The Twenty Greatest Brief Performances

It’s not the time the actors have on the screen, but what they do with the time they have.  Sometimes this is achieved by the sheer presence of the actor.  Whatever the reasons, these brief moments do much to signify these films.  So, with those thoughts, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Brief Performances”.

In no particular order…

  1. John McGiver.  “Midnight Cowboy”  (1969)  John Schlesinger.  Playing a religious pervert, this icon from television both horrified and delighted many of us.
  2. Bob Babalan.  “Catch 22”  (1970)  Mike Nichols.  In this powerful appearance, Babalan personified the madness of Heller’s novel.
  3. Dustin Hoffman.  “Dick Tracy” (1990)  Warren Beatty.  Hysterical cameo by Hoffman as Mumbles in this colorful adaptation.
  4. Gary Oldman.  “True Romance”  (1993)  Tony Scott.  Strange cross between hip hop and the Rasta culture creates this brazen creation.
  5. Alec Baldwin.  “Glengarry Glen Ross”  (1992)  James Foley.  Underrated director from “At Close Range” allowed Baldwin to let loose in a galvanizing opening.
  6. Peter Boyle.  “The Candidate”  (1972)  Michael Ritchie.  Boyle’s harried campaign manager is a delightful piece of work.
  7. Dennis Hopper.  “Apocalypse Now”  (1979)  Francis Ford Coppola.  When you finally get to the compound, guess who is there to greet you?
  8. Bill Murray.   “Tootsie”  (1982)  Sydney Pollack.  Unbilled and hysterical.
  9. Dean Stockwell.  “Blue Velvet”  (1986)  David Lynch.  His odd lip-syncing to an Orbison classic ignites an already powerful milieu.
  10. Jason Robards, Jr.  “Melvin and Howard”  (1980)  Jonathan Demme.  Haunting performance should be thrown in a time capsule.
  11. Richard Libertini.  “The In-Laws”  (1979)  Arthur Hiller.  Libertini as the general Garcia is a source of much laughter.
  12. Gene Hackman.  “Young Frankenstein”  (1974)  Mel Brooks.  Surprisingly comical work from the unbilled star.
  13. Jeff Corey.  “Little Big Man”  (1970)  Arthur Penn.  This performance probably owes more to the astonishing presence of this veteran actor and famed teacher.
  14. Mark Rydell.  “The Long Goodbye”  (1973)  Robert Altman.  Shocking moment supplied by noted director.
  15. Strother Martin.  “Cool Hand Luke”  (1967)  Stuart Rosenberg.  Playing a friendly sadist, Martin utters the most iconic line in the film.
  16. Ed Neal.  “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”  (1974)  Tobe Hooper.  Whatever your feelings for this genre, Neal skillfully portrays what could be considered the most bizarre of this unhinged group of relatives.
  17. Keenan Wynn.  “Dr. Strangelove”  (1964)  Stanley Kubrick.  Playing Colonel Bat Guano, Wynn brings a fierce comic energy to a brief, but shining moment.
  18. Cary Grant.  “Alice in Wonderland”  (1933)  Norman Z. McCleod.  Wearing the famous turtle attire (mask and all), this romantic leading man provides a particular whimsy.
  19. Dennis Weaver.  “Touch of Evil”  (1958)  Orson Welles.  Eccentric doesn’t begin to describe this wild eyed performance.
  20. Harvey Keitel.  “Alice Doesn’t Live here Anymore”  (1974) Martin Scorsese.  his would be rural ladies man is every woman’s nightmare.


The Twenty Greatest Films You Might Not Have Seen

Perhaps these films were not widely circulated in their time, for lack of studio support, or, maybe the timing of their releases were questionable.  And, several of these films have won awards and been listed on critics’ lists, but for some reason, if I mentioned their names to you, you might not know them.  So, with those thoughts, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Films You Might Not Have Seen” .

In no particular order…

  1.  “The Sweet Hereafter”  (1997) .   Atom Egoyan.  Based on the superb novel by Russell Banks, Egoyan never strikes a false note in depicting this tragedy that befalls a small town.
  2.  “Next Stop, Greenwich Village”  (1976).  Paul Mazursky.  Despite its moments of surprising misogyny, Mazursky’s autobiographical film is both funny and honest.
  3.  “Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins”  (1975).  Dick Richards.   Gentle road comedy has the ability to move you in unexpected ways.
  4.  “In a Lonely Place”  (1952).  Nicolas Ray.  One of Bogart’s more complex characters; this stunner sneaks up on you.
  5.  “Seconds”  (1966).  John Frankenheimer. Neglected film looks at our obsession with youth, containing what many consider to be Rock Hudson’s greatest performance.
  6.  “Slap Shot”  (1977).  George Roy Hill.  This is not only one of the best sports films, but certainly one of the funniest.
  7.  “Near Dark”  (1987).  Kathy Bigelow.  Poignant vampire tale breaks rules but remains true to its genre.
  8.  “The Conversation”  (1974).  Francis Ford Coppola.  Despite being an award winning film, many people missed this unusual film.
  9.  “Loving”  (1970).  Irving Kershner.  An early “Ice Storm”, Kershner’s glance at middle class morals is subtle, yet powerful.
  10.  “Rachel Getting Married”  (2008).  Jonathan Demme.  This highly unusual family drama takes a look at what we as humans will forgive.
  11.  “Dreamchild” (1985).  Gavin Miller.  Dennis Potter’s fantasia on the relationship between Lewis Carroll and the real Alice is both touching and imaginative, and one of my mother’s favorites.
  12.  “Spirits of the Beehive”  (1985).  Victor Erice.  This masterpiece influenced many filmmakers, including Guillermo del Toro.  The effects of Whale’s “Frankenstein” (1931) on two small children in Franco’s Spain is both intricate and subversive.
  13.  “Slaughterhouse Five  (1972).  George Roy Hill.  This Universal release somehow captured perfectly the tone of Vonnegut’s melancholy and irony.
  14.  “Fury”  (1936).  Fritz Lang.  Angry mob film shows the brilliance of Lang working within the studio system.  One of his best American films.
  15.  “After Hours”  (1985).  Martin Scorsese.  The ultimate bad date film, drenched in a giddy irony.
  16.  “The Boston Strangler”  (1968).  Richard Fleisher.  Highly influential crime film uses many cinematic devices, such as split screen, to get to this menace that overtook that city.
  17.  “The Devil Doll”  (1936).  Tod Browning.  Made after the controversial “Freaks” (1932), this strange little revenge yarn actually resonates with pulp vitality.
  18.  “Shoot the Moon”  (1981).  Alan Parker.  One of the more disturbing entries into the family drama genre.  Unlike its more conventional predecessor “Kramer vs. Kramer”, this one slipped through the cracks.
  19.  “Naked Lunch”  (1990).  David Cronenberg.  Not widely seen, this amalgamation of two quite different artists, William Burroughs and David Cronenberg,  is both weird and strangely serene.
  20.  “Up the Down Staircase”  (1967).  Robert Mulligan.  School as a war zone?  Mulligan skillfully shows the torment,  and, ultimately, the triumph of a first year teacher in a tough New York City high school.












The Twenty Greatest Film Heroes

The Twenty Greatest Film HeroesWhat makes a hero?  A single act of bravery?  Standing up for something while others remain seated?Or, is it the unlikely individual who rises to enormous heights in time of crisis?  I don’t know…I do know that we need them.  They bring a sense of purpose to our unsteady world.  So, with those cheery thoughts, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Film Heroes”.

In no particular order…

1.Gregory Peck.  “To Kill A Mockingbird”.  1962.  This definitely was Peck’s tour de force, bringing an amazing sensitivity and intelligence to this wonderful character.

2.Denzel Washington.  “Malcolm X”.  1990.  A majestic and volcanic performance.

3.Peter O’Toole.  “Lawrence of Arabia”.  1962.  He explodes onto the screen in this incredible debut.

4.Jack Nicholson.  “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.  1975.  Nicholson brought his own iconic charm to this legendary character. He also ushered in a bit of the counterculture as well.

5.Al Pacino.  “Serpico”.  1973.  Pacino played a man who stood up for to the NYPD and was shot for it!  He brought many colors to this complex role.

6.Sidney Poitier.  “In the Heat of the Night”.  1967.  The scene when Mr. Tibbs (Poitier) slaps back the racist white dude was called “the slap heard ’round the world”.

7.Russell Crowe.  “Gladiator”.  2000.  He brought a sensitivity and a force to an otherwise traditional film role.

8.Burt Lancaster.  “From Here to Eternity”.  1953.  His performance as Sgt. Warden is commanding.

9.Paul Newman.  “Cool Hand Luke”. 1967.  Unlikely heroes are always appealing, but Newman’s droll performance as Luke brought it to a new level.

10.Marlon Brando.  “On the Waterfront”.  1954.  Much has been written about Brando’s award-winning performance as Terry Malloy.  Transcending!

11.Montgomery Clift. “From Here to Eternity. 1953. He gives this sad soldier (Robert E. Lee Prewitt) many nuances.

12.James Stewart.  “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.  1939.  He played many heroes, but none with quite the power that he brought to this Washington innocent.

13.Henry Fonda.  “Grapes of Wrath”  1940.  His face captures a world of pain, the definitive Tom Joad.

14.Ben Kingsley.  “Gandhi”.  1982.  This brilliant actor was unknown to many when he took this demanding role and amazed the world.

15.Kirk Douglas.  “Spartacus”.  1960.  Intensity doesn’t begin to describe what Douglas brings to this early revolutionary.

16.Edward James Olmos.  “Stand and Deliver”.  1988.  This titan math teacher James Escalante created a movement in East L.A.  Bravo! Olmos is sublime!

17.Dustin Hoffman.  “Little Big Man”. 1970.  Caught between two cultures, we find comfort in Jack Crabb’s stoic and ironic life.

18.Alan Arkin.  “Catch 22”.  1970.  This iconic anti-hero was beautifully embodied by Mr. Arkin.

19.Daniel Day Lewis.  “Lincoln”.  2012.  Our greatest actor played one of our greatest presidents.  The result was a triumph on about every thespian level.

20.Spencer Tracy.  “Inherit the Wind”.  1960.  Who but Spencer Tracy would you want to play this great man (Clarence Darrow)?  A perfect blending of actor and material.


The Twenty Greatest Films in Color (Cinematography)

Do we dream in color?  The experts say 80% of the time we do.  The artists who worked in this medium not only enhanced the films they participated in but elevated the art form itself.  So, with these lofty words, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Films in Color” (Cinematography).

In no particular order…

  1. “2001” (1968)  Geoffrey Unsworth.  Visually, this landmark film cannot be overestimated.
  2. “Apocalypse Now” (1979)  Vittorio Storaro.  Filmed by the Italian maestro, this surrealistic Jungian jungle journey is a stunner.
  3. “The Godfather” (1972)  Gordon Willis.  Executives were alarmed when they saw how dark Willis had lit the film.  He changed cinema forever.
  4. “Black Narcissus” (1947)  Jack Cardiff.  Made on a sound stage, Cardiff convinces us they are in the Himalayas.  Amazing…
  5. “Wild at Heart” (1990)  Frederick Elmes.  Even more visually astonishing than “Blue Velvet”, Lynch’s frequent collaborator creates a hellish road comedy for the ages.
  6. “The Last Emperor” (1987)  Vittorio Storaro.  Filming in the actual forbidden city, Soraro paints a complex and illuminating portrait of China.
  7. “The French Connection” (1971)  Owen Roizman.  The menace of the New York streets pulsates thru Roizman’s lens.
  8. “E.T.” (1982)  Allen Daviau.  Delicate and textured, the cinematography is surprisingly underrated.
  9. “Rear Window” (1954)  Robert Burks.  The camera is literally a character in this precise, yet mesmerizing work.
  10. “Taxi Driver” (1976)  Michael Chapman.  This Dostoevsky like-tale casts a neon glow to the inferno in which the main character is engulfed.
  11. “American Graffiti”  (1973)  Haskell Wexler.  Filmed almost entirely at nighttime, Wexler paints a vibrant world of cool cars and cool cats.
  12. “The Day of the Locust” (1975)  Conrad Hall.  By desaturating the color scheme, Hall creates images that suggest Goya.
  13. “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (1971)  Vilmos Zsigmond.  Like a beautiful painting, Zsigmond’s camera captures the stunning beauty of nature, contrasting with the monstrous actions of man.
  14. “Days of Heaven” (1978)  Nestor Almendros.  Nature and man clash in this pictorial masterpiece.
  15. “Fanny and Alexander” (1983)  Sven Nykvist.  Bergman’s longtime cinematographer creates some beautiful imagery in his final work.
  16. “Catch 22” (1970)  David Watkin.  This famous English cinematographer brought a surrealism to this failed Hollywood attempt at a literary classic.
  17. “Barry Lyndon” (1975)  John Alcott.  A watershed of cinematography using candlelight, Alcott made a living painting come to life.
  18. “Goodfellas” (1990)  Michael Ballhaus.  Red is the dominant color in this brilliant film, signifying both their delicious meals and their countless killings.
  19. “Do the Right Thing” (1989)  Ernest Dickerson.  In this modern day urban “Our Town”, Dickerson tones match the ambitions of the young director.
  20. “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962)  Freddie Francis.  The desert was definitely a collaborator under the poetic eye of Mr. Francis.

The Twenty Greatest Cinematographers in Black and White Films

Do we dream in color?  Or in black and white?  Orson Wells once said that black and white was the actor’s friend.  I think he was right, especially when you look at how Ford turns Wayne’s image into something of mythic proportions with “Stagecoach” (1939), or how film noir uses shadows to suggest its characters’ state of mind.  Whatever the aesthetic reasons, black and white films should be celebrated for the worlds that the artists create.  So, with these thoughts in mind, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Cinematographers in Black and White Films”.

In no particular order…

1.”Stagecoach”  (1939)  Bert Glennon’s filming of Monument Valley helped turn the Western into an art form.

2.”Raging Bull”  (1980)  Michael Chapman’s glistening black and white cinematography contrasts with the ugliness of the main character.

3.”Citizen Kane”  (1941)  Gregg Toland’s influence on cinema itself cannot be overestimated.

4.”Double Indemnity”  (1944)  John Addison’s look became the prototype for all film noirs.

5.”Touch of Evil”  (1958)  Richard Metty’s opening crane shot has gone on to cinema history.

6.”Grapes of Wrath”  (1940)  Gregg Toland’s touch gave the film an authenticity and grace.

7.”Sunset Boulevard”  (1950)  John Addison’s lens captured a nightmarish world.

8.”Hud”  (1963)  James Wong Howe’s evocative work won an Oscar for this veteran cinematographer.

9.”The Last Picture Show”  (1971)  Robert Surtee brought a beauty to the film’s barren imagery.

10.”On the Waterfront”  (1951)  Boris Kaufman’s vision captures a documentary-like style.

11.”Sunrise”  (1927)  Karl Struss and Charles Roshner received the first Oscar ever given for cinematography.

12.”Midsummer Night Dream”  (1935)  Hal Mohr’s Oscar was bestowed by a write-in ballot, the one and only time in the history of the Academy Awards.

13.”Night of the Hunter”  (1955)  Stanley Cortez, although influenced by German Expressionism, created something new in film.

14.”Stranger on a Train”  (1951)  Robert Burk’s shot from the murdered girl’s point of view is brilliant.

15.”The Informer”  (1935)  Joseph H. August convinces viewers that the film is set in Dublin, although it was made entirely on a sound stage.

16.”Psycho”  (1960)  Alfred Hitchcock used John L. Russell, his television show’s cinematographer, to great effect.

17.”The Scarlett Empress” (1934)  Von Sternberg and his great cinematographer Bert Glennon create their own world.

18.”Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”  (1931)   Karl Struss’ transformation scene is still amazing after all these years.

19.”In Cold Blood”  (1967)  Conrad Hall’s sensitivity with the black and white format earned him his first nomination.

20.”The Asphalt Jungle”  (1950)  Harold Rosson’s camera captures the nighttime world of Huston’s characters with true melancholy.






The Twenty Greatest Underrated Directors

March 20, 2017

These names are seldom above the title, so you might not know who they are.  But, you have probably been affected by their work, and I suppose, in the final analysis, that is what’s most important.  With that, I give you  The Twenty Greatest Underrated Directors.

In no particular order…

  1. Hal Ashby.  Former film editor had some big hits in the 1970’s, Shampoo (1975) and Coming Home (1978), bringing his own special brand of counterculture to all his best work.
  2. Paul Mazursky.  He brought an ethnic quality to his humanistic landscapes, Harry and Tonto (1974) and Unmarried Woman (1978).  He also had a gift with dialog.
  3. Robert Mulligan.  Much of Mulligan’s work is from an observer’s distance, yet the emotions are always full.  His work with children in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is among the finest ever elicited by a director.
  4. Martin Ritt.  Actors not only did their best work under his guidance but also their most honest.  Films include Hud (1963) and Norma Rae (1979).
  5. Robert Aldrich.  Independent director had a couple of big hits, Baby Jane (1962) and Dirty Dozen (1967).  However, his real originality was displayed in Kiss Me Deadly (1955), one of the best of all film noirs.
  6. Richard Fleisher.  Son of animator Max Fleisher made two excellent crime dramas, Compulsion (1958) and The Boston Strangler (1968), and possibly Disney’s best live action feature 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).
  7. Alan Pakula.   Once a producer only, To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), Pakula made some fine films that have both an intelligence and a verve, Klute (1971) and All The President’s Men (1976).
  8. Bill Forsyth.  This Scottish filmaker has a penchant for the eccentric and made some beautiful films, Housekeeping (1987) and Local Hero (1983).
  9. Bob Rafelson.  Having made such a sensation with Five Easy Pieces (1970), the rest of his filmography seems disappointing, but Stay Hungry (1975) is quite interesting.
  10. William Dieterle.  He definitely brought a Germanic look to all of his best films, Hunchback (1939) and The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941).  He was one of the many German ex-patriots that Hollywood embraced during the 1930’s.
  11. Frank Perry.  Most of his scripts were written by his wife Eleanor, but Perry brought his own detached melancholy to the best of his works, David and Lisa (1962) and Last Summer (1969).
  12. George Pal.  Former animator of Puppetoons (1932), Pal made some unique entries into the fantasy genre , The Time Machine (1960) and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964).
  13. Ralph Nelson.  Former television director, he hit his stride in the 1960’s with his Lilies of the Field (1963) and Charly (1968).
  14. Michael Ritchie.  Thematically, his best films are about America’s obsession with competition, The Candidate (1972) and Bad News Bears (1976).
  15. Robert Siodmak.  Another German director with an expressionistic eye, he made two gems from the noir world, The Killers (1946) and Criss Cross (1947).
  16. John Frankenheimer.  His range as a director is quite remarkable.  His best work, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), shows a European influence.
  17. John Sturges.  He was primarily known for action films like The Magnificent Seven (1964).  However, he made an important film about racism, Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), which showcased his capabilities.
  18. Jules Dassin.  Blacklisted director had one popular international hit, Never on a Sunday (1960).  His early noir efforts produced the classic Night and the City (1950), but because of McCarthyism, he was not allowed to work in his country.
  19. Stanley Donen.  His brilliant work with Gene Kelly overshadowed his fine solo work which includes Charade (1963) and the unusual Two for the Road (1967).
  20. Dario Argento.  Italian horror maestro has some set pieces that have to be seen to be believed.  Some key films are Deep Red (1975) and Suspira (1977).

The Twenty Greatest Political Films

November 20, 2016

My, but this has been a most perverse election year.  Just plain ugly.  However, it has made me reflect on a genre that is not easy to do by any standard-the political film.   I think these films work best when the personal becomes the political.  So, on that note, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Political Films”.

In no particular order…

1.”The Best Man”  (1964)  Franklin J. Schaffner.  Based on a play by Gore Vidal, this smart film shows the ugliness that goes into a political campaign.

2.”Dr. Strangelove”  (1964)  Stanley Kubrick.  Cold war inspired masterpiece that still makes my jaw drop.

3.”Missing”  (1982)  Costa Gavras.  This powerful film, financed by Gulf and Western, was about America’s cooperation with a deadly coup in Chile .

4.”Bullworth”  (1998)  Warren Beatty.  This lively satire actually beats with a leftist heart.

5.”Battle of Algiers”  (1967)  Gilo Pontecorvo.  It feels like it’s happening in real time, but this monumental piece is perhaps one of the most realistic of political films.

6.”Nashville”  (1975)  Robert Altman.  Critically-acclaimed Altman film looks at the fabric of America, and how easily it can tear.

7.”Seven Days in May” (1964)  John Frankenheimer.  Rod Serling scripted this intense film about a possible military takeover in government.

8.”The Candidate”  (1972)  Michael Ritchie.  This film has a documentary feel to it.  Also, it’s one of the most incisive films about our electoral process.

9.”Norma Rae”  (1979)  Martin Ritt.  One of the better films made about the labor movement.  This humanistic director always brought out the best in his actors.

10.”A Face in the Crowd”  (1957)  Elia Kazan.  This was way before its time.  Kazan and Shulberg put together a remarkable film about the building of a demigod.  An early reminder of the danger of the media (television).  Timely, eh?

11.”Gabriel Over the White House”  (1933)  Gregory La Cava.  A really unique film about a conservative who has a political conversion after a head injury.

12.”Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”  (1939)  Frank Capra.  Naive, but still entertaining look at an innocent thrown into the madness that is Washington.

13.”The Great Dictator”  (1940)  Charles Chaplin.  The moment he breaks character and talks to the audience is one of the most moving moments in cinematic history.

14.”Salvador”  (1986).  Oliver Stone.  My favorite of Stone’s films; it is able to convey its message without sacrificing its stylistic cool.

15.”The Year of Living Dangerously”  (1983)  Peter Weir.  Weir is more spiritual as a director than he is political, but the mysticism that surrounds this film makes its point, potently.

16.”Under Fire”  (1982)  Roger Spottiswoode.  It’s remarkable that any film as progressive as this one was released during Reagan’s reign.

17.”All the President’s Men”  (1976)  Alan Pakula.  Politics as a detective story…that is what’s so great about this film.

18.””Wag the Dog”  (1997)  Barry Levinson.  Clever satire of a political cover-up dressed as a war.  It’s funny and quite alarming.

19.”Cutter’s Way.  (1982)  Ivan Passer.  This modern day Moby Dick is in it’s own way political.  This Ahab is going after the great white capitalist!

20.”The Last Emperor”  (1987)  Bernardo Bertolucci.  People were so infatuated by its visual opulence that they may have missed its sly Marxist message.