Sunday, May 31, 2020

My TOP 100 MOVIES: 41-50

Now I move into my top 50 movies. For my reasons for each selection, check out the link to my blog, below.


41.      Witness:  Studied in film schools as the perfect script, this is a fascinating story of a Philadelphia detective who ends up in Amish country in Pennsylvania, injured and hiding from the dirty cops who killed his partner. But he is also protecting the 8-year-old Amish boy, Samuel, who is the only witness to the killing (Samuel is played by Lukas Haas, who received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Ryan White, then recently played astronaut Michael Collins in First Man). The movie is so rich in texture, from the rousing barn raising to Harrison Ford witnessing Kelly McGillis sponge bath. Danny Glover, usually the good guy, is excellent as the bad cop. The cinematography and Maurice Jarre’s music are nearly magical.  Eli Lapp (the Amish elder overseeing Ford’s character trying to milk a cow): “I don't think you've ever squeezed a teat before.” John Book (Harrison Ford): “Never one that big.”


42.      E.T.:  Steven Spielberg changed our movie view of aliens forever in this surpassingly brilliant movie of ET, the extra-terrestrial, left behind by mistake by his fellow travelers, but found by Elliott, the 10-year-old boy with whom he bonds.  “E.T. phone home.”


43.      Metropolis: In my opinion, the best silent movie ever made. A futuristic vision of man and machine that still stands up nearly a century after it was made.


44.      Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck’s classic of a desperate family traveling from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to California is transformed in John Ford’s film that is equal to the novel.  Henry Fonda gives a legendary performance as Tom Joad, but the heart and soul of the movie are provided by Jane Darwell as Ma and John Carradine as a preacher who has lost his faith


45.      An American in Paris: Gene Kelly and 18-year-old Leslie Caron star in this musical about an ex-patriot American artist of modest talents who finds love with a French girl. Set to the music of George Gershwin, the movie concludes with a 17-minute ballet sequence that cost nearly half of the film’s budget – and it was worth it.


46.      Jaws: In 1975, a young Steven Spielberg brought Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel to the screen, and going to the beach was never quite the same again. Oddly, troubles with operation of the giant mechanical shark meant that much of the movie was filmed with techniques that hid the shark from view, which added to the sense of terror. So, too, did John Williams unforgettable score. “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”


47.      Anatomy of a Murder:  The best courtroom movie ever made. Period. Otto Preminger masterfully directs the movie. The movie was shocking for the time with its frequent use of the direct language of rape, including“panties,”“sexual climax,” “penetration” and “spermatogenesis – so much so that Chicago’s mayor Richard Daly banned it from Chicago theaters.  Jimmy Stewart is a low-key lawyer defending an Army officer for the murder of the man who raped his wife. Duke Ellington’s jazzy score sets the tone, supported by a stellar cast including Lee Remick, Eve Arden, Arthur O’Connell and George C. Scott. Most interestingly, the roll of the wise and sometimes frustrated trial judge is played by Joseph N. Welch, the real-life lawyer famous for his confrontation with Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy Hearings. “For the benefit of the jury, but more especially for the spectators, the undergarment referred to in the testimony was, to be exact, Mrs. Manion’s panties. I wanted you to get your snickering over and done with. . . . There isn’t anything comic about a pair of panties which figure in the violent death of one man, and the possible incarceration of another.”



48.      Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:  Paul Newman and Robert Redford play these train-robbing buddies who find fun, romance, adventure and ultimately an untimely end in Bolivia while trying to escape the law. “Who are those guys?”


49.      The Bridge on the River Kwai:  British prisoners of war led by  Alec Guinness are tasked with building an essential bridge for their Japanese captors, while escapee William Holden is sent back to the jungle to blow up the bridge. A indictment of the folly and insanity of men who fight wars. “Madness. Madness.”


50.      L.A. Confidential:  One of the best noir movies ever, set in the seamy side of Los Angeles in early 1950s. A brutal shooting at the Nite Owl Diner sets in motion a chain of events the exposes the underbelly of corruption and brutality in the L.A. Police. Spectacular performances by Russel Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito and James Cromwell.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

My Top 100 Movies: 51-61

My Top Movie List – Day 4.  Here are the films from 51-60.

51. Treasure of the Sierra Madre:  A down and out American played by Humphrey Bogart joins two other desperate Americans  in a search for Mexican gold in the Sierra Madre mountains. They  end up fighting Mexican bandidos, the Federales and each other.  John Huston directs.  “We don’t need no badges”

52. Star Wars:  George Lucas’ space opera exploded into movie legend. Luke, Leah, Hans, Chewy, Obi-Wan and of course Darth Vader. Forty-five years later, the franchise is still going strong. “Luke, I am your father.”

53. . American Graffiti: A decade after the fifties died, this film captured the essence of an era through a single night of cruising, gangs, drag racing and rock ‘n roll. Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfus, Harrison Ford and Wolfman Jack. “Where were you in 1962.”

54. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:  Some love is eternal, even in a world where memories of affairs gone bad can be erased.  The movie effectively uses time skipping, drawing the audience in to the love affair and breakup of Kate Winslet and Jim Carey, in his in finest movie role.  “How happy is the blameless vestal's lot? The world forgetting, by the world forgot: Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned.”

55. Modern Times / City Lights:  No list of best movies is complete without a nod to Charlie Chaplain and the Little Tramp. These two are Chaplain’s best.

56. King Kong:  Only five years after the first talkie, and three years after the Empire State Building was completed, Merian Cooper brought to the screen the king of all monster stories. Nearly 90 years, two remakes and countless imitations, this 1933 film remains unequaled. Fay Wray remains timeless. “’Twas beauty that killed the beast.”

55. The Last Picture Show:  When I first saw this stark black and white movie about people in a small Texas town that the world had passed by, I was a sophomore in college. I knew it was outstanding film making and great acting, but I didn’t really “get it.” Decades later, I sat down and watched the entire movie again – and I did get it.  Everything, from Ben Johnson’s Academy Award-winning performance as Sam the Lion to Cloris Leachman’s haunting portrayal as a sad, lonely coach’s wife. From the pool party to the pool hall, every line and every frame of this movie is a gem.

58. Atonement: A glimpse of  love by a precocious young girl who tells her elders about what she thought was an assault, turns the world of everyone involved upside down. Decades later, when the little girl is a successful writer, she is interviewed about her latest book, written as atonement for her sins.  

59. Das Boot:  German movie about a U-Boat crew during WW II. The movie captures the tensions and claustrophobic conditions of a crew serving on a German U-Boat. One of the most remarkable movies about men at war ever made.

60. From Here to Eternity:  Based on Norman Mailer’s best-seller, this movie deals with romance, bullying, prejudice, hubris and hatred on an Army base in Hawaii leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Montgomery Cliff is outstanding as the championship boxer who won’t fight. The love scene with waves crashing over Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr remains among the most sensual in all  of film.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

MY TOP 100 MOVIES: 61-70

My Top 100 Movies – 61-70.
61. Aliens:  Sigourney Weaver defined bad ass. The most intense, scariest movie I’ve ever seen. Rare sequel that exceeded the original. “In Space, no one can hear you scream.”

62. Singing in The Rain:  Gene Kelly, Donald O’Conner and Debbie Reynolds in  glorious song and dance, capped off by Kelly’s unforgettable dance to Singing in the Rain.

63. 12 Angry Men:  Twelve jurors locked away to decide the fate of a teenager accused of murder. Anger, prejudice and reason are bantered about in a hot, steamy New York City jury room. A splendid ensemble cast led by Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley and Jack Klugman bring the confrontations and emotions front and center. It’s the way we like to think juries work, but they seldom do.

64. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Walt Disney’s Masterpiece. Until this movie, cartoons were 4 or 5 minutes long – something to run with the newsreels before the feature. The concept of a feature-length animated  movie was inconceivable. So many great Disney animated movies were to follow, but this was art and genius.

65. Monty Python and the Holy Grail:  The legendary King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail would never be the same after Monty Python.  British humor run amok on the big screen. Bring out your dead (“I’m not dead, yet”), the Black Knight (“Tis but a scratch. Had worse.”) and the Guardian at the Bridge of Death (“What... is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”).  It doesn’t get funnier.

66. Lilies of the Field:  For some reason, this classic movie seems largely ignored today. Sidney Poitier won the Best Actor Oscar, the first man of color to do so, for his role of Homer Smith, a drifting former Army Officer who stumbles in to a group of German nuns seeking to build a chapel in the middle of the American desert. “Consider the lilies of the field.”  Amen.

67. Duck Soup / A Night at the Opera:  Before there was Monty Python or Mel Brooks, there were the Marx Brothers. Their frantic humor comes  at you in such a rapid fire that you know you don’t catch it all – not until you’ve seen the movie two or three or even more times. There were 13 Marx Brothers movies, but Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera are the best.

68. Raging Bull:  Martin Scorsese’s brilliant but brutal film about the life of 1940s boxer Jake LaMotta. But for LaMatta, violence isn’t just in the ring. He battered his wife repeatedly, as his life and relationships dissolved around him. Robert Di Niro is brilliant in perhaps the most difficult role of his career, filming the movie at weights ranging from 145 pounds to 215 pounds for different periods of LaMatta’s life.

69. Rocky:  There have been so many Rocky movies over the decades, that sometimes it is easy to forget how good, how fresh and how original the first Rocky movie was. Before it became a cliché of itself, Rocky was a stellar movie that had audiences pulling for the down and out Italian Stallion, and left them cheering.

70. Easy Rider:  A low-budget movie, Easy Rider changed movies forever. The tale of two drug dealers making a big score, then heading across the country on their motorcycles, headed to Mardi Gras. Along the way, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper pick up a relatively unknown Jack Nicolson. It became the movie for an entire generation. “A man went looking for America . . . and couldn’t find it anywhere.”

My Top Movies: 71-80

My Top Movie List – Day 3.  Here are the films from 71-80.

71. Blazing Saddles:  Mel Brooks turned farts, boobs and a horse punch into a classic comedy that still leaves us laughing at just the thought of it. I’m not a big fan of comedies, as this list will show, but this is genius that appeals to the eighth grader in all of us.

72. The Deer Hunter:  What happens to a group of Pennsylvania steel town boys who get sent off to Vietnam? The best movie made about the Vietnam experience. The Russian Roulette scene still sends shivers.

73. . Taxi: Robert DiNiro’s portrayal of troubled taxi driver Travis Bickle is one of the most memorable performances ever on film. But his performance is not alone. Jody Foster plays a 12-year-old prostitute and Harvey Keitel is her pimp. Martin Scorsese captured the dark side of the darkest times in New York City in a film that builds to a shattering conclusion. “You talkin’ to me?”

74. The Decedents:  This film probably doesn’t make many people’s Top 100, but it is a beautifully crafted film centered around a perfect performance by George Clooney. As his wife lies dying from a boating accident, he deals the discovery that she was having an affair and planning a divorce. He also faces the choice about selling a pristine undeveloped area on a Hawaiian island held in a family trust over which he has control.

75. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: A disturbing movie set in a mental institution ward under the unsympathetic rule of Nurse Ratchet. Jack Nicolson shines in one of his best performances, surrounded by wonderful supporting roles, including Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratchet.

76. Nebraska:  Another movie that may not be on most (if any) lists. Nebraska is a 2013 bitter-sweet, and sometimes laugh-out-loud movie centered around Bruce Dern’s Oscar-worthy performance as an old man seeking to get to Nebraska to cash in a winning lottery ticket. It is a story about the value of family, dysfunctional as it may be. Filmed in black and white, the cinematography is nothing short of spectacular, catching the bleakness of the great American plains in the time between harvest and planting.

77. Sound of Music:  Mountain setting. Great music. A wannabe nun and a bunch of kids. Oh, and Nazis. ‘Nuff said.

78. The Princess Bride: I’m sure Hollywood moneymen looked askance when Rob Reiner described the fairytale movie he planned to make. But the result was pure genius that has survived more than 30 years with its charm and creativity intact – and I’m sure it will keep its charm for another 30 years or more. Like Wizard of Oz, it is timeless.  

79. Sunset Boulevard:  Gloria Swanson is unforgettable as Norma Desmond in this movie about an aging, self-consumed silent picture star who wants to revive silent pictures. William Holden is the narrator through whose eyes we see the madness of lost glory. And of course, there’s that body in the pool that opens and closes the movie. “ I am big! It's the pictures that got small.”

80. Slumdog Millionaire:  A surprise breakout from Bollywood, this 2008 film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Ultimately, it is a love story – the love of two brothers and a young girl they befriend. It is told through flashbacks as a lowly chia wallah Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel) plays on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”  It is romantic, sweet, violent and of course, being Bollywood, filled with magical Indian music.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

My TOP 100 MOVIES: 81-90

My Top Movie List – Day 2.  Here are the films from 81-90.

81. A Streetcar Named Desire:  Tennessee Williams classic was brought to life by Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski and Vivien Leigh as the aging Blanche DuBois.  Despite the omission of the rape scene in the play, it is packed with raw emotion ready to explode. Remarkably, Brando did not win the best acting award, which went to Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen.  “I have always counted on the kindness of strangers.”

82. Die Hard:  Christmas movie or not, this is a near-perfect modern thriller. Bruce Willis is the right mix of hero and smart ass, and Hans Gruber, played by Snape himself, Alan Rickman, is the perfect bad guy.  Yippee ki yay.

83. . The Shawshank Redemption: Drawn from the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, this is the best prison movie without any competition.  

84. Fiddler on the Roof:  Chaim Topol was a surprise pick to play Tevia in the movie, but he ended up being the perfect choice. The heart, pain and joy of life is captured through a changing life that he does not fully understand. The music is  unsurpassed. The older I get, the more poignant this movie becomes.  “To life!”

85. Dead Poets Society: Robin Williams soars in this movie of a free-thinking teacher trying to encourage his poetry students to see into themselves through poetry. “Oh, Captain. My captain.”

86. Dr. No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger:  My guilty pleasure. Goldfinger was my first glimpse at Ian Fleming’s dashing spy.  I saw it in the spring when I was in seventh grade. I followed that by seeing a Dr. No / From Russia with Love double feature that following summer. And I was hooked. They changed my life, sparking an interest in the books, writing and music.  Even today, when one of these first three Bond movies comes on television, I will stop and watch even though I know every scene and every piece of dialog by heart.

87. Capote:  A marvelous biopic. Phillip Seymour Hoffman becomes Truman Capote. He floats across the New York social scene while working on what would become his greatest work, In Cold Blood. At the same time, Capote succumbs to
jealousies over his researcher and childhood friend, Harper Lee, who has reached stunning success with her first novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. Epic photography turns stark Kansas countryside into another main character.

88. Avatar: Once in a great while, a movie breaks through barriers and changes the movie making business. That was true with James Cameron’s Avatar. The computer techniques which Cameron worked on for a decade reset movie making nearly as much as the first talkie.

89. Lord of the Rings Trilogy:  Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien is a feat of staggering proportions. In the end, I thought the initial Fellowship of the Ring was the best. For me, as the trilogy went forward, they began to all run together, and the climaxes look remarkably similar.

90. The Reader:  A young boy meets and becomes the lover of an older bus driver in post-WWII Germany. Years later, when he is an established lawyer, the woman is charged with war crimes. But there is a secret the woman is desperate to keep, even at the cost of being convicted. Kate Winslet is remarkable.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

MY TOP 100 MOVIES: 91-100

Here is the first installment of my personal TOP 100 movies:  91-100.

91.The Sweet Hereafter: An independent Canadian film with a haunting performance by Ian Holm as a lawyer who comes to a small plains town to sign up clients after a school bus tragedy. The movie explores tragedy, loss and the impact on those left behind, from an unexpected viewpoint. It will stay with you long after you finish watching. 

92. The Ox-Bow Incident: Long before there was Ahmaud Arbery, there was this powerful movie about vigilante justice and injustice.

93. Michael Clayton: George Clooney is the title character, a fixer in a big law firm. Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton are spectacular in this movie about ethics, morality and how far some will go for money and power.

94. Ex Machina:  This movie explores the consequences of artificial intelligence. The stark setting and slow pace builds a jaw-dropping powerful conclusion. Best sci-fi horror movie since Aliens.

95. Groundhog Day: There is a sweetness mixed in the humor in this Bill Murray movie.  

96. Manchester by the Sea: A powerful movie about loss that never disappears.  Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams shine.

97.  Monster’s Ball: Halle Berry's husband is executed in the electric chair -- the so-called Monster's Ball. Billy Bob Thornton is a prison guard who participated in the execution. When they meet, it sets in motion powerful events of love and forgiveness. Peter Boyle is deliciously despicable in his performance as Thornton's father, a mean, exceedingly cruel racist with no redeeming qualities.

98.  Chicago: Lawyers, flappers, gossip columns and the murder trial(s) of the century -- all set to jazz and Bob Fosse choreography. Give 'em the old razzle dazzle, and they'll make you a star.

99.  Up: More than a cartoon. The bitter-sweet opening sequence is one of the best openings of any movie.

100. All the President’s Men: The story of bringing down a president. Redford and Hoffman are sensational as Woodward and Bernstein. No one knew who deep throat was for decades after the book and movie. But when it was revealed as FBI agent Mark Feld, it was remarkable how much he looked like Hal Holbrook, who played him in this movie.

Friday, May 22, 2020

What to Do? Compile My TOP 100 Movies

I recently saw a Facebook Post from a friend who had been “challenged” to post her ten favorite movies over 10 days.  I am a true movie buff. I have been since childhood when my favorite memories include going to the grand ornate Rivoli Theater to watch Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Old Yeller, and yes, Robert Mitchum in Thunder Road (I think my brother took me to that one).
Rather than a paltry ten, I’ve decided to play American Film Institute and name my Top 100.  The list is a compilation based on numerous factors. Most important is whether the film touched me. Most people would not have the movie The Hours on a best picture list, but after watching it, I sat for nearly an hour thinking about it. 
Others are on the list because they are near-perfect story-telling (Casablanca, Witness). But it is a blended list. Citizen Kane is on my list because of its significance in film, even though I didn’t particularly connect with the movie.  Some are blockbusters (Star Wars, E.T., Godfather), and a few you may never have heard of (The Sweet Hereafter).  Some are guilty pleasures (the early Bond films).
I really wanted to put my latest guilty pleasure, The Greatest Showman, on the list because I simply love the songs, the energy and the story. But it, along with a lot of other really good films, just missed the cut.
So, before I list my top 100 over the next 10 days, here are 25 that barely missed the cut. Of course, if you ask me tomorrow, the list may be different.

101.Back to the Future
102.Casino Royale
103.The Greatest Showman
104.Dirty Harry
105.Hell or High Water
106.Up in the Air
107.The Usual Suspects
108.Lost in Translation
109.Life of Pi
110.Midnight in Paris
111.Bridge of Spies
112.Mystic River
113.Zorba the Greek
114.The Quiet Man
117.Tom Jones
119.Bohemian Rhapsody
120.Million Dollar Baby
121.Raiders of the Lost Arc
124.Field of Dreams
125.Driving Miss Daisy