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Airplane! (1980)
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Stephen Stucker
Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
A trend-setting, zany, hilarious comedy – using the airplane disaster film, such as Airport (1970), as a spoof stepping stone, from the comedy writing/directing team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker (known colloquially as ZAZ and their brand of “ZAZ humor”). This film was preceded by their screenwriting for John Landis’ The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) (the ZAZ trio of comedy writers were known as The Kentucky Fried Theater when they performed as a Wisconsin comedy troupe), and later followed by Top Secret! (1984), and Ruthless People (1986). Airplane’s plot is an excuse for a frantic, slapstick parody filled with visual-sight gags, puns, verbal literalism (“Surely you can’t be serious.” “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley”), rapid-fire satirical wisecracks, irreverent references to From Here to Eternity (1953) and Saturday Night Fever (1977) disco dancing, and visual non-sequiturs. S
hell-shocked ex-military flyer Ted Striker (Hays) pursues girlfriend Elaine (Hagerty) – a stewardess on an ill-fated flight with stricken pilots. This movie also revitalized the acting careers of Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, and Robert Stack, and launched the comedy career of Leslie Nielsen as the straight-faced, dead-panning doctor, who up to that time was known mostly for B-movie dramatic roles, in films like Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). He went on with the ZAZ comedy team to originate the character of police Lt. Frank Drebin in their Police Squad! TV series – and recreated the role in the many The Naked Gun films. Followed by a less funny ZAZ-less Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) by director Ken Finkleman. No Academy Award Nominations.
All the King’s Men (1949)
Starring: Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanne Dru, John Derek, Mercedes McCambridge
Director: Robert Rossen
Robert Rossen’s fictionalized account of the rise and fall of backwoods rebel lawyer and politician – a story inspired by the rule (and despotic abuse of power) of Louisiana’s colorful state governor (1928-32) and Democratic U.S. Senator (1932-35), the notorious Huey Long – better known as “The Kingfish.” It is a melodramatic story of the corruption of power by an ambitious demagogue, adapted and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning and best-selling 1946 novel of the same name by Robert Penn Warren, and filmed from a script by producer-screenwriter-director Robert Rossen (known for directing other films such as Body and Soul (1947) and The Hustler (1961)). The main difference between the novel and the film was the reversal of the major roles: the narrating newspaper reporter took precedence over the power-hungry governor in the novel. In the film, the secondary character was the reporter Jack Burden (Ireland), while the central character was small-town lawyer-turned-politician Willie Stark (Crawford). One of the film’s posters proclaimed: “He thought he had the world by the tail…till it exploded in his face…with a bullet attached…” This great political drama was a breakthrough film for Broderick Crawford from his B-picture status – his performance is very compelling, electrifying and impressive as he is transformed from a backwoods, honest and naive lawyer into a dirty, unscrupulous and sleazy politician. Academy Award Nominations: 7, including Best Director–Robert Rossen, Best Screenplay–Robert Rossen, Best Supporting Actor–John Ireland, Best Film Editing. Academy Awards: 3, including Best Picture, Best Actor–Broderick Crawford, Best Supporting Actress–Mercedes McCambridge (in her screen debut).
Amadeus (1984)
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebersole, Jeffrey Jones
Director: Milos Forman
Milos Forman’s stunning, opulent biography (not always 100% accurate, however) of musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, based on the Broadway play by Peter Shaffer (whose screenplay adaptation won him an Oscar), is perhaps his grandest production – equaling his earlier Best Picture winner One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and only challenged by The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). The film focuses on the character of the official royal composer Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) (Abraham in an Oscar-winning performance) for Austrian Emperor Joseph II (Jones), and the story of his envious loathing, yet reverential relationship to the great prodigy Mozart (Hulce), who is simultaneously spoiled, vulgar and talented. Told in flashback, the mediocre Salieri is slowly driven insane as he recognizes Mozart’s incredible musical genius, but is tormented and consumed with insecurity and jealousy. The film was well-received by both critics and audiences alike with its lavish set and period costume design (filmed on location in Prague), its accessibility and nonpretentiousness, and its sly intelligence and musings over the capricious nature of “God-given” talent. Academy Award Nominations: 11, including Best Actor–Tom Hulce, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing. Academy Awards: 8, including Best Picture, Best Director–Milos Forman, Best Actor–F. Murray Abraham, Best Adapted Screenplay–Peter Shaffer, Best Art/Set Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Sound.
American Beauty (1999)
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari
Director: Sam Mendes
The tragic, absurdist, dark domestic tale of Lester Burnham (Spacey), who calmly narrates his own story posthumously a la Joe Gillis from Sunset Boulevard (1950) – he’s a “chronic loser” and American suburbanite family man who is unable to speak his mind or actually feel much of anything. But in a mid-life awakening, he becomes infatuated with his self-loathing daughter Jane’s (Birch) under-aged cheerleader friend Angela Hayes (Suvari). After enduring too many years of a demeaning job, and a dysfunctional marriage to his obsessive-compulsive, adulterous realtor wife Carolyn (Bening), while feeling disrepect from Jane — who has fallen for the drug-peddling, video-voyeur neighbor next door Ricky Fitts (Bentley), Lester decides to make radical, ultimately fatal changes to his suburban life. American Beauty was the first film by longtime English stage director Sam Mendes and playwright Alan Ball, who both won Academy Awards for their work, as did long-time cinematographer Conrad L. Hall. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Actress–Annette Bening, Best Original Score–Thomas Newman, Best Editing. Academy Awards: 5, including Best Picture, Best Director–Sam Mendes, Best Actor–Kevin Spacey, Best Original Screenplay–Alan Ball, Best Cinematography–Conrad L. Hall.
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, John Alexander, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre, Jack Carson
Director: Frank Capra
A frenzied, hilarious, madcap black comedy from celebrated director Frank Capra. The film’s screenplay was written by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein. The macabre farce was based on Joseph Kesselring’s successful Broadway play of the same name — and was filmed in 1941, but not released until 1944 (when the New York play ended its run). The slapstick film has two eccentric Brewster aunts (Hull and Adair reprising their Broadway roles) compassionately serving up homemade elderberry wine to elderly Brooklyn gentlemen – with delusional ‘Teddy Roosevelt’ nephew (Alexander) assisting by burying the unfortunate victims in the cellar. Cary Grant, as their dutiful, just-married nephew Mortimer, does a marvelous job of exaggerated, over-the-top acting with constant mugging and other facial plasticity, amazing double-takes and general befuddlement. The action is enhanced by the surprise appearance of Mortimer’s long-lost criminal brother Jonathan (Massey, in place of Boris Karloff) and his plastic surgeon assistant, Dr. Einstein (Lorre). It is unlike most of the other reform-minded Capra-corn films with a social conscience that became his trademark, e.g., Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Meet John Doe (1941), or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). It is more similar in tone to his screwball romantic comedy It Happened One Night (1934) and to Capra’s other adaptation from a Broadway play, You Can’t Take It With You (1938). No Academy Award Nominations.
Atlantic City (1981)
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon, Robert Joy, Kate Reid, Hollis McLaren
Director: Louis Malle
French director Louis Malle’s tense, unsentimental, evocative and bleak character study was about an aging, has-been, small-time hood and numbers-runner named Lou Pascal (Lancaster at age 68) who lived in the gray, depressing Atlantic City boardwalk area. Threatened to be put out of business by the casinos, he’s forced to be the kept man of a miserly and abusive aging beauty queen – a feisty, broken-down gangster’s widow named Grace Pinza (Reid). His only source of escape and pleasure is secretively watching his neighbor – a younger, cynical clam-bar waitress named Sally Matthews (Sarandon), who performs a sexy lemon-wash of herself at her window within his apartment’s view. She aspires to become a blackjack dealer/croupier in one of the more glamorous resort casinos in Monte Carlo. Their lives are turned upside-down when Sally’s deceitful, estranged husband Dave (Joy) and her eight-months pregnant sister Chrissie (McLaren) show up on Sally’s doorstep to sell a stolen shipment of high-quality cocaine. Lou befriends all three and promises he can sell the drugs due to his connections with the underworld. When Dave gets killed by the former owners of the drugs in the Philadelphia mob, Lou is able to keep the stash to himself as a financial windfall. He finally gets to play the role of his vain dreams as a big-time, respected, confident gangster, however illusory and dangerous, and is able to woo and show lavish generosity toward Sally as her self-appointed protector. After killing two gangland hoods to protect her, he admits his life was exaggerated up until then: “I never killed anybody in my life…But I did tonight”, and he gleefully watches the report of the murders on the TV news: “Hey, that’s me!…This story is going to be big all over the country: ‘Gangland slaying rips apart Atlantic City!'” In the final sequence, Lou makes a final promenade down the Boardwalk with Grace – with a panning shot up to a view of a wrecker’s ball smashing into an apartment before the closing credits. Malle was nominated previously for his screenplay for Dearest Heart (1971), and would be nominated six years later for Au Revoir les Enfants (1987), but Atlantic City remained the sole directorial nomination in his career. Academy Award Nominations: 5, including Best Picture, Best Director–Louis Malle, Best Actor–Burt Lancaster, Best Actress–Susan Sarandon, Best Original Screenplay–John Guare.


Babe (1995)
Starring: James Cromwell, Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes, Danny Mann, Hugo Weaving
Director: Chris Noonan
A charming, delightful and intelligent fairy tale based on a book by Dick King-Smith from first-time director Chris Noonan. This was a rare family film to earn an Academy Award Best Picture nomination, utilizing realistic, Oscar-winning computer effects to portray talking animals. The tale told about a young pig who learns to be a sheepherder to avoid being killed for human food. Despite being aimed at mostly young audiences, this sleeper film consistently remained intelligent and even quite dark at times for a children’s film. James Cromwell plays Farmer Arthur Hoggett with similar intelligence and wit, and has the best-known line of the film: “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do” after the title character pig succeeds as a sheepherder. The Australian-made film was a critical and financial success, and earned an amazing seven Oscar nominations, including the aforementioned Best Picture nomination. Followed by a darker, but respectable sequel, Babe: Pig in the City (1998). Academy Award Nominations: 7, including Best Picture, Best Director–Chris Noonan, Best Supporting Actor–James Cromwell, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Art/Set Decoration. Academy Awards, 1: Best Visual Effects.
Baby Doll (1956)
Starring: Karl Malden, Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach, Mildred Dunnock
Director: Elia Kazan
This Kazan film has been called notorious, salacious, revolting, dirty, steamy, lewd, suggestive, morally repellent and provocative. Time Magazine was noted as stating: “Just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited…” The stark, controversial, black and white film was so viciously denounced by the Legion of Decency upon its release that many theaters were forced to cancel their showings, but it still did moderately well at the box office despite the uproar. Baby Doll‘s impact was heightened by its themes: moral decay, lust, sexual repression, seduction, infantile eroticism and the corruption of the human soul. Its advertisements and posters featured a sultry young “Baby Doll” curled up in a crib in a suggestive pose, sucking her thumb. The young actress portraying ‘Baby Doll’ Meighan, Carroll Baker (25 years old and in her second film) received a well-deserved Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her role. Karl Malden played the role of Baby Doll’s sexually-frustrated husband Archie Lee, and Eli Wallach starred as unscrupulous businessman Silva Vaccaro whose main aim was to deflower the child bride. To make the film appear more genuine and authentic, most of it was filmed on location in Benoit, Mississippi. The landmark, tragi-comedy film, one of the most erotic cinematic works ever produced, was based on Tennessee Williams’ first original film screenplay, interweaving and adapting two of his earlier one-act plays: “Twenty-Seven Wagons Full of Cotton” and “The Long Stay Cut Short” (aka “The Unsatisfactory Supper”). The highly-acclaimed Williams had many of his plays adapted for the screen in the 1950s: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly Last Summer (1959)). As before, Williams’ work on this film was directed by Elia Kazan, a favorite director of several of his plays on Broadway as well. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Actress–Carroll Baker, Best Supporting Actress–Mildred Dunnock, Best Adapted Screenplay–Tennessee Williams, Best B/W Cinematography.
Bambi (1942)
Starring: Bobby Stewart, Stan Alexander, Peter Behn, Cammie King, Sterling Holloway
Director: David Hand and others
The last of the classic, early Disney animated features – a ‘coming of age’ tale of a young male deer growing up in the world to be a magnificent stag. Taken from a Felix Salten tale, Bambi first learns to walk and adventurously explore his world under the watchful eye of his parents, dealing with trivial problems, such as walking on ice with his new friends, Thumper (a rabbit) and Flower (a skunk). In one of the more heartbreaking scenes in film history, Bambi’s mother is killed by hunters, and suddenly is forced into adulthood, not only dealing with serious problems such as a devastating forest fire, but learning to court a doe named Faline, as well as fight other bucks for her attention. Bambi is not only a charming tale, but also uncompromising, recalling an earlier Disney film with surprisingly dark themes and scenes, Dumbo (1941). The doe-eyed characters would become the chief inspiration for anime characters in Japan. The Academy honored Bambi with three nominations, including the sweet yet wistful song “Love is a Song.” Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Song–“Love Is a Song,” Best Music Score–Churchill and Plumb, and Best Sound.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Starring: Robby Benson, Paige O’Hara, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury
Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Arguably the most successful Disney animated film of all time, this film was the first animated feature film to ever receive a Best Picture Academy Award nomination. It was based on the classic 1756 fairy tale (written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont) and the importance of inner beauty. There were almost a dozen previous film incarnations, the most notable being the silent 1922 version and Jean Cocteau’s French film La Belle et La Bête (1946). Beauty and the Beast returned the Disney animation studios to their former glory. The story told about a French peasant girl (O’Hara) who was treated kindly by a monstrous Prince-turned-Beast captor (Benson) and fell in love with him. The beautiful artwork and colors were supplemented by a well-written song score, from the Oscar-winning title song to the jaunty “Belle” and “Be Our Guest,” all written by Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman. It was also the second Disney film to combine its famous hand-drawn animation with computer graphics (The Rescuers Down Under (1990) was the first), as well as the first Disney animated movie to use a fully-developed script prior to animation. After this, Disney would release more huge traditionally animated hits in the summer, both commercial and critical, such as Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Mulan (1998) and The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), before deciding to close their hand-drawn animation wing in 2003. Academy Award Nominations: 6, including Best Picture, Best Song–“Belle,” Best Song–“Be Our Guest,” Best Sound. Academy Awards: 2, including Best Music Score, Best Song–“Beauty and the Beast.”
Being There (1979)
Starring: Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Warden
Director: Hal Ashby
Subtitled “A story of chance,” this provocative black comedy is a wonderful tale that satirizes politics, celebrity, media-obsession and television, and extols the wisdom of innocence. The subtle film’s slogan proclaimed: “Getting there is half the fun. Being there is all of it.” It is a placid fable about Chance (Sellers), a reclusive, illiterate, passive, and simple-minded gardener who is well-groomed, fed on schedule, and dressed in custom-tailored suits. He has lived his whole sheltered life within the walled, Washington, DC estate of an eccentric millionaire named Jennings. His only knowledge of the “real” outside world, an encroaching inner-city ghetto area, is through watching television. When his employer dies, he wanders out into the street with his TV’s remote-control to aid him. When his leg is injured, and his name is thought to be “Chauncey Gardiner,” he is befriended by Eve Rand (MacLaine), the wife of dying billionaire industrialist Benjamin Rand (Douglas). His simple statements about gardening, such as “Spring is a time for planting,” are mis-interpreted as profound and wise political-economic advice to none other than President ‘Bobby’ (Warden). His new-found popularity leads to talk-show appearances, insider parties, book publisher advances, and the potential to become a presidential candidate. The film was directed by director Hal Ashby (already known for Harold and Maude (1971), The Last Detail (1973), Shampoo (1975), Bound for Glory (1976), and the acclaimed Vietnam war film Coming Home (1978)). The politically-satirical, overly-long film about mistaken identity and the television age was adapted from a 1971 novel by Jerzy Kosinski, with Sellers in a chameleon-like role in his second-to-last film. His role was the forerunner to the mentally-challenged Tom Hanks character in Forrest Gump (1994). Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Actor–Peter Sellers (his second and last unsuccessful bid). Academy Awards, 1: Best Supporting Actor–Melvyn Douglas (his third and last career nomination and second Best Supporting Actor Oscar).
The Birds (1963)
Starring: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Another modern Hitchcock thriller/masterpiece – his first film with Universal Studios. Loosely based upon a short story by Daphne Du Maurier, it is the apocalyptic story of a northern California coastal town (Bodega Bay) filled with an onslaught of seemingly unexplained, arbitrary and chaotic attacks of ordinary birds – not birds of prey. Ungrammatical advertising campaigns emphasized: “The Birds Is Coming.” The dark film hinted that the bird attacks were punishment for the failings of the relationships between the main characters. This Technicolor feature came after Psycho (1960) – another film filled with ‘bird’ references. The film’s technical wizardry was extraordinary, especially in the film’s closing scene (a complex, trick composite shot) – the special visual effects of Ub Iwerks were nominated for an Academy Award (the film’s sole nomination), but the Oscar was lost to Cleopatra (1963). Hundreds of birds (gulls, ravens, and crows) were trained for use in some of the scenes, while mechanical birds and animations were employed for others. The film’s non-existent musical score was replaced by an electronic soundtrack (including simulated bird cries and wing-flaps), with Hitchcock’s favorite composer Bernard Herrmann serving as a sound consultant. Hitchcock introduced a ‘fascinating new personality’ for the film – his unknown successor to Grace Kelly – a cool, blonde professional model named ‘Tippi’ Hedren (the mother of Melanie Griffith), in her film debut in a leading role. Hedren also appeared in Hitchcock’s next picture Marnie (1964), and reprised her Birds character in a supporting role in a dreadful made-for-TV sequel, The Birds II: Land’s End (1994). Academy Award Nominations: 1, Best Visual Effects.
Blow-Up (1966)
Starring: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Peter Bowles, Jane Birkin, Gillian Hills, Veruschka
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
A thought-provoking, art-house masterpiece from Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni – a view of the world of mod fashion, and an engaging, provocative murder mystery that examines the existential nature of reality through photography. It was Antonioni’s first film in English, and quickly became one of the most important films of its decade, and a milestone in liberalized attitudes toward film nudity and expressions of sexuality. [The film in some respects resembles Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), and proved influential for other young filmmakers: i.e., Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), and De Palma’s Blow Out (1981).] A desensitized-to-life, nihilistic, high-fashion London free-lance photographer Thomas (Hemmings), who lives a mid-60s life of excess (riches, fame, and women), becomes bored with his lucrative career of glamour photography. So he resorts to photographing, in documentary style, the seamy and sordid side of life in London, in flophouses and slums. Innocently, he takes candid photos in a deserted park of a lover’s tryst-rendezvous between a kerchief-wearing, enigmatic woman (Redgrave) and a middle-aged, gray-haired man in a light-gray suit. She pursues him to ask for the illicit photos, as he imagines that he has witnessed a scene of sexual intrigue – never thinking that he may have accidentally obtained visual, criminal evidence of a murder. The climax is a suspenseful, obsessive sequence of the photographer processing and blowing up several pictures from his park visit, and magnifying them larger and larger to poster size. As tension heightens, he pins the pictures on the wall of his living room – in sequence – giving them life as if they were individual frames in a motion picture. Ultimately, they reveal a riveting possibility. In the film’s finale is another indelible, symbolic image emphasizing the slim line between objective reality and illusion – a group of pantomiming students in white-face playing an invisible game of tennis with non-existent rackets and balls – and audience. Academy Award Nominations: 2, Best Director–Michelangelo Antonioni, Best Original Screenplay–Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, Edward Bond.

Bull Durham (1988)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Trey Wilson, Robert Wuhl
Director: Ron Shelton
First-time director Ron Shelton, a former second-baser in the minor leagues, has made a predominant career of sports movies that realistically examine the participants’ heart, both in terms of sportsmanship and in terms of romance. His writing (and directing) credits have also included: The Best of Times (1986) (football), White Men Can’t Jump (1992) (basketball, also directed), Blue Chips (1994) (basketball), Cobb (1994) (baseball, also directed), The Great White Hype (1996) (boxing), Tin Cup (1996) (golf, also directed), and Play It To the Bone (2000) (boxing, also directed). This humorous romantic drama about the Carolina minor leagues is the quintessential modern sports film of America’s greatest game. Kevin Costner stars as “Crash” Davis, a veteran, romantic-minded, minor league catcher who has to tutor wild young, rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Robbins) for the mediocre Durham Bulls, while simultaneously competing with him – in a love triangle – for the affections of English teacher and sexually-seductive baseball groupie Annie Savoy (Sarandon, Robbins’ real-life ‘wife’). Bull Durham would only receive a single Oscar nomination for Shelton’s writing, while Costner’s next film would be another baseball film, the mystical Field of Dreams (1989), based on the W.P. Kinsella book. (Costner and Shelton would reunite for Tin Cup (1996).) Academy Award Nominations, 1: Best Original Screenplay–Ron Shelton.
Bus Stop (1956)
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, Arthur O’Connell, Betty Field, Eileen Heckart, Robert Bray, Hope Lange
Director: Joshua Logan
Aka The Wrong Kind of Girl, this comedy/drama, adapted by George Axelrod (who also co-wrote The Seven Year Itch (1955) also starring Monroe) and based on the hit Broadway play by William Inge, was Marilyn Monroe’s first “serious” lead role. She plays Cherie, a fifth-rate, hillbilly saloon-bar singer in Phoenix, originally from the Ozarks, whose dream is to go to Hollywood. Her path crosses that of a naive, callow and rude cowboy from Montana in town for a rodeo, Beauregard ‘Bo’ Decker (Murray in his film debut), who immediately is smitten by his sweet ‘angel.’ The most memorable moment of Bus Stop is Monroe’s famous torch-song performance of “That Old Black Magic” for an unappreciative audience, mixing sensuousness with a wistfully sad, soulful quality. The country bumpkin persistently tries to woo Cherie (whom he crudely calls Cherry) – and forcefully kidnaps her to take her home with him. They become stranded during a blizzard at a roadside bus stop – the Blue Dragon Inn in Idaho, where she eventually falls for her abductor. Widely considered the best role of Monroe’s career, it mixed comedy with dark pathos. The film proved Monroe was a more-than-capable actress reflecting her skillful acting talent and some of her own personal insecurities. It earned her better roles opposite such stars as Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Clark Gable, and Laurence Olivier. The film later inspired a 1961-62 TV series of the same name. Academy Award Nominations: 1, Best Supporting Actor–Don Murray.


Cabin In the Sky (1943)
Starring: Ethel Waters, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Rex Ingram, Kenneth Spencer
Directors: Vincente Minnelli (with Busby Berkeley)
Vincente Minnelli’s debut film was based on Vernon Duke-Lynn Root’s hit 1940 Broadway musical (directed by George Balanchine). An all-black cast musical (the first in Hollywood since Green Pastures (1936)), it was produced by Arthur Freed – an early crusader for civil rights. Released in sepia-tone, it is about a drink-loving gambler named Joseph ‘Little Joe’ Jackson (Anderson), who is having a lustful, extramarital affair. When he is nearly killed in a bar-room brawl, he fantasizes, in a dream sequence, about a battle for his soul between Heaven, led by God’s General (Spencer), and Hell, led by Lucifer Jr. (Ingram). A real-life struggle also exists for his heart between his gospel-quoting, devoted wife Petunia (Waters) and his sultry southern mistress Georgia Brown (Horne). While the film is pretty dated and contains some racial stereotypes, it is marked by great musical performances, the most noteworthy of which come from Waters, who performs the hit standards “Taking a Chance on Love” and the Oscar-nominated “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe.” Waters was a trailblazer for African-American performers, becoming the first African-American star of a national radio show before becoming the titular star of television’s The Beulah Show. Screen legend Lena Horne also has her best role as the seductive Georgia – in the same year, she starred as Selina Rogers in Stormy Weather (1943). Eddie Anderson was best known for his role on the radio show The Jack Benny Program (later moved to television) as Rochester — his role became so popular that it became an official part of his billing in all of his subsequent roles. Also features Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway. Academy Award Nominations: 1, Best Song–“Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe”.
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Starring: Martin Landau, Anjelica Huston, Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, Jerry Orbach, Claire Bloom, Joanna Gleason
Director: Woody Allen
Perhaps Woody Allen’s darkest, most somber movie, Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) takes a long, provocative, and ultimately downbeat look at morality with its ensemble cast. Dual stories about Manhattanites, each composing about one-half of the film, are interwoven together, and interconnected by the character of a mutual friend – a lone holy man and rabbi named Ben (Waterston) who is going blind. The first story deals with Judah Rosenthal (Landau), a wealthy, law-abiding, married (to Bloom, as Miriam), well-respected ophthalmologist who is successful in nearly every way. However, an enraged and obsessed flight attendant and ex-lover Dolores Paley (Huston), with whom he has been cheating on his wife, threatens to divulge the scandal and ruin his life. With this dilemma facing him, Judah is forced to take extreme measures – the contemplation of murder of his mistress by contacting his seldom-seen brother Jack (Orbach) with Mafia connections. His guilt forces him to revisit his past and ask basic questions about his own values, the unfairness of life, virtue, ‘the eyes of God,’ a god-less universe, justice for evil-doing, and unequal punishment of the wicked. Meanwhile, in the lighter-spirited other half of the movie, Cliff Stern (Allen), a dedicated but struggling, serious documentary filmmaker (who is married but in the process of separating from wife Wendy (Gleason)), is reluctantly forced to direct a film of his despised rival – his superficial, vain but extremely successful brother-in-law and TV sit-com producer Lester (Alda). Complicating matters, Stern must compete with Lester over the object of his impossibly-romantic affections – the documentary’s attractive production assistant named Halley Reed (Farrow). Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Director–Woody Allen, Best Supporting Actor–Martin Landau, Best Original Screenplay–Woody Allen.
The Crying Game (1992)
Starring: Stephen Rea, Jaye Davidson, Miranda Richardson, Forest Whitaker, Jim Broadbent
Director: Neil Jordan
Writer/director Neil Jordan’s powerful, layered suspense thriller/modern-day noir, which examines friendship, sexuality, love, political intrigue, race relations and human nature, was partly inspired by the classic Irish short story A Guest of the Nation by Frank O’Connor. The highly profitable independent film opens with the kidnapping of a British soldier named Jody (Whitaker) by a group of IRA resistance/terrorists, led by a cold, calculating femme fatale Jude (Richardson), who had entrapped the soldier by seducing him while he was intoxicated. One of the captors, Fergus (Rea), strikes an unlikely friendship with the prisoner, both knowing that Jody would most likely be executed. The execution goes awry when Jody, trying to escape, is accidentally killed by a convoy of British army soldiers, who immediately disperse the IRA cell. Fergus goes into hiding and partial retirement from the IRA in London, but feels compelled to honor his promise to Jody that if he was killed, he would tell Jody’s beautiful lover Dil (Davidson, whose magnificent gender-bending Oscar-nominated performance was in a role that was considered uncastable) of his fate. As a love triangle develops, Fergus soon finds himself attracted to Dil and valiantly protective of the lonely and aloof hairdresser, but both harbor a secret that would prevent them from romantically loving one another. The revelation of Dil’s sexual secret is a Hitchcockian plot twist that audiences were urged not to reveal, which they honored. Complications arise when Jude shows up, and embroils Fergus in a dangerous assassination plot, using “wee black chick” Dil as collateral. The film was a smash hit both critically and commercially, and earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and two nominations for Jordan for his direction and original screenplay (which he won.) Shockingly, Richardson would be nominated for her role in Damage (1992) rather than for this film. Academy Award Nominations: 6, including Best Picture, Best Director–Neil Jordan, Best Actor–Stephen Rea, Best Supporting Actor–Jaye Davidson, Best Film Editing–Kant Pan. Academy Award: 1, Best Original Screenplay–Neil Jordan.


Dark Victory (1939)
Starring: Bette Davis, George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ronald Reagan
Director: Edmund Goulding
Warner Bros. studios’ sentimental, tragic and moving melodrama (a “weepie” or “woman’s picture”) – made in Hollywood’s most famous and competitive year. The adult drama contains an electrifying, compelling, tour de force, tear-jerking performance from its major star — Bette Davis. It was a bit of a risk for the movie studio to make and publicize an intense film about a terminally-ill patient with “prognosis negative.” The protagonist is a young socialite-heiress named Judith Traherne (Davis), who suffers from a brain tumor and ultimately falls in love with her supportive and dedicated doctor Frederick Steele (Brent). In the midst of her deadly illness, she comforts her best friend Ann King (Fitzgerald), and courageously meets her fate when her eyesight dims. She climbs her stairs for the last time – accompanied by Max Steiner’s swelling score in the film’s finale. A title from a film trailer proclaimed: “The love story no woman will ever forget!”
The film’s screenplay by Casey Robinson was based on the brief and unsuccessful (due to its morbid subject matter) mid-30s Broadway play (starring Tallulah Bankhead) of the same name by George Emerson Brewer, Jr., and Bertram Bloch. Dark Victory was the second of Davis’ four films with director Edmund Goulding – the others were That Certain Woman (1937), The Old Maid (1939), and The Great Lie (1941). Humphrey Bogart was completely miscast in a minor role as Michael O’Leary – an Irish stable groom/trainer, although Ronald Reagan as Alec Hamin, a bar-hopping, slightly decadent playboy, was effectively believable. The film was remade as Stolen Hours (1963) and as a made-for-TV movie in 1976 with Elizabeth Montgomery. Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Picture, Best Actress–Bette Davis (a two-time Oscar winner already, with her third Oscar nomination in five years, and her second of five consecutive nominations), Best Original Score–Max Steiner.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Starring: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray, Frances Bavier, Lock Martin
Director: Robert E. Wise
One of the seminal science fiction films of motion picture history, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is based on Edmund H. North’s adaptation of the short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates. Much like the “drive in movies” of the 1950’s, such as The War of the Worlds (1952), Forbidden Planet (1956), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), this influential, fantasy sci-fi film featured state-of-the-art visual effects and salient social commentary on the Cold War and warfare. The film not only examined wider issues of politics and society, but also at human emotions and frailties. This cautionary science fiction parable begins with the landing of a spacecraft on the White House Mall. A benevolent, interplanetary alien in humanoid form, Klaatu (Rennie), causes a panic when he demands to speak to all of the representatives of Earth’s governments. Although he warns the people of Earth to be non-violent and stop nuclear testing, he is shot by a nervous soldier. His massive robotic companion Gort (Martin) vaporizes the offensive weapons, as Klaatu is hospitalized. He goes into hiding posing as an Earthling named Carpenter while residing with a human family (single mother/widow Helen (Neal) and her son Bobby (Gray)), in order to observe their lives, and meanwhile to attempt to establish contact with Earth’s leading scientist Dr. Bernhardt (Jaffe). Klaatu’s demonstration of power over the industrial complex — by stopping power everywhere for half an hour — ends up tragically. One of the most famous phrases in science fiction history is recited by Helen to stop Gort’s rampage when Klaatu is killed: “Gort, Klaatu barada nikto.” The film ends with the alien visitor’s resurrection and a warning-proclamation. With a memorable score by Bernard Herrmann. No Academy Award Nominations. It was remade in 2008 by director Scott Derrickson, starring Keanu Reeves as Klaatu and Jennifer Connelly as Helen.
Deliverance (1972)
Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox
Director: John Boorman
British director John Boorman’s gripping, absorbing, action-adventure film – about four suburban Atlanta businessmen-friends who encounter a disastrous rite-of-passage during a summer weekend’s river-canoeing trip. Its famous tagline was: “This is the weekend they didn’t play golf.” The buddy group, composed of Ed Gentry (Voight), ultra-macho Lewis Medlock (Reynolds), fearful weakling Bobby Trippe (Beatty), and Drew Ballinger (Cox) face a nightmarish situation when they come upon the rapids and local hillbillies who degrade and terrorize them. The stark, uncompromising film was one of the first to deal with the theme of city-dwellers against the powerful, territorial forces of nature and the wilderness. The exciting box-office hit, most remembered for its banjo dueling and brutal, visceral action (and sexually-violent sodomy scene), was based on James Dickey’s adaptation of his own 1970 best-selling novel (his first) of the same name – he contributed the screenplay and acted in a minor part as the town sheriff. The beautifully photographed film (by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond), shot entirely on location (in northern Georgia’s Rabun County, bisected by the Chattooga River), was the least-nominated film among the other Best Picture nominees. Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Picture, Best Director–John Boorman, Best Film Editing.
Dinner at Eight (1933)
Starring: Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe
Director: George Cukor
A masterfully-directed, poignant melodramatic comedy by director George Cukor and producer David O. Selznick. This MGM film was based on the popular, dialogue-rich Broadway hit by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. It was studded with a tremendous ensemble cast of stars (inspired by MGM’s previous year’s Best Picture winner, Grand Hotel (1932)) – who are all invited to a Manhattan formal dinner party during the height of the Depression, by social climbing, flighty hostess Millicent (Burke) and floundering businessman husband Oliver Jordan (Lionel Barrymore). [Three of the stars, John and Lionel Barrymore, and Wallace Beery appeared in both films.] Other guests include crass, crooked rich tycoon Dan Packard (Beery) and his candy-chewing, trampish trophy wife Kitty (Harlow), the family doctor Dr. Talbot (Lowe), washed-up, alcoholic silent-era actor Larry Renault (John Barrymore), and elderly ex-Broadway star Carlotta Vance (Dressler). The witty romantic comedy is filled with choice lines of dialogue, and revolves around various relationships between the characters. Suicide, financial ruin, love, infidelity and adultery, economic pressures, class conflict, the dawn of the talkies, divorce, aging and fading careers, and alcoholism affect their interactions. The screenplay for the film was written by Herman Mankiewicz, Frances Marion, and Donald Ogden Stewart. It was poorly remade as a TV movie in 1989 starring Marsha Mason, Lauren Bacall, and Harry Hamlin. No Academy Award Nominations.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Starring: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro
Director: Spike Lee
An even-handed, complex and disturbing work about racism, intolerance and violence, this controversial film is about a riot that eventually erupts on a sweltering summer day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. During the opening credits, Public Enemy performs the film’s hard-edged anthem and title song, “Fight the Power.” The multi-ethnic cast of the film provides three-dimensional characters, and features the early career work of Samuel L. Jackson (as DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy) and Rosie Perez. The tension begins to escalate in this slice-of-life film because of a complaint by a militant patron named Buggin’ Out (Esposito) that there are no pictures of ‘brothers’ on the “Wall of Fame” in a white-operated, Italian pizza restaurant owned by Sal (Aiello). This was the third (and breakout) feature film for African-American writer/director Spike Lee (who also stars as the pizzeria’s delivery boy Mookie), whose resume already included: She’s Gotta Have It (1986), and School Daze (1988). Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Supporting Actor–Danny Aiello, Best Original Screenplay–Spike Lee.


East of Eden (1955)
Starring: James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, Burl Ives, Richard Davalos, Jo Van Fleet
Director: Elia Kazan
Director Elia Kazan’s updated re-telling of the Biblical story of rival brothers, Cain and Abel and a paradise lost. A brooding James Dean – as the unappreciated son (Cain), vies against his dull, but favored stuffy brother (Abel) for the affections of their father. The maligned, misunderstood Cain character, representing the unlikeable and outcast director himself (for naming names before the HUAC Committee in 1952), becomes the sensitive hero of this film. As the poster stated, “Sometimes you can’t tell who’s good and who’s bad!…” Writer Paul Osborn’s screenplay adapted John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel with the same title for this dramatic Warner Bros. film. [The film tells only a small portion of Steinbeck’s work, leaving out the childhood of the parents and the Chinese character of Lee.] The CinemaScopic film, set in 1917 at a time just before the US entry into World War I, portrays the relationship between insecure, tortured, neurotic loner Caleb “Cal” Trask (Dean, in his first major role and film) and his dutiful, favored brother Aron (Davalos) – twin sons. Their father is a stern, hardened, devoutly religious, self-righteous man named Adam (Massey), a lettuce farmer living with his family in Salinas, California. The plot becomes emotionally charged when Cal expresses a liking for his brother’s girlfriend Abra (Harris), and then learns that his mother (Van Fleet) is actually alive and operating a nearby brothel. One of the film’s posters exclaimed: “East of Eden is a story of explosive passions and Elia Kazan has made it into a picture of staggering power.” (This was the only one of James Dean’s three major films released before his death, in the same year as Rebel Without a Cause (1955).) Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Actor–James Dean, Best Director–Elia Kazan, Best Screenplay–Paul Osborn. Academy Awards: 1, Best Supporting Actress–Jo Van Fleet.
Enter the Dragon (1973)
Starring: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Shih Kien, Jim Kelly, Robert Wall, Angela Mao
Director: Robert Clouse
A big-budget, American/Hong Kong co-production (and the first American-produced martial arts film), shot on location in Asia. This legendary film is considered the best “chopsocky” or “kickfest” (kung fu and martial arts) film ever made by an American studio (Warner Bros). It starred influential action cult hero Bruce Lee in his final, signature film role before his untimely death at the age of 32. Partly inspired by the Lee-helmed film Way of the Dragon (1972) (aka Return of the Dragon), the film pits a renegade, villainous Shaolin Temple monk named Han (Kien) against a Jeet Kune Do master named Lee (Lee), who is recruited by the British to infiltrate Han’s drug and prostitution operation under the guise of taking part in his annual, invitational competition on a mysterious island fortress near Hong Kong. The martial-arts tournament between champions is sponsored by the crime boss – a one-handed, blood-thirsty mastermind who at one point supplements his missing hand with a fearsome metal claw. The film is only semi-serious, featuring not only a subplot about an indebted, American playboy-adventurer named Roper (Saxon), but an added blaxploitation character named Williams (Kelly, a real-life ex-football star, and African-American karate champion who would later star in a black martial arts film titled Black Samurai (1977)), and a satirical jab at the James Bond thriller films with Lee playing a Bond-type character who doesn’t need gadgetry. The most memorable scene is the climactic showdown between Lee and Han in a hall of mirrors (with homage to Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai (1948)), as well as the first fight in the competition between Lee and Oharra (Wall), Han’s top man responsible for the death of Lee’s sister (Mao- the “female Bruce Lee”). There is also an uncredited cameo by Chuck Norris as a Messenger, who had a memorable fight scene with Lee in Way of the Dragon (1972), as well as the first, brief screen appearance by Lee’s martial arts “successor” and cinema legend, Jackie Chan. With an aggressive score by Mission Impossible’s (TV) composer Lalo Schifrin. No Academy Award Nominations.


Field of Dreams (1989)
Starring: Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan, Ray Liotta, Gaby Hoffmann, Timothy Busfield, Burt Lancaster
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Just one year after playing catcher “Crash” Davis in Bull Durham (1988), Kevin Costner appeared in this – another baseball-themed film coupled with the religious themes of faith and redemption. This sentimental, modern fantasy classic became a smash hit in its unique depiction of Americana. Idealistic Ray Kinsella (Costner), a transplanted city boy-turned-Iowa corn farmer, hears a ghostly Voice telling him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field, to “ease his pain”. His wife Annie (Madigan) is semi-supportive but worried about their finances. No one but those who believe can see the ghostly ballplayers who begin to appear. This Capra-esque film recalls Harvey (1950), a film in which its main character believes he is befriended by a giant rabbit that no one can see. (Ray’s daughter Karen (Hoffmann) is watching Harvey on T.V. at one point in the film, to emphasize the connection.) Adapted from W. P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe, the film is almost dreamlike (aided by the mystical score by James Horner), as Ray meets with various sad and wistful icons, including the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson (Liotta) who was banned from baseball for life after the 1919 Black Sox scandal, a disillusioned, reclusive J.D. Salinger-like writer in Boston named Terence Mann (Jones), and a small-town doctor named Doc “Moonlight” Graham (Lancaster) – a rookie player who years earlier yearned to make it into the major leagues. The film reaches its climax with Jones’ famous monologue on the place of baseball in American history: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay–Phil Alden Robinson, Best Score–James Horner.
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Starring: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin
Director: Charles Crichton
One of the cleverest, quirkiest and wittiest madcap caper comedies ever made, that included members of the original anarchic Monty Python troupe with American stars – in a subversive and raucous tale that combined both British and American humor. The film recalls the British Ealing Studio comedies (such as Crichton’s own The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955)) and Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve (1941). As the tagline stated, the unexpected hit was “a tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood,” in which three eccentric thieves (Curtis, Kline, and Palin) battle the authorities and each other to recover a valuable cache of stolen diamonds. All actors are perfect in their roles, especially the self-absorbed, not-too-bright (“Don’t you ever call me stupid”) Buddha-misquoting Anglophobe Otto West (Kline) and the stuttering, animal-loving hitman Ken (Palin). Features such bits as Ken’s attempts at murdering an old woman that results in the deaths of her dogs (to his horror), Otto’s constant tormenting of Ken (“Look! It’s K-k-ken coming to k-k-kill me!”) and conservative, uptight barrister Archie Leach (Cleese), Wanda Gerschwitz’s (Curtis) use of sex to dominate the men in her life and her total arousal to foreign languages like Italian and Russian. The leads would team up again in the comedy Fierce Creatures (1997), in lieu of a sequel. Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Director–Charles Crichton, Best Original Screenplay–John Cleese, Charles Crichton. Academy Awards, 1: Best Supporting Actor–Kevin Kline.
Footlight Parade (1933)
Starring: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee
Directors: Lloyd Bacon
One of the three most spectacular musicals in 1933 from Warner Bros. and legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley, alongside 42nd Street (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) – with this entry often considered the best of all three. The film is also notable for its suggestive pre-Hays Code dialogue and scenes. It stars James Cagney in his first, big singing-and-dancing musical role as unemployed yet enterprising Broadway theatrical producer Chester Kent, with Joan Blondell as his loyal secretary Nan Prescott. Its familiar plot, a backstage tale about putting on a lavish show, revolves around the production of live music numbers (called “prologues”) for movie theatres to present before features, to give stage performers work who had been rendered unemployed by the advent of the “talkies.” The thin plot is basically an excuse to show off the elaborate and extravagant Berkeley production numbers, especially the three showstoppers at the end of the film: “Honeymoon Hotel,” “By a Waterfall” with gorgeous bathing beauties, and “Shanghai Lil” (providing commentary on Paramount’s Shanghai Lily character (Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express (1932) from the year before)). Cagney’s varied career featured him in both tough guy roles, such as Tom Powers in Public Enemy (1931) and Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949), as well as in song-and-dance roles such as this one – and perhaps his most famous musical role as real-life Broadway impresario George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). No Academy Award Nominations.
Freaks (1932)
Starring: Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Harry and Daisy Earles, Roscoe Ates, Henry Victor
Directors: Tod Browning
Tod Browning’s disturbing and bizarre follow-up to his horror smash hit Dracula (1931). This cult film redefines the concepts of beauty, love, and abnormality, but was so disturbingly ahead of its time that audiences stayed away in huge numbers, and it was even banned for 30 years in England. MGM was embarrassed by the film, withdrew the film after its initial release, and added a prologue titled Nature’s Mistakes before a re-release. Taglines and posters shamelessly promoted the film: “Can a full grown woman truly love a midget?” “Do Siamese twins make love?” “What sex is the half-man, half-woman?” The film avoids being exploitative by establishing itself as sympathetic towards the “freaks,” explaining in the apologetic prologue that as otherwise normal people, they have through the ages been unfairly considered “an omen of ill luck or representative of evil,” forcing them to adopt a code. Any crime committed against any one of them will be considered a crime against all of them. The morality play is about a circus sideshow and its odd clique of “freaks,” comprised of real-life malformed people, such as dwarves, hermaphrodites, Siamese twins (Daisy and Violet Hilton), a “living torso” (Prince Randlan, a man without limbs who slithers on the ground), a half-man (Johnny Eck with only the upper half of his body), a bearded woman, pinheads, and others. The film follows with a tale about a cold-hearted, full-sized, high-wire trapeze artist Cleopatra (Baclanova) who seduces and marries a circus sideshow midget named Hans (Harry Earles), hoping to inherit his wealth by poisoning him, and then running off with her boyfriend and circus strongman Hercules (Victor). After the film’s infamous and macabre “Wedding Feast” scene (with the unforgettable chant: “Gooble Gobble! We accept her, we accept her, one of us, one of us!”), she incurs the wrath of the tightly knit, loyal group of “nature’s aberrations,” including Hans’ fiancee Frieda (Daisy Earles), who set out to avenge their compatriot in a truly horrifying climax that plays itself out in a muddy rainstorm. Browning had run away to join the circus when he was 16 years old, influencing his work, and had directed two other circus-related films: The Show (1927) and The Unknown (1927). After this film, Browning’s career would never be the same – he directed only a few more films through 1939 before retiring. No Academy Award Nominations.
The Freshman (1925)
Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Brooks Benedict, James Anderson, Pat Harmon, Hazel Keener, Joseph Harrington
Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
In this silent film satire of college life (aka College Days), bespectacled Harold Lloyd plays the naive, awkward, nerdy Harold ‘Speedy’ Lamb who goes off to college, dressing and copying the behavior of characters in the movie The College Hero. With youthful optimism, he dreams of becoming the most popular guy on campus and a major football star, but he lacks any apparent talent. After he embarrasses himself during football tryouts, the tough but pitying coach (Harmon) makes him the team’s water boy – and the tackle dummy. Harold is under the mistaken impression that he is on the team, and ignorant that he is the butt of jokes. His love interest and dream-girl is a co-ed named Peggy (Ralston) and there’s the stereotypical college cad (Benedict). The most memorable scene in the film is the hilarious, climactic championship football game where Harold finally gets to play after every other substitute player has been injured and removed from the game. The football game climax was used again as the opening sequence of Lloyd’s and Preston Sturges’ film Mad Wednesday (1947), aka The Sin of Harold Diddlebock. The Harold Lloyd Trust claimed that Disney’s film The Waterboy (1998) with Adam Sandler was a direct copy of this Lloyd film, and there are resemblances to Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School (1986). Lloyd had previously done hundreds of comedic silent shorts, mostly as his famous characters Lonesome Luke and Willie Work, but his career was overshadowed by silent greats Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton (Keaton’s College (1927) has some of the same plot points as this film). His stunt work in Safety Last (1923) remains memorable, however — especially the scene in which he climbs the side of a skyscraper and hangs from a clock face by its hands.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Starring: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick’s thought-provoking Vietnam War film was partly based on Gustav Hasford’s 1979 book The Short Timers, and followed in the footsteps of Kubrick’s other anti-war films: Paths of Glory (1957) and Dr. Strangelove, Or: (1964). This was Kubrick’s first film after The Shining (1980), and it made an underappreciated appearance the year after Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) won Best Picture. Kubrick’s film was unsuccessful at the box office — lost in the spate of mostly Vietnam-related war films that came out in Platoon‘s wake, including Heartbreak Ridge (1986) (about the invasion of Grenada), Hamburger Hill (1987), The Hanoi Hilton (1987), Casualties of War (1989), 84 Charlie Mopic (1989), and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). A two-part drama, the first part of the film takes place at Parris Island training-boot camp in S. Carolina (although the entire film was shot in England), where drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (Ermey, a former, real life Marine sergeant) transforms young Marine cadets into killing machines with twisted sentiments, and verbal, psychological, and physical abuse and torment. The first half climaxes with a chilling, dehumanizing bathroom scene between Hartman, Private Leonard Lawrence (dubbed “Gomer Pyle”) (D’Onofrio) – an overweight, misfit cadet driven insane by Hartman’s bullying, and Private J.T. Davis (dubbed “Joker”) (Modine), who is caught between them. “Joker,” a cynical Stars & Stripes military correspondent/journalist, is the bridge to the second half of the film on the nightmarish, violent front lines within Hue City – a cool, unemotional look at urban warfare on the eve of the 1968 Tet Offensive at the turning point of the war. Academy Award Nominations: 1, Best Adapted Screenplay–Stanley Kubrick.


Gaslight (1944)
Starring: Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty, Angela Lansbury
Director: George Cukor
Aka The Murder in Thornton Square, this is a superb, definitive psychological suspense thriller from ‘woman’s director’ George Cukor. [Previous Cukor films that were similar as period dramas included Little Women (1933), David Copperfield (1935), and Camille (1936).] This lavish and glossy MGM film, with authentic Victorian-era production design, was a remake of a taut and subtle film made five years earlier in Great Britain. This earlier version, starring a very sinister Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard, was directed by Thorold Dickinson and released in the US as both Gaslight and Angel Street (1940). Both versions were adapted from Patrick Hamilton’s long-running, London staged play-melodrama, originally titled Angel Street. The film’s plot, faithfully adapted by its screenwriters, is about a diabolical, Victorian criminal husband Gregory Anton (Boyer playing against type) who systematically and methodically attempts to torment and drive mad his bedeviled, shy young wife Paula Alquist (Bergman), while in pursuit of hidden jewels. Bergman was very effective in the role of the vulnerable woman, who becomes helpless as she experiences a debilitating nervous breakdown and near insanity, until saved by her romantic admirer – a suspicious Scotland Yard detective Brian Cameron (Cotten). The film’s impressive photography is expressionistic, shadowy, and menacing – as befits the film’s ominous plot. Academy Award Nominations: 7, including Best Picture, Best Actor–Charles Boyer, Best Supporting Actress–Angela Lansbury (in her film debut), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography. Academy Awards: 2, Best Actress–Ingrid Bergman (with her first of three Oscars), Best B/W Art Direction/Interior Decoration.
Glory (1989)
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, Jihmi Kennedy, Andre Braugher
Director: Edward Zwick
One of the very best, fact-based Civil war films, and based upon the historical novels Lay This Laurel by Lincoln Kirstein and One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard. It depicts the overlooked but brave and distinguished participation of all-volunteer, African-American soldiers on the side of the Union in the first all-black 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (composed of runaway slaves and northern “freemen”). The film was based on the letters of the 600-man regiment’s idealistic, 25-year old white commander, Robert Gould Shaw (Broderick) from a privileged, abolitionistic family in Boston. The film focuses on the hard training and the troops’ battle to earn credibility with prejudiced military authorities to actually demonstrate their courage and determination during combat. The movie climaxes with their final, suicidal assault in 1863 on the impregnable Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina – it fails but ultimately turned the tide of the war. The film also features strong performances by Denzel Washington (in a star-making role) as bitter, ex-slave recruit Pvt. Trip, Morgan Freeman (as Sgt. Major John Rawlins), and Cary Elwes (as Major Cabot Forbes), as well as a Grammy-winning, powerful score by James Horner accompanied by The Harlem Boys Choir. Academy Award Nominations: 5, including Best Art/Set Decoration, Best Film Editing. Academy Awards: 3, Best Supporting Actor–Denzel Washington, Best Cinematography (Freddie Francis), Best Sound Editing.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach
Director: Sergio Leone
The third and final installment (but actual a prequel) in under-rated Italian director Sergio Leone’s The Man with No Name epic trilogy, this is perhaps the best-known “spaghetti western” of all-time. ‘The Man with No Name’ was Eastwood’s star-making role, after appearances in the previous A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965). Elements of his character can be found in his later anti-hero cop “Dirty” Harry Callahan character in Dirty Harry (1971). As with Leone’s other westerns, this film is viciously violent and machismo in tone, but buoyed by the classic, instantly-recognizable, twanging Ennio Morricone score. In this sweeping, stylistic, and operatic film, The Man with No Name (but dubbed Blondie) (Eastwood) is the unsmiling anti-hero “Good” guy, Angel Eyes Sentenza (Van Cleef) serves as the vile and ruthless “Bad” guy, and Tuco Ramirez (Wallach) provides the greedy, talkative, clownish and self-centered “Ugly”. With very little dialogue, lots of closeups, and vast widescreen landscapes, the film’s plot, set during the Civil War, concerns the acquisition of a treasure chest of $200,000 in stolen Confederate gold buried in a grave at a faraway location. All three of the main characters, basically amoral, anti-social bounty hunters, outlaws, and murderers, are forced to form an uneasy partnership or alliance, leading to the film’s climactic graveyard shootout in which the opportunistic desperados find themselves facing off one last time for the fortune. [In 2003, a special restored and extended English language version, almost three hours in length with about 15 minutes of previously-cut scenes, was released that used the original Italian release cut, with Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach dubbing in their voices to scenes that were cut from the USA release.] No Academy Award Nominations.
The Great Dictator (1940)
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Jack Oakie, Paulette Goddard, Reginald Gardiner
Director: Charlie Chaplin
In his first full “talkie” (in a film similar to the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933)) and his most financially-successful film, Chaplin plays a dual role as: (1) Adenoid Hynkel, the great dictator of the film’s title – the power-mad, despotic ruler and Fooey (Fuhrer) of the fictional European nation of Tomania, and (2) an un-named, humble, amnesiac Jewish barber (with some resemblance to Chaplin’s Little Tramp character who was retired at the end of Modern Times (1936)) who returns years after being a soldier in World War I to discover that his long-abandoned shop is now part of the Jewish ghetto, occupied by thuggish Aryan stormtroopers of the Double Cross (rather than a swastika). The Jewish barber is mistaken for the country’s tyrannical dictator Hynkel, who is
obviously a mocking satire of Adolf Hitler, complete with his squared-off mustache and Nazi-ish uniform. An additional burlesque portrait of Italy’s tyrannical Benito Mussolini is in the character of Benzino Napaloni (Oakie), Dictator of the rival country of Bacteria. The film’s message was made even more powerful by the satire, making fun of their demagoguery, fascism and anti-Semitism. Chaplin’s bold and controversial parody, with its social and political commentary, was banned in occupied Europe, South America and Ireland. Some believed that Chaplin was trivializing the Nazi’s violent rise to power; however, the film had entered production in 1938, when most Americans viewed Adolf Hitler as an ally (not an enemy), and were opposed to entering WWII. It was released before the United States’ entry into World War II (in 1941) and before knowledge of the Holocaust. One of the film’s most famous scenes is Hynkel playing with an inflated balloon-globe of Planet Earth in a graceful, ballet-like sequence; also the pudding scene, and the one of the barber shaving a customer in time to a radio broadcast of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5. The most powerful moment is when the barber (disguised as Hynkel) delivers a six-minute impassioned monologue (often interpreted as Chaplin’s own plea) at the end of the film for peace, hope, human rights, understanding and world tolerance. The film earned Chaplin three Oscar nominations. Academy Award Nominations: 5, including Best Picture, Best Actor–Charlie Chaplin, Best Supporting Actor–Jack Oakie, Best Screenplay–Charlie Chaplin, Best Score.
Groundhog Day (1993)
ng: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky
Director: Harold Ramis
Self-centered, pompous and cynical Pittsburgh weatherman Phil Connors (Murray) is forced to repeat his most unfavorite day, Groundhog Day (February 2nd), over and over again in this hysterically-funny, allegorical romantic fantasy-comedy. His assignment, for the sixth year, is to cover the famous Punxsutawney (PA) Phil — the “official” groundhog — a furry animal that predicts if Spring will have to wait another six weeks if it sees its own shadow. The thought-provoking story line by co-scriptwriter Danny Rubin, a meaningful existential thesis, was more or less a version of the Oscar-nominated, live-action short film 12:01 PM (1990) by Jonathan Heap, which was later expanded into a feature-length, science-fiction TV film titled 12:01 (1993), directed by Jack Sholder. The exact reason for the countless time-warp loop is never explained as the same day endlessly repeats itself, not even interrupted by Connors’ numerous deaths and suicide attempts. As an Everyman stuck in repeating time, Phil’s reaction to his situation moves from disbelief and denial, to annoyance and then anger, to chicanery and lustfulness, to despair and depression, and then to bargaining and finally to acceptance and philanthropy, as exemplified by his repeated dealings with the supremely annoying insurance salesman named “Needlenose” Ned Ryerson (Tobolowsky). Perhaps Murray’s own Phil must remove the shadow from his own life, change his behavior, and become a better person before he can continue it. His relentless deja-vu experiences gradually change him from a grouch to a decent human being. Perhaps his life’s wake-up call and endless reincarnations assist him in perfectly winning the heart of beautiful TV producer Rita (MacDowell). The comedy was part of a series of Bill Murray-starring comedies in the early 1990’s, including Quick Change (1990) (which he also co-directed), Frank Oz’ What About Bob? (1991), and Mad Dog and Glory (1993). Groundhog Day had fair box-office business and earned good reviews, but was completely overlooked by the Academy. No Academy Award Nominations.


Halloween (1978)
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis
Director: John Carpenter
A genuinely scary, stylistic and tasteful, extremely well-crafted slasher/horror classic from young film director/writer John Carpenter, with the tagline: “The Night HE Came Home!” The efficiently-suspenseful, surprise hit film, with a jarring musical theme, grossed over $60 million – and became one of the most successful independent films ever made. This PG-rated, low-budget film (filmed in only twenty days) invented many of the “slasher” film cliches (along with its predecessors: George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), the big-budget The Exorcist (1973), and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)), but also paid homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) in the initial murder of the film. The film told about a psychotic, criminally-insane murderer, Michael Myers, who was on a homicidal rampage after escape from an institution, and on Halloween night terrorized his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. It also launched the career of Jamie Lee Curtis (dubbed the “Scream Queen”) in her film debut, as resourceful, teenaged baby-sitter Laurie who is terrorized in a house, and starred Donald Pleasance as the obsessed psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (the name of the boyfriend character in Psycho (1960)) in pursuit. Unfortunately, the serial killer slasher film spawned many run-of-the-mill inferior sequels of its own, and other imitation films (When a Stranger Calls (1979), Don’t Go In The House (1980), Friday the 13th (1980) and its numerous sequels, He Knows You’re Alone (1980), Prom Night (1980), Graduation Day (1981) and Happy Birthday to Me (1981), and more with the character names of Jason and Freddy). No Academy Award Nominations.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Starring: Barbara Hershey, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Maureen O’Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan, Max Von Sydow, Woody Allen, Carrie Fisher, Julie Kavner
Director: Woody Allen
Woody Allen’s masterful, insightful comedy/drama about contemporary New Yorkers. This episodic film is full of vignettes woven together, and features some of the sharpest direction and writing of Allen’s career. The threaded-together, multiple storylines, very typical of an ensemble film, focus on the lives of three sisters during a traditional Thanksgiving dinner gathering: the eldest sister – homemaker and ‘matriarch’ Hannah (Farrow), the neurotic middle sister – actress Holly (Wiest in an Oscar-winning performance), and the emotional, free-spirited Lee (Hershey), and their relationships in mid-life crisis. There are other fully-developed characters all playing out their neuroses and lives: Hannah’s ex-husband Mickey (Allen) who has a despairing obsession with death, illness, and unhappiness; older and cynical Soho artist Frederick (Von Sydow) who lives with Lee; Hannah’s adulterous, financial accountant husband Elliot (Caine, also in an Oscar-winning role), who has a torrid but shallow love affair with Lee behind Hannah’s and Frederick’s backs; and Holly’s desperate struggle to prove herself to the world. Even the peripheral characters are believable: the sisters’ embittered show business parents (O’Sullivan and Nolan), Holly’s best friend and rival April (Fisher), as well as Mickey’s assistant and voice of reason Gail (Kavner). Although considered by some to be Allen’s best work, it lost to Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) for Best Picture. Academy Award Nominations: 7, including Best Picture, Best Director–Woody Allen, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration. Academy Awards: 3, including Best Supporting Actor–Michael Caine, Best Supporting Actress–Dianne Wiest, Best Original Screenplay–Woody Allen.

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell
Director: Richard Lester
The Beatles’ first charming, wacky, original and impish movie was released not long after the Fab Four’s landmark debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. At first thought to be a cross-promotional exploitation of their phenomenal ‘Beatlemania’, even critics agreed that it was an inventive, funny and ingenious musical comedy that later helped to inspire the music video craze. Innovative American director Richard Lester used the same type of goofy humor and imaginative visuals from his earlier experimental, grainy, hand-held short film, The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film (1959) starring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, along with black-and-white film stock and a semi-documentary style. Screenwriter Alun Owen based his Oscar-nominated script on the group’s frenzied popularity, supplemented by musical interludes of concert footage. The frantic film documents thirty-six hours of the group’s life as they are on their way to London for a TV performance, marked by the memorable opening intercut to the title song – as the Liverpool group is chased by screaming, hysterical teenage girls while they board a train. The rock-and-roll stars express their charming, laid-back, and saucy personalities in this slice-of-life film that fictionalized their lives — best exemplified during their interview scenes with their dry, playful one-liner responses (Reporter: “Are you a mod, or a rocker?” Ringo: “Um, no. I’m a mocker”). Wilfrid Brambell also plays Ringo’s “very clean,” eccentric grandfather who serves as the film’s trouble-maker. The Academy’s membership unjustly overlooked the now-classic songs in the film’s un-nominated soundtrack in favor of those from Mary Poppins (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”), Dear Heart, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Robin and the 7 Hoods (“My Kind of Town”), and Where Love Has Gone. However, George Martin, the Beatles’ producer often recognized as the “Fifth Beatle,” was nominated for Best Adapted Score. The Beatles as a group would later star in Help! (1965), Yellow Submarine (1968) and the documentary that showed their breakup, Let It Be (1970). Other ‘British invasion’ bands copied this work with their own film projects, such as the Dave Clark Five’s Having a Wild Weekend (aka Catch Us If You Can) (1965). The Monkees’ mid-60’s TV-show was also an offshoot of this film. Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Original Screenplay–Alun Owen, Best Music Score–George Martin.
Henry V (1944) and
Henry V (1989) (tie)
Starring (1944): Laurence Olivier, Robert Newton, Leslie Banks, Esmond Knight, Renee Asherson, George Robey, Leo Genn
Director (1944): Laurence Olivier
Starring (1989): Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Alec McCowen, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Paul Scofield, Emma Thompson
Director (1989): Kenneth Branagh
Two adaptations of William Shakespeare’s timeless, epic play Henry V – about young, 15th century British King Henry’s invasion of France, and his victory at the crucial Battle of Agincourt against a larger French force. The story has been told by these two actors/directors in highly-regarded versions separated by almost four decades: the great Laurence Olivier (with his directorial debut) and the powerful Kenneth Branagh (with his debut as both screenwriter and director). While the two films cover the same play and feature the same level of directorial ability and a similar level of acting skill by the ensemble casts surrounding them, there is a marked difference between the films. Olivier’s Technicolor epic Henry V (1944), (aka The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France), the first radical reinterpretation of the play, is more intimate and theatrical (the film opens on a bare Elizabethan stage, the Globe Theater, in the style of a play in the 1600s, and then expands outward from there), while Branagh’s revisionistic Henry V (1989) is more dramatic, grandiose, passionate and darkly serious. Branagh’s wife Emma Thompson stars as French princess Catherine of Valois, whom Henry takes as his bride. A play chiefly about royal responsibility, war and its effects, the nature of both films was deeply affected by the historical context in which they were created — Olivier had intended Henry V to be a rallying morale booster for Britain at the height of WWII, while Branagh’s film debuted during a post-Vietnam era when there was greater cynicism about war. Both films’ highlights, however, remain the same — Henry V’s pre-battle speech to his troops at the siege of Harfleur, from Act III, Scene 1, beginning with the stirring line: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our English dead,” and his St. Crispin’s Day address to his battle-weary men, from Act IV, Scene 3, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” Olivier was given an Honorary Oscar as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the silver screen. Academy Award Nominations (1946): 4, including Best Picture, Best Actor–Laurence Olivier, Best Color Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Best Music Score–William Walton. Academy Award Nominations (1989): 3, including Best Actor–Kenneth Branagh, Best Director–Kenneth Branagh. Academy Awards: 1, Best Costume Design (Phyllis Dalton).
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Starring: Charles Laughton, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Thomas Mitchell, Maureen O’Hara, Edmond O’Brien
Director: William Dieterle
One of the many film adaptations of the classic Victor Hugo ‘beauty and the beast’ novel about a deaf, hunch-backed, outcast bellringer in the Notre Dame Cathedral tower in medieval 15th century Paris, who falls for a beautiful gypsy girl named Esmeralda (O’Hara in her first major role), amidst spiteful jealousy by villainous and sinister Chief Justice Jean Frollo (Hardwicke). This 1939 black and white film version from German expressionistic director Dieterle, the first made during the sound era, is rivaled only by the 1923 silent version starring Lon Chaney. Charles Laughton, in arguably his best acting performance of his career, was almost unrecognizable as the disfigured and mis-shapen, but sympathetic title character named Quasimodo. One of the biggest budget films of its era, the sets are imposing, the cast is first rate, and the script is excellent, noted for its thrilling scene of the hunchback’s rescue of Esmeralda from being hanged on a scaffold, by swinging to her on a rope and whisking her back to Notre Dame, while crying “Sanctuary, Sanctuary.” Also remembered for Esmeralda’s offering of water to Quasimodo after a brutal public flogging in the public square, and the bellringer’s heartbreaking closing line to a gargoyle atop the church: “Why was I not made of stone like thee?” Also remade as Notre Dame de Paris (1957) with Anthony Quinn in the title role, and as a 1996 Disney musical with an Oscar-nominated score by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Music Score–Alfred Newman, Best Sound Recording.


In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant, Scott Wilson
Director: Norman Jewison
An intense whodunit detective story thriller set in the little town of Sparta, Mississippi during a hot summer, with an innovative score by Quincy Jones and title song sung by Ray Charles. Norman Jewison masterfully directed this murder melodrama from a screenplay by Stirling Silliphant that was based on John Ball’s novel. The film’s posters proclaimed: “They got a murder on their hands. They don’t know what to do with it.” The liberal-minded film, realistically-filmed by cinematographer Haskell Wexler (who had just filmed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and would later go on to Coming Home (1978)), was a milestone for the racially-divided mid-60s because it forced the odd-couple collaboration of a bigoted but shrewd, redneck Southern sheriff named Bill Gillespie (Steiger) and a lone, intelligently-clever black homicide expert from Philadelphia named Virgil Tibbs (Poitier). The film, with a non-white actor in a lead acting role, was so controversial that it couldn’t be filmed in the Deep South, so the sets were recreated in various small towns in two states: Sparta, Freeburg, and Belleville, Illinois, and Dyersburg, Tennessee. Following the success of this film, Sidney Poitier reprised his Virgil Tibbs character in two other films: he investigated the murder of a prostitute in the sequel They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970), and battled against a drug smuggling ring in The Organization (1971). Academy Award Nominations: 7, including Best Director–Norman Jewison and Best Sound Effects Editing. Academy Awards: 5, including Best Picture, Best Actor–Rod Steiger, Best Adapted Screenplay–Stirling Silliphant, Best Film Editing, Best Sound.
Inherit the Wind (1960)
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly, Dick York, Donna Anderson, Harry Morgan
Director: Stanley Kramer
This, absorbing liberal “message” film portrays the famous and dramatic courtroom “Monkey Trial” battle (in the sultry summer of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee) between two famous lawyers (Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan), who heatedly argue both sides of the case. Film-maker Stanley Kramer both produced and directed this film that modified and slightly disguised the historical event by changing the names of the prototypical characters and making them fictional figures, and placing the action in fictional Hillsboro, Tennessee. Its story centers around the issue of evolution vs. creationism and the prosecution of 24 year-old Tennessee teacher John T. Scopes (in the film, Bert Cates played by Dick York) for violating state law by teaching Darwin’s theories of evolution. [In fact, Scopes deliberately agreed to challenge the Tennessee legislature’s statutes and become the test case for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) by teaching theories that denied the Biblical story of the divine creation of man.] The film’s title was taken from the Biblical book of Proverbs 11:29: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” Kramer’s film was also designed as a protest against the repressive thinking of the 50s McCarthy era. Much of the film’s story (and dialogue), written into a screenplay by Nathan E. Douglas (Nedrick Young was the blacklisted screenwriter’s real name) and Harold Jacob Smith, was based on the successful Broadway play (by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee) that first starred Paul Muni and Ed Begley. The film stars two major Oscar-winning giants and veterans of the cinema with remarkable career-high performances – Spencer Tracy (as Darrow- Henry Drummond) and Fredric March (as Bryan – Matthew Harrison Brady) – who had never before acted together in a film. And Gene Kelly, cast against type, plays cynical newspaper columnist E. K. Hornbeck, a character based on the acid-penned writer/reporter H. L. Mencken. The film was remade three times on television, in 1965, 1988 and 1999. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Actor–Spencer Tracy, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best B/W Cinematography, Best Film Editing.


Jailhouse Rock (1957)
: Elvis Presley, Judy Tyler, Mickey Shaughnessy, Vaughn Taylor, Jennifer Holden, Dean Jones, Anne Neyland
Director: Richard Thorpe
A great black and white B-film, and considered the best, most popular, and most famous of Elvis Presley’s musicals (his third film out of over 30 films from the late 50s through the 60s) – and slightly parallels the rocker’s own life. Presley plays cocky, quick-tempered Vince Everett, who is serving a one-year jail sentence for accidental manslaughter. While in jail, his cellmate Hunk Houghton (Shaughnessy), a former veteran country singer, mentors him to learn guitar and sing, and persuades him to enter the prison talent show. After his release from incarceration, the budding rock star is introduced to the record business. Struggling to break into the music industry, he decides to form his own record label, and becomes an overnight sensation. After being seduced by the decadent lifestyle of a pop star, he becomes rebellious and unwilling to work with his former cellmate and Peggy Van Alden (Tyler), his loyal and pretty girlfriend/talent scout/record promoter. [Judy Tyler (formerly Princess Summerfall Winterspring on the Howdy Doody TV show) tragically died in a car crash before the film was released.] This pre-Army film is filled with Presley classics, especially the wonderfully-choreographed set piece for “Jailhouse Rock,” as well as the other memorable numbers including “I Want to Be Free,” “Treat Me Nice,” “Baby, I Don’t Care,” “You’re So Square,” and the two tender ballads: “Young and Beautiful” and “Don’t Leave Me Now.” Presley’s most memorable films also include Love Me Tender (1956), King Creole (1958), G.I. Blues (1960), Blue Hawaii (1961), and Viva Las Vegas (1964). No Academy Award Nominations.
JFK (1991)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman
Director: Oliver Stone
A controversial, speculatively revisionistic, historical epic surrounding onetime New Orleans DA Jim Garrison’s (Costner) investigation of the John F. Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963. Director/co-writer Oliver Stone based his intriguing interpretation in this docu-film thriller on the well-publicized and alleged conspiracy theories of the obsessed attorney about the mystery of the death, based upon the testimony of a number of unreliable witnesses.
This complex, provocative courtroom film features a cavalcade of stars, with cameos and supporting roles by such actors as Tommy Lee Jones (in an Oscar-nominated role as Clay Shaw, the CIA agent whom Garrison charges with the murder of Kennedy), Joe Pesci, Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland (as the mysterious “X”), Laurie Metcalf, Walter Matthau, John Candy, Vincent D’Onofio, Sally Kirkland, Ed Asner, Kevin Bacon, Wayne Knight, Michael Rooker, Gary Oldman (as accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald), and Garrison himself as Justice Earl Warren. Stone employs innovative, masterful and impressive film editing (with quick cuts and use of various film stocks) through the work of Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia (who won Oscars), and he creates, through gripping cinematography, a tense, kinetic atmosphere that mirrors the whirlwind of memories, incidents and scenarios that play out in Garrison’s mind. The trial scene in the last half of the film features three very memorable segments: an analysis of the famous Zapruder film, the scornful rejection of the Magic Bullet theory, and Garrison’s impassioned closing argument, finishing with him staring directly into the camera, and saying: “It’s up to you.” The movie also features stirring music by John Williams that accentuates the emotional themes. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor–Tommy Lee Jones, Best Director–Oliver Stone, Best Adapted Screenplay–Oliver Stone & Zachary Sklar, Best Original Score–John Williams, Best Sound Editing. Academy Awards: 2, Best Editing, Best Cinematography (Robert Richardson).
Key Largo (1948)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor
Director: John Huston
An intelligent, exciting, theatrical, but moody, downbeat crime drama/thriller (and melodramatic film noir) about a bullying, fugitive gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson), who is on-the-run with fellow mobsters and his alcoholic lush moll and ex-nightclub singer, Gaye Dawn (Trevor). In a Florida Keys hotel in the off-season during a violent, tropical hurricane, the snarling Rocco waits for counterfeit money, prepares to flee to Cuba, and holds the various residents hostage: Frank McCloud (Bogart), a disillusioned, returning war-scarred veteran who is visiting the newly-widowed Nora Temple (Bacall) and her wheelchair-bound father-in-law and hotel manager James Temple (Barrymore) – the father of his friend that died under his WWII command in Italy. Adapted from Maxwell Anderson’s stage play by director Huston and Richard Brooks, the plot resembles Bogart’s earlier film The Petrified Forest (1936). Bogart and Bacall would never star together again on the big screen, after having previously worked together in the classic films To Have and Have Not (1942) (which Key Largo resembled in its dark tone), The Big Sleep (1946), Two Guys from Milwaukee (1946), and Dark Passage (1947). Huston also directed Bogart in, among other films, The Maltese Falcon (1942), The African Queen (1951) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Academy Awards: 1, Best Supporting Actress–Claire Trevor.
The Kid (1921)
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length film (six reels) as a director. A sentimental, charming semi-autobiographical tale with both humor and pathos about Chaplin’s famous Little Tramp character adopting an abandoned infant from a woman “whose sin was motherhood.” An inter-title stated that it’s “a picture with a smile—and perhaps, a tear.” After the Little Tramp unsuccessfully tries to find a home for the child, he assumes responsibility, raises him for five years, and teaches the kid (Coogan) to survive on the streets as a con artist. [Coogan, discovered in vaudeville in Los Angeles and one of the biggest child stars of the era, would later become Uncle Fester on the television show The Addams Family.] Later, the desperate unwed mother (Purviance) seeks to regain custody through social welfare workers in a heartwrenching, melodramatic moment. Along with hysterical slapstick humor in various bits, the most engaging part is the fantasy dream sequence in which the Tramp sits on a doorway stoop and dreams of a blissful, happier life in Heaven, with the poor transformed into white winged angels. [One of the flirtatious “temptress angels” is 12 year-old Lita Grey, Chaplin’s second wife four years later due to pregnancy.] Chaplin would continue making silent films well beyond the advent of “talkies” until his first full-length sound picture The Great Dictator (1940). Fifty years after the film’s original release, Chaplin composed an original orchestral musical score for the film, and re-edited the film by deleting about 6 minutes of scenes (involving the character of the kid’s mother).
The Killing (1956)
Starring: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook, Jr., Timothy Carey
Director: Stanley Kubrick
A stylish film noir crime drama, and the definitive heist-caper movie – Kubrick’s third film and first successful one, although highly under-rated when released. The tale is about a desperate gang of anti-hero misfits and lowlifes (in an ensemble cast) led by a grim, determined, and recently-released-from-jail con Johnny Clay (Hayden). The group devises and executes a complex, carefully-timed racetrack heist of $2 million – that goes terribly wrong, similar to Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950) (also with Hayden). The plan is to cause simultaneous, diversionary confusion by shooting one of the racehorses in mid-race and instigating a bar fight, thereby allowing Johnny to rob the main track offices and seize the day’s takings. The gang includes racetrack teller George Peatty (Cook), a pathetic wimp and loser who is easily tricked by his devious, scheming femme fatale wife Sherry (Windsor) into revealing the details of the heist to pass to her adulterous lover Val Cannon (Edwards, the future doctor Ben Casey on a TV series), who plans to take the loot at the rendezvous point once the robbery has been accomplished. The entire movie is presented non-chronologically in a winding fashion (with flashforwards and flashbacks), and played out in a series of tense, black-comedy scenes with swift transitions. The doom-laden, voice-over dialogue was derived from Lionel White’s novel Clean Break. The film has influenced many heist films, including the original Ocean’s Eleven (1960) (also remade in 2001). With excellent cinematography by Lucien Ballard, but ignored completely by the Academy, although this work would influence filmmakers for decades after – most notably Guy Ritchie and crime drama auteur Quentin Tarantino and his film Reservoir Dogs. No Academy Award Nominations.
The King of Comedy (1983)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard, Shelley Hack
Director: Martin Scorsese
Scorsese’s original, under-appreciated dark comedy – a stark contrast to his own Taxi Driver (1976), about the bizarre relationship between stardom, the cult of celebrity, and violence-prone wannabe obsessed fans, similar to Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957). With Robert De Niro (in his fourth film with Scorsese) as a wimpy, aspiring stand-up comedian named Rupert Pupkin, a man in his mid-30’s who still lives with his mother (only heard off-screen). The untalented and self-deluded Rupert worships fame and is determined to become a celebrity. He is totally obsessed with late-night talk show host Jerry Langford (Lewis, playing the role absolutely straight in his best dramatic role ever), a Johnny Carson-esque character (the part was originally written for Johnny Carson), and stalks his ‘love’ object at his show. He brazenly appears unannounced at Langford’s country estate with an embarrassed date-friend Rita (Abbott, De Niro’s wife at the time). Later, with the help of an equally deranged, amorous fan and talk-show groupie Masha (Bernhard, who won Best Supporting Actress with the National Society of Film Critics), Rupert kidnaps Langford and demands as ransom that he get to do the opening monologue one night on Langford’s show, and be named the new “King of Comedy.” Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Zimmerman manage to pull off a story that is not only chilling and spooky, but geniunely funny, yet the film was so far ahead of its time that it flopped at the box-office upon release. The film garnered numerous acclaims and awards in foreign countries, such as five BAFTA nominations for De Niro, Lewis, Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker (for Best Editing) and Zimmerman, who won Best Original Screenplay. No Academy Award Nominations.
Kings Row (1942)
Starring: Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings, Ronald Reagan, Betty Field, Claude Rains, Nancy Coleman, Charles Coburn
Director: Sam Wood
A thought-provoking, emotional, melodramatic, ‘Peyton Place‘-like film with a turn-of-the-century, small-town setting that reveals evil, sadism, cruelty, and depravity. Directed by Sam Wood and with James Wong Howe’s cinematography and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s magnificently rich score, the tragic Warner Bros. film presents a compelling, penetrating and difficult story with eloquence and power. Wood had previously directed two Marx Brothers films, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), Our Town (1940), Kitty Foyle (1940), Raffles (1940), and The Devil and Miss Jones (1941). Its screenplay by Casey Robinson was based upon Henry Bellamann’s widely-read, scandalous 1940 novel of small-town life at the turn of the century. The film’s tagline commented on the nature of the town: “The town they talk of in whispers.” The film’s main characters were originally five childhood friends, including an idealistic young doctor Parris Mitchell (Cummings), a pretty tomboyish working class girl Randy Monaghan (Sheridan), the neurotic sheltered daughter Cassie (Field) of the town’s Dr. Alexander Tower (Rains), the daughter Louise Gordon (Coleman) of a sadistic, morally-righteous doctor (Coburn), and playboy Drake McHugh (Reagan in his best film role), with the unforgettable scene of his realization that his legs have been amputated and his exclamation: “Where’s the rest of me?” — this would become the title of 40th President Reagan’s 1965 autobiography. The Hays Code of 1934 required that much of the questionable, unfilmable content of the novel be modified – eliminating or seriously muting subjects such as illicit premarital sex, homosexuality, a sadistic and vengeful surgeon, and father-daughter incest leading to a murder-suicide. The wartime film’s nominations all lost to William Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver (1942). Academy Award Nominations: 3, including: Best Picture, Best Director–Sam Wood, Best B/W Cinematography.
Koyaanisqatsi (1983)
Director: Godfrey Reggio
A powerful, unconventional, experimental and provocative script-less, actor-less, and dialogue-less film (except for the chanting of Hopi prophecy at the end), from director Godfrey Reggio – his first attempt at a feature-length narrative film. Considered both revolutionary and pretentious, this unique work with incredible, expert time-lapse photography is insightful about humankind and our relationship to nature, and explores the world in ways we usually never see due to our limited perceptions. The title was taken from a Hopi Indian word, meaning, among other things, “Life (a world) out of balance.” This hypnotic, multimedia film supported by both Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas illustrates the collision of the natural world with urban, technological life and civilization. Koyaanisqatsi features images and scenes that are truly haunting and linger long after the film is over, like the empty shells of the Pruitt-Igoe housing in St. Louis, the alternating shots between satellite photos of human cities and the landscapes of micro-chip circuitry, and the final shot of a V2 rocket exploding, as the camera follows the free-fall of a charred chunk to the ground. Clouds over the Grand Canyon appear as roiling waves of a white ocean, or reflected in a towering skyscraper, and city streets with streaks of brake lights from commuter’s vehicles look like blood vessels in the circulatory system. Philip Glass’ stunningly creative, minimalist score plays as large a part as the cinematography (by Ron Fricke), and beautifully complements this artistic film. Followed by two sequels in a Qatsi trilogy, of sorts: the equally powerful Powaqqatsi (1988) (life in transformation) focusing on Third World countries, and the lesser Naqoyqatsi (2003) (life as war). No Academy Award Nominations.


L. A. Confidential (1997)
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny De Vito, David Strathairn, Ron Rifkin
Directors: Curtis Hanson
A gritty, violent, thrilling film noirish tale of sex, conspiracy, scandal, double-cross and betrayal, racism and corruption in early 1950’s LA, committed by the police, politicians, and the press. The film pays homage to Robert Towne’s earlier noir-based film Chinatown (1974) set in the same City of Angels, and the classics The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946). Based on a thriller novel by James Ellroy, the film is about the intertwining lives of three very diverse LAPD officers (in an ensemble cast) who use incompatible methods while tackling a multiple murder scene at the all-night diner the Night Owl. Brutal, hot-tempered tough cop Bud Smith (Crowe) uses muscle and violence, while moralistic, clean-cut, college-educated rookie Ed Exley (Pearce) is law-abiding, idealistic, and does everything “by the book.” A third narcotics cop, smooth Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Spacey) moonlights as a technical advisor for a sleazy Dragnet-style TV cop show and provides scandal-fodder for celebrity tabloid magazine Hush-Hush (headed by amoral editor-in-chief Sid Hudgens (De Vito) whose trademark closing line for all articles is: “You heard it here first, off the record, on the ‘QT’, and very hush-hush”). All three are overseen by sinister Captain Dudley Smith (Cromwell), who seems resigned to the corruption in the city and in his own police force. Kim Basinger, in a supporting Oscar-winning role, plays high-class femme fatale Lynn Bracken (a Veronica Lake look-alike through surgical enhancements) who works for a pornographer (Strathairn) who hires out celebrity look-alike prostitutes. Academy Award Nominations: 9, including Best Picture, Best Director–Curtis Hanson, Best Cinematography–Dante Spinotti, Best Original Dramatic Score–Jerry Goldsmith, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Sound Editing. Academy Awards: 2, including Best Supporting Actress–Kim Basinger, Best Adapted Screenplay–Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland.
The Lady From Shanghai (1948)
Starring: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted de Corsia
Director: Orson Welles
Welles’ imaginative, complicated, unsettling film noir who-dun-it thriller – a B/W tale of betrayal, lust, greed and murder. With fascinating visuals and tilting compositions, luminous and brilliant camerawork (by Charles Lawton, Jr.), and numerous sub-plots and confounding plot twists. Orson Welles served as director, producer, screenplay writer, and actor, and based his screenplay upon Sherwood King’s 1938 novel If I Die Before I Wake. The moody film, originally titled Take This Woman and then Black Irish, was made when major stars Orson Welles and sexy Rita Hayworth (with dyed and bobbed bleached-blonde hair) in her last film under contract to Columbia Pictures) were still married although estranged and drifting apart. Poor Irish seaman Michael O’Hara (Welles), after rescuing Mrs. Elsa ‘Rosalie’ Bannister (Hayworth) and becoming mesmerized by her – the enigmatic wife of a crippled San Francisco trial lawyer named Arthur Bannister (Sloane), he joins her yachting cruise as a crew member from New York to San Francisco (via the Panama Canal), and finds himself embroiled in a love affair and a mysterious plot (to kill Bannister’s creepy business partner George Grisby (Anders)) that turns deadly and implicates him in murder. [The numerous close-ups of Rita Hayworth in the film were later added by Welles in Hollywood upon orders of the studio, to lend strength to her ‘star’ power.] The film, told through O’Hara’s narration, was shot on locations including Acapulco, San Francisco, and at Columbia Studios sets, and features numerous classic set-pieces including: the aquarium scene, and the funhouse and Hall of Mirrors shoot-out climax. Ultimately, the film’s length was severely cut down by one hour, creating an almost incomprehensible, discontinuous, cryptic patchwork from numerous retakes and substantial edits. Although it was filmed in late 1946 and finished in early 1947, it wasn’t released until late in 1948. The film was mostly ignored – it failed both at the box-office and as a critical success. This was Welles’ last Hollywood film until the making of Touch of Evil (1958) ten years later. No Academy Award Nominations.
The Last Emperor (1987)
Starring: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole, Ruocheng Ying, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Vivian Wu
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
One of the most successful films ever, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci’s lavish epic biography of Pu Yi, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty of China (the “Lord of ten thousand years and Son of Heaven”) before the Communist revolution deposed him. Based in part on Pu Yi’s autobiography, From Emperor to Citizen, Bertolucci garnered unprecedented support and permission from the Chinese government, something no other Western film company had received since 1949. This was the first film ever to be shot in the Forbidden City in the People’s Republic of China, aside from the Lucy Jarvis documentary Forbidden City (1973). The grand, sweeping, character-driven story, told through flashbacks, follows the bittersweet life of the boy emperor born in 1906, who first sat in the Dragon Throne at the age of three — memorably depicted by the imagery of the scene in which the restless young boy leaps up and pushes away a billowing yellow drapery – and sees thousands of his loyal costumed eunuch-servants bowing before him. He was literally a puppet – imprisoned within the gilded walls of the Forbidden City, and never allowed to leave its gates. In 1912, at the age of 7, he formally abdicated the throne, and remained a powerless figurehead Emperor, receiving tutoring from Scottish Reginald Johnston (O’Toole) in the ways of the West. In 1924 during a period of civil war, he was ousted from the Forbidden City (along with his opium-addicted empress Wan Jung (Chen) and official consort Wen Hsiu (Mei)) and moved to his native, Japanese-controlled Manchuria, where he served as a puppet emperor backed by the Japanese. After World War II, he was held prisoner as a pro-Japanese war criminal – first by the Russians, and then by the Communist Chinese for ten years, until being freed at the dawn of the Cultural Revolution. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, as a dispassionate young adult (Lone), Pu Yi wears Western clothes and wistfully croons “Am I Blue” – a silent cry for salvation from his boredom and entrapment. By film’s end, his new life as a lowly gardener in Peking in the late 1960s is finally happy and free, and in a poignant scene as an elderly man, he revisits the Forbidden City, now open to tourists. One of the few films that won all of its Academy Award nominations. Academy Awards: 9, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay–Bernardo Bertolucci, Best Music Score, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography (Vittorio Storaro), Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing.
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Starring: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Jean-Pierre Léaud
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial, landmark X-rated film initiated a trend for arthouse films to include explicit erotic content. It told about a primal sexual affair between middle-aged, bitter and grieving hotel owner Paul (Brando in his seventh and last Best Actor-nominated role) whose wife had committed suicide and a 20-year old French student Jeanne (Schneider) who was engaged to be married to Tom (Léaud), a film director who was making a cinema verite film about her. Upon meeting in an apartment both are looking to rent, Paul forces himself violently on Jeanne sexually, bordering on rape, and begins a torrid, sexually perverse but anonymous ‘no questions asked’ affair with her (they don’t know each other’s names) that becomes increasingly vile, unromantic and scatological. His set of rules was notable for the time: “We are going to forget everything we knew – everything”. The pure sexual nature of their relationship included the bathtub washing scene and the infamous, disturbing, and explicit sodomy (butter-lubricated anal sex) scene on the floor (“Get the butter”). Later, Paul reciprocated by letting Jeanne penetrate him anally with her fingers – part of his objective to “look death right in the face…go right up into the ass of death… till you find the womb of fear.” Predictably, the film ended with his violent death on the balcony when she shot him with her father’s gun. The film remains the sole still-mature rated (X, NC-17) film to earn Oscar nominations, alongside Ellen Burstyn’s Oscar nomination for Requiem for a Dream (2000). (Midnight Cowboy (1969) and The Exorcist (1973) were subsequently re-rated as R.) Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Actor–Marlon Brando, Best Director–Bernardo Bertolucci.
The Letter (1940)
Starring: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson, Gale Sondergaard, David Newell, Victor Sen Yung
Director: William Wyler
A classic melodramatic film noir of murder and deceit, effectively directed by William Wyler. The screenplay by Howard Koch was based on W. Somerset Maugham’s mid-1920s London stage play (with Gladys Cooper in the lead role). Then, it was a Broadway play that opened in 1927 (with Katharine Cornell), followed by Paramount Studios’ talkie of the same name in 1929 with Academy-Award nominated Jeanne Eagels (in her sound film debut) as the female protagonist. [It was the first full-length feature made at Paramount’s Long Island studio.] The film’s startling opening scene occurs on a moonlight night on the grounds of a Malaysian rubber plantation. The wife of the plantation owner, Leslie Crosbie (Davis) trails after Geoffrey Hammond (Newell) as he staggers from the bungalow’s porch, and pumps bullets into his body. She claims to her faithful, long-suffering husband Robert (Marshall) that Hammond, an old family friend, took advantage of her and that she acted in self-defense, but when lawyer Howard Joyce (Stephenson) is hired to defend her, a letter surfaces and reveals her real motives. One of the trailers for the film provocatively asked: “What are the forbidden secrets in the letter? What is the strange spell that made this woman defy the unwritten law of the Orient?” Hammond’s Eurasian widow (Sondergaard) uses the letter as part of a $10,000 blackmail scheme, demands a personal apology, and seeks the ultimate revenge. This great Bette Davis/Warner Bros. picture was positioned between the star’s All This and Heaven Too (1940) and The Great Lie (1941). Academy Award Nominations: 7, including Best Picture, Best Actress–Bette Davis, Best Supporting Actor–James Stephenson, Best Director–William Wyler, Best B/W Cinematography, Best Original Score–Max Steiner, Best Film Editing.
The Lion in Winter (1968)
Starring: Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton, Jane Merrow
Director: Anthony Harvey
An historical, dramatic tale of dysfunctional family intrigue set in the court of British King Henry II (O’Toole) in 1183, from James Goldman’s sharply written screenplay (adapted from his own play). Ten years earlier, Henry II had imprisoned his wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn, who won her third of four acting Oscars), as punishment for helping precipitate a civil war against him. His three treacherous sons who are also vying for the British throne consist of the eldest, the legendary and fiery Prince Richard the Lionhearted (Hopkins in his film debut), the quiet but dangerous middle son Prince Geoffrey (Castle), and the youngest, the manipulative and thieving scoundrel Prince John (Terry). The three sons and estranged wife Eleanor are summoned by Henry to the castle for a Christmas family reunion in Chinon, France. He has decided to name one of his three sons as his heir to the throne. Adding to the intrigue and plotting of who will be favored (Henry favors John, while Eleanor favors Richard), the teenaged but cunning monarch King Philip II of France (Dalton in his film debut) is also invited, with his older sister Princess Alais (Merrow) – Henry’s mistress. The film shines with the performances and dialogue between the two leads: 36-year old O’Toole as the 50 year-old monarch, and 61 year-old Hepburn as his younger wife. A cable television remake, The Lion in Winter (2003) starred Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close. Academy Award Nominations: 7, including Best Picture, Best Actor–Peter O’Toole, Best Director–Anthony Harvey, Best Costume Design. Academy Awards: 3, including Best Actress–Katharine Hepburn, Best Original Score–John Barry, Best Adapted Screenplay–James Goldman. (Note: Hepburn shared the Best Actress Oscar with Barbra Streisand, who tied Hepburn with her performance in Funny Girl (1968).)


A Man For All Seasons (1966)
Starring: Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern, Robert Shaw, Orson Welles, Susannah York, Nigel Davenport, John Hurt, Vanessa Redgrave
Director: Fred Zinnemann
The verbose, stagy, yet superb screen adaptation and historical period piece by Robert Bolt and Constance Willis from Bolt’s own stage play about the honorable Sir Thomas More (Scofield reprising his stage role in an Oscar-winning performance), Lord Chancellor of England, in a clash of ideals with King Henry VIII (Shaw, also Oscar-nominated). In the morality play of the conflict between church and state, More’s unflinching faithfulness to the Catholic Church forces him to refuse to acknowledge the petulant king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn (an unbilled Redgrave), and subsequent creation of the Anglican Church of England. When the stubborn king breaks with papal Rome, the steadfastly-principled, strictly-ethical, and pious More resigns his chancellorship, which eventually leads to his imprisonment and execution in the Tower of London for his disapproving silence and continual refusal to accept the new Church. In one scene, More defends himself in a Westminster court to a jury handpicked by Henry VIII, and is betrayed by the traitorous Master Richard Rich (Hurt), while Cardinal Wolsey (Welles) chides More for his foolish rectitude. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Supporting Actor–Robert Shaw, Best Supporting Actress–Wendy Hiller. Academy Awards: 6, including Best Picture, Best Actor–Paul Scofield, Best Director–Fred Zinnemann, Best Adapted Screenplay–Robert Bolt, Best Color Cinematography–Ted Moore, Best Color Costume Design.
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
Starring: Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Shakira Caine
Director: John Huston
An old-fashioned, rousing costume adventure film and morality tale told in flashback from writer/director John Huston and based on Anglo-Indian novelist Rudyard Kipling’s (Plummer) short story tale. [Huston had originally wanted to make the film in the 1940s, with Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable in the lead roles as soldiers of fortune.] Shot on location in Morocco, it is about two roguish British soldiers-adventurers, Peachy Carnehan (Caine) and Daniel Dravot (Connery) at the turn of the century who set out from Raj-ruled India. While serving as military officers in the remote city of Kafiristan in E. Afghanistan (a province now called Nuristan), the pair are mistaken for gods or kings by the people in the priest cult, when an arrow from a renegade attack strikes Daniel’s chest, but he survives without injury. Rather than actually being immortal, the arrow struck his bandolier and failed to penetrate into his flesh and wound him. The natives believe him to be the incarnation of Alexander the Great, and Daniel himself begins to arrogantly believe in his own divinity, and his right to take their rich royal treasures from the holy city of Sikandergul. Peachy, on the other hand, suspects that eventually their fraud will be found out, and attempts to get Daniel to give up the delusion and leave before calamity strikes. But Daniel insists on taking a native wife named Roxanne (Shakira Caine, Michael’s real-life wife in her screen debut). The marriage turns out to be a disaster, because Roxanne, in fear of marrying a god, bites Daniel’s face and draws blood – thereby exposing the two as mortals. As the two flee the city and its outraged natives, Daniel is killed when he falls to his death from a rope bridge into a deep gorge, while Peachy is caught, tortured and crucified, and left for dead. He eventually survives and returns to England where he tells his story to Rudyard Kipling. DreamWorks SKG’s film version, its second feature-length animated film The Road to El Dorado (2000), with Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline, was set in Central America instead of Afghanistan. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Adapted Screenplay–John Huston & Gladys Hill, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design–Edith Head, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Marty (1955)
Starring: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti, Augusta Ciolli, Joe Mantell, Karen Steele, Jerry Paris
Director: Delbert Mann
The poignant, simple character study of lonely, 34 year-old Marty Piletti (Borgnine in an Oscar-winning performance), an ordinary, burly, heavy-set Bronx butcher who still lives with his love-smothering, widowed Italian mother Theresa (Minciotti). It was a very different role from Borgnine’s menacing, sadistic villains or murderous ‘heavies’ in From Here to Eternity (1953) and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). By the touching film’s end, Marty and a homely, 29 year-old female wallflower and high-school teacher Clara Snyder (Blair) are liberated – both are triumphant over their respective limitations. Its most famous line of dialogue, between Marty and friend Angie (Mantell), emphasized Marty’s endlessly boring despair: Angie: “What do you wanna do tonight?” Marty: “I dunno, Angie. What do you wanna do?” The film’s screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky transformed his own original teleplay into a successful major motion picture – and the modest film remains one of the best examples of the cinematization of a television play. (The TV comedy-drama was originally presented on NBC-TV’s “Philco-Goodyear Playhouse” series in May of 1953, with leads Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand, during a period now recognized as the “Golden Age of Television.”) As a feature film, it was one of the biggest ‘sleepers’ in Hollywood history, from the independent production company of Harold Hecht and actor Burt Lancaster. A modest, black and white film in an era of widescreen color epics, its critical acclaim and box-office success were phenomenal. It was the second Best Picture Oscar-winning film to also win the top prize (known as the Golden Palm (Palme d’Or)) at Cannes. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Supporting Actor–Joe Mantell, Best Supporting Actress–Betsy Blair, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction. Academy Awards: 4, including Best Picture, Best Director–Delbert Mann, Best Actor–Ernest Borgnine, Best Screenplay–Paddy Chayefsky.
M*A*S*H (1970)
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Roger Bowen, Gary Burghoff, John Schuck
Director: Robert Altman
Robert Altman’s controversial, zany and satirical signature film (earning him the first of his five directorial Academy Award nominations), and best known as the source of the long-running television series. The countercultural, black comedy anti-war film takes place at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit during the Korean War, a thinly disguised allegory for the unpopular Vietnam War that was raging at the time. The film’s characters in the ensemble cast became truly memorable: Captain Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Sutherland), Captain “Trapper” John McIntyre (Gould), Major Margaret “Hot Lips” O’Houlihan (Kellerman in an Oscar-nominated role), moralistic Major Frank Burns (Duvall), Major Duke Forrest (Skerritt), Colonel Henry Blake (Bowen) and Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly (Burghoff, the only major cast member to star in the TV series.) With little over-riding plot, the episodic film with some improvisation basically examines how the wisecracking surgeons and other unit members irreverently deal with the pressures, boredom and stupidity of wartime, by engaging in pranks and anti-authoritarian behavior. They terrorize Major Burns and sexy head nurse “Hot Lips” O’Houlihan, save the camp dentist Painless Pole (Schuck) from suicide while singing the famous theme song “Suicide Is Painless,” and play in the climactic football game. Academy Award Nominations: 5, including Best Picture, Best Director–Robert Altman, Best Supporting Actress–Sally Kellerman, Best Film Editing. Academy Awards: 1, Best Adapted Screenplay–blacklisted Ring Lardner, Jr. (his second after winning one for Woman of the Year (1942), often interpreted as an “apology”).
The Matrix (1999)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantaliano
Co-Directors: Andy and Larry Wachowski
The Wachowski Brothers’ popular, imaginative, visually-stunning science-fiction action film – the first in a trilogy with inferior sequels: the somewhat successful but critically derided The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and the artificially-expanded The Matrix Revolutions (2003). A computer software company techie programmer and illegal hacker named Thomas Anderson (Reeves) (with screen name alias Neo) is contacted by the mysterious, vinyl-clad heroine Trinity (Moss) and the super-cool, messianic space-ship captain Morpheus (Fishburne) who is the leader of the rebel forces. He is told (with an Alice in Wonderland reference) via his computer: “The Matrix has you. Follow the white rabbit.” Neo is informed that he is the champion or chosen one to save Mankind from a malevolent, sentient machine race, that has entrapped all of humanity, in the year 2199!, inside a computer simulation (The Matrix) dreamworld, and tricked them into believing that the simulation is reality. The Artificial Intelligence system also uses the brains and bodies of the trapped human beings as expendable “living batteries.” Freed by this knowledge, Neo soon learns to take advantage of the Matrix, bending the malleable laws of physics to his will, such as impossible feats of physicality (such as running up walls or leaping impossibly high) and altering his perception so dramatically that he sees bullets in flight in order to dodge them. The true standout of the film is the menacing Machine Army agent “Agent Smith,” played with a tongue-in-cheek, edgy pseudo-serious flair by Hugo Weaving, whose mannerisms recall 1950’s Cold War governmental “Men In Black” agents. The Matrix became best known for its revolutionary visual effects – airborne kung fu, 3-D freeze frame effects with a rotating or pivoting camera, and bullet-dodging. The film became a smash hit, featuring elaborate fighting and stunt sequences, as well as a convoluted screenplay that blurred the edge between reality and fantasy without losing the audience’s grasp of the story. The film was followed by an anthology or series of nine related shorts collectively called The Animatrix (2003), highlighted by Andy Jones’ short Final Flight of the Osiris. The film was nominated for four technical Oscars and won all of them. Academy Awards: 4, including Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Starring: Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood, John Payne, Gene Lockhart, Porter Hall, William Frawley
Directors: George Seaton
A popular, perennial favorite Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday film adapted from Valentine Davies’ original story. A sentimental and appealing Frank Capra-esque morality fantasy tale (similar to Meet John Doe (1941)) about the struggle between faith and doubting cynicism, as well as between the holiday spirit of generosity and materialistic commercialism. When a Macy’s New York City Thanksgiving Day parade Santa Claus is discovered to be intoxicated by a white-whiskered, kindly old man calling himself Kris Kringle (Gwenn), Kringle is hired by special-events parade organizer and single mother Doris Walker (O’Hara) to be their new Saint Nick. The emergency in-house replacement – the new, grandfatherly jolly fellow from the North Pole, proves to be a smash hit, but some doubts are raised when he sends customers to other rival department stores, such as Gimbels, when Macy’s doesn’t have the correct merchandise. Kringle, who insists he is the real Santa Claus, is examined by the store psychologist and determined to be insane, and further investigation reveals the old man to be a delusional, but harmless resident of a nursing home in Great Neck, LI. Psychiatrists from Bellevue Hospital threaten to have him put away in a mental institution, but Kringle’s twinkly-eyed earnestness and wholesomeness remove the doubts of even the skeptical Doris and her equally cynical, wide-eyed, precocious second-grade daughter Susan (Wood). The film climaxes with the famous court hearing on Kringle’s insanity between Macy’s (legally represented by Doris’ handsome bachelor lawyer Fred Gaily (Payne)) and Gimbels. The legal case ends with the presentation of sacks of forwarded letters sent to the Post Office addressed to Santa Claus, proving that the U.S. Government believes that Kris is Santa. Perhaps the most touching moment, however, is Kringle reassuringly singing a song to a frightened, refugee Dutch girl in her native language. The film was remade twice on television in 1955 and 1973 (with Thomas Mitchell and Sebastian Cabot respectively as Kringle) and memorably in a John Hughes-produced 1994 remake, with Richard Attenborough as Kringle, co-starring Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott and Mara Wilson. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Picture. Academy Awards: 3, including Best Supporting Actor–Edmund Gwenn, Best Screenplay–George Seaton, Best Original Story–Valentine Davies.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Starring: Monty Python troupe (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin)
Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
The silly, chaotic, sick joke-filled and zany Monty Python troupe, a close modern equivalent to the Marx Brothers, first appeared in their late 60s BBC-TV show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Afterwards, the group compiled a retelling of the show’s sketches for the big screen in And Now For Something Completely Different (1971). This was their second film and first feature-length film – a raucous, anarchic retelling of the Middle Ages legend of King Arthur (Chapman) and his quest, that skewered medieval action epics, mythology, war, religion, the Arthurian legend, Camelot and more. The opening credits in this popular, outrageous, and original cult film slowly give way to mock Swedish titles, and drift into ravings about the moose and its virtues, before grinding to a halt with: “We apologize for the fault in the subtitles. Those responsible have been sacked.” The opening credits resume, but still with odd credits added for everything from “Moose Costumes” to “Moose trained to mix concrete and sign complicated insurance forms,” which is followed by another apology: “The directors of the firm hired to continue the credits after the other people had been sacked, wish it to be known that they have just been sacked. The credits have been completed in an entirely different style at great expense and at the last minute.” Their style of humor was best exemplified by the comically-gruesome encounter with the unbelievably persistent Black Knight (Cleese), who still insists on fighting (“It’s just a flesh wound”) after his limbs have been hacked off by King Arthur. Many fans can instantly recite many of the memorable scenes, vignettes and set-pieces, such as the “Bring Out Your Dead” scene, or the rude, taunting Frenchman, a bloodthirsty killer rabbit, and the tree-shaped Knights who say “Ni.” Over the years, the troupe’s popularity would grow with additional Monty Python films, such as Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982), and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983), and increased popularity of their PBS-TV show in America. A stage adaptation of the film, Monty Python’s Spamalot, debuted in Chicago in late 2004 and shortly after debuted on Broadway in early 2005. No Academy Award Nominations.


Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Russell Streiner
Director: George A. Romero
One of the most important and influential horror films of all time – George Romero’s ultra-low budget debut film shot in grainy black-and-white with an unknown cast reinvented the genre. The film was actually improved by its crude “drawbacks,” since they lent a documentary feel and reality that made the film all the more horrific. The screenplay was taken from an unpublished short story Romero had written called Anubis, so-named after the Egyptian god of the dead. In the simple yet brutally relentless plot of claustrophobic horror, the ‘living dead’ (re-animated corpses) mysteriously rise from the grave for no known reason (though there are vague references to radiation from a fallen satellite), forcing a group of seven strangers to take refuge from the shuffling, hungry, flesh-eating zombies in an isolated Pennsylvania farmhouse. A capable black man (Jones) assumes leadership as the army of corpses repeatedly try to enter the house during a terrifying siege, amidst both unspoken racial and generational tensions between him and a less capable, older white family man (Hardman). The images of the film are haunting, from the opening scene in the cemetery, where flighty female lead Barbra (O’Dea) is teased by her brother Johnny (Streiner in an uncredited role): “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” before being attacked by one of them, to the shot of the zombified little girl consuming her mother (often taken to be a social metaphor for the late 1960s youth of the nation rebelling against their elders). Meanwhile, news and radio reports from the mass media emphasize the panic and threat. The tragic ending comes from the actions of real mindless zombies — living lynch mobs. While initially considered drive-in schlock, the film gained in popularity and critical respect, and raised Romero to great heights as a horror filmmaker. He would go on to make a zombie trilogy with the successful Dawn of the Dead (1978) and the lesser Day of the Dead (1985), before remaking his own Night of the Living Dead (1990) in color and with subtle changes to the plot, including a reworked beginning and ending. Director/writer Dan O’Bannon’s unofficial satirical ‘sequel’ The Return of the Living Dead (1985) was likewise sequeled in Ken Wiederhorn’s The Return of the Living Dead, Part II (1988) and Brian Yuzna’s Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993). No Academy Award Nominations.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Starring: Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara, Edward Ivory, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens
Director: Henry Selick
AKA: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. A charming, ground-breaking, macabre fantasy-musical film in its use of computers to aid the complex, painstaking stop-motion animation process. This is the first full-length stop-motion animated film, based on the parodic poem of the same name by visionary producer Burton, written when he was a Disney animator. This original, fanciful yet twisted tale is about a bored, depressed and skeletal Jack Skellington (Sarandon with Elfman supplying his singing voice) with shy rag-doll Sally (O’Hara) as his understanding and loyal girlfriend from afar. Jack grows weary of his repetitive role as the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town with its pagan holiday. When he discovers the enchanting, radically-different Christmas Town and its leader Santa Claus (Ivory), he becomes obsessed with trying to capture the town’s joy. His well-meaning but disastrous mission to steal the holiday puts Santa Claus into jeopardy when he is kidnapped and tortured. An extraordinary achievement, from its wonderfully realized set designs — like the dark, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-ish and The Night of the Hunter-ish Halloween Town and the round, bright Christmas Town (based on Seuss’ artwork, reminiscient of Whoville) — to the jazzily unorthodox lyrics by Oingo Boingo’s Elfman (“And since I am dead / I can take off my head / And recite Shakespearean quotations”). The film was largely ignored in its initial release, but gained a dedicated following on video release that grew quickly, enabling Tim Burton to produce another stop-motion animated film James and the Giant Peach (1996), based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name and also directed by Henry Selick. Academy Award Nominations: 1, Best Visual Effects.



The Palm Beach Story (1942)
Starring: Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Rudy Vallee, Robert Dudley, William Demarest
Director: Preston Sturges
A hilarious, zany, marital screwball comedy by writer/director Preston Sturges – it was his last romantic comedy and one of the last, classic screwball comedies. The witty, nonsensical film of mistaken identities and deception was a satire on sex as an asset. The farcical plot effectively skewered the idle rich (millionaires) and the pursuit of money, with its story of a penniless, separated couple living on Park Avenue. [Whether coincidence or not, the couple share the same names as MGM’s squabbling cartoon characters Tom (cat) and Jerry (mouse).] The film begins with a deliberately puzzling, freeze-frame pre-credits opening sequence that finally makes sense by the film’s closing. Its premise is that a pretty, but penniless, fortune-hunting, scatter-brained wife Gerry (Colbert), who is at odds with her unsuccessful designer-inventor husband Tom Jeffers (McCrea), may travel to Florida (on a raucous train ride with the tipsy Ale and Quail Club) to obtain a divorce, and with her beauty, ingenuity, luck and appealing charms live the ‘good life’ there and obtain monetary support ($99,000) from stuffy, multi-millionaire, yacht-owning suitor John D. Hackensacker (Vallee) and his eccentric, carefree, man-crazy sister Countess Centimillia (Astor) to bankroll her struggling husband’s career. Sturges’ original title for the film was Is Marriage Necessary? – to emphasize his challenge to the sacredness of marriage. It was the fifth of eight films that Sturges wrote and directed for Paramount Studios between his most prolific years from 1940 to 1946: The Great McGinty (1940), Christmas in July (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan’s Travels (1942), The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), and The Great Moment (1946). The film is literally full of choice, timeless, quotable lines of dialogue, but lacked Academy Award nominations (as with many of Preston Sturges’ other classic comedies). No Academy Award Nominations.
Patton (1970)
Starring: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Karl Michael Vogler, Michael Bates
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
The epic film biography, shot in 70 mm. widescreen color, of the controversial, bombastic, multi-dimensional World War II general and hero George S. Patton. The larger-than-life, flamboyant, maverick, pugnacious military figure, nicknamed “Old Blood and Guts,” was well-known for his fierce love of America, his temperamental battlefield commanding, his arrogant power-lust (“I love it. God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life”), his poetry writing, his belief in reincarnation, his verbal abuse and slapping of a battle-fatigued soldier, his anti-diplomatic criticism of the Soviet Union, and his firing of pistols at strafing fighter planes. The bigger-than-life screen biography is most noted for its brilliant opening monologue by Patton (Scott), delivered before a gigantic American flag to the off-screen troops of the Allied Third Army (“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country”). The story was based on two books: Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and A Soldier’s Story by General Omar Bradley (portrayed by Malden). As a result of Francis Ford Coppola’s breakthrough win for Best Adapted Screenplay as co-screen writer, he went on to write and direct The Godfather (1972). Although Scott portrayed the famous general perfectly and it became his archetypal film, the role was also considered by Burt Lancaster, Rod Steiger, Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum and John Wayne. The subject matter was remade as a TV-movie entitled The Last Days of Patton (1986), also with Scott in the lead role. Academy Award Nominations: 10, including Best Original Score–Jerry Goldsmith, Best Cinematography (Fred Koenekamp), Best Visual Effects. Academy Awards: 7, including Best Picture, Best Director–Franklin J. Schaffner, Best Actor–George C. Scott (who refused to accept the award), Best Adapted Screenplay (Francis Ford Coppola, Edmund H. North), Best Art/Set Decoration, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing.
The Piano (1993)
Starring: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Sam Neill
Director: Jane Campion
New Zealand director/screenwriter Jane Campion’s third feature — a compelling, disturbing, erotic and psychosexual costume drama about a mute mail-order bride, a refined European woman named Ada McGrath (Hunter), who travels with her spiteful 9-year-old daughter Flora (Paquin) from 1850s Scotland to the New Zealand wilderness for an arranged marriage with patriarchal British emigrant landowner Alisdair Stewart (Neill). Upon arrival, her prized possession, a piano, is insensitively left on the desolate coastal beach and later rescued-sold to a coarse, illiterate and tattooed Maori settler (Stewart’s overseer) named George Baines (Keitel). The headstrong Ada is left despondent, and artistically and emotionally frustrated without the outlet of her piano-playing. Although she is repulsed by George, she is offered a blackmailing sexual deal with him to slowly buy back the piano and give him a series of piano lessons. Soon, their relationship is transformed into a torrid love affair and sensual/emotional liberation for the two, while she never consummates her marriage with the shy Alisdair. Campion’s Academy Award nomination as Best Director made her only the second woman in Oscar history to be nominated in the category. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Picture, Best Director–Jane Campion, Best Cinematography–Stuart Dryburgh, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing. Academy Awards: 3, Best Actress–Holly Hunter, Best Supporting Actress–Anna Paquin, Best Original Screenplay–Jane Campion.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
A thought-provoking and engrossing science-fiction film classic – a loose adaptation (by formerly blacklisted Michael Wilson and Rod Serling) of the Pierre Boulle novel La Planète Des Singes (Monkey Planet), about four NASA astronauts, including Colonel ‘George’ Taylor (Heston), who have traveled for centuries in cyrogenic suspension. After a crash landing on an Earth-like planet, they find themselves stranded in a strange and remote place dominated by English-speaking simians who live in a multi-layered civilization. The apes dominate society, and humans (who possess few rights) have been reduced to subservient mute slaves and are even hunted as animals. In danger of being castrated or lobotomized, Taylor cries out the memorable: “Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” The apes in this exciting and engaging action thriller include archaeologist Dr. Cornelius (McDowall), his scientist fiancee Zira (Hunter) – an ‘animal psychologist,’ and malevolent, arrogant, government orangutan leader Dr. Zaius (Evans). This Vietnam War, Cold War and Civil Rights era film makes many subtle points about race, animal rights, the establishment, class, xenophobia and discrimination. The film is most noted for its twist ending when George rides down a beach on horseback in the Forbidden Zone with beautiful mute cavewoman Nova (Harrison), and suddenly he stops when he sees something, and dismounts to stare upwards; as the camera pans forward toward Taylor, through a spiked object, he exclaims: “Oh, my God! I’m back, I’m home. All the time, it was…” He drops to his knees: “We finally really did it.” He pounds his fist into the sand and rails against Earth’s generations almost 2,000 years earlier that had destroyed his home planet’s civilization with a devastating nuclear war: “You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! Goddamn you all to hell!” The full object comes into view as the camera pans backward – the spiked crown of a battered Statue of Liberty buried waist-deep in beach sand. This film was also a pioneer in modern movie marketing, spawning not only four sequels and a 2001 remake (and two television series spinoffs), but also action figures and other similar merchandising, foreshadowing later merchandising for Star Wars (1977) and the Indiana Jones series. Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Costume Design, Best Original Score–Jerry Goldsmith. Honorary Special Oscar for Makeup Effects–John Chambers (only the second makeup artist to receive an honorary Academy Award before an official category was created).
Poltergeist (1982)
Starring: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, Beatrice Straight, Zelda Rubinstein, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins
Director: Tobe Hooper
A memorable supernatural horror film from co-producer/co-writer Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper (better known for his cult horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)). This was Spielberg’s first smash hit as a co-producer, paired with Frank Marshall (who later produced Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)). Its classic ‘haunted house ghost story’ is fascinating to watch, with extraordinary special effects created by George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic team, from a screenplay by Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor. It was released at the same time as another suburban tale with otherworldly visitors: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and can also be interpreted as a threatening, scarier version of director Spielberg’s pre-E.T. film: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Compared to both films, Poltergeist is the dark flip side for Diane and Steve Freeling (Williams and Nelson) in the Cuesta Verde housing development, with ordinary objects that turn threatening (for example, a suburban tract dream home, a backyard tree, a favorite doll, a closet, and a TV screen). The famous poster reflected one of the more memorable, spookier moments of the film, with young 5 year-old Carole Anne (Heather O’Rourke) pressed against a television showing nothing but white noise, saying, “They’re here.”There were two, less successful sequels in subsequent years: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) and Poltergeist III (1988). Many filmgoers have been intrigued by the seemingly-tragic legacy of the film, with the unexpected deaths of star Dominique Dunne (in her last film role before her tragic murder by her live-in boyfriend) and O’Rourke (who died six years later just before the second sequel’s release). Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Original Score–Jerry Goldsmith, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Effects Editing.
The Producers (1968)
Starring: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Christopher Hewett, Dick Shawn
Director: Mel Brooks
Director Mel Brooks’ debut film is a zany, often brilliant spoof comedy about Broadway productions and the Nazis that some consider in bad taste. A desperate, bankrupt, wild-eyed, hustling Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Mostel) greedily pairs up with his timid and high-strung auditor/accountant Leo Bloom (Wilder in his first starring role). Together, they concoct an illegal ‘sure-fire’ scheme to make a million dollars from investors by producing the worst, most tasteless play ever made – a perverted Busby Berkeley romp offensively named Springtime For Hitler. Their plan backfires when the flop is actually a surprise hit. Although certain elements are now tame and have lost some comedic shock value since the late 60s, such as a cash-strapped Max being a gigolo for old ladies, the film is still daring, audacious and subversive. The lighthearted satire of Hitler, reminiscent of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940), with such lyrics as “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty — come and join the Nazi Party!” couldn’t easily be produced today. (The studio would never have released Brooks’ without the intervention of Peter Sellers, who convinced executive producer Joseph E. Levine to release it, the only compromise being a change from the original title Springtime For Hitler to The Producers.) The film’s immense popularity would not only launch Brooks’ and Wilder’s careers, but also lead to the wildly popular 2001 Broadway musical adaption of the same name starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (as Bialystock and Bloom respectively), with 13 Tony nominations and 12 wins including Best Musical. Lane and Broderick would appear in the poorly-received 2005 film version as well. Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Supporting Actor–Gene Wilder. Academy Awards: 1, Best Original Screenplay–Mel Brooks.
Pygmalion (1938)
Starring: Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Wilfrid Lawson, Marie Lohr, Scott Sunderland, David Tree
Directors: Anthony Asquith (with Leslie Howard)
The non-musical film version of George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 stage play, a socio-economic drama based on the Cinderella story, but actually taken from the Greek myth of Pygmalion – about a sculptor who fell in love with a marble statue of his own making. A bullying and smug bachelor, Professor Henry Higgins (Howard) of phonetics and linguistics makes a bet with Colonel George Pickering (Sunderland) that he can turn an impetuous Cockney ‘guttersnipe’ flower girl from Convent Garden, Eliza Doolittle (Hiller in her first screen role) into a lady within six months. To do so, he must transform her thick-accented voice, by coaching her to speak proper English with elocution lessons, teaching her manners, and drilling her so that she will be educated. “We were above that in Convent Garden…I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me; I’m not fit to sell anything else.” “I’m a good girl, I am.” At a tea party, in her first public testing, she blurts out, “Not bloody likely.” However, she makes a spectacular debut at the Ambassador’s reception, proving him right. In the process of teaching her, Higgins falls in love with her, although she is attracted by an upper class gentleman named Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Tree), and finds she cannot return home to Higgins. The Broadway musical remake that was inspired from this film, Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 production, also led to the famous film musical My Fair Lady (1962), that would walk away with eight Oscars (out of twelve), including Best Picture. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Picture, Best Actor–Leslie Howard, Best Actress–Wendy Hiller. Academy Awards: 1, Best Screenplay.


Repulsion (1965)
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux
Director: Roman Polanski
A distubing, tense, frightening psychological horror thriller and one of Roman Polanski’s best films – his second feature film (after Knife in the Water (1962)) and his first in English. A macabre tale about a beautiful, timid, young blonde manicurist named Carol Ledoux (21 year-old Deneuve) from Belgium. The film basically takes place in a single location — Carol’s tiny London (Kensington) apartment — which she shares with her older, sexually-liberated sister Hélène (Furneaux), who is involved with a married boyfriend, a salesman named Michael (Hendry). While they are away on holiday in Italy, Carol suffers a several mental breakdown with hallucinations and nightmares, one after the other. She imagines such harrowing images as a phantom rapist, and giant cracks appearing from the walls with hands emerging from them to grope her (borrowed from Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946)). A film’s tagline declared: “The nightmare world of a virgin’s dreams becomes the screen’s shocking reality.” The film revolves around the deterioration of the sexually-repressed, claustrophobic, and paranoid Carol (brilliantly acted by Deneuve), and leads to two brutal murders. The film borrows many elements from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), such as sexual voyeurism and subtle auditory hints, and derives much of the suspense and dread  from the use of everyday sounds (such as dripping water, the ticking of a clock, a ringing telephone, etc.). Often called one of the first English “New Wave” films, the film was controversial in both its graphic depictions of rape, but also featured the first orgasm ‘heard’ on the British screen. No Academy Award Nominations.
The Road Warrior (1982) aka
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston, Max Phipps, Virginia Hey, Vernon Wells, Kjell Nilsson, Emil Minty
Director: George Miller
Writer/director George Miller’s imaginative, post-apocalyptic action sci-fi (western) film about a burned-out, ex-cop named “Mad” Max (Gibson in a star-making role) (his last name from the first film in the trilogy, Rockatansky, is never uttered). In this comic book-styled B-film, the road warrior wanders the barren, lawless highways of an Australian outback wasteland in his black interceptor along with his dog. Living only to survive while dealing with anarchic crazies and violent road gangs, his main mission in life is to acquire enough precious petrol to keep nomadic. He agrees to help save a besieged, oil-producing colony (established as a small fuel depot at a refinery) from a crazed, marauding wasteland warlord, the evil Humungus (Nilsson), by promising to help the refugee community of survivors with a rush for the coast in a tanker-truck in exchange for gas. The entire film has the same formula as The Magnificent Seven (1960) or a Sergio Leone ‘spaghetti western’, with Gibson providing the Clint Eastwood “Man With No Name” legendary hero – or anti-hero role. This film is best known for its non-stop car action and amazing stuntwork in its dazzling climax, as well as its stark, naturalistic depiction of a post-apocalyptic future that nearly every film has imitated ever since. This sequel film, superior to the original film, was preceded by an even darker revenge film, Mad Max (1979), and followed by a nuclear post-apocalyptic sequel, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), memorably featuring a co-starring role by rock star Tina Turner. No Academy Award Nominations.
Rocky (1976)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith
Director: John G. Avildsen
The phenomenally successful, uplifting, “sleeper” film that was filmed in a record twenty-eight days with a paltry budget of about $1 million, and ultimately grossed well over $100 million. (This low-budget film was positioned between two early “blockbusters” – Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) and Lucas’ Star Wars (1977).) Its screenwriter and major star, Sylvester Stallone, was an unbankable unknown at the time – an underdog actor/writer in the film industry (with 32 previously-rejected scripts) similar to the boxing ‘bum’ in the film. Stallone supposedly wrote the script for the sports comeback film over a three-day period. The action-packed, ‘feel-good’ crowd-pleasing story, shot mostly on location, tells of the rise of a small-time, has-been, underdog Philadelphia boxer against insurmountable odds in a big-time bout with Apollo Creed (Weathers), with the emotional support of a shy, hesitant, loving girlfriend named Adrian (Shire) and wily fight manager Mickey (Meredith). The low-key film was a combination of On the Waterfront (1954), Marty (1955), and a fairy-tale, Cinderella rags-to-riches story. The original Rocky film, from Oscar-winning director John G. Avildsen, packed movie houses, and beat out formidable competition for Best Picture: All the President’s Men, Bound For Glory, Network, and Taxi Driver. It was followed by four inferior sequels: Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), and Rocky V (1990). Academy Award Nominations: 10, including Best Actor–Sylvester Stallone, Best Actress–Talia Shire, Best Supporting Actor–Burt Young, Best Supporting Actor–Burgess Meredith, Best Original Screenplay–Sylvester Stallone, Best Song–“Gonna Fly Now,” Best Sound Editing. Academy Awards: 3, including Best Picture, Best Director–John G. Avildsen, Best Film Editing.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Starring: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Meat Loaf
Director: Jim Sharman
Perhaps the most popular cult film of all time, this low-budget, campy horror rock musical from writer/director Jim Sharman initially bombed at the box-office. One of the longest-running films of all time, the bizarre film honors (and gently spoofs) the horror and science fiction genres of the past (RKO Pictures’ King Kong (1933), Forbidden Planet (1956), The Wizard of Oz (1939), the Hercules films, The Day of the Triffids (1962), the classic “atomic age” sci-fi horror of the ’50s, such as It Came From Outer Space (1951), and, of course, Frankenstein (1931)). The film was based on the 1973 British musical stage play The Rocky Horror Show by playwright/composer Richard O’Brien (who also plays the butler named Riff Raff), about a haunted house inhabited by transexual aliens. The strange tale follows a straightlaced, wholesome, newly-engaged couple, Brad Majors (Bostwick in his feature film debut) and Janet Weiss (Sarandon) who are forced to take refuge in a spooky mansion/castle on a rainy night when their car has a flat tire. The two are brought into a world of subversiveness by the bisexual host – the carnivorous “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania” Dr. Frank N. Furter (Curry), a mad scientist whose dream is to create the perfect man named Rocky “with blond hair and a tan.” The film features catchy, overtly-sexual songs like “The Time Warp,” “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me,” and “Sweet Transvestite.” When the film began to play at midnight showings in Greenwich Village in April 1976, the film was revived as a multi-media, audience participatory experience and exploded as a worldwide phenomenon for many years. The film was followed by a forgettable sequel, Shock Treatment (1981), and a successful musical revival on Broadway in 2000 featuring Joan Jett that ran for two years. No Academy Award Nominations.


Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Starring: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Donna Pescow, Martin Shakar
Director: John Badham
Badham’s melodramatic, out-dated film was the biggest musical sensation and blockbuster of the late 1970’s (from co-producer Robert Stigwood) – adapted by screenwriter Norman Wexler from Nik Cohn’s New York Magazine story “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night.” It features one of the most famous song soundtracks in film history, and was responsible for the Disco Craze phenomenon, launching hot disco clubs (like Studio 54) and the film super-stardom of 19-year old John Travolta, previously best known as one of the Sweathogs of the television sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. The film’s soundtrack is the most recognizable, with a slew of high-pitched Bee Gees songs from the Gibbs: “Night Fever,” “How Deep is Your Love,” “More Than a Woman,” “You Should Be Dancin’,” and “Stayin’ Alive” (which accompanies a memorable opening scene when the working-class protagonist struts down the sidewalk to the lyrics: “Oh, you can tell by the way I walk / I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk”). In the classic coming-of-age tale, a conflicted, teenaged Italian-American anti-hero from Brooklyn, Tony Manero (Travolta with the film’s sole Oscar nomination) works in a dead-end job as a clerk in a local hardware store and lives at home with his oppressive, verbally-abusive blue-collar family. But after dark, he becomes the dynamic, white polyester-clad stud (with platform shoes, flared pants, and a wide-collared shirt) and undisputed dancing legend of a local nightclub (the 2001 Odyssey), with dancing partner Stephanie (Gorney) for a dance contest. The uneducated macho Manero seeks escape from his desperate plight of a staid home life and unambitious friends by finding recognition on the dance floor. However, his swaggering, troubled character also expresses arrogance, racism, immaturity, obnoxiousness, and misogyny (he sexually abuses and disregards girlfriend Annette (Pescow)). (A PG-rated version was released without the coarse language and explicit sex scenes.) Additional popular songs on the soundtrack included Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You” and the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno.” Unbelievably, the soundtrack was completely ignored by the Academy, causing a critical outcry and leading to the extremely unlikely Oscar win by the next year’s inferior disco film Thank God It’s Friday (1978)‘s for “Last Dance” (sung by Donna Summer). An inferior sequel, director Sylvester Stallone’s Staying Alive (1983) also starred Travolta reprising his Tony Manero role. Academy Award Nominations: 1, Best Actor–John Travolta.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Matt Damon, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Barry Pepper, Harve Presnell, Vin Diesel, Jeremy Davies
Director: Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg’s R-rated war epic opens, in its first half-hour, with the brutal, uncompromising, and graphic depiction of the landing at bloody Omaha Beach on D-Day (June 6, 1944). The film’s aftermath revolves around the rescue of a downed paratrooper in the French countryside, Pvt. James Ryan (Damon), whose three brothers have recently been killed in action, by a group commanded by veteran Captain John Miller (Hanks in an Oscar-nominated role). Miller’s platoon squad of seven stereotypical characters, brought together as a morale-lifting, propagandistic, PR effort for the military brass (Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall (Presnell)) and the homeland, includes: hard-nosed Sgt. Horvath (Sizemore), a frightened, militarily-inexperienced translator Cpl. Upham (Davies), and five privates (Burns, Ribisi, Diesel, Pepper and Goldberg) — including a cynical hothead from Brooklyn, an introspective medic, a decent soldier, a religious Southern sharpshooter, and a tough Jew.
The film was a critical and box office smash, and brought Spielberg his second Best Director Oscar (his first was for his other World War II era film, Schindler’s List (1993)). Academy Award Nominations: 11, including Best Picture, Best Actor–Tom Hanks, Best Original Screenplay–Robert Rodat, Best Original Score–John Williams, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Makeup. Academy Awards: 5, including Best Director–Steven Spielberg, Best Cinematography–Janusz Kaminski, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Effects Editing.
The Scarlet Empress (1934)
Starring: Marlene Dietrich, John Lodge, Sam Jaffe, Louise Dresser
Directors: Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg’s startling, dark, visually opulent, hauntingly expressionistic, and mostly fictional biopic of German-born Princess Sophia Frederica (Dietrich). The young, naive, tremulous bride-to-be is brought on a seven-week journey to Russia for an arranged marriage to Grand Duke Peter (Jaffe), son of Empress Elizabeth (Dresser). Sophia’s domineering, mother-in-law, who renames her Catherine, hopes to improve the royal blood line, but she is revulsed by her bumbling, idiotic, and childlike husband-to-be, and instead becomes romantically involved with opportunistic womanizer Count Alexei (Lodge). Eventually, she engineers a coup d’etat with the aid of the military, kills Peter III, and becomes Catherine the Great, Tsarina of Russia. This semi-erotic tale of 18th century Russia was one of the most daring films of the Hays Production Code era, featuring, among other things, immorality, nudity and open sexual decadence. The film also features extravagant sets and von Sternberg’s trademark stylization, as well as great performances. For a six-year period, Dietrich was svengali von Sternberg’s favorite leading lady – this was their sixth film together (and last great collaboration). She also starred in Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Blonde Venus (1932), Shanghai Express (1932), The Devil Is a Woman (1935), and The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935). Despite the sumptuous set design, sharp dialogue and great acting, the dark subject matter led to a box-office failure and lack of critical acclaim. Another film on the life of Catherine was made in the same year – director Paul Czinner’s historical drama Catherine the Great (1934) with Elisabeth Bergner, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Flora Robson. No Academy Award Nominations.
Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
Starring: Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton, Erwin Connelly, Ward Crane
Director: Buster Keaton
A marvelously inventive, silent film comic fantasy directed by stone-faced Buster Keaton – at only 44 minutes, filled with the comedian’s trademark physical stunts and humor and amazing special effects. This spoof of detective films was the first of Keaton’s feature films solely directed by himself. A bored, poor and timid individual – the Boy (Keaton) working as a janitor/projectionist at a local cinema, takes a break from sweeping to read a book about his dream vocation – “How to Be a Detective.” After work, he buys a $1 box of candy for the Girl (McGuire) and presents it (marked as $4) to her, along with a ring. Another rival suitor, the deceitful Sheik (Crane), steals the girl’s father’s gold watch from her house, pawns it, and tries to impress her with a larger, more expensive box of candy. After being falsely accused of stealing the watch and unable to prove that he was framed, the Boy dejectedly returns to the theater and falls asleep in the projection room. A ghostly dream version of himself leaves his body — and in a “film within a film” segment — ‘walks’ into the film screen. In his dream state, he becomes invincible, confident detective Sherlock, Jr., who is involved in an elaborate pearl necklace robbery investigation. Through wish fulfillment, he solves the crime, nabs the villain (the same Sheik) and saves the Girl (the same Girl) – and then wakes up. The film’s meditation on identifying with one’s dreams and finding instructional value in cinema ends with the Boy reconciled with the Girl in the real-world – but he still needs film tips on how to kiss the Girl! Three highlights are the astounding, rapid scenery-cuts sequence when he first steps into the film, an amazing railroad stunt (that broke Keaton’s neck, discovered later), and a driver-less motorcycle ride. Keaton’s work inspired two similar fantasies: Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) with Jeff Daniels and Mia Farrow, and the under-rated action/adventure parody Last Action Hero (1993) with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Shining (1980)
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Creative director Stanley Kubrick’s intense, epic, gothic, haunted house horror film masterpiece. It follows the disintegrating Torrance family — aspiring writer Jack, his wife Wendy, and son Danny (Nicholson, Duvall, Lloyd) who become affected by a “psychic photograph” of a bloody series of historic murders committed in an imposing Rocky Mountain hotel, the Overlook. The film has beautiful, stylish work that distances itself from the blood-letting and gore of most modern films in the horror genre. The film’s source material from science-fiction/horror author Stephen King’s 1977 best-selling novel (his third novel under his own name) by the same name bears little resemblance to Kubrick’s creation. The film’s title refers to the extra-sensory, paranormal psychic abilities possessed by the Overlook’s head cook Halloran (Crothers) and Danny. With American co-screenwriter Diane Johnson, Kubrick moved from the conventions of traditional horror film thrillers, displacing them with his own, much more subtle, rich, symbolic motifs. As in many of his films, director Kubrick explores the dimensions of the genre to create the ultimate horror film of a man going mad, Jack Torrance (Nicholson in an over-the-top performance) while serving as an off-season caretaker of an isolated, snowbound resort with his family. Kubrick deliberately reduced the pace of the narrative and expanded the rather simple plot of a domestic tragedy to over two hours in length, created lush images within the ornate interior of the main set, added a disturbing synthesized soundtrack (selecting musical works from Bela Bartok, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki), used a Steadicam in groundbreaking fashion, filmed most of the gothic horror in broad daylight or brightly-lit scenes, and built an unforgettable, mounting sensation of frustration, rage, terror, ghosts, and the paranormal. When it was redone as a four and a half-hour TV miniseries due to King’s dissatisfaction, Stephen King’s The Shining (1997), a famous topiary-animal attack was included. No Academy Award Nominations.
Sleeper (1973)
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton
Director: Woody Allen
One of Woody Allen’s funniest films, a science fiction comedy classic and screwball comedy about the future – with Dixieland and swing music (from the Preservation Hall Band). This film was from Allen’s earlier period, when he was known for appearing in or directing lightweight comedies, such as Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), Play It Again, Sam (1972), and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask (1972). Filled with one-liners, Allen’s film both satirizes the 1970’s and parodies sci-fi books and past classics, such as Buck Rogers “Serial” (1939), Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971), George Lucas’ THX 1138 (1971), George Orwell’s futuristic novel 1984, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It also evokes such slapstick comedy classics, such as Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton films, the Keystone Kops, Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) and the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933). Director/writer Woody Allen plays jazz clarinet musician and co-owner of a Greenwich Village health food store, nerdy Miles Monroe, who finds himself 200 years in the future in the dystopian year 2173. He learns that he was cyrogenically ‘frozen’ in aluminum foil when complications arose – after he had entered a New York hospital in 1973 for what he thought was a minor peptic ulcer operation. (An observer remarks, “It’s hard to believe that you haven’t had sex for two hundred years.” “Two hundred and four,” he replies, “if you count my marriage.”) He soon finds out that he is considered both a subversive alien fugitive by a Big Brother-type totalitarian government and a savior to the rebels wishing to overthrow the police state. A classic fish-out-of-water comedy, he is inept as a disguised domestic robot (and in one funny scene passes around a silver-metallic round, orgasm-inducing “Orb” at a party), accidentally traps himself in an Orgasmatron, slips on a gigantic banana peel, wins a mock beauty pageant believing he’s Miss America, and gets fitted for a suit by two robotic yet very Jewish tailors. The climax occurs when he and his love interest, a rich, clueless, pseudo-intellectual poetess named Luna Schlosser (Keaton in her second appearance with Allen in a film, but in her first Allen-directed film) attempt to assassinate The Leader (a wheel-chair bound dictator with a white dog), who is ultimately reduced to a benign, disembodied nose after a bombing – and then steam-rolled. One sly cameo is that of Douglas Rain as an evil computer near the end of the film, gently spoofing his role as HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Mike Myers’ Austin Powers series owes a debt to this film. No Academy Award Nominations.
Spartacus (1960)
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Tony Curtis, Woody Strode
Director: Stanley Kubrick, Kirk Douglas (exec. producer)
A somewhat dated, uneven historical costume (and sword and sandal) epic adapted by openly-credited, blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (thereby breaking the abhorrent system) from left-leaning Howard Fast’s 1952 fictionalized novel about a slave revolt in Rome between 73-71 BC. This is the story of Thracian Spartacus (Douglas), first introduced as a slave in the Libyan mines who is sold to slave trader Lentulus Batiatus (Ustinov), and becomes under his training a skilled gladiator. He is forced, for pure entertainment’s sake, to fight to the death and kill fellow gladiator/friend Draba (Strode). Growing resentment forces Spartacus to kill his captor-owner and instigate a revolt among his fellow slaves. He moves from town to town in the countryside and recruits freedom-fighting slaves along the way, threatening Rome itself and fueling a power struggle and in-fighting between two influential figures in the ruling class: the philosophical Roman senator Gracchus (Laughton) and the power-hungry Roman general Marcus Crassus (Olivier). Eventually, Spartacus’ forces are overwhelmed, and he is captured and marched to Rome, with Crassus desirous of the sexual favors of his wife Varinia (Simmons). During the film’s production, there was a change of directors (from Anthony Mann (famous for El Cid (1961)) to Stanley Kubrick, who wasn’t permitted his usual directorial freedom, resulting in a decidedly un-Kubrick-like film) and rampant ego clashes amongst the actors. Additionally, the Hayes Code removed, among other things, homosexual innuendo and various depictions of gore (such as severed limbs). The 1991 re-release of Spartacus restored much of what was cut from the film, including the notorious bathhouse scene featuring the sexual advances of Crassus toward slave servant-poet Antoninus (Curtis), with dialogue dubbed by Anthony Hopkins for the deceased Olivier: “Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?… My taste includes both snails and oysters.” Although anachronistic in costuming and accents, and overly long with some ‘wooden’ acting, Spartacus remains one of the more beloved and intelligent gladiator films (and a model for Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000)), with such memorably powerful scenes as the large scale battles with thousands of extras, and the famous climax with the moving “I am Spartacus!” scene when Spartacus is crucified under orders of Crassus along with hundreds of other slaves, and a disguised Varinia risks capture to show him his infant son. The film was remade in 2004 as a TV movie with Goran Visnjic as the film’s hero. Academy Award Nominations: 6, including Best Non-Song Score–Alex North, Best Film Editing. Academy Awards: 4, including Best Supporting Actor–Peter Ustinov, Best Color Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Costume Design.
Stairway To Heaven (1946, US title) aka
A Matter of Life and Death (1946, UK title)
Starring: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Robert Coote, Raymond Massey, Robert Livesey, Abraham Sofaer, Marius Goring
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
One of the most innovative, visually-dazzling (from cinematographer Jack Cardiff), literate, and audacious films ever made by the extraordinary writer/producer/director team of the Archers: Powell and Pressburger. Stairway to Heaven (1946, US) (originally A Matter of Life and Death, UK) is an extravagant and extraordinary fantasy in which WWII RAF pilot and squadron leader Peter David Carter (Niven) must abandon his fiery bomber (returning from a raid over Germany) without a functional parachute. Knowing his fate is doomed, he nonetheless falls deeply in love with British-based, WAC radio operator and ground controller June (Hunter) as they share a few last words. In a film that continually begs the question, what is real and what is imagined, he awakens unharmed on a beach after falling to his ‘death’, due to errors made by heavenly emissary Conductor 71 (Goring) in the fog. During brain surgery to rid him of alleged hallucinations, his spirit is put on trial — and he must justify his continuing existence on Earth to a panel of heavenly judges in a celestial court (with God (Sofaer) as his judge, recently-deceased friend Dr. Frank Reeves (Livesey) as his defense lawyer, and Abraham Farlan (Massey) as the prosecutor). He must convince them that he should survive and wed his romantic sweetheart June. In an bold stroke, the Heavenly sequences were filmed in black-and-white, while the Earthbound scenes were in vibrant, ravishing Technicolor. The film used various then-revolutionary film techniques such as time-lapse photography, mixing monochrome and color in the same shot, and background time-freezes when a spirit leaves the body, reminscient of The Matrix (1999). One shot typifies just how different the film is — a point-of-view (POV) shot from within an eyeball during brain surgery. The most spectacular dream sequence is the slow ascent to heaven on a giant stairway, and the film’s most memorable image is of a single, glittering love tear on a red rose petal. No Academy Award Nominations.


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton
Director: James Cameron
Cameron’s well-executed, action-packed sequel to the earlier film of the same name, with a huge $100 million budget. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator (cyborg) character of the first film, The Terminator (1984) told everyone: “I’ll be back” – and proved it with this film. The film takes place 11 years after the events of the first movie, in the year 1995. Sarah Connor (Hamilton) is now in a mental institution after attempting to blow up Cyberdyne Systems, and for acting delusional and insane over thoughts of an apocalypse. Her son John (Furlong) has become a rebellious foster child. This time, two cyborg terminators are sent from future Earth — a T-800 model (Schwarzenegger) similar to the one from the first film, and the other, a prototype T-1000 (Patrick), who has the ability to ‘morph’ his body into any solid shape, impersonate other persons and even camouflage himself with the background. One is sent to protect the future leader John, the other to kill the boy who will lead humans to victory over the cyborgs. The film explores issues of fate, responsibility, loyalty, and the essences of humanity. The sequel was made possible by Cameron’s hugely successful blockbuster Aliens (1986) and The Abyss (1989). Unlike The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day would gross half its budget in its opening weekend, despite a running time of over two and a half hours, and end up making back twice its budget in the United States alone. The chief selling point, aside from the computer-generated special effects and dazzling, non-stop action sequences, were the two major stars, Schwarzenegger and Hamilton, who starred in the original. It would be followed by a mildly successful sequel, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), in which only Schwarzenegger returned and faced off against a female “Terminatrix.” This science-fiction blockbuster won four technical Academy Awards. Academy Award Nominations: 6, including Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing. Academy Awards: 4, including Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Effects Editing.
Thelma & Louise (1991)
Starring: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Chistopher McDonald, Brad Pitt, Timothy Carhart
Director: Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott’s film from first-timer Callie Khouri’s screenplay is a pseudo-feminist, female-buddy and road movie that examines the themes of liberation, free will, revenge, female empowerment from oppression, self-discovery, and the nature of criminality. Thelma Dickinson (Davis), a naive Arkansas housewife starved for adventure, is unhappily married to a cheating, verbally-abusive and arrogant salesman named Darryl (McDonald). She sets out to have a weekend trip with her worldly-wise best friend, a coffee-shop waitress named Louise Sawyer (Sarandon). At a truck-stop en route, Thelma loosens up after a few drinks and becomes flirtatious. One of the customers, would-be rapist Harlan Puckett (Carhart), threatens Thelma in the parking lot – and she is questionably saved by Louise who kills the man before the rape occurs. In their flight from the law, the federal authorities, and the police, they begin driving to Mexico in a red 1966 Thunderbird convertible, and commit further serious crimes. Brad Pitt has a bit but memorable, pure beefcake role as sweet-talking J.D., a cocky, hitch-hiking cowboy (and thieving con-artist) who steals from Thelma in a motel after seduction. The pair’s flight as fugitives becomes one of liberation, as they not only cast off their daily shackles, but discover their inner desires and personas and become defiant outlaws, while being pursued by a sympathetically-protective detective named Hal Slocumb (Keitel). The box-office hit, similar to other couple-on-the-run films such as You Only Live Once (1937), They Live By Night (1949), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Badlands (1973), Thieves Like Us (1974), and The Sugarland Express (1974), is stirring to watch, especially in its final scenes, which include an encounter with an offensively-lewd truck driver, the awe-inspiring aerial shot of their T-bird being chased by a legion of blaring police cars in the American Southwest, and the famous freeze frame ending depicting their ultimate freedom as they ascend into the Grand Canyon. Academy Award Nominations: 6, including Best Director–Ridley Scott, Best Actress–Geena Davis, Best Actress–Susan Sarandon, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing. Academy Awards: 1, Best Original Screenplay–Callie Khouri. Interestingly, Scott’s directorial nomination replaced that of a snubbed female director (Barbra Streisand’s Best Picture-nominated The Prince of Tides (1991)).
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Snitz Edwards, Charles Belcher, Julanne Johnston, Brandon Hurst
Director: Raoul Walsh
Raoul Walsh’s timeless and expensive silent costume fantasy is a lavish and bold Arabian Nights adventure – and a spectacular accomplishment in production design and state-of-the-art special effects from production/art director William Cameron Menzies. It was inspired by writer/director Fritz Lang’s Der Müde Tod (1921) (aka Destiny or The Tired Death) – the source for the flying horse and carpet sequences. The title character, the mischievous Ahmed, the Thief of Bagdad (Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., credited as Elton Thomas), possesses a magic rope used to scale walls and rob people, including the royal family. In the palace of the Caliph (Hurst), he disguises himself as a regal Prince to win the heart of an exotic, ravishingly-beautiful Princess (Johnston), who must choose a princely husband on her birthday. Flogged for his deceptive fraud, Ahmed repents, reforms and confesses the truth to a Holy Man (Belcher). A test or challenge is devised by the Princess (who has already been smitten by Ahmed) — the suitor who retrieves the rarest treasures hidden in a magical chest within the mysterious Orient in seven moons will win her hand. The storybook film features amazingly difficult stunt work performed by Fairbanks, such as a ride high above the city on a magic carpet, a battle with a fire-breathing dragon in caverns of flame, and a ride on the back of a flying horse (or Pegasus). He must also battle the evil and treacherous Mongol Prince (So-Jin) upon his return to woo back the Princess and prove his love. The legendary action star, already at the age of 40, was known for his swashbuckling roles as Zorro/Don Diego, D’Artagan and Robin Hood in 38 previous films, and would later star in his final role as Don Juan in Alexander Korda’s The Private Life of Don Juan (1934). His son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., would follow in his father’s footsteps as both a comedic romantic lead and as an action star, sometimes performing his own stunts much as his father had, in such films as The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and RKO’s Sinbad the Sailor (1947). This film was followed by an inferior remake with sound and color, The Thief of Bagdad (1940) with Conrad Veidt as the evil magician, and Sabu as the young thief. Gene Kelly’s “Sinbad the Sailor” segment in Invitation to the Dance (1956), and Disney’s animated Aladdin (1992) paid homage to the film. No Academy Award Nominations.

The Thing (From Another World) (1951)
Starring: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, James Arness
Directors: Christian Nyby (with Howard Hawks)
An influential and taut horror and science-fiction B-film hybrid based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 story Who Goes There? This alien invasion film was director Hawks’ sole science-fiction effort. A group of isolated scientists led by military pilot Captain Patrick Hendry (Tobey) and lead researcher Dr. Carrington (Cornthwaite) are stationed in a remote Arctic base. They discover a flying saucer UFO buried deep in the tundra, along with an eight-foot alien body (Arness) in a block of ice. After removing the frozen spaceman from the craft and bringing it back to their research station headquarters, the Thing creature (a chlorophyll-based humanoid) accidentally thaws and escapes, and proceeds to kill the sled dogs and hunt down the scientists themselves for their blood. The film effectively focuses on character interaction, with natural and rapid-fire dialogue, appropriate scientific jargon, and a strong-willed female character named Nikki Nicholson (Sheridan). The three most memorable moments are the discovery of the shape of the spacecraft, the scene of the alien set ablaze with kerosene, and the final warning/bulletin radioed by reporter Ned “Scotty” Scott (Spencer) from the North Pole: “…Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking, keep watching the skies!” (the warning foreshadowed Dr. Miles Bennell’s (Kevin McCarthy) similar: “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next, you’re next…” in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)). Remade by John Carpenter as the moody The Thing (1982) with Kurt Russell, and paid homage to with Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). No Academy Award Nominations.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Starring: Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, David Kaff, Tony Hendra, June Chadwick
Director: Rob Reiner
One of the funniest, improvisational parodies and satirical mockumentaries ever made, a typical concert film about the ill-fated, 1982 Tap Across America tour by Spinal Tap – one of Europe’s loudest bands, in their first US tour in six years. Fictional director Marty DiBergi (Reiner, the film’s actual director with his debut film) follows the members of the second-rate, fictitious heavy metal band as they promote their new LP album Smell the Glove: blonde lead singer David St. Hubbins (McKean), the cucumber-wearing bass player Derek Smalls (Shearer), lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Guest) – who seems to long for St. Hubbins, Viv Savage (Kaff) – a strange troll-like keyboardist, and their shifty-eyed, cricket stick-wielding manager Ian Faith (Hendra). There’s also an endless string of mortal drummers (one is remembered as having choked to death on someone else’s vomit, while another spontaneously combusted). The group has numerous tour misadventures: they can’t find the amphitheatre stage for a performance in Cleveland, are stopped at security for wearing “artificial limbs,” experience show cancellations, non-existent hotel accommodations, mechanical failures, second billing to a puppet show, an 18″ Stonehenge props debacle, failed promotional appearances, and David’s Yoko Ono-like girlfriend Jeanine Pettibone (Chadwick) attempts to break up the band. The film’s most famous scene is of Tufnel trying to explain how the band’s Marshall amplifier is special: “These go to 11.” The film features non-stop hilarity, mixing both obvious gags and lampooning in-jokes, as well as many brief star cameos, like Billy Crystal as angry head waiter Morty the Mime, Fran Drescher as tough record company publicist Bobbi Flekman (“Money talks, and bulls–t walks!”), Bruno Kirby as a limo driver, and Patrick MacNee as the vacuous Sir Denis Eton-Hogg, head of Polymer Records and Hoggwood, a camp for pale young boys. The film had a very quiet theatrical release, but quickly became a cult favorite on videotape, leading Guest to direct a string of other mockumentaries (Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), and A Mighty Wind (2003), which reunited all three Spinal Tap actors as folk singers). No Academy Award Nominations.
Titanic (1997)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Bill Paxton, Gloria Stuart, Frances Fisher
Director: James Cameron
Writer/director James Cameron’s three-plus hour, epic mega-blockbuster with the most expensive budget of any film up to its time, and extravagant visual and digital effects. Its story centered around an infamous part of history (the fateful night of April 15, 1912 for White Star Line’s R.M.S. Titanic) with a doomed, fictional romance at its core. It begins with treasure-seekers in a salvage expedition at the submerged ship led by Brock Lovett (Paxton), who discover a safebox with a drawing of a woman wearing a 56-carat blue diamond necklace. They connect it to 102 year-old survivor Rose Dawson Calvert (Stuart) who revisits the site of the sinking, and reminisces, in flashback, about an ill-fated, forbidden romance she had when she was a seventeen year-old society girl. with lower-class, starving artist Jack Dawson (DiCaprio). Earlier a debutante named Rose DeWitt Bukater (Winslet), she had been forced by her mother Ruth (Fisher) to become engaged to rich, arrogant socialite Cal Hockley (Zane) and was on her way to Philadelphia to marry. Feeling hopelessly trapped, she tried to commit suicide from the aft deck rather than accept the arranged marriage, but was rescued by Jack. Although Jack was slighted by her upper-class family, she forsook her future with Cal and asked Jack to sketch her in the nude wearing the invaluable blue diamond, and they fell in love. When the ship hit the iceberg in the frigid North Atlantic and split in two, Jack sacrificed himself and again saved her from sure death. The characters of Rose and Jack and their romance wisely dominate the film, although there are some secondary subplots. Fans (mostly female) returned many dozens of times to enjoy the tale over and over and helped the film become the highest grossing motion picture of all time. Although praised by critics and the viewing public, there was some backlash about its acting (especially DiCaprio’s) and its screenplay – Titanic became the first Best Picture winner to not have a Best Screenplay nomination since The Sound of Music (1965). Academy Award Nominations: 14, including Best Actress–Kate Winslet, Best Supporting Actress–Gloria Stuart, Best Makeup. Academy Awards: 11, including Best Picture, Best Director–James Cameron, Best Cinematography–Russell Carpenter, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score–James Horner, Best Original Song–“My Heart Will Go On,” Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Effects Editing.
Toy Story (1995) and
Toy Story 2 (1999) (tie)
Starring: Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer
Director: John Lasseter
Toy Story (1995) was the first feature length film to be completely animated by computers, by pioneering CGI animation studio Pixar Studios, which had already experimented with quite a few short subject films, most noticebly the Oscar-nominated short Luxo Jr. (1986) (whose characters became the basis for their logo) and Oscar-winning short Tin Toy (1988). The film’s amazing computer effects were surpassed only by the intelligent, thoughtful script that had adult themes that both parents and their kids could relate to. Toy Story is a fantasy in which toys are animated, living beings when humans aren’t around. Cowboy Woody (voice by Tom Hanks) is the highest ranked bedroom toy (there’s also Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, Wallace Shawn as Rex, a meek dinosaur, Jim Varney as Slinky Dog, John Ratzenburger as Hamm the Pig, and Annie Potts as Woody’s sweetheart, Bo Peep), because he’s the favorite of master Andy. When Andy unwraps a birthday present and a new hi-tech space and action-toy Buzz Lightyear (voice by Tim Allen) appears, Woody fears his top place has been usurped by the new rival. The deluded Buzz believes he’s on a mission to save the planet, until the two become trapped in the house of Sid, a sadistic bully in the neighborhood, and they are forced to overcome their differences. The sequel, Toy Story 2 (1999), far surpassed the original in terms of the quality of animation, voice acting and script, as the themes from the first film — obsolescence and loyalty — are explored even more deeply. Woody faces the reality that not only do toys get damaged, but that children inevitably grow up and forsake their childhood playthings. While Andy is at cowboy camp, Woody (regarded as a valuable collectible) is kidnapped by greedy toy collector Al (of Al’s Toy Barn). He soon discovers that he was once a legend in the 60’s, on a TV show called Woody’s Roundup, complete with the usual wide array of merchandising tie-ins. He also realizes that he’s the final missing piece in the collector’s Woody’s Roundup set, with fellow toys Cowgirl Jessie (voice by Joan Cusack), prospector Stinky Pete (voice by Kelsey Grammer), and Woody’s faithful horse Bullseye. Woody faces the choice of living forever with them in a museum display in Tokyo, or leaving and returning to Andy, thereby dooming his newfound friends to be sent back into abandonment and storage, and facing his own dilemma that he won’t last another year as Andy’s favored toy. Academy Award Nominations (1995): 3, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Musical or Comedy Score–Randy Newman, Best Song–“You’ve Got a Friend.” Academy Award Nominations (1999): 1, Best Song–“When She Loved Me” by Randy Newman. Toy Story 2 and Chicken Run (2000) would influence the Academy to finally take animated films more seriously with the new Best Animated Feature Film category that debuted with Oscar-winning Shrek (2001), another CGI-animated feature.


The Usual Suspects (1995)
Starring: Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite, Suzy Amis
Director: Bryan Singer
A convoluted, darkly comedic film noir, Bryan Singer’s intriguing film (his second feature film) is set in a police interrogation room with slow-witted, chatty con-man Roger “Verbal” Kint (Spacey in a breakthrough role) who has been offered immunity, if he talks and provides testimony. He attempts to convince his captor, tough U.S. Customs Special Agent federal investigator Dave Kujan (Palminteri) about the enigmatic existence of Keyser Soze, a semi-mythical “devil”, and almost supernatural Hungarian crime lord and mastermind. (Legend has it, according to Kint, that Soze was so willfully cold-blooded that when his family was threatened with rape and held hostage by Hungarian rivals, he killed his own family and then their captors and the rest of the mob – and “nobody’s ever seen him since.”) According to Kint (told in flashback), a group of tough and savvy criminals (the ones on all the film’s posters, in an NYPD line-up hauled in after a Queens, NY truck hijacking), including crooked ex-cop Dean Keaton (Byrne), explosives specialist Todd Hockney (Pollak), entry man and sniper Michael McManus (Baldwin), Latino Fred Fenster (Del Toro), and Kint himself, pulled off a $3 million robbery of emeralds. Soze had also coerced the five thieves to go on a suicide mission to San Pedro harbor to commit a huge $91 million cocaine heist –an act of sabotage against one of Keyser’s own competitors in the drug trade. Verbal insists that he and his gang dealt with Soze only through his legal representative, Kobayashi (Postlethwaite), who pressured them by threatening to kill Keaton’s lawyer girlfriend Edie Finneran (Amis) and castrate McManus’ young nephew. The weaselly, limping, club-footed Kint, a survivor of the explosion at the harbor, confesses truths, half-truths, double-crosses, and lies. His recounting, aided by the contents of a bulletin board in the interrogation office, forces the viewer to deduce what is real and what is fictional in the stories he tells, and who Soze really is. The non-linear, puzzling film is sometimes a bit too self-consciously twisted, clever, and predictable, but still a great crime thriller. Academy Awards: 2, including Best Supporting Actor–Kevin Spacey, Best Original Screenplay–Christopher McQuarrie.



Way Out West (1937)
Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Sharon Lynne, James Finlayson, Rosina Lawrence
Director: James W. Horne
One of the best Laurel and Hardy comedy films, and their only western spoof, with numerous slapstick antics and typical gags. Again, they reprise their most familiar roles – Stanley, the thin, meek simpleton, and Ollie, the fat, pompous one. The two arrive in the wild western town of Brushwood Gulch, searching for Mary Roberts (Lawrence), the orphaned daughter of their recently-deceased prospector partner. In Mickey Finn’s Palace saloon run by a larcenous and unscrupulous innkeeper (Finlayson) and his brassy showgirl partner Lola (Lynne), they mistakenly let it slip that they have a deed to a gold mine for Mary. Finn substitutes Lola for Mary, his demure kitchen maid, to acquire the valuable deed for himself. When the pair meet the real Mary and realize she is being victimized and exploited by the other two crooked con-artists, they attempt to get the deed back. The film contains many memorable scenes and bits by the comedic twosome, such as the scene of Stan and Ollie’s discussion about the deed to the gold mine – delivered to the wrong woman (“That’s the first mistake we’ve made since that guy sold us the Brooklyn Bridge”), their soft-shoe dance routine while singing “The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,” the scene of Stan being wrestled and tortured — by tickling — to give up the gold mine deed, Stan biting – chewing – and gulping pieces of his hat after losing a bet (“now you’re taking me illiterally”), Stan lighting his finger like a cigarette lighter, and the rope-pulley sequences with Ollie and then a mule. Aside from their classic Sons of the Desert (1933), Laurel and Hardy appeared in many films, notably The Flying Deuces (1939), A Chump At Oxford (1940), and the comedy short The Music Box (1932). Academy Award Nominations: 1, Best Score.
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)
Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono
Director: Robert Aldrich
A great psychological thriller, black comedy, and over-the-top camp classic is this great trashy melodrama – with the bizarre (and sole) pairing of two legendary — and rival — screen legends in a gothic, macabre, Grand Guignol horror film. The screenplay, by Lukas Heller, was based on Henry Farrell’s novel Baby Jane (who also authored the novel Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte). A grotesque Baby Jane Hudson (Davis at 54 years of age), a former vaudeville child star, and paralyzed invalid sister Blanche (Crawford) from a mysterious, career-ending car accident (for which Jane was blamed but never charged), also a former movie star, live together in a gloomy, crumbling mansion in Los Angeles. Pasty white-faced Jane, whose career faded long ago, is now a deranged alcoholic, and vengefully bitter and jealous toward her wheelchair-bound sister secluded in an upstairs bedroom. Enmity worsens when a local TV network airs a marathon tribute to Blanche Hudson movies, and Jane learns that Blanche is planning to sell the mansion and put her in a sanitarium. There are many stunning scenes and excessive performances, particularly Jane’s relentless tormenting of Blanche by serving an ex-pet and roasted rat for “din-din,” Jane garishly dressed up as a little girl as she is being coached by impoverished pianist and musical director Edwin Flagg (Buono in his film debut) for an improbable comeback as she croaks, “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy.” And the concluding beach scene finale, when a past secret is revealed to Jane and she replies, “You mean, all this time we could’ve been friends?” The film’s ending echoes the beginning when Jane purchases two strawberry ice cream cones and then insanely spins, pirouettes and dances, drawing a curious circle of people around her to fulfill her craving desires. Academy Award Nominations: 5, including Best Actress–Bette Davis, Best Supporting Actor–Victor Buono, Best B/W Cinematography, Best Sound. Academy Awards: 1, Best B/W Costume Design.
When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Director: Rob Reiner
This witty and likeable, lightweight, old-fashioned romantic comedy was intended to answer the sexual politics question, “Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?” Director Rob Reiner directed this smart, modern-day ‘screwball comedy’ (his fifth film) of the semi-autobiographical tale – it was compiled from the shared recollections of actual romances, and sometimes resembles a sitcom. The engaging, episodic film keenly observes romance, relationships between males and females, friendship and sex. Two long-time acquaintances, often pessimistic, fast-talking and controlling Harry Burns (Crystal) and bubbly Sally Albright (Ryan) grapple with this question over a 12-year period (beginning in the spring of 1977 as students when they share a drive to New York from Chicago), as their relationship grows and matures. Their love is not “at first sight” but takes years to develop as the reluctant two often bump into each other and reconnect. The leads’ best friends, Marie (Fisher) and Jess (Kirby), help Harry’s and Sally’s friendship to evolve, and actually fall in love and get married themselves. The summer of 1989’s ‘sleeper’ film has a number of startling resemblances to Woody Allen’s witty, urban romance Annie Hall (1977): the black and white titles and the film’s title song “It Had to Be You” (sung by Diane Keaton in Allen’s film), direct camera interviews-testimonials, split-screen techniques, the Manhattan backdrop, evocative George Gershwin tunes, obsessive talk about sex and death, and Harry and Sally’s first meeting in 1977 – is the year the similar film was released. The film’s ending parallels Allen’s Manhattan (1979). However, the two films also differed: When Harry Met Sally… illustrated how friends can ultimately realize that they’re better as lovers, while Annie Hall showed how lovers may end up better as friends. Academy Award Nominations: 1, Best Original Screenplay–Nora Ephron.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Starring: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner, Stubby Kaye
Director: Robert Zemeckis
A technically-marvelous film blending animated, ink-and-paint cartoon characters and flesh-and-blood live actors, in a convincing comedy/mystery noir thriller, set in Los Angeles in 1947. Very loosely based on Gary Wolf’s 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (with comic-book and newspaper strip characters who speak with word balloons instead of voices) — in a very sanitized version. The film is a delightful spoof of the hard-boiled Sam Spade films and reminiscent of Chinatown (1974), complete with a sultry, femme fatale humanoid Toon named Jessica Rabbit (Turner, uncredited, with singing voice by Amy Irving, Amblin Entertainment executive producer Steven Spielberg’s wife at the time), and a case involving alleged marital infidelity (“pattycake”), murder, a missing will, blackmail, and a conspiracy hatched by evil, Toon-hating Judge Doom (Lloyd) (of Cloverleaf Industries). Doom’s plan is to bring freeways to LA, thereby ruining the existing Pacific & Electric Red Car public transport electric trolley system. The film revolves around the murder of Marvin Acme (Kaye), a gag-gift promoter and props supplier (Acme Novelty Co.) for all Toon productions and the owner of the ghetto-ized Toon-town where the Toons, regarded as a segregated minority group, live just outside Hollywood. Framed for the murder, zany Maroon Cartoon Studios actor Roger Rabbit (Fleischer), a stuttering, disaster-prone ‘Toon,’ solicits help from reluctant, hard-boiled, boozing private eye Eddie Valiant (Hoskins) to clear his name. Valiant is still grief-stricken over the death of brother Ted by a falling cartoon piano, but is financially – and emotionally – supported by girlfriend Dolores (Cassidy), as he solves the case. Earlier efforts to combine humans and ink-and-paint cartoon characters side-by-side in a film (Disney’s Song of the South (1946) and Mary Poppins (1964), for example) are considered primitive next to this film, which used computers to precisely repeat camera movements and calculate shading, to allow them to cast shadows and have complex lighting. Unprecedented cooperation from Warner Brothers and Disney allowed for classic cartoon characters to be seen together for the first time, such as Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny parachuting together, having both Tinkerbell and Porky Pig end the movie, and, of course, the famous piano duel between Daffy and Donald Duck in a Cotton Club-style nightclub, the Ink & Paint Club. Academy Award Nominations: 6, including Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing. Academy Awards: 3, including Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Effects Editing (and a Special Achievement Award to Richard Williams for animation direction and creation of the cartoon characters).
The Wind (1928)
Starring: Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Montagu Love, Dorothy Cumming, Edward Earle, William Orlamond
Director: Victor Sjöström
Swedish director Victor Sjöström’s visually poetic, melodramatic silent western film, from Frances Marion’s adapted screenplay based on the novel by Dorothy Scarborough. This is the dust bowl tale of a vulnerable young woman’s plight in an alien and fearful environment (of ever-present sexual advances and the wind). One of the film’s titles announces, “Man, puny but irresistible, encroaching forever on Nature’s Fortresses.” A “proper,” fragile, and young Southern belle, Letty Mason (Gish in her fourth and last MGM film, and final silent film) travels from Virginia to live with her coarse male cousin Beverly (Earle) in the frontier West, where the howling, inhospitable Texas prairie wind relentlessly blows severe sandstorms. Beverly’s suspicious, hardened pioneer wife Cora (Cumming) becomes intensely jealous of the young, pretty, and demure Eastern lady. The delicate Letty is immediately courted for marriage by two ranch cowboys: the clumsy, comic buffoon Lige (Hanson), and his dim-witted sidekick Sourdough (Orlamond). Also, an amoral, smooth-talking, flirtatious, already-married salesman from Fort Worth named Roddy Wirt (Love) who first met her on the train journey, arrives in town and wants her to be his mistress. Desperate because she has received an ultimatum to leave Cora’s household when regarded as a sexual threat, Letty accepts a marriage proposal from Lige, but rebuffs consummation of her marriage with him on their wedding night. When Roddy finds the still-virginal Letty alone and half-crazy in her isolated cabin due to the constantly howling, remorseless wind, he attempts a brutal attack and rape. He insists on taking her away with him, but she resiliently resists and shoots him dead, in self-defense, and guiltily attempts to bury his body in the uncooperative, shifting sand. She wanders, blindly, into the middle of the sandstorm and disappears – to presumably die, in the film’s original ending. MGM reshot the film’s downbeat ending to change the film’s mood. In the edited version, Letty reconciles with Lige – she confesses the killing to him and how the sand has justly covered up the corpse. She also reaffirms her love and they lovingly embrace in the doorway of their cabin. The film was a box-office failure, due to the advent of the “talkies” a year before, but its indelible images yet remain. John Arnold’s impressive cinematography was taken under difficult circumstances – the temperature during the shoot in the Mojave Desert was often 120 F in the shade. Sjöström (billed as Victor Seastrom in his American films) was a longtime Swedish film director whom MGM signed to do films, such as The Scarlet Letter (1924), He Who Gets Slapped (1924), with Lon Chaney, and The Divine Woman (1928), with Greta Garbo. This was his final American film. He later returned to Sweden to act, most notably in Bergman’s classic Wild Strawberries (1957) as lead character Professor Isak Borg, an elderly professor facing his mortality and revisiting his past. No Academy Award Nominations.
Witness For the Prosecution (1957)
Starring: Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Henry Daniell, Norma Varden
Director: Billy Wilder
Co-writer and director Billy Wilder’s brilliant film, a convoluted, twisting courtroom mystery based on Agatha Christie’s 1933 four-character short story and celebrated 1947 stage play about an aging, distinguished, near-retirement age London barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton), with his overbearing housekeeper/nurse Miss Plimsoll (Lanchester, Laughton’s real-life wife) tending to his near-failing health. The intelligently clever and incorrigible attorney is asked by solicitor Mayhew (Daniell) to take on a perplexing case, the defense of the prime suspect – an unemployed, American expatriate inventor named Leonard Stephen Vole (Tyrone Power in his final film role) in the murder of wealthy widow Emily Jane French (Varden). The testimony — and true identity — of the mysterious, beautiful German-born ‘wife’ of the accused, Christine “Helm” Vole (Dietrich), holds the key to solving the case involving marital infidelities and deceit. She is his only alibi – but cannot as the defendant’s wife be considered a credible witness, but she IS called as a ‘witness for the prosecution’ to testify against him and cold-heartedly betray her husband. When a mysterious Cockney woman calls Sir Wilfrid saying she has information to help his client, the film sets up the surprise ending. After Leonard has been acquitted (although he actually committed the crime), Christine shockingly stabs him to death for his double-crossing philandering! The film has crisp dialogue, a complicated and intriguing plot, unique characters and excellent acting performances. A remade, 1982 TV movie based on the original Wilder screenplay starred the venerable Ralph Richardson in the Laughton role, with Deborah Kerr as his nurse, Beau Bridges as the accused Leonard Vole, and Diana Rigg as his wife Christine. Academy Award Nominations: 6, including Best Picture, Best Director–Billy Wilder, Best Actor–Charles Laughton, Best Supporting Actress–Elsa Lanchester, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing.


Young Frankenstein (1974)
Starring: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars
Director: Mel Brooks
One of writer/producer/director Mel Brooks’ best films – a nostalgic, hilarious spoof-tribute to classic horror films (with its authentic black and white cinematography and production design/set decoration), and in particular, of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. This was his follow-up film to his westerns-spoof (Blazing Saddles (1974)). The main character, young brain surgeon and med-school professor, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Wilder) is in denial about his heritage, and must continually and defiantly correct people about the pronunciation of his name: “That’s Frahnk-en-steen”. The reluctant scientist returns to Transylvania when he inherits his infamous grandfather Victor’s castle, and is inspired to finish his ancestor’s mad work to create life after he finds the journal book/diary “How I Did It” in his private library. In the castle and town, he finds a bug-eyed Igor (“That’s Eye-gor”) (Feldman) with a shifting hunchback, an old housekeeper Frau Bleucher (Leachman) who inspires horses to whinny, and a pretty, dim-witted, voluptuous assistant from the village named Inga (Garr). His sexually-repressed, spoiled fiancee Elizabeth (Kahn) later joins him as he repeats his grandfather’s famous experiments and recreates the Monster (Boyle). The film ranges from slapstick and farce to dirty, bawdy humor to irreverent satire (e.g., a parody of the little girl drowning scene that was taken from Frankenstein (1931), and the blind hermit scene from Bride of Frankenstein (1935) with Gene Hackman in a cameo role.) Some of the more memorable images are Elizabeth’s encounter with the Monster and his “enormous schwanstucker” (singing “O Sweet Mystery of Life”), and the soft-shoe dancing duet of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” by the Monster and creator Frederick, complete with tuxedos, canes, and top hats. Later, co-writer and actor Wilder attempted his own Old Dark House horror genre spoof, Haunted Honeymoon (1986). Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Adapted Screenplay (Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder), Best Sound.


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