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 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 Heist Films

July 20, 2016

I must have larceny in my heart, for I seem to have a real fondness for the heist film.  I have even been known to root for the bad guys to get away with it.  Maybe what the heist film does is provide a certain wish fulfillment for the audience; it’s a safe way to dabble at the darker side of our nature.  I mean, who hasn’t thought about an easy way to make a lot of money, or to get out from under a dire financial situation?  Well, these questions are what I believe make the heist film so appealing.  So, on that note, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Heist Films”.

In no particular order…

1.”The Killing”  1956  Stanley Kubrick.  Early Kubrick effort is a tightly structured look at a truly failed robbery.

2.”Quick Change”  1990  Bill Murray, Howard Franklin.  This is one of the more cheerful entries in the heist genre.

3.””The Asphalt Jungle”  1950  John Huston.  The most existential of all heist films-beautifully realized.

4.”Friends of Eddie Coyle”  1972  Peter Yates.  Working class characters give an authenticity to film.

5.”Dog Day Afternoon”  1975  Sidney Lumet.  Eccentric bank robbery makes the onlookers part of the circus.

6.”Inside Job”  2000  Spike Lee.  This tense, little heist film is full of surprises.

7.”The Anderson Tapes”  1972  Sidney Lumet.  Not a great film, but it makes an interesting comment on how we are all being watched.

8.”The Drop”  2014  Michael R. Roskam.  Gritty neighborhood heist film was penned with the nuances by the wonderful Dennis Lehane (Mystic River).

9.”The Man Who Wasn’t There”  2000  Coen Brothers.  Very unusual noir film shot in glorious black and white.

10.”Dead Presidents”  1995  Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes.  Insane heist film is perhaps too ambitious for what it delivers.

11.”Heat”  1995  Michael Mann.  Thought-provoking heist film that benefits from an excellent cast.

12.”Kansas City Confidential”  1952  Phil Karlson.  Kinda creepy heist film makes the robbers hauntingly anonymous.

13.”Point Break”  1991.  Kathryn Bigelow.  Unique spin on the genre,but too long for it’s own good.

14.”Criss Cross”  1949  Robert Siodmak.  Romantic fatalism skillfully served.

15.”Rififi”  1954  Jules Dassin.  This film has a wonderful twenty minute safe-cracking sequence.

16.”The Bling Ring”  2013  Sophia Coppola.  Sly, seductive offering by the talented offspring.

17.”The Maltese Falcon”  1941  John Huston.  The robbery of dreams?

18.”Resevoir Dogs”  1992  Quentin Tarantino.  Framed through a flashback, this amazing first feature still impresses.

19.”The Thomas Crown Affair”  1968  Norman Jewison.  White collar crime with a 60’s sensibility.

20.”The Town”  2010  Ben Affleck.  These neighborhood bank robbers still live in and rob from their old neighborhoods.

 

 

 

 

Twenty More Underrated Films

June 20, 2016

When I compiled the list of “The Twenty Greatest Underrated Films”,  I felt that I had left off a few good ones.  And, since I am a lover of the cinema, I decided to dig up a few more gems to include on “Twenty More Underrated Films”.

In no particular order…

  1. “Badlands” (1973)  Terrence Malick.  Malick’s first feature is filmed in a cold, detached manner to resemble the affect of the main characters.
  2. “Force of Evil” (1948)  Abraham Polonsky.  Just about everyone was blacklisted on this tale of capitalism and corruption.
  3. “The Shining” (1980)  Stanley Kubrick.  Many people were disappointed with this version of King’s novel, but I see it as a marital black comedy, complete with ghosts.
  4. “Murder at the Vanities” (1934)  Martin Leisen.  Pre-code murder mystery musical is a whole lotta fun and a little naughty, too.
  5. “Dante’s Inferno” (1935)  Harry Lachman.  Imaginative venture from MGM, featuring one amazing scene set in Hell.
  6. “Up the Down Staircase” (1967)  Robert Mulligan.  The best of all films about teaching.  It makes the public school system in a big city look like a battle zone.
  7. “The Landlord” (1970) Hal Ashby.  Ashby’s first feature is a freewheeling satire on race relations.  However, it does contain some moments of real insight.
  8. “If I Had a Million” (1932)  Ernest Lubitsch, Norman Z. McLeod, and others.  One of the best of all the anthology films.  I particularly like the W.C. Field’s sequence.
  9. “The Gypsy Moths” (1969) John Frankenheimer.  Existential to say the least.  Frankenheimer’s moody meditation on risktakers is subtle yet powerful.
  10. “Alice in Wonderland” (1933)  Norman Z. McLeod.  Unfairly neglected, this all star Paramount feature is surprisingly close in tone to the Lewis Carroll classic.
  11. “The Wind” (1928)  Victor Sjostrom.  The elements enhance the metaphor in this silent film masterwork.
  12. “King of the Ants” (2002) Stuart Gordon.  Skin-crawling tale of man’s ability to reduce himself to something less than human.
  13. “West of Zanzibar” (1929) Tod Browning.  Exotic, bizarre, and quite politically incorrect; one of the best Chaney/Browning collaborations.
  14. “It’s a Gift” (1934) Norman McLeod.  At 73 minutes, it’s uproarious; a real unsung gem of the genre.
  15. “Carnal Knowledge” (1971) Mike Nichols.  Jules Feiffer’s disturbing depiction f a generation of men who were afraid of women.
  16. “California Split” (1974)  Robert Altman.  Sobering account of two gamblers’ reckless weekend spree.
  17. “Death Becomes Her” (1992) Robert Zemeckis.  Uneven, but at times an eye-opening satire of narcissism taken to a whole new level.
  18. “Lilith” (1964) Robert Rossen.  Strange film which has gained a cult following over the years.
  19. “The Birds” (1963) Alfred Hitchcock.  Although it was popular with audiences in its day, it received mixed reviews.  This highly influential film belies its own facade to show a crumbling world.
  20. “The Candidate” (1972) Michael Ritchie.  This smart film leaves you feeling rather helpless towards the political process.

 

 

 

The Twenty Greatest Underrated Male Performances

May 20, 2016

In my mind, I collect great performances as one would collect baseball cards. And, when I find one that’s valuable, I file it away in my mind, forever.   Some of these performances have been forgotten, or they just never got their proper due.  So, without further ado, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Underrated Male Performances”.

In no particular order…

  1.  Steve McQueen  “Baby the Rain Must Fall”  (1965)  Robert Mulligan.  Drawing on his own troubled youth, McQueen brought a real resonance to  this doomed character.
  2.  Jeff Goldblum  “The Fly”  (1986)  David Cronenberg.  Finally, Goldblum’s mannerisms were used to good effect.  Cronenberg also brought out a poignancy that is missing in most of his work.
  3.  Jeff Bridges  “Fearless”  (1993)  Peter Weir.  Never one to shy away from  playing unsympathetic characters, Bridges brought a fevered intensity to  this troubled man.
  4.   John Heard  “Cutter’s Way”  (1981)  Ivan Passer.  Modern day Ahab played   with great humor and power by this underrated actor.
  5.   Sterling Hayden  “The Asphalt Jungle”  (1950)  John Huston.  Hayden            brings a ragged humanity to this tragic figure.
  6.   Dustin Hoffman  “Straight Time”  (1978)  Ulu Grosbard.  Hoffman plays     career criminal Max Dembo like a man who doesn’t know which way to       turn.  He lets us see into this man’s frightened heart.
  7.   Jason Robards  “A Thousand Clowns”  (1965)  Fred Coe.  The other actors     won the Tonys and the Oscars, so somehow this iconic performance was     forgotten.  It’s too bad, because it’s quite skillful.
  8.   Donald Sutherland  “MASH”  (1970)  Robert Altman.  Sure, it made him a     star, but most people don’t remember that he’s even in the movie.  He       was somehow overshadowed by all the surroundings, but it’s a supreme     comic performance.
  9.   Elliot Gould  “The Long Goodbye”  (1973)  Robert Altman.  Gould’s take on   Marlowe was quite unique.  He updated him but kept his essence.
  10.   Alan Arkin  “Yosserian”  (1970)  Mike Nichols.  I know Arkin didn’t like       his performance, but I think he embodied this character perfectly.
  11.   Boris Karloff  “The Body Snatcher”  (1944)  Robert Wise.  What’s so               compelling about Karloff’s performance is that he shows you why he’s         become the man he is.
  12.   Robert DeNiro  “The King Of Comedy”  (1983)  Martin Scorsese.  This             ferocious clown was too disturbing for audiences back in 1983.  Now, he       seems almost reasonable in a sick way.
  13.  Martin Sheen “Badlands”  (1974)  Terrence Malick.  Sheen chillingly  underplays Starkweather.  He appears like a man whose  mask of sanity is  slowly coming apart.
  14.  Marlon Brando  “Reflections in a Golden Eye”  (1968)  John Huston.  Brando boldly plays this closeted man with such intensity that he almost  burns a hole in the screen.
  15.  Gregory Peck  “I Walk the Line”  (1971)  John Frankenheimer.  Obsessive  doesn’t begin to describe this lovesick southern sheriff.  Peck brought a  surprisingly intensity to his performance.
  16.   Joseph Cotten  “Shadow of a Doubt”  (1943)  Alfred Hitchcock.    Charming, debonair, and ultimately deadly.
  17.  Walter Matthau  “Charlie Varrick”  (1973)  Don Siegal.  Unusual role for         Matthau brought out the darkest colors he ever exhibited as an actor.
  18.   Gene Hackman  “Scarecrow”  (1973)  Jerry Schatzberg.  This guarded,           tough-minded man was played gloriously by Hackman.  What I’ve always   admired about his work here is that he always includes the hope of the         dreamer.
  19.   Peter O’Toole  “Brotherly Love”  (1970)  J. Lee Thompson.  Only an actor     of absolute grace could pull off this sad, and at times, morally                         questionable man.
  20.   Humphrey Bogart  “In a Lonely Place”  (1952)  Nicolas Ray.  Produced by       Bogart’s own company, this sublime performance haunts one, because of   the sheer sadness this legendary actor brought to the role.

 

 

 

THE TWENTY GREATEST ENSEMBLE FILMS

April 20, 2016

You can have the biggest stars in a film, but if they don’t click together as characters, then all you really have are some bloated paychecks posing for the camera.  And though the phrase “ensemble film” is thrown about quite a bit, very few really deserve that distinction.  The list of films I have chosen here have been selected after much thought.  These particular group of actors somehow bring out the qualities that best describe the magic that is an ensemble film.  So, with that, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Ensemble Films”.

In no particular order…

  1. “The Godfather” (1972)  Francis Ford Coppola.   The operatic nature of the material brought out a sense of” famiglia”  in the film’s passionate performances.  The cast includes Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Sterling Hayden, John Cazale.
  2. “Mystic River”  (2001)   Clint Eastwood.  This fine ensemble displayed the nuances of growing up in a small town back East.  The cast includes Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Hayden.
  3. “The Big Chill” (1983)  Lawrence Kasdan.  If you’re looking for an insightful film about the 60’s, this ain’t it.  But, if you’re looking for an insightful film about friendships, this is one of the better examples.  The cast includes William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, JoBeth Williams, Jeff Goldblum, Mary Kay Place.
  4. “Shampoo” (1975)  Hal Ashby.  An L.A. version of “La Dolce Vita” with farcical elements,  played with great aplomb by its talented cast which includes Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Jack Warden, Lee Grant, Carrie Fisher.
  5. “Goodfellas”  (1990)  Martin Scorsese.  The actors bounced off each other in a rhythmic and jolting way as we inhabit their dangerous world.  The cast includes Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino.
  6. “On the Waterfront”  (1954)  Elia Kazan.  Actors seemed to do their best work under Kazan’s direction, but this film is for the time capsule.  The cast includes Marlon Brando, Karl Madden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint.
  7. “Pulp Fiction”  (1994)  Quentin Tarantino.  Mixing familiar faces with new ones, Tarantino’s ensemble grooved on the colorful dialogue and generally seemed to be having a great time.  The cast includes John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Ving Rhames.
  8. “Dinner at Eight”  (1933)  George Cukor.  Cashing in on the previous year’s all star hit “Grand Hotel” (1932), MGM assembled an even better script and cast which included John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Wallace Berry, Marie Dressler, Lionel Barrymore, Billie Burke.
  9. “From Here to Eternity”  (1953) Fred Zinnemann.  Columbia had the good sense to cast actors who were at the height of their craft.  The cast includes Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine.
  10. “The Last Picture Show”  (1971)  Peter Bogdanovich.  At the time these marvelous actors were not as well known, so there was an air of authenticity going on in this film.  The cast includes Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Randy Quaid.
  11. “Glengarry Glenn Ross”   (1992)  James Foley.  This amazing group of actors bit into this material like a pack of hungry, but grateful, dogs!  The cast includes Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce.
  12. “MASH”  (1970)  Robert Altman.  The overlapping dialogue seemed as fresh as anything the cinema had ever offered.  The cast includes Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Robert Duvall, Sally Kellerman, Fred Williamson, Bud Cort, John Schuck.
  13. “Short Cuts”  (1996)  Robert Altman.  Once again, Altman assembled an even more diverse group of actors to embody the people of Raymond Carver’s world.  The cast includes Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, and more!
  14. “American Graffiti”  (1973)  George Lucas.  These fresh-faced actors became part of a nighttime brigade of cool cars and cool cats.  The cast includes Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Charles Martin Smith.
  15. “Nashville”  (1975)  Robert Altman.  twenty-four speaking parts spread across a busy weekend in Nashville (The Grand Ole Opry).  Altman seamlessly intertwines the lives of these characters  with an active ensemble cast which includes Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Ronee Blakley, Henry Gibson, Allen Garfield, Barbara Harris, Shelley Duvall, Keenan Wynn,
  16. “Dog Day Afternoon”  (1975)  Sidney Lumet.  Lumet made the extras an important part of the ensemble, as well as the cast which includes Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon.
  17. “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950)  John Huston.  These are nighttime people who hide within the shadows.  Huston was criticized for humanizing these characters.  The cast includes Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Louis Calhern, Marilyn Monroe.
  18. “Reservoir Dogs”  (1992)  Quentin Tarantino.  We never know their names, since the mastermind behind the heist named them all colors.  The drive of the narrative keeps an intensity to this ensemble cast which includes Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney.
  19. “All the President’s Men”  (1976)  Alan J. Pakula.  The historical importance of this film brought a fine group of actors to this enterprise.  The cast includes Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, Jack Warden.
  20. “Twelve Angry Men”  (1957)  Sidney Lumet.  Almost a textbook example of the ensemble film.  The cast includes Henry Fonda, E.G. Marshall, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, Robert Webber.