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Film Appreciation... Other Suggested Dramas
 

 

"Gone With The Wind" (1939)
Let's face it, if you haven't seen this film you may not be an American, heck you may not be from this planet. The romance between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler played out against a backdrop of the civil war is probably the most popular film of all time. Nominated for a record 13 Academy Awards, the film won eight.

"Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" (1939)
Director Frank Capra is at his best here, directing Jimmy Stewart (Mr. Jefferson Smith) a humble man who finds himself selected by an old family friend, Senator Joseph Payne (Claude Rains) and the political machine of Boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) to fill the unexpired term of his states now deceased Senator. His idealistic attitudes are initially resisted and ridiculed by assistant Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur) who later becomes his staunchest supporter. A fine supporting cast including Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, and Harry Carey Sr. Makes this an enjoyable picture. In typical Cappra fashion the film seeks to point out the difference one person can make if they have the courage of their convictions and the willingness to do the right thing against all odds.

"Grapes of Wrath" (1940)
Director John Ford's emotionally faithful adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel is one of the most eloquent expressions of the dignity of man ever captured on film. The film's depiction of the plight of the evicted Okies as they wander the land on a quest to survive and find a home is nothing short of gut wrenching. The fact that a film with such socialist overtones ever made it to the screen in 1940 is every bit as remarkable as its cast which included Henry Fonda (Tom Joad), Jane Darwell (Ma Joad), John Carridine (Casy).

"The Maltese Falcon" (1941)
John Huston's direction of Humphry Bogartas detective Sam Spade (on the quest to find a mysterious black bird) in this film set the standards for the Private-eye genre throughout the 1940's. The trick is in the casting, and yes, Bogart really was that good! He became the quintessential private eye complete with trench coat, sardonic demeanor and romantic persona. The film is the embodiment of dark wit, deceit, rampant paranoia, and a deliciously decrepit urban setting. Throw in a strong supporting cast of what was to become the usual suspects (Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and Mary Astor) and you the beginnings of the film noir genre. If you enjoyed "LA Confidential" or "The Usual Suspects" check this out to see where they got their start.

"It's A Wonderful Life" (1946)
Frank Capra's celebration of small town life is an enchanting paean to the triumph of decency over adversity. When George Bailey's world seems to be crashing down around him he contemplates suicide until an angel named Clarence intervenes and shows him the true worth of his life. Is it overly sentimental? Yes, but we could all use a good dose of apple pie every now and again. The film features wonderful performances from James Stewart (George Bailey), Donna Reed (Mary Hatch), Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Potter), Thomas Mitchell(Uncle Billy), Henry Travers (Clarence), and Beulah Blondi (Mrs Bailey).

"All About Eve" (1950)
Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's backstage melodrama pits an seemingly star-struck innocent, the scheming Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), against the well established star Margo Channing (a dazzling Bette Davis). This venomous story of backbiting show business folk features ascerbic dialogue that literally drips with cynicism. The film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won four of them including Best Picture, Director, and Actor (George Sanders as Addison De Witt). Watch for Marilyn Monroe in a small role as Miss Casswell.

"A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)
Director Elia Kazan's depiction of Tennesse Williams' explosive southern drama catapulted Marlon Brando into the limelight and made method acting a buzz word. Brando sizzled as the brutish Stanley Kowalski who although married to Stella (Kim Hunter) is alternately resentful of and attracted to her sister Blanche (Vivien Leigh). The genteel Blanch harbors a dark past that she submerges when she meets and charms Stanley's friend Mitch (Karl Malden). The film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards winning Oscars for Leigh, Hunter, Malden and Best Art Direction.

"On The Waterfront" (1954)
Director Elia Kazan once again teams with Marlon Brando in this drama about the redemption of a guilt ridden failed boxer. The film features one of Marlon Brando's best performances (he won the Best Actor Oscar), and features one of film's most famous lines. "I could have had class. I could have been a contender." The film ended up receiving 12 Academy Award nominations and ended up winning eight of them including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Actor.

"Rebel Without A Cause" (1955)
The movie that elevated James Dean to super star status and made him literally an icon for frustrated youth everywhere. This film managed to capture the timeless pattern of conflict that occurs when young people come of age and begin to question the values of their parents specifically and society in general. Featuring solid performances from the supporting cast notably Natalie Wood (Judy) and Sal Mineo (Plato), who were both nominated for Academy Awards, the film serves as a reminder of what a great loss James Dean's death was to the artistic community.

"Bridge On The River Kwai" (1957)
Over 40 years later "The Bridge on the River Kwai remains one of the greatest war movies ever made. David Lean, serves up the story of a Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness, a reserved British officer, an American soldier Shears (William Holden),and a monomaniacal Japanese prison commander (Sessue Hayakawa), who are thrust together within the confines of a World War II Japanese prison camp where they must find a way to survive. While the film conveys a powerful message about the absurdity and futility of war it is nonetheless less a war film than a character study. Ultimately Bridge is about what happens to people when they are placed in the harshest of circumstances, for it is then - when all the masks and deceptive conceits have been stripped away - that one can genuinely see what they are made of.

"North By Northwest" (1959)
Legend has it that Alfred Hitchcock thought it would be fun to film a sequence on top of Mount Rushmore. In order to make that happen he first hired Cary Grant(who is characteristically suave and sophisticated), to play a Madison Avenue ad executive who is mistaken for a spy. Then he recruited James Mason to play the deliciously evil villain and Eva Marie Saint to play the blonde beauty with questionable loyalties. Throw in a 3000-mile chase across America and a few vintage Hitchcock scenes ( I love the crop dusting sequence - x-files eat your heart out), and you have a vintage Hitchcock thriller!

"Lawrence of Arabia" (1962)
David Lean's sweeping desert saga about the life of the volatile T. E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) is undoubtedly one of the most visually stunning epics ever filmed. Lean uses the vast backdrop of the desert to showcase two kinds of battle sequences - Lawrence's on going internal conflicts and the guerrilla warfare that he engages in against the German's. The cinematography (Freddie Young) is extraordinary (see this in a theater if possible, and if not make sure to watch it in letter box), of particular note is the sequence where Lawrence first encounters Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif). The film features an outstanding supporting cast that includes Alec Guinness (Price Feisal), Anthony Quinn (Auda Abu Tayi), Jack Hawkins (General Allenby), and Jose Ferrer (Turkish Bey).

"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962)
When director Jon Frankenheimer originally began working on this political thriller he conceived of it as a satire about the whole idea of fanaticism. The script which was adapted from a novel by Richard Condon takes broad swipes at Senator Joe McCarthy and his red-baiting minions. This cold war conspiracy theory, which has a platoon of soldiers being captured and brainwashed in order to eventually stage a assassination, could have served as a precursor for the X-files. Featuring a wonderful cast that included Frank Sinatra (Bennet Marco), Lawrence Harvey (Raymond Shaw),Angela Lansbury (Eleanor Iselin), and Janet Leigh (Eugunie Rose / Rosie) the film was made all the more believable by the subsequent assassination of President Kennedy. The film was withdrawn from circulation following the assassination (for obvious reasons).

"To Kill A Mockingbird" (1962)
Based on Harper Lee's Pulitzer-Prize-winning best-selling novel, the film is viewed via the eyes of the adolescent Scout Finch (Mary Badham), and relates her days as a child in Alabama (circa 1930). Specifically it examines the events surrounding her father's defense of a black man accused of rape. The film makes a simultaneously strong and sensitive approach to the subject of racism. Much of this is due to the fact that the film is told through the eyes of the two children who watch as their father Atticus (Gregory Peck) attempts to break with prejudices by practicing the compassion and values he had always tried to instill in them throughout their childhood's. Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his moving and intelligent performance as Southern lawyer Atticus Finch. The movie also features an electrifying debut performance by a young Robert Duvall.

"Bonnie and Clyde" (1967)
One of the most important films to come out of the 60's "Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (Warren Beatty)" is nothing short of a criminal character study of its two central characters. Brilliantly directed by Arthur Penn, the film features star making performances from Dunaway, and Gene Hackman (Buck Barrow) and a screenplay that capitalized on the attractiveness of two amoral, fame-conscious, anti-establishment characters. The film received ten Academy award nominations and won two - Best Supporting Actress (Estelle Parsons - Blanche) and Best Cinematography.

"Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" (1967)
When two wealthy Southern California parents (Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn) are told that their daughter has fallen in love and is bringing her potential fiancée home to meet them they are delighted - that is until they discover that he is black. They do their liberal best to recover from the shock, needless to say the fact that their potential son in law is a compassionate doctor who lives in Switzerland and wants to take their daughter their to live doesn't hurt! The fact that he also happens to be played by Sidney Poitier (one of the best actors around) is also an added plus. The film was revolutionary for its time, scripted in the late 60s, the idea of a bi-racial marriage was still fairly shocking.

"Patton" (1970)
George C. Scott turns in a knockout performance as the flamboyant and controversial American military genius General George S. Patton. Feared by the Germans, Patton's greatest difficulties turned out to be the Allied politicians who viewed him as a loose cannon. Scott's extraordinary performance garnered him an Academy Award for Best Actor one of 7 Oscars, including Best Picture, and Best Director (Franklin Schaffner).

"A Clockwork Orange" (1971)
In a futuristic Britain, a gang of teenagers led by Alex (Malcolm McDowell) go spend their evenings terrorizing helpless victims. Following an uprising in the gang Alex is knocked out and left for the police. In order to avoid prison he agrees to try "aversion therapy" to shorten his jail sentence. The therapy takes and he is released hating violence only to discover that the rest of his gang members are still after him. In "A Clockwork Orange", director Stanley Kubrick has crafted one of the most unique science fiction film ever made. It has gone on to become a something of a midnight matinee favorite. Warning this film is extremely violent.

"The French Connection " (1971)
New York detectives Gene Hackman (Popeye Doyle) and Roy Scheider (Buddy Russo) pursue an international narcotics ring, employing strong-arm tactics. The police drama to end all police drama's this movie features one of the best car chase sequences ever captured on film. Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (William Friedkin), Best Actor (Gene Hackman ), Best Screenplay (Ernest Tidyman) and Best Editing (Gerald B. Greenberg) the film also received three additional nominations including one for Best Supporting Actor (Roy Scheider).

"The Godfather" (1972)
Francis Ford Coppola's mega-epic (there were 2 sequels and part two is in many respects it is even better than the first) details the power and influence of a Mafia dynasty. Unlike many crime films, particularly the blockbuster kind, this film actually has some artistic merit. Much of the film's success can be attributed to Copola's insistence on obtaining the "right" cast. He wanted Marlon Brando the studios suggested Frank Sinatra, Orson Wells or Edward G. Robinson. He also held out for Al Pachino over Warren Beatty the studio favorite who had turned down the role of Michael. He also convinced the studio to increase the initial 2 million dollar budget. Their faith and Coppola's vision were reward with a series of broken box office records (it initially grossed $80 million), ten Academy Award nominations, and three Oscar wins.

"American Graffiti" (1973)

"One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest" (1975)
One of our favorite pictures, director Milos Forman's depiction of the power struggles that lie festering in a mental asylum is nothing short of a paean to the human spirit. Based on Ken Kesey's anti-authoritarian novel the film the film was brought to life by an outstanding cast that included .
The film became the first production since "It Happened One Night" (1934), to win all five of the top Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson / Randal Patrick McMurphy),and Best Actress(Louise Fletcher / Nurse Mildred Ratched). Look forward to strong supporting performances from Will Sampson (Chief), Brad Dourif (Billy Bibbit), Danny De Vito (Martini), and William Redfield (Harding).

"Taxi Driver" (1976)
All too often the word genius is over used but that is certainly not the case with director Martin Scorsese. His vision of an urban hell as seen through the eyes of the films protagonist taxi driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), is singularly disturbing. Indeed De Niro's frustrated Vietnam veteran is mesmerizing as he launches his one man brand of vigilantism in an attempt to save a 12 year old prostitute Iris (Jodi Foster). As seen through the eyes of Cinematographer Michael Chapman's camera nocturnal New York is nothing short of nightmarish. The film is also populated with a cast of extraordinary supporting players including Cybill Shepherd (Betsy), Peter Boyle (Wizard), Harvey Keitel (Sport), and Albert Brooks (Tom)

"Apocalypse Now" (1979)
DirectorFrancis Ford Copola's surrealistic Vietnam odyssey is nothing short of visionary in scope. The story of battle-weary Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) journey to find and execute Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a renegade megalomaniac American officer who has established a cult like dictatorship deep in the Vietnam jungle is as captivating as it is repellent. Part war film part examination of the evil that lurks within the human soul the film draws its inspiration from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. The combination of an outstanding cast that includes Robert Duvall (Lt-Colonel Bill Kilgore), Lawrence Fishburne (Clean), Dennis Hopper (Freelance Photographer), and Harrison Ford (Colonel Lucas) extraordinary cinematography (Vittorio Storaro) and a captivating sound track that combines Wagner and The Doors makes this one of the cinema's most hallucinatory descriptions of the carnage that is modern warfare. If you enjoyed "Saving Private Ryan" you should consider renting this one (get it in letterbox).

"Raging Bull" (1980)
The story of boxer Jake La Motta's quest for the middleweight championship and his subsequent is often sited as the film of the Decade (Premier Magazine). No wonder - it is directed by Martin Scorsese (one of the world's greatest film makers) and it stars Robert De Niro (one of the world's best actors) in one of his most riveting performances. So dedicated to accurately portraying La Motta was De Niro that he initially trained for months to gain the physique and technique of a prizefighter and then (while the director closed down production) put on 56 pounds to portray the boxer in his later years. Watch for strong performances from Cathy Moriarty (Vickie La Motta) and Joe Pesci (Joey)

"Amadeus" (1984)

"Platoon" (1986)
Oliver Stone's mind numbing meditation on the Vietnam War and the loss of innocence is one of the more riveting war films ever made. Charlie Sheen plays a young recruit torn between sergeants Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger. Stone won an Oscar for this masterful achievement. Like Steven Speilberg's"Saving Private Ryan" , this is a movie that considers combat from ground view (through the eyes of an infantryman) and like the latter film it does not make war look like fun. There is no choreography here there is only the frantic rush of combat. There are no heroes or villains here there are only people desperately trying to survive.

"Pulp Fiction " (1994)
Featuring some of the most disparate and memorable characters and some of the most interesting dialogue in recent memory director Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" is as notable for it's graphic and explicit violence as it was for it's superlative performances. The story of two small time hit men (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson), who are hired to recover a package whose contents are never revealed is part comedy (the movie has some of the best dialogue to show up on screen in decades), part drama and contains something to offend or gross out virtually everyone. The film features a marvelous supporting ensemble including Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, and Christopher Walken.

"Fargo" (1996)
The studio pitched this film by director Joel Coen as "A homespun murder story." When a small town car dealer (William H. Macy) decides to have his wife kidnapped by two hoodlums in order to wrest ransom money out of her wealthy father what looks like a solid plan spontaneously combusts. Enter the local sheriff (Frances McDormand) who happens to be pregnant and suffering from occasional bouts of morning sickness whose daunting task is to sort this mess out. All of the performances are remarkable, particularly Macy's pathetic car dealer, Steve Buscemi and Stormare's inept henchmen. But the absolute delight is Francis McDormand's Academy Award Winning performance as Chief Marge Gunderson. In the words of one of the films characters, "Yah, that's a good one.

"Amistad" (1997)
Set within the framework of an 1839 mutiny on an African slave-carrying ship and the subsequent trial of surviving mutineers, director Steven Spielberg's "Amistad" is a poignant and real-life portrayal of the slave-trade in the 19th century. While this film focuses largely on the debate over whether slaves should be considered human beings with matching rights or mere items of property within the legal system, "Amistad" probes deeply into the inhumanity and the injustice of a society and a time period where so little fairness exists. Superbly acted by Morgan Freeman , Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Hopkins, Amistad is worth checking out. (Reviewed by Amy Brown)

"Good Will Hunting" (1997)
Written by the dynamic young duo of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the smash hit "Good Will Hunting" is the story of the bane of brilliance upon a young and unaffected mathematical genius. Starring Matt Damon as Will Hunting, a Boston janitor who possesses an uncanny aptitude for higher level math,Robin Williams, as the psychologist who helps him and Minnie Driver as the young woman who loves him, this film is the story one dedicated young man who is at a crossroads concerning his future. Well-written and superbly acted, "Good Will Hunting" is well worth checking out. (Reviewed by Amy Brown)

"Titanic" (1997)
Well-written and brilliantly acted, James Cameron's "Titanic" ran away with America's heart in 1997. Starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as the star-crossed lovers who meet an unfortunate destiny upon the floundering ship, this film is the most moving and impressive endeavor on behalf of Hollywood that I have seen in a long time. Watch for the Academy Award nominated performance of Gloria Stewart as Old Rose. Breath-taking cinematography and special effects intertwine to make "Titanic" a true movie-going experience. (Reviewed by Amy Brown)

© 1999 Debbie Twyman. All rights reserved. TERMS OF USE