February 16, 2012 – I’ve wanted to put together this list for a long time, but it seemed too difficult to wrap my brain around.
If you love movies as much as me, you probably understand. How can you pick favorites from the massive variety available without narrowing it down to at least a category? It would be easier to list the ten worst movies ever made. Challenge be damned, I mustered my courage, buckled down and completed the task.
In honor of the upcoming Academy Awards – an event like Christmas morning to me – here’s a list of what would be considered the top ten movies of all time if I ran the world:
10. Muriel’s Wedding/Betsy’s Wedding – Yes, we have a tie and not because I’m too lazy to pick one, but because both wedding themed movies are equally good for different reasons. Muriel’s Wedding is a unique Australian film that introduced two of today’s finer actresses to American audiences. Toni Collette plays the socially inept Muriel, a girl willing to go to extremes to get married, and Rachel Griffiths, of Six Feet Under and Brothers and Sisters fame, plays her best friend. Muriel’s Wedding is a better movie than the other as far as the script and storyline, but Anthony LaPaglia’s hilarious Stevie D and Madeline Kahn’s wonderfully modest mother of the bride in Betsy’s wedding deserve a special mention and shouldn’t be missed.
9. Airplane! – I love comedies as much as the next guy, but normally slapstick isn’t my thing. Airplane, however, defies those rules and is hands down the best comedy ever made. It’s definitely the king of all disaster spoofs, which paved the way for many more to come – some wonderfully good and some dreadfully bad. Airplane also has to be the most quotable movie of all time, and perhaps even the most viewed. I dare you to find someone who hasn’t seen it. Better yet, without it we wouldn’t know the comic genius of Leslie Neilson, or the Naked Gun movies, which deserve special mention because it gave us another truly quotable line, “Hey, that’s Enrico Palazzo!”
8. Gone with the Wind – There’s no greater heroine than Katie Scarlett O’Hara. She may have been a spoiled young woman, but she also brilliantly maneuvered her way through the challenges of the Civil War. She was definitely the mentally strongest character in her family, and in the story. Sure, there are plenty of wonderful performances in the film, but all pale in comparison to Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett. Despite its four-hour length, I can get swept in this saga every time it’s on television, and have even traveled to the theater to see it on the big screen. This film swept the Oscars in 1939, winning Best Picture, Best Actor for Clark Gable, Best Actress for Leigh and Best Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel, to name a few.
7. Imitation of Life – The earlier version with Claudette Colbert is good and closer to the original story, but the 1959 film with Lana Turner and Sandra Dee is so full of wonderful drama, it has to be crowned as the queen of all tear-jerkers. Based on a 1933 Fannie Hurst novel of the same name, the story seems almost modern as two single mothers, one black and one white, struggle to raise their daughters alone, until they find each other and combine efforts. The drama occurs when the black daughter, who often passes as white, decides to lie about her roots and completely deny where she came from, which breaks her mother’s heart. Good Hollywood stuff, and if you plan to watch, have plenty of tissues on hand. The film was nominated for two Oscars for Best Actress for Juanita Moore and Best Supporting Actress for Susan Kohner.
6. Raiders of the Lost Ark – Of all the action movies out there, this is one of the best. When my friends and I first saw this as a new release back in 1981, we loved it so much we stayed to watch it again at the next showing. Of course, it was back in the day when you could get away with that sort of thing. I adore this movie for many reasons, but mostly because it’s not your typical “blood fest” action movie, but rather it entertains with a compelling storyline and great performances that captivate you from the beginning. In other words, it’s a thrilling movie that the whole family can enjoy. And watching the handsome Harrison Ford as the dashing and debonair Indiana Jones isn’t bad, either. The movie won four Oscars for Best Art Direction, Editing, Visual Effects and Sound.
5. When Harry Met Sally – A witty script, a fine cast and a timeless soundtrack all combine to make When Harry Met Sally the best romantic comedy of all time. Plus it asks the age-old question can men and women be just friends, or does sexual attraction always get in the way? The movie features Meg Ryan at her absolute best and Billy Crystal, who’s always funny in each role he chooses. Kudos to the supporting cast, Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby, who play it well as their best friends who coax them along and try to show them they really do belong together. This film was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
4. Ordinary People – Robert Redford’s masterpiece, Ordinary People, may be the movie that had the most impact on me at that point of my young life. I was still a teenager when I saw this heart wrenching drama of a family trying to cope with the death of one of their own, and a son desperately trying to forgive himself, and gain his mother’s love. In addition, the film featured Mary Tyler Moore as I had never seen her before, playing the cold, distant mother, who worried too much about what her society friends thought, and was incapable of showing her younger son that she cared. Timothy Hutton won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this role, his first, and Redford won for Best Director. The film also won for Best Picture.
3. Charade – Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant are a perfect combination in this fun Hitchcock like classic, despite their 25-year age difference. Supposedly Grant wanted it written in to the script, which is as thrilling as it is funny and charming, that Hepburn’s character is pursuing him rather than vice versa because he felt odd about the age difference. Charade earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, and was remade albeit poorly as “The Truth About Charlie” with Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton. But don’t waste your time. See the original.
2. The Big Chill – What happens when old college friends get together for the funeral of one of their own? Great music and conversation and plenty of surprising twists and turns. I especially love the storyline between William Hurt, who plays a former radio psychologist, and Meg Tilly, the young girlfriend of the deceased friend. The rest of cast is also superb and features Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Mary Kay Place, Jo Beth Williams, Tom Berenger and Jeff Goldblum. It also was the first film appearance by a young Kevin Costner, but his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. The film earned Best Picture and Best Actress (Glenn Close) nominations.
1. Notorious – Alfred Hitchcock’s spine tingling Notorious is tops on the list. Cary Grant stars opposite a very creepy Claude Raines and Ingrid Bergman, the woman the FBI hires to get the goods on Nazis they believe are planning something in South America after WWII. Grant falls in love with Bergman’s character, the girl with the tainted past, and he is often as cruel and he is romantic with her. There are so many thrillingly tense scenes and fine performances in this movie, there is no better. Not only is it the most romantic movie of all time, with just enough ups and downs along the way that make for good drama, but it’s also has one of the cleverest scripts ever written. Grant is a fine actor, and Bergman is luminous.
P.S. Special mention goes to the following, which made the initial list and had to be cut to narrow it ten, a painfully difficult task: Annie Hall, Amelie, The Big Lebowski, The Graduate, Groundhog Day, A Hard Day’s Night, Terms of Endearment, Thelma and Louise, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.