Sunday, August 9, 2009

My Favorite Movies

1) A Man For All Seasons(1966)
Laurence Olivier said that Paul Scofield took a Saint and made a human being out of him. He called Paul Scofield's portrayal of St. Thomas More, the most brilliant performance of his lifetime. I agree. I remember that there was a story about Paul receiving a multi-million dollar film offer right after "A Man For All Seasons" was released and became a big hit. He turned it down. For one of two reasons, either because his family had just bought a new dog and that he was training him, or that his kids were more important to him than any film. He loved them too much to spend any prolonged period of time away from them. Had he taken the offer, it would have required him to be away from his wife and kids for six months. He asked what of kind of father and husband would do that. Paul was an individualist. He was famous for acting in some of the most brilliant performances ever seen on the English stage, year after year, but every night he would avoid the parties and the press to catch the first train home to his wife and kids.
2) A Witness for the Prosecution(1957)
What a great movie, with impeccable casting. And how could you not love, Marlene Dietrich. She left Germany in the early 30's right after she received a request for a meeting from Adolf Hitler(some say he asked for a date, which she turned down). She gives a brilliant performance, one of the best in the history of film and certainly the best of her career. She obviously was the smartest character in the movie and she makes the complicated story believable(with all apologies to Agatha Christie). If you ever wondered why Charles Laughton is considered one of the best actors Britain ever produced, this movie and his performance in it show why. I don't know of any movie that Tyrone Power appeared in that I liked. His pivotal role in this movie, proves that he was one of the great actors of his generation.
3) Zulu(1964)
The true story of the battle of Rorke's Drift during the Zulu uprising. After the stunning defeat of a British Expeditionary Force under Lord Chelmsford at Isandlwana(1,300 British dead), the Zulus spread out and attacked several British Outposts, including one at Rorke's Drift. Outnumbered 10 to 1, Rorke's Drift is located in the middle of Zululand. It came under attack by the largest army the Zulus ever put in the field. It is a story of courage and character, the British contingent of less than 200 held out against impossible odds for 48 hours. Britain's highest military honor, The Victoria Cross, was awarded to eleven of the men fighting in the battle, the most ever awarded in a single engagement.
4) To Kill a Mockingbird(1963)
One of the great books, movies or stories of our time. Gregory Peck through the character of Atticus Finch, showed us what real courage and character are. Released within a few months of the massacre at Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Civil Rights Workers, Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner were murdered by the Philadelphia Mississippi Police Department for registering blacks to vote. Better than anything else, that event and this movie show the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. While this film was being made Gregory Peck was taking part in Martin Luther King's march on Washington. He was there at the Lincoln Memorial when MLK gave his "I have a dream" plea that all men are created equal. Tweny years earlier he had joined with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Houston, etc... in fighting Joe McCarthy and the Pogroms of the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. That took real courage.
One little footnote, Mary Badham's father was in the military and her mother was a TV annoucer in Alabama , neither of whom could come with Mary to Los Angeles for the filming. Gregory Peck and his wife Veronique volunteered to act as her guardians during her stay in Los Angeles. Mary says to this day that this was one of the happiest times and best experiences of her life. Gregory and Veronique treated her like their daughter and, though she missed her parents, it was a far happier and better experience than she had any right to expect. You know, Gregory Peck found that portraying a decent human being is a lot easier when you are one.
5) Lawrence of Arabia(1962)
One of the most beautiful films ever photographed and one the most interesting stories ever told. Assigned by the British Foreign Office to help the Arabs revolt against the Turks, TE Lawrence became convinced that he was a tool of destiny. And as an advisor and leader of the Bedouin the Arab Revolt became his mission. There is a very famous quote of Oscar Wilde, "Be careful what you wish for; there is the awful possibility that your wish will be answered and then you will be in real trouble". After the Arab Revolt, the British and French role as overlords of the Middle East were numbered.
6) Dr. Zhivago(1965)
A great story at one of the most signifigant moments in history. Few films ever communicated the sweep of history better than Dr. Zhivago. And there is no more beautiful woman than Julie Christie.
"Shocked, shocked, I say, to learn that there is gambling going on in this establishment." Tobey Zeigler, The West Wing(Aaron Sorkin, writer, rewriting Claude Rains in Casablanca): To learn 50 years later that Boris Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in Literature because of the machinations of the CIA.
7) Lord of the Flies(1963)
It won a Nobel Prize for William Golding and continues to be one of the most thoughtful and provocative movies ever made. Peter Brook the director got his start at Cambridge with Shakespeare. You get a definite feel that there is something Shakespearean about the story. It will haunt you long after you've seen it. I remember having nightmares about it when I was 6. A little footnote, I ran across a website which included an interview with William Golding. One of the pictures that came with the story, showed Mr. Golding teaching a class at an English "Public" school(like Eton or Rugby). One of the boys(around 12-years-old) included in the picture has Vladimir Nobakov's Lolita sitting on his desk in front of him. Somehow that seems appropriate to the spirit of "Lord of the Flies".
8) It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World(1963)
And funny too. Everyone is in it and there are enough laughs for a hundred movies.
9) The Changeling(1980)
George C. Scott moves into a haunted mansion. Jacques Tourneur was a director who advocated keeping the monsters hidden, which is more frightening than the monsters you confront face to face. Kolchak the Nighstalker was a direct result of this school of horror movie.
10) The Usual Suspects(1993)
Brian Singer's clever, thoughtful movie, which harkens back to the time of the Maltese Falcon and Film Noir. You have to pay attention to the story or you will get lost. Kevin Spacey is wonderful in the starring role and is supported by a great story and a great supporting cast. I especially like the way "Dave Kujan" discovers who Keyser Soze is. The one thing missing from movies today is great writing. The Usual Suspects is proof that there are a few really good writers left, Christopher McQuarrie of the "Usual Suspects" is one of them. Brian Singer went from Directing "The Usual Suspects" to being Executive Producer for the wonderful "House MD".
11) The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca
Dashiell Hammett, wrote mysteries like Ernest Hemingway wrote short stories: he wrote masculine stories, with short succinct sentences, which are governed by their verbs and without flowery expository prose: he cut to the chase. Considered the grandfather of Film Noir, John Houston, Humphrey Bogart et al. created the greatest detective story with the most memorable cast in movie history.
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in a love story set in an exotic location with some of the best dialogue ever written. A movie that gets everything right.

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