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Rob Reiner: His best films to date

For about 35 years now, Rob Reiner has been a director. For the first decade and a half, he was among the best in the business. Recently? Not so much. That being said, we’re focusing on the good today. Since he’s releasing a new film in the next few days, it feels apt to look at his best work. So, that’s what I’m doing. A full ranking of all of his movies is on the way, with special attention paid to his top features. I would argue that half of his output is good to very good, with five or six legitimately great works on his resume.

This week, Reiner puts out his 20th feature, this time another political offering. It’s Shock and Awe, his treatise on the lies of the Bush Administration, namely in terms of going to war with Iraq. As per IMDb: “A group of journalists covering George Bush’s planned invasion of Iraq in 2003 are skeptical of the president’s claim that Saddam Hussein has “weapons of mass destruction.” Centering specifically on the Knight Ridder reporters Jonathan Landay (Woody Harrelson) and Warren Strobel (James Marsden), along with their chief John Walcott (Reiner himself), we watch as they try to uncover just what is going on with the impending invasion/war. Also involved is decorated war correspondent Joe Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones), plus a host of sources, all trying to figure out the truth. Reiner directs a script by Joey Hartstone, while the supporting cast includes Jessica Biel, Milla Jovovich, Richard Schiff, and more.

Here is how I would rank Reiner’s filmography to date, up until his top five:

20. North
19. The Magic of Belle Isle
18. And So It Goes
17. The Story of Us
16. Alex and Emma
15. Being Charlie
14. Shock and Awe
13. LBJ
12. Rumor Has It…
11. The Bucket List
10. Flipped
9. Stand By Me
8. The Princess Bride
7. Misery
6. Ghosts of Mississippi

This is Reiner’s five best movies so far:

5. The Sure Thing – John Cusack had one of his first roles in this winning sex comedy. Reiner going somewhat raunchy is an interesting change of pace. His early work was heavily comedic, with this perhaps the purest example of just going for laughs. It’s not high art by any stretch, but it’s an incredibly fun flick.

4. When Harry Met Sally… – A classic romantic comedy, the pairing of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan has stood the test of time. After all, the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene is an all timer for a reason. It’s a plot that’s been imitated many times, but rarely aced like this one. The formula was mixed just right this first time out, with everything to follow merely standing on its shoulders.

3. This Is Spinal Tap – An iconic mockumentary that actually also launched a legitimate band, Reiner’s pairing with Christopher Guest is hilarious. Guest would obviously launch his own very successful career, but this was part of what made Reiner a filmmaker that Hollywood would embrace. His directorial debut still looms as one of his best movies.

2. A Few Good Men – A nearly perfect courtroom drama, this film is absolutely brilliant. Sure, a lot of it has to do with Aaron Sorkin’s amazing screenplay (adapting his own stage play), but there’s also Tom Cruise, plus, you know…Jack Nicholson. Another quotable flick, we have “You can’t handle the truth!” in the lexicon because of Reiner and Sorkin. You’ve all seen it, so you know how terrific it is.

1. The American President – For my money, this is the best Reiner has ever done. Very much a precursor to The West Wing for Sorkin, this romantic dramedy also functions as an excellent political character study. Michael Douglas makes a perfect Commander in Chief, while the supporting ensemble is one for the ages. Watching a President romance a lobbyist is Hollywood fantasy, but the reality here is that it’s the pinnacle of Reiner’s career…

Shock and Awe is in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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