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The best movies by decade: The 1960s (11-25)

15 Jul

Paul Newman, as the hustler, smoking like a son of a bitch.

11. Requiem for a Heavyweight/The Hustler—It’s a boxing movie, but with little heart. Rod Serling wrote the screenplay for this lean little film about a washed up boxer (Anthony Quinn’s finest hour) and his busted out manager and trainer (Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney). Gangsters are involved, led by a Serling was a great writer—he could capture a character in two or three quick scenes, a few pieces of castoff dialogue—and the story of an uneducated boxer’s decline into parody is harsh, unsentimental, and scathing. Don’t expect it to all come up roses. The Hustler: The best portrait of the mangle that talent, ambition and pride can become when in the hands of unprincipled people. Paul Newman, playing Fast Eddie Felson, is a pool hustler traveling alongside Myron McCormick. They’re on their way to defeat the big-time Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). George C. Scott plays Fats’s manager, who decides to take Felson under his wing. A fantastic movie about late nights, stiff drinks, and the price of love and losing.

Toshiro Mifume is one of the baddest samurai around.

12. Yojimbo/The Odd Couple—Funny, violent, quirky, beautiful, Kurosawa’s Yojimbo watches like a gangster movie mashed up with a western, blended in with a hard-boiled detective story (I’ve heard it’s based on Hammett’s Red Harvest, but I don’t quite see it) and then re-imagined through the lens of Japanese culture. A stranger wanders into a town, where two dueling clans have reached an unstable peace. For reasons that are never quite clear, the stranger then systematically sets them against each other. Excellent entertainment. Odd Couple: We all have our middlebrow favorites, and this one is mine. Lemmon and Matthau are wonderful together, the script is funny, mean-spirited and then sweet. Three good films have come from Neil Simon’s stage plays: The Sunshine Boys; Biloxi Blues; and this, his best. The movie’s gender politics by today’s standards are strained. But the warmth and genius of the two main performers cements this oddball little movie into the realm of the classics.  Along with The Sunshine Boys, and Biloxi Blues, this is the best Neil Simon play.

French science fiction weirdness by Jean-Luc Goddard.

13. Alphaville/Contempt—I find Godard to be strange, distant, horribly overrated in his later films and arrogant beyond belief. But I love these two of his films. Alphaville is Godard’s strangest, and maybe his best. The story follows an assassin, of sorts, and is narrated by a robot intelligence, and the surreal touches alienate the viewer. But Paris has never looked stranger, and Godard’s point is clear: we are living in the future. We’ve always lived in the future. Contempt: Godard’s self-referential film, about a blocked screenwriter attempting to distill the Odyssey into film version while juggling his failing marriage and the approval of money-mad producer Jack Palance. Wide shots, big color, human foibles and failings. Watching this, it’s clear how much talent Godard has wasted in pursuit of political and philosophical meanderings.

Formalized misanthropy a la Stanley Kubrick.

14. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid/2001: A Space Odyssey—A Goddamn great movie, although fractured by time, money, and multiple versions.  James Coburn plays Pat Garrrett as a villainous, hedonistic, poker-faced killer. Kris Kristofferson plays Billy as an immature, reckless man who is living in the wrong era. The movie suffers, in parts, by strange editing decisions and multiple versions. (Once Upon a Time In America has a similar problem.) But, then the scenes, the goddamn scenes so perfect, and nothing sums up Peckinpah’s talent and sadness and eccentricity than Slim Pickens sitting at the water’s edge, with the sun setting into a vermillion horizon, and he’s holding his guts in with a flimsy gloved hand. With a few changes, this would be the greatest western ever made. 2001: Magisterial and misanthropic. Slow, pretentious, laborious, and yet a journey to another world. Godlike forces are at work. Humanity moves from mindless beasts to calculating machines. Giant stone monoliths seem to direct human evolution towards some vast new life form. Strauss’s musical pieces are used to great effect, and the whole thing seems like a somber new age hymn. Or a big fucking joke. Kubrick’s misanthropy—hiding as faith in human evolution—is on full display.

Richard Burton—perhaps sober?—in his greatest role.

15. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold/Dr. Strangelove—Richard Burton’s finest hour and it’s as cynical and bleak a story as they come. He plays a burned out British secret agent who returns to a rainy London unsure of his place in the world. The intelligence officers want him to pretend to defect, so they can infiltrate the East German high secret service. He does, meets his counterpart on the East German side, and begins to like him. Shot in luminous black and white. Strangelove has a different, absurdist view of the cold war and mutually assured destruction. It’s a mish mash of styles, and parts haven’t dated well. In some ways it’s a challenging movie; there were at least three screenwriters on the thing, and the various viewpoints show. But, when it’s funny, it’s great. Predictably, George C. Scott steals the show.

Youth in revolt, British style.

16. If . . . /Alfie/The Sound of Music—The best movie about youth in revolt, and it’s set in an English boarding school. The Brits are a perverse bunch, and if you don’t believe me watch this, then watch A Clockwork Orange, then skip forward to Scum and Made in Britain. They seem to think parenting involves a good whack to the knuckles and then months of confinement with vicious narcissists. If . . . stars a young Malcolm McDowell who is prodded, bullied, tortured and tormented in a tight-knit boarding school where the older students bully, bruise, and seduce their younger wards. As McDowell’s treatment worsens, so do his fantasies bloom. And a movie that begins as a straight-forward slice of life tale becomes unhinged. By the film’s end, you won’t know what’s real and what’s imagined. Give this film a chance; you will never forget it. Alfie: I love this movie. Michael Caine plays Alfie, a womanizing freeloader in swinging London. The film is even-keeled and simple, until Alfie must confront the horrendous consequences of his philandering. Simple, straightforward, film about real people surviving mundane situations. There aren’t enough movies like it. Sound of Music: I’m not all about murder, paranoia, and fear. I have a heart, too. Take The Sound of Music. It’s a long but thoughtful film about a distracted nun and her nine Austrian wards, and despite the premise, it’s a very fine film. Christopher Plummer, who’s has a late career renaissance these last 6 or so years, plays a stern naval officer who thaws from the affections of Julie Andrews. Andrews’s acting is often overlooked because of her voice, but she’s utterly convincing in the role of Maria.

Three killers waiting for their last train in the spaghetti-western masterpiece.

17. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly/ Once Upon a Time in the West—Sergio Leone’s one two punch to the myths, lies, and ugliness of the old West. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly watches like some science fiction creation myth. The characters don’t have names, they wander through a desolate landscape peopled with bizarre swarthy soldiers from both sides of the Civil War, and everyone is quick to shoot, maim, and kill for money, water, revenge, anything. Stephen King credits it for inspiring him to write the Dark Tower Books, and Quentin Tarantino claims it’s his favorite movie of all time. It’s a pop relic, for sure, but also primal and powerful, if a bit too long. West is a different story altogether, serious, brutal, and tragic, a study of revenge and land speculation. Charles Bronson and Jason Robards are both great, but its Henry Fonda, cast against type as the steely eyed villain, that stands out. Perhaps the best beginning in movie history.

St. Disturbia—the most unsettling movie of the 1960s.

18. Lolita/Peeping Tom—Stanley Kubrick’s warmest movie, which is a disturbing thing to say. His version keeps the dark humor and utter strangeness of the novel, while also capturing the character of Humbert Humbert with James Mason’s ironic, sly, self-effacing performance. Peter Sellers is a great joy to watch here, controlled and vibrant behind the strange disguises and pipsqueak voice. Peeping Tom: The mother of all disturbing movies, this Michael Powell film follows an emotionally disengaged young man who uses his movie camera to murder women, taping their final death rattle expressions. But, as if in a Hitchcock film, you start to root for the fucked up little creep as the lasso of the law begins to tighten around his neck.

"Z," the greatest political thriller ever made.

19. The Battle of Algiers/Z—Two overtly political movies, both raw and riveting. Shot in a documentary style, this tale of Algerian freedom fighters cum terrorists and the French military men who fight them is horrifying and bleak. There’s little plot, the characters lack dimension, and the most interesting character is a French military officer who has too little screen time, but the movie still works. Marvelous. Z is the political thriller of the 20th century, a raging true account of the murder of a leftwing Greek politician. It has excellent action sequences, great dialogue and wonderful homages to other movies (the Singin’ in the Rain sequence, re-contextualized as a villainous gay hustler cruises for rough trade, is unforgettable).

The classiest of thrillers.

20. Bunny lake is Missing/La Jetee—Otto Preminger again, in a horror-thriller hybrid made with consummate craftsmanship. It’s merry old England, but something is amiss. Ann Lake and her brother are fresh off the boat from America, when Ann’s daughter, Bunny, has gone missing from her daycare. But, was she ever really there? Lawrence Olivier plays the detective hired to sort it all out, Noel Coward plays a skeevee pervert living next door, and Keir Dullea (of 2001 fame) plays Ann’s clingy patronizing older brother. Somewhere in the middle, one of the great scenes in movies: the camera breaks from Lawrence Olivier interviewing Ann Lake—leaving the plot behind—to the Zombies performing “Just out of Reach” on the tube. It’s a strange moment, and it isn’t clear if it is meant to be comical or disturbing or a comment on the cultural sea change about to happen. Rich and strange. La Jetee: The best short film ever made, period. The basis for 12 Monkeys, La Jetee is told entirely from photographic stills, with a disconcerting voice over. The story involves a burned out future where a ruling elite of scientists think they’ve discovered the key to fixing their world: time travel. The traveler they send spends his nights dreaming of an enigmatic death he witnessed as a young child. The film is all of 26 minutes long, but it will rub in your thoughts forever.

"Nine men who came too late and stayed too long."

21. Will Penny/The Wild Bunch—Charlton Heston’s best acting, and this isn’t a slam on the film. He plays an illiterate cowboy who runs afoul a gang of murderous whackos, led by Donald Pleasance (who also does his best work; again, not a joke). There are three movies here: a love story, a revenge western, and a story about work. Each movie works well, and the movie is surreal, violent, mainstream, loving and tough all at once. Some critics have dismissed this little movie over the years as sentimental and slight, but there’s something here that I can’t shake. A deep humanity, coupled with an embarrassed confession of how bad people have become. Wild Bunch: Stylized, hyperviolent, and despondent in its grisly view of human nature, but also a great film. William Holden leads a band of nasty outlaws through the American southwest and Mexico, first looking for loot and later looking for revenge. They’re followed by Robert Ryan and an even worse band of killers and thieves, and they leave a bloody trail of bodies every which way. It isn’t for everyone; some will even hate it; but for the converted it’s the final chapter, until Unforgiven, on the western and the west. The tagline says it all: “Nine men who came to late and stayed too long.”

Two aging starlets strapped to a ghastly grist mill.

22. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?/Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte—And people think movies have become more obscene. Bitchy Joan Crawford and kind Bette Davis are cast against type here as two deranged sisters, locked into psychological combat through need. Crawford plays a paraplegic at the mercy of her sadistic sister, who savagely brutalizes her for most of the movie. Robert Aldrich is known as a maker of male-dominated films of violence: Vera Cruz, The Dirty Dozen, Attack. But his two best films—besides Kiss Me Deadly, of course—star Bette Davis and watch as grotesque horror films from a twisted psyche. Baby Jane is difficult to watch even now. Charlotte, on the other hand, is an old-fashioned Southern gothic, grisly but handled with aplomb. He wrings a very good performance from Olivia De Havilland, which makes you realize how little good work there was for actresses. Aldrich’s touch is not subtle, but it’s strong, strong, strong.

"Somewhere in the universe there must be something better than man."

23. Planet of the Apes/The Time Machine—This is how the world ends, in flames, fire and cannibalism. Planet of the Apes is the first and best of the Charlton Heston science fiction extravaganzas (although Soylent Green is an underrated picture). The film operates at some primal lizard part of our brains. An alien planet where evolution has pushed apes, orangutans and chimps to the top, while sifting humans to the bottom? A strange caste system of scientists, warriors and leaders, who worship ape statues from the distant past? I remember, when I was 18, I saw a postcard for the movie that read, “Somewhere in the universe there must be something better than man.” Time Machine: A visit to retro-future nostalgia. Rod Taylor stars in this fabulous science fiction romp, a cold war adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel, that takes our hero to the far future where Eloi, docile, tender humans frolic all day while Morlocks, Eloi-eating monsters toil away in the earth, doing all the work.

Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, two cold-blooded killers on the road.

24. In Cold Blood/Lord Jim—As disturbing as the book, and influential on a number of filmmakers, including David Lynch, although he might not admit it. Robert Blake and Scott Wilson play the two cold-blooded murderers. Richard Brooks directs this incredible adaptation of the Truman Capote wonder. The story follows Blake and Wilson before, after and during their slaughter of the Clutter family, as well as the detectives who hunt them down. Stylized and scored with excellent music, this one is unforgettable. Brooks directed Lord Jim, too, and I’m one of the only people who champions it. Peter O’Toole stars as the coward who flees to Africa to start anew, where he first crosses swords with a brutal warlord (Eli Wallach) and then later a band of mercenaries (led by James Mason).  An epic study of deception, self-delusion, and fate, it’s just a great movie that has been overlooked for far too long.

Night of the Living Dead: "They're coming for you Barbara. Barbara? They're coming for you."

25. Night of the Living Dead/The Manchurian Candidate—A how-to guide for independent filmmaking and a cinematic Molotov cocktail. George Romero shot his low budget creepie in a small town over a few nights. The extras brought their own costumes and were paid in barbecue.  The mood is desolate. Romero hides his low budget with odd camera angles and a terrifying idea: the dead are coming back to life, and they are hungry. There’s no real back story. There have been other zombie movies, from Romero and others. And an argument could be made that Dawn of the Dead is superior. But there’s something special about the original. A film that bites into your flesh and never lets go. Manchurian: The great political thriller of the 1960s, and the movie that almost never was. Veterans of the Korean Conflict are all suffering from the same dreams. The hero of their outfit is the son of well-known politicians. Something is happening, and no one is sure what it is. Frank Sinatra begins to suspect foul play, and all manner of hell breaks loose. Frankenheimer, one of the great technical filmmakers, shot this film with magnificent aplomb. The violence is casual, the performances are strong. When President Kennedy was assassinated, the movie disappeared. Thankfully it has returned, with its lessons of media manipulation and the costs of fear.

The truth behind the iron curtain—nonsense, ineptitude, melancholia.

26. The Fireman’s Ball—A zany, crazy, hard-edged satire of the crumbling communist republics. The whole movie follows a retirement party for an ancient fireman. The party is a disgrace. The auction items keep disappearing. There isn’t enough food. The partiers drink too much, misbehave, talk nonsense and ignore the very real dangers lurking outside their proscribed world. This pre-Hollywood Milos Forman movie reveals a sharp-toothed satirist’s eye, as well as a surreal view of people and the world—that he lost as he got older. (Although anyone who directs this and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has had a better career than most.)

Honorable mention: Days of Wine and Roses; Zorba the Greek; Zulu; Georgy Girl; The Apartment; The Great Escape; Kelly’s Heroes; Advise and Consent; Beckett; Easy Rider; Diary of a Chambermaid; Sword of Doom.

The best movies by decade, part 2: The 1940s

17 Jun

Wartime brought fresh motivation to Hollywood. Movies for the first time in the U.S. served purely propaganda purposes; the dream factory enlisted in the war effort. But after the war, the soldiers—black and white—returned home to disillusionment and despair. The good war dead ended into the cold war. A grey shroud settled over the world: proxy wars, warring economies, and the dread of mutually assured destruction. This strange darkness settled into U.S. films as well, a darkness that never really left. Collectively this bunch of post-war cheapies have been labeled noir or B-movies but they have as a common element: a focus on the losers, hustlers, criminals and ne’er-do-wells that crawled along the underbelly of the U.S. (The French loved these movies, and went on to perfect the artform.) The big theme is darkness, social anxiety, and alienation. Dark, dark, dark, dark.

1.It’s a Wonderful Life—Number one with a bullet. This annual Christmas tradition isn’t really a Christmas movie at all. Instead, it’s a character study of a desperate man, pushed to the limits by his thwarted ambitions. If you want to see how hellish a decent life can be, watch the first half of the film and then stop. It’s a horror story of self-imposed frustration, and how living for others is a peculiar kind of hell. Exposes the limits of dreams, ambitions, and talent better than any other film, a meditation on the victims of an America defined by fiduciary success. Jimmy Stewart delivers a master class on how to build a character and then tear him apart. They really, really, really don’t make them like this anymore. I don’t think they ever did.

2. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre—In some ways, the 1940s belong to John Huston. He made so many great films and he did them in a particular, artful way. It’s still riveting, after all these years, the story of three scoundrels prospecting for gold in the deserts of Mexico. Unlike many older films, the pacing of Sierra Madre never feels stagey or slow. The characters unfold beneath our gaze, stretched by the heat of their surroundings and desires. Walter Huston is marvelous, Humphrey Bogart is strong, and Tim Holt is passable. You can taste the grime and see the stink.

3. The Shop Around the Corner/The Lady Eve—A personal favorite, and a movie I can watch again and again. The story is simple: Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan play dueling shop clerks who have, through correspondence, fallen in love. Frank Morgan plays Matuschek, the cranky storeowner who has struggles of his own. An assortment of believable supporting characters fill out the movie. Funny, touching, and handled with that smart, light Ernst Lubitsch touch. A film that makes movies seem easy. Eve: Preston Sturges best film follows a hapless rich boy (played by Henry Fonda) as he is lured into the schemes of a band of con artists, including Barbara Stanwycke (who was probably the funniest actress of her generation). The original auteur, Sturges wrote and directed this film by himself. A fabulous movie.

4. The Third Man—One of the great thrillers, from a screenplay by Graham Greene, and directed by Carol Reed. Joseph Cotton plays a hack pop writer in post-war Vienna, visiting his friend Harry Lime who has been killed just before Cotton’s arrival. Or has he? It exists as a perfect film, birthed whole from some celluloid deity. Witty, fast-paced, and even scary, this is one of the greats.

5. Casablanca—The best Hollywood movie ever made. Last-minute rewrites, a changing cast, indecision about the ending, but somehow it all worked out. Bogart plays Rick, a hard-drinking expatriate living in a sordid port city in Morocco. Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre both make appearances, while Paul Henreid and Claude Rains deliver the best work of their career. Rousing, romantic, tender but not saccharine or overly sentimental, this is one of the ages. If aliens discover one film about human dignity, let it be this one.

6. Gaslight—I have a predilection for horror movies. At an early age I snuck around the house to watch as many as I could find. Gaslight follows Ingrid Bergman, a discombobulated young woman who moves back into the house where her aunt committed suicide. She’s accompanied by her controlling new husband. Often alone, Bergman begins to see things, such as the gaslight flickering. She believes that her aunt’s ghost is haunting her. Director George Cukor—the dismissed director from Gone with the Wind as well as the director of the Philadelphia Story and all of those great Tracy-Hepburn comedies—never did finer work than he does here.

7. Citizen Kane/ Magnificent Ambersons—Okay, it should be higher, but I can’t help but respond to the decades of constant praise. The film still delights. The story of a marriage, the terrible tantrum in the hotel room, Welles’s textured acting, the remaining enigmas that haunt once the movie has ended. The deep focus cinematography is still beautiful after all these years. Influential and important, but also moving. Magnificent Ambersons: Unclassifiable little movie about land, money, the breakdown of families, and the encroaching modern age. It has dazzling pieces, check out the dance, the myriad ways Wellese uses the spiral staircase, but it also has Tim Holt, who picked good movies to act badly in. Some of the scenes are a touch histrionic, but there’s a hard, dark nugget in here somewhere, about how futile the squabbling, scheming, loving and even breathing can be. Orson Welles left to shoot footage in Brazil before the movie was finished, and Hollywood tacked on a 3-minute happy ending. No matter; the movie still stands as a testament to Welles’s eccentric genius.

8. The Maltese Falcon—And darkness enters the Hollywood film, and it would never leave. The cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sidney Greenstreet. A lot of tough talk, dark interiors, and the pain of a thousand murders all written on Bogart’s haunted face. The rocket fast pacing comes directly from the Dashiell Hammett novel. Many critics prefer the Big Sleep, but I find the streamlined storytelling, the hard-nosed coherence and world-weary morality of Maltese far superior.

9. Double indemnity—A great movie from a great novel by a great director. Fred McMurray plays Walter Neffe, an insurance adjuster bewitched by the sexy wiles of married femme fatale Barbara Stanwycke. The two cook up a scheme to murder her husband for the insurance money and make it look like an accident. This would all add up to a great film, but there’s a fascinating and peculiar subplot involving Stanwycke’s daughter, taken straight from the James Cain novel. Edward G. Robinson co-stars as a suspicious coworker suffering from a strange form of indigestion.

10. Sullivan’s travels—Preston Sturges stands as a hero to the outsider/auteur crowd, and here he creates a great film about an entitled director (played by Joel McCrae) who decides he’s going to live with the people so he can learn how to make great peasant art. His hubris leads him into the arms of Veronica Lake, and jail. Mistaken identity leads him into the hobo life, riding railcars with wobblies, and eventually into a life sentence. Don’t worry; it all enventually works out, but the film stands as a great historical document to the great depression, and a very good companion to My Man, Godfrey. (By the by, the film McCrae sets out to make is titled, Oh Brother Where Art Thou? Watch the Coen Brothers movie after this and you’ll see how crass our contemporary auteurs can be.)

11. Battleground/ The Best Years of Our Lives—Unsentimental, raw, almost documentary-style view of men at war. A battalion of American troops finds themselves trapped in a snow-packed landscape of fog, broken trees, and burned out earth. They are low on food, ammunitions, and fighting spirit. The Germans outnumber them, have them surrounded, and bombard them with entreaties to surrender. My father-in-law likes this to a European version of an American war film, and he isn’t far off. Best Years of our Lives: The gold standard study of post-war struggle and desolation, and the perfect companion to Battleground. William Wyler directs this somber study of a handful of veterans as they attempt to navigate the strange cruel society they donated years, and in one case both arms, defending. Dana Andrews has never been better, and the scene where an armless veteran plays piano in a bar ranks as the best Hollywood has ever produced.

12. Yankee Doodle Dandee—An exhilarating, funny, and ultimately somber celebration and exploration of a complicated life. Before he was a gangster, James Cagney was a song and dance man. He radiates light here as George M. Cohen, the child prodigy and eventual songwriter of “Over There.” Great dance numbers, where Cagney seems to be a life-sized marionette, and sharp characters, good writing, this is perhaps the best biopic ever made.

13. My Darling Clementine/Red River—Really two movies. The first is a tale of two violent clans, with stone-faced killer Walter Brennan leading the Clantons and uncompromising Henry Fonda leading the Earps. The second is a melodramatic soap opera with misfiring lines. How the two movies intersect is unclear, but it’s still worth seeing. John Ford strikes again. Red River: A very fine western for people who aren’t sure they like westerns. Howard Hawks is one of the great directors, and like Sidney Lumet he makes filmmaking seem so easy. Here we have John Wayne and Montgomery Clift locking horns over an immense stock of cattle. As in all of Hawks’s films, there’s humor, lots of great scenes. Wayne plays one of his tougher roles, uncompromising and murderous.

14. Thieves’ Highway/ Where the Sidewalk Ends—Jules Dassin is the great American director who was chased away. Here he shoots a film set in the unlikely world of fruit vendors and famers on the west coast. Richard Conte plays a veteran who comes home to find his father crippled by the back-handed dealings of an unscrupulous fruit dealer (played by Lee J. Cobb). Conte joins up with Millard Mitchell to deliver a truckload of golden delicious to the vendor, make some money, and enact revenge in the process. It sounds silly, but it isn’t. Dassin shoots the film with a sinister seriousness, and the seediness of the fruit market, which is realistic, offers a great backdrop for the inevitable confrontation between Conte and Cobb. Scripted by I.A. Bezzerides, the screenwriter on the greatest film noir ever, Kiss Me, Deadly. Sidewalk: Otto Preminger is one of my favorite directors, and this is his foray into the police procedural. Only, it isn’t a whodunit; the head detective, played by Dana Andrews, is the murderer, and he’s also assigned to the case. A very, very good movie, beautifully shot. Preminger later made long, attenuated films on the pillars of democracy (Anatomy of a Murder, Advise and Consent, Exodus). He also played a camp commander in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17.

15. The Man Who Came To Dinner/The Philadelphia Story—Playwright George S. Kaufman had a hand in many of the movies on this list (You Can’t Take it With You and Night at the Opera), and here he writes a very funny movie about a curmudgeonly film critic named Whiteside, who is forced to convalesce in the home of a middle class family. Rude, caustic, and disagreeable, Whiteside ingratiates himself with the children and servants of the house, while attacking, demeaning and berating the elders. Philadelphia Story: Not my favorite, overly talky, and strangely dated, but one of the great casts of the studio era with Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, and Cary Grant sparring, jostling, ribbing, cutting. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn play dueling ex-spouses, while Jimmy Stewart stars as a wisecracking prole out to burst bourgeouis hypocrisy.

16. Humoresque/Notorious—A movie about music that watches like a movie about crime. John Garfield, famous for his roles as a tough guy gone rough, here plays a violin prodigy who falls into the sights of moneyed seductress Joan Crawford. The music is excellent. But the various shots of Garfield playing the violin—they had two top violinists play his left and right hands and you can’t tell at all—make this one of the best movies about music and musicians ever made. And not until Shine did a film show the toll a life devoted to music can exact. Notorious: Ingrid Bergman’s third film on my list, and Hitchock’s first. The story of a “fallen” lady who seeks to find redemption by using her feminine wiles to root out escaped Nazis in Argentina. Cary Grant and Claude Raines costar as the agent assigned to help her and the war criminal who she’s sleeping with. It’s Bergman’s movie, though, and anyone who sees her primarily as a nice actress, reliable and safe, should see her performance here. Hitchcock enjoys himself here, and the film’s suspense is all the more excruciating due to the on-screen chemistry between Bergman and Grant.

17. Black Narcissus—Michael Powell’s best film, a disturbing meditation on isolation, cultural misunderstandings, and unfulfilled sexual desires. A group of nuns set up a cloister in the Himalayas, where they attempt to administer medical aid to the local sick. The exotic peoples, the strange locale, the harsh realities of this new culture, all has an alienating and distorting affect on the sisters. Eventually, one of them descends into madness. Shot in rapturous color—Powell was one of the great visual stylists of film with Peeping Tom and The Thief of Baghdad—this is a fantastic, as well as strange, oddball, cultish and Freudian film.

18. White Heat/High Sierra—Hard-boiled, nihilistic, and bleak. Alongside Roaring Twenties, these two films form Raoul Walsh’s unofficial trilogy on American crime. Bogart plays the murderous psycho in Sierra, while Cagney delivers his most developed psychopath in White Heat. The final ten minutes offer white-knuckle thrills, and Cagney’s big denouement, where he screams to his dead mother atop an exploding tower, stands as one of the most memorable death scenes in the history of cinema.

19. Key Largo/Force of Evil—A fantastic John Huston film about gangsters and dames and drunks and hurricanes. A group of people are thrown together in an old hotel during a hurricane. One of them is gangster Johnny Rocco (played by Edward G. Robinson). When his presence is discovered, a cruel game begins. Rocco tortures, bullies, and torments the others, while a man named McCloud (played by Bogart) tries to outwit him. My uncle’s favorite film. Force of Evil: John Garfield again, this time in a hard-boiled gangster movie about unscrupulous lawyers getting mobbed up for money. The film is at times slow, scripted by later blacklisted writer Abraham Polonsky, but the movie’s steady tracking of the main character’s moral decline is chilling, unrelenting, and nightmarish. See how many of the 1940s best films are about crime?

20. Meet Me in St. Louis/Shadow of a Doubt—A visual feast, sumptuous and sad. Vincent Minnelli, along with Nicholas Ray, is the great visual stylist of the indoors. This very fine musical follows a family through a year of ups and downs. The songs are just okay, the acting is passable, and the story is pure melodrama. But the scenes are fantastic, the colors lush and rich. Shadow: Hitchcock offers a different view of small-town American life; there are untold horrors hiding amongst the idle trains. One of my favorite Hitchcock films, which says a lot. A teenager begins to suspect that her favorite uncle is actually an at large serial killer planning to kill again. Hitch did great work with black and white, and his lesser known films—Stage Fright and Frenzy for instance—hold a variety of surprises.

21. Buck privates—My wild card, and a ridiculous addition to the best of the decade list, but also hilarious, fast-paced and funny as hell. Abbot and Costello sometimes misfired; the often took their shtick too far; and their collective output runs together like many early comedians work, including Bob Hope. But when they’re on, they rule. Check out the seen where Costello convinces Abbot he owes him money when he’s the one asking for a loan. Manic wordplay, scripted pieces, hilarious slapstick.

Honorable mention: Arsenic and Old Lace; The Big Sleep; Cabin in the Sky; Grapes of Wrath; Here Comes Mr. Jordan; The Al Jolson Story; Now Voyager; To Be or Not to Be.