth and is befriended by a young boy and his brother and sister. As Elliot attempts to help his extra-terrestrial companion contact his home planet so that he might be rescued, the children must elude scientists and government agents determined to apprehend the alien for their own purposes...which results in an adventure greater than any of them could have imagined.... 


This movie has never been near and dear to my heart like it seems to be with so many people (especially with the AFI, who rank this quite high at #24 of all time).  Watching it as a kid, I remember being more bored than excited, and the atmosphere of the film was more creepy than magical.  Having said that, I was legitimately excited to watch "E.T." again as an adult to see what would change for me.

Well, I still don't really like the atmosphere.  All the fog and haze through the first part of the movie bothers me a lot for some reason.  Then in the second half, when the government sets up the biohazard area inside the home, that still is pretty freaky and uncomfortable.  However, I think the government scientists get undeservedly characterized as bad guys here, when no real sinister or cold motives are every actually presented in the film.  They even have the heart to leave Elliott alone with E.T. to say goodbye and deal with his grief.  But hey, it's an 80's children's movie, so NO adults can be trusted, right?  The movie even dehumanizes adults a bit in its cinematography, as you don't see any of their faces (except for Elliott's mom) until the second half of the film (thanks to my wonderful wife for pointing that out to me).

What makes this a "Top 100" Movie?

Good question, since I don't think this is a very well-done movie.  Granted, it's a children's movie, so explaining certain plot points, or connecting the story in a way that makes sense to the viewer, isn't as crucial, but come on, if you're supposed to be the 24th best American film ever made, I would think that kind of stuff would be prerequisites.  Having said that, I'll suppose this is in the Top 100 because it was the first real, live-action, children's fantasy movie; a boy gets an alien for a buddy and can fly through the air on his bicycle?  I'll admit I would love that if I was still 10 years old.  "E.T." was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, winning 4 of them: Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, and Best Music.


I already touched on this above, but seriously, several plot points never get addressed, explained, or paid much attention to.  And it's not like explaining them would ruin the magic of the story.  They'd actually help make the story more clear.  Oh well.


The original live-action children's fantasy movie.  It lacks in cohesive storytelling and continues to leave me a bit bored, but it's not terrible to sit through.

MY RATING: 5/10 (No change from my previous rating)

"High Noon" (1952)

Rank on the AFI List: #27

1. It's a western starring Gary Cooper.
2. It's about a guy looking for people in a small town to help him in an impending gun fight with outlaws.

I had been looking forward to watching this one for a while.  In fact, for some reason, as I got closer to completing this bucket list item, I decided that "High Noon" would be the final "new" film I'd see.  I thought it was a safe bet that I'd like the movie and feel good about ending the AFI list quest on a high note (as opposed to say, any of these films).

Well, I did end up enjoying this movie.  I wouldn't say I loved it, but it had some great things going for it: Gary Cooper's acting, a simple yet compelling story that really made me feel for the main character, and the ultimate use of time as a tension-builder.  In fact, except for a couple edits, this movie moves in real time, which was a pleasant surprise once I noticed it (I wonder if the creators of 24 got their inspiration from this movie).  That really built the tension for me, sort of like a giant wave coming right at you from miles away - it's a steadily-moving doom that's impossible to escape or ignore.  It made the shots of the empty train station and tracks ominous, too - you don't see anything coming, but you know it's only a matter of time.

However, once the climactic ending finally arrived, I felt a bit underwhelmed, though I think that's probably because of all the other movies I have seen that have huge, explosive endings with crazy twists in the action (there is a twist in this one, but it's presented so mildly that you might not even notice it).  For its time, I'd say this was probably a great ending.

What makes this a "Top 100" Movie?
It's a classic western with a story that's extremely simple, but with so much subtext it leaves you thinking about virtue, courage, cowardice, and standing up for what's right (it did for me, at least).  It was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, winning 4 of them (Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Song, and Best Music).  For the record, the award-winning song seemed a bit strange and lame in the beginning, but its use throughout the movie, and how the lyrics align with the story, made this one of the most appropriate Oscar-winning songs ever, in my opinion.  Too many songs win when they are only played during the closing credits, and they're over-produced and homogenized - like "Into the West" from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

The few times they edited scenes in such a way that it ceased to be truly in real-time, and the underwhelming ending.

Classic western with a simple story that makes you want to be there for Gary Cooper's character.  A great tension-builder that falls a little flat in the end, but overall a very good movie.