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.