Great Cinema: 19 family picks for the best movie ever

great-cinimaMarch 6, 2017 — Ask your family to pick their favorite movie of all time, and if they can do it, you’re bound to get a variety of selections from several different genres. At a recent family get together, I posed that exact question, and although none of us chose the same movie, there are definite patterns that emerged, including movies from the David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino film libraries.

It’s not easy to narrow your favorite movie down to ONE, so I thank my family for participating. It’s also a lot more difficult than picking the worst movie of all time, which we did back in September.

Casablanca. My Dad’s choice for favorite shows up on many “best” lists. Casablanca, released in November 1942, tells the story of an American bar owner (Humphrey Bogart) in Morocco during the early days of World War II, and the woman who broke his heart (Ingrid Bergman). The Bogie/Bergman classic is one of my faves, too, and has given us some of the best quotable lines ever: “We’ll always have Paris,” “Here’s looking at you kid,” “Round up the usual suspects”, and “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” That’s just a few quotable mentions, which is impressive for a 75-year-old film.

My Fair Lady. My Mom passed away two years ago, but I can safely say her favorite was the musical classic from the 1960s My Fair Lady. She loved the music and the story, and of course, Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle. Her favorite scene by far was when Professor Higgins, played by Rex Harrison, takes Eliza to a horse race to test her newly acquired language skills. All is well at first as he glows with pride, but it soon turns to embarrassment when Eliza slips back into Cockney while cheering on the horse. Sure, Mom thought it the language was “fresh”, but she laughed just the same.

Moonstruck. My sister, Linda’s favorite is the charming Moonstruck from 1987. The romantic comedy stars Cher and Nicholas Cage in the lead roles, as the couple that fall in love while the widow Loretta (Cher) waits for her fiancé (Danny Aiello), to come back from Sicily, where he is visiting his dying mother. It’s an enchanting, but funny story that uses an incredibly gorgeous moon as the backdrop. Nominated for six Academy Awards, it won three of them, including Best Actress and Supporting Actress for Cher and Olympia Dukakis, along with Best Screenplay.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. My brother-in-law, Roland’s pick is the great American western starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s hard to get behind criminals in a movie, but Director George Roy Hill made these train robbers delightful enough to cheer for. Based loosely on fact, the film tells the story of Butch Cassidy (Newman) and Sundance (Redford) on the run from the sheriff and his posse, trying to escape the country with Sundance’s love interest (Katherine Ross). It was the top grossing movie of the year in 1969, and is the 34th top-grossing movie of all time.

Notorious. Alfred Hitchcock’s spine tingling Notorious is tops my list. Cary Grant stars opposite a very creepy Claude Raines and Ingrid Bergman (their second mention on the list). Bergman plays the woman the FBI hires to get the goods on Nazis who they believe is planning something big in South America right 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, it’s easily one of the cleverest scripts ever written.

The Matrix. Alas, the first one on the list that I haven’t seen all the way through is my brother-in-law, Rex’s pick, The Matrix. Obviously, Rex, doesn’t share my problem with understanding technology or sci-fi films. The Matrix starred Keanu Reeves, who lives in dystopian future where reality is simulated and known as “the Matrix”. Reeves plays Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer, who is also a hacker known as “Neo”. After he discovers the truth about “the Matrix”, he rebels, of course. The movie has been called one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, and I apologize that I can’t give it the credit it likely deserves.

Gone with the Wind. My sister, Patti’s pick is Gone With the Wind, which is on my top ten favorites list. There’s no greater heroine than Scarlett O’Hara. She may have been a spoiled young woman, but she also maneuvered her way through the challenges of the Civil War with brilliance. She was definitely the mentally strongest in her family and in the story. Despite its four-hour length, Patti can be swept in this saga every time it’s on television. I share her genes, so we’re a lot alike in that regard. I even traveled to see it at the theater on the big screen.

Saving Private Ryan. The World War II epic, Saving Private Ryan, is my cousin David’s favorite pick. The 1998 film directed by Stephen Spielberg tells the story four brothers in the Ryan family, all in Europe fighting the war. Three of the four brothers are killed in action, and the fourth is missing in action when a squad sets out to find him and send him home to his grieving family. The movie opens the morning of June 6, 1944, during the Normandy invasion, and said to be the most intense and realistic 27 minutes on film, which makes it difficult to watch. It’s also been deemed by the Library of Congress to be “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”

Gladiator. The 2000 epic historical drama Gladiator is my brother David’s pick for best movie ever. Starring Russell Crowe, who plays a Roman general named Maximus. Maximus is betrayed when the Emperor murders his father to seize the thrown and all hell breaks loose. David considers this not only the best movie ever, but also the most entertaining, as well. And I’d have to agree it would be on my top fifteen list, at least. Crowe picked up a Best Actor Oscar for his efforts, and the film also won Best Picture and several other category awards that year. Gladiator has also been credited with sparking interest in other films and stories centered on the ancient Greek and Roman culture.

Fargo. If you’re picking the best pictures, you’re bound to have a film show up on the list by Joel and Ethan Coen. My nephew Rick’s choice for best picture ever is Fargo. The 1996 dark comedy crime film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where the brothers won the Best Director award. The story focuses on a supposed true crime, but I’m not sure if that has ever been proven. There is a lot of fact vs. fiction surrounding this film. The entire cast is incredible, but it’s Coen Brothers’ regular Frances McDormand who steals the show. She also won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the quirky Police Chief with the perfect North Dakota accent.

Magnolia. My niece Lauren selected another film on the list I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing…yet. The ensemble drama Magnolia is her choice for best movie ever. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who has quite an impressive resume, the story is described as “a mosaic of interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness and meaning.” Magnolia may have struggled at the box office, but received plenty of critical acclaim. Many people who have experienced it say that there is no other film in history that has made them think, feel or question a film like Magnolia.

Anything in the David Lynch Library. My nephew, Ryan doesn’t profess to be the world’s biggest movie fan, and it take a lot to make him notice. However, he does give special mention to anything in the David Lynch collection. From Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive to The Elephant Man and everything in between, including the television show, Twin Peaks, David Lynch is able to make Ryan stop, look and listen.

2001: A Space Odyssey. My son, Charlie’s pick is the third film on the list I didn’t see and the second I didn’t understand. It’s a 1968 sci-fi film epic written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, also one of his favorites. When released in ’68, the film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences, who didn’t know what to make of its space imagery, classical music and little dialogue. Since then, it’s grown in popularity and has a cult following. Like The Matrix, I tried to enjoy it, but the plot was completely over my head. I still question if there really was a plot at all. Honestly, I’ve never gotten through the entire movie; the music, which is fantastic, always lulls me to sleep.

Blue Velvet. David Lynch’s sophomore effort gets the favorite picture vote from my niece, Leigh. Unfortunately, it’s another movie I didn’t see in its entirety because I don’t understand it, and therefore can’t do it justice. The 1986 mystery film had Lynch blending psychological horror with film noir, earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Like most of his films, however, it seemed to gain more attention and a cult following as time passed. Blue Velvet starred Kyle McLaughlin and Isabella Rossellini, and in 2008, the American Film Institute named it one of the greatest American mystery films ever made.

Old School. Finally, a flat out comedy on the list, chosen by my nephew, Adam. The 1993 comedy starring the usual suspects Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson focuses on three middle-aged college friends who attempt to recapture the glory days by opening up a fraternity house near their “old school”. You get the rest. I’d be willing to bet that Adam’s choice has the widest viewership out of any other movie on this list. As the tagline suggests, the film is “all of the fun of college, but none of the education.” Ain’t that the truth.

Pulp Fiction. Like Coen Brothers, I’d be surprised to put together a list like this without Quentin Tarantino. My nephew, Macey’s pick, is the first mention of a Tarantino film, and he chose Pulp Fiction. This movie was my first taste of Tarantino, and I’d left the theater thinking it was one of the most interesting cinematic experiences ever. With so many odd characters like Honey Bunny and Pumpkin, and so many crazy stories intertwined, the 1994 black comedy, crime film was a breath of fresh air. It also revitalized the career of John Travolta.

Whiplash. The movie from 2014 is latest movie on the list and the choice of best movie ever from my niece, Carly. Interesting choice, for sure, and extremely intense. Whiplash tells the story of an ambitious jazz student and his abusive instructor at a music conservatory school in New York. It stars J.K. Simmons (the instructor) and Miles Teller (the student), and was the opening film at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It earned Simmons a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and plenty of critical acclaim. Prior, he had been known, at least to me, as that Farmer’s Insurance guy.

A Dark Knight. Did you think we’d get through the entire list without a superhero crime thriller? A Dark Knight is my nephew, David’s choice for best movie ever. The 2008 movie was written and directed by Christopher Nolan and stared Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as The Joker. Right after filming Ledger died of a prescription drug overdose, and that may have garnered a lot of attention for the film, as well. Ledger was also posthumously awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work a year later. It’s the darkest of the Batman movies for sure, and quite an interesting adaptation of the comic book hero.

Reservoir Dogs. My nephew Jack’s pick is the second mention of Quentin Tarantino on the list, the crime thriller Reservoir Dogs. The epitome of the classic cult film, the 1992 movie was named the greatest independent film of all time by Empire Film Magazine. The story and film has even been ripped off by Bollywood and remade as Kaante, in 2002. It’s violent and bloody, with an interesting 70s soundtrack piped in. Let’s just say that these days, I can’t hear the song “Stuck in the Middle with You,” without picturing a horrendous torture scene along with it.

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Jane’s World: The 10 Best Movies of All Time

February 20, 2017 – I’ve wanted to put together this list for a long time, but had trouble narrowing it down to only 10. So, in honor of the Academy Awards — I’ve decided to pass on award show but not the movies — here’s a list of what would be considered the top ten movies of all time if I ran the world:

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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, Casablanca, Terms of Endearment, Thelma and Louise, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, many of which were featured on TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar this month.

Hey, I didn’t see that coming! The good, the bad and the ugly of movies with surprise endings

surpriseMay 20, 2013 — Part of the draw of watching movies is the hope that the story will wow us in the end, a rare event these days in the era of sequels and remakes. If well done, movies can also surprise us, even if a clever ending is left open to interpretation.

Here are five films, both old and new that fall outside of “The Usual Suspects” normally mentioned in these categories. The first three have endings I didn’t see coming, and the last two left me wondering what happened next. If you haven’t seen these movies, proceed with caution; spoilers are discussed.

5. The Life of David Gayle (2003) Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney
Alan Parker’s crime thriller about a man named David Gale (Spacey) who sits on death row awaiting execution for the rape and murder of his friend (Linney) didn’t generate a large audience or rave reviews, but a clever film it is. The interesting twist is that both Spacey’s and Linney’s characters were active capital punishment abolitionists. A few days before his execution, Gale’s lawyer hires journalist Bitsey Bloom (Winslet) to write a story that he hopes will stop the execution. The problem is Gale doesn’t want it stopped. Still, Bloom comes to believe the evidence against Gale doesn’t add up. She believes he was framed because she discovers the victim was actually dying from terminal leukemia and has committed an elaborate suicide to look like murder. She attempts to give the information to the authorities to stop the execution, just as the warden announces that it has been carried out. Sometime later, Bloom receives a videotape and discovers that both Gale and the murder victim set up the entire scheme, sacrificing themselves to prove that innocent prisoners are executed, a last-ditch effort to assure that capital punishment is stopped for good.

4. Some Like it Hot (1959) Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe
It is unusual for comedies to have surprising endings, but this little gem from 1959 gives us an ending as shocking as “Gone with the Wind’s” “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The story takes place in 1929, as two struggling jazz musicians (Curtis and Lemmon) rush to get out-of-town after witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Quickly, they board a departing train and pose as two women to fit in with the other passengers onboard, an all girl jazz band. They keep up the charade and both develop feelings for Sugar, a fellow musician (Monroe). Over the course of the story, they have to fight off their fair share of men, and keep reminding themselves they are women so they don’t make a pass at Sugar. While in Miami a millionaire named Osgood Fielding falls big time for Lemmon’s character Daphne, and soon proposes marriage. When the mob tracks the boys to Miami, the musicians escape again, this time on Osgood’s yacht. While Daphne tries to explain that she can’t marry him, Osgood dismisses all the excuses. Frustrated Daphne removes his wig, reveals himself as Jerry, and shouts, “But I’m a man!” to which Osgood simply responds, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” And the credits roll.

3. No Way Out (1987) Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young
When Navy Lieutenant Tom Farrell (Costner) falls in love with a call girl named Susan (Young) and discovers she is having an affair with the Secretary of Defense David Brice (Hackman), fireworks are bound to occur. But the real excitement begins with Farrell and Brice begin working together on a secret government project to take down the Soviets, who they believe is working on a similar defense project. When Brice discovers Susan is having an affair, he demands she name her other lover. She refuses and he slaps her knocking her off a balcony and causing her to fall to her death. Instead of turning himself in, Brice is persuaded by his assistant to concoct a story that Susan was having an affair with a KGB agent in Washington with the codename “Yuri” and that he must have killed her. Unaware that Farrell was her other lover, Brice appoints him to investigate and find Yuri. Instead, Farrell sets out to prove Brice was involved with Susan and is her murderer. After many twists and turns, Farrell is closing in on evidence to implicate Brice, who then shifts the blame to his assistant, who collapses with grief when his boss turns on him. The assistant commits suicide in front of Brice and Farrell, and Brice falsely identifies him as Yuri. In the next scene, Farrell sits beside Susan’s grave in grief, and two men arrive to take him away for questioning. One of the men addresses him in Russian, and he answers in the same manner. The audience is shocked to learn that Farrell is actually a KGB spy and indeed Yuri, as he was planted in the United States as a teen, to become a Soviet mole.

2. Notorious (1946) Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman
Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are at their best in this spy mystery that has Bergman as a civilian going undercover to catch a Nazis in South America after World War II, and Grant as the FBI agent who is her connection. The two fall in love naturally, and when Bergman’s character blows her cover, the Nazis slowly begin to poison her. At the end of the movie Grant’s character comes to her rescue, and he does manage to get her out of the house where she is being held captive. The last scene shows him helping her into the car to drive to the hospital. And that’s it. Does she live? Does she die? Do the bad guys get what’s coming to them? Will their evil plot continue? Plenty may be insinuated in this intelligent script, but the answers are left open for the audience to interpret, a perfect example of a surprise/hanging ending done right.

1. Your Sister’s Sister (2012) Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemary DeWitt
A predictable Indy chic flick maybe, but I loved this movie. Too bad it has an ending scene that leaves you wondering is she or isn’t she, and this time, not even her hairdresser knows for sure. The story ends with Jack (Mark Duplass), Iris (Emily Blunt) and Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt) hovering in a crowded bathroom anxiously waiting for the results of Hannah’s pregnancy test. The scene fades as the credits begin to roll before the test results are revealed. Yikes! Sure, the audience knows that whether Hannah is pregnant or not, Iris and Jack will be together.  Iris is in love with Jack, who recently slept with Hannah, her sister one drunken night. The real resolution of this story is that Jack and Iris declare their love for each other after it is revealed to Iris about Hannah and Jack. Yet, the movie leaves us hanging if the next step in their lives involves a baby or not. The script is clever and often funny, but the ending would have been more satisfying if we knew the outcome.

The 100 best romantic movies

romanceMay 13, 2103 – How cool is this list?

Our British friends at www.timeout.com in London put together a panel of experts (actors and movie people from both sides of the pond) to select the 100 best romantic movies of all time.

I’m surprised that so many old movies made the list. That makes me feel warm and happy.

My favorite, “Notorious” with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman sits at number 52. A crowd pleasing favorite “The Way We Were” with Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand is number 59. Am I the only one who hated that movie?

Some choices are what you’d expect, like “When Harry Met Sally” at 25. Others are a head scratchers, such as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” at #88. Whoever selected that has a very different view of romance.

You can view the entire interesting and eclectic list here. How many have you seen? According to the folks at Timeout, the average is 32. I counted a rather impressive 54 for me.

Ten movie screenplays I wish I wrote

darkandstormy_5013April 24, 2013 – As someone with a passion for writing and the movies, it makes sense that I would someday attempt to write a screenplay. I’m still waiting for inspiration, but there are several I wish I wrote, and that has to count for something.

Here are ten screenplays in no particular order that have made me crazy with envy over the years.

1. The Big Chill (1983)William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, Mary Kay Place, JoBeth Williams
Seven thirtysomething college friends reunite for the weekend and the funeral of another college friend. It is the perfect scenario, the perfect cast, and the perfect blend of drama and comedy. Who wouldn’t want to have their name on this wonderful script?

2. Passion of Mind (2000)Demi Moore, Stellan Skarsgard, Sinead Cusack, William Fitchner
I may be the only person who saw and/or liked this little Indy film, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth viewing. Moore plays a woman stuck between two worlds – her real life and her dream life. The problem is she does not know which one is real and which is the dream. Just when I thought all of the original ideas were gone, this clever movie was released.

3. Notorious (1946)Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman
This is my favorite Hitchcock film, and my favorite film overall; therefore, by law it has to make this list. The script is compelling and at times witty, combining spies, romance and Nazis – and how could you go wrong with that? In addition, the acting is superb.

4. The Breakfast Club (1985) Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michal Hall
Five very different high school students spend the day together in detention and it changes their lives and their opinions of each other forever. I am willing to bet everyone can relate to one of these characters, who represent the best and worst of our high school years. A tender and heartbreaking story, and one of John Hughes best.

5. Being There (1979) Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine
A brilliant performance by Sellers highlights a unique and wonderful script. He plays Chance, a simple gardener who had never left the estate where worked his entire life until his employer dies. Sellers is thrown out onto the street to survive on his own, and runs into a plethora of people who mistake his views on gardening – which is all he knows – as pure genius. The script is a clever take on suddenly becoming famous.

6. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza
This Indy film from last year is based on a real classified ad the writers found in a magazine that read: “Wanted – someone to go back in time with; must have your own weapons; safety not guaranteed.” Intriguing? Yes. When you find a real life gem like that, how can you not write a fabulous screenplay around it?

7. Amelie (2001) Audrey Tautou
A wonderful and heartwarming French film that focuses on a shy and lonely Parisian waitress (the adorable Tautou) who secretly does good deeds for her neighbors. The story is simple, yet it balances humor and drama brilliantly, and it will change your outlook on life forever. I guarantee it.

8. The Sixth Sense (1999) Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment
This is perhaps the best “I didn’t see that coming” screenplay in history, and although everyone probably knows the twist, I won’t ruin it just in case. In addition, with the Philadelphia connection (M. Knight Shyamalan wrote the terrific screenplay), it’s as if my neighbor wrote it, which means I am very close to his perfection.

9. Midnight in Paris (2011) Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams
Woody Allen’s fantasy about a writer vacationing in France who accidentally finds a wormhole back to the glory days of Paris in the 1920s, and the wonderful writers and artists who gathered nightly at “salons” to discuss their art. Hey, Woody, it’s my fantasy, too.

10. Airplane! (1980) Robert Hays, Leslie Nielsen, Julie Hagerty
This hilarious spoof on the disaster movies of the 1970s, is one of the best comedies ever. Each time I try to write humor, I fail miserably. Since this is the ultimate funny script, it easily makes my top ten list. It proves simple humor can be very funny, and makes me believe that one day I will succeed.

Celebrating 31 Days of Oscar

oscar-2013February 1, 2013 – Today we begin February, a month notoriously cold in these parts, but also one that offers a glimpse of hope with baseball’s spring training kicking off in a few weeks.

It’s also the month to celebrate everything Oscar. The 85th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony will air on Sunday, February 24, and today Turner Classic Movies (TCM) begins its annual event, the 31 Days of Oscar. Now through March 3, they’ll show some of the best Oscar nominated and winning of films from the past 84 years, and for movie fans it doesn’t get any better than that.

Here is a special top ten list that features movies you should see or see again made prior to 1960. Set your DVR’s and enjoy…

1. Casablanca – 1942
– Bogie and Bergman star in this intriguing love story set in World War II era Morocco. Won three Oscars for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Screenplay. February 2 at 8 p.m.

2. Imitation of Life – 1934 – The original film version of the Fannie Hurst tear jerker about the relationship with two women (Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers) and their daughters. Nominated for three Oscars for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Sound Recording. February 6 at 10:30 p.m.

3. The Snake Pit – 1948 – A horrifying look at a young wife (Olivia de Havilland) who wakes up in an insane asylum and doesn’t remember how she got there. Won one Oscar for Best Sound Recording. February 9 at 4:15 a.m.

4. Peyton Place – 1957 – Soapy fun and racy for its time, this film tells the story of citizens in a small New England town during World War II. Nominated for Best Actor (Arthur Kenney), Best Supporting Actor (Russ Tamblyn), Best Actress (Lana Turner), Best Supporting Actress (Hope Lange and Diane Varsi), Best Director and Best Picture. February 10 at 10:15 a.m.

5. Notorious – 1946 – Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman take on the Nazis in this Hitchcock classic that is my favorite movie of all time. Nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains) and Best Screenplay. February 12 at 10:15 p.m.

6. Gone with the Wind – 1939 – Perhaps the best story ever made of southern life before, during and after the Civil War. Won eight Oscars, including Best Actress (Vivian Leigh), Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Picture. February 14 at 8 p.m.

7. Spellbound – 1945 – Another Hitchcock classic about mistaken identity and memory loss featuring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. Won an Oscar for Best Musical Score. February 14 at 2:30 a.m.

8. Double Indemnity – 1944 – Oddly, Fred MacMurray plays the bad guy in this insurance game thriller. Nominated for Best Actress (Barbara Stanwyck), Best Director (Billy Wilder) and Best Picture. February 21 at 8 p.m.

9. A Place in the Sun – 1951 — Poor boy (Montgomery Clift) falls for rich girl (Elizabeth Taylor) in this intriguing love story. Won six Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film editing, Best Musical Score and Best Screenplay. February 21 at 10 p.m.

10. Wuthering Heights – 1939 – Emily Bronte’s classic tale of unfortunate lovers Cathy and Heathcliff. Won an Oscar for Best Cinematography. February 27 at 10:15 a.m.

Jane’s World: The top ten Hitchcock films

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious.

October 19, 2013 – To honor the Philadelphia Film Festival, which opened this week and runs through October 28, and “The Girl”, premiering on HBO tomorrow night, this week’s blog theme was all about movies and Alfred Hitchcock.

It’s only fitting to close out the blogging week with my picks for the top ten Alfred Hitchcock movies. Considering the man directed 53 films from 1924 through 1975 – and I haven’t seen them all, but I did see more than half – this was a bit more difficult than I expected.

10. Psycho – Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh star in a spine-tingling horror film that focuses on a young man tormented by his past and his mother. Not my favorite Hitchcock film by far, but arguably his most popular or at least his best known, so it earns a #10 spot on my list. That, and it’s still hard not to think about this movie, especially whenever I step into the shower while traveling.

9. The Birds – Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren are headliners in this Hitchcock classic, but those nasty birds are the real stars. The plot has the feathered creatures mysteriously attacking anyone and anything in their way. This was the first Hitchcock movie I remember seeing as a child, and it had a huge impact on me. Just like the Night Galley earwig episode that had me sleeping with cotton in my ears, this movie made me wary of our feathered friends for a long time.

8. Rear Window – This film, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, takes spying on your neighbors – and who doesn’t enjoy that – to extremes. Long considered one of the Master’s finest, a photographer (Stewart) is laid up with a broken leg, which leaves him plenty of time to watch from his rear window, and allow himself to get caught up in the drama that his is neighbors’ lives. And what drama that becomes.

7. Vertigo – In this strange film, both James Stewart, with Kim Novak this time, find themselves caught in a never-ending spiral of deception and obsession. Stewart plays a private detective who must search for the truth behind the death of a woman he loved. One of the most interesting characteristics of this movie is the way Hitch filmed it in a dreamlike haze.

6. The Man Who Knew Too Much – It’s Doris Day’s turn to star with Jimmy Stewart in this Hitchcock thriller about an American family accidentally caught up in an assassination plot. This was a remake of Hitchcock’s early 1934 movie, which is interesting on its own. How many directors get to remake their own movies? It also introduced the world to the Doris Day classic hit, “Que Sera Sera”.

5. Strangers on a Train – Hitchcock used a lot of trains and train references in his movies, whether actually filming on a train, or just used as a Freudian symbol, as in “North by Northwest”. “Strangers on a Train” starring Farley Granger and Ruth Roman in a must-see classic tells this tale of strangers who take on each other’s murders. It’s one of Hitch’s only movies to use all B list actors, but it’s still one of his most intriguing. It also inspired the Danny DeVito comedy, “Throw Momma from the Train”, and that doesn’t happen everyday.

4. Spellbound – Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman play the amnesic impersonating a famous psychologist and the doctor who wants to save him even if he is guilty of murder to perfection in this Hitchcock thriller. The fact that this is a black and white movie from the early 1940s, adds even more intrigue and suspense to the plot.

3. To Catch a Thief – When Hitch combines romance and intrigue with a seaside resort on the French Riviera, and stars Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, how could he go wrong? Grant plays a reformed jewel thief who is suspected of a rash of burglaries, and Kelly, the woman who is drawn to him, yet worried she’ll become his latest victim.

2. North by Northwest – Cary Grand and Eva Marie Saint star in a heart-stopping suspense tale with a little bit of everything mixed in. You’ve got your classic mistaken identity, a man who is falsely accused, a chance meeting on a train, and a beautiful blonde, a little voyeurism, and Hitchcock spins it all masterfully. Not to mention a nice trip across the U.S., from the streets of New York, to the cornfields of Illinois, and the majesty that is Mount Rushmore.

1. Notorious – Starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in a classic tale of love and betrayal. Grant plays a FBI agent who must send the woman he loves to seduce a Nazi conspirator. Like Casablanca, I can watch this movie over and over again and never get tired of it because it has everything from great acting to heart-wrenching romance, and plenty of suspense. Not only is it my favorite Hitchcock, but also it might be my favorite movie of all time.