Sunday, June 26, 2016


Rated: R

STARS: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw,
Keri Russell, Mahershala Ali
GENRE: Action-adventure, Drama, Biopic

Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969) is the first film I remember seeing where the bloody special effects were so real, I thought...well, we've entered a new era. Then Tarantino came along, and now it seems it's just standard practice to go for the most grisly, visceral realism in any action flick worthy of the designation.

But there's a tipping point, I think, where you ask yourself: Was this really necessary? Could the story have been told just as effectively if all the gore and the gross-out had been toned down a bit? My answer to the question, as regards the Civil War drama, Free State of Jones, is that yes, I think it could have been told effectively minus some of the close-ups of heads being blown off,  a dog roasting on a spit, a black man hanged with blood dripping down from his crotch...need I go on?

That aside, Free State of Jones scores major points for the acting--Matthew McConaughey is at his smoldering best here in the lead role as Newt Knight, a deserter from the Confederate army who was plum fed up with "fighting for cotton"--the poor man fighting a rich man's war, which casts a not so subtle and obviously intended reflection upon all the conflicts Uncle Sam has been embroiled in since Vietnam to the present day. (Nobody--with the exception of Antonio Banderas--does the slow smolder the way McConaughey can.) 

Major points also for the authenticity of the milieu. I totally bought into the sense of time and place, thanks to the appearance and demeanor of a fine supporting cast, and the, I felt like THIS is the way it surely was! (Maybe it also had something to do with the soldiers having really dirty hair.)

Knight begins with a ragtag group of farmers and escaped slaves, and grows it into a formidable force that occupies Jones County, Mississippi--rebelling against the punitive actions of the men in grey (rebels rebelling against rebels) who dealt harshly with any dissension among their ranks, and callously confiscated livestock and crops from the local farmers, making it difficult for them to survive the winter.

Free State of Jones is really two movies, with very different tones. The first is set during the fighting of the war--lots of action and dramatic tension--the second takes place during the aftermath and is a more cerebral and thought provoking tale that carries well into the reconstruction period. The second section has an anticlimactic feel to it, but director Gary Ross wanted to tell the WHOLE story of Newt Knight, and in doing so he has you glancing at your watch once you get past the two hour mark, wondering whether you can hang in there and delay that trip to the restroom until the closing credits roll by.

A dedicated critic will always take the risk of  such possible embarrassment for the sake of his art.

Grade: B -


Free State of Jones is a definite epic that covers years and years of southern strife, racism, brutality and that elusive quest for 'freedom.' I was riveted by the film's authenticity and who wouldn't root for Matthew McConaughey as rebel-with-a-cause. But I was also seriously put off by the flash-forwards (did I just coin a new cinematic term?). That's the problem with telling two stories in the same movie, i.e. one story usually overrides the other one. For me, that was definitely the case with the 85-years-later courtroom scenes.

That being said, I felt Free State of Jones was right up there with RootsThe Color Purple and 12 Years A Slave. Let's hope its summer release doesn't prevent it from garnering some Oscar nods.

Because the opening logo was unfamiliar to me, with its Chinese or Japanese lettering (I'm no expert), and the end producers' credits featured a lot of gentlemen named Wang, I decided to look up who produced this puppy. Take a guess how many producers, co-producers, executive producers and assistant producers were listed: 27! That must be some sort of record. I'm pretty sure their investments will pay off although there weren't many people in the audience the day I saw it.

The cast was stellar. But I want to single out one actress with a name that by all accounts should have hampered her acting career by a country mile. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Rachel, the love interest and later wife of our hero Newt Knight. Some of her lines in this film—and the way she delivers them—are absolutely unforgettable. And though today's Black Americans have it a whole lot easier than they did back then, they're still fighting an uphill battle. That, to me, is the underlying message I walked out of the theater thinking about.

Grade: B

Thursday, June 2, 2016


This isn't your average favorites list. To wit, The Godfather and Citizen Kane, normally ranked in the top two spots in most of the predictable rankings you'll find out there, didn't even make the cut. Oh, they are well-made films, but they didn't pass the goose-bump test, and that's my personal measure of a treasure. A favorites list of any kind is, by its nature, highly subjective. A particular film can resonate with us for various reasons--but mostly it's because it has touched us in some uniquely personal way. It doesn't matter if the picture was critically acclaimed or panned, as long as YOU liked it-- that's all that matters. Here you will find some films you are familiar with, but you'll also find many I suspect you've never heard of before. The joy and the pleasure in such an endeavor is in the possibility that someone will discover a previously overlooked film, and enjoy it just as much as I did (and let me know about it!) So onward and sideways we go, and here's hoping you'll make a new discovery!

100. JACKIE BROWN (1997)
Quentin Tarantino's third film is fascinating to watch for its stellar cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Michael Keaton, Bridget Fonda, Robert Forster, and, of course, Pam Grier, who is fascinating to watch under any circumstances. Adapted from an Elmore Leonard crime thriller, it has a cool retro soundtrack and the obligatory Pam Grier shower scene.


Theater director Caden Cotard's life begins to unravel when his wife leaves him, taking their young daughter. Failed relationships follow, and he responds by creating a huge mock-up of New York City inside a warehouse and populating it with actors, telling them to go about their lives. Art and life become interchangeable and indistinguishable, as Caden's own reality slowly deteriorates. This is the kind of film you see more than once to pick up on the nuance you missed the first time. With an impressive cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson and Diane Wiest.

98. ONCE (2007)

It's a's a's all that and a bag of chips. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova star as a street musician and a Czech immigrant who meet in Dublin. They begin rehearsing and recording his songs (Hansard composed all the music for the film), while a flirtation between them slowly develops. But circumstances beyond their control will have the last word. Poignant film with songs that will play over and over in your fact, they still do.


Nineties kid David Wagner (Tobey Maguire) finds himself zapped right into his favorite fifties TV show, called "Pleasantville," where everyone leads a black and white existence. It's up to him and his hip twin sister (Reese Witherspoon) to bring some color into their small-minded lives. A dazzling sci-fi treatise on what it means to be real and alive. There are some places where the road keeps going!


Set in a mountain mining town at the turn of the century (not this one, that other one), Robert Altman's anti-western is populated by gamblers, gunslingers, and whores--the principal ones being Warren Beatty as John McCabe, a small time operator with some big pipe dreams, and the standoffish madame (Julie Christie) whom he eventually forges a partnership with. It's a rough country full of rough-hewn folks, but Leonard Cohen's songs give it all a sense of lyricism. Beautifully shot (pardon the pun).


Young man brings his tightly-wound New York City girlfriend home to meet his tightly-knit family, to get their approval for his plans to marry her. (There's a difference between tightly-knit and tightly-wound!) But it's like oil and water. The more the girlfriend feels they don't like her, the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When she begins to loosen up, things kick into high gear. I like films that can make you laugh and cry--virtually at the same time--and The Family Stone is that kind of dramedy, with a stellar cast including Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Craig T. Nelson, Claire Danes, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the girlfriend. (Ever notice how when women are uptight, they wear their hair pulled back in a bun, and when they are loose and relaxed they let their hair down? That's where the expression came from.)

94. FALLING IN LOVE (1984)

Two people (Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep), who are each married to someone else, meet on a train during the holiday season--he's an architect and she's a graphic designer--and before long they've got designs on each other. Some of the coolest scenes are when each of them shares their secret with a trusted friend, and the reaction that's elicited.  A touching romantic drama that--intentionally or unintentionally--admonishes married folk to stay on their toes, as somewhere inside most of us, regardless of status, resides the longing to experience those giddy feelings of falling in love again.

93. V FOR VENDETTA (2006)

A totalitarian government has risen to power in Britain, and a cape-shrouded vigilante (Hugo Weaving) leads the resistance. Natalie Portman as his idealistic young ally in this action thriller that provides much food for thought in our present day (one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter). Based on the graphic novel byAlan Moore and written by the Wachowski brothers of The Matrix movies.

92. GILDA (1946)

Rita Hayworth, the most stunning  femme fatale  of her era (Lauren Bacall notwithstanding) stars as Gilda, the wife of a crippled casino owner, rekindling an old flame with gambler Johnny Farrell (Glen Ford). Because of how things ended, it's a love-hate attraction between them, and it sizzles--but the hottest thing here is Rita's dance number to "Put Blame On Mame." Hayworth personified the "long cool woman in a black dress."  Yowzah!

91. OH, GOD (1977)

Carl Reiner's casting of George Burns as God incarnate, and John Denver as an assistant supermarket manager who has been chosen to be The Big Man's mouthpiece on earth and spread the word, seems to have been divinely inspired. An uplifting little tale that sent me out of the theater with a smile. The cigar chomping Burns explains a lot of why things are as they are, and his answers make more sense than most of the stuff I was indoctrinated with as a kid. With Teri Garr.

90. PARIS, TEXAS (1984)

Harry Dean Stanton as a man named Travis who disappears for four years, wandering the Mexican desert after the breakup of his marriage. When his brother (Dean Stockwell) finally locates him, he is in a semi-catatonic state and will not speak. Gradually he comes around, and begins to reestablish a relationship with his eight year-old son, whom his brother has been raising as his own. Now father and son are on a mission to locate their young wife and mother (Nastassja Kinski), and try to reassemble the pieces of a shattered life, even if they will never fit together again in just the same way. Wim Wenders directs this atmospheric tale, replete with the haunting strains of Ry Cooder's guitar.


 Louis Malle directs Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn as two friends--a playwright and a theater director--who get together at a swanky restaurant And talk and talk. Gregory, who dropped out of society for a while, regales his friend with tales of exotic adventure and self-discovery--from Poland to Tibet to the Sahara--sharing his take on the meaning of life. When Shawn eventually gets to respond, he expresses his own very different and seemingly more conventional view--but no less fascinating for the passion it exudes. This is theater of the mind. Mesmerizing! 

88. DON JUAN DeMARCO (1994)

Charming romantic comedy with Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando--there's a quinella for ya! Depp is a psychiatric patient who believes he is the great lover, Don Juan. Brando is the shrink who ends up getting the most out of their sessions. As might be expected, we encounter a bevy of beauties in the buff. With Faye Dunaway. (That makes it a trifecta!)


Nicole Kidman as an African-born U.N. translator who finds herself enmeshed in a plot to assassinate an African head of state. But is she a suspect or a victim? Sean Penn is the federal agent who must keep her out of harm's way. And, of course, fall under her spell.  First-rate thriller from Sidney Pollack, that makes some statements along the way.


Adapted from the Harold Robbins novel, The Adventurers is a big sprawling epic of a film, with big names galore, including: Candice Bergen, Olivia De Havilland, Ernest Borgnine, and Jaclyn Smith. Set in the fictional South American country of Courteguay, a young child named Dax sees his mother raped and murdered by government troops. He spends the rest of his days getting even, amidst the backdrop of romance and revolution (which always has me at hello.) Widely panned by the critics, it falls into the category of a guilty pleasure. (But I don't feel guilty about liking it at all!) Soundtrack by Antonio Carlos-Jobim.

85. SCARFACE (1983)

Al Pacino knocks it out of the park as the brooding, slowly disintegrating gangster, Tony Montana, who works his way up and staggers his way down. Not normally my cup of tea with all the shoot-em-up and gore, but it's all so brilliantly executed (pardon the pun) under the direction of Brian De Palma,  you can't turn your head away.


In an alternate reality where everyone tells the truth--no matter how much it hurts (as far-fetched a scenario as anyone could dream up), Ricky Gervais is the man who discovers how to lie. Naturally, everyone believes him because they think he's being honest. Oh, the things he can get away with. But it still can't buy him love. Clever, funny satire written and directed by Gervais, who is also a remarkable human being as well.

83. TAKE THIS WALTZ (2012)

Michelle Williams as a married woman who meets her new neighbor and becomes more than neighborly friendly with him. The sexual tension is palpable, as they attempt to show the proper physical restraint while their eyes are devouring each other like they are two hot fudge sundaes with cherries on top! Meanwhile, the breezy banter she shares with her husband (Seth Rogan) belies a relationship that is bogging down in the mire of a comfortable rut. Williams is establishing herself as a truly fine actress, and this is a gorgeous looking film  (not even taking into account the extended full-frontal shower scene with her and Sarah Silverman! )        


The Coen Brothers direct Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin in this brooding thriller exploring the themes of  fate and chance.  Winner of four Oscars, including Best Picture. I go along with the crowd rather infrequently, but here I wholeheartedly concur. Perfectly cast, and as close to a perfect film, with nary a misstep, as you will find. (Bardem is certifiably creepy here.)


Ryan Gosling as a quirky guy named Lars who finds his "living" doll--only she's a mannequin. (Albeit a very pretty one.) Her name is Bianca, and he talks to her and takes her everywhere he goes.  The whole town is seduced into playing along with his delusion, as they take Bianca into their hearts. Then an intriguing co-worker catches his eye, creating one really strange love triangle. A sweet little gem of a movie.


Robert DeNiro's inspired portrait of a deranged wannabe comedian, Rupert Pupkin, who will stop at nothing to worm his way into the graces of talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) and onto the national stage. A foray into the dark (and darkly comic) world of monomaniacal obsession. With a great twist at the end. From Martin Scorcese.

79. SIDEWAYS (2004)

Miles, a serious wine connoisseur has been divorced two years now. But he can't get over his ex. His good bud is a womanizer who is out for one last fling before he ties the knot. They're an odd couple embarking upon a road trip full of wine, women, and bong. Few films are quite as funny and touching at the same time.  With two excellent turns from Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Wine as a metaphor for life...I'll drink to that!


Great chemistry here, with Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and the fresh-faced Katharine Ross.  The clever one-liners fly about as often as the bullets in the movie that made bank robbery seem like a fun and romantic way of life.  Credit that to the lilting Burt Bacharach score, which spawned "Raindrops Keep Falling On my Head;" one of my all-time favorites.

77. TEN (1979)

This is the movie that put Bo Derek on the map. And while she was great eye candy, it was the fumbling infatuation of the great Dudley Moore as a guy who has gone off the deep end for a young beach babe on her honeymoon that makes the film a classic. Every time I hear "Bolero," there is a Pavlovian response!

76. YOUNG ADULT (2011)

The gears are slipping in Mavis Gary's brain.  Charlize Theron shines as a hard drinking writer of  teen fiction in her late thirties, who has become fixated on the idea of going back to her hometown and reclaiming a now happily married boyfriend from high school as her own. Plenty of dark and twisted humor derived from the irony of life,  but there is a deeper message here about people who need help and why their cries often go unrecognized.

75. DELIVERANCE (1972)

John Boorman directs Burt Reynolds, John Voight, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox as Atlanta businessmen riding the rapids on a canoeing trip through the Appalachians, and a run in with redneck perverts who think Beatty looks mighty pretty with a little lipstick on him! This is the film we automatically flash on whenever we hear the haunting strains of those Dueling Banjos.  Dark, gritty, visceral tale of survival in a place where the rules of civilization no longer apply.

74. AMERICAN PIE (1999)

Hormones raging, a group of friends about to graduate high school make a pact to lose their virginity in one of the all-time classic teen gross-out comedies. Mena Suvari, Alyson Hannigan, Shannon Elizabeth, Eugene Levy,  and Jason Biggs, who will forever be remembered as  "Little Jack Horner" who stuck something besides than his thumb into the pie!


Brilliant, snappy, outrageous, sexy, dirty, laugh out loud, un-politically correct dark comedy. Three hapless wage slave buddies hatch a plot to do away with their bosses from hell. Jennifer Anniston as a scantily clad, potty-mouthed, sexually predatory dentist. You're sitting there saying, oh no, she didn't...oh yes, she did!!! No laughing gas required.

72. EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are a long married couple who are flirting with the devil. She admits to fantasies about another man, while his curiosity leads him into the bowels of a bizarre sexual cult. The original selling point for this film was the abundant amount of skin, and indeed it is there in all its full frontal glory. But, by cracky, there's a lot more substance here than initially meets the eye. Nicole Kidman gives a fiery performance that just may be the best of her career. This was Stanley Kubrick's last film, and he went out with a bang!

71. ON GOLDEN POND (1981)

Jane Fonda, Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn. That should be enough to  hook you in right there. Jane and Henry play...guess what...father and daughter! They have long-standing issues that will come to a head...wait, are we talking about the film now, or real life? It all takes place in an idyllic lakeside setting. Beautiful, moving, and thought-provoking treatise on the pitfalls and the possibilities of human communication.

70. THE FIGHTER (2010)

Great performances from Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams. The Fighter is more than a boxing movie--it's an inspirational tale for anyone who roots for the underdog, and that seems to be most of us. Based on a true story. David O. Russel directs.


Chronicles a moment in time in the life of the late writer/documentary film maker Colin Clark. In 1956, Clark was a callow 23 year-old who landed a job as a production assistant for the filming of The Prince And The Showgirl--a film Marilyn Monroe co-starred in with Sir Laurence Olivier.  Eddie Redmayne shines as Mr. Clark--the dogged young man with stars in his eyes--as he alternately plays escort, nursemaid, and suitor (at least in his own mind) to the high-maintenance Ms. Monroe. Michelle Williams nails her performance, capturing the little girl vulnerability of a troubled woman who might well have traded in her fame for the feeling of being truly loved.


Alright, I confess. I like disco. But I'm still a good person!  John Travolta had all the moves in the movie that bumped him up to superstar, and did the same for the Bee Gees, with songs like "Night Fever" and Stayin Alive" which absolutely defy you not to move your feet. It's a classic! (The original R-rated film had some politically incorrect language in it, so they came out with a wimpy PG rated version afterwards). Do not accept "Brand X."


A winsome Hope Davis as a night shift nurse, kissing loads of toads as she searches for her prince. A plumber (Alan Gelfant) studying to be a marine biologist finds his own romances turning into pipe dreams. Could it be the two of them are meant for each other?  But after numerous close calls, will they ever meet?  A funny, quirky, captivating film with a breezy Brazilian soundtrack. And it's got Philip Seymour Hoffman too.

66. UNBREAKABLE (2000)

What would you do if you were the only one to survive a train wreck, and then discovered that you were "unbreakable?" Become a vigilante hero maybe? But a showdown with the anti-hero who is stalking you looms up ahead. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson star as alter-egos on a collision course. It's dark, yet it's one of the more inspiring films I've seen.

65. PHENOMENON (1996)

John Travolta as an auto mechanic who suddenly develops supernormal intelligence and psychokinetic abilities. Naturally, when the word gets out, the FB1 wants to use him for their own dubious purposes. But he's just a small town guy who wants to pursue romance with a local gal, played by Kyra Sedgwick.  A charming, bittersweet tale with more depth than you'd expect from a Travolta film.

64. BLAME IT ON RIO (1984)

Middle-aged dude (Michael Caine) is drawn in by the intoxicating aura of Rio de Janiero and his best friend's daughter (Joseph Bologna and Michelle Johnson respectively). Johnson frolics topless on the beach as Caine stutters his way through conflicting emotions of attraction and guilt in hilarious fashion.  A young Demi Moore also discards her bikini top, leaving no doubt that the older Demi had a little "enhancement" done to that region. Suffice it to say that it's Rio, and the scenery is gorgeous! Directed by Stanley Donen. ...


As you will notice as this list goes on, I'm a sucker for French Director Claude Lelouch's sweeping romantic vision of love and life. Jeremy Irons stars as a master jewel thief sailing around the world and running into a captivating jazz singer (Patricia Kaas) in Morocco. The full complement of intrigue. passion and romance is on display here, as no other director can do it. And there's a great song and dance number too!


Teenagers serving Saturday detention in the high school library. They don't know each other in the beginning, but their common alienation from adult society and contempt for authority figures will bond them together. Lots of soul-searching and self-revelation from a great young ensemble cast--Molly Ringwald, Emilio
Estevez, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, and Ally Sheedy.  

61. BREATHLESS (1983)

This remake of the 1961 film has more panache and "breathless" realism than the original.  Richard Gere is a cop killer on the run, but his obsession for a young French girl (Valerie Kaprisky) may trip him up. The film might have been aptly subtitled, "The Things We Do For Love." They run. They hide. They plan to escape to Mexico. Gere is at the top of his game here as a swaggering psycho. The acting equivalent of Jerry Lee Lewis going flat-out crazy on the piano!

60. ARTHUR (1981)

Dudley Moore is a rich and dissipated wastrel whose life consists of getting liquored up and then laughing his ass off at anything and everything. Nice work if you can get it. Then Cupid shoots an arrow into his aforementioned butt and a girl  (Liza Minelli) enters the picture to complicate things. His mother doesn't fancy her, and she holds the purse strings to Arthur's inheritance. Will he choose the money or the girl? One of the funniest, and ultimately sweetest romantic comedies I've ever laughed my way through.

59. ZOMBIELAND (2009)

Jessie Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson on a harrowing adventure through a world made up almost exclusively of zombies. Until they meet two spunky gals (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin). Funny, clever, inventive piece of film making which demonstrates that just because the drooling, snarling, disgusting undead are lurking behind every crapper stall door, it doesn't mean a zombie flick can't also be lyrical and life-affirming as well.

58. NEVER LET ME GO (2010)

A disturbing glimpse into a dystopian world, where human clones are born and bred for the express purpose of donating their vital organs to others. And what's most disturbing about it is that the clones accept their fate. Makes a statement about the indoctrination we all receive as children... about God, country, and growing up to be a good, cooperative and respectful citizen. Don't  make waves and you will slide by. Though at some point you'll be required to follow orders (as in countries with a military draft--which existed, and still might someday, right here in River City) and do just as you are told, which may cause you to lose your the clones eventually do. This movie still haunts me whenever I think about it. With  Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightly.  

57. BULWORTH (1998)

Warren Beatty as a senator from California up for reelection, who throws caution to the wind and suddenly begins speaking the TRUTH about race and politics. And, of course,  everyone is dumbfounded. It's comic and it's poignant. Political satire at its finest. I thought that Beatty should have followed on the heels of this by running for office for real--saying all the same kinds of things he did in the film. He would have won.

56. LENNY (1974)

Dustin Hoffman portrays the groundbreaking comedian Lenny Bruce, who constantly ran afoul of obscenity laws back in the days when there were certain words you were not allowed to utter on stage. (If you can even imagine that, young'uns). Today you see stand-up where every other  word is an "F" bomb. Whether that is you cup of tea or not, you can thank Lenny Bruce, whose courageous stand against censorship led the way  An important film, especially now, with freedom of speech under attack around the world. Directed by Bob Fosse.

55. THE SUMMER OF '42 (1971)

A man looks back on his teen years and the aching romantic crush he had on a young married woman (Jennifer O'neill) whose husband is away at war. She's fond of the kid in a big-sisterly sort of way. But loneliness can make strange bedfellows. There's always an epiphany at the end of these coming-of-age tales, and that's why I like 'em. Soundtrack by Michel Legrand.

54. ALFIE (1966)

Alfie is a rake and a rascal. He has woman problems because he has too many of them. He waxes philosophical throughout, and you can't help but like him (or want to be him!) But it all comes at a price, and in the end, we are compelled to search our souls and ask...what's it all about. Alfie?  Michael Cain in his first starring role, which garnered him an Oscar nomination.

53. BODY DOUBLE (1984)

Brian DePalma, the poor man's Alfred Hitchcock, weaves a mesmerizing tale of a struggling actor in a borrowed apartment, employing a telescope to spy upon a beautiful neighbor, then witnesses her murder. It's Rear Window with the kind of erotica that would have made Jimmy Stewart's eyeballs pop out of their sockets. With a hypnotic score by Pino Donnagio.

52. GARDEN STATE (2004)

Zach Braff. Natalie Portman.  A TV actor returns home to his domineering father,  hangs out with his friends, and searches for meaning and purpose in his life.  Portman's character is a quirky, yet affable young woman. The first film I saw that totally endeared her to me.

51. 2001. A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

There are some all-time classics that you just can't leave off of a list like this, and Stanley Kubrick's epic, tracing the development of man from ape to outer space, is one of them. Who can ever forget the chill they felt when the HAL 9000 computer says, "Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that."

For sheer gut-busting belly laughs, this is the funniest movie I've ever seen. Jeff Bridges is "The Dude," a  hapless guy who's just trying to keep from getting roughed up all the time as he tries to find a kidnapped woman before it's too late. His pal (John Goodman) is more concerned about the upcoming bowling tournament. Goodman is flat freakin' out of his mind here...a true comic genius!

49. BIRDMAN (2014)

A tour-de-force of inventiveness, imagination, and creativity from director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu. Michael Keaton is Riggan, a has-been film star who, like Keaton himself, walked away from Hollywood and a lucrative career playing the superhero Birdman. Now, in the autumn of his years, he's looking to redeem himself by adapting a Raymond Carver story and producing it for the Broadway stage. Birdman  soars in so many ways--from the cinematography to the amazing cast who are playing way above their heads in inspired, award-winning caliber performances. 

Very much of a melancholy mood piece, but I enjoy that if it's done well, as it is here under the brilliant direction of Sofia Coppola--a chip off the ol' block, but then she learned from one of the best. Bill Murray is a fading star in Tokyo
to film a commercial when he meets a young, married and bored woman (Scarlett Johanson) who takes a shine to him. They explore the city together and ruminate on the vagaries of fate.


Charles Grodin is a guy on his honeymoon who realizes he's made a terrible mistake when he meets a young blonde vixen (Cybil Shepherd) on the beach while his annoying new bride is laid up in their hotel room recovering from a severe sunburn. He extricates himself from his marriage and follows his new crush to Minnesota, and a meetup with her family. The grilling he gets from her father (Eddie Albert) is one of the all-time classic movie scenes.  Grodin shines as a first-class bullshitter who may want only what he can't have.

46. HOTEL (1967)

Rod Taylor heads up a stellar ensemble cast in this drama set in the financially troubled St. Gregory Hotel in New Orleans. Melvyn Douglas is the hotel's avuncular owner who turns to his general manager (Taylor) to fashion a miracle to save the grand old inn from slipping out of their hands. There's mystery, romance, skulduggery, and bittersweet merriment in this homage to a time when people cared more about people than profits. All except for Karl Malden as an affable petty thief  who nearly "steals" the movie! From the Arthur Hailey novel.

45. RIDER ON THE RAIN (1970)

French/Italian thriller with Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland. A woman dumps the body of her rapist into the drink. Then an army colonel (Bronson), who is tracking down an escaped rapist shows up and seems to be on to her through some kind of psychic hunch. They play a cat and mouse game with each other as he tries to get at the truth of what happened.  Bronson has the ability to be debonair and threatening at the same time, which always makes him fascinating to watch.

44. MEET JOE BLACK (1998)

A media tycoon (Anthony Hopkins) has his family life disrupted by the otherworldly presence of the young Joe Black, who happens to be Death in the guise of Brad Pit. Complications arise when Black becomes smitten by the man's lovely daughter (Claire Fortani). Pitt is so convincing here, it' scary!  If I had made this movie, I would have thrown in the line, "You look like death warmed over." But of course he doesn't. He's Brad Pitt.


Rich guy Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) engineers a heist at a world class museum because, well...he's bored. Renee Russo is the female investigator hired to retrieve the stolen art. It's the thrill of the chase, and Crown has met his match on multiple levels. A remake of  the 1968 film with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.  But I was completely taken in by this one.


Sizzling chemistry between Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver in Peter Weir's political thriller set in Indonesia during the sixties. Gibson is a young journalist and Weaver is a British embassy officer who hook up amidst a growing danger to themselves. The diminutive Linda Hunt picked up an Oscar for her gender switching portrayal of a young man driven to desperate measures by the political turmoil in his country. All that and Jerry Lee Lewis on the soundtrack!

41. KLUTE  (1971)

 Psychological thriller with Jane Fonda as a high-class call girl and Donald Sutherland as the private detective who must save her from a murderous stalker. Through it all, romance blooms.. Fonda won an Oscar for her fine work here.

40. THE OMEGA MAN (1971)

Would you be with him if he were the last man on earth? In a post apocalyptic world, Charlton Heston is the last normal dude alive, as far as he knows. But at night he has to contend with these grotesque mutants who are constantly trying to do him in. And then he meets the last normal woman left alive. An edge-of-your-seat thriller that waxes philosophical about why mankind is bent on self destruction.


Two love stories intertwine--one set in 19th century Victorian England and the other in the present day. The characters played by Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons are filming a movie about the tragic figure, a young woman having an affair with a French Lieutenant. The actors themselves are having an affair, and at some point the lines become blurred as to which story they actually feel themselves living in. From the John Fowles novel.  Intense!

38. WALKABOUT (1971)

Hypnotic and thought provoking. The mystical beauty of the natural world contrasted with crazy-making civilization.  Jenny Agutter, who was 16 at the time of filming, is lost in the Australian outback with her little brother. They come to depend upon an aboriginal boy for their survival. It seems totally natural that everyone gets au naturel  for the swimming scenes. Nicolas Roeg directs.

37. SPLASH (1984)

Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah star in one of the most delightful romantic comedies ever! Directed by Ron Howard. Hannah is a mermaid out of water, and Hanks has gone off the deep end for her.


Brooding tale of a Texas border town in the fifties. It's Peyton Place, cowboy style. Peter Bogdanovich directs a fine cast including Cybill Shepherd, Jeff Bridges, and Ben Johnson. You can say this film has "atmosphere."  Shepherd gets nekkid, which in itself was worth the price of admission.

35. LAURA (1944)

Murder mystery with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, And Vincent Price. Can you fall in love with a dead woman you never knew just from staring at her portrait? Yes you can. A haunting tale of obsession. And the theme song (and you see Laura...on the train that is passing by...) is  a true classic. Directed by Otto Preminger.

34. MY NAME IS NOBODY (1973)

Whimsical spaghetti western co-directed by Sergio Leone.  With Terrence Hill, who did a number of these, but this was the best of the bunch. Soundtrack by the incomparable Ennio Morricone.  And Henry Fonda is in it too!


From the Kurt Vonnegut novel. World War II vet Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) can't seem to stay in one place. He jumps back and forth in time, and from earth to this other planet where Valerie Perrine (in her sexy prime) is hanging out waiting for him. Despite that, this movie is deep.

32. STARMAN (1984)

An extraterrestrial crashes to earth and takes on the body of Jeff Bridges. How bizarre is that?  It's actually a touching love story with Karen Allen as the woman who befriends the wide-eyed Starman, who, when he catches on to the nuances of living on this planet, would make a better human being that most of the human beings we are actually stuck here with.   

31. STAND BY ME (1986)

Classic coming of age movie, where four 12 year-old buddies go in search of a dead body and discover themselves in the process. Richard Dreyfuss, Kiefer Sutherland, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman. Directed by Rob Reiner. Man, this takes me back!

30. WOODSTOCK (3 Days of Peace and Music)  1970

 If you weren't there, the documentary of the  iconic Woodstock Music Festival of 1969 is the next best thing. Hendrix, Havens, The Who, Santana, Crosby, Stills and Nash...the list goes on. This is the film that showed the world what the boomer generation was all about:  A bunch of  nekkid hippies!  With Arlo Guthrie stating the obvious when he gazed out over the vast assemblage and said : LOTTA FREAKS!


This was the film John Avildsen made to follow his smash success Rocky. Maybe that's why you never heard of it. After all, how you gonna follow Rocky? But in many ways, Slow Dancing In The Big City is just as inspirational. Paul Sorvino stars as a reporter who falls for a beautiful dancer (the captivating Anne Ditchburn) who develops a condition that threatens to end her career. But she's a FIGHTER!

28. BIG  (1988)

Tom Hanks is a 13 year-old kid who wakes up one day to find he is inhabiting an adult's body. Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins, as his adult love interest,  play off each other brilliantly. I have always felt that Perkins possesses the kind of ageless star quality that will grow brighter as the years go by. One day she'll be regarded in the same light as Donna Reed in It's A Wonderful Life. Penny Marshall directs.


Poignant and funny coming of age film set in the summer of 1962. George Lucas directs an impressive list of stars before they were stars. Including Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Suzanne Somers, Mackenzie Phillips, Cindy Williams, and the legendary Wolfman Jack. A true classic. I LIVED this movie as a teenager!


. Jack Nicholson brings a fiery presence to his first major starring role as an alienated young man in search of himself.. (There was a lot of that going around in the sixties and seventies!) The lovely Karen Black is the gum chewing waitress he's involved with despite his "better" instincts. You'll resonate with Nicholson's character if you remember getting up in the morning and sitting on the porch stoop for hours, and someone comes outside and asks you what you're doing, and you say, I'm gittin' my head together, man!

25. TWO PEOPLE (1973)

Robert Wise directed Peter Fonda and Lindsay Wagner in this bittersweet tale of a Vietnam war deserter and a fashion model who meet by chance in Morocco. A beautiful film that was roundly badmouthed by critics. Don't try to tell me what's good.. Speaking of which, Lindsay Wagner was one of the most stunning women in the world at the time. Hard to find DVD. I understand you may be able to get it from Japanese Amazon.  Learn Japanese.

24. FOLLOW ME (1972)

 Sweet little film directed by Carol Reed. (Later renamed "The Public Eye.") Mia Farrow is a young American hippie married to a stuffy British dude. He hires a private detective (played by the amiable Israeli actor, Topol) to follow her around and find the other man in her life. The detective becomes the other man.


Tobe Hooper's slice and dice cult classic. RUN! RUN! RUN! didn't run fast enough.


Yet another entry displaying the genius of  Stanley Kubrick. Nasty, sadistic young punks in a dystopian future. Dark, dark, dark  humor. You can't turn your eyes away. Malcolm McDowell in a fascinating portrait in a film that poses the question of which may be worse...young hooligans on the loose, or the deeds committed by an autocratic state.


Displaying the directorial genius of  Sydney Pollock. Robert Redford stars as a CIA researcher who becomes a pawn in a deadly conspiracy, and he's on the run to save his skin. Faye Dunaway is the reclusive woman who is chosen by fate to get tied up in this mess. Great chemistry between these two, in a fascinating thriller that provides much food for thought.

20. SWEPT AWAY (1974)

From Italian director Lina Wertmuller. A wealthy, obnoxious beauty (Mariengela Melato) on a yachting vacation in the Mediterranean , busts the balls of a lowly deckhand--the smoldering, incomparable Giancarlo Giannini. When the two become stranded on a desert island together, their roles are reversed. A
mesmerizing, lushly intoxicating film.

19. A MAN AND A WOMAN (1966)

 Director Claude Lelouch made a name for himself outside of  France with this multiple Oscar winning film. Jean Louis-Tritignant, a race car driver, and Anouk Aimee, an actress, are lovers who want to be together, but they are haunted by the past. With a music score from Francis Lai that will melt your heart like butter in the sun.

18. LIVE FOR LIFE (1967)

It's Claude Lelouch again, kids! Romantic drama of love and war starring Candace Bergen, Yves Montand, and Annie Giradot. The sequel to Lelouch's A Man And A Woman, and in some ways a more stunning film.  Lelouch is the master at muting the sound in a scene and letting the music take over, to maximum dramatic effect. Of course, you need a magical score from Francis Lai (once again) to pull that off. Netflix doesn't have it, and at this writing Live For Life can only be ordered from Brazil through

17. THE GRADUATE (1967) 
Dustin Hoffman burst upon the scene with his portrayal of Benjamin Braddock, recent college graduate and quintessential layabout boy. The teenage angst is palpable here. Katharine Ross was perfectly cast as his wide-eyed love interest. Anne Bancroft as "Mrs. Robinson" set the standard for all subsequent cougars to live down to. A Mike Nichols film.


Stars Warren Beatty (who co-directed with Buck Henry) and Julie Christie. Pro quarterback Joe Pendleton is accidentally taken "out of the game" too soon. Now he wants to get his body back. Unfortunately, there's bureaucratic red tape in heaven too. Sparkling romantic comedy with a metaphysical twist.

15: THE EXORCIST (1973)

William Friedkin directs Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, and Max von Sydow . Simply the scariest movie ever made. That Linda Blair...what a head turner!


I'll give you three guesses as to who directed this!  Marthe Keller and Charles Denner star in yet another shining cinematic achievement from Claude Lelouch, the director who can do no wrong in my book.  Three love affairs span three different generations. You've never seen sweeping romance until you've seen this. The ending is the beginning. Brilliant!

13. CHINATOWN (1974)

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in 1930s  L.A. Intrigue and suspense hang heavy in the air in the film noir detective flick to end all film noir detective flicks. With a twist that packs a real wallop. From Roman Polanski.

12. BABEL (2006)
 Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are a couple who travel to Morocco after the death of their child, encountering a world that could collapse in on them at any time. A multi-narrative masterpiece from Birdman  director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu.

  In Ratso Rizzo and Joe Buck, Dustin Hoffman and John Voight created two of the most memorable characters in screen history. The mean streets of New York City filtered through a psychedelic haze. I still go around spouting quotes like: "I ain't a for real cowboy."  And: "There you go, Cass ol' girl!" Directed by John Schlesinger.

10. LOVE ACTUALLY (2003)
Perhaps the most SPRIGHTLY romantic comedy of all time. Follows a number of funny and likable characters through their amorous ups and downs during the holidays. Principal story line revolves around David (Hugh Grant) as the newly elected British prime minister who begins a secretive flirtation with his comely catering manager, Natalie.

Bill Nighy is endearing as the cantankerous and profane Billy Mack--an aging rocker who's making a last chance comeback with a Christmas version of the Troggs "Love Is All Around."

And there's a precious sequence involving a young pair doing a nude scene for a movie--they're all over each other, yet too shy to ask each other out on a real date.

The warm and fuzzy ending will almost restore your faith in humanity.

9. HAVANA (1990)
I didn't CONSCIOUSLY become a Sydney Pollack fan, but one day it dawned on me that many of the disparate films that I had really enjoyed over the years (Three Days of the Condor and The Interpreter are also on this list) were directed by Mr. Pollack.

And so it is with Havana. Robert Redford stars as Jack, a professional gambler who's trying to make a killing by hustling high rollers in the casinos of Havana during the late fifties--just before the fall of the Batista regime. He meets, and falls for the mysterious Roberta (Lena Olin) who turns out to be the wife of pro- Castro revolutionary Arturo (Raul Julia). Jack wants nothing to do with politics, but he is gradually drawn into Roberta and Arturo's dangerous world. The Swedish born Olin is so convincing in this role it's scary. And then there's the most hauntingly bittersweet closing scene I have ever--or will ever--see on film.

8. ONE EYED JACKS (1961)
Marlon Brando is the outlaw Rio, who is betrayed by his sidekick, Dad Longworth (Karl Malden). Rio spends some time in the slammer, and when he escapes he tracks Longworth down. His former partner in crime has been elected sheriff of a small town (unlike modern day politicians who often get elected first and THEN become crooks). When Rio becomes romantically involved with Longworth's adopted daughter, Louisa, the sheriff wants to have him hanged (rather than have him "hang" with his daughter).

Brando, who also directed the film, is at his brooding, charismatic pinnacle here. Also featuring Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, Katy Jurado, and the young Mexican actress Pina Pellicer, who plays Louisa. Brando and Pellicer were romantically involved off the set as well. The story goes that she was truly in love with him, but his interest in her was of a casual nature. Pellicer killed herself in 1964. Was her ill-fated affair the catalyst?

One Eyed Jacks demonstrated that a western could have its tender side, and the beautiful scenes of Rio and Louisa beside the ocean are all the more intriguing when you see the adoration in her eyes and realize that what the actress was feeling was REAL, man!

Jack Lemmon, Catherine Deneuve, Peter Lawford, and Sally Kellerman. Lemmon (as Howard Brubaker) and Deneuve (as Catherine) are perfectly cast as two sympathetic souls whose spouses take them for granted. They meet at a party and decide to slip away together. They do an all-nighter--out on the town in New York City. In the morning, Catherine decides to leave her indifferent hubby and return home to Paris. Brubaker, who is smitten, wants to go with her, but he will have to extricate himself from his own marital predicament.

Jack Weston as "Potter" is one of the funniest drunks of all time. You have to see the flick to find out what "This train don't stop at cookie" means!

The movie is a funny and charming reflection of the sixties, a time when we felt that anything was possible if we only believed. Dionne Warwick's theme song sends it into romantic overdrive--and Catherine Deneuve , well...

6. DUCK, YOU SUCKER! (1971)

Sergio Leone directs the definitive spaghetti western, with long dramatic close-ups of people's faces (and even their teeth when they are chewing). One of the coolest film titles of all time, though it was later changed to the pedestrian sounding A Fistful of Dynamite when it came to American TV. With an alternately haunting and playful sound track from my favorite film composer, Ennio Morricone.

It's the Mexican revolution, and hard luck bandit Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) teams up with John Mallory, (James Coburn) an ex-IRA revolutionary and explosives expert who is wanted in Britain. Juan has his heart set on pulling a bank heist that he "knows" will have both of them rolling in dough, but during their journey to find this repository of riches they become unwittingly embroiled in the turmoil of the revolution.

With a cast of colorful characters, Duck, You Sucker! poses philosophical questions about loyalty (and betrayal) to a cause.

5. ROCKY and ROCKY II (1976, 1979)
We needed at least one no-brainer pick for this list and here it is. The two films get a co-listing because I couldn't pick between them (though I might actually like the sequel a wee bit more). The ultimate rags-to-bloody-nose-and-riches flicks of all time. And since everybody's seen them, we don't need a synopsis.

Bill Conti's music score MADE these films--and inspired a generation to tell their crummy bosses to shove it and go out and do...well, I don't know, and neither did they. They were just INSPIRED, dude! The rest of the Rocky movies couldn't carry the jockstraps of the first two, but Sylvester Stallone was never one to give up on a cash cow until he'd milked it for all it was worth.

Talia Shire was the perfect Adrian. She only had one mode: Anxious Looking Woman. But she had it down pat.

I like Bill Murray. I like Andie Macdowell. I don't know which I like best, but based on looks alone it's no contest. Murray, as Prima Donna weatherman Phil Connors, is sent to Punxsutawney to cover the Groundhog Day festivities. MacDowell is Rita, his producer. They get stuck in a big blizzard
and can't get out of town. Every morning around six , Connor's clock radio kicks on blasting "I Got You Babe, by Sonny and Cher. And it's Groundhog Day...again!. Since Phil had screwed up some things on their first day, (especially with Rita) being stuck in a time warp gives him another shot at redemption every time the same day repeats itself.

What's so appealing about this picture is that we'd all like to go back and get some do-overs, and watching this one lucky bastard getting a shot at it is fascinating--though he soon finds out that changing the past ain't as easy as it might seem. But he's got the template laid out, and all he has to do is tweak a few things here and there.

Amidst the hilarity and chaos that ensues, a tender emotional relationship is developing between Phil and Rita. Realizing that in his present state he's not worthy of her, Phil sets out to become the kind of man she can admire.

This movie changed my least to the extent that I'll never again be able to hear "I Got You Babe" without shouting, IT'S GROUNDHOG DAY!

3. LOVE AFFAIR (1994)
Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Katharine Hepburn. We're getting into the rarefied air now. It's a remake of the 1939 film that starred Irene Dunn and Charles Boyer. There was a second version that came out in 1957--An Affair To Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. But as far as I'm concerned, the third time's a charm.

Ex-football star Mike Gambril (Beatty) meets Terry Mckay (Bening) on a long flight to Australia. Both are engaged to others, yet they start to get cozy on a small atoll where the plane has been diverted to in a storm. Later, they get even cozier aboard a ship. Mutually smitten, they make a pact to free themselves of their fiances and meet three months later atop the Empire State Building. But before they part ways, there is a side trip to visit Mike's aunt Ginny (Hepburn) who lives on an exotic island with lots of of stunning scenery. (Wow!)

Katharine Hepburn is such a legend that one is awe-struck just to see her in this movie. (It was her last appearance on film.) The scene where Terry is at the piano serenading Mike and his aunt is exquisite. Later, fate steps in and throws a monkey wrench into their romantic plans.

Music by Ennio Morricone...what more could you ask for?

Brando gets a second listing in the top ten because he was, simply, the BEST. I have seen Bernardo Bertolucci's masterpiece of romance, loss, and obsession like, 25 times...but who's counting?

Marlon Brando is Paul, an American who runs a dingy hotel (that he calls his "flophouse") in the city of light. His wife has just committed suicide. He wants to get away. He meets the lovely and provocative Jeanne (Maria Schneider) at an apartment they are both thinking of renting. They begin a passionate affair. He doesn't want to know anything about her--not even her name. Jeanne is two-timing her fiance, Tom, (Jean-Pierre Leaud) but this IS France, after all. Paul's passion--and his curiosity-- for Jeanne grows, and he wants to know everything about her. As he reveals himself and his circumstances to her, the young woman feels she is getting more than she bargained for. They wander into a dance hall where Paul gets sloshed, and their relationship takes a pivotal turn. The tango scene is the most brilliant and captivating piece of film making I've ever enjoyed.

The passion of Last Tango is fueled by the lush tenor sax of Argentinian Gato Barbieri. Just as Bill Conti's score was instrumental (pun intended) to the success of Rocky, Last Tango would be a lesser work without Barbieri's dramatic underscoring of pivotal moments in the story.

The film was initially given an X rating--later changed to NC-17. Unfortunately, what got played up were the simulated sex scenes, and along with that came the rep of being a "dirty" movie. But Last Tango In Paris is as far from being a sexploitation film as the Mona Lisa is from those little round smiley-face stickers.

An R-rated version came out later (which I made the mistake of renting once). The R-rated version is, as all censored works are, a ruination and an abomination of artistic vision. If you're going to watch this film, MAN-UP, OR WOMAN-UP enough to see the original version.

1. THE MAGUS (1968)
A famous person I once had dinner with told me that her favorite novel was "The Magus" by the late British author John Fowles. I said WOW, that's my favorite book too! We bonded instantly.

It's a complex novel--as was its author, an existentialist whose themes deal with the nature of free-will and choice. The movie was roundly bad-mouthed by critics because they couldn't understand it. They didn't understand it because they didn't read the book. I actually saw the film first--and, being blown away by it, was inspired to read the novel. Multiple times. You don't HAVE to read the novel...the film stands on its own as a great work (Fowles wrote the screenplay as well). But it might help.

Intrigue abounds on a small Greek island where British school teacher Nicholas Urfe (Michael Caine) has come to work and get some breathing room from his girlfriend, Alison (Anna Karina).
He meets the mysterious Maurice Conchis (Anthony Quinn) and the equally mysterious--and much prettier--Lily (Candace Bergen). Conchis is concealing his past and something he did during the war that branded him a traitor. Conchis and Lily's connection is undefined, but they're both playing some heavy-duty head games with Nicholas, who is falling increasingly deeper under their spell. Nicholas is entranced by Lily, but what is she? An actress? Or a mental patient being encouraged to indulge her fantasies under "doctor" Conchis's supervision?
Further complicating matters is the reappearance of Nick's girlfriend and the storm clouds she brings with her. But Nicholas is hooked on the drama that is unfolding on the island, and he tells her he's got to see it through. Fantasy and reality begin to blur, and Nick is in for the most bizarre ride of his life.

The guy who originally turned me on to The Magus said, "You gotta see this movie, man--it like a TRIP!" Echoing throughout the film is a quote from T.S. Eliot: We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.

What could be trippier than that?