The Twenty Greatest Family Dramas

Maybe it’s because they have known us the longest, and so, therefore, can hurt us the deepest, that the family drama can be one of the most painful of genres.  But if done wrong, it could also be one of the most cliched ones as well.  So, it is with these thoughts that I give you “The Twenty Greatest Family Dramas”.

In no particular order…

1.”Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) Nicholas Ray.  Despite some awkward dramatic moments, and of course, the passing of time, this popular film retains its power for its sensitive handling of its subject matter.  This film was truly on the side of the kids.

2.”Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) Robert Benton.  Academy Award winning film about a custody battle was never one of my favorites, but there is no denying the skill of all the artists involved.

3.”Ordinary People” (1980) Robert Redford.  Redford nabbed an Oscar for this penetrating look at the effects of tragedy on a seemingly normal American family.

4.”The Brood” (1974) David Cronenberg.  Although technically a horror film, Cronenberg mines more truths than several obvious forays in the genre.  He once called “The Brood” his “Kramer vs. Kramer”.

5.”Little Murders” (1971) Alan Arkin.  Feiffer’s lacerating black comedy leaves a bitter aftertaste as violence overtakes one American family.

6.”A History Of Violence” (2005) David Cronenberg.  This film takes a look at family secrets, and how we really don’t know the people we think we’re closest to.

7.”Long Days Journey into Night” (1962) Sidney Lumet.  O’Neill would not allow this masterpiece to be produced while he was alive.  And although this may not be the definitive version, it contains one truly brilliant performance by Jason Robards as the haunted Jamie, O’Neill’s tragic brother.

8.”HUD” (1963) Martin Ritt.  Ritt received his only Oscar nomination for this family drama set in Texas and features some of the best dialogue in cinema.

9.”Shoot the Moon” (1982) Alan Parker.  Family as a war zone?  Albert Finney and Diane Keaton portray a couple going through a particularly savage separation which leaves no winners.

10.”Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris. Although it’s considered to be more of a comedy, this deceptive little film shows us the true need for family.

11.”Terms of Endearment” (1983) James L. Brooks.  This film does a fine balancing act between laughter and sorrow, avoiding cliches as it explores the complicated emotions that come from the mother and daughter dynamic.

12.”The Homecoming” (1973) Peter Hall.  Pinter looks at the family as a rather dangerous institution.

13.”A Delicate Balance” (1973) Tony Richardson.  Albee’s play takes a hard look at a retired couple trying to take the complications out of their lives, but are instead drawn into the hell that is other people.

14.”Crimes of the Heart” (1986) Bruce Beresford.   This southern-fried charmer features some winning performances, and also some surprising poignancy in dealing with a family tragedy.

15.”Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958) Richard Brooks.  Despite throwing out all of William’s homosexual themes, and most of the poetry, this Hollywood version is still quite entertaining.

16.”A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) Elia Kazan.  This powerful film contains a very disturbing family triangle.  It shows both the attraction and repulsion of desire.

17.”I Never Sang for My Father” (1970) Gilbert Gates.  Hackman plays a son attempting to make a relationship with his dying father, played powerfully by the veteran actor Melvyn Douglas.

18.”East of Eden” (1955)  Elia Kazan.  John Steinbeck’s Cain and Abel tale features the mythical James Dean and a supporting cast that cannot be faulted.

19.”In America” (2002) Jim Sheridan.  Sheridan’s autobiographical account of a family immigrating to America after dealing with the loss of a child.  Ultimately a triumph of renewal.

20.”The Ice Storm” (1997) Ang Lee.  This suburban saga shows us the confusion and anxiety that comes with the changing of times.  Subtle and haunting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Twenty Greatest Film Heroes (Female)

Since this clown invaded our White House, women have been marching, running for office, and just plain giving me hope for the future of this broken country.  I have been inspired to look back at cinema, and the positive role women have played in it.  So, with these lofty thoughts,  I give you “The Twenty Greatest Film Heroes (Female)”.

In no particular order…

1.Jane Fonda.  “Julia”  (1977) Fred Zimmerman.  Unlikely heroes have always appealed to me, and none more than the subtle work done here by Ms. Fonda.

2.Sally Field.  “Norma Rae”  (1979) Martin Ritt.  The moment she stands on the table with the union sign is among cinema’s strongest political statements.

3.Sandy Dennis.  “Up the Down Staircase”  (1967) Robert Mulligan.  Though at times she appears perplexed, Dennis embodies the spirit of what’s best about teachers.

4.Meryl Streep.  “Silkwood”  (1983) Mike Nichols.  The film is ambiguous due to the lawsuits of the time, but it doesn’t take away from the power and poignancy of Streep’s work.

5.Vivian Leigh.  “Gone with the Wind” (1939) Victor Fleming. Despite some severe character flaws, Leigh demonstrates tenacity and guile.

6.Katherine Hepburn.  “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967)  Stanley Kramer.  This legendary actress brought an unexpected verve to her middle-class character.  The scene where she stands up to her bigoted neighbor is quite memorable.

7.Barbara Streisand.  “The Way We Were” (1973) Sydney Pollack.  As a political activist, Streisand brings a charm and sensitivity to what could be a stereotypical character.

8.Ellen Burstyn.  “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”  (1974) Martin Scorsese.   Though feminists at the time objected to the character’s compromises, you can’t deny the skill  that Burstyn brought to the role.

9.Cicely Tyson.  “Sounder”  (1972) Martin Ritt.  Ms. Tyson’s subtle performance projects an authenticity and grace.

10.Jill Clayburgh.  “An Unmarried Woman”  (1978) Paul Mazursky.  A fearless performance by this likable actress.

11.Pillar Padilla.  “Bread and Roses”  (2001) Ken Loaches.  A winning performance by newcomer Padilla who helps form a janitor union in Los Angeles.

12.Jodie Foster.  “Silence of the Lambs”  (1991) Jonathan Demme.  Foster deservedly won an Oscar for her unforgettable work.

13.Frances McDormand.  “Fargo” (1996) Joel and Ethan Coen.  Her pregnant sheriff was not only the smartest person in the room, but she also knew where the best buffets were.  Iconic and brilliant work by McDormand.

14.Anne Bancroft.  “The Miracle Worker”  (1962) Arthur Penn.  Reprising her prize-winning work from Broadway, Bancroft brought a wit and a wisdom to the amazing real life character.

15.Taraji P. Henson.  “Hidden Figures”  (2016)  Theodore Meifi.  Henson is a stand-out in this ensemble film about African -American women in the early aerospace industry.

16.Susan Sarandon.  “Thelma and Louise”  ( 1991)  Ridley Scott.  The more complex figure of this famous duo, Sarandon brought a certain pain to this character that made the ending even more poignant.

17.Patricia Neal.  “Hud”  (1963) Martin Ritt.  The humor that Neal brought to this salty character was a welcomed addition to this powerful film.

18.Diane Keaton.  “Reds” (1981) Warren Beatty.  Playing the real life journalist Louise Bryant, Keaton brought an intelligence to a character trying to find her place in a changing world.

19.Audrey Hepburn.  “Wait Until Dark”  (1967) Terence Young.  This blind woman thankfully outwits a trio of really nasty criminals- the last great performance by this beguiling star.

20.Bette Davis.  “All About Eve”  (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  Playing on both Margo’s strength and vulnerability. Davis gave a volcanic performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.