We’re into the top 50 films. I hope you’re keeping up with the list for your own viewing enjoyment, but there’s no slowing down, so get your Netflix queue going. Let me know your thoughts on these movies, whether you love them, hate them, think they are too high or too low on the list. This, like most other things, is pure, educated subjectivity. What movies moved you the way these 100 have moved me?
—Its a timely film that, along with Bonnie and Clyde, helped to shape the direction of American cinema in the late 1960s. It is an incredibly funny film, working off a sharp script and terrific performances from Anne Bancroft as the seductive Mrs. Robinson, and Dustin Hoffman in the role that launched his career. What I find particularly interesting about the film (other than its awesome Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack), is that like many of us in our youthful rebellion, we have no where to go once the rebellion is won. This satire is not only poking holes in 1960s bourgeois America, but also in the shortsighted rebellion of those who really have nothing to fight for in the first place. Winner of 1 Academy Award, for Best Director.
Directed by Mike Nichols, 1967. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross.
—The greatness of this film lies in Gregory Peck’s remarkably humane and nuanced performance. He delivers one of the top-notch performances in movie history, creating a very memorable, tangible Atticus Finch for all lovers of the book. The whole trial of Tom Robinson, especially the final defense, makes me (almost) cry every time. This is also a monumental film, much like the book, in that it courageously tackles race issues at an extremely turbulent time in the United States’ racial struggles. It is a moving example of how film can help shape and/or change the social and cultural landscape. Winner of 3 Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Peck).
Directed by Robert Mulligan, 1962. Starring Gregory Peck.
—Gloria Swanson is illuminating and chilling in this classic Hollywood satire/noir/romance/tragedy. Her obsession for Holden’s character goes from a controllable crazy, to full out psychotic murder in one of film’s great character studies. This is a film that cuts the crap in regards to Hollywood, and the people disillusioned by its artifice. There is only truth in knowing who you are so long as you are willing to be honest with yourself. Many of us in an enlightened age would never admit to being our own god, but that tends to be the way we will. Constantly thinking of self leads to the fool’s delusion that you are worth more than the people around you. Its a lie. It’s a lie that, believed and reinforced leads to disaster. Such is Sunset Boulevard. Winner of 3 Academy Awards.
Directed by Billy Wilder, 1950. Starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson.
—When I first saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, I was mesmerized and horrified. Mesmerized, 1) because Daniel Day-Lewis gives perhaps the single greatest performance in film history, 2) because the film is so magnificently shot and paced that I’m drawn into every action and movement of the camera, and 3) because Johnny Greenwood’s score is tremendously complex and riveting. And I was horrified because the ending of the film appears as soulless as Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview. It appeared the film was implying there is no god in these proceedings. But perhaps the presence of His absence is everywhere. Kutter Callaway does a remarkable job of breaking the film and its music down in his forthcoming book, Hearing Images, and urges us see that the film intentionally points to a reality beyond what we simply see. Winner of 2 Academy Awards including best actor (Day-Lewis) and best cinematography.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano.
—War is hell, but hell is not war. Steven Spielberg’s passionate, horrific, violent film about a group of soldiers commissioned to save the life of one man is one of the most breathtaking achievements in cinematic history. Saving Private Ryan is bookended by two tremendously sequenced and shot battle sequences, but Act II, the middle, is what breathes life into the action. The doubt and humanity of our heroes is transcendent as they recognize the beauty of life in the frailty of their existence. This film seems to pick up where Spielberg’s 1993 masterpiece Schindler’s List left off. The tagline for that movie is, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.” The tag for this film is, “The mission is a man.” The film is about people, and in all circumstances, people have the opportunity to engage with life or death. Thus, even in the hell of war, there are glimpses of heaven. And that’s what Tom Hanks’ Cpt. Miller is; a glimpse of something greater than the circumstance. Winner of 5 Academy Awards, including Best Director.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, 1998. Starring Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns and Matt Damon.
—This is the ultimate “fight for what is right” film, and one that some don’t like because it is so idealized. James Stewart is marvelous as the everyman who tries to take down the very same greedy politicians that attempt to use the Congressional seat they gave him for their own personal agendas. This is not just a moral triumph, and a great film to watch in high school government class, but is a fitting look at high American ideals that some now seem to let go of. It is a film that pleads for what it good and stands up for justice in an age (and even into today) where justice has been confined to grey areas. Winner of 1 Academy Award.
Directed by Frank Capra, 1939. Starring James Stewart and Claude Rains.
—This film is a stroke of genius, and one of the most legendary movies ever made. How Victor Fleming pumped out two of the greatest, most iconic films in one year (the other being Gone With the Wind of course) I will never know. It is one of the first films to use mainstream colorizing of the film, and by God does it use color to a phenomenal effect. The songs are absolute classics, making us all kids again and filling us with the joy of recognizable days gone by. The film is magnificently parabolic, and gives us the chance to identify with any of the characters at any point in our lives. They are us and we are them. You simply don’t know movies, nor should have any say in any sort of American pop-culture if you haven’t seen the movie at least once. Winner of 2 Academy Awards.
Directed by Victor Fleming, 1939. Starring Judy Garland.
—This “children’s” fantasy epic is so grand and intimate, and the emotions so beautifully real and raw, that everyone is drawn into it’s majesty. John Williams’ Oscar-winning musical score is amazing, carrying us through an air of wonder, playfulness and fear in a single block of music. Spielberg ingeniously crafts the film through various point of view shots, identifying us with E.T. and Elliot. So by the time we reach Act III, we are so tethered to our young heroes that all of our childlike sentimentality comes rushing back in a flurry, suspending us in a magically spiritual place that feels more real than reality. Winner of 4 Academy Awards.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, 1982. Starring Henry Thomas.
—City Lights is one heck of a film! Chaplin’s comedic genius really shines in this one, but more important than that, he uses the comedic moments to make the dramatic ones all the more extraordinary. The final heartbreaking scene just would not have been the same had Chaplin not done everything in his comedic and dramatic power to set everything up. We really fall in love with the little Tramp as the film progresses, and the crazier things become in his life the more dramatic and almost hopeless things get as well. It may be Chaplin’s most emotionally affective and engaging film, but don’t let this fool you; this is a very funny movie!*
Directed by Charlie Chaplin, 1931. Starring Charlie Chaplin.
—This is certainly one of the most thoroughly entertaining of all the film noirs. The dialogue is fast and fresh, Stanwyk is seductive and ferocious, Robinson is slick and relentless, and Fred MacMurray is pure gold in a role that gets more and more complex with each viewing, just like the film itself. It is absolutely terrific filmmaking by the master Billy Wilder, because the movie is so nuanced. As entertaining as the movie is the first time around, it becomes more impressive with multiple viewings. We are continually torn on what the true intentions of the characters are, beneath the explicit. There’s duality in so much of the psychology of the film, and the constant struggle amongst the ego, super-ego and id are fascinating. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Directed by Billy Wilder, 1944. Starring Barbara Stanwyk, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson.
*Quick note, I have linked City Lights to my Amazon aStore, but it’s $97 there. My suggestion is to give Hulu Plus a try and watch it on there. They have a huge selection of Criterion Collection films.