The Twenty Greatest Disturbing Films

August 20, 2016

Is it an achievement to mess with the audience, to play with their sensibilities?  Well, it could be, if there’s a psychology behind it, or if it’s tied to something that’s significant. Now, is that entertainment?   I believe Martin Scorsese said it best when he was referring to the films of Cronenberg-“He goes to the soft spot in our brain”.  So, with these intriguing thoughts, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Disturbing Films”.

In no particular order…

1.”Dead Ringers”  (1988)  David Cronenberg.  It’s hard to describe the feeling that Cronenberg evokes in this most disquieting of films-something like majestic fatalism.

2.”Lord of the Flies”  (1963)  Peter Brooks.  This film so terrified me when I was young that it’s still hard for me to talk about it.  I will say just say this:  Creepy murdering English boys, yikes!

3.”The Possession of Joel Delaney”  (1972)  Waris Hussein.  Seldom seen shocker goes deep into some weird stuff.

4.”Funny Games”  (1997)  Michael Haneke.  Sadistic, grim, and not particularly cheerful, it’s undeniably well done, though.

5.”A Clockwork Orange”  (1971)  Stanley Kubrick.  This still controversial film polarized many in its day, and probably always will.

6.”Freaks”  (1932)  Tod Browning.  Critics may now regard this notorious film with favor, but it outraged audiences in its day for Browning’s use of real freaks as figures of horror.

7.”Straw Dogs”  (1971)  Sam Peckinpah.  Peckinpah probes the male psyche in a way few filmmakers would ever dare.

8.”The Devils”  (1971)  Ken Russell.  Nymphomaniac nuns, a lustful priest, and people burned to death for being witches set the stage for this madhouse of a film.

9.”Bully”  (2001)  Larry Clark.  The pathology spills over to a group homicide in this hard-hitting tale.

10.”The King of Ants”  (2002)  Stuart Gordon.  This seldom seen film is quite a discovery-a horrifying look at one’s man descent into murder.

11.”Kissed”  (1996)  Lynne Stopkewich.  This film is hard to describe.  Let’s just say this gal is a little too fond of the dead.

12.”Looking for Mr. Goodbar”  (1977)  Richard Brooks.  The swinging singles lifestyle of the 1970’s is given a nightmarish treatment in this heavy-handed, but effective piece of horror.

13.”1900″  (1977)  Bernardo Bertolucci.  This Marxist epic is definitely more shocking than “Last Tango in Paris”.

14.”Blue Velvet”  (1986)  David Lynch.  I find the film strangely charming, but many were put off by the highly charged sexuality and violence that surrounds Lynch’s surreal masterpiece.

15.”M”  (1933)  Fritz Lang.  The ironies are fierce in this groundbreaking work.

16.”Out of the Blue”  (1982)  Dennis Hopper.  Uncompromising look at one family literally imploding after their father returns from prison.

17.”Heavenly Creatures”  (1994)  Peter Jackson.  By delving into the twisted imaginings of two teenage girls,  Jackson intensifies the notion of their brutal act.

18.”Henry:  Portrait of a Serial Killer”  (1990)  John McNaughton.  What makes this film so terrifying is that it feels like your watching a documentary.

19.”Casualties of War”  (1989)   Brian De Palma.  Haunting and heartbreaking retelling of a truly terrible incident committed during the Vietnam War.

20.”Seven Beauties”  (1976)  Lina Wertmuller.  Corrosive black comedy about the cost of survival.











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.





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.

The Twenty Greatest Drive-In Movies

March 20, 2016

Notes on the drive-in movie…

Let’s embrace the low-brow, shall we?  Let us revisit one of the greatest institutions of yesteryear- the drive-in movie theater.  A place where some of us once shared collective experiences- swings and slides for the kids, footage of hot dogs happily marching to the snack bar. and speakers never sounding quite right.   But there was something wonderful about all of it, too.  So, close your eyes, my friends, and return with me to the world of the drive-in movie.

In no particular order…

  1.  “Little Shop Of Horrors”  (1960)  Roger Corman  (A black comedy made cheaply and quickly.  It has achieved cult status, not only as a film, but as a Broadway musical and big-budgeted remake as well.)
  2. “Texas Chain-Saw Massacre (1974)   Tobe Hooper   (A grisly film; it made by jaw drop the first time  I saw it.  And, yes, it was at a drive-in!)
  3. “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” (1958)  Nathan Juran  (Probably my favorite bad movie.  If there is a feminist meaning to be deciphered from this mess, it is lost on me!)
  4. “Halloween” (1978)  John Carpenter  (The first of the Michael Meyer’s stab fests-and still the best.  It benefits greatly by the superb cinematography of Dean Cundey.)
  5. “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)  George Romero  (Supposedly first premiered at a drive-in in Pittsburgh,the city where it was filmed.  This low-budget shocker is perhaps one of the most influential of films.)
  6. “Black Christmas” (1974)  Bob Clark  (Spooky little Canadian horror film was directed by “Porky’s” maestro.)
  7. “Switchblade Sister” (1974)  George Hill  (A laugh out-loud girl gang saga)
  8. “Death Race 2000”  (1973)  Paul Bartel  (This film is no masterpiece by any stretch, but it has gone on to junk classic status.)
  9. “Rock and Roll High School” (1979)  Alan Arkbush  (Lively teenage musical with the Ramones at their sneering best.)
  10. “Humanoids from the Deep”  (1980)  Barbara Peeters and Jimmy T. Murakami  (Seaside community is invaded by really horny creatures from the deep.)
  11. “Psych Out”  (1968)  Richard Bush  (American International jumped on the bandwagon with this ridiculous psychedelic concoction.)
  12. “House on Haunted Hill”  (1959)  William Castle (Castle’s gimmicks worked better in a theater, but as drive-in fare, this one is pretty tasty.)
  13. “Gidget”  (1959)  Paul Wedkos  (This was a drive-in phenomena, somehow speaking to the teenagers of the day.)
  14. “Masque of Red Death”  (1964)  Roger Corman (Loosely based on a Poe story; this stylish adaption is perhaps Corman’s best film.)
  15. “The Blob”  (1958)  Irwin Yeaworth  (Steve McQueen battles this menacing substance with the help of some bad teenage actors.  Check out the title song.)
  16. “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”  (1961)  Irwin Allen  (Not in the class of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1954), Irwin Allen’s sci-fi is an appealing attempt at the genre.  Frankie Avalon sings the title song.)
  17. “Buckets of Blood”  (1961)  Roger Corman  (I actually like this film better than the well-known “Little Shop of Horrors”  (1960).  Its send-up of hipsters is still pretty funny.)
  18. “Ssss”  (1973)  Bernard L. Kowacski  (How can you resist a film with Strother Martin as a deranged herpetologist who likes snakes a little too much?)
  19. “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”  (1957)  Gene Fowler, Jr.  (Hilarious werewolf film with Michael Landon as a teenager with loads of angst and hormonal surprises.)
  20. “Chained Heat”  (1983)  Paul Nicholas  (Innocent Blair is thrown into prison after killing a man by accident.  What ensues is your usual assortment of brutal beatings, rapes, killings, etc.)


The Twenty Greatest “Flights of Fancy”

February 20, 2016

Notes on “Flights of Fancy”

These films have nothing to do with hardware, things crashing, or digital effects; most were made long before that format existed.  They are instead imaginative pieces of work put together with style and verve by skilled artists.

In no particular order… The Twenty Greatest “Flights of Fancy”


  1. “2001” (1968)  Stanley Kubrick  (One of the landmarks of cinema-brilliant!)
  2. “Blade Runner”  (1985)  Ridley Scott (Talk about an amazing set!  This downbeat sci-fi has many admirers.)
  3. “Brazil”(1985)  Terry Gilliam (Gilliam’s Orwellian tale is quite disturbing in its vision of the future.)
  4. “The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao” (1964)  George Pal  (Pal’s masterpiece is a seldom seen allegory about a mysterious circus that changes people’s lives.)
  5. “SHE” (1935) Lansing C. Holden and Irving Pichel  ( This is a crazy film-primitive men and women dancing as we meet “SHE”- who must be obeyed!)
  6. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1983) Jack Clayton  (Disney went into a darker arena with their adaptation of the Bradbury novel, and, unfortunately, no one saw it.)
  7. “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1954) Richard Fleisher  (Perhaps Disney’s best live action film-it does give a real sense of wonder about the sea.)
  8. “The Time Machine” (1960)  George Pal (Though it does have its hokey moments, Pal’s film version of the H.G. Wells classic has a certain melancholy to it.)
  9. “King Kong” (1933)  Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack  (He was actually only 22 inches high, but he looms large in our imagination.)
  10. “Close Encounters of a Third Kind” (1977)  Steven Speilberg (Later films would take the sweetness of this film into a grotesque arena, such as “The Color Purple” and “Jurassic Park”, where sentimentality got the best of his films.)
  11. “Jungle Book” (1942) Zoltan Korda (One of the best adaptions of any Kipling classic.)
  12. “Wizard of Oz” (1939) Victor Fleming (A perfect example of how the artifice of the Hollywood sound stage could create works of art.)
  13. “Mysterious Island” (1963) Cy Endfield (Harryhausen’s incredible stop motion artistry is the real star, but it’s a fun ride nonetheless.)
  14. “Mary Poppins” (1964) Robert Stevens (Popular children’s film was given a lavish treatment by the Disney studio.  It does contain one sequence that veers into the surreal-the “feed the birds” scene.)
  15. “Forbidden Planet” (1956) Fred M. Wilcox (An entertaining variation on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” set in outer space.)
  16. “Lord of the Rings-Return of the King”  (2003) Peter Jackson  (The last of the trilogy, and the best one.  Jackson and company must be commended for creating Tolkien’s landscape.)
  17. “Jason and the Argronauts” (1963) Don Chaffey  (Intelligent rendering of “The Legend of the Golden Fleece” with amazing Harryhausen effects.)
  18. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) Robert Zemeckis (This film makes up its own rules; a wonderful combination of live action and animation.)
  19. “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1941) William Dieterle (Faustian tale, set in rural New England (1840), was put together by some very skillful artists and contains an amazing performance by Walter Huston as the mysterious Mr. Straw.)
  20. “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.” (1953) Roy Rowland (This is the only screenplay penned by Dr. Seuss, and it’s a lulu!- a children’s musical complete with a nuclear bomb and 50’s paranoia.)




The Twenty Greatest Ambitious Films

January 20, 2016

It’s hard to achieve perfection when you’re reaching for the stars.  It’s easy to fall when you’re not sure of your footing.  But, that to me is what an ambitious film is all about-walking the high wire without a net.  It’s hard not to admire these artists for their guts, their moxy.  These individuals are not just content to entertain you; they want to say something with film.  So, let’s give it up for these gamblers, these wonderful risk takers…The Twenty Greatest Ambitious films.

In no particular order…

  1.  “Apocalypse Now”   (1979)  Francis Ford Coppola  (Coppola went deep into his own heart of darkness, ending an era of great personal film making.
  2. “Intolerance”  (1916)  D.W. Griffith  (Talk about your ambitious film!  Griffith took on the subject of humanity throughout the ages.  This film was made in response to the allegations of racism he received for making “Birth of a Nation”.
  3. “1900”  (1977)  Bernardo Bertolucci  (The violence would be easier to take in novel form; this Marxist epic is still shocking after all these years.)
  4. “Day of the Locust”  (1975)  John Schlesinger ( Polarized critics and audiences alike in   with its downbeat surrealism.  It’s amazing that a major studio financed this project- love the 70’s!)
  5. “Looking for Mr. Goodbar”  (1977) Richard Brooks  (Film leaves a nasty aftertaste.  I think the problem is that it tries to say too much and ends up saying very little.  It will make your skin crawl, though.)
  6. “All That Jazz”  (1979)  Bob Fosse  (Fosse’s dance of death was a dazzling display of narcissism -complete with a scene of Fosse’s own open heart surgery…Wow!)
  7. “Pennies from Heaven”  (1981)  Herbert Ross  (It was perhaps too odd for a mainstream audience, but I think this was our last great film musical.)
  8. “Catch 22”  (1970)  Mike Nichols  (Definitely misses the humor of Heller’s novel.  However, it has a surreal quality all its own.)
  9. “The Deer Hunter” (1978)  Michael Cimino  (Epic film of small town people thrust into war.  Flawed, although very well directed.)
  10. “Little Big Man”  (1970)  Arthur Penn  (Penn finally got to do his big epic, taking on Thomas Berger’s satirical novel and telling us some hard truths along the way.)
  11. “Reds”  (1981) Warren Beatty  (Not quite the masterpiece that Beatty had intended.  It’s still an impressive film about early American radicalism.)
  12. “Gangs of New York”  (2002)  Martin Scorcese  (Violent retelling of the beginning of New York’s Five Points.  Flawed, but vivid.)
  13. “Once Upon a Time in America”  Director’s Cut  (1981)  Sergio Leone   (Structured like an opium dream.  This unique gangster film plays with our memory of time.)
  14. “The Mission”  (1986)  Roland Joffee  (Beautiful cinematography belies an ugly historical truth.)
  15. “Wild at Heart”  (1990)  David Lynch (  Epic road comedy is at times too high-pitched for its own good.)
  16. “Greed”  (1924)  Erik Von Stronheim  ( Legendary film was drastically cut by the studio big shots- what’s left, though, is still brilliant.)
  17. “Nashville”  (1975)  Robert Altman  (Altman’s masterpiece is an alarming comment on just how dangerous America is.)
  18. “Tabu”  (1931)  F.W. Murnau  (Murnau’s last film is an interesting mix of  documentary and narrative.  Filmed entirely in Tahiti, Murnau died shortly after the film was completed.)
  19. “Midsummer Night’s  Dream” (1935)  Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle  (Warner Bros. took on The Bard, using many of their best contract players in this imaginative version.)
  20. “The Loved One”  (1965)  Tony Richardson  (After Richardson won an Oscar for “Tom Jones”, he was given carte blanche to do anything he wanted.  He decided to do Evelyn Waugh’s classic, which offended many people at the time…a wild film!)

The Twenty Greatest American Film Adaptions

December 20, 2015

How many times have you heard people mutter, “But I liked the book better!”  That’s because the film and the novel are vastly different art forms.  When you encounter a story for the first time, it becomes a private thing between the reader and his imagination.  It can be disconcerting when the filmmaker’s interpretation differs greatly from what the reader had imagined.  You can feel cheated…almost.  However, some novels are difficult to transfer to the screen; it takes a skillful screenwriter,then, to help with that transition.  No matter what, someone’s going to end up disappointed.  So, with those lofty thoughts, I give you “The Twenty Greatest American Film Adaptions”.

In no particular order…

  1.  “To Kill a Mockingbird” 1962 (Harper Lee once said that she liked Horton Foote’s screenplay better than her novel.)
  2. “Slaughterhouse Five” 1972 (Captures the mood and tone of Vonnegut.)
  3. “Double Indemnity” 1944 (Inspired teaming of Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler on James Cain crime classic.)
  4. “The Unbearable Likeness of Being ” 1988 (Outstanding adaption of a complicated and rewarding novel.)
  5. “Gone with the Wind” 1939 (Big, brassy, entertaining, and a little racist!)
  6. “Silence of the Lambs” 1991 (Ted Tally’s skillful adaption of Thomas Harris’ popular thriller.)
  7. “East of Eden” 1955 (Focuses on one choice chapter of Steinbeck’s novel.)
  8. “Mystic River” 2003 (Faithful rendering of Dennis Lehane’s superb story.)
  9. “From Here to Eternity” 1953 (Powerful version of the daring and popular novel.)
  10. “A Streetcar Named Desire” 1951 (The best stage adaption ever!)
  11. “Rosemary’s Baby” 1968 (Menacing and close interpretation of Ira Levine’s classic.)
  12. “Wise Blood” 1979 (Perfectly captured Flannery O’Connor’s strange world.)
  13. “In Cold Blood” 1967 (Haunting film of Truman Capote’s groundbreaking nonfiction novel.)
  14. “The Dead” 1987 (A triumphant reflection of John Huston’s passion for reading.)
  15. “Naked Lunch” 1990 (Unique fusion of Cronenberg and Burrough’s radical artistic sensibilities.)
  16. “Rear Window” 1954 (A tapestry of character and ambience woven from Cornell Woolrich’s short story.)
  17. “Treasure of Sierra Madre” 1948 (Well-directed adaption of famed B. Traven’s Marxist parable.
  18. “The Grapes of Wrath” 1940 (Misses the power of Steinbeck’s novel but has a grace all its own.)
  19. “Bridge Over the River Kwai” 1957 (The screenwriters Dalton Trumbo and Michael Wilson were blacklisted at the time and could not pick up their Oscar.)
  20. “A Clockwork Orange” 1971 (Still controversial after all these years; the ironic voice over narration pulls you into Alex’s world.)




November 20, 2015

Notes on the Supporting Actor

He can light up the screen in a flicker of time, drawing you in with his eyes, his humor, and even his humanity.  He doesn’t need a long monologue to get your attention.  No, many times he can sum up an entire lifetime with a move, a gesture, or a pause.  For he is our supporting actor- and he’s as important to film as the stock itself.  More times than not,  he’ll be the one you’ll remember when the lights come up. Viva the supporting actor!

The twenty greatest supporting actors in no particular order…

  1.  Fredric March  ” The Iceman Cometh” (’73)  Harry Hope  (A lifetime of great acting, culminating into this final glory)
  2. Robert DeNiro “Mean Streets” (’73)  Johnny Boy (His performance exploded onto the screen.)
  3. Louis Calhern “The Asphalt Jungle ” (’50) Alonzo Emmerich  (He brought a real humanity to his crooked lawyer.)
  4. Peter Sellers  “Lolita” (’62) Claire Quilty (One of the screen’s great comic creations)
  5. Walter Huston “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (’48)  Howard. (The image of him doing an Irish jig in the desert is unforgettable.)
  6. Jack Nicholson “Easy Rider” (’69)  George Hanson  (Our first glimpse of this actor’s greatness)
  7. Robert Duvall “The Godfather” (’72)  Tom Hagen (The scene where he has to tell the godfather that his son has been killed is a master class in acting.)
  8. Gig Young “They Shoot Horses Don’t They” (’69)  Rocky  (The seeds of a soul are there, but this man has long lost his humanity)
  9. Rod Steiger “The Loved One” (’65)  Joy Boy ( Has to be seen to be believed,)
  10. Joel Grey “Cabaret”  (’72)  MC  (Show business sleaze oozes from this cupie doll.)
  11. Jason Robards, Jr.  “Melvin and Howard”  (’80)  Howard Hughes  (He does so much with his face- an astonishing performance.)
  12. Joe Pesci  “Goodfellas”  (’90)  Tommy DeVito  (Yeah, he’s funny alright, but he is also terrifying.)
  13. George C. Scott  “The Hustler” (’61) Bert Gordon  (He plays it with such cold precision.)
  14. Marvin Landau  “Ed Wood (’96)  Bela Lugosi  (A touching and fully realized performance)
  15. Kevin Spacey  “The Usual Suspects”  (’95) Verbal  (A performance that’s filled with colors)
  16. Christopher Walken  “At Close Range”  (’86)  Bradley Whitewood, Sr.  (The most frightening thing about his performance is that you almost like the man!)
  17. Burgess Meredith “Day of the Locust”  (’75)  Harry Greener  (It’s such a pleasure to see an actor find a role he can truly inhabit.)
  18. Dennis Hopper  “Blue Velvet” (’86)  Frank Booth (What the hell is he inhaling?)
  19. Samuel L. Jackson   “Jungle Fever”  (’90)  Gator  (A live wire of a performance)
  20. Eli Wallach  “Baby Doll (’56)  Silva Vicarro  (Very cunning. but also strangely charming)