Movies that will NEVER Grow Old
By: J. Marlando
Just like a lot of people, I am a movie buff. As an ex-theater critic I might be a little more critical than most people but then again maybe not. I have heard some pretty strong subjective views from all kinds of folks including kids on lots of feature films. But to judge movies, like judging any other art form is a subjective task since I might list King Kong as one of motion picture’s greatest artistic failures while someone else might call it one of Hollywood’s greatest artistic triumphs. I do believe, however, that just as a Picasso has an apparent excellence that many other artists do not possess, there are some movies that are simply better than the rest. And we are not talking about big box office necessarily. I have seen phenomenal box office successes that I thought were absolutely artistic flops, lacking the magic of human passion, character development and yes, storytelling that gives the audience something to actually experience as opposed to only look at. In this view, I suppose a lot of people would include Gone with the Wind, often called the greatest movie of all times, but I don’t. As far as I am concerned, that picture was indeed phenomenal for the 1939 audience but once seen it does not permeate one’s heart in lasting memory as say, The Wizard of Oz does, made in that same year.
In the above view, I am convinced that some movies are clearly masterpieces; the kind of art that doesn’t fade away over time but remains like a Rembrandt, Shakespeare or Georgia O’Keeffe. But what is the criterion for judgment and artistic appraisal? I do not believe that it is an intellectual conclusion as many other critics seem to believe, as said before, I do not think it necessary counts on box office either; I do not believe that even popularity matters a whole lot because Hollywood hype and high finance can create that. What I believe is that truly great movies dissolve the forth wall and brings the viewer (the audience) into the experience—not like bombs, gunfire, sex and car crashes do because that’s all superficial fluff. The Men in Black series is a demonstration of this just as Ironman movies and most of Arnold Schwarzenegger films have been. The exception to the rule was clearly the 1994 film—Pulp Fiction which was fantasy that reached into the depths of mythology and created a modern wonder. When one left the theater after “experiencing” Pulp Fiction they carried the movie home with them, never to be truly forgotten. That is mention “Pulp Fiction” to anyone who saw it and the response is going to “Oh yea…what a movie.”
Okay, with all that said, let’s dive in and make some all-time picks for movies that will be as good in our tomorrows to come as they were in our yesterdays.
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
Starring the multi-talented Judy Garland with Bert Lahr as the cowardly Lion, Jack Haley as the tin man and Ray Bolger as the scarecrow. Victor Fleming directed. The movie was based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 (children’s) novel by the same name. However, with careful observation the so-called fantasy has much more to offer than an imaginary adventure somewhere over the rainbow in Munchkin land. The show makes a definite comment of the demagoguery of leadership as a teacher of the mind and as a teacher of the heart whispers in all of our ears that it takes Heart, mind and brain to reach our goals; qualities that we already have behind the veil of potential.
THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940)
Based on the novel by John Steinbeck, starring Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell who plays his mother tells the story of the Joad family migrating to California from the Oklahoma dust bowl. Film is brilliantly directed by John Ford and just as brilliantly unfolds the fate of the American sharecropper who ends up kicked off the land, jobless and hungry. (The movie actually betrays the brilliance of Steinbeck’s work in that it sweetens the ending but in spite of that, anyone with empathy walks away from the movie with greater compassion and understanding for the very poor). Nunnally Johnson wrote the screenplay and once seen, it stays with you for a lifetime.
MRS. MINIVER (1942)
Lots of critics disagree with me that Mrs. Miniver is an everlasting movie but it is brilliantly directed by William Wyler and absolutely made charming by the wonderful cast of characters that touch your heart forever—Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon and Dame May Whitty. Screenplay tells the story of a middle class English family at the start of World War Two with all the comforts of home. Then, war interrupts the good life unfolding the story in deeply touching human emotion and human faith and bravery, giving us an unexpected ending that stays with us. It is a story of romantic love, yes but also of humanism at its most loving.
There is just no doubt about it, this feature is a must have for every private collector of incredible films. Casablanca was directed by Michael Curtiz and stars Humphrey Bogard, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreed and a most memorable performance by Claude Rains. It takes place at the start of Hitler’s takeover of France and travels to the romantic and often frightening Moroccan city of Casablanca where most of the intriguing story unfolds. I can think of no other film so perfect in its character development, superb plotting, weaving of romance, directing and acting. I have seen Casablanca many times and with each viewing the entire story is renewed and enchanting. Truly a master piece of movie making!
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944)
Another classic starring Judy Garland but this time surrounded with marvelous acting talents not excluding perhaps the greatest of all young actors, Margaret O’Brian. The movie also stars the incredible Marjorie Main and Leon Ames. The feature was directed by Vincente Minnelli and tells a simple story of family life in 1904 with all its father-knows-best implications. This wonderful movie plants a seed in your heart that blossoms time and time again no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
RED RIVER (1948)
The 1940s and 1950s are also known for the many Hollywood westerns with a few truly great stories like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon but none excel like Red River starring John Wayne as Tom Dunson and Montgomery Cliff as his adopted son who start out to move a gigantic herd of cattle from Texas to Kansas by way of the old Chisholm Trial. The Feature also stars Walter Brennon the faithful sidekick, beloved by most movie goers. Directed by Howard Hawks it is an exciting, deeply characterized tale of family ties and human determination. It’s a feature that submerges you in the experience if you’ve seen it once or a dozen or more times. A gem of gems among many other great westerns of the times!
REAR WINDOW (1954)
This Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece starring James Steward, Grace Kelly and the lovable Thelma Ritter unfold a most intriguing mystery and highly entertaining story of a photographer who is confined to a wheelchair and attempts to escapes his boredom by watching people through binoculars as they expose portions of their lives through the windows of their own apartments—everything seems fine as the love affair between Steward and Kelly has its ups and down but then—a suspected murder occurs and the dynamics of the movie explode into Hitchcock’s special kind of suspense. You can see this feature a dozen times and still be absolutely adsorbed in it. It’s simply a masterpiece of film making; great dialog, unexpected plot and superb directing.
SOME LIKE IT HOT (1950)
This is one of the funniest, wackiest and…lovable comedies of the 20th century and will remain a most valuable asset to any movie buff’s collection for centuries to come. Why? It has timeless gags, intricate weavings of plot and a tremendously talented cast. Directed by Billy Wilder, the feature stars Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon and a very, very hilarious Joe E. Brown. The plot is that two out of work musicians witness the St. Valentines Massacre and end up joining an all-girl band, disguised as ladies to escape gangsters who are after them. Sounds like a far-out plot? Well, it is but it keeps you drawn into the story and enjoying yourself. It’s a keeper!
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
One of the most brilliantly directed, produced and acted films in history. The film script was written by the clever pen of Robert Bolt and stars Pete O’Toole as Lawrence with Alex Guinness, Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif. The show is about the British’s somewhat questionable (early) interests in the Middle-East and unfolds the edge-of-your-seat adventure from an arena of unique and exquisitely developed characters. It’s simply an amazing theatrical accomplishment that will please both movie and history buffs for…well, as long as there are movie and history buffs!
The feature unfolds in the 12th century and tells the story of King Henry II, played with genius by Peter O’Toole and the Archbishop of Canterbury played ever as brilliantly by Richard Burton. It’s a highly emotional, highly dramatized story of two powerful men who also happen to be friends in a basic struggle between church and state. The genius screenplay was written by Edward Anhalt, based on the play by Jean Anouilh and directed by Peter Glenville. This is a masterpiece painting come artistically alive and will be kept in the archives of great works no less than the works of great painters are kept.
Of all the war stories ever told on screen, Patton is the Rembrandt of them all. Written by the multitalented Francis Ford Coppola and Edmond H. North, the picture begins with the flamboyant Army General, George S. Patton giving his incentive speech to the third Army while standing before a gigantic American flag and then moves directly into World War II action at the start of 1943. The brilliant characterization is played by George C. Scott one of the greatest character actors of all time and also stars Karl Malden as General Omar Bradley. This Franklin J. Schaffner directed feature is a keeper for all history and movie buffs. Indeed, for a feature film that keeps you spellbound for approximately 3 hours makes only a few very minor mistakes historically and is a motion picture you can watch over and over again with renewed enthusiasm every time that you see it.
THE GODFATHER #1 (1972)
Gangster movies have been popular since the 1930s but the first Godfather feature is unmatched as the best ever made including the two follow up films Godfather #2 and #3. It is given genius direction by Francis Ford Coppola and stars Marlon Brando as the original godfather, Vito Corleone, and focuses on his son played by Al Pacino who is destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. The feature is packed with superb characters, well timed and realistic violence and a particular mindfulness of the Mafia’s mentality. And more, the movie is a collection of absolutely brilliant, memorable lines such as “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer” and, “Give him an offer he can’t refuse.” Every movie collector must have the collection. The three features are nothing less than masterpieces.
ROCKY #1 (1976)
Rocky is a phenomenon for more reasons than being one of the most inspirational movies of all time. It was low budgeted and shot in less than a month. Nevertheless, it became a gigantic hit with five sequences following. The best is Rocky #1, however. Written by and starring in the motion picture is Sylvester Stallone and one experiences the actor’s spirit in both the writing and the performance. The real “magic” of the show, however, is that every individual leaves the theater feeling a little like Rocky in their own lives. The film is directed by John G. Avidsen and also stars Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed, World Champion boxer who Rocky does combat with and a mighty performance by Burt Young, who plays Rocky’s best friend, Pauli. It’s a must see at least once a year or so!
Here is a masterpiece of humanity; of love, romance, family and friends that touches the heart, taps on the funny bone, puts a few tears in our eyes and makes us smile a lot. The superb performances never miss a beat as this truly wonderful show unfolds its story. Cher is beyond excellent playing Loretta Casorini as Nicholas Cage is playing Ronnie Cammareli. But there is also an unforgettable performance by Olympia Dukakis as Rose, Loretta’s mother and by Danny Aliello who plays Johnny, Ronnie’s brother who steals away his girlfriend in a most delightful love affair in all of movie history. Well, everyone in the Moonstruck is wonderful! The screenplay was written by John Patrick Shanley and directed with the brilliance of human empathy by Norman Jewison. This is truly the movie you want to pull out of your collection and enjoy every now and then—and, if you happen to be having a “bad” or challenging day, you’ll feel a world better after seeing Moonstruck again.
MISTIC PIZZA (1988)
Mystic Pizza is probably the most magical, enchanting movies (perhaps) of all times. The show was directed by Donald Patrie and stars Annabeth Gish, Julia Roberts and Lili Taylor, whose chemistry is so exact that one feels they are actually sisters. And, speaking of sisters if anyone doubts the inner-beauty, the spark of devoted romance or the simple intelligent charm of females, this movie gives you more positive insight into the feminine than any other; there is truly a touch of every girl in this magnificent story and no matter how many times a person sees it, it is forever as good, as much fun and as intriguing as the first time!
WORKING GIRL (1988)
Working Girls pulls your heart strings from beginning to end. The heart-warming but often hilarious film script was written by Kevin Wade and directed by Mike Nichols. The show stars Harrison Ford as Jack Trainer, an ambitious but lovable business man, Siqoumey Weaver as Katherine Parker, who does a masterful job playing a selfish, self-centered top executive who attempts to steal an idea from her secretary—the working girl, Tess McGill—play superbly—by Melanie Griffith. There is also a short scene with Robert Easton who I’ve been a fan of for years. Anyway, this wonderful movie will put a lump in your throat from time to time, give you a belly laugh every now and then and uplift your spirits at the same time. It’s an absolute keeper
PRETTY WOMAN (1990)
Pretty Woman was a big Box office smash and a most entertaining motion picture, written by J.F. Lawton and directed by Gary Marshall. It is more than a mere commercial success however it is a movie that remains in your heart…forever. It’s about a hooker who happens to be hired by a handsome but eccentrically intelligent rich man played exquisitely by Richard Gere and ends up becoming his paid, steady date who is played by Julia Roberts; a beautiful, loving woman who just happened to have fallen into prostitution during a rough time in her life. Her best friend is Kit De Luca, given a truly marvelous characterization by Laura San Giacomo that adds to an unforgettable performance. And also there is a truly heartfelt performance by Hector Elizondo, who plays a hotel manager by the name of Barney Thomson. It’s one of those rare movies that have the magic of a fairy tale ending that simply makes us feel better no matter how many times we’ve seen it before.
You don’t have to be a western fan, as I am, to be absolutely drawn into the experience of Tombstone. The story has been told a half of dozen times in movies but none comes close to the pure genius of Kevin Jarre’s Tombstone directed by George P. Cosmatos. The “bad guys” played by such excellent actors as Stephan Long who plays Ike Clayton and Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo who are so excellent at playing evil that we feel intimidated for those ordinary and honest folks of the growing western town. Kurt Russel plays Wyatt Earp with Sam Eliot as Virgil Earp and Bill Paxton as Morgan Earp. These historically famous brothers are portrayed so realistically that we are often made to feel like a family friend or distant relative to them. A reason for this is because they are so wonderfully “humanized” by the writer, director and actors that we feel in empathy and compassion with them. But of course our eyes stay ‘glued” to the screen from start to finish of the screenplay. I simply can’t say enough positive things about this feature that takes us on such a memorable journey into the old west with Val Kilmer playing an unforgettable Doc Holiday delivering some of the most sardonic and witty lines given to any actor, in any motion picture…ever! And Kilmer is so excellent at delivering those lines that we often wish the show would never end. Yes, he’s that good and so is the entire motion picture. Oh, and incidentally, the voice over is Robert Mitchem who passed away only five years later. That distinctive voice of his adds a wonderful clarity to the movie.
PULP FICTION (1994)
Some say this is the first true post-modern motion picture and it does deconstruct ordinary formatting in a surrealistic style that keeps the viewer going from one unexpected experience to the next. And yet, there is an absolute realism that one never escapes throughout the telling of the tale. The motion picture is directed by Quentin Taranlino, who seems always to add a touch of genius to his work and was co-written by him and Roger Avary. The movie stars John Travolta as Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield played by Samuel L. Jackson, two professional hit men who play heartless killers with…well, lots of heart! The feature also stars Bruce Willis and the ever brilliant Christ Walken along with an outstanding performance by Una Thurman who plays an overdosing doper by the name of Mia Wallace—the crime bosses wife! All in all, it’s a movie that draws the viewer into the very “soul” of the story and keeps him and her there from start to finish. It’s truly genius on the screen and is enjoyed time and time again.
CLOSE SECOND PLACE MOVIES
Boys Town—Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy—1938…The Shop around the Corner—James Steward and Margaret Sullivan—1940… *How Green Was My Valley—Roddy McDowall and Maureen O’Hara—1941…It’s a Wonderful Life—James Steward—1946…The African Queen—Humphrey Bogard and Katherine Hepburn—1951…High Noon—Gary Cooper—1952…The Hustler—Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason—1961… Cabaret—Liza Minnelli—1972…Top Gun—Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer—1986… My Cousin Vinnie—Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomel—1992…The Paper—Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, Marisa Tomel and Robert Duvall—1994. *This is a selection of mine because I was raised in coal camps so this particular movie is very personal for me.
There are of course a great many other wonderful movies like Jerry Mcquire…Thelma and Louie…The Goodfellas…City Slickers…Ghost…When Harry Met Sally and Braveheart only to name a few but my intent here was to select movies that are worth seeing time and time again. Certainly my choices will be liked by some and disliked by others but these are my top choices as an ex-theater reviewer. You will note also that I’ve chosen all U.S. films save one or two and that’s because I am not very familiar with foreign cinema. The reader may also notice I do not mention any films made between 1999 and 2012. This is because I know of no feature made in the last dozen years that I believe rates repeat viewings by movie collectors and/or buffs. Indeed, the last ten years seems to me to mostly have been a love affair between Hollywood and high tech. Avatar for example is certainly a brilliant piece of writing and film making but would not attract my return every year or so. I personally do not like ironman or other robotic monster films or bloody tooth vampire pictures. However, I suppose all that has to do with the age of those going to the theater these days and buying 50 cents worth of popcorn for $5.00. In any case, if you have any movies you believe are worth seeing more than once or twice please let me know. I cannot claim to have seen all movies so I might well have missed some doozies. Agree with me or not, I hope this article has brought back some good memories for you. For sure, it has returned some great old memories to me.