84. The Case Against 8* (2014) — HBO is airing an engrossing documentary this month about the four-year fight to overturn California’s Proposition 8, legislation that banned gay marriages in the state. For two couples – one waiting to marry (Jeff & Paul) and already-married lesbians (Chris & Sandy) – the fight was personal, since both gay couples had to agree to be plaintiffs in the case with the ultimate hope that they would be able to marry and receive the same rights and benefits as heterosexual married couples. An equal rights organization in California and an all-star legal team made convincing arguments that led to the banning of Prop 8, but the legal battle continued through various tactics and appeals all the way to the US Supreme Court. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act and said it would not rule in the Prop 8 case, thereby allowing the lower court’s decision to overturn it to stand. Sadly, marriage between same sex couples is still banned in 31 states. This absorbing look at the case and the principals sheds new light on the whole issue of equal rights under the Constitution. I love a happy ending.
85. Rocky (1976) — Who isn't familiar with the story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a lovable loser and club fighter who gets the chance to go up against the World Champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in a championship match? Who doesn't get a thrill out of seeing Rocky sprint up the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum with the iconic theme song playing in the background? This is the classic story of the underdog who beats (almost) the odds. Just seeing the faces of Rocky, Adrian (Talia Shire), Paulie (Burt Young), Mickey (Burgess Meredith) and Apollo again was like seeing old friends. When Adrian goes from mousy with glasses to dolled up with beret, we get yet another thrill. Give Stallone credit: A Hollywood underdog himself with little of note on his resume, he wrote "Rocky" and refused to sell it unless he could play the lead. He parlayed the role into a veritable franchise. Someday we'll see Rocky wheeling down the halls of a nursing home, calling out to Adrian, in Rocky 115. But until then, this inspiring story is to be cherished and loved. 4½ cans.
86. Rocky II (1979) — After vowing to retire from the ring, the almost-champ finds himself with a new house and car and no way to support his family. There is way too much story about Rocky not being able to find work. A pregnant Adrian returns to her job at the pet store, but only after almost losing Adrian does Rocky agree to take on Apollo Creed again — with Adrian’s blessing. Once again he trains in earnest and sprints up those iconic steps. The sequel has a longer and less authentic boxing sequence, but Rocky is still the lovable lug we can’t help rooting for. 3½ cans.
87. Rocky III (1982) — Please, someone, stop the madness! In this second sequel to the original, Rocky now has a much better house and haircut, he has traded in his pork pie hat and leather jacket for form-fitting, custom-made suits, and he appears on everything from the cover of Newsweek to “The Muppets Show.” He and Adrian have a big house, a couple of kids and a better life. He takes on and beats all the contenders now that Apollo Creed has retired from boxing, but, like Apollo himself once took Rocky for granted, he overlooks a ferocious and hungry fighter named Clubber Lang (Mr. T, at his snarly best) who has everything to gain by going up against the champ. Can Rocky pull off another championship bout? What about his trainer, Mickey? And Yo, Adrian? And that expensive haircut? Maybe I’m just getting Rocky-ed out, but I am starting to lose the eye of the tiger here. Luckily, Rocky doesn’t. 3½ cans.
88. An American President (1995) — Andrew Shepherd is a regular guy. He’s a handsome widower with a 12-year old daughter who falls in love with an unmarried professional woman, and all would be fine except that she is a lobbyist and he happens to be the President of the United States. Michael Douglas has made plenty of movies, but none that I like him in more than this Rob Reiner charmer. Annette Bening is the woman who creates controversy just by dating him — that, and they happen to be on opposites sides of a piece of environmental legislation and Shepherd is facing political opposition from a Senator running for president (Richard Dreyfuss). Aaron Sorkin’s smart script divulges the details of the inner workings of the White House, where presidential privacy is virtually non-existent. Michael J. Fox as a George Stephanopolis-type aide and Martin Sheen as the President’s right hand man lend their own appeal to the mix here. This is just a feel-good movie about two adults falling in love, and I did — with the movie and with the characters. This American President gets my vote. 4 cans.
89. Entrapment* (1999) — In this clever caper, Catherine Zeta-Jones is Jen, an insurance investigator checking out a master art thief, Mac (Sean Connery), who pilfers things like Rembrandt paintings. She goes undercover to work with Mac to protect the insurance company from having to pay out claims for stolen works of art, as they plot intricate schemes to outwit the elaborate security measures standing in the way of the heist. Or, she isn’t working for the insurance company at all, but is, as she tells Mac, a master thief herself. In any case, she and Mac work very well together and are able to execute their plans to perfection. This is a suspenseful and interesting movie, but it seems so completely unbelievable that I had to suspend my sense of reality to enjoy it. Oh, and someone tell Sean Connery to stop wearing that bad rug, please! 3 cans.
90. Tammy* (2014) — You have to hand it to Melissa McCarthy: She is not afraid to tackle anything, no matter how bad she may look or how outrageous the situation. In this story, which she co-wrote with her husband (Ben Falcone, who also directed) she is the title character, a braggadocios loser whose car and marriage expire on the same day. Time to hit the road, destination unclear, with granny’s car and bankroll — and Granny, herself (Susan Sarandon, in a bad wig and even then not looking nearly old enough to be the mother of Allison Janney or grandmother of Melissa McCarthy; see previous movie for problems with bad wigs and suspending my sense of reality). OK, buying the premise, we see the two plunge nearly Thelma and Louise-like into a series of misadventures, picking up men (Granny and Gary Cole), drinking (Granny again, though Tammy isn’t exactly sober), blowing things up and committing crimes. A road trip/buddy movie never really has a significant plot, and this one is no exception. McCarthy’s predilection for risk-taking and her knack for physical comedy are reminiscent of Lucille Ball — on a much more physical scale. This movie will never be mistaken for the great comedies of our time, but it continues McCarthy’s streak of mouthy, over-the-top characters who amuse theatergoers. Or was that just me? 3½ cans because it is NOT a great movie, but I did like it.
91. The University of Sing Sing* (2011) — There is an eager bunch of students attending classes taught by Mercy College professors in New York State. They do all of their readings, hand in their work on time, participate fully in class discussions and truly value their education. For the men convicted of violent crimes who are serving their sentences in the correctional facility in Ossining, New York, education is a form of freedom, a way to escape from the despair they have caused themselves, their families and the victims of the crimes that put them in prison for long stretches. This moving documentary shows the real meaning of education provided by Mercy through a program called “Hudson Link.” The men acknowledge their past but see education as hope for their future, not only to help them get jobs once they leave prison but to help them think, reflect, and become better, more fully realized individuals. The success of the program can be measured by the recidivism rate, which is only 2% for the Hudson Link graduates, compared to 45% for all others who leave Sing Sing. I defy anyone who sees this movie not to get a huge lump in the throat watching graduation day. 4 cans.
92. Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) — Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) passes out at her 25th high school reunion and wakes up back in high school, surrounded by the trappings of her teenage years and looking for a way to change the course of her future life. With shades of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Back to the Future,” this Francis Ford Coppola fantasy reminds us of the things we did as teenagers that dictated the course of whom we became as adults. In Peggy Sue’s case, it was “going” with Charlie (Nicholas Cage), a typical teenage boy of 1960, with a big pompadour hairdo and dreams of becoming the next Fabian. Peggy Sue herself knows she and Charlie will marry and get divorced, so she wants to change the course of her story. The details here make the movie fun to watch — Peggy Sue and her high school friends, in her old bedroom, with the lectures of her parents and with a bit of cynicism about the hopes and dreams of everyone around her. In school, she tells the math teacher that algebra will make no difference in her life, and it’s hard to argue with that logic. Turner and Cage do fine work here, and, to Coppola’s credit, he doesn’t try to make the women actually look like teenagers, which would not have worked. Look for Coppola’s daughter, Sophia, now a director herself, in a small role as Peggy Sue’s much younger sister. 3½ cans.
93. I Was a Jet Set Stewardess* (2014) — There was a time, back in the age of “Mad Men,” when traveling was glamourous. People got dressed up and sat happily on board new jet planes, smoking and being served excellent food by specially selected and trained stewardesses. These women were college educated, beautiful, young and unmarried — because those were the job requirements. Oh, yes, and they had to wear girdles (count me out). Their tailored outfits were designed by respected fashion designers and they were proud to put on the uniform. The job of stewardess was coveted and the women who took on the responsibilities could often speak more than one language and wanted to expand their horizons. As one former stewardess recalls in this documentary, there weren’t as many flights, so they could fly to Tahiti and stay there for a week waiting for their assignment home. The tales about stewardesses and pilots and stewardesses and passengers hooking up might have been exaggerated, but they weren’t untrue. All that ended when the first jets, the Boeing 707s, were replaced by the new generation of larger planes, like the 747, with 500 passengers and no opportunity for the flight crew and passengers to establish a rapport beyond fastening their seatbelts when told. Eventually the changes in the industry and the discriminatory practices by the airlines led to the changes in service that we experience as travelers today. But while they lasted as stewardesses, the women in this film loved almost every minute. 3½ cans.
94. Jersey Boys* (2014) — I’ve been a fan of The Four Seasons (no, not Vivaldi) since I got my first transistor radio (a pink Sears Silvertone) in 1962 and the number one song in America was “Sherry.” Dozens of hits and radios later, I’m still surprised at the depth of the group’s catalog of well-known songs, most of which are performed in the course of this movie, which is the story of the NJ-born and bred Frankie Castaluccio — before he changed it to Valli — (John Lloyd Young) and his semi-mobster pal Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and their struggle to make it in the music biz and what happens when — as we all know — they hit it big. It isn’t until singer/producer/songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) joins the group that they begin to soar as high as Frankie’s falsetto. Director Clint Eastwood makes a faithful adaptation of the huge Broadway hit, incorporating the technique of “breaking the fourth wall,” where the actors slip out of the action to speak directly to the audience. The stage version of any musical brings more energy than the screen version can muster, so the last scene — a big production number — comes across a bit flat. The struggles, mistakes in judgment and eventual break-up of the group are recounted against the growing catalog of their songs, which always seem appropriate to the plot. On the downside, the film firmly supports every negative Italian and New Jersey stereotype that ever existed. But in the end, this is a musical, and the music takes center stage. 4 cans.
95. Mask (1985) — This movie was Cher’s first venture into “Serious Acting” and she shows she has the chops to pull it off. Here she is a single mother who hangs out with bikers, uses drugs and is generally what you would describe as a “free spirit,” which means she has a foul mouth and a bad attitude. Her sweet teenaged son (Eric Stoltz) is a normal kid who collects baseball cards, excels in school and just happens to have a disease that has left him with a horribly disfigured face. Neither mom Rusty or son Rocky allow Rocky’s appearance to define him, though he realizes his limitations more than she does. One of my favorite actors, Sam Elliott, plays Gar, Cher’s on-again-off-again biker boyfriend, and Estelle Getty of “The Golden Girls” has a small role as Rusty’s mother. This movie is based on a true story. Rocky really packs a punch. 4 cans.
96. Tin Cup (1996) — Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy (Kevin Costner) is a failed golfer with a sweet swing and a laid-back attitude who runs a dilapidated driving range in the Middle of Nowhere, Texas. When classy psychologist Molly (Rene Russo) turns up for golf lessons, he is intrigued, despite the fact that Molly is dating pro golfer and arch rival David (Don Johnson). Tin Cup decides he needs a few treatments on his head while she learns to swing, and he ends up entering and contending for the title in the US Open golf tournament. Roy is smug, David is arrogant and Molly is torn between them. This highly unlikely story tries hard to turn on the charm and get you to like it, but it is no better than the 4th best sports movie made by Costner. Here he is less appealing than he was as Crash Davis in “Bull Durham,” despite trying to win us and Molly over. 3 tin cans.
97. Chef* (2014) — Jon Favreau (who wrote and directed) plays Carol, a chef who loves to cook. Unfortunately, the owner of the restaurant where he works (played by Dustin Hoffman) is afraid to serve his loyal customers anything not on the tired old menu, and when a food critic comes (Oliver Platt) and blasts Carl for his unadventurous, dated cuisine, it sets off a Twitter war that leads to Carl’s demise. He takes the advice of his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara, who really tones down her usual screen persona) and starts a food truck operation, driving from Miami back to California with his loyal sous chef (John Leguizamo) and young son Percy, with whom he doesn’t spend much time as a divorced dad always at work. Everyone bonds, the people in each city love the food and everyone is full and satisfied. There’s nothing too exciting here, but either the film is well edited or Favreau has mad knife skills, because watching the chef at work is thrilling. One caution: Don’t go to this movie hungry. The beauty shots here all involve delicious-looking, well-prepared food, much more than one person could possibly consume, though you will want to do just that. 3½ cans.
98. Mystic Pizza (1988) — Who could resist the movie that gave us Julia Roberts in her first starring role? But Julia is not the only young actress to captivate the viewer in this coming of age story of three young, lower middle class women working as waitresses in the aptly named Connecticut pizza joint, Mystic Pizza. Anna Beth Gish is Roberts’ idealistic, Yale-bound sister, and Lili Taylor is their commitment-phobe friend who is head-over-heels in love with her boyfriend (Vincent Dinofrio) but isn’t sure love is really forever — or for her. The relationship between the girls seems genuine, as is the affection which they share with the pizza parlor owner (the underrated Conchata Farrell, one of my favorite actresses). The secret lies in the pizza sauce, but, in this movie, it is the binds we make when we are young that get us through the ups and downs of young adulthood and beyond. If you haven’t seen it, order a pizza and enjoy the show. 4 slices.
99. Erin Brockovich (2000) — Speaking of Julia Roberts, she’s come a long way in this movie, based on a true story of a single mom looking for work who talks herself into a job with a lawyer and ends up uncovering rampant and dangerous chemical pollution in the water of a small California town. Roberts’ title character is just a little too brash and dresses a little too provocatively for most of the folks she encounters, but her earnestness wins them over. It doesn’t hurt to have a neighbor as beefy as Aaron Eckhart next door. Albert Finney is terrific as Erin’s boss, and Conchata Farrell (see above) has a small role as his assistant. Roberts earned the Best Actress Oscar for this performance, and it is easy to see why (or maybe Meryl wasn’t nominated that year?) If you are in for a dogfight, you’d want Erin in your corner. 4 cans.
100. 36 Hours (1964) — I watched this movie mostly as a tribute to the late, great James garner, the laconic star who passed away in July, but I had forgotten how good a movie it is. Garner plays Major Jeff Pike, who is high up enough in the military to be intimately acquainted with plans for D-Day, the Allied invasion at Normandy that is days away in June, 1944. The Germans manage to slip him a mickey and he ends up in what he thinks is a US Army hospital 6 years after the end of the war. A clever German doctor (Rod Taylor) has devised a scheme to convince Pike the war is over and that he has amnesia. His treatment includes discussions of events Pike remembers, all to gather information about the coming invasion. There is plenty of intrigue, as Pike’s nurse (Eva Marie Saint) plays a pivotal role in the ruse. This movie doesn’t give Garner the ability to charm the viewer, but his performance in a captivating story is excellent. Pay attention to the first 2 minutes for an incident that plays a critical part later in the film. 4 cans.
101. Sharknado 2: The Second One* (2014) — There is blood in the streets and there are sharks in the air in this sequel to last summer’s campy surprise hit, “Sharknado.” This time around, hero Fin (the luckiest actor in the world, Ian Ziering) and his ex, April (Tara Reid, barely breathing) land in New York — literally, they crash land in New York in the midst of “a storm of biblical proportions” with sharks raining down at 2 inches per hour (or so says Al Roker). Fin has to find his sister and her husband, so he goes to Citi Field to catch them at the Mets game, but snow wipes out the game. And then there are the sharks. April’s hand is ripped off by a shark, and she ends up in the hospital, where, despite being left with a bloody stump, she manages to dress in what looks like a Chanel suit, complete with a necklace that I couldn’t fasten with two hands. The stump comes in handy (so to speak) later, when she attaches a circular saw to it to fight the flying fish. Fin fights the enemy with the help of his other ex, played by Viveca A. Fox, and decides he will have to blow up a building this time around to defeat the storm. People are beheaded, smacked around by the sharks, and Fin manages to play “Frogger” as he literally jumps the sharks. Cameos include Robert Hayes of “Airplane” fame (and little else) as the pilot of the plane headed to New York, and Judd Hirsch, the star of the old sitcom “Taxi,” as a cabbie driving Fin to battle. Al Roker and Matt Lauer, in what we can only hope is his first and last dramatic role, play themselves, as do Kelly Ripa (who kills a shark with her spike heels) and Michael Strahan. The rest are too numerous to mention. Fin’s chain saw has reached biblical proportions, and he manages to slice a flyby shark in half in what looks like the middle of Times Square. When he needs a helping hand, he just reaches into the mouth of a shark and pulls out one that happens to be holding a gun so he can shoot down his prey. It was brought to my attention after publishing this review that the hand in question belonged to April, his ex-wife, and he took the engagement ring off the hand and gave it back to her. Romantic, eh? In the end, Fin (get it?) saves the day, which can only lead one to the conclusion that the Sharknado franchise will live to see another sequel. Foolish, silly and irresistible, this movie was actually sponsored on Syfy by a seafood restaurant, Joe’s Crab Shack. The only thing that would have made it better would be if Steve Sanders’ old pals from “Beverly Hills 90210” were cast. I’d love to see a shark rip off Brenda Walsh’s head. Stick your tongue firmly in your cheek and go for the ride. It’s so bad it’s good! 4 cans.102. Waterloo Bridge* (1940) — Talk about eclectic taste in movies! This movie could not be more different in tone, taste, style and substance than the last entry. It is the ill-fated story of love — boy meets girl, they fall in love and plan to marry and things never go quite the way they plan. In this case, British Army officer Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor, looking like the definition of dashing) meets dancer Myra Lester (a radiant Vivien Leigh) and they fall madly in love. But he’s about to ship out for World War I (which they didn’t know would have a number, but that didn’t happen til later and doesn’t matter here…) so she breaks her curfew to stay with him and gets bounced out of the dance company by the mean ballet troupe leader (Maria Ouspenskya). He has to ship out earlier than planned, so they cannot marry, and she is left to take care of herself without a job or money. While the movie doesn’t show exactly what she does to make ends meet, she hangs out at Waterloo Station and on Waterloo Bridge with people with Cockney accents and looks pretty upset most of the time, so you get the idea that she’s finding a way to deal with her dire straits. Is Roy alive or dead? Will he come back to her? Will they still get married? No spoilers here. After “Sharknado,” this was a welcome change of pace. 3½ cans.