Now on to the Top 50. At this point, we are getting into films I really hold in the highest regard. I love your comments so please keep them coming.
#50 “Saving Private Ryan”
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Stars: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore
Original Release Date: 24 Jul 1988
Oscars: 5 (Director, Editing, Cinematography, Sound editing, Sound), six other nominations
I love war films. Maybe its because I am a natural born coward and I cannot for a minute imagine myself in battle situation. A great war film, like this one, transports us into the chaos of the foot soldier. The greatest of war films, also give us an insight into the human side, the ordinary people, be they ally or enemy that fight and die in the sea of blood and bodies. The opening 25 minutes of SPR that depicts the Normandy Invasion, is one of the great works of sustained film making in the history of cinema. There are few other opening acts of a film that so graphically take you into the battle. It does not wait or set up the plot. After the main characters barely survive, they are re-assigned to find Private Ryan, a young soldier who does not know that his three brothers have been killed in action. Over its 2.5 running time, Saving Private Ryan tells us a story that is at the same time personal and universal, tender and visceral. It was the highest grossing film of 1998 – a major accomplishment for such a work of art.
#49 “Blade Runner”
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, M. Emmett Walsh
Original Release Date: 25 Jun 1982
Oscars: None, two nominations.
Blade Runner is the film that has generated more discussion over the years than any other film on my list. It raised the pointed question of what is life and what is it worth. In the last 10 or 15 years, it has become such a modern classic that it’s hard to remember that it was generally considered a failure, critically and commercially, upon its release. It was given one of the original “Director’s Cut” treatments, with Ridley Scott making some changes including the voiceover. My entry on this list is, for the most part, based on the Director’s Cut. In the year 2019, Replicants, Cyborgs so real that they are almost indecipherable, are used for space exploration. A group of four, lead by Roy (Rutger Hauer) comes back to Earth against orders, with the goal of expanding their brief lives. Deckard, (Ford) is a Blade Runner, a bounty hunter who hunts down the rogue Replicants. This plot, based loosely on Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” provides the backdrop to a deeply thoughtful, visionary film.
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw
Original Release Date: 20 June 1975
Oscars: 3 (Sound, Editing, Score), 1 other nominations
Jaws changed the way we watch movies. First, there’s the music. There is no more identifiable score in all of film that the low, droning bass. Those two notes have become a universal indicator of danger. Second, it is one of the two or three films that have had the longest and greatest impact on pop culture. It forever changed the way we view sharks, beaches, swimming, you name it. Really, would Shark Week even exit without Jaws? Third, it was the first Summer Blockbuster. A movie released in July that made a quarter of a billion dollars domestic. That was unheard of. After Jaws, summer changesdfrom a time when studios dumped their junk to the time when they release their biggest moneymakers. Above that, it’s a great film. Spielberg conjures suspense and fear like no director before this. The shark (Bruce he was named by those in the production) is not even seen in full until about two thirds of the way through the movie. This was a condition on which Spielberg took over the project. The impact of the original was not lessened by the release of 3 pathetic sequels and the movie can still horrify today. If you are making a list of the most influential films of all time, Jaws is a no-brainer top 10 entry.
Trivia: The classic line “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” was improvised.
#47 “High Noon”
Director: George Zimmerman
Stars: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly
Original Release Date: 30 July 1952
Oscars: 4 (Actor – Gary Cooper, Editing, Song, Score), 3 other nominations
I am not a fan of Westerns in general so it is logical that the two Westerns on my list are very non-traditional movies. Told in real time, over two hours, Gary Cooper plays Marshal Will Kane. It is just after 10 am and he is about to marry his young bride, Amy (Grace Kelly), he finds that a convicted murderer and his gang are going to arrive at their quiet little town, with revenge on their minds. Kane is the man who brought them down and they want them dead. His friends in the town, the mayor, the judge and others, tell him to flee. Kane eventually realizes he will face these foes alone. High Noon is a departure from tradition in many ways, perhaps mostly that there is little action or gunplay in the film until the finale. It’s as much about betrayal as it is about doing the right thing and being ahero. It’s a truly great film that can be enjoyed by fans of any genre.
#46 “Young Frankenstein”
Director: Mel Brooks
Stars: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman , Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr, Peter Boyle
Original Release Date: 15 Dec 1974
Oscars: None, two nominations
My only beef with this film is that it is such a spot on parody of Bride of Frankenstein that it makes the original hard to watch without snickering. The scene where a blind Gene Hackman pours hot soup on Peter Boyle’s lap is a shameless parody of one of the most tender scenes ever filmed. That aside, Young Frankenstein is on the short list of great comedies. The incredible performances of Marty Feldman as Eye-gor, Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher (cue the horse whinny) and a young Terry Garr as Hilda make of the best supporting casts ever assembled. Like all great comedies, this movie never takes itself too seriously and never forgets that it’s a comedy. Filmed in black and white (the only choice really), its chock full of memorable gags. Every character is funny and gets laughs. It’s a comedy that can be safely recommended to anyone. But really, if you have seen this film and not seen Bride of Frankenstein, its biggest source of material, do so. You will actually gain respect for both movies.
Director: Paul Verhouven
Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith
Original Release Date: 17 Jul 1987
Oscars: None, two nominations
Guilty pleasure #3. I just can’t get enough of this film. The main reason? My contention that a great film has a great bad guy and Kurtwood Smith’s turn as soulless, smarmy drug dealer Clarence Boddicker is truly one of the greats. He is a drug dealer because its good business. He gets no back-story or other motivation. And he delivers his dialogue with devilish glee. (“Guns, guns, guns! Come Sal… Tigers are playing … tonight!”) On top of that, (work with me here), Robocop is a visionary classic. The depiction of Detroit is not far from reality. It was the first time we ever saw a DVD rom. It covers questions of morality, science, right and wrong and at what cost do we keep the peace. It is also a non-stop, violent, scenery chewing, bullet spewing action film. I have loved every second of it from the first viewing in theatres.
Trivia: Robocop star Peter Wellers said that this movie (and the moribund sequel) was the worst experience of his acting career. He refused to do the third installment.
#44 “To Kill A Mockingbird”
Director: Robert Mulligan
Stars: Gregory Peck, Brock Peters
Original Release Date: 16 Mar 1963
Oscars: 3 (Actor – Gregory Peck, Adapted Screenplay, B&W Art Direction), 5 other nominations
In 2003, The American Film Institute ranked Atticus Finch as the greatest movie hero of all time, nudging out Indiana Jones and James Bond. Bond, in all his incarnations and Indiana Jones, are men of bravery, ingenuity and duty. What makes us identify with and love Atticus is that so is he but on such a different plane. Atticus defends Tom Robinson because it is the right thing to do. He has will, strength of character and a belief in justice that we all wish we had. To Kill a Mockingbird gives us this legendary character in a skillfully made faithful adaptation to the novel. The climatic scene where Gregory Peck in his Oscar winning performance gives his final summation to the all-white jury is a deeply moving soliloquy. “For God’s sake, do your duty” he implores. He knows he is right and he knows the jury knows as well. I am a sucker for courtroom dramas and there are a lot of bad ones. This is the pinnacle of the genre.
#43 “Pan’s Labyrinth”
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Stars: Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdu
Original 19 Jan 2007 (Wide release)
Oscars: 3 (Cinematography, Art Direction, Makeup), 3 other nominations
Pan’s Labyrinth skillfully and beyond belief weaves two of my favourite genres today: fantasy films and war films. It is, in a sense, a fairy tale, but most decidedly not a children’s movie. In 1944, young Ofelia moves with her pregnant and sick mother to the country home of her new stepfather, a sadistic officer in the Fascist army. There she meets a fairy that brings her to a faun in a labyrinth deep underground. Ofelia is told she is a princess and to prove her royalty, she must complete three rather gruesome and dangerous tasks. Guillermo Del Toro creates and Oscar winning, visually stunning world and tells a story that reminds us how the mind a child deals with situation that they cannot handle or even comprehend. This was Roger Ebert’s #1 movie of 2006 and in his Top 10 of the decade. Its an underappreciated work of genius.
#42 “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”
Director: Frank Capra
Stars: Jimmy Stewart, Claude Rains
Original Release Date: 19 Oct 1939
Oscars: 1 (Original Screenplay), 10 other nominations
James Stewart should have won his Oscar here. Under the category of “the great American film”, Mr. Smith harkens us back to a time of classic film making, simple plots, great scripts and tour de force acting. 1939 is perhaps one of the most celebrated years in film history, giving us this, Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind and the John Ford classic Stage Coach. In this film, young, hopeful Jefferson Smith (Stewart) is appointed the Senate and heads to Washington with awe and wonder. When he arrives, he finds what lies beneath the gloss is not so savoury. His determination leads to the great filibuster scene, which has to be seen to be appreciated. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a life affirming, wonderful film, an great introduction to classic Hollywood for those who are so familiar with this genre.
Trivia: at the time of its release, Washington relived the film insiders for suggesting that there was corruption in politics. At the same time, it was banned in Nazi Germany because the fascist government of the time feared it showed how democracy works.
Director: Robert Altman
Stars: Truly an ensemble cast, but Keith Carradine, Karen Black, Lily Tomlin
Original Release Date: 32 Sep 1975
Oscars: 1 (Original Song), four other nominations
Nashville is perhaps the greatest ensemble cast film ever made. Its hard to describe the plot or answer “what is this film really about”. It is so many things. Its is most definitely a musical, taking place in Nashville. It’s a biting political satire. And it’s a story of some of the most compelling, sympathetic and interesting characters Altman has ever brought to screen. The movies takes place over five days, at a politically rally for a (unseen on screen) candidate for the “Replacement Party”, whose radical ideas include banning lawyers from congress. This film is very long. It is largely improvised as the script provided more of a guideline than anything. All of the actors wrote and sang the music the performed, highlighted by Keith Carradine’s Oscar winning “I’m Easy”, one of the most memorable musical scenes every filmed.
Recap so far…
41. Nashville (Altman – 1975)
42. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Capra – 1939)
43. Pan’s Labyrinth (Del Toro – 2006)
44. To Kill A Mockingbird (Mulligan – 1963)
45. Robocop (Verhoven – 1987)
46. Young Frankenstein (Brooks – 1974)
47. High Noon (Zimmerman – 1952)
48. Jaws (Spielberg – 1952)
49. Blade Runner (Scott – 1982)
50. Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg – 1998)
51. The Third Man (Reed – 1949)
52. Scarface (DePalma – 1983)
53. The Up Documentaries (Apted – 1966 to ?)
54. Do The Right Thing (Lee – 1989)
55. The Dark Knight (Nolan – 2008)
56. Dr. Strangelove (Kubrik – 1964)
57. Alien (Scott – 1979)
58. Aliens (Cameron – 1986)
59. Duck Soup (McCarey – 1935)
60. On The Waterfront (Kazan – 1951)
61 The Departed (Scorsese – 2006)
62. Glengarry Glen Ross (Foley – 1992)
63. Die Hard (McTierrnan – 1988)
64. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Spielberg – 1983)
65. City Lights (Chaplin – 1931)
66. The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont – 1993)
67. Gravity (2013 – Cauron)
68. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Zemekis – 1985)
69. 2001 A Space Odyssey (Kubrick – 1969)
80. The Little Mermaid (Clements/Musker – 1991)
71. Psycho (Hitchcock – 1960)
72. The Producers (Brooks – 1968)
73. Hannah and Her Sisters (Allen – 1986)
74. Hoop Dreams (James – 1994)
75. Army of Darkness (Raimi – 1992)
76. The Big Lebowski (Coen 1998)
77. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Burton /Sellick – 1993)
78 . Bride of Frankenstein (Whale – 1935)
79. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006 – Eastwood)
80. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming – 1939)
81, The Fog of War (Morris – 2003)
82. Moulin Rouge (Luhrmann – 2001)
83. Terminator 2 – Judgment Day (Cameron – 1991)
84 .Millers Crossing (Coen – 1990)
85 . 12 Angry Men (Lumet – 1957)
86. 21 Grams (Gonzales Irraitu – 2003)
87. The Princess Bride (1989 – Reiner)
88. The Philadelphia Story (1940 – Cuckor)
89. Ghostbusters (1983 – Reitman)
90. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry – 2004)
91. Juno (Reitman – 2007)
92. Star Trek : First Contact (Frakes – 1996)
93. Avatar (Cameron 2009)
94. Wall Street (Stone – 1986)
95. When Harry Met Sally … (Reiner – 1988)
96. Belle Epoque (Treuba – 1992)
97. Say Anything (Crowe – 1989)
98. Planet of the Apes (Schaffner – 1968)
99. The Breakfast Club (1983 – Hughes)
100. The Blues Brothers (1980 – Reitman)