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.