#1 MISSISSIPPI BURNING 1988
There is something extraordinarily sad about the way those three kids in Mississippi were so callously (and casually) disposed of by the Klan. We can almost feel the fear as their car is pulled over on that lonely stretch of road. This exceptional film captures the hatred of those days, yet still manages to give us a brilliantly acted drama that maintains pace throughout. Hackman (as usual) carries the picture, but Dafoe, McDormand, Dourif and Rooker are all first class. A great movie.
#2 L.A. CONFIDENTIAL 1997
Russell Crowe is some actor. He has memorably played a gladiator, an overweight whistle blower, a mathematical nerd, a world champion boxer, an English Commander of a Man ‘O’ War, and a tough LA cop here. Of all the great movie actors, who could play Maximus in Gladiator and John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, and be nominated for Oscars in both? And he should have won twice. This film is a classic that features a half dozen or more great performances, not just Russell Crowe’s, but he is the lynch-pin.
#3 THE BOSTON STRANGLER 1968
Tony Curtis surprised all but himself with his chilling portrayal of Albert deSalvo, the man who terrorized women in the 1960s. Lightweight Curtis gives one of the performances of his life (the other being 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success), and richly deserves his Golden Globe nomination. The only negative is the director’s use of split-screen at times. It does not work at all.
#4 WHITE MISCHIEF 1988
What a place Happy Valley, Kenya must have been circa 1940. Memoirs of several of its affluent citizens, British expatriates mostly, recounted tales of wife-swapping, drug and alcohol abuse, orgies and – ultimately- murder! This is a terrific true life whodunit? Only recently was it at last solved.
#5 THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY 1978
Somewhat understandably, people took one look at the title of this enjoyable ‘caper’ film and assumed it was about the annoying Ronnie Biggs, so they moved on to something else. The word ‘first’ was belatedly inserted into the title, but few even noticed, and the picture was not as popular as it might have been, which is unfortunate because it is a lot of fun. Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down are all delightful.
#6 BUGSY 1991
Ben Siegel was a psychopath with charm who got mixed up with a genuine femme fatale named Virginia Hill, and the liaison ultimately cost him his life because she was skimming money from the Mob, and plenty of it. At least that is how it looks today in hindsight. Back in the 1940s the Mob were not sure if it was Ben, Virginia, or both of them taking their money, so they rubbed Ben out anyhow. Warren Beatty and Annette Bening are convincing enough as the love struck duo.
#7 IN COLD BLOOD 1967
This is an especially chilling film about the cold-blooded slaughter of the Clutter family by a couple of callous ex-cons named Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. Robert Blake’s portrayal of Smith is outstanding, easily the best of his career, but beware; there is not the faintest glimmer of light in this very dark movie.
#8 GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI 1996
Civil rights activist Medgar Evers was gunned down in his driveway back in the sixties. This picture is about the capture and conviction of his killer decades later. Alec Baldwin is first class as the District Attorney bent on convicting Byron de la Beckwith played by James Woods. The only false note in this film is the really poor make-up applied to Woods to make him look older.
#9 THE FRENCH CONNECTION 1971
This picture introduced 40 year-old actor Gene Hackman to movie audiences as ‘Popeye’ Doyle, a hard-nosed New York cop on the trail of a drug cartel. It picked up five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Hackman). How could Hackman escape everyone’s notice until he was 40 years old? In one scene the partially completed World Trade Center can be seen in the background.
#10 ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ 1979
You can make up your own mind whether or not the three cons managed to get away scot free from Alcatraz in 1962. The FBI sure as Hell don’t know if they did or didn’t because their records show all three ‘dead’ and ‘still at large’? Clint Eastwood can do this kind of movie in his sleep, but it is pretty good just the same.