We’re rounding out the bottom 50, #100-51 this week. Next week begins what I (and probably several others) would consider the 50 greatest movies ever made. Granted, I haven’t seen every movie, and everyone is entitled to their opinions, but these are easily in the conversation of greatest of all time. Enjoy!
—This is a funny, fast-paced (for most of it), excellently acted and directed film. Newman and Redford create one of the greatest screen duos in film history, making one of the finest buddy films ever. This is an extremely modern film (for 1969), and enjoys the early days post-Production Code. Hill treats Butch and Sundance as heroes even though they are clearly a hindrance to society, and treats the Super-posse as a great black cloud over their freedom, following them forever. The movie speaks to the growing amount of “freedom” the late 1960s produced, but also begs the question of what becomes of a man once you’ve taken his purpose away from him. The sins of the past are always the sins of the present until either they are put to death, or you are. Winner of 4 Academy Awards.
Directed by George Roy Hill, 1969. Starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
—Perhaps the greatest film ever made about greed, and the hardening of the human heart. Humphrey Bogart delivers one of, if not his absolute best performance. The plot slowly boils and teases until Bogey finally goes mad, creating one of the best final 30 minutes in film. The film shows the horror of isolation, not that these characters have been ostracized by the society at large, but that they’ve taken themselves into the wilderness and believed the lie that they are the only person who matters, and thus are the only person they can trust. Winner of 3 Academy Awards, including Best Director.
Directed by John Huston, 1948. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston and Tim Holt.
—The incredible thing about Chaplin’s films are that they remain as fresh as they ever have. This movie is just as funny and poignant now as it was in 1936. With Modern Times he was somehow able lock out the cultural hindrances that would erode his film, while also poking fun at all of them. Chaplin wasn’t a huge fan of sound in film, and understandably so. Many of today’s films simply want to talk at us, rather than shows us, and this is especially true of comedies! We get so bound up with words, words, words, that we have, in a sense, misplaced our ability to tell great stories through action. Chaplin was a master at this, and will continue to be remembered as one of the greatest, most influential filmmakers of all time.
Directed by Charlie Chaplin, 1936. Starring Charlie Chaplin.
—Classic noir. Classic, fantastic Bogart. The story is as good, as adult, and as sinister as any detective story ever caught on film. And I just love the uninterrupted, invisible filmmaking of the classical Hollywood period in this film. It really works well. Based on Dashiell Hammet’s novel of the same name, the film follows Bogart’s Sam Spade as he searches for the elusive Falcon that apparently has some worth, all the while dealing with double-crossing, deception, false identity and murder. With WWII came a darker breed of film. Nothing was as it seemed anymore, and this is perhaps the first great film noir, a genre that in part dominated a period of film history. Nominated for 3 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Directed by John Huston, 1941. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor.
—I am in love with this movie. It’s funny, twisted, huge, intimate, beautiful and tragic, with magnificent direction, and great acting from the two leads. It is an interesting fictional look at the life, and possible murder of Mozart as told by his self-described murderer. It is big, colorful, passionate, and hypnotic. A reviewer for the Chicago Tribune put it this way, and I thought it was well said: “Reminds us that movies can be lyrical as well as vulgar, ambitious as well as playful, brilliant as well as down and dirty — just like Amadeus himself.” It is a grandiose film filled with subtle moments of absolute emotional and rhythmic genius. The movie understands with brutal honesty the harsh reality before us all — there is always someone better than you. What pain there is in envy. What pain there is in constantly asking “why?”, and never receiving an answer. Winner of 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Directed by Milos Forman, 1984. Starring F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce.
—Fargo is the tale of a kidnapping gone horribly, horrifically, hysterically wrong. Its a film that will leave you bleeding out face down in the snow, and it does this while being one of the most sensational examples of controlled filmmaking around. Each and every shot has purpose, each line is delivered with uncanny precision, and the pacing is as smooth and purposful as any film out there. Macy, Buscemi and McDormand turn in the performances of their careers, and the magic of the Coen brothers is at its best. Winner of 2 Academy Awards, including Best Actress (McDormand).
Directed by Joel Coen, 1996. Starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi.
—The first of the Rings trilogy, and my favorite. This is the one to get the ball rolling. The Star Wars of my generation, Rings broke all the rules and then re-wrote them. Taking a monstrous risk, New-Line Cinema decided to produce all three Rings films at the same time in order to achieve a continuous flow from one film to the next. So in essence, you can really look at all three movies as one 10-hour film. The visual spectacle is enormous, but the performances are so precise, and the pathos for this character who has been reluctantly thrust head-long into the adventure that will define his life, is moving. It’s the Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur, and Star Wars of my era and I doubt we will see anything that matches its all-around excellence for a long, long time. Winner of 4 Academy Awards.
Directed by Peter Jackson, 2001. Starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom and Sean Bean.
—This is one of Hitchcock’s funniest, most purely enjoyable films. It’s fast-paced, thrilling, and Cary Grant is as magnificent as Cary Grant always is. The film has produced some of the most iconic visual sequences ever. Stuff that is still getting satirized today. There’s too much praise to heap on the airplane in the field scene, or the whole sequence in Plot Point I, and the scene at the UN, the sequence at the Vandamm house, and the final sequence on Mt. Rushmore. I love the question mark ending too. I don’t know if it’s a question for anyone else, but I love to think that perhaps the ending is not a happy one. It’s so quick and artificial that I don’t buy its reality. I don’t know, I wouldn’t put it past Hitchcock to do something like that, especially since he is the master of every frame and nuance of the film. Nominated for 3 Academy Awards.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1959. Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.
—This is a classic adventure road comedy, and one of the first great romantic comedies. This is one of only three films to win all five of the major Academy Awards, and it is well deserved. Clark Gable is unpleasantly hilarious, and Claudette Colbert is snobbish, but in the end, through a series of events and circumstances, you really fall in love with the characters as they fall in love with each other. I watched this movie again recently and couldn’t get over how funny I still think it is. It’s easily a top 30 funniest movies ever. Winner of 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Directed by Frank Capra, 1934. Starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.
—This is a landmark film in American cinema, and really helped turn the tide from conventional filmmaking to edgy, fast, intricate, French New Wave style films. The tone of the film throughout is as if no one has a care in the world, and yet they rob banks and kill people. In a modernist sense, we are defined by the choices we make, and Penn does a wonderful job of capturing the smallness of moments and choices that end up burying us. The ending is one of the most iconic, unique and innovative in film history, with its tremendous employment of slow-motion, real-time audio, jump cuts and rapid-fire editing, which really stepped up the bar for violence in American cinema. Winner of 2 Academy Awards including, Best Supporting Actress (Parsons).
Directed by Arthur Penn, 1967. Starring Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons.