Sunday, June 7, 2020

My TOP 100 MOVIES: 1-10



1.    Casablanca:  Nearly 80 years since its release in 1942, this movie only keeps being appreciated more and more, generation after generation. It is quite simply the perfect movie. Humphrey Bogart is Rick, the American with the mysterious past now operating Rick’s American, the gathering spot for people of all kinds in the early years of WWII. Then, “of all the gin joints, in all the world, she walks into mine.”  (The term “gin joints” was improvised by Bogart, who thought the scripted “cafés” was too bland). The “she” is Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman. After a torrid love affair with Rick in Paris, she has arrived in Casablanca with her husband, Victor Lasso (played by Paul Henreid), a critical person in the resistance to the Nazis. They are seeking exit visas to neutral Portugal, while Nazi Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt) seeks to return him to Germany. The incredible supporting cast includes Claude Raines, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. Sakaal and Dooley Wilson as Sam.  The movie is filled with memorable scenes and lines, and one of the great concluding scenes ever filmed. The movie is also fascinating for the cast, many of whom had actually fled the Nazis. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”


2.    Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb):  Made in the time of fallout shelters, duck and cover drills and MAD, the aptly named moniker for the nuclear policy of Mutual Assured Destruction, Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy is a masterpiece of Cold War insanity. Peter Sellers remarkably played three characters -- President Merkin Muffley,  visiting British Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and Dr. Strangelove himself, who does not appear until the final reel. When American Col. Jack Ripper (Stirling Hayden) goes mad and sends his bomber group to attack Russia, the American’s learn from the Russian Ambassador of Russia’s irreversible secret Doomsday Machine. The movie includes one of the most iconic scenes in any movie:  Actor Slim Pickens as Air Force Major T.J. “King” Kong, cowboy-riding an atomic bomb to start nuclear Armageddon.“You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room.” 

3.    Lawrence Of Arabia: The greatest bio pic ever made. No actor has ever made a more amazing on-screen debut than Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence. The direction and cinematography are stunning, most memorably the scene of Lawrence setting out into the desert against a rising sun. Spectacular. In addition to O’Toole, the supporting cast is stellar, including  Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains and Arthur Kennedy. “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”


4.    To Kill a Mockingbird: Rarely does a great book become a great movie – but this is one that has become legendary both as a novel and a film. Gregory Peck brings the wise and principled Atticus Finch to life, raising his children, ridding the town of mad dogs, and most importantly defending Tom Robinson, a black man wrongfully accused of rape. It’s lessons of prejudice and compassion resonate today. Robert Duval makes his film debut as Boo Radley.  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”


5.    Blade Runner:  Ridley Scott’s vision of near-future Los Angeles is as much a star of this movie as Harrison Ford, who plays blade runner Rick Deckard, a type of bounty hunter after escaped androids. In my opinion, it is the best science fiction movie ever made. Based loosely on Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” the movie explores what it really means to be human. Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young, William Sanderson and Daryl Hanna are outstanding in supporting roles. Hauer, playing lead replicant Roy Batty, improvised the “like tears in rain” line as part of his memorable concluding soliloquy. “It's too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?”


6.    The Godfather:  Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent movie of the family and the Mafia (although the term is never used) in post WWII America. Every aspect of this movie is perfectly done to tell the story of the Corleone Family. Marlon Brando gives his greatest late-career performances as the Godfather. But he is surrounded by great performances from Al Pacino (whom the studio wanted to replace until they saw rushes of the restaurant scene), James Caan and John Cazale as the Corleone sons, Robert Duvall the near-adopted son, and a host of others.. The music and the cinematography create the backdrop for the brutal story. And there is that perfect opening scene and powerful concluding baptismal montage of blood and death.  “I believe in America.”   


7.    Psycho: Hitchcock’s greatest masterpiece.  It is difficult for many to appreciate how stunning Hitchcock’s Psycho was to audiences in 1960. Halfway through the movie, the star is killed. The shower scene had America taking tub baths for a decade. And the conclusion truly shocked audiences. Oh, and that violin music!  “A boy's best friend is his mother.


8.    Wizard of Oz: Witches, munchkins, flying monkeys, a scarecrow, a cowardly lion, a tin man and Judy Garland magically singing “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow.” It’s the movie we watch over and over. Although not a big hit when first released, it is undisputedly one of the best dozen movies ever made.


9.    Silence of the Lambs:  Anthony Hopkins gives a great performance as one of the most nuanced evil men in the history of movies – Hannibal Lecter a/k/a Hannibal the Cannibal. But this movie is far more than a single great performance. Jody Foster’s performance as FBI novice agent Clarice Starling is subtler, but every bit the match for Hopkins. If you haven’t seen this for a while, watch it again with an eye toward the movie-making talents. It is perfection. An example is the funeral home scene where Agent in Charge Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) leaves Starling to fend with the local good ‘ol boys from the local sheriff’s department, and how it is used to uncover aspects of Starling’s character and her past. And the music is spot on. Silence of the Lambs is the only film in Oscar history to win the “Big 5”:  Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director (John Demme), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally). “I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner.”


10.  Rear Window:  Hitchcock hits my Top 10 again with this movie about a photographer confined to his apartment with a broken leg with nothing better to do than watch the neighbors – even though Grace Kelly is prancing around the apartment in her negligée. The marvel of this movie is how Hitchcock was able to make an engrossing thriller with one set. 



Friday, June 5, 2020

My TOP 100 MOVIES: 11-20

11.      Maltese Falcon: The greatest of all noir detective films. Humphrey Bogart is perfect as Sam Spade. Mary Astor is the fem fatale. An incredible cast brings the supporting cast to life, which carries the movie as much as Bogart; Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook Jr. and Gladys George as Spade’s wise secretary. And of course, at the center of it all is the Bird – the jewel encrusted black bird of legend. “It’s the stuff dreams are made of.”


12.  On the Waterfront:  Marlon Brando gives perhaps his greatest performance in this story of corruption, violence and power on the 1950s New York waterfront, written and directed by Elia Kazan. Great supporting cast includes Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb and Eva Marie Saint. The scene in a taxi between Brando and Rod Steiger, playing his older brother, is among the best scenes in any movie. “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”


13.  In the Heat of the Night:  Still timely – unfortunately. A powerful movie about race and prejudice in 1960s Sparta, Mississippi. A businessman is found murdered, and of course the first suspect is a well-dressed black man waiting for a train. But the black man turns out to be Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia detective played by Sidney Poitier.  This is not the sanitized television show. The explosive relationship between Tibbs and racist Sheriff Virgil Gillespie, played by Oscar winner Rod Steiger (same guy who played in On the Waterfront), is at the heart of the film. “Gillespie: Virgil—that's a funny name for a nigger boy that comes from Philadelphia! What do they call you up there?  Tibbs: They call me Mr. Tibbs!


14.      Citizen Kane:  Most film critics rate Citizen Kane as the greatest movie ever made. It certainly is one of the most important due to its incredible array of technical innovations, but it is a movie I more often than not pass over when it is on television. Nevertheless, you have to give young Orson Wells his due. “Rosebud.”


15.      Chinatown:    Set in 1930s Los Angeles, Detective Jake Gittes (impeccably played by Jack Nicolson) is hired by the fem fetale played by Faye Dunaway to follow her husband, the chief engineer for the L.A. Water Company. Sounds almost boring. But the job takes Jake down a twisted path of water rights, murder and family secrets.  Roman Pulanski, who saved the most delicious small roll for himself, directed, and John Huston is deliciously evil as Noah Cross, whose greed and sins are at the heart of the film. “You're a very nosy fellow, kitty cat. Huh? You know what happens to nosy fellows?”


16.      Bonnie & Clyde: Warren Beatty not only played the title role as Clyde, but was also instrumental in bringing the film to the screen. It was a long, tortured path to get the movie made, but in the end, well worth the effort. Faye Dunaway, who was far down on the list of potential actresses to play Bonnie, was perfection. The supporting cast of Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, and Michael J. Pollard excelled. Filmed in black and white, and set to the bluegrass music of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, it was like nothing movie-goers had seen before. Most people remember the final bloody scene that ended the movie, but for me, the scene that made the movie was Bonnie’s homecoming with her mother on the stark Texas landscape. The haunting role of Bonnie’s mother was played by a local woman who just showed up to see the movie being shot.


17.      The French Connection: A gritty crime drama that captures the rawness of New York City in the early 1970s. Gene Hackman is perfect as the quirky Popeye Doyle, who, along with sidekick Roy Scheider, is tracking down a heroine supplier to the entire city. The movie is punctuated by one of the great car chases through crowded New York City streets, perhaps second only to the chase scene in Bullitt.


18.      The Graduate: Dustin Hoffman plays to perfection a young college graduate, uncertain about his future, who carries on an affair with an older family friend, Mrs. Robinson (perfectly played by Anne Bancroft) – until he falls in love with the woman’s daughter. The music of Simon and Garfunkel becomes an added character central to the entire movie. I first saw the movie as a graduating senior in college, which may explain why it is so high on my list. “I want to say one word to you. Just one word.  . .  Plastics.”


19.      Apocalypse Now – Redux:  The story of the making of Apocalypse Now is worthy of its own movie – and in fact there is one:  the remarkable documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, filmed by Eleanor Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s wife. But setting aside the disease, delays, attacking rebels, and a serious heart attack for star Martin Sheen, all of which are detailed in the documentary, there were the budget and length of movie issues with the studio and distributors. The result was that a huge chunk of the original movie (49 minutes) was cut out to keep the released version of the film to 2 ½ hours. Twenty-two years after the original release, Francis Ford Coppola added 49 minutes and re-released the film as Apocalypse Now – Redux. The new version added an extended sequence as the boat transporting Sheen up river stops at a decaying French plantation. It also included newly recorded dialog by the film’s original actors for the plantation scenes a new music score. To me, these added scenes help the movie make sense. Without them, the movie is missing a critical element. 


20.      Gone with the Wind:  Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, stunningly played by Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, set against the backdrop of the Civil War era south. The sweeping romance suffers a bit today from changing perspectives, but this film was big budget Hollywood at its best. Hattie McDaniels as Mammy cut through the sometimes saccharine characters of Ashley (Leslie Howard) and Melanie (Olivia de Havilland). Over 80 years later, the scenes of the wounded a disintegrating Confederate Army and the burning of Atlanta, done without CGI computerized special effects, remain among the great movie scenes ever filmed.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

My TOP 100 MOVIES: 21-30


21.      West Side Story: Glorious. The story of Romeo and Juliet updated to 1950s New York City. Instead of the Capulets and the Montagues, the battling families are youth gangs of Puerto Rican Sharks and American Jets (“When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way.”). The star-crossed lovers are played by Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony. All of this is set to the stunning music of Leonard Bernstein. In my opinion, the best musical ever made.


22.      Patton:  George C. Scott becomes General George Patton in this remarkable biopic. The opening scene of Patton giving his address to the troops in front of an oversized American flag, is one of the two best opening scenes in film. “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”


23.      African Queen:  Another Bogart movie, this time with Katherine Hepburn. Filmed in Africa by director John Huston, this film tells the story of a determined woman who convinces a low-life captain of a decrepit boat carrying the moniker “African Queen” to battle hippos, leaches and river currents to attack a German boat during WWI. In the process, it becomes a wonderfully unexpected love story.


24.      The Godfather Part II:  The best sequel ever made. It continues the Corleone saga started in The Godfather, adding at both ends of the story. It carries the same richness of the original. “I've always taken care of you, Fredo.”


25.      Dog Day Afternoon: Based on a bizarre real-life1972 bank robbery, it is the story of Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) and an attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank to get money for a sex change operation for Sonny’s “girlfriend.” A silent alarm brings the cops and sets up a standoff on a sizzling summer afternoon. Al Pacino is unforgettable. “Attica! Attica! Attica!”


26.      North by Northwest:  In this Alfred Hitchcock movie, we are not always sure who are the good guys, but who cares? Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason are delicious in a movie of an ordinary man caught up in international intrigue. Hitchcock works his magic with Cary Grant dodging a crop duster that attacks him on a lonely road, and in the climactic scene played out on the faces of Mount Rushmore.


27.      The Searchers:  Director John Ford teamed up with actor John Wayne in 24 movies, but none approached The Searchers. In 2008, American Film Institute named it the best western ever made. And with good reason.  Wayne later won the Best Actor Oscar for True Grit, but this is his best, most complicated, most nuanced performance, playing a growingly bitter man searching years for his kidnapped niece, played by Natalie Wood.


28.      Fargo: The Coen Brothers quirky filmmaking is on view in this black comedy / drama about the kidnapping of the daughter of a wealthy car dealership owner, arranged by her husband. Frances McDormand won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of a pregnant police chief investigating the crime. William H. Macy as the husband and Steve Buscemi as one of the kidnappers, give great performances. Ironically, the movie is set in Minnesota, not North Dakota – and you’ll never look at a wood chipper the same way again.


29.      2001: A Space Odyssey:  Stanley Kubrik’s look at the near future, the distant past, and our destiny in the stars. Mesmerizing imagery and a movie that will leave you talking long into the night on what does it all mean.


30.      Some Like It Hot:  Hiding out from New York gangsters after witnessing a murder, jazz musicians played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dress in drag and join an all-girl band, including singer Marilyn Monroe, for an escape trip to Florida. Attracted to Marilyn, Curtis dons another alter ego as a wealthy playboy, while Lemmon finds himself fending off the advances of millionaire Joe E. Brown. Then the gangsters show up.  Just fun.

Monday, June 1, 2020

My TOP 100 MOVIES: 31-40


31. Key Largo:  Humphrey Bogart as veteran trying to recover from the war; Loren Bacall as the widow of Bogart’s wartime buddy; Lionel Barrymore as her wheel-chair bound father-in-law and innkeeper of the Largo Hotel, Edward G. Robinson as the gangster Johnny Rocco and Claire Trevor as Rocco’s boozy girlfriend. All of them locked together during a tense hurricane in the Florida Keys. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. “Just like Bogie and Bacall . . . Sailing away to Key Largo.”


32. Stagecoach: Director John Ford and John Wayne, a good-hearted prostitute, a drunk doctor, a gambler, Indians and the cavalry riding to the rescue, all against the backdrop of Monument Valley. Before any of these were clichés, there was Stagecoach, the iconic American western.


33. Schindler's List:  Steven Spielberg’s tour de force about the Holocaust. Based on the true story of industrialist Oscar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson), who could not save them all, but was determined to save as many Jews as possible from death in Hitler’s Concentration Camps. Spielberg’s girl in the red coat is one of the true moments of genius in the history of film.



34. Pulp Fiction: This is Quentin Tarantino’s crown jewel. The movie revived the career of John Travolta, caused everyone to see Bruce Willis in a different light, and made superstars of Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman. Told out of chronological order, it pulls the audience in to put the story together. It is filled with unforgettable scenes and genius dialog. “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee!"


35. M*A*S*H:  Before the more sanitized television show, there was perhaps the best anti-war movie ever.  Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) is bloody, irreverent, profane and laugh-out-loud funny – all with the while showing the personal cost and insanity of war. “Suicide is painless.”


36. Young Frankenstein:  Mel Brooks strikes again in what I believe is the best comedy ever made. The movie is filled with memorable performances by Gene Wilder (“That’s Fron-ken-steeen”), Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle and Gene Hackman. The genius script was written by Brooks and Wilder. Also noteworthy, Brooks tracked down and used the original laboratory props from Bride of Frankenstein. “What knockers!” “Oh, thank you, doctor.”


37. Network: Peter Finch gives one of the great supporting performances in the history of film as lunatic broadcaster Howard Beale, who decides to improve ratings by committing suicide live on his final news broadcast. But the movie is much more than a single performance, offering a seething commentary on modern society. William Holden and Faye Dunaway, are outstanding. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”


38. The Hours:  This movie won’t make many people’s lists, but it is a film that touched me deeply. It follows three women who are touched by Virginia Woolf’s book “Mrs. Dalloway.” The movie deals with choices about suicide and life, but in the end, is remarkably life affirming. The movie is filled with shining performances by Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Ed Harris. Not a choice for a romantic dinner and a movie. “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”


39. 42nd Street:  A 1932 backstage musical about producing a Broadway show made during the height of the Depression. Nearly 90-years later, the closing number of 42nd Street, choreographed by Busby Berkeley and featuring performances by Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, is in my opinion, the finest single musical number ever put on film. "You're going out there a youngster, but you're coming back a star.”


40.  The Apartment:   Made in 1960, The Apartment tackled what was considered a largely taboo topic of corporate executives and their mistresses. Jack Lemmon is a insurance junior exec who allows his apartment to be used by his boss, Fred MacMurray, for his illicit affair with young Shirley MacLaine. Somewhere along the line, Lemmon finds a backbone and falls in love with MacLaine. If you have overlooked this movie, put it on your MUST WATCH list.