Here they are in all their glorious glory. #30-21. Top 20 coming up.
—Quentin Tarantino shook up conventional filmmaking with his first directorial effort, Reservoir Dogs, but blew the door in with his second feature, Pulp Fiction. The story is jumbled and confused, seemingly having no plot, but as the film progresses the stories and characters become intertwined, each connecting to another by way of Marsellus Wallace. This is easily one of the greatest screenplays ever written, both in content and in structure. Though it seems confusing, it is actually a perfectly structured screenplay with a lone narrative thread. All of these morally debased characters are strung together by a man closely associated with Satan, Marsellus Wallace. The film’s conversation with the audience, much resembling any of the entertaining conversations throughout the film, seems to center around what to do with the opportunity of grace, when evil is the only paradigm you’ve ever known. Winner of 1 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1994. Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis.
—SPOILER ALERT Psycho is a scary movie. It is quite scary. One of the amazing things that this film does which films before it hadn’t had the courage to do is completely change the focus of the movie halfway through. Audiences have expectations, now as they did back in the 50s and 60s. We spend 45 minutes with Marion Crane, so when she is murdered in the legendary shower scene, the original audiences were left is utter shock. Which makes the next scene so brilliant, as Norman methodically cleans up the hotel room. This ranks right along side Darth Vader, Hannibal Lector and the Wicked Witch of the West as the greatest movie villain ever. Nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Director.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1960. Starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh.
—Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai has long been classified one of the greatest action movies ever made. In today’s age of big blockbuster action movies of little depth, and heart, this can be a bit misleading. Though it can rightfully be called an action movie at the end, it is a film of brilliant staging and depth. Kurosawa absolutely mastered the art of the long unfolding narrative with his 3 ½ hour epic, as he makes sure to take his time and tell the story the way it needs to be told. Though the film lasts well over 3 hours, it is a story of urgency, told urgently, but with a reserved style, and if you stick around to see it through, the end of the film has a brilliant payoff! Kurosawa, much like Ingmar Bergman in many respects, liked to let the camera run to capture life, and force the audience to be an active viewer. Every shot is framed with exactness, and every scene is filmed with a beautiful elegance that only a master filmmaker can achieve. Seven Samurai is an absolute cinematic masterpiece! A marvelous achievement! Nominated for 2 Academy Awards.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa, 1954. Starring Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune.
—This is a magnificent film. It boasts what I think is James Stewart’s greatest, most unnervingly intense performance. Alfred Hitchcock was a genius, which goes without saying, but this film is all that he wanted and loved about movies done as well as he could. Voyeurism, intrigue, suspense, and a film with characters that could be seen psychoanalytic test subjects. The way he mysteriously introduces us to our female lead foreshadows the great obsession later to come. This obsession is one of the most frightening examples of human passions and compulsion in film history. Absolutely ingenious! Nominated for 2 Academy Awards.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1958. Starring James Stewart and Kim Novak.
—This is a very compelling story from the standpoint that almost everyone involved was cited as having communist ties. Many of the filmmakers, including Kazan, were pushing for people with communist ties to come clean about them so that they do not bring trouble upon themselves. This is essentially what this film is about, except it involves a mob boss and the waterfront, instead of the American government and the entire nation. Marlon Brando’s Method performance is one of the seminal performances in film history. This is can’t miss, historically infused American drama. Winner of 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Directed by Elia Kazan, 1954. Starring Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger.
—This film is a monster. It is a 4-hour beast that you can’t take your eyes off of. It’s spectacle is so monumental that even by today’s rigid standards it is a crown jewel. The only reason I don’t have this in my top 10 is because, while Hollywood is generally ahead of the curve on issues of social injustice, this film does little to debunk the vociferous racism of the time. It didn’t enable it, like, say, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, but it wasn’t active in its shout for equality (though it does feature an Oscar-winning performance by Hattie McDaniel as the strong, vocal house servant). It features some of the most famous sequences and dialogue of any movie ever made, including 2 great lines right at the end of the film that pretty much sum up both Rhett and Scarlett. This film won Best Picture in 1939, perhaps the most represented year on this list. Winner of 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Directed by Victor Fleming, 1939. Starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland.
—Rashomon is a film of smoldering intensity. The performances are magnificent, and Kurosawa’s circular direction is simply flawless. The sequences of choreography and framing have the elegant perfection of Japanese jidaigeki (films set in the Edo Period 1603-1868) that you expect from a cinematic master, and Kurosawa was certainly that. This film is a fascinating examination of truth and reality, as it recalls the same events from four different accounts. Winner of an Honorary Foreign Film Academy Award.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa, 1951. Starring Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori and Takashi Shimura.
—Goodfellas is a tour-de-force masterpiece from the legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Roger Ebert, in his review of it, called it the greatest mob movie ever made. Think about that for a minute. Perhaps the most unsettling thing about this film is that it doesn’t take us on a tour of the arche of mob life, condemning its evils along the way, it invites us to be a part of a worldview, to be part of a family, taking us under its wing and just letting us experience it all. The frightening thing is that we actually enjoy it! We want to be part of it. We see true realities of life that we all desire in these characters, with family, community and commitment. The problem is that these are the very things are can turn against you, leading to isolation and murder. Winner of 1 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Pesci).
Directed by Martin Scorsese, 1990. Starring Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci.
—This Cold War masterpiece almost didn’t come out in the form we have now. Stanley Kubrick wanted to make a stirring, harsh, Cold War drama, and the story for the dramatized Strangelove was ready to shoot… until they discovered that another studio was already well on the way with a similar drama. So they just decided to make this a comedy. And as fortunes would have it, it’s one of the five funniest movies ever made. Many consider this Kubrick’s finest film, and I can certainly make an argument for that, but if nothing else this certainly shows his incredible range. Watch it once, absorb it, then watch it again, because this movie gets better with each viewing. Nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1964. Starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott.
—One of the most entertaining films ever made, even to this day. Every song and dance number is colorful and magnificent, the performances are big and boisterous, and the script is incredibly sharp and very funny. This is easily the best film Gene Kelly ever made, and I would argue is the greatest musical of all time. This recount of the end of the silent era has dazzled anyone who has seen it for decades now, and I doubt there will come a day when this film is no longer relevant. Go see it now. Nominated for 2 Academy Awards.
Directed by Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1952. Starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Conner.