#35 Annie Hall

“There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly. The… the other important joke, for me, is one that’s usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud’s “Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious,” and it goes like this – I’m paraphrasing – um, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” That’s the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.”
Alvy Singer

What makes Annie Hall so special?  It is not revolutionize the industry, or change the way people view films.  It did not experiment with various camera techniques or expand audiences’ minds with new concepts.  What it did do was have heart, by the bucket load. That sounds cliché but that is really what it has going for it.  Well, that and sharp, witty, dialogue, combined with endearing narration from the writer-director-star, Woody Allen.

The film tells the story of Alvy Singer (Allen), a moderately successful and highly neurotic comedian who lives in New York.  He walks its streets with an ambivalence that is broken up by his devotion to movies and his disdain for his intellectual inferiors, which is practically everyone, atleast in his opinion.

But this pattern of floating through life is disturbed when, while playing tennis, he meets the titular Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).  Annie is a younger naïve, less cynical, woman that shares Alvy’s neurosis but lacks his general contempt for others.  Most importantly though, she is right for Alvy at his current stage of life.

Alvy is a strange character.  Of course, he is still a Woody Allen alter-ego that is always present in an Allen film, but he is more complete than most of Allen’s other characters.  He lives as his own entity, and although he shares some of the same qualities as his real-life counterpart, he is his own man.

Alvy is not burdened by the constant need to tell jokes.  He does do this, because he is a stand up comic, but he does so as Alvy, not Allen.  Jokes told are not for the audience’s benefit, but for the characters to which he is speaking.  Of course the trademark “camera aside” narrative that is a constant mechanism of Allen films is present, but even these are used less to humour the audience and more to allow us to understand just who Alvy is.

This is what makes this film different.  The audience is given Allen’s deadpan neurosis, humour, and general wittyness, without having to sacrifice the character development and depth that some of Allen’s other work is missing.

As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that Alvy has outgrown the stage in his life in which Annie is right for him.  More importantly Annie outgrows the stage in her life where the corrupting force of Alvy is right for her.

While in California, hoping to advance her career beyond singing in nightclubs, Annie comments to Alvy that it is clean in LA.  A simple enough suggestion, but it is met with an archetypical Alvy line, “That’s because they don’t throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows.”  Alvy is a cynical man, incapable of letting the small details go, and even more incapable of seeing the bigger details.

This is perhaps the reason that women are perfect for him based on stages of his life, rather than matters of character.  The big things that should draw people together are apparitions to Alvy, and the idiosyncrasies are mountains.

Ultimately Alvy is impervious to change.  He can’t enjoy a nice evening as long as some guy somewhere is starving, and while that may seem noble, it is actually just an excuse for his own neurosis.

Strangely, Alvy does come off as likable.  He points an accusing finger at himself and all his shortcomings before anyone else can, and this somehow vindicates the fact that these faults exist.  This is what makes Annie, a complete character.  Initially she is charmed by Alvy the same way that most are charmed by a moderately self deprecating, witty, person that is able to make them laugh.  However, unlike the audience, Annie is forced to deal with this person for more than two hours.

Knowing Alvy Singer would be an exercise in constant frustration.  Dating him, as The Social Network might say, would be like dating a stair master.  But watching him date, is an exercise in good humour and heartbreaking honesty.

Annie Hall is a rare film that would be entertaining if it was a radiobroadcast.  This is the quality of Allen’s writing and a testament to the delivery given by himself and Keaton.


#33 One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

“I’m not just talking about my wife, I’m talking about my LIFE, I can’t seem to get that through to you. I’m not just talking about one person, I’m talking about everybody. I’m talking about form. I’m talking about content. I’m talking about interrelationships. I’m talking about God, the devil, Hell, Heaven. Do you understand… FINALLY”

Milos Foreman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest takes every opportunity to unnerve, and alienate the viewer.

The film tells the story of McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a con who pretends to be crazy in an attempt to get out of working for the remainder of the prison sentence he is serving for statutory rape.

Unfortunately for McMurphy, he is sent to a mental institution that is the home of the particularly vindictive nurse Ratchet (Louise Fletcher).

McMurphy’s antics are harmless enough initially.  Antics such as cheating in basketball games and attempting to stage a coup of the mental institution’s meetings are brushed off by the staff.  But, as tensions begin to grow between McMurphy and nurse Ratchet, small acts of defiance become simply not enough.

McMurphy, quickly escalates his escapades to include grand theft auto (and grand theft boat), knowing that his time at the institution is coming to a close.

Operating under the faulty assumption that when his jail sentence was over, he would be released from his new padded wall home.  Unfortunately for him, this is not the case.  He can be held as long as the medical professionals feel he is a danger to society.

The realization of this eventually drives McMurphy to a level of recklessness that nearly tears apart his mental fabric.

Right from the opening credits this film makes the viewers skin crawl.  The score, which could best be described as two cats fighting over a violin will make you squirm.

This is further continued by the film’s brilliant cinematography.  Haskell Wexler, the film’s cinematographer, does an amazing job of keeping a tight and narrow focus on his subjects, almost paralleling the tunnel vision of the asylum’s patients.  Unrelentingly this device makes the viewer feel as uncomfortable as Jack Nicholson’s snarky smile does.

Nicholson’s performance, as are all the performances, is spot on.  His character is not a likable one, but he is sympathetic.  You don’t want to cheer for him, but you don’t want to see him fail either.  This is a testament, obviously to the film’s direction, but also to Nicholson’s performance.

This film really is quite the achievement.  Every aspect of it is executed with expert precision, and most importantly, it is entertaining.

#32 The Godfather Part II

“You know when I was your age, I went out to fishing with all my brothers and my father, and everybody. And I was, I was the only one who caught a fish. Nobody else could catch one except me. You know how I did it? Every time I put the line in the water I said a Hail Mary and every time I said a Hail Mary I caught a fish. You believe that? It’s true, that’s the secret. You wanna try it when we go out on the lake?”
Fredo Corleone

The Godfather part II, much like its predecessor, deals with the slow corruption of Michael Corleone.  While the film carries with it a feel that Michael may eventually realize the error of the ruthlessness he gained at the end of the first film, there is, in fact, very little change in Michael at all. Except that is, his increased fall into depravity.

Unlike his father, Michael does not suffer from compassion, love or even honour.  Anything that Michael does that could be interpreted as one of these things is actually just his own way of preventing himself from feeling any sort of discomfort.

“I don’t want anything to happen to him while my mother’s alive.”  Michael says, of his brother Fredo.  These are perhaps the only words that Pacino needed to speak in the film.

The man who had once planned to legitimize his family had now crossed a very serious line.  Michael had killed before, but this is so much worse.  With this sentence Michael proves that he values other people’s lives less than values looks of approval from his mother.

Michael is not the sympathetic character that his father was.  Vito would kill ruthlessly, but he would never not kill to save face.  Some how this is worse though.  Perhaps this is because we get to see Vito play with his grandkids that we are willing to forgive him his trespasses, but whatever it was that allows audiences to sympathize with Vito for generations was not present in Michael.

Michaels’s story is not a circular story the way that Vito’s is.  Vito lost his son to a war, and to his country, but he gained his son with a bullet.  Michael loses everyone, save those that are paid to occupy his proximity, but what is really sad about Michael is that nothing so important as a war steels those close to him away.  Michael’s friends and family are not pulled away from him.  Rather, they are pushed.  They leave because anything is better than his presence.  Sadly for Michael, not even a bullet will be able to return these people to him.

Coppola realizes this fact about his character though and does not try to sway the audience’s sympathy.  Michael is wrong, and, unlike his father, he is not meant to be felt sorry for.

Coppola does a lot well in this film.  It is paced, as any Coppola film is, slowly, but this allows the story to play out in a natural way.  Pages weren’t cut in pre-production because the studio was afraid that the audience would lose interest somewhere in the second act.  If there is any criticism towards the actual direction of the film, it would have to come from its use of flashbacks.

The film is told in two separate story lines, which are woven together so that the audience isn’t forced to read too much subtitles for any extended period of time.  The main timeline, which occupies three quarters of the film’s run-time focuses on Michael and his plans for the family’s consolidation to Nevada, and expansion to Florida and Cuba.

The other story line gives us a glimpse into who Vito was before he was the “the Godfather.”  This story line takes place in turn of the century New York, is mainly shot to look like a dream sequence, and has its characters speak virtually nothing but a southern dialect of Sicilian.

The flashback sequences accomplish two things.  First, these scenes slow the film down.  They also gnaw away at the tension that the present day story line works so hard to create.  The second thing that these scenes accomplish though is to juxtapose Michael and Vito’s motives.  For Vito, his own personal moral code was more important than anything.  And while this may have conflicted with the silly little “laws of the land,” it always demanded him to do what was right in his eyes.

Unfortunately Coppola could not accomplish this massive contrast without these scenes, and this contrast was necessary to truly understand the levels of depravity to which Michael had so terribly sunk.

Had the Vito story line been released as a forty-five minute short, meant to accompany the “Michael” feature, the film would have perhaps been a better work of art.  The producers may have ripped their hair out looking at the sales differences, but the art would have been a higher quality.

Ultimately though, the somewhat chaotic, and at times confusing layout, of the film (I still don’t know what exactly happened with Cuba) can be forgiven because what is truly important about this film is accomplished.

Michael’s dissent is completed, and it is understood.  The cinematography, the scene in which Fredo is teaching Michael’s son to fish in particular, dictates that nothing is more important to the world than Fredo, and, when he is finally killed, Michaels transformation is complete.

The film does do a lot right, and it saves the best for last.  If nothing else, the final scene of the film is worth sticking around for.  As the Camera slowly pans in on Michael’s face, a face which, do to a third timeline flashback, still contains all it’s innocence, it is hard not to cringe at what the coming years are going to bring for the Corleone family.

#31 The Maltese Falcon

“That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides. ‘Cause as you know, sir, in the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.”
Kasper Gutman

Writer-director John Huston virtually invents the noir genre in his mystery-crime-thriller The Maltese Falcon.

Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) run a private detective firm. When Brigid O’Shaunessey (Mary Astor) offers them a job following a man named Thursby. Both Sam and Miles immediately suspect that Ms. O’Shaunessey is not being completely honest with them, but the 200 dollars that she has offered them for their services is more than enough to pull them away from their better judgment.

Shortly after taking the case though Miles, along with the mysterious Mr. Thursby, turn up dead. This sets the police after Sam, who they think is responsible for one, if not both, of the murders in question.

This leads Sam to try and discover the real reason that both these men were killed. And his start point, is deciphering the mysterious Ms. O’Shaunessey, a woman that he is quickly falling in love with.

The more that Sam finds out about the two murders the more confused he becomes. All he does know is that everything revolves around an ancient black statue of a falcon.

The film has many interlocking plots that make it almost impossible to give any sort of detailed synopsis. That is not a negative thing though. All the little things that are going on do not detract from one another, as is so often the case. Instead, everything that happens in this film is just one more block that builds toward the climactic finale.

This film is great. It is not as artistic as some of the other films on this list, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t innovative. There are no iconic “Vertigo shots,” or impressive dolly movements. This film’s innovation came from its story, its acting, and its razor sharp dialogue.

Nothing can be said about this film though without mentioning Bogart’s performance. He proved himself to be a bona fide star in this film. The camera could not detach itself from him, and for good reason. Much like in Casablanca, his presence alone is captivating, and that presence is in all but one shot of the film.

Even without Bogart’s performance though this film was quite strong. It’s kind of like Indiana Jones but with less action and better dialogue. The plot is just fantastic enough to capture the viewer’s imagination while still maintaining a firm grip on reality. This is not an easy task but it is one that the film tackles head on and succeeds in accomplishing. It is the stuff of which dreams are made (and it gave us that beautiful end line).

#30 Apocalypse Now

“It’s a way we had over here for living with ourselves. We cut ’em in half with a machine gun and give ’em a Band-Aid. It was a lie. And the more I saw them, the more I hated lies.” 

Captain Willard

Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece about the Vietnam War gets under your skin, and stays there. Martin Sheen’s vacant face will burn itself into your retinas, and the haunting last lines will repeat in your head long after the credits have finished.

The film, which opens without any credits, title, or any sort of recognition that you are watching a movie, follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on a top-secret mission, that doesn’t exist and will never exist, to kill Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a rogue special forces agent that has set himself up as a God among the Cambodian people.

Willard, whose motivations are questionable at best, is sent up river with a group of four others and, on his way, experiences nearly everything the Vietnam War has to offer.

The first real action that the group faces is when they encounter Lt. Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), head of the Helicopter Calvary group. With his help they wipe out a Viet Cong outpost and gain access to the Nung River.

On the river, Willard and his troop encounter all sorts of non-threatening action from USO shows, to an encounter with some playboy bunnies. But at they get further down the river, the stakes get higher, and the firefights become more frequent.

As the group arrives at the US’s last outpost it becomes apparent that the further they go into the heart of darkness that is the jungle, the more they will struggle to retain their sanity.

The last encounter Willard and his group have before their confrontation with Colonel Kurtz, is with a French family that has been working since the start of the war to keep a plantation that they own operational. Here Willard is confronted with, not only the futility of the war, but also the abject morality of it.

Until this point the tone of the film is mostly passive and confused, perhaps mirroring the American apathy and misinformed nature of the American people during this time. However, as soon as Willard’s ship passes into Cambodia, and the group is finally forced to confront Colonel Kurtz, the film grips the viewer and refuses to let go.

The moment Brando appears on screen the film becomes his. Every movement, every word, every shadow that comes across his face, is perfect.

Brando’s performance though, does not overshadow Sheen’s, which caries the first three hours of the film (yah, first three hours). Sheen is cold, detached, and nearly perfect. But the performances are not what should attract people to this film.

Coppola, whose interference I was not a fan of in The Godfather, dedicated so much of himself to this film, and it paid off. Every shot is meticulously planned. Close ups of actors’ faces are never just close-ups. They are haunting examples of the effects of horror on the human psyche, or the duality of man.

Even themes that would seem cliché normally seem fresh and new in this film. This is due to the fact that these themes do not exist in dialogue or self-righteous narration. Instead they are displayed visually. This lets the viewer discover these themes for his or her self, and the result is nothing short of moving.

Ultimately this film can be talked about as a masterpiece without even touching on the performances of Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, and Laurence Fishburne. If that’s not a tribute to just how good this film is, I don’t know what is.  I’ll leave you with this monologue.

“I’ve seen horrors… horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that… but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror… Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies! I remember when I was with Special Forces… seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember… I… I… I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn’t know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it… I never want to forget. And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God… the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men… trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love… but they had the strength… the strength… to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us.”

#29 Double Indemnity

“How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?”
Walter Neff

Billy Wilder displays his versatility as a director in his noir tale of love, insurance, and murder.

Walter Neff (Fred Macmurray) is an intelligent, hard working insurance salesman. His life seems to be going well, that is until he travels to the Dietrichson house to re-sell Mr. Dietrichson auto insurance. But when he arrives Mr. Dietrichson is not home, So Walter is forced to deal with Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), a woman that he is instantly attracted to.

Walter and Phyllis banter for a while, and soon, Phyllis is the only thing on Walter’s mind. So when Phyllis asks Walter to meet with her, he is all too willing to blow off his previous engagements in order to oblige.

At this meeting Phyllis expresses her uneasiness regarding the safety of her husband. She claims that his job is dangerous yet, due to superstition, he refuses to get accident insurance. Phyllis proceeds to ask Walter if there is a way to insure her husband without him knowing it. Despite her pout, and Walter’s attraction to her, Walter quickly sees that Phyllis’s request is actually a murder plot.

Instead of reporting her though, Walter decides to help Phyllis in her plot to take out an insurance policy and kill her husband.

The task is not as simple as it would seem though. Working at Walter’s company is Barton Keyes (Edward Robinson), a manager that has developed a sixth sense for dealing with insurance fraud.

Still Walter is confident that he can pull of the perfect murder. His bravado is so great in fact that he attempts to walk away with double the maximum payout by capitalizing on the double indemnity clause in the insurance policy.

The murder, and the claim, goes off with out a hitch. But when Walter’s boss starts to get a hunch that Mr. Dietrichson’s death was no accident, Walter quickly feels the walls of his freedom closing in around him.

He quickly engages in a struggle against Phyllis, his boss, and even his own morality if he hopes to escape the long arm of the law.

This film depends heavily on how well the viewer receives Fred Macmurray. There are very few shots that do not include him, and most of the dialogue is either delivered by him, or plays of something he has said.

This can be troubling. MacMurray holds the screen well enough, but something about his demeanor can be off-putting in this film. This works a little on some levels, but does not on others. In scenes that Walter portrays himself as a romantic interest for Phyllis, or a close friend to Keyes, his “side mouth smile” and piercing eyes undermine the character. In scenes that Walter is a killer, adulterer, and insurance con man, his demeanor is perfect.

The rest of the cast just sort of fall into place around MacMurray. Every other actor serves solely to put the spotlight on the lead, and these understated performances were exactly what the film needed.

The film’s strongest asset though is not its performances, it is its narration. MacMurray is at his best, as is the film, when he is narrating. His strong, melodic, voice sets the mood for the film perfectly. And despite any of the other shortcomings he may have had, his voice made him perfect for this role.

The film is an enjoyable watch. It is dark, but it’s still enjoyable. This is no doubt the subtle touch of Billy Wilder, the expert director behind Some Like It Hot and Sunset Blvd. With this film Wilder expands his already impressive resume. Like a chameleon behind the scenes Wilder is able to adapt his style to suit whatever the film needs, and the result is a taut, well told story of murder, deception, and the stupidity of infatuation.

#28 All About Eve

“Funny business, a woman’s career – the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman. You’re something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you’re not a woman. Slow curtain, the end.”
Margo Channing

Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s superb story of betrayal and ambition lights the screen ablaze with fire and music thanks to its intriguing plot, brilliant performances, and razor sharp dialogue.

When a supposedly naïve Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) gets a golden ticket to meet her stage idol Margo Channing (Bette Davis), her sweet nature and unspeakable good qualities quickly earn her a spot in the actress’ heart.

Eve quickly lands a job as Margo’s personal assistant, and eventually begins to impress Margo with her hard work and attentiveness. It would seem impossible to come up with anything negative to say about Eve.

As their time together grows though, Margo starts to notice certain things about Eve. Eve begins to mimic the characteristics, movements, and clothing of Margo. At this point the “Honeymoon” ends.

Margo’s insecurities about her age (40), and her looks, quickly get transferred onto Eve. Margo, much to the chagrin of her friends, begins to belittle Eve publicly, an act that Eve accepts with great humility.

It is at this point of the story that there is a nearly seamless transition in the mood. This occurs when Eve becomes Margo’s understudy, a choice that would seem obvious due to the fact that she has seen every performance of this play, and Margo misses a performance, giving Eve the opportunity to shine, even if only for one night.

Eve’s performance is met with quite a good reception, and no one feels stronger about it than Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), a well-known theatre reviewer.

Dewitt wants to run an article on Eve for his paper, so he convinces her to come to dinner with him. During the interview Eve breaks her sugary sweet character and says something negative about her mentor Margo.

The result of this is a purging of any friendship that had once existed between Eve and Margo, and the destruction of virtually every friendship she has.

It is at this point that Eve suggests that she be given the part in Lloyd Richards’ (Hugh Marlowe), a long time collaborator of Margo’s, new play. When Margo backs out of the project Eve finally has her chance to shine, but her true character is revealed, and it is not a pleasant one.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s (Writer, Director) vision for this film was crystal clear. From the first minute of the film it grabs hold of you and pulls you through the ups-and-downs of its characters lives.

The acting is superb (there were five Oscar nods for acting alone in this flic), and despite the fact that there are arguably five main characters, each actor is able to establish his or herself as a dominant screen presence. For some indication on just how good the acting is in this film one should note that Marilyn Monroe’s performance was overshadowed to the point that she was almost unnoticeable, and that is not a knock on her at all.

Another area in which the film succeeds is its ability to tell a story from women’s perspectives, while still appealing to men, and never once having to resort to sex. Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, and Celeste Holm all share the role of lead, and battle for the attention of the viewer, without ever detracting from one another.

The truly great thing about this film though, is its dialogue. Joseph L. Mankiewicz deserves all the credit in the world for his Wilde like word play. Nearly every line in this film is quotable. The characters speak with a profound sense of purpose that makes dinner parties feel like war rooms, and theatre stages feel like presidential podiums.

This is a great movie as a whole. But as a literary work it is a masterpiece that should be experienced by everyone.

#27 High Noon

“People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do anything about it. Maybe because down deep they don’t care. They just don’t care.”
Martin Howe

Fred Zinnemann’s real time western is labeled a western for people who don’t like westerns. This could not be a more apt review. The film substitutes gunfights for verbal battles while exploring the psychology of an apathetic nation. The only problem is that it is not that entertaining.

The film focuses (almost exclusively) on Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper), a tough as nails Marshall that is retiring on his wedding day in order to appease his wife (Grace Kelly).

But when Frank Miller, a notorious outlaw that Kane had sent to the hangman’s gallows 5 years ago, is granted parole, Will Kane will have to put his life, and his marriage on the line if he wants to save his town.

Kane quickly devises a plan to round up a posse of townspeople, make them honorary deputies, and lead an assault on Miller and his three henchmen. The only problem with this plan is that no one in town wants to stand with Kane and fight.

Everyone seems to have his own reason for not wanting to fight. Some are afraid, others (selfish people I think they’re called) would like to see a criminal like Miller in town, and some are just simply apathetic.

Ultimately Kane is forced to face the group of four outlaws by himself if he wants to save his town and create a fresh start for himself and his wife.

The performances are all fine. Gary Cooper is an engaging lead, and Grace Kelly held her own in her feature film debut, yet there is nothing outstanding about them. Their chemistry was minimal at best (perhaps this is due to a real life affair that the two engaged in while filming), and the story wasn’t torrid enough to carry these performances.

The score, which has received quite a bit of critical acclaim, underscored the mood of the film. It was overplayed and because of this whenever it intruded on scenes (usually dramatic highpoints) it felt cliché and laughable.

This film is definitely not a popcorn flic. It progresses slowly and there is very little clever banter to keep the viewer engaged and, with the exception of the last eight minutes, there is very little action.

The film is not a total waste though. It may not exist for my entertainment but there is a crowd that will appreciate it. More importantly though, this film was not made to be a piece of entertainment, it was made to make a statement.

To understand the importance of this film you must understand the time in which it was made.

After World War II a drastic change took hold of the United States. The Soviet Union was no longer an ally, they were now the enemy. This transition brought with it fear and propaganda against all things red. One of the leaders in this fight was the House Un-American Activities Committee, a group that blacklisted people whose attitudes were deemed to be “Un-American” or “Communistic.”

This film is a direct response, and an allegorical outcry, against the apathy, and acceptance, displayed by Hollywood towards this movement. Zinnemann was clearly tired of propaganda trumping reason and he showed it in this film.

Timelessness was cast aside in favour of timeliness in this film, something that the film recognizes by playing out in real time. For this reason it is not the most entertaining picture for modern audiences. Still, its historical importance, and not just in the film industry, cannot be disputed.

For more info on the House Un-American Activities Community click here.

#26 Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

“You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading The Land of the Free in history books. Then they get to be men they forget even more. Liberty’s too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I’m free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn’t, I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that.”
Jefferson Smith

Frank Capra and James Stewart team up to bring the world Mr Smith Goes to Washington.

When an unnamed state’s senator (Montana) dies unexpectedly, the remaining senator and governor devise a plan to get Jefferson Smith (James Stewert), a popular leader of the boy rangers (boy scouts), elected to senate hoping that his small town mentality will allow them to manipulate him into voting however they want him to on various bills.

Mr. Smith quickly makes an impression in Washington when his overqualified secretary Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), decides that she is tired of wasting her talents baby-sitting an under-qualified senator. She decides to ambush Smith with a gaggle of reporters in exchange for a nice little bribe.

Mr. Smith, who is unused to dealing with the media, is manhandled by the various members of the press and is represented negatively during his first day at the senate.

Smith immediately begins a one man wrecking crew to seek physical vengeance for the acts that the various journalists have committed against him. This leads Smith into a bar that is predominantly filled with members of the press. They quickly end his rampage by pointing out that, while they may have taken advantage of him, this is only an indication of how unqualified he is for the job. They even suggest to him that his inexperience is why he was elected.

Smith is immediately humbled. He confronts his fellow senator, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), who, in an attempt to distract Smith, suggest that he work on proposing a new bill as a way of showing his experience.

Smith retains the help of his overqualified assistant and immediately begins work on a bill that would see a national camp opened, and paid for, by the boys of America. But when his plans interfere with a bill that Paine had already submitted, Smith runs into problems.

It seems that the bill that Paine has submitted is not exactly on the up-and-up, he, along with the State’s governor, stand to make quite a bit of money off of it.

Smith discovers this, and is about to bring the transgression before senate, but before he can Paine forges several documents and discredits Smith as a senator guilty of graft.

The senate quickly becomes a battleground between Smith and Paine that threatens to tear apart the senate. It is Smith, integrity, and the truth, in a battle against Paine, the governor, and miles of red tape, in a battle that will decide whether lies or truth will rule the senate.

This movie was tagged as Capra’s greatest work when it was released, and for good reason. Capra displayed his skill with a surgeon’s precision. He lets the film develop at it’s own pace and this is so important. The start of the film, which could have been unwatchable had it not been for the genuine performance of Stewert, sets the pace of the film perfectly. As the Story progresses, so too does the pace, eventually leading to a climactic end that gives the viewer very little time to react to what has happened and demands to be thought about long after the credits have rolled.

As skilled of a director as Capra was, this movie would not have been possible without the performance of James Stewert. While the film was slow his nice-guy demeanour and stuttering voice keep the viewer glued to the film. When the film picks up, little exists besides what is on the screen.

This is the truly great thing that the film accomplishes. While it is being viewed it is an exercise in external minimalism. The problems of the world seem to disappear, and the only two things that matter are the misplaced hair falling on James Stewert’s sweaty forehead and his ever-increasing raspy voice.

When the film is over though, so to is its experiment with minimalism. It holds a magnifying glass to the corruption and greed that plague the political landscape. One of the senators of Montana walked out of this film’s premier because he felt it negatively portrayed his profession. Adversely, the film was banned by many European dictatorships for fear that it would show the affective nature of democracy.

This film was controversial, and probably still should be, but it is also an entertaining ride. It is hard not to get captured in the idealism of the naïve Jefferson Smith, and it is even harder not to recognize the importance of his character, just as it is hard not to recognize the importance of this film.

I’m going to end on another quote by Mr. Smith…

“Just get up off the ground, that’s all I ask. Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see. There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. And, uh, if that’s what the grownups have done with this world that was given to them, then we’d better get those boys’ camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it’s not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!”

#25 To Kill A Mockingbird

“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus Finch

If there’s one thing that American writers do well it is to tell their story in an almost autobiographical style, change people’s names, and call it fiction. Harper Lee is no exception. Thankfully, some things happened in her life that were more entertaining than painting a fence (Why Twain…why?). With that hang up aside, I did actually enjoy this film.

Scout Finch (Mary Badham) is a six-year-old girl who is just about to discover the word in all its both horrific, and redeeming qualities. It is the last summer before she is to attend school, and, though her life is quite carefree, it is quickly becoming apparent that the next year of her life will change her forever.

When Scout’s father Atticus (Gregory Peck) is asked to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man who has been accused of rape, the world begins to close in quickly on Scout. She is now forced to deal with the horrors of the world that had previously eluded her.

This is quite a shock to Scout and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford). Previously, the darkest thing that had existed in their world was Arthur “Boo” Radley (Robert Duvall), an intellectually stunted shut-in neighbor whose reputation in the neighborhood had garnered much scandal.

As the trial draws closer, hostility towards the Finch family reaches a boiling point. Prejudice quickly blinds the town of Monroeville, and Atticus quickly assumes the role of the town pariah.

As the trial moves on two things become clear: Tom is not guilty of the crime that he has been accused of, and it does not matter. It is up to Atticus, the American Film Institute’s all time greatest hero, to prove Tom’s innocence at all costs.

The film is a delight to watch. Scout, is an engaging protagonist. Discovering depression-era Alabama through the eyes of an optimistic six-year-old is an effective tool that creates a genuine mood of discovery. This was aided by the superb performance of Mary Badham who, with excellent direction, was able to portray Lee’s fictional counterpart in a way that was deserving of her Oscar nod.

Nothing can be said about the acting in this film though without addressing Gregory Peck. Much like Bogart in Casablanca, or Brando in On The Waterfront, Peck has a certain indefinable quality about him in this film. It is nearly impossible to look away from him whenever he is on the screen.

It is nearly impossible not to feel nostalgic as Scout and Jem run out to greet Atticus when he returns from work, or are scolded for being obviously wrong, perhaps this is due to the fact that Peck reminds me of my own dad (something that Lee, myself, and quite a few other people have in common).

By far the most intriguing aspect of this film is Atticus’ integrity. The fact that he defended a man that no one else would is a testament to this, but there are so many other examples.

When Atticus “takes care” of a mad dog, any notion of that his children had about him being too old for action was eradicated, but this is not what earned him their respect. When a man spits in Atticus’s face, Atticus does not retaliate, he simply wipes his face, and walks away. This is not an indication of his cowardice though. Instead it is a beacon of his strength. But Atticus is not done teaching his children lessons there.

Atticus does not simply tell his children what to do. He lives in a way that he expects his children to, and if there is any lesson that needs to be learned by today’s society from this film, it is that. When Scout asks Atticus why he is defending Tom when everyone else says it is wrong Atticus responds with a simple answer. He tells her that if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be able to hold his head up high, or tell her and Jem not to do anything.

Atticus’s complete lack of hypocrisy, and his stern integrity, is what make him the greatest hero in American film history.

The story is well known, and important, today, yesterday, and tomorrow. It is not the most entertaining film, but the characters are engaging enough to keep the attention of the viewer. The titular metaphor…I don’t think it needs to be explained.  And the writing, with a few not-so-important omissions, remains quite true to the novel. It is definitely well one and deserves to be watched by everyone.