PART TWO OF 60 MOVIES TO WATCH
As I stated in Part One, a lot of my personal favourite movies were eliminated because they were, in my eyes, spoiled by one or two performances or casting decisions. The Carpetbaggers (1964), despite it being mercilessly panned by the critics, is one such film. George Peppard, Elizabeth Ashley, Martin Balsam, Martha Hyer and Bob Cummings were all fine, but Alan Ladd was woefully miscast as Nevada Smith. He was simply too old for the role. Also, the pivotal role of Rina Marlowe needed a stronger actress. A pity really because Peppard was great in the picture.
Another movie, a WW2 thriller this time, that almost made my list was 1981’s Eye of the Needle, starring Donald Sutherland as a Nazi spy/assassin and Canada’s Kate Nelligan as the feisty British girl who initially wins his heart. There are a few plot holes but the picture eventually has us coiled for an intense finish, a finish in which Kate is superb. So, why did Eye of the Needle not make it to my list? Christopher Cazenove was the problem. He portrayed Kate’s former Spitfire pilot husband and he did so most annoyingly. Too annoyingly for me, at any rate.
Cazenove made the same impact on me that Richard Ney had made in Mrs. Miniver in 1942. Ney, too, portrayed a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain. I had to remind myself not to root for the Luftwaffe whenever this twit flew off to battle them. I absolutely adored Greer Garson in the title role, enough to forgive any of the other failings of the film (and there were plenty) – but not this one. Ney played Vin, Mrs. Miniver’s sappy son, and if I was ever to list the most irksome screen performances in history, his would probably be at the top, although I suppose he might encounter some competition from the likes of Gene Wilder and the talentless Adam Sandler! Tough choice.
I have always had a soft spot for Rob Reiner’s cult classic Stand By Me. It boasts the services of some terrific American child stars – Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell – as well as a nostalgic rock and roll soundtrack that suits the mood perfectly. It also has the much-under-rated Kiefer Sutherland as the ‘heavy’. Unfortunately, there is a pie-eating sequence in the middle that culminates in everybody vomiting over everyone else! It spoils the film for me so out it goes. Sorry Kiefer.
I suppose the legion of Gone with the Wind (1939) fans will be mortified to see that their beloved picture has not made my Top 60 anywhere on the list. My apologies, but there are several reasons for this. First, the Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) character is just too nice to be believable. Second, I do not for one moment believe that a fiery, hot-blooded woman like Scarlett would ever choose insipid Ashley (Leslie Howard) over the suave, adventurer Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). And third, (my main beef), the movie’s undisguised love affair with the so-called ‘chivalrous South’ is enough to make one gag. The Confederacy existed on the sweat and blood of slaves and could not wait to wage war against its own countrymen to hang onto that vile institution! I have seen GWTW just once, a long time ago. That was more than enough for me. To hell with the ‘chivalrous South!
Anyway, here is part two of my Top 60: 40-21
40. SHANE (1953)
Alan Ladd, Jack Palance, Emile Meyer, Ben Johnson, Van Heflin, Jean Arthur, Elisha Cook Jr.
The only movie Alan Ladd ever made (in my opinion) that showed him at his best. This classic western also introduced audiences to Jack Palance, boasted a top notch supporting cast, the brilliant George Stevens directing and Oscar-winning cinematography by Loyal Griggs. One of the all-time top westerns but beware of ‘dark’ prints.
39. BEAU GESTE (1939)
Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston
The first book my mum ever bought me and this version is still an exciting movie. I have always felt Gary Cooper was an over-rated actor but he was at his peak, looks-wise, here. The battle scenes at Fort Zinderneuf are the stuff that inspired little boys like me to seriously consider enlisting in the French Foreign Legion. I just loved the uniforms.
38. MIDNIGHT RUN (1988)
Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, John Ashton, Dennis Farina
A fast-moving comedy thriller with great performances all round. Peppered with a lot of unnecessary bad language but highly entertaining throughout as bounty hunter De Niro endeavours to bring in ‘the Duke’ (Grodin) by the Friday midnight deadline to collect the $100,000 ‘finder’s fee.
37. LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998)
Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones, Nick Moran
Hilarious and unique for its day. This startlingly original action comedy made the careers of Statham and Jones in particular.
36. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976)
Jason Robards, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Hal Holbrook
This extraordinary real life drama managed to hold our interest despite its potentially boring premise. After all, it was common knowledge that President Nixon was a crook who virtually went unpunished, so no surprises there. A clever film with Oscar-winning Robards the obvious standout.
35. APOLLO 13 (1995)
Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton
Just like All the President’s Men (1976) this picture addressed a subject that held no surprises, yet it kept audiences riveted throughout, a sign of masterful movie-making at its best. Hanks (as usual) was terrific.
34. FOUR WEDDINGS & A FUNERAL (1994)
Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, John Hannah, Kristin Scott Thomas, James Fleet, Simon Callow
A hugely popular romantic comedy that broke British records everywhere. John Hannah’s wonderfully moving delivery of W.H. Auden’s poem ‘Funeral Blues’ was worth the price of admission.
33. THE GODFATHER (1972)
Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, James Caan
A little lengthy but Al Pacino is worth every minute, even if the film does tend to glamorize organized crime.
32. CHINATOWN (1974)
Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, Roman Polanski
I have never been able to clearly determine why I enjoy this picture so much. Maybe it is the the fact that it is set in the late thirties, an era that fascinates me. More likely, however, it is the clever underplaying from Nicholson and his seemingly effortless ability to steal every scene he is in. Polanski’s direction may have been partly responsible, I suppose. Whatever the reason, it is a genuine classic.
31. PLATOON (1986)
Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Depp
Easily the best movie set in the Vietnam War, no doubt thanks in part to director Oliver Stone having seen action there. Berenger was very unlucky to miss out on an Oscar. Some harrowing scenes. Easily Sheen’s best work.
30. ARGO (2012)
Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Christopher Denham, Bryan Cranston
This film, based on actual events, somewhat surprisingly picked up the Academy Award for Best Picture. Alan Arkin and John Goodman get to deliver the best lines and, consequently, steal several scenes. The ending is tense, nail-biting stuff although a tad predictable, which is disappointing. Good yarn though.
29. CELLULAR (2004)
Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, Jason Statham, William H. Macy, Jessica Biel
This fast-paced thriller will probably surprise readers, especially given its lofty position on my list, but I am a big fan of Jason Statham, William H. Macy and Kim Basinger. Furthermore, I thought Chris Evans did a fine job and Jessica Biel (formerly his real life girlfriend) is a babe.
28. THELMA & LOUISE (1991)
Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Brad Pitt, Michael Madsen, Harvey Keitel
This has often been described as the ‘ultimate chick flick’ because, presumably, the girls come out on top time and again against some pretty nasty guys. There’s a rapist, a Gestapo-type traffic cop, a lascivious truckie and a smooth-talking thief who cleans them out. Oh yes, and a husband who would have to be the poster boy for the Male Chauvanist Club of America (if such a club exists).
27. THE LAST VALLEY (1971)
Michael Caine, Omar Sharif, Per Oscarsson, Nigel Davenport
Michael Caine is absolutely first class as the leader of a band of mercenaries during the Thirty Years War. Some critics said his accent was all wrong but I don’t care. He turns in an outstanding performance, the best of his career in my opinion. Little-known European actor Per Oscarsson is also wonderful as the fanatical Catholic priest. Equally thrilling is the brilliant John Barry score. Warning: If you are religious you probably should not watch this film. I am anti-religion and I love it.
26. ENCHANTED (2007)
Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Timothy Spall
This movie, which is part-musical, part-animation and complete fantasy, makes it into my Top 60 for one specific reason. Amy Adams. She is positively captivating as the princess who is cast out of a book of fairy tales (by a wicked queen, of course), and has to survive in the human world of New York City. Somehow Amy manages to give a unique and quite delightful portrayal of a fairy tale character trapped in the real world. Marsden as the prince is very good also but it is Amy’s picture from start to finish. The songs are pretty good, too.
25. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)
Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson
From the moment Brynner and McQueen join forces to ride the hearse (above) up the street to Boot Hill, we lovers of westerns just know we are in for a good time. A strong cast spouting snappy dialogue is accompanied by an infectious Elmer Bernstein theme that rattles through the picture, reminding us all that we are in for an entertaining couple of hours. Eli Wallach makes a memorable bandit leader and McQueen steals scenes left, right and centre.
24. THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS (1956)
Clifton Webb, Stephen Boyd, Gloria Grahame
This is the true story of ‘Operation Mincemeat’, a British deception plan aimed at convincing the Nazis that the Allies intended to land troops somewhere other than in Sicily. Stephen Boyd excels as the IRA member sent by the Nazis to check on the authenticity of this. I must say that Clifton Webb always impressed me, even though he generally played the same character time and again.
23. BULLITT (1968)
Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Simon Oakland, Don Gordon
When most fans think of Bullitt they immediately recall the famous car chase. I am no petrol-head, however, and would rather think of Jacqueline Bisset (I think of her a lot, if truth be told), and the impressive underplaying from McQueen. His true star status and screen presence is never more evident than in this picture. Vaughn is perfect as the ambitious, self-important DA.
22. GLADIATOR (2000)
Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed
This is Russell Crowe’s picture from beginning to end – a tour de force. He thoroughly deserved his Best Actor Academy Award and Hans Zimmer was desperately unlucky not to win the Best Music, Original Score Oscar, the prize going to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Likewise, Ridley Scott missed out on Best Director when Steven Soderbergh won for Traffic.
21. O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? (2000)
George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Charles Durning
Those who think George Clooney is just a pretty face, should take a look at him here. One of three convicts escaped from a 1930s Mississippi chain gang, he is the ‘talky’ one, as brainless and naïve as his two companions (Turturro and Nelson), but convinced his verbosity makes him intelligent. This is a very funny film blessed with an incredible soundtrack. A Coen brothers vehicle. Enough said.