GUIDE'S 50 GREATEST MOVIES50.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) 75 minutes, Not Rated (NR), BW A spark of real wit
surges through this classic, easily the best of the Universal monster movies.
Director James Whale, one of Hollywood's founding eccentrics, used his sophisticated
humor to expand the boundaries of the chiller genre, and a fright-wigged Elsa
Lanchester turned a few minutes of screen time into one of the most enduring images
in horror. But it's the exquisitely weird actor Ernest Thesiger's performance
as the effete Dr. Pretorius that secures a place for "Bride" among that rare group
of Hollywood films: sequels better than the originals.
Dirty Harry (1971) 102 minutes, Rated R, Letterbox
rebuked by critics as a fascist fantasy, "Dirty Harry" nonetheless gave Clint
Eastwood his best role as Harry Callahan, a renegade cop whose .44 Magnum could
blow a hole in the ozone. This superbly made thriller stands as one of the most
influential films in the crime genre, inspiring four sequels and countless rip-offs.
Directed with cold-blooded expertise by Eastwood's mentor, Don Siegel, "Dirty
Harry" eschews traditional cops-and-robbers histrionics for a morally complex
and disturbing study of evil and contains several brilliant action scenes and
a complicated title character who could play good cop/bad cop all by himself.
The Quiet Man (1952) 129 minutes, NR
the most enjoyable of the numerous collaborations between director John Ford and
star John Wayne, "The Quiet Man" is full of characters as colorful as its Irish
vistas. Wayne plays an Irish-American boxer seeking refuge in Erin after accidentally
killing an opponent in the ring. But instead of peace, he finds culture shock,
love with a fiery colleen (Maureen O'Hara) and fisticuffs with her "big, bellowing
bully" of a brother (Victor McLaglen). All in all, a grand bit of the blarney.
Cabaret (1972) 128 minutes, Rated PG
the year of "The Godfather," "Cabaret" managed to win eight Oscars, including
Best Director, Actress and Supporting Actor. Under Bob Fosse's ultrastylized direction,
"Cabaret" also dragged the Hollywood musical into the modern era. Liza Minnelli,
in her first filmed singing role, is a thrill as the starry-eyed Sally Bowles,
an American in 1931 Berlin performing at the tawdry Kit Kat Klub, where the divinely
decadent entertainment parallels the rise of Nazism outside. Integrating social
satire with smashing production numbers (including "The Money Song" and the showstopping
title number), Fosse created a landmark film from a genre most thought dead.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) 112 minutes, Rated PG
of the screen's great buddy teams was born when Paul Newman and Robert Redford
saddled up for this rollicking comic western about two legendary outlaws. With
a gleam in his baby blues, Newman dazzles as Butch, while Redford became a superstar
with his self-deprecating portrayal of the dashing, trigger-happy Sundance. Burt
Bacharach's bouncy score includes "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."
Top Hat (1935) 99 minutes, NR, BW
Rogers. Fred Astaire. Irving Berlin. You want more? OK, a supporting cast topped
by Edward Everett Horton and some of the fanciest footwork ever committed to film.
The fourth of the 10 Astaire-Rogers matchups, this is the one with Fred's tour
de force choreography for the title song and the two stars dancing "Cheek to Cheek"
-- as blatant and beautiful an example of dance-as-sex as ever graced a musical.
And look for Lucille Ball in the bit role of a flower-shop girl. Released by RKO
a few years later, she got the last laugh by buying the entire studio in 1958.
Babe (1995) 92 minutes, Rated G
charming fable about a plucky pig with "an unprejudiced heart" is a delightful
children's movie that's just as beguiling for adults. The Oscar-winning visual
effects (combining real animals, animatronic wizardry and computer graphics) and
dazzling fairy-tale sets bring to life the touching and tender tale of an orphaned
Yorkshire piglet who goes to live on a farm and trains to be an expert sheepdog.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 115 minutes, Rated PG, Letterbox
thrill ride kicks off with a booby-trap sequence that any other movie would have
considered a climax: For "Raiders," the beginning is just the beginning. When
two of the screen's modern masters, producer George Lucas and director Steven
Spielberg, teamed up with star Harrison Ford, the result was the ultimate action
movie with the ultimate action hero -- Indiana Jones, the asp-kicking adventurer
with quip and whip at the ready. Far better than either of its two sequels, "Raiders"
is the definitive homage to Saturday-matinee serials, and includes the best snake
scene since Genesis.
Modern Times (1936) 87 minutes, NR, BW
mostly silent film, Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times'' is a comic nightmare of
mass production, runaway capitalism, the police state -- all of which helped get
the film (and its star) labeled Red. At times sentimental, the movie nonetheless
includes some utterly stunning sequences: Chaplin under assault by the automatic
feeding machine, and his trip through the cogs of a factory. "Modern Times" perfectly
captures Chaplin: naive, but ever so heartfelt.
Saturday Night Fever (1977) 119 minutes, Rated R (108-minute version Rated PG)
John Travolta staged his comeback in 1994's "Pulp Fiction," this is what he was
coming back to. As Tony Manero, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn's answer to Fred Astaire,
Travolta strutted and swiveled through a defining picture of the 1970s. His big-man-in-a-little-disco
bravado remains as poignant and pathetic as ever. His costars might be klutzy,
but Travolta never misses a step.
On the Waterfront (1954) 108 minutes, NR, BW
theatrical trailer promised "a story that's as warm and moving as 'Going My Way'
(but with brass knuckles!)" -- as good a description as any for this Oscar-winning
morality tale. The characters struggling with pier pressure include an ex-boxer
with a soft spot for pigeons, a luscious nun-in-training and a priest with a mean
punch. And Marlon Brando's "contenduh" speech is still a knockout.
Laura (1944) 85 minutes, NR, BW
Preminger's deliciously sleek Manhattan murder mystery is a grabber from its first
line -- "I shall never forget the weekend Laura died" -- and keeps its hold through
a shocking mid-picture twist and shattering climax. With a cigarette dangling
from his lip, Dana Andrews plays a tough cop investigating the murder of a beautiful
woman (played by the dreamy Gene Tierney in flashbacks) who finds himself obsessed
with her portrait. Among the suspects: a shifty fiancˇ (Vincent Price) and Laura's
arrogant mentor (unforgettably played by Clifton Webb). Add a theme song that
virtually defines haunting and the elements conspire to make "Laura" one of film
noir's great cases.
Jaws (1975) 124 minutes, Rated PG, Letterbox
movie that emptied beaches and created the modern blockbuster, "Jaws" holds up
today not so much for its jolts -- there aren't as many as you think you remember
-- but because of something missing from tthe movies it inspired: real characters.
Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw are more than fish bait, and the
conversation about the USS Indianapolis is worth all the dinosaurs in "Jurassic
American Graffiti (1973) 110 minutes, Rated PG, Letterbox
Lucas was a 28-year-old unknown when he made this autobiographical teen picture
for less than $800,000. The result was a genuine pop classic that became an audience
favorite and brought accolades to Lucas and his cast (including Ron Howard, Richard
Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford). With its drag races, sock hops, doo-wop and Mel's
Drive-In, "Graffiti" makes pop-culture myth out of nostalgic reverie.
The Graduate (1967) 105 minutes, Rated PG, Letterbox
rules don't make any sense to me," says a baby-faced Dustin Hoffman as recent
college grad Benjamin Braddock. "They're being made up by all the wrong people."
So goes a rallying cry for the 1960s in Mike Nichols's comic masterpiece. The
gap of ages is hilariously and poignantly evoked in the soulless affair between
Ben and Anne Bancroft's Mrs. Robinson, the embodiment of middle-aged resignation.
The African Queen (1951) 105 minutes, NR
Bogart bagged his only Oscar anchoring John Huston's rumbling adventure set in
WWI German East Africa. Bogie's gin-guzzling skipper of the floating junk heap
called the African Queen meets his match in Katharine Hepburn's "psalm-singing,
skinny old maid." The duo embarks on a suicide mission to torpedo one of the Kaiser's
gunships, en route making film history. Bogie and Kate were made for each other.
Apollo 13 (1995) 139 minutes, Rated PG, Letterbox
we have a problem." With that, Tom Hanks gave liftoff to a nifty summer entertainment
-- riveting drama and thrilling special efffects. The true story of astronaut Jim
Lovell (Hanks) and his crew's long-awaited moon mission is nostalgically captured
by director Ron Howard. Who cares that Lovell's actual words were "Houston, we've
had a problem"?
Schindler's List (1993) 195 minutes, Rated R, BW with color segments, Letterbox
emotional obstacle course of a film, Steven Spielberg's Holocaust movie tells
the story of Oskar Schindler, the enigmatic industrialist who saved more than
1,000 Polish Jews from the Nazi gas chambers. As painful as it is powerful, "Schindler's
List" is enobled by Spielberg's vision, Janusz Kaminski's cinematography, and
two Olympian performances: Liam Neeson as the self-made hero Schindler and Ralph
Fiennes as the astonishingly demonic Nazi officer.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) 93
minutes, NR, BW
and praised when it was released, Stanley Kubrick's black comedy about nuclear
annihilation remains unchallenged as cinema's most devastating attack on the military
mind. The brilliant cast is headed by an inspired Peter Sellers playing three
roles -- the eggheaded U.S. president, a stiff-upper-lip RAF captain and the wheelchair-bound
ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955) 93 minutes, NR, BW 111 minutes, NR, Letterbox
archetypal juvenile delinquency movie has everything it takes to be, well, the
archetypal juvenile delinquency movie: Teen angst, switchblades, blue jeans, hot
rods and James Dean. "Rebel" stands as director Nicholas Ray's enduring ode to
disaffected youth. Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo. Who would have pegged Dennis
Hopper as a survivor?
The Palm Beach Story (1942) 90 minutes, NR, BW
fame hasn't kept up with that of Frank Capra or Billy Wilder, but writer/director
Preston Sturges is responsible for a series of comedic fables about the American
dream that are some of Hollywood's funniest films. His "The Lady Eve" has the
sophistication, "Sullivan's Travels" the satirical bite, but for pure laughs it's
hard to beat "The Palm Beach Story." The fun begins when Claudette Colbert dumps
husband Joel McCrea and heads to Palm Beach to land a rich beau. Take a deep breath
before viewing -- the antic pace doesn't let up in this classy, sexy satire.
The Lion King (1994) 88 minutes, Rated G, Animated
32nd animated musical was its highest-grossing and, at least among the studio's
post-1970 features, its best. The story -- a sort of "Bambi" meets "Hamlet" --
can by now be recited word for word by any parent with a VCR, but the songs, lush
colors and sly inside jokes make "Lion" worth another rewind.
Gone With the Wind (1939) 222 minutes, NR, Letterbox
epic by which every other is measured. David O. Selznick's grand Technicolor version
of Margaret Mitchell's novel is, quite simply, a glorious soap opera. Even on
television, "GWTW" is hard to resist: The burning of Atlanta might be less spectacular
on the small screen, but nothing can snuff the sparks between Vivien Leigh and
Clark Gable, not to mention the fire in Scarlett's eyes.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) 124 minutes, Rated PG, Letterbox
Wars" was the first, but real fans of George Lucas's science fiction trilogy know
"Empire" is the best installment. While Lucas focused on the technical wizardry,
Irvin Kershner handled the direction. The result is a smashing display of action,
special effects and drama, all tied together by the darkest and best-written script
of the series. The plot soars to unpredictable places and includes some of the
most breathless flights in Lucas's galaxy: Yoda's instruction of Luke Skywalker
(Mark Hamill), the burgeoning love of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) for Han Solo
(Harrison Ford). Best of all is Darth Vader's pivotal revelation to Luke, one
of the neatest twists in one of the top sequels ever made.
The Exorcist (1973) 121 minutes, Rated R
it on faith: "The Exorcist" is the scariest motion picture ever. The ultimate
showdown of good and evil pits a soul-searching priest (Jason Miller) against
a demon inhabiting the body of a 12-year-old girl (Linda Blair). Director William
Friedkin's shocks are as heart-stopping as ever, and the excellent cast is assisted
by the most frightening noises ever recorded. Rent this one -- the edited broadcast
version is a desecration.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) 122 minutes, NR, BW
performances in Elia Kazan's landmark adaptation of Tennessee Williams's play
remain among the most electric in American film. The brutish Stanley Kowalski
reminds us how Marlon Brando became Marlon Brando. And Vivien Leigh's Blanche
DuBois is a heartbreak, and not just because she evokes an aging Scarlett O'Hara:Of
all the screen actresses who played one of Williams's doomed heroines, Leigh best
personified the fate that befalls fragile souls in a world of Stanleys. Censors
forced Williams to alter the play's ending, but "Streetcar" is still a steamy
hothouse of a movie.
Double Indemnity (1944) 106 minutes, NR, BW
could I have known that murder sometimes smells like honeysuckle?" That line alone,
courtesy of screenwriters Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, would earn this lusty
tale of murder a place among film noir classics. But with Wilder's masterful direction
and that venetian-blind lighting, we have a moody masterpiece. Barbara Stanwyck
is the very fatale femme and Fred MacMurray (forget My Three Sons) plays her sap.
Deadly fun, even without the original ending that had MacMurray snuffed out in
a gas chamber.
All About Eve (1950) 138 minutes, NR, BW
smooth sip of champagne with a sprinkle of arsenic, "All About Eve" remains Hollywood's
definitive backstage drama and the high point of Bette Davis's long career. Joseph
L. Mankiewicz's marvelously nasty tale of surly, aging Broadway actress Margo
Channing (Davis) and her ultra-ambitious fan Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) says
trunkloads about show business, human behavior and the direct correlation between
talent and utter viciousness. Sit back, fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the most
literate catfight ever filmed.
Ninotchka (1939) 110 minutes, NR, BW
glances. Slamming doors. Innuendo. Lots of innuendo. Such was the stuff of the
famed "Lubitsch touch," with which the director Ernst Lubitsch (who deserves Hollywood
canonization) summoned a bewitching aura of mischievous eroticism. Some of the
screen's most effervescent comedies came from Lubitsch (his "The Shop Around the
Corner" is being remade with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan), but "Ninotchka" may be his
most sparkling, thanks to a very witty screenplay and, of course, the divine Greta
Annie Hall (1977) 93 minutes, Rated PG
It's hard to believe that Woody Allen's Oscar winner is more than two decades
old; "Annie Hall" still seems as fresh and funny as ever. A semiautobiographical
romantic comedy about a neurotic Jewish comedian and his kooky WASP girlfriend,
Woody's breakthrough film made a star of his former real-life love Diane Keaton,
whose baggy pants, vest, hat and tie look started a '70s fashion craze. Employing
fantasy flashbacks, direct-to-camera monologues, subtitles and even a cartoon
sequence, the movie ranks among the best comedies ever filmed. It's certainly
Raging Bull (1980) 128 minutes, Rated R, BW
anti-Rocky. Though no contender at the box office, director Martin Scorsese's
powerful depiction of boxer Jake La Motta is the most beautifully brutal sports
film ever made, and one of the best movies of the 1980s regardless of genre. The
breathtaking ringtime scenes, the unflinching depiction of a deeply disturbing
"hero," and one of the standout performances of Robert De Niro's career make "Raging
Bull" a must for any fan of cinematic bloodsport. Or cinema, for that matter.
Duck Soup (1933) 70 minutes, NR, BW
Marx Brothers' glorious lunacy reached its zenith in this inspired blend of slapstick
and satire. A flop in its day (let's blame the Depression), "Duck Soup" is now
considered the boys' masterpiece. Groucho becomes prime minister of Freedonia,
firing off more zingers than international law should allow. Is there a more satisfying
sight than Margaret Dumont's reactions to such shots as "I'm fighting for this
woman's honor...which is more than she ever did."?
The Searchers (1956) 119 minutes, NR, Letterbox
made westerns better than John Ford, and he never made one better than this. The
saga of a cowboy's long quest to find a niece kidnapped by Comanche, "Searchers"
is by turns explosive and melancholy, a pilgrimage into the dark heart of an outsider.
As the flawed hero, John Wayne turns in a deceptively simple performance that
would forever define his swaggering macho style.
Some Like It Hot (1959) 121 minutes, NR, BW
Wilder was at the height of his powers when he made this uproarious sex farce
about two musicians (Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis) who witness the 1929 St. Valentine's
Day Massacre and flee by disguising themselves as women in an all-female band.
As the two bosom buddies get cozy with the band's voluptuous singer (a never better
Marilyn Monroe), the laughs come as fast as bullets from a tommy-gun. Among the
movie's treats: Curtis's dead-on lampoon of Cary Grant.
Sunset Blvd. (1950) 110 minutes, NR, BW
About Eve" might be Hollywood's greatest look at Broadway, but "Sunset Blvd."
remains Tinseltown's best gaze into its own fun-house reflection. Gloria Swanson
is smashing as demented silent-screen queen Norma Desmond, and William Holden
makes for a terrific pre-Richard Gere gigolo. From the moment Holden's floating
corpse begins the narration, through Norma's deranged final close-up, the stunning
"Sunset" is the standard against which all movies about movies must be viewed.
The Philadelphia Story (1940) 112 minutes, NR, BW
great comedy of manors, "The Philadelphia Story" was the perfect antidote to Katharine
Hepburn's two-year stint as "box office poison." As a moneyed ice princess fending
off the affections of costars Cary Grant and James Stewart, Hepburn, under the
expert guidance of director George Cukor, gives one of the performances of her
life, while Grant and Stewart keep pace. "There's a magnificence in you, Tracy,"
Stewart's character tells Hepburn's. Same can be said about this classic.
Bringing Up Baby (1938) 102 minutes, NR, BW
Howard Hawks said "Bringing Up Baby" had only one flaw: "There were no normal
people in it. Everyone you met was a screwball." Every comedy should be so flawed.
Sorry, Howard, but "Baby" is the perfect screwball comedy. The leopard-quick dialogue,
Katharine Hepburn's loopy heiress, Cary Grant's hapless zoologist and a great
menagerie of secondary characters couldn't be better.
Pinocchio (1940) 88 minutes, NR, Animated
the greatest animated feature of all time (with all due respect and apologies
to Snow White), Disney's richly drawn version of the Italian fairy tale is a perfect
synthesis of wonderful music (including the Oscar-winning "When You Wish Upon
a Star"), indelible characters and the studio's most exquisitely detailed animation:
No computer has ever spit out anything this beautiful. The Rembrandt tones survive
the trip to TV, and even today's action-addicted kids will love the terrifying
trip to Pleasure Island and the exciting climax in the belly of Monstro the whale.
All that and Jiminy Cricket, too.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946) 129 minutes, NR, BW
recently, this Frank Capra classic was aired so frequently throughout the holiday
season that even die-hard fans took it for granted. Big mistake. "It's a Wonderful
Life" is a terrific film, and it contains at least one true celluloid miracle:
James Stewart's engrossing performance as George Bailey, one of Hollywood's most
honorable, memorable and troubled American dreamers.
Vertigo (1958) 128 minutes, Rated PG, Letterbox
and critics of the day were underwhelmed by this unconventional thriller upon
its release, but now nearly everyone agrees that "Vertigo" is not only among Alfred
Hitchcock's finest movies, but one of Hollywood's. It's certainly the director's
most personal, idiosyncratic work -- OK, it's downright strange -- and Hitchcock
himself described it as being about "a man who wants to sleep with a dead woman."
Never before (nor after) would Hitch display his erotic, neurotic fetishes so
blatantly (or hypnotically) as in this oft-imitated dreamlike masterpiece. James
Stewart stars, of course, as the acrophobic detective drawn into a complex murder
plot by a cool, mysterious blonde (Kim Novak). Bernard Herrmann's score and the
superb photography further the mood of this trance of a movie. And as good as
the cast is, no one, not even Stewart, can upstage the wonders of the setting:San
Francisco, looking gorgeous.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) 111 minutes, NR
Dust Bowl panoramas and cloud-shaded wheat fields lose some of their sweep on
the television screen, but the wit, excitement and star chemistry of Arthur Penn's
landmark film remain as vivid as a hail of bullets. The notorious advertising
slogan for "Bonnie and Clyde" ("They're young. They're in love. And they kill
people") should have included "And they look absolutely marvelous." Within minutes
of the film's opening credits (and what great opening credits they are), an audacious
close-up of a young, ravishing Faye Dunaway all but screams "a star is born."
Beatty is just as comely and never more charming. Gene Hackman, Oscar-winning
Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard round out the unforgettable cadre, and
if the innovative blend of humor and violence isn't as shocking as it was in '67,
"Bonnie and Clyde" holds its own among the best films of its decade. Rent this
one again, if only for another chance to see that odd, lyrical sequence of the
doomed Bonnie's family reunion. And look for Gene Wilder in a brief comic performance,
making his debut as an undertaker kidnapped by the gang.
Chinatown (1974) 131 minutes, Rated R, Letterbox
Robert Towne based his wonderfully intricate tale of Los Angeles corruption on
historical fact, but the brilliance of "Chinatown" springs from tradition of a
different sort: Director Roman Polanski, at the peak of his considerable powers,
dipped from the well of classic film noir to create a film that was at once an
homage to and an improvement over its forebears. Jack Nicholson became a superstar,
Faye Dunaway continued the winning streak she began with "Bonnie and Clyde," and
John Huston virtually personified political and personal rot in this fetid reservoir
of murder, incest and land development. Polanski has an effective cameo as the
sadistic hoodlum who gives Nicholson the most famous nose job in Hollywood film
Psycho (1960) 109 minutes, NR, BW, Letterbox
Hitchcock considered it a black comedy, but "Psycho" laughs only at its stunned
audience. Poor Anthony Perkins was so disturbing in his role he never really escaped
the shadow of the ultimate mama's boy Norman Bates, just as anyone who's seen
the movie won't ever completely shake those behind-the-shower-curtain tingles.
Janet Leigh's watery demise has been deconstructed by film scholars and stolen
by other directors too many times to count, yet remains a remarkable piece of
work. More than a great horror film (though it's certainly that), "Psycho" is
a nightmare of fractured images, symbols and angles that closes in on its characters
-- and the viewer. Bernard Herrmann's slasshing violin score has become aural shorthand
for terror, and even though the killer-in-drag has outlasted its shock value,
"Psycho" remains an unsettling, fascinating descent into the dark side. A shot-for-shot
color remake, to be directed by Gus Van Sant ("Good Will Hunting"), sounds about
as crazy as the doings at Chez Bates.
The Godfather (1972) 175 minutes, Rated R, Letterbox
Puzo's pulp fiction became, in the hands of director Francis Ford Coppola, a truly
great American gangster film. Not even the small screen can reduce the scope of
this sepia-toned Sicilian saga or its career-launching performances. Al Pacino,
Robert Duvall and James Caan became household names, John Cazale should have,
and Marlon Brando made the most startling comeback Hollywood had ever -- make
that has ever -- seen. Debating the comparative merits of "The Godfather" and
its remarkable 1974 sequel, "The Godfather Part II" will keep film buffs battling
long into the next century, but Brando's performance alone would give "The Godfather"
a secure place on any 10 Best list.
Singin' In the Rain (1952) 102 minutes, NR
there's a stretch of celluloid more joyous than Gene Kelly's triumphant splash
through the title song, we haven't seen it, and Donald O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh"
is pure choreographed delirium. Codirected by Kelly and recent Lifetime Achievement
Oscar-winner Stanley Donen, this musical paean to Hollywood's transition from
silents to talkies also boasts a terrific Arthur Freed/Nacio Herb Brown songbook,
a very funny script by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, and Jean Hagen's delightfully
shrill performance as the silent-screen triple threat ("She can't act, she can't
sing and she can't dance"). As Hagen's character would say, all their "hard work
ain't been in vain for nothing."
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) 129 minutes, NR, BW, Letterbox
Boo," says young "Scout" Finch to the town's bogeyman, Arthur "Boo" Radley, and
never has so much tolerance and compassion been packed into two small words. Robert
Mulligan directed Horton Foote's faithful adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer
Prize-winning novel, a rare example of a movie being as good as -- some would
say better than -- the book, and the film's wistful nostalgia makes its condemnation
of racial bigotry and needless cruelty all the more potent. Gregory Peck won an
Oscar for his elegantly restrained performance as the upright lawyer Atticus Finch,
Robert Duvall made his debut in the brief but unforgettable role of Boo, and the
three children -- Mary Badham as Scout, Philip Alford as Jem and John Megna as
Dill -- are as fine as any cast of kids ever assembled. Finally, though, it's
the evocation of small-town past and childhood gone that keeps "Mockingbird" lingering
in memory. The film also boasts one of the prettiest musical scores of its (or
any other) era.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) 101 minutes, NR, color/BW
Technicolor brilliance of Munchkinland, the spectacle of the Emerald City, the
performances of a perfect cast and a tornado worth more than all the hot air in
"Twister" would seem to make this most beloved bit of Hollywood history containable
only on the big screen, but generations of television viewers long ago disproved
that notion. A legend of the cinema, a tradition of TV and a national treasure
trove of songs, "The Wizard of Oz" might not be the most sophisticated of the
MGM musicals, but it's certainly the sentimental favorite, and Judy Garland's
career-making performance of "Over the Rainbow" still, after all these decades,
has a poignancy few moments on film can match. And you just gotta love those flying
Citizen Kane (1941) 119 minutes, NR, BW, Letterbox
two hours between the whispered "Rosebud" and the burning sled have inspired more
intellectual pontificating than just about anything else ever put on film, but
what's almost always overlooked in all the reverence is just how much fun this
movie is. Yes, the debut of the 25-year-old Orson Welles actually merits the overused
description of cinematic genius, and Gregg Toland's deep-focus cinematography
remains as extraordinary (even on television) as legend has it. But "Citizen Kane"
is also a damn good yarn, a rollicking, electrifying entertainment that includes
some of the most dazzling imagery ever shot. Call it a classic -- in fact, call
it the classic -- but don't for a second think that "Kane" is a musty, petrified
museum piece. The rich black-and-white tones look as vibrant as today's headlines,
and not even a modern-day Kane can change that: Attempts to colorize the film
in the 1980s were thwarted when it was discovered that Welles's 1939 contract
with RKO gave him control over any future revisions. Weeks before his death, Welles
told a friend, "Keep Ted Turner and his goddamned Crayolas away from my movie."
Casablanca (1942) 102 minutes, NR, BW
began as an unproduced play called "Everybody Comes to Rick's" would eventually
become the best-loved wartime romance in Hollywood history. But first there were
rewrites -- lots of them. "Casablanca" was shot sequentially because the script
changed continually throughout filming. You'd never know it now: Every word seems
as inviolable as sacred text. Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney
Greenstreet and, of course, Dooley Wilson singing the heart-tugger "As Time Goes
By" are the incomparable supporting cast, while only Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh
in "Gone With the Wind" could rival Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as cinema's
greatest pair of star-crossed lovers. And can anyone imagine a better closing
line than Bogie's to Rains? The start of a beautiful friendship indeed: Nearly
60 years after its release, Michael Curtiz's "Casablanca" remains the definitive
romantic picture of Hollywood's Golden Age.
The Godfather Part II (1974) 200 minutes, Rated R, Letterbox
only sequel ever to win an Oscar for best picture, "The Godfather Part II" also
made Hollywood history by actually topping the pretty amazing standard set by
the groundbreaking 1972 original. Aside from establishing its cast (Al Pacino,
Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall, to name a few) as the premier actors of their
generation -- and of one of Hollywood's richest eras -- Francis Ford Coppola's
masterpiece is the cinematic equivalent of an un-put-downable book: Just try watching
for only a few minutes. Impossible. You're hooked until the amazingly poignant
final shot of a contemplative, spiritually broken Pacino. Coppola and cowriter
Mario Puzo weave a hypnotic multigenerational saga, cutting between the turn-of-the-century
immigrant life of Vito Corleone (De Niro, in a remarkable, uncommonly subtle performance)
and the later years of his disillusioned son, godfather Michael Corleone (Pacino,
staggeringly good). Along the way are some of the most memorable, disturbing and
affecting scenes in all of cinema: Vito's first vision of the Statue of Liberty,
his first murder, the attack on Michael's Lake Tahoe estate, his quiet ruthlessness
as he shuts the door on his estranged wife (Diane Keaton). And then there's the
lonely execution of Michael's pathetic brother (John Cazale) as he fishes on a
lake, a sequence so elegantly photographed and perfectly timed that every film
school should offer a course on it. But perhaps the real success of this opus
is the way Coppola achieves what so few epic directors have accomplished: "The
Godfather Part II," in its meditations on family, the past and the corruption
of America's soul, melds historical sweep with searing personal intimacy, a feat
that makes Hollywood's best sequel our choice for best movie. Period.
Guide Magazine (August 8-14, 1998 issue) presented these picks for the perfect
flicks to catch on television or pop into your VCR.
here to go to T.V. Guide