| 1. The Godfather Trilogy
The Godfather, Part I (1972),
The Godfather, Part II (1974), and The Godfather,
Part III (1990), Francis Ford Coppola
"The flawed Part III barely slides in on goodwill. No matter. This
is entertainment raised to the level of art: an offer you can't refuse.
Coppola gives us the Corleone clan of killers, and we identify. How does
that happen? Alchemy, that's how; magic you can't explain except to say
that Don Vito and his three sons are as familiar to us as our own family.
We remember all the lines, profound ("I believe in America") and silly
("Leave the gun, take the cannolis"). These films grow in stature with
the years, their power to move us undimmed, their influence as up-to-date
as The Sopranos. Marlon Brando's don is an icon, but Al Pacino's
performance as his son Michael - taken in toto - is arguably the finest
in cinema. Coppola had just turned thirty when he started work on the
first chapter. Even later (The Conversation,
Apocalypse Now), he never topped it. Nobody
Vertigo (1958), Alfred Hitchcock
"The master of suspense felt secure enough - he was nearing sixty
- to direct the mad, perverse tale of romantic obsession that had always
obsessed him. James Stewart gives his riskiest performance as a detective
in thrall to a dead woman, forcing Kim Novak to walk, talk, move, and
make love according to his definition of beauty and truth. Do you know
a better definition of filmmaking?"
The Searchers (1956), John Ford
"Ford had been making westerns for almost four decades before he acknowledged
the racism inherent in cowboys vs. Indians and directed his masterpiece.
John Wayne found the role of his career as Ethan Edwards, an Indian
hater torn apart by the thought that his kidnapped niece (Natalie Wood)
has been raped by savages. He doesn't know whether to rescue or kill
her, a theme Martin Scorsese picked up later in
Taxi Driver. Few film images are more
haunting than that of Wayne standing alone in a doorway, cut off from
his family by torments he can't define."
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Stanley
"It kills me to pick just one Kubrick -
Paths of Glory, A
Clockwork Orange, Lolita, and
The Shining all exert a powerful hold
- but it's hard to resist this visionary epic about the dawn of man,
the birth of technology and the death of language and imagination. On
its initial release, 2001 hit home mostly with acid trippers
(dig that time warp) and intellectuals (deconstruct that star child).
These days, Kubrick's daring is justly celebrated as a landmark of cinematic
ambition and reach."
Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles
"Pauline Kael claims that Welles' debut film - the wonder boy was just
twenty-five - is 'more fun than any other great movie.' You can still
sense Welles' enthusiasm for film as 'the biggest toy-train set any
boy ever had.' The techniques he used to tell the story of a tycoon
destroyed by ambition and childhood neglect revolutionized movies in
ways that are still being felt. It is, however, wrongly assumed that
Welles never lived up to his huge potential. I'll stand by The
Lady From Shanghai, Chimes at Midnight and especially
Touch of Evil, in which he played - brilliantly
- the fat, corrupt slob his detractors later accused him of becoming."
Raging Bull (1980), Martin Scorsese
"The best director currently working in American movies hit a career
peak by turning the life of boxer Jake La Motta into a poetic meditation
on the nature of violence. Robert De Niro gives the performance of his
life as the trim rebel and the flabby mess he became. Still, it's the
heightened urgency with which Scorsese prowls macho rituals, in and
out of the boxing ring, that puts the Bill a hair ahead of such Scorsese
classics as Mean Streets,
Taxi Driver, and GoodFellas.
Chinatown (1974), Roman Polanski
"Corruption and political coverups in 1930s Los Angeles are the hooks
on which Polanski and screenwriter Robert Towne hang this definitive
allegory of the Watergate era. Who can forget the shock of Jack Nicholson,
as detective Jake Gittes, when client Faye Dunaway confesses that her
sister is her daughter by an incestuous father, played to the glorious
hilt by John Huston. The last scene and the last line ("Forget it, Jake,
it's Chinatown") give off an indelible chill."
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948),
"Huston broke all the rules in this superb tale of how greed eats at
the soul, casing heroic Humphrey Bogart as a murderous panhandler looking
for gold in Mexico and Walter Huston, the director's father, as a toothless
prospector. The son directed his dad to a well-deserved Oscar."
9. Blue Velvet (1986),
"Talk about freaks. An innocent (Kyle MacLachlan) drops through the
rabbit hole of Norman Rockwell America to find a chaos world ruled by
Dennis Hopper's violently mad hatter. The innocent also finds himself
naked in the closet of a masochistic songbird (Isabella Rosselini).
But that's another story in Lynch's perverse masterwork."
10. Pulp Fiction (1994), Quentin Tarantino
"Not since Orson Welles had a writer-director taken more joy in reinventing
film form. While getting career-best performances from John Travolta,
Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman, Tarantino made good
on the promise of his 1992 debut (Reservoir Dogs) and crafted
one of the most innovative crime dramas. ever."
King Kong (1933), Merian C. Cooper,
Ernest B. Schoedsack
"The creation of the big ape is an emotional and special-effects marvel.
Naked, alone in the big city, in heat for a troubled blonde and brought
down by technology, Kong is the definitive wronged male of the cinema
12. The Manchurian Candidate
(1962), John Frankenheimer
"Much more than a paranoid thriller about brainwashing, it's a sharp
satire of political extremism, a workout for Frankenheimer's kinetic
gifts and a showcase for the best performances that Frank Sinatra, Laurence
Harvey and a devastating Angela Lansbury ever gave onscreen."
13. Fargo (1996), Joel
"Kidnap, murder, Minnesota, snow, strange accents and a pregnant police
chief (Frances McDormand) figure in this black-comic gem from the Coen
brothers, who wouldn't know how to make a dull movie or an obvious movie."
All About Eve (1950), Joseph L. Mankiewicz
"'Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night," says diva
supreme Bette Davis in this immortal take on the freaks of the theater,
including Anne Baxter as Davis' cutthroat protegee, George Sanders as
an acerbic critic and the young Marilyn Monroe as a budding talent who
trained, claims the critic, "at the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts."
15. Do The Right Thing (1989), Spike Lee
"Lee writes, directs and stars as a delivery boy for a white-owned Brooklyn
pizza joint; when he tosses a garbage can through the window to protest
the murder of a brother, the screen explodes. This incendiary film -
still Lee's best - ended the Eighties on a high note of revolutionary
The Night of the Hunter (1955), Charles
"A character in Do the Right Thing refers to the psychotic minister
played by menacing Robert Mitchum. He's a killer with the word HATE
tattooed on one hand and the word LOVE on the other, and he's about
to take down some orphans unless Lillian Gish can stop him. Laughton's
first and only film as a director is a stunner, a flop at the time and
now one for the ages."
17. Sherlock, Jr. (1924), Buster Keaton
"The silent era's most gifted clown - Chaplin lags behind - plays a
projectionist who enters the action onscreen. Keaton's comic take on
illusion and reality is shot with a fluid brilliance that leaves imitations
like Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo in the dust."
Some Like It Hot (1959), Billy Wilder
"The sublime comedy of the sound era stars Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis
in drag, Marilyn Monroe as the jiggly object of their lust and Wilder
Double Indemnity, The
Apartment) finding humanity in the wicked laughter. The last
line is 'Nobody's perfect.' Wrong, Wilder is."
Nashville (1975), Robert Altman
"Altman uses a political rally held in the capital of country music
to create an astonishingly complex mosaic of American life that grows
more rewarding with each viewing. Along with McCabe & Mrs. Miller,
M*A*S*H and Short Cuts, it's an Altman pinnacle."
The Wizard of Oz (1939), Victor Fleming
"It's ironic that a kiddie favorite so effectively exposes the dark
roots of fantasy ("Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain").
Still, it's the young Judy Garland who takes us over the rainbow. What
a kick to follow Oz by viewing the adult Judy, raw and riveting, on
Pioneer's collection of the TV shows she did for CBS between 1963 and
1964. It's the DVD event of the year and proof that none of us is in
21. Sweet Smell of Success
(1957), Alexander Mackendrick
"'You're a cookie full of arsenic,' says Burt Lancaster's killer columnist
to press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis is smarm incarnate) in this
seductively poisonous view of New York after dark."
22. Brazil (1985), Terry
"The corporate culture of the future tries to crush the dreams of clerk
Jonathan Pryce, giving the great Gilliam a chance to use his gifts for
satire and production design to create a nightmare vision of dehumanization."
23. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
(1956), Don Siegel
"Wonderfully subversive sci-fi and a barely veiled satire of the communist
witch hunts run by Senator Joe McCarthy, as small-towners find themselves
duplicated by alien pods if they fall asleep."
24. Badlands (1973),
"Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek play lovers on a killing spree in a debut
film that marks the reclusive Malick as a poet of the cinema."
25. Don't Look Now (1973), Nicolas Roeg
"Venice, sex, horror and the death of feeling, masterfully explored
by Roeg through the disintegrating marriage of Julie Christie and Donald
Sutherland. The climactic image of the knife-wielding dwarf in a red
raincoat possesses an enduring power to haunt."
(The following are "mainstream hits
that still have juice.")
Gone With The Wind (1939), produced by
David O. Selznick
- there were three directors, but Selznick bossed them all around
Casablanca (1942), Michael Curtiz
It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Frank Capra
Singin' In The Rain (1952), Gene Kelly
and Stanley Donen
On The Waterfront (1954), Elia Kazan
Jaws (1975), Steven Spielberg
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975),
Lawrence of Arabia (1962), David Lean
34. The Silence of the Lambs
(1991), Jonathan Demme
35. The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Irvin Kershner
"OK, I'm guilty of heresy for not picking the first
Star Wars, which George Lucas directed,
but this sequel offers more fluid storytelling and is a much better
(Now back to our regular programming)
36. Ed Wood (1994), Tim Burton
"Johnny Depp plays the worst director of all time in Burton's valentine
to the joy of movies, even - and maybe especially - the bad ones."
37. Faces (1968), John Cassavetes
"An agonizing study of infidelity from the father of American mavericks.
To get at raw truths, Cassavetes encouraged actors to go for broke,
often testing audience endurance. His work still shames studio formula
Annie Hall (1977), Woody Allen
"The Woodman's piercingly funny and touching treatise on what makes
opposites attract. Diane Keaton's la-di-da WASP princess - 'You're what
Grammy Hall would call a real Jew,' she tells Allen on their first date
- is a deft and dazzling comic creation."
Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Arthur Penn
"Penn used bank robbers Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker
(Faye Dunaway) to reflect the youth rebellion of the Sixties. The violence,
especially the slow-mo climax, retains its power to floor you."
40. Straw Dogs (1971), Sam Peckinpah
"'Bloody Sam,' they called him, and this brutal bash, in which Dustin
Hoffman's pacifist avenges what his wife claims was a gang rape, is
the most potent in the Peckinpah canon - just ahead of
The Wild Bunch.
The Third Man (1949), Carol Reed
"A gorgeously atmospheric thriller about the black market in postwar
Vienna offers a never-better Orson Welles as cheeky villain Harry Lime.
And, oh, that cuckoo clock."
42. All The President's Men (1976), Alan J.
"In Pakula's acutely observed film, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and
Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) blow the whistle on Nixon and Watergate
in ways that still make you want to cheer."
Bride of Frankenstein (1935), James
"Gods and monsters, Whale-style, as Boris Karloff's creature finds a
mate in Elsa Lanchester and the horror genre is transcended with fierce
humor and humanity."
Rebel Without A Cause (1955), Nicholas
"The film that made James Dean a legend, from an unfairly neglected
director - check Ray's In a Lonely Place for more proof."
45. Written on the Wind (1956),
"An expressionist master turns a soap opera into a world of articulate
shadows. For phallic symbolism, Dorothy Malone stroking a model of her
tycoon daddy's oil derrick is hard to top."
46. Swing Time (1936),
"The main attraction here is Fred Astaire, of whom a talent scout once
infamously wrote, 'Can't act. Can't sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a
little.' Just watch Astaire in this gem as he refuses to dance with
partner Ginger Rogers, until her beauty wears him down and they take
off in an orgiastic swirl."
47. The Red Shoes (1948), Michael Powell and
"Two sublime visual stylists set their sights on ballet."
48. Network (1976),
"This scalding satire of the media seems timelier than ever in the age
of reality TV. Lumet draws a superb performance from Peter Finch as
the prophet of the airwaves who tells viewers to get up, open their
windows and shout, 'I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore.'
Consider it done.
49. Sullivan's Travels (1941),
"Joel McCrea stands in for Sturges, a comedy director who longs to make
a serious film and hits the road to experience real life - memorably
funny and mournful.
The Graduate (1967), Mike Nichols
"'What now?' ask reunited lovers Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross in
Nichols' pungent satire of Sixties youth. You might ask the same of
the next movie century."