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.