Often film critics like to break a film down to its elements and weigh each of them independently, as though great cinematography, editing, acting, whatever adds up to a great movie. Not necessarily. These trades can all be brilliantly done or poorly done but they aren’t the reason we go to the movies. A film about industrial lathing techniques could be impeccably shot and edited and carry the most magnificent musical score since Wagner, but it probably wouldn’t make anyone’s top ten list — because film exists to tell us stories.
The acting, sets, score and everything else are on hand to serve the story and characters. Does the narrative hold your interest? Do you care what happens to the people (or animals, or plants, or Lego figures) in it? Are you caught up in their quest? Movies are simple. In the words of David Mamet, when you’re watching you want to know, “Who’s this guy? What does he want?”
Editor’s Note: This is an expansion of Kyle Smith’s list of the 10 best films of the 1950s published here in June. I’ve asked Kyle to expand his series as PJ Lifestyle begins offering more lists, articles, essays, and blog posts exploring culture, art, technology, and history by decade. Last month he expanded his ’80s list to a top 20 here and his ’60s list here. Do you disagree with Kyle’s choices? Do you have your own ideas for lists of movies or other cultural subjects? Which years and what subjects would you most like to see covered at PJ Lifestyle? Email: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com Also check out Kyle’s top 10 movie picks for the ‘30s, ’40s, ‘70s, ’90s, and the ’00s before he expands them to top 20s.
In the 1950s, the Golden Age of Hollywood faded and glorious old-school films like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur began to give way to grittier, wised-up films like those of Billy Wilder, creating an interesting tension between impish youth and pompous elders. Here’s one critic’s list of the twenty best films of the decade.
20. Sabrina (1954)
Billy Wilder’s romcom starred the unmatched trio of Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden as a poor chauffeur’s daughter and the two rich brothers angling for her after ignoring her while she was growing up under their noses. Though effervescent and elegant, the film had typically Wilder-ish dark touches, such as the scene where the title character nearly succeeds in committing suicide.
Editor’s Note: This is an expansion of Kyle Smith’s list of the 10 best films of the 1960s published here in June. I’ve asked Kyle to expand his series as PJ Lifestyle begins offering more lists, articles, essays, and blog posts exploring culture, art, technology, and history by decade. Earlier this month he expanded his ’80s list to a top 20 here. Do you disagree with Kyle’s choices? Do you have your own ideas for lists of movies or other cultural subjects? Which years and what subjects would you most like to see covered at PJ Lifestyle? Email: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com Also check out Kyle’s top 10 movie picks for the ‘30s, ’40s, ’50s, ‘70s, ’90s, and the ’00s before he expands them to top 20s.
20. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Though the film’s historical accuracy is a matter of debate, an exacting and precise Paul Scofield made one of the great principled heroes in screen history as England’s Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More, who for a time was canny enough to evade the death penalty from Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) as the king purged his kingdom of clergymen who opposed his break with the Church of Rome. More, who is both canny and devout, refuses to sign an oath declaring Henry the head of the church, but he refuses to say why he is not in violation of law. Rich with palace intrigue and legal maneuvering, the film is thrilling on both the level of personality and plot, and its historical reverberations are immense.
Editor’s Note: This is an expansion of Kyle Smith’s list of the 10 best films of the 1980s published here in June. I’ve asked Kyle to expand his series as PJ Lifestyle begins offering more lists, articles, essays, and blog posts exploring culture, art, technology, and history by decade. Do you disagree with Kyle’s choices? Do you have your own ideas for lists of movies or other cultural subjects? Which years and what subjects would you most like to see covered at PJ Lifestyle? Email: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com Also check out Kyle’s top 10 movie picks for the ‘30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ‘70s, ’90s, and the ’00s before he expands them to top 20s.
20. Arthur (1981)
A throwback to ’30s screwball comedies, this light confection about a drunken playboy (Dudley Moore, in his prime) and the caustic butler (Oscar-winner John Gielgud) who serves as his counselor, nanny and father figure showcased Moore’s comic gifts but was also an oddly endearing buddy movie.
10. Written on the Wind (1956)
Douglas Sirk’s soapy melodramas had an element of tongue-in-cheek camp that later came to be appreciated as sly subversion, and in this one Bacall played along beautifully as a canny Manhattan career woman in the advertising business who marries the scion (Robert Stack) of a wild oil clan while secretly making time for the poor outsider (Rock Hudson) who has worked his way up in the family business.
10. Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Williams’ only Woody Allen film is essentially a series of sketches in which Allen works out his demons. Williams is in the film for only a few minutes but he makes them count in a brilliant bit part as Mel, a film actor whose life is such a blur that he has literally gone out of focus.
Netflix’s streaming service offers hundreds of comedies, but which ones are the best? Here’s one critic’s list of the ten finest laffers since 1990 that you can punch up tonight on Netflix.
10. Happy Gilmore (1996)
Adam Sandler has had his ups and downs, but in his early films his lost little kid act was inspired. The way the title character makes the world around him adapt to his skills (he’s a hockey player whose slap-shot style makes him a strangely gifted golfer, and he needs to win a tournament to save his grandma’s house) neatly jibes with how Sandler nudged Hollywood comedy to accommodate his peculiar persona. And who else would have been willing to fistfight Bob Barker?
The best thing about classic comedies: when you haven’t seen them for a while, you forget some of the jokes and get to laugh all over. Here’s one critic’s rundown of the top ten funniest pre-1990 comedies available on Netflix’s streaming service.
10. Seems Like Old Times (1980)
Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn’s followup to their hit Foul Play wasn’t as well received, but Neil Simon’s screwball comedy about an accidental bank robber (Chase) trying to win back his ex (Hawn) from her D.A. husband (Charles Grodin) is as funny as it is charming. Chase, who was well on his way to perfecting his Fletch wiseguy persona, proves in one scene that a gifted comic can be funny using just his hands (in a scene in which, hidden under a bed, his character gets his fingers stepped on but can’t make a sound).
10. Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
The Dead Poets Society model for movies about teachers who create endless opportunity by opening up the potential of young minds can be traced to this heartfelt British boarding-school classic, whose title character was so unforgettable that Robert Donat captured the Best Actor Oscar over Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind.
9. McLintock! (1963)
The Duke’s version of The Taming of the Shrew (co-starring his sparring partner from The Quiet Man, Maureen O’Hara) is one of his broadest comedies, an easygoing romp that showed Wayne being more overtly political in the role of a cattle king with family troubles. As a joke on Hubert Humphrey, the governor of the state for whom McLintock has nothing but contempt is named “Cuthbert H. Humphrey.”
10. Double Indemnity (1944)
Director Billy Wilder and co-author Raymond Chandler set the standard for tantalizing film noir with this cynical, funny, slick and speedy tale of a shady insurance salesman (Fred MacMurray) and a married femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck) who plot to kill her husband. Marred by some improbable machinations bringing in less interesting subsidiary characters in the third act, the film saves some of its best stuff for the end, winding up with a classic interplay between MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson.
10. Almost Famous (2000)
Cameron Crowe’s reflection on his years as a teen Rolling Stone correspondent has all the warmth, directness and immediacy of a candid first novel — but, critically, Crowe didn’t make it until many years later, giving the film an additional layer of bittersweet nostalgia and emotional depth. The film wriggles with youth and echoes with maturity at the same time.
10. Dial M for Murder (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock was in his prime, making Vertigo, Rear Window and North by Northwest this decade. None of them made this list. His lean, witty, sophisticated, expertly-plotted murder-mystery starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly is his tightest, most focused film of the decade, suffering from none of the languors and excesses of the other three (particularly Vertigo). There isn’t a wasted moment in it, and the finish is a knockout.
10. The Lion King (1994).
The importance of The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991) in reviving Broadway musical-style animation shouldn’t be underestimated, and Pixar’s entry into filmmaking with Toy Story (1995) was revolutionary, but it’s the African saga based on Hamlet that gave animated storytelling a depth, seriousness and resonance it hadn’t had since Pinocchio. Now that we’re used to seeing one or two great animated films a year, it’s hard to remember how special it was for a movie to carry so much appeal to both adults and kids.
10. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Possibly the greatest film about childhood ever made, Steven Spielberg’s fairy tale is a little too sweet and simple to withstand lots of viewings, but the feel for the pangs and yearnings of youth is deep and generous, and the scene in which Elliott kisses a girl in school is among the best Spielberg ever shot.
10. The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
A roaring, timeless Kipling adventure directed by John Huston and starring the incomparable duo of Sean Connery and Michael Caine, the film is simultaneously a swashbuckling imperialist adventure and a cautionary tale about venturing into dimly understood lands to take advantage of easy pickings there. The scene in which the two old soldiers laugh their way out of doom — their voices cause an avalanche that seals an unpassable chasm — is a mini-tutorial on the payoff from looking at the bright side.
10. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Warren Beatty and Co’s idea to make a movie showing vicious criminals as prankish antiheroes — but nevertheless have them meet the most gruesome comeuppance ever depicted on screen to that point — yielded a provocative entertainment that also expertly marshalled the forces of irony. Are we meant to laugh with these careless bandits as banjo music plays them jauntily along to their next despicable act? Maybe, but even as we become complicit in the granting of legend status to twisted narcissists we forgive ourselves for enjoying what is, in our experience of it, only a movie. And the shocking, sudden end makes sure we don’t leave the theater smiling.
5. Draft Day (2014)
It’s currently at 57 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s not highly rated. But it is highly amazing that anyone at all liked this football-illiterate soap about a Cleveland Browns general manager (a sullen-looking Kevin Costner) simultaneously having girlfriend problems (with Jennifer Garner, who plays his team’s salary-cap guru), dead-dad problems and personnel problems on the biggest day of year for general managers.
Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) trades three first-round draft picks at the annual NFL draft of top college prospects in order to move up six spots and select the hottest college quarterback in years. But then he worries he’s made the wrong decision because of a rumor that none of the jock’s teammates attended his twenty-first birthday party. Also he gets jittery because of a game in which the QB got sacked four times, though even a non-expert looking at the tape can see how the sacks were entirely the fault of poor blocking by the offensive line, not the quarterback.
In short, no one who knows anything about football can take this film seriously, and the romance between Costner’s character and Garner, is flat and tepid. Their arc? They’re having difficulties because he’s not very nice to her. But then he decides to be nice. The end.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in November of 2013 as “5 Liberal Myths About JFK.” It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months… Click here to see the top 25 so far and to advocate for your favorites in the comments.
As the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy approaches, JFK remains a mythical figure for left-liberals. But they’re wrong to call him the standard bearer of their principles, because though Kennedy had some liberal characteristics he would hardly recognize the Democratic Party as it is currently constructed. Here are five liberal myths about the 35th president.
1) JFK was a Ted Kennedy clone.
Liberals today are understood to stand for the opposite of everything Republicans stand for, but the labels were more fluid in the JFK era, when some Republicans were liberal and some Democrats were conservative. In 1953, shortly after being elected to the Senate, Kennedy said, “I’d be very happy to tell them I’m not a liberal….I’m not comfortable with those people.” In the 1960 “I’m a liberal speech” Democrats often cite, Kennedy sounded more like a compassionate conservative:
If, by “liberal,” [our opponents] mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrates that we are not that kind of “liberal.” But if, by a “liberal,” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people….if that is what they mean by a “liberal,” then I’m proud to say that I’m a “liberal.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the L-word.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in September of 2013 as “The 10 Best Criterion Collection Movies on Hulu.” It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months… Click here to see the top 25 so far and to voice your favorites in the comments.
If you’re a subscriber to Hulu Plus, one of the side benefits is free access to the many dazzling jewels of the Criterion Collection, which restores classic films, mainly from other countries, many of which are not available on Netflix. The vast majority are seldom shown on cable or pay TV. Of the 869 Criterion titles currently available on Hulu Plus — the full list is available here – these are ten of the best.
10. Burden of Dreams (1982)
A crazy ode to the love of filmmaking stars the gifted and driven German director Werner Herzog as he struggles to make his baggy masterpiece Fitzcarraldo, which originally starred Jack Nicholson and Mick Jagger until both dropped out. The film is about a demented genius who attempts to drag a full-sized ship over a mountain in the Amazonian rainforest, and being the perfectionist he was Herzog decided, using rudimentary native tools and muscle, to do the same. The film has a rating of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
9. The Great Dictator (1940).
The first satiric attack Hollywood ever launched on Adolf Hitler is still the best. In his first-ever talkie, Charlie Chaplin (who also wrote and directed, at a time when there was an informal rule against provoking Germany with anti-Nazi films) spoofs “Adenoid Hynkel” as the madman he was. Chaplin also plays a Jewish barber with amnesia unaware that anti-semitic forces have taken over his country.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in October of 2013, shortly before Halloween. It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months…
Looking for a Halloween horror movie that goes beyond screaming-babysitter and haunted-house cliches? Some of the most disturbing, vile, disgusting and off-the-hook films ever made are available on Netflix’s instant streaming service.
Here are six incredibly twisted experiences that will have you whimpering with disbelief. Tasteless? Wicked? Exploitative? These films are all of these things and then some. Don’t watch them, if you have any sense whatsoever.
6. Maniac (2012)
Even more violent and depraved than the trend-setting 1980 original (which isn’t available to stream on Netflix), this slasher flick involves the mommy-fixated owner (Elijah Wood) of a mannequin store who prowls the night in search of women to stab. Even sicker: He keeps the scalps to top off his mannequins in a fly-ridden room. You’ll almost smell the rotting flesh.
“If it’s possible to be both impressed and appalled by a movie’s pull-no-punches savagery,” wrote The A/V Club, “Maniac earns that dubious distinction.”
Wes Anderson’s eighth film, a screwball comedy based in 1930s central Europe called The Grand Budapest Hotel, has hit theaters. How does it stack up against the Texas-born auteur’s other works? Here’s a ranking of all of his movies.
8. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
A character study of three feuding brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) meeting up on a train in India to reconnect after their father’s death, this lackluster, aimless film made little narrative use of its exotic and colorful setting. Though less obviously art-directed than most of Anderson’s other films — location shooting in teeming cities made it impossible for him to control every millimeter of the frame the way he normally does — it’s Anderson’s least funny film and it also suffered from a lack of much of a message. When the brothers finally and climactically meet their mother (Anjelica Houston), who is living as a nun in the mountains, not much happens.
The Oscars can’t be expected to get it right every time, but when it comes to the acting categories it’s particularly obtuse. (Joel Grey in Cabaret over Al Pacino in The Godfather? Art Carney in Harry & Tonto over Pacino in The Godfather, Part II? Pacino in Scent of a Woman over Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven? ) Often, great performances don’t even land a nomination. Here’s a list of 20 of the most unbelievable acting Oscar snubs.
1. Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa in Casablanca (1942)
It’s hard to believe, but the future winner of three Academy Awards had just started working in Hollywood and wasn’t nominated for her most immortal performance, the one that defined screen glamor.
Anytime you’re tempted to care too much about what’s going on with the Oscars, consider the list of great movies that should have won Best Picture yet weren’t even nominated in that category.
1. King Kong (1933)
The landmark in special effects and fantasy captivated the imagination and heralded a new era in which anything anyone could dream up became a cinematic possibility. The closing line was so perfect that Peter Jackson couldn’t resist using it again in his remake seven decades later. But Oscar was obsessed with historical sweep at the time, and gave its top award to the generational family saga Cavalcade.