Friday, December 16, 2016

Some Favorite Films

I don't consider myself a film critic. But, like many raised in a time when film took precedence over TV, I have my favorites.
I've mentioned before, I consider The Gods Must Be Crazy my favorite film of all time and view Jamie Uys as a cinematic genius. I'm not going to include Gods in this summary, though, citing instead some other classics I enjoy. They are, in no particular order:
Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston star in this 1948 adventure tale of a search for gold in Mexico based on a novel of the same name by the mysterious B. Traven. Bandits and greed turn a search for wealth into tragedy. Huston steals the star honors from Bogie.
Wuthering Heights. There have been a number of remakes of Emily Brontes' story of vengeful, thwarted love (one of my all-time favorite novels), but none have surpassed the emotional intensity of the original 1949 version starring Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier and David Niven.
Arsenic And Old Lace. Frank Capra's brilliant 1944 adaptation of a Broadway play is a dark comedy with a stellar cast headed by Cary Grant. If this film doesn't make you laugh, you have no sense of humor.
The Trouble With Harry. Another dark comedy, this one about a dead man who won't stay put. I'm a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock and I've watched this 1955 film dozens of times without tiring of its quirky humor. Captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) believes he's accidentally shot Harry, but he's not the only one with reason to hide the body. John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine (in her screen debut) star, respectively, as a struggling artist and a single mother who knows Harry and is glad he's dead.
North By Northwest. This 1959 film, another Hitchcock, is considered by many one of the director's best. Even if the critics didn't agree, it'd still be among my favorites. A case of mistaken identity puts Cary Grant (here in his more usual casting as a suave man-about-town) on the run from villain James Mason and his cohorts and sexy Eva Marie Saint as the mystery woman he meets on a train. Who can forget the crop duster chase or the Mt. Rushmore climax?
To Kill A Mockingbird. The 1963 film is a fitting tribute to the Harper Lee Novel and Gregory Peck is superb in the role of Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer defending a black man accused of rape. Mary Badham and Philip Alford, the children portraying Scout and Jem, were equally brilliant. It's no surprise this film took three Academy Awards.
The Sand Pebbles. A 1966 classic which earned Steve McQueen his only Oscar nomination and explores U.S.-China relations in the 1920s. McQueen stars as a sailor with a personal code of ethics who is drawn into a situation which can only go downhill. Based on a novel by Richard McKenna, who actually served on a gunboat like the one in the film.
The Wild Bunch. One of my favorite Westerns, this 1969 Peckinpah classic about a group of aging outlaws who run to Mexico and come up against a larger foe than the lawman (Robert Ryan) pursuing them after a foiled bank robbery. An outstanding cast, including William Holden, Ernie Borgnine, Strother Martin and Emilio Fernandez as the vicious Mapache. Bloody, but not inappropriate for the time and situation.

Ragtime. This 1981 movie is based on the novel of the same name by E. L. Doctorow and features an all-star cast including James Cagney as Police Commissioner Waldo, the lovely Elizabeth McGovern as Evelyn Nesbit and Howard E. Rollins Jr. as Coalhouse Walker Jr. I love the novel and wasn't disappointed by the film. It's a beautiful (and at the same time, disturbing) portrait of New York City at the beginning of the 20th century.

Once Upon A Time In America. In my opinion, this 1984 Sergio Leone offering is the best gangster epic ever--more emotionally satisfying than the Godfather (see the full version, not the edited studio version). A Prohibition-era Jewish gangster returns to his old haunts on the Lower East Side and confronts ghosts and regrets from the past. A knockout cast including Robert De Niro, James Woods and Elizabeth McGovern. And the score is knockout beautiful.