With both Universal and Paramount celebrating their centennials in 2012, I thought it time to make my list of Best Pictures for the first century of Hollywood. Like the Academy Awards, only one movie per calendar year makes the list (using the IMDb release year), but unlike the Academy, I don't insist on picking movies in years I haven't seen anything I liked. So although I've seen my share of silent films, the list doesn't really get into the swing of things until the sound era.
Although the creakiness of the Victorian conventions will make this difficult viewing for some, it will be worth it for others, if only to see the mesmerizing Lillian Gish
hitting her stride. ”
Way Down East
A naive country girl is tricked into a sham marriage by a wealthy womanizer, then must rebuild her life despite the taint of having borne a child out of wedlock. (145 mins.)
It's hard to avoid front-loading with D.W. Griffith
, as he practically owned the feature film for years. So for the second year in a row we have Griffith, Gish
, and Barthelmess
in a hokey Victorian morality tale. The troupe have matured since Broken Blossoms
, though, and Way Down East is starting to become enjoyable to modern viewers. ”
The Tramp cares for an abandoned child, but events put that relationship in jeopardy. (68 mins.)
Call me a Luddite, but I mostly fail to see what others see in Chaplin
- I prefer Keaton
. Though I consider The Kid a cut above the normal Chaplin fare. Who can resist Jackie Coogan
When a store clerk organizes a publicity stunt, in which a friend climbs the outside of a tall building, circumstances force him to make the perilous climb himself. (70 mins.)
I like this movie as much for the rare views of Jazz Age Los Angeles as for Lloyd
's breathtaking stunts. ”
The Marriage Circle
Professor Stock and his wife Mizzi are always bickering. Mizzi tries to seduce Dr. Franz Braun, the new husband of her good friend Charlotte... (85 mins.)
“ Ernst Lubitsch
is far and away my favorite director. Combine that with the fact that he started earlier than most famous directors, and you're going to see a lot of his movies in the early part of this list.
Until I saw this film I thought it impossible for a silent film to tell a sophisticated story without resorting to numerous intertitles. With this film Lubitsch had mastered the art of cinema before almost any other director even learned its vocabulary. ”
Lady Windermere's Fan
A society woman believes her husband is having an affair, a misconception which may have dire personal consequences for all involved. (120 mins.)
If you've been disappointed by silent films before, but are willing to keep an open mind, give this one a try. You might wonder how anyone could hope to adapt an Oscar Wilde
play to silent film, but once you've since this film you'll wonder what Wilde needed all that dialogue for. ”
When Union spies steal an engineer's beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines. (67 mins.)
When I watch Charlie Chaplin
and Harold Lloyd
, I do it for the historical interest, my viewing enhanced by the knowledge of their personal lives and what it took to do their stunts.
When I watch Keaton
, I just laugh. ”
A married farmer falls under the spell of a slatternly woman from the city, who tries to convince him to drown his wife. (94 mins.)
I'm not a fan of German Expressionism (notice I skipped 1922, the year Nosferatu
was released). To me it's just artsy-fartsy (yet crude by modern standards) camera work combined with tired stage conventions and ridiculous overacting of the sort Kathy Selden
makes fun of in that priceless scene in Singin' in the Rain
What saves this Hollywood Murnau
production is the star quality of Janet Gaynor
in one of the three performances that netted her the first Academy Award for Best Actress. Sunrise also won one of the first two Best Picture Oscars for 1927. ”
Steamboat Bill, Jr.
The effete son of a cantankerous riverboat captain comes to join his father's crew. (70 mins.)
The last of Keaton
's films as an independent, and just as good as The General
While this was not the first World War I film (after all, Wings
won one of the two Best Picture Oscars for 1927), it is the first one I could sit still for. Not exactly a glowing recommendation, but then the other famous films from 1930 (including Hell's Angels
) have aged even more. ”
César runs a bar along Marseilles' port, assisted by his 23 year old son, Marius. Colorful characters abound: M... (130 mins.)
“ Taken as a whole, the Fanny Trilogy stands in the highest echelon of French film, and the first of the series is my first non-Hollywood pick.
While the French were early players in cinema, that scene all but died with the Post-WWI recession and the rise of Hollywood and Weimar Germany. I believe French cinema only really recovered - only really found its voice - with Marius.
Don't get me wrong, though: while recognizably Continental in attitude, Marius is more like contemporary early Hollywood talkies than the urbane, world-weary French cinema of the American arthouses of the 60s. ” - clevecheng
Trouble in Paradise
A gentleman thief and a lady pickpocket join forces to con a beautiful perfume company owner. Romantic entanglements and jealousies confuse the scheme. (83 mins.)
All my picks so far have been conditional recommendations - the best movies of the year in a time when all movies seem unpolished and antiquated to modern eyes. Even my favorite so far, Lady Windermere's Fan
, is still a silent film and thus something most people avoid in an age where every foreign-language film is remade in Hollywood English so people won't have to read subtitles.
Well, I'm not making any excuses for Trouble in Paradise, the earliest movie to receive a ten-star rating from me - something I have only given to around 40 out of over 2,800 movies I've rated.
Its genre - a comedy of manners - is not going to appeal to everyone, but this is a movie that converts people to its point of view. Lubitsch
had made musicals before (including what some consider the first modern movie musical, 1929's Love Parade
), but this non-musical feels more like a musical than any musical I've seen. There's a rhythm to the dialogue, a ballet of editing, that is, well, musical.
I could go on and on, but let me just finish by saying not only is Trouble in Paradise the best film of the 1930s (not exactly a shabby decade for Hollywood), it is one of my Top Ten Movies of All Time. ”
Little Women is a "coming of age" drama tracing the lives of four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. During the American Civil War... (115 mins.)
The best of the three major Hollywood adaptations of Louisa May Alcott
's novel, and the reason is Katharine Hepburn
. I don't even like Hepburn's personality or style of acting, and yet... there is something fascinating about her. It's a good book too. ”
It Happened One Night
A spoiled heiress, running away from her family, is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story. (105 mins.)
This movie achieved the first Grand Slam
in Academy Award history, almost single-handedly made Columbia
into a major studio, and pretty much invented the screwball comedy genre.
How is it a mostly formulaic movie with a tired plot, corny script, recalcitrant actors, mundane setting, and generally low-budget feel is still loved by millions nearly eighty years after its release?
I can only give my own answer: Claudette Colbert
. She is a goddess in this film, as much through the way she emotes and carries herself as through her physical looks. Clark Gable
ain't shabby either, but he's a ham in comparison. ”
After being wrongly convicted as a traitor, Peter Blood, an English physician, is sent to exile in the British colonies of the Caribbean, where he becomes a pirate. (119 mins.)
For the life of me, I can't put my finger on why I like this flick. The leads are pretty to look at, but I can't honestly say either is a favorite. Nor do I have a particular preference for swashbucklers. Maybe it's just good ol' fashioned fun - the kind of thing Spielberg & Co. resurrected with Raiders of the Lost Ark
A retired auto manufacturer and his wife take a long-planned European vacation only to find that they want very different things from life. (101 mins.)
“ I think Dodsworth would be a fine if unremarkable movie if it were released today. But that's saying a lot already - it is arguably less dated than any movie in the list so far. The unremarkableness itself helps it stand the test of time. ” - clevecheng
The Awful Truth
Unfounded suspicions lead a married couple to begin divorce proceedings, whereupon they start undermining each other's attempts to find new romance. (91 mins.)
What is it about Irene Dunne
? She wasn't young nor appealing in the conventional Hollywood sense (although she certainly was attractive). I don't even like her voice. Or at least I wouldn't if it wasn't for Dunne's incomparable delivery - brittle and sharp as glass. She looked like a housewife but her personality - aloof yet alluring. This just might be my favorite of all screwball comedies. ”
Bringing Up Baby
While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a befuddled paleontologist is pursued by a flighty and often irritating heiress and her pet leopard, Baby. (102 mins.)
I think both Hepburn
are hams. I find this film contrived and not really all that funny, as if Hawks
were doing a Preston Sturges
imitation. Yet Hawks' ironic and playful attitude is infectious, and this is perhaps the kookiest of all screwball comedies. ”
A young socialite is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, and must decide whether she'll meet her final days with dignity. (104 mins.)
It's a cliché that 1939 was the greatest year in Hollywood history. Given the dozen or more famous candidates for Best Picture of 1939 - including Gone With the Wind
, the Academy's and I'm guessing most people's choice - why would I pick slightly obscure, slightly mundane Dark Victory?
Answer: Bette Davis
If it had been a normal year, like 1938, I wouldn't have to defend my choice. If Bette had not made Jezebel
in 1938 (another fine film) and had played the similar role of Scarlett O'Hara
instead, I'd probably be gushing here about GWTW.
As it is, I have to choose between my favorite performance of the period and a movie that, as far as I'm concerned, has nothing going for it but spectacle - granted, enough spectacle to almost convert me to its cause. Dark Victory may seem a bit melodramatic to modern audiences, but Gone With the Wind isn't exactly a paragon of stoicism either. ”
The Shop Around the Corner
Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand one another, without realizing that they're falling in love through the post as each other's anonymous pen pal. (99 mins.)
Easily the best romantic comedy of all time. Lubitsch
made a half dozen masterpieces, but never before and never after would he have two leads of this caliber. If he had made only this film, he would still be my favorite director. ”
The Lady Eve
A trio of classy card sharps targets the socially awkward heir to brewery millions for his money, till one of them falls in love with him. (94 mins.)
It's hard to come up with two Hollywood personalities as different as Barbara Stanwyck
and Preston Sturges
. Her snake-tongued worldliness and voracious sex appeal set against Fonda
's utter, utter cluelessness and Sturges' genius for off-kilter antics results in something that is impossible to recreate (although I'm sure Hollywood will try sooner or later). I don't know if I love this film or merely find it fascinating, and thanks to Sturges' wit I'll probably never make up my mind. ”
In Casablanca, Morocco in December 1941, a cynical American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications. (102 mins.)
If you'd never met or heard anything about Americans before watching this film, by the time the credits appeared you would know everything there is to know about Americans' romantic self-image.
Sure, it takes place in Africa, features "La Marseillaise" in its most stirring scene, has only three American natives (Bogart
, and Joy Page
- who played a Bulgarian) out of a credited cast of fourteen, and was directed by a Hungarian — heck, even Jack Warner was Canadian
. But that's the point: all those émigrés came to America to make what is not only the most iconic Hollywood movie of all time, but the one which, out of all the great classics, is the most collaborative — the shining example of how a movie can be more than the sum of its parts, just as we all hope America is more than just the sum of its people.
It has all the elements of iconic America: Rick working his way to the top of Casablanca society from nothing; Sam a barely-emancipated sidekick (Casablanca is black & white on so many levels); Rick's back room where lofty titles or money won't get you in but what you've done will keep you out; and, above all, the notion that when the whole world's gone to hell and everyone's given up hope you can always count on the American to do the right thing. ”
The More the Merrier
During the WW2 housing shortage in Washington, two men and a woman share a single apartment and the older man plays Cupid to the other two. (104 mins.)
We downshift from perhaps the most famous movie on the list to perhaps the least famous. But The More the Merrier is anything but an obscure cult classic: it's a conventional rom com in a conventional wartime setting (the WWII housing shortage in D.C.), and was quite popular in its day. Especially notable is Charles Coburn
's performance, but watch it simply because it's enjoyable. ”
A jaded former jockey helps a young girl prepare a wild but gifted horse for England's Grand National Sweepstakes. (123 mins.)
The greatest family film ever made. Watching teenage Angela Lansbury
tart it up is a hoot. Even Mickey Rooney
is almost tolerable for once. But it is the relationship between Velvet and her mother (played by Anne Revere
) that forms the core of this superbly-told story.
Ultimately, though, the (justifiable) reason many modern viewers pick this one up is to watch Elizabeth Taylor
in her first starring role. I don't think Liz was the most talented or even prettiest child actor ever. But if you looked up "photogenic" in an illustrated dictionary, right next to Yosemite Valley should be a mugshot of Liz Taylor. ”
Children of Paradise
The theatrical life of a beautiful courtesan and the four men who love her. (190 mins.)
“ I alternate between being bored and stunned by this movie, depending on what mood I'm in. It's certainly not going to win over anyone already turned off by French film - I mean, it's about a mime for Christ's sake. But the fact that I hate pretentious "high art", and yet have chosen this over a dozen well-known Hollywood films I like from 1945 should say something about the quality of this film. ” - clevecheng
It's a Wonderful Life
An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed. (130 mins.)
“ Because of its Christmas setting and the premature expiry of its copyright, it might very well be the most watched feature film in America. Maybe this year, though, try to watch it with a critical eye - always difficult with Capracorn - to see if its popularity endures for reasons other than copyright and marketing. ” - clevecheng
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
In 1900, a young widow finds her seaside cottage is haunted...and forms a unique relationship with the ghost. (104 mins.)
“ Watch it for the romance.
If you're not into period romances, skip it. ” - clevecheng
Dunson leads a cattle drive, the culmination of over 14 years of work, to its destination in Missouri. But his tyrannical behavior along the way causes a mutiny, led by his adopted son. (133 mins.)
It was between this and The Red Shoes
- I'm not a huge fan of either. But both are engaging enough to watch and, as archetypes of their genres (Fort Apache
is another archetypal Western from 1948), worth seeing from a film literacy standpoint. ”
Noriko is twenty-seven years old and still living with her widowed father. Everybody tries to talk her into marrying, but Noriko wants to stay at home caring for her father. (108 mins.)
I did not consciously attempt to ensure Ozu
a place in this list - and he probably wouldn't have made it if 1949 weren't a weak year - but that is not because I don't love his work. Late Spring is one of his best - an elegy that is more touching in its simplicity than almost any other movie I've seen - excluding Tokyo Story
, of course. ”
All About Eve
An ingenue insinuates herself into the company of an established but aging stage actress and her circle of theater friends. (138 mins.)
As a lover of "pure cinema" I shouldn't even like All About Eve, perhaps the stagiest of the great backstage movies, let alone love it. None of the characters are particularly likeable and every scene is a non-stop, stage-bound chatterfest.
But nobody could make an actress or line glitter like Mankiewicz
- and nuclear bombshell Marilyn Monroe
sure helps. George Sanders
and Celeste Holm
are also pitch perfect as always.
In the final analysis, though, like all her movies, this movie lives or dies on the strength of Bette Davis
. I have a great deal of respect for Claudette Colbert
, Katharine Hepburn
, and Barbara Stanwyck
, and I delight in Irene Dunne
, Carole Lombard
, and Ginger Rogers
. But Bette Davis - combining those flashing eyes with the personality to instantly command any room and the humility to portray real emotions - is my favorite of the 30s Hollywood divas. ”
A Place in the Sun
A poor boy gets a job working for his rich uncle and ends up falling in love with two women. (122 mins.)
The cover makes you think this is going to be a potboiler - and it more or less is. If you know anything about Montgomery Clift
or Elizabeth Taylor
, you know they're going to set fire to the celluloid, and A Place in the Sun does not disappoint. ”
Singin' in the Rain
A silent film production company and cast make a difficult transition to sound. (103 mins.)
Less than the sum of its parts, the parts are nevertheless classics for a reason. Aside from the famous song-and-dances like "Singin' in the Rain" and "Good Morning", there's Gene Kelly
at his very best (and I always preferred Kelly to Astaire
) and a young Debbie Reynolds
already larger than life. Reynolds' priceless silent film actor imitation is probably my favorite two seconds in all of Hollywood history.
It's all too easy to forget what silent era Hollywood was really like and accept the happier version from Hollywood at its self-referential peak. ”
A bored and sheltered princess escapes her guardians and falls in love with an American newsman in Rome. (118 mins.)
The grandest fairy tale to come out of Hollywood, and perhaps the real start of the modern rom com, with an emphasis on the Rom(an(ce)).
As far as I know, it introduced location shooting as an integral part of the romance, as well as short haircuts that even my mom (who had yet to step foot outside China at the time) was imitating.
poorly cast? If he was, he nevertheless did a fair job of inhabiting the role with his own unique character. And they could've cast a mannequin for all it mattered when Audrey Hepburn
was on the screen. The way I see it, Grace Kelly
in real life lived in the shadow of Hepburn's Princess Ann
A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves. (207 mins.)
1954 was a very good year for Hollywood. But sometime between La Strada
and Seven Samurai non-American cinema also finally scaled the highest peaks. La Strada is a great, great film - one that I love as much as admire. But Seven Samurai is more than a film; it is a new myth. It is the greatest Western ever made, and, in my mind at least, the beginning of the revisionist Western. ”
To Catch a Thief
When a reformed jewel thief is suspected of returning to his former occupation, he must ferret out the real thief in order to prove his innocence. (106 mins.)
I'm not sure I even like Hitchcock
, let alone consider him a great director. He is the antithesis of Lubitsch
- all clumsy melodrama and in-your-face artifice.
For the longest time I convinced myself that the only Hitchcock movie I actually liked was Vertigo
. But over the years I've found myself reaching for To Catch a Thief more often than any other Hitchie.Grace Kelly
is a big reason. Sure, she's a looker - but then so are dozens of other Hollywood actresses. No, it's that oh-so-delicate voice and model-like poise combined with hints of vulnerability that make her the impossible dream. Cary Grant
plays off her perfectly, all the more heroic for casually spurning the advances of Miss Perfection.
That there's a mystery plot is entirely beside the point, and that is precisely the point. Hitchcock took his movies (if not himself) far too seriously, but in this, his most playful movie, we see glimpses of a more sophisticated wit. ”
Following his father's death, a boy leaves home to study in Calcutta, while his mother must face a life alone. (110 mins.)
The second of the Apu Trilogy, which is next to impossible to separate in a Top Movies list.
I entered into my first viewing of the first Apu, Pather Panchali
, with some trepidation. Having for some time read gushing appraisals of Satyajit Ray
and his Apu Trilogy, I had formed a vision of the French New Wave, but maybe a bit more sappy in the way of Monsoon Wedding
I couldn't have been further from the truth. Aparajito, along with its siblings, is a simple story of a simple boy in a simple town, just told exceedingly well. ”
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
A marine and a nun form an unlikely friendship. The marine is shipwrecked on a Pacific island and the nun has been left behind there; they find comfort in one another as the two wait out the war. (108 mins.)
If you were stuck on a desert island, which two actors would you want to be with? If you are not yet a convert to the Mitchum
Fan Club, this is the initiation rite. ”
Weary of the conventions of Parisian society, a rich playboy and a youthful courtesan-in-training enjoy a platonic friendship, but it may not stay platonic for long. (115 mins.)
I get the impression most people think the Academy made a mistake in awarding Gigi Best Picture (along with a record eight other Oscars) in a year that included Vertigo
and Touch of Evil
. IMDb voters currently rate Gigi the 39th best film of that year.
Nevertheless, it is my favorite musical.
Like most hetero males, I normally find musicals to be the worst kind of chick flick. That is to say: poorly written, hopelessly superficial, reactionary, and just plain boring. In other words, the feminine equivalent of Michael Bay
movies or soft-core porn.
Unlike most hetero males, though, I like showtunes. Or, at least good ones. Musicals have been the source of so much of the Great American Songbook.
That still leaves the question of why Gigi is my favorite, since, with the exception of "Thank Heaven For Little Girls", Gigi's songs never entered the American vernacular. (I think part of the reason they haven't is they are sung by non-Americans with thick accents.)Caron
are perfectly appealing in the lead roles, but what really puts the movie over the top are the supporting performances - mostly notably those of Hermione Gingold
and Isabel Jeans
. And then of course there's Maurice "Look at Me, I'm French" Chevalier
playing (who'd've thought?) a stereotypical Frenchman and Eva "Window Dressing" Gabor
playing, well, window dressing. ”
The World of Apu
This final installment in Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy, follows Apu's life as an orphaned adult aspiring to be a writer as he lives through poverty, and the unforeseen turn of events. (105 mins.)
I'd love to squeeze in one of my many favorite movies from 1959, like Ballad of a Soldier
, or Rio Bravo
, or Hiroshima Mon Amour
, or Good Morning
, or Room at the Top
, or Imitation of Life
, or, heck, even Pillow Talk
- hey look, I just did - but all of those are 8-star movies and the final entry in the Apu Trilogy is a tenner. ”
A man tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue. (125 mins.)
“ Billy Wilder
may have considered himself a disciple of Lubitsch, but their senses of humor could hardly have been further apart. Wilder often leaves me cold, especially when he relies on a nebbish like Jack Lemmon
. In fact, I would probably find The Apartment annoying were it not for one thing.
You guessed it: Shirley MacLaine
. That woman is a star. She has the looks, the charisma, and the strong personality to go with. I sometimes wonder why she didn't become an even bigger star than she was. Probably has something to do with her personal life. ”
Judgment at Nuremberg
In 1948, an American court in occupied Germany tries four Nazi judges for war crimes. (186 mins.)
I hate courtroom dramas. There are few things I dread more than seeing my annual jury summons in the mailbox.
Then what is it about Judgment at Nuremberg? It takes a potentially very difficult subject and gift-wraps it in the best Hollywood fashion, while never making the viewer feel manipulated. It's got an amazing lineup of big-name actors, and yet is generous enough to leave the best speeches to the German lawyer (Maximilian Schell
in a phenomenal performance). Nor, even when the pathologically bigger-than-life Judy Garland
takes the stand, does it ever veer into maudlin hysterics over the very real atrocities it discusses. ”
To Kill a Mockingbird
Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice. (129 mins.)
“ Didn't I just say I hate courtroom dramas? And yet To Kill a Mockingbird was one of my favorite books as a child, and the movie, only seen as an adult, is every bit as much a favorite. ” - clevecheng
Honest and hard-working Texas rancher Homer Bannon has a conflict with his unscrupulous, selfish, arrogant and egotistical son Hud who sank into alcoholism after accidentally killing his brother in a car crash. (112 mins.)
I'll just come out and say I don't like 60s cinema. The road from Debbie Reynolds
' Studio Era to the grit of Clint Eastwood
's Independent Era was straight downhill as far as I'm concerned. But even in the worst decade there are always some gems.
Hud's not one of those. It just has Paul Newman
in it. And that's plenty for me. ”
The Night of the Iguana
A defrocked Episcopal clergyman leads a bus-load of middle-aged Baptist women on a tour of the Mexican coast and comes to terms with the failure haunting his life. (125 mins.)
“ Two hams, a ma'am, and a lamb. Simmer over high heat. ” - clevecheng
The Sound of Music
A woman leaves an Austrian convent to become a governess to the children of a Naval officer widower. (174 mins.)
“ Nuns vs. Nazis. It doesn't get any better than that.
We learned every single song in third grade music class. This musical is beyond famous - it's started to displace reality. Just try to go sightseeing in Salzburg without coming across some reference to this movie - um, wasn't there some famous composer born there too? I had almost convinced myself at one point that "Edelweiss" was an actual Austrian folksong. ” - clevecheng
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery. (161 mins.)
Widely considered (but not by me
) the greatest Western of all time, I think of it as a post-Western - a Mod-era film that happens to have a Western setting.
It is lyrical, yet unsettling. Gritty, yet gorgeous. And a strong contender for best soundtrack of all time. ”
In the Heat of the Night
An African American police detective is asked to investigate a murder in a racially hostile southern town. (109 mins.)
"They call me Mister Tibbs" might be the single greatest line Hollywood ever contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. (Or was that "I don't know nuthin 'bout birthin' babies!"
When he was young, Sidney Poitier
was a sight to behold - I can't think of another actor with as much screen presence as he has.
But In the Heat of the Night is much more than just a eulogy for MLK or a star vehicle for Poitier - in my opinion, Rod Steiger
's is the more interesting performance here, and the Academy agreed. ”
The Lion in Winter
1183 AD: King Henry II's three sons all want to inherit the throne, but he won't commit to a choice. They and his wife variously plot to force him. (134 mins.)
“ The script is stagey, Byzantine; the performances an almost non-stop succession of scene chewing. It is however a brilliant play, put on by brilliant actors - and the catfights are spellbinding. ” - clevecheng
I'm still not convinced Jane Fonda
can act, but it hardly matters in this movie because she is so perfectly cast. Her Barbie-doll looks and flinty personality never quite gelled with the public, but she puts both to good use in this excellent story. Given my aforementioned dislike of the "gritty" filmmaking so evident in this movie, I should hate it. But it's so well made it won me over. ”
The staff of a Korean War field hospital use humor and hijinks to keep their sanity in the face of the horror of war. (116 mins.)
“ It's hard for people of my generation to separate the TV show and movie, but the movie was a cut above the show in every respect. The cast and the attitude combine to create an absolutely unique experience - at least, until the show started airing. ” - clevecheng
A Clockwork Orange
In future Britain, charismatic delinquent Alex DeLarge is jailed and volunteers for an experimental aversion therapy developed by the government in an effort to solve society's crime problem - but not all goes according to plan. (136 mins.)
I wonder if there's a single person in the world who claims this is their favorite movie. It is (deliberately) hard to watch, hard to fathom where Kubrick
is going with it. It is very much a product of its times, and yet so otherworldly as to stand in isolation to the rest of movie history. I'm not sure if I will ever say I like it, but from the first time I saw it I knew it was a masterpiece. ”
The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son. (175 mins.)
“ Do I like The Godfather? Some parts, but not all. Am I forever in awe at its virtuosity? Certainly. Is it the best movie ever made? I'm not going to try to argue against anyone who holds that opinion. It's at least in the Top Five. ” - clevecheng
A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college. (110 mins.)
“ The only good movie Lucas ever made. ” - clevecheng
The Godfather: Part II
The early life and career of Vito Corleone in 1920s New York is portrayed while his son, Michael, expands and tightens his grip on his crime syndicate stretching from Lake Tahoe, Nevada to pre-revolution 1958 Cuba. (202 mins.)
“ It would be a disservice to say this is the best sequel ever made and just leave it at that. It is better than the original, and I think the original is one of the five best movies ever made. The Godfather, Part II is not by any stretch of the imagination my favorite film. But that has everything to do with the subject matter, and nothing to do with the treatment. ” - clevecheng
An Irish rogue wins the heart of a rich widow and assumes her dead husband's aristocratic position in 18th-century England. (184 mins.)
Barry Lyndon is boring. It's slow and so dull I can barely remember anything about its plot. It is also beautiful, both in cinematography and in storytelling. Kubrick
's confidence is infectious. ”
The epic tale of a class struggle in 20th Century Italy, as seen through the eyes of two childhood friends on opposing sides. (317 mins.)
It's almost as if Bertolucci
had a look at Kubrick
and said, "Hey, I can do that too!" Which is not to disparage the outcome. Still the best of Bertolucci's films. ”
Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire's world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader. (121 mins.)
“ No: by any objective standards of writing, acting, or directing, Star Wars is not a great film.
But it doesn't make the list just for its sentimental value (I'm told I watched it six times in the theater - and I had just turned two when it premiered). Star Wars is a great film because it captured the imagination of a generation (or two), and because it paved the way out of the Disillusioned 70s into the reinvigorated, albeit cheesy, current age of film. ” - clevecheng
The Deer Hunter
An in-depth examination of the ways in which the U.S. Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania. (183 mins.)
Why do I always associate this movie with Deliverance
? Maybe it's because, to an urban 21st-Century Californian, Vietnam sounds like a resort destination while Appalachia evokes The Heart of Darkness. ”
During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe. (153 mins.)
Completing the Coppola
Trifecta, Apocalypse Now is the greatest war film ever made, a travelogue into our collective guilt and despair over having fought for nothing (or less than nothing) in Vietnam. The Deer Hunter
started the catharsis and Apocalypse Now brought it to a climax, paving the way for the almost after-school-special quality of 80s 'Nam flicks like Platoon
A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future. (146 mins.)
The finest traditional horror film ever made - in my estimation, the only truly great one. The most accessible Kubrick
film and my favorite. To this day, I always pause to reflect (standing slightly to one side) on the elevators in The Ahwahnee Hotel. ”
The claustrophobic world of a WWII German U-boat; boredom, filth, and sheer terror. (149 mins.)
“ As you're doubtless beginning to suspect, I have a weakness for war films. Das Boot was neither the first nor last famous submarine film, but it's the only one that transcends its little metal cigar. How do you make Nazis sympathetic? Don't ask me; ask the makers of Das Boot, because they somehow succeeded. ” - clevecheng
Fanny and Alexander
Two young Swedish children experience the many comedies and tragedies of their family, the Ekdahls. (188 mins.)
There was a bar near my college called Fanny and Alexander. While it was years before I realized what the name referred to, once I did I began to understand some things about my fellow students. That, despite protests to the contrary, most of them came from rich, suburban upbringings and had a slightly romanticized outlook on life. And that, all things considered, this was not necessarily a bad thing.
It was around this time that I realized I too preferred Fanny and Alexander to Bergman
's other movies. If there's one thing I learned from those six years of country-club life, it's that sometimes both life and art are better if not taken too seriously. ”
Terms of Endearment
Follows hard-to-please Aurora looking for love and her daughter's family problems. (132 mins.)
“ There's nothing I can write about this film that hasn't already been written. It sounds like classic 80s schmalz, but it's actually handled quite maturely. ” - clevecheng
The incredible story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, told by his peer and secret rival Antonio Salieri - now confined to an insane asylum. (160 mins.)
's Meisterstück, although I'm not sure the film would be half as good if it had a pop 80s soundtrack. ”
A bureaucrat in a retro-future world tries to correct an administrative error and himself becomes an enemy of the state. (132 mins.)
Gilliam's celebrated take on 1984
. Guess Apple had dibs on the actual year. ”
A young recruit in Vietnam faces a moral crisis when confronted with the horrors of war and the duality of man. (120 mins.)
It's just as Hollywoody as you'd expect with Charlie Sheen
in the lead role. (If it was good enough for papa...)
Actually, it was a toss-up between Stand By Me
and this. There are so many memorable moments in Platoon though, that I had to go with the epic. ”
When a childless couple of an ex-con and an ex-cop decide to help themselves to one of another family's quintupelets, their lives get more complicated than they anticipated. (94 mins.)
A filmmaker recalls his childhood, when he fell in love with the movies at his village's theater and formed a deep friendship with the theater's projectionist. (155 mins.)
“ Italian syrup is lighter yet richer than American. ” - clevecheng
When Harry Met Sally...
Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship. (96 mins.)
“ The ultimate Gen X rom com.
I love it just as much as anyone, but it is starting to show its age. As evidenced by the recent pair of "friends with benefits" movies whose concept revolves around the now taken-as-given premise of Harry Met Sally.
And, for the record, Brangelina did not invent the concept. ” - clevecheng
A gentle man, with scissors for hands, is brought into a new community after living in isolation. (105 mins.)
The Silence of the Lambs
A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims. (118 mins.)
“ This is the example I use when expounding my theory that all "genre films" are simply bad films that conform to a certain story type. I'm referring to the fact that this is usually listed under Suspense or Thriller, when it is basically a Horror film. But it's so good, and the vast majority of horror films are so bad, that few label it a horror film. ” - clevecheng
A maverick dancer risks his career by performing an unusual routine and sets out to succeed with a new partner. (94 mins.)
As I've said, I don't generally like musicals, much less dansicals. By the end of this movie, though, I actually wanted to learn to dance.Baz
is amazing. Or, at least, his first three movies were. And the first was the best. Bring on the North American Blu-ray! ”
A weatherman finds himself living the same day over and over again. (101 mins.)
I think Bill Murray
is overrated these days. But I didn't think so back in 1993, when Groundhog Day became an instant fave (if such a phrase existed back then). The script is just joyous - the best comedy concept and execution to come out of Hollywood in a long, long time. ”
The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster's wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption. (154 mins.)
While there was a trickle of indie films before Pulp Fiction, this movie punched through that dam like a syringe full of adrenaline. By the next decade it would be taught in screenwriting classes as a revolution in non-linear storytelling.
But it was the attitude more than the cinematic tricks that held and continues to hold peoples' attention. Tarantino
single-handedly made moviemaking cool, and, in the process, inspired a whole generation of new filmmakers. ”
The City of Lost Children
A scientist in a surrealist society kidnaps children to steal their dreams, hoping that they slow his aging process. (112 mins.)
is my second favorite director, and has been a favorite since I first saw a film of his (this film) on the arthouse circuit. The first of the French MTV directors (i.e., preceding Michel Gondry
), he refined his craft with every film up through Amélie
Secrets & Lies
A successful black woman discovers that her birth mother is a lower-class white woman, but the woman denies it. As emotions run high, everyone's secrets are exposed. (136 mins.)
For a day or so after every time I watch this movie, I think Brenda Blethyn
is the greatest actress of all time. When I sober up, though, I recall I've liked everything I've seen from Mike Leigh
, and then I think Leigh is the greatest up-and-coming director. Only he already up and came. ”
Dr. Ellie Arroway, after years of searching, finds conclusive radio proof of intelligent aliens, who send plans for a mysterious machine. (150 mins.)
The flagbearer for naïve science fiction.
That sounds like a put-down, but I don't see it that way. Carl Sagan
set out to convey, in Hollywood language, the wonder and joy of contemplating the cosmos that he made it his life's work to show others. I think he succeeded in this film, and he did it without dumbing down the feelings or politics involved. ”
Saving Private Ryan
Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action. (169 mins.)
If he'd just left the bookends out instead of throwing them at us like a desperate Sergeant out of bullets, this would've been his masterpiece. Instead, I feel Spielberg
still has something better in him - and, no, it wasn't Schindler's List
Nevertheless, Ryan is a strong contender against Apocalypse Now
for greatest war film of all time. ”
A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers. (136 mins.)
Is The Matrix better than Fight Club
? Is either remotely interesting to non-14-to-40-males? Is the Wachowskis
' pop philosophy riddled with holes big enough to fly a leaking helicopter through? Were the sequels proof that the Wachowskis can't write any better than Keanu
My answer to every question: God, this movie kicks ass. ”
When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an emperor's corrupt son, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. (155 mins.)
I could give the same explanation as The Matrix
here, but I won't.
Because there is some insanely good acting here. We all know Russell Crowe
is phenomenal. (If you don't know it, I'm going to beat it into your skull with the butt of a gladius.) Joaquin Phoenix
is every bit his match here. Veterans Oliver Reed
and Richard Harris
both give top performances. Hell, even Connie Nielsen
holds her own against these Titans.
I suspect Gladiator gets short shrift from cinephiles mostly because it is an action blockbuster and it won Best Picture (I've only agreed with 17 out of 83 Best Picture Oscars myself). I think it deserved Best Picture - in fact, I think it deserved Best Picture more than any other Best Picture ever awarded.
One last thought: You Can Count On Me
is one of my ten favorite films of all time, and it also came out in the year 2000. Gladiator's better. ”
Amélie is an innocent and naive girl in Paris with her own sense of justice. She decides to help those around her and, along the way, discovers love. (122 mins.)
My favorite movie. Easily the finest French film ever made.Lubitsch
never had anyone like Audrey Tautou
to work with, and besides had none of the visual skill of Jeunet
I don't know French, but I've recently started watching this movie without subtitles - I've watched it that much, and it is that cinematic (i.e., told without the aid of dialogue). ”
Talk to Her
Two men share an odd friendship while they care for two women who are both in deep comas. (112 mins.)
I'm not sure whether All About My Mother
or Talk to Her is my favorite Almodóvar
. What I am sure about is that sometime between these two movies was the peak of his career. Warning: this, like many of Almodóvar's films, is not for the easily outraged. ”
A woman on the run from the mob is reluctantly accepted in a small Colorado town. In exchange, she agrees to work for them. As a search visits town, she finds out that their support has a price. Yet her dangerous secret is never far away... (178 mins.)
Dogville, like most of Lars von Trier
's work, is in-your-face artsy.
The movie has no set. I don't mean it's shot entirely on location; I mean it's shot on a soundstage whose sole decorations are lines to delineate indoor and outdoor spaces. Von Trier left himself no eye candy to fall back on.
Well, one piece of eye candy: Nicole Kidman
. She is front-and-center for the whole movie, and she does an excellent job carrying it. The rest of the ensemble cast is fascinating as well.
But make no mistake: like all his films, this is first-and-foremost a vehicle for Lars von Trier.
The difference between von Trier on the one hand and, on the other hand, the other Dogme directors, Ingmar Bergman
, Woody Allen
, Jean-Luc Godard
, and Stanley Kubrick
is that von Trier has the raw talent to make his overtly experimental films get under your skin. Like Truffaut
he allows us to empathize with the characters, and this is what keeps your feet on the ground while encouraging your mind to soar. ”
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a procedure to have each other erased from their memories. But it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with. (108 mins.)
's and Gondry
's other movies, Eternal Sunshine could've been a hollow exercise in mental masturbation.
That it is an instant classic is a bit perplexing. Could it be the fantastic sci-fi concept? The non-linear storytelling and visual hijinks? Could it be because both Jim Carrey
and Kate Winslet
put in the best performances of their careers?
Partly. Most importantly, though, it shares a simple, yet deep observation about human relationships. ”
The crew of the ship Serenity try to evade an assassin sent to recapture one of their numbers who is telepathic. (119 mins.)
When I first saw Serenity, I had heard that it was a continuation of the cult TV series Firefly
, but, as I had not seen the series, did not know what to expect.
I came out of the theater impressed. Not wow-that-is-the-greatest-sci-fi-movie-evah impressed, but impressed enough to watch the series. Then I watched Serenity again. And again. And again.
It's sci-fi action, not Shakespeare. The actors are far from great (although Nathan Fillion
and Adam Baldwin
are fun to watch), and the direction, while excellent, is pretty mainstream.
But the writing - the world, the characters, the dialogue, the plot - is incredibly good. Joss Whedon
may just be the best screenwriter working in Hollywood today. ”
King Leonidas of Sparta and a force of 300 men fight the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. (117 mins.)
I already mentioned I'm hooked on war films. It has long been something I'm uncomfortable about, since I consider myself a borderline pacifist. So how can I rate one of the most reactionary war movies ever made the best movie of 2006?
Because it's good. And it's got laser vision.
Like the graphic novel, the movie tells a simple story almost entirely in black and white (and red). And, unlike Fight Club
, it nevers pulls a punch, never pauses for an ironic comment about the nature of Spartan rule - it just milks the military ethos for all it's worth. I liken it to Star Wars
for its reactionary politics and innocent-guilty-pleasureness. ”
Two co-dependent high school seniors are forced to deal with separation anxiety after their plan to stage a booze-soaked party goes awry. (113 mins.)
“ The best teen comedy of all time. A few seconds into the rolling of the credits I was literally rolling on the floor of the theater laughing out loud - the only time I can ever recall that happening. ” - clevecheng
Let the Right One In
Oskar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl. (115 mins.)
Finally, a vampire movie done right. By this I mean it's not a horror movie, nor does it feature Tom Cruise
. As kick-ass as Chloë Moretz
is, she's too cute to play this role, whereas Lina Leandersson
was absolutely perfect. ”
Astronaut Sam Bell has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he, working alongside his computer, GERTY, sends back to Earth parcels of a resource that has helped diminish our planet's power problems. (97 mins.)
Good ol' fashioned science fiction, of the Solaris
mold. I never understood what people saw in Sam Rockwell
before I watched this, but he is now a favorite of mine. ”
An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact. (100 mins.)
"Grit" is one of those quintessentially American words which, although it can be traced back to Old English and even further to the beginnings of Indo-European, took on a uniquely American and even Appalachian meaning.
The Ozarks are in a cultural sense a Western extension of the Appalachians, and the modern-day battle against endemic poverty and its symptom, meth labs, in those and other rural parts of the West may not be all that different from the days of coon hunting and moonshine running in Appalachia.
Which is all just a long-winded introduction to my point that there is a movie from late 2010 that perfectly illustrated the American meaning of the word "grit", and it wasn't True Grit
A silent movie star meets a young dancer, but the arrival of talking pictures sends their careers in opposite directions. (100 mins.)
The best of the two dozen or so movies released in 2011 I've seen so far. A clever silent-film mashup of Singin' in the Rain
and A Star Is Born
, it is a classically-Post-Modern homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood. It is also an enjoyable movie in its own right and one of the best silent films ever made. ”