IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
It just may be the most important film Hollywood ever produced. James Stewart’s George Bailey is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like if he had never been born. Director Frank Capra reminds us that our compassion and responsibility make a difference in the lives of those with whom we come in contact. The things we say and do affect the lives of others. Hard to top that message.
Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman. I have always considered Citizen Kane the one flawless film, but after a recent re-viewing of Rick & Elsa's great love story, I've capitulated - Casablanca truly reigns as the greatest motion picture of all time. (I'm a man of definite opinions as you will gather.) But I cannot find a false or ineffective camera angle, line or performance in the entire production. Love, honor and patriotism prevail.
CITIZEN KANE (1941)
At the age of 25, Orson Welles starred in, directed and co-wrote what many consider the most influential film ever made. Along with his cinematographer, editor and other pioneering technicians, Welles brought many innovations to the movie world. With the use of lighting, camera angles and dazzling direction, Welles tells the rise-to-power story of a William Randolph Hearst-like publisher.
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
The classic Judy Garland musical’s Great Oz is not all he should be - and yet, he’s more. Great storytelling, it is a fantastic visual feast for the eyes – and the soul.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)
Gregory Peck gives his best performance, aided by Horton Foote's winning screenplay of the Harper Lee novel about rural life, justice, honor and bigotry as seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl. A beautifully photographed black-and-white movie with a haunting score by Elmer Bernstein. Other Horton Foote screenplays paying tribute to old-fashioned ethics: Tender Mercies, The Trip to Bountiful.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)
Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and a superb supporting cast star in this battle of the sexes where no one loses. Not enough good can be said about this four-star screwball comedy, or its director, Howard Hawks.
ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger. Winner of eight Academy Awards, it deals with New York's crime-ridden harbor docks. In my opinion, Brando gives the greatest male screen performance, ever.
FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956)
Unforgettable Gary Cooper tour de force. But then, everything about this picture is unforgettable. Charming portrayal of a Quaker family caught in the Civil War conflict. Witty, touching and lovely theme song.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (the 1946 version)
Several Oscars went to this Edwardian saga about an orphan and his mysterious benefactor. John Mills heads the English cast and it is directed by David Lean (Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia). The one ingredient all of the movies in this section share is effective storytelling–the use of language to entertain, inform or enlighten. No one glorified language better than Charles Dickens. Well, except for that other English guy.
KING KONG (1933)
Fay Wray. An impressive beauty-and-the-beast study with effective special effects. Pass on the bloated and profane 1976 and 2005 remakes.
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
Peter O'Toole. Lawrence of Arabia must be viewed on the big screen to be totally appreciated. I first saw this Best Picture of 1962 on TV and was disappointed. Years later I saw the restored version in a Los Angeles theater and was knocked out. Like Hitchcock, Ford, and Bergman, director David Lean is very visual. His work has to be seen on the big screen to catch all he's saying. (Even the letter-boxed laser disc is disappointing.) My advice: Look for Lawrence at revival houses or to be re-released every ten years or so. This one's too great to be imprisoned on television.
THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
There's never been a more sardonic detective than Sam Spade or a more intriguing detective film noir than The Maltese Falcon. Made previously, this is one of the few remakes that outshines the original. Directed by John Huston and wisely cast with Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook, Jr., it is often referred to as the definitive private-eye story. It may seem clichéd now as every ingredient that made it the best of its genre has been reproduced by many a filmmaker. The only negative I found in this atmospheric classic was the casting of Mary Astor, who was by then too old for the part and far from the alluring seductress the character called for. Lauren Bacall would have been a perfect choice. Unfortunately, Ms. Bacall was only about sixteen at the time. “Baby” wouldn't be discovered until three years later when Howard Hawks had the good sense to team her with Bogey in To Have and Have Not.
DR. STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964)
Peter Sellers, George C. Scott. Definitely adult subject matter here, but the powerful “absurdity of war” theme and outstanding droll comedic performances from Sellers, Scott, Keenan Wynn and Sterling Hayden, make this perhaps the best example of movie satire (along with Network and The Hospital).
WEST SIDE STORY (1961)
Natalie Wood. I am not a big fan of musicals, let alone ones that spotlight dancing gang members, but West Side Story transcends the typical Hollywood musical. Not only is every scene filled with artistry, but every frame. You could pause your DVD machine anywhere and come up with a lasting image. However, if you have the opportunity to see this one in a movie theater, that's the way to go. Viewing on TV with commercials is similar to sacrilege! Based on Shakespeare's tragic Romeo and Juliet, now set in early-1960s New York barrios, Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and the lovely Natalie Wood have turned it into one of the finest film experiences you'll ever have.
SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959)
This classic fairy tale has three good fairies and a handsome prince all trying to protect a princess from the wicked Maleficent. It’s Disney at his best. As a boy, Prince Phillip was my hero as he killed the dragon with his sword, while mounted on his trusty white charger.
Alan Ladd. A perfect morality play set in the Old West. Great cinematography, sound, score, and textbook editing highlight one of the best westerns ever made.
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)
Fredric March (one of the screen’s best actors), Myrna Loy and an all-star cast tell a sensitive story of returning WWII servicemen and how they must adapt to civilian life. This seven-Oscar-winning film also deals with prejudice and longing, but without offensive language or sexual explicitness. Real-life disabled veteran Harold Russell won two Oscars for this film – as Best Supporting Actor and a special award for “bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans.” Although some of the dialogue may seem strange to younger generations, this really is fabulous filmmaking. It also reminds us that when the war ends, struggles continue for those who sacrificed and were willing to die for their country.
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)
Jimmy Stewart reminds us what American politicians should aspire to. This movie really is fabulous. BTW, have you ever known anyone who didn't like Jimmy Stewart?
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951)
Alastair Sim stars in this, the best of the Scrooge movies. Unrated.
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941)
Tenderhearted adaptation of a devoted family in a Welsh coal-mining community. Winner of five Oscars, directed by John Ford and starring Maureen O'Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Pidgeon and Donald Crisp - now there's ingredients for a successful DVD excursion.
JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961)
A U.S. judge presides over wartime criminal trials. Outstanding all-star cast includes Spencer Tracy, Maximillian Schell, Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, Montgomery Cliff and Marlene Dietrich. Oscars went to Schell and screenwriter Abby Mann. Gut-wrenching. Directed by Stanley Kramer.
ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)
Bette Davis at her best as a sophisticated actress at odds with her scheming protégé. Winner of six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Droll dialogue and sharp performances make this a 4-star picture.
AMERICA'S HEART AND SOUL (2004)
Disney documentary. Filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg packed up his camera and hit the road, with a goal of capturing both the unparalleled beauty of the U.S. and the incomparable spirit of its people. Here you have the chance to meet ordinary Americans with extraordinary stories. Schwartzberg’s gift is his ability to connect with people, honestly capturing their values, dreams, and passion. America's Heart and Soul is a celebration of a nation told through the voices of its people. The most joyous film going-experience I can remember. MOVIE REPORTER REVIEW
Writer/star Sylvester Stallone gave new life to the sports drama. Won Best Picture.
THE SEARCHERS (1958)
John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Natalie Wood. Considered by many critics to be one of the finest films ever, it tells the story of Ethan Edwards returning home several years after the Civil War. Soon his brother's family is murdered by a Comanche raiding party who kidnap his young niece (played as a little girl by Natalie's younger sister, Lana). Years later, Wayne's character rightly fears the girl is now one of the chief's wives. Will the “Injun-hatin” Ethan kill Debby rather than see her become a “squaw"? In this reviewer's opinion, this is John Ford's most complex western and certainly the most visually majestic. A powerful look at the emptiness of hatred and bigotry. The perfect western.
THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938)
Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains. Several years ago, Kevin Costner attempted to portray the legendary bandit in an updated remake. Although Mr. Costner is a fine actor, Errol Flynn was Robin Hood. He personified the word swashbuckler. Unsurpassed, the 1938 version is an impressive spectacle with polished dialogue, exciting sword-play, colorful sets and costumes, and one of the best musical scores of all time. The royal entrance into Sherwood Forest where Robin swings from one tree to another proclaiming, “Welcome to Sherwood, my lady" – now that's movies!
THE ODD COUPLE (1968)
Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau. Two divorced men, one a slob, the other a neat-freak, share an apartment. My favorite Neil Simon comedy.
KEY LARGO (1948)
There are few “faultless” films – movies so well made, you can't find imperfections. Casablanca and Citizen Kane head that incomparable list. Key Largo also fits into this exclusive category. Bogey and Bacall radiate, John Huston's direction hypnotizes, and Edward G. Robinson unnerves. A scintillating script about a gangster holing up in a Florida hotel during a typhoon. First-rate supporting cast, including Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor and Thomas Gomez and a mood-setting but unobtrusive score by Max Steiner make this one of the best romantic adventures of all time.
WHITE HEAT (1949)
James Cagney gives an outstanding performance as a psychopathic hood with a mother obsession. “Made it, Ma, top of the world!”
IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963)
A non-stop laugh-a-thon as a group of motorists learn of a fortune buried 200 miles away. Besides all the visual and verbal gags, and its constellation of comic greats, Mad World also contains some of the best car chases and stunts ever filmed.
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004)
Mel Gibson’s brutal, yet undeniably artistic rendering of the final hours of Christ’s life, blew away skeptics when it earned over $350 million at the box office. Aided by superb cinematography, lighting, music, some dynamic special effects and Jim Caviezel’s sincere and muted performance, director Mel Gibson brings a mood and sensitivity never before captured when telling the story of the Christ. Justly rated R for its graphic depiction of scourging, piercing, beating, and crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ is meant to shock, unnerve, and clarify the ordeal of Christ’s sacrifice. But Mel’s film, while showing the physical horrors Christ endured, is not really about what mankind did to Him, but about what He did for us. MOVIE REPORTER REVIEW
JESUS OF NAZERETH (1977)
Franco Zeffirelli's epic production of the life of Christ is considered by many to be the best film about the Son of Man. Jesus of Nazareth is acclaimed for its thorough biblical and historical research. A very moving, spiritual experience, with many memorable performances including those of Robert Powell, Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine, and Laurence Olivier. Its length (371 min.) will take a couple of nights to digest, but I recommend the effort.
In this ecologically themed cartoon, the question is asked: What if mankind had to leave Earth, and somebody forgot to turn off the last robot? The most creative, original, fun film of that summer, Wall-E is both funny and touching. The opening 20-minutes or so is some of the finest animated filmmaking I ever saw. Rated G. PREVIEW REVIEW
THE QUIET MAN (1952)
John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara. Now, I'm an unabashed John Wayne fan. A dangerous statement if you desire to be taken seriously as a film reviewer, but most film historians grudgingly accept the Duke as one of the grandest personas ever to appear on celluloid. Some even take umbrage at the pronouncement that he could not act. From my research over the years, I've discovered John Wayne was John Wayne. Bigger than life with a Mount Rushmore identity, Wayne was brave, tough, generous and patriotic, just like the man he played in 150 movies. Even political foes such as Lauren Bacall and Kirk Douglas stand in awe of what he was and what he stood for. True, no one has made more dreadful films (Rio Lobo, The Conqueror, Jet Pilot), but on the other hand, few have given us any more entertaining pictures than The Quiet Man. In it Wayne is indomitable in dealing with Victor McLaglen, humorous with Barry Fitzgerald, and tender with one of the most beautiful women on the movie screen, Maureen O'Hara. John Ford won a deserving Best Director Oscar for this production of a man returning to his roots and discovering that love with an Irish redhead can be as rocky and beautiful as Ireland itself. A loving, sentimental look at the Ireland we all wish existed. Great music, cinematography and story make this one of Wayne’s best. Containing romance, humor, and one of the longest fight scenes ever filmed, it’s my favorite film.