Top 100 Movie Review: #72 – Ben-Hur (1959)

The Stock Dropped With Each Passing Moment.

Why didn’t the movie end shortly after the chariot race!!!

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Charlton Heston with his team of horses: Altair, Antares, Aldebaran and Rigel.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #72/100
Awards: Nominated for 12 winning 11: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, and on and on and on…
My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

As television started to take away potential movie goers, Hollywood decided that they had to do stuff that television couldn’t: epics. The 1950s and early 60s produced a slew of these films (Spartacus, Lawrence of Arabia, El Cid, The Ten Commandments) and the style was defined by length, scale, scope, and production.

Ben-Hur encapsulates all of this. The sets, scenes, and clothing all beautifully intricate and worthy of the epic genre. Unfortunately, the movie runs way too long. The apex of this film is the chariot race, a scene that even upon recalling gives me goose bumps, but then there is still another hour and half left afterward. As I watched the clock tick away, my rating began to slip — all the way from a perfect five to a solid three.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #67 – Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Old Movies Can Still Thrill

This movie might not have action in a contemporary sense, but neat ideas and slight of hand can cause immense thrill — proven by this classic.

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Old Blue eyes himself as the main character, Captain Bennett Marco

American Film Institute Ranking: #67/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for best supporting actress (Angela Lansbury)
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

Old movies are better, so the argument goes, because they had to be creative: they didn’t have the get-out-of-jail-card of special effects like today, so they had to rely on the innovation that came from imagination alone, making magic out of thin air.

Evidence Exhibit A: The Manchurian Candidate.

This movie is a political thriller, but there is very little “action” within the frames. What grips you and keeps you interested isn’t the flash and sizzle of shoot-outs but the tension and puzzle of what is real and what isn’t.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #30 – Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

The Case Study of Greed

Humphrey Bogart’s character epitomizes what can befall us all: the complete perversion of our sensibilities by unchecked avarice. 

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Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart), and Howard (Walter Huston).

American Film Institute Ranking: #30/100
Academy Awards: Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Jim Huston and Walter Huston — a father-son combo.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

It was obvious early on what this movie was going to be about: Greed = Bad.

By showing the cards early, I didn’t know if I would be interested, especially if the moral teaching was going to be heavy-handed. My concerns were ungrounded and the movie addressed them with a counterintuitive solution. Instead of using fast-pace or subtlety, Jim Houston takes the approach of a staggered walk, slowly allowing Fred C. Dobbs (played by Humphrey Bogart) descend into is madness over the course of a couple hours.

What this does is make you experience every slow, twisted turn into immorality. This slow-train wreck of a nose-dive makes you squirm, really understanding what greed can do, exceeding my low expectations of what I thought would be an after school special delivery.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #2 – Casablanca (1942)

Play it Again, Sam.

Okay – I know that quote never happened, but what did happen is Hollywood’s template that it still uses today: love story, playful characters, happy ending, good always prevails.

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Sam (Dooley Wilson) , Rick (Humphrey Bogart)  and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman).

American Film Institutes Ranking: #2/100
Awards: Nominated for eight winning three: Picture, Director and Writing/Screenplay.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

This movie.

From the first moments in Rick’s cafe, I realized that I was going to really enjoy this one. What Hollywood does so well is pulling the wool over our eyes. The movie’s plot and characters feigned, pushing against the boundaries of reality, but time and time again we find the magic produced so enticing we suspend our thinking minds and tap into our imaginations.

This doozy of a WWII flick combines anything you can consider to be Hollywood and does it at a high level. The dialogue, the characters, the setting, and the plot all swept me up, transporting me to a time that no longer exists (and truthfully never did) for one of the best films of all time.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #3 – The Godfather (1972)

The Offer We Just Can’t Refuse

A front row seat to the underbelly of Mafia crime, the movie about the Corleone family has plenty of malevolent retribution to enjoy.

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Marlon Brando who won Best Actor as Vito Corleone.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #3/100
Awards: Nominated for eleven awards with one being revoked and winning Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

This is one of the heavy hitters of film, obvious by how high it is ranked (#3!) but also by its universal acclaim. Unfortunately, I’m not 100% on the bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong. I find this movie very good and enjoyable, but I’m not quite sure I would put it in my top five movies of all time.

There is something intoxicating about seeing the inner workings of the mafia, and Francis Ford Coppola’s movie does a wonderful job of characterization — there are rememberable people, interactions, and changes amongst the cast over the course of the movie. The fact that no one is safe from the violence adds an additional level of intrigue, never knowing who might be the next one to “sleep with the fishes.”

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Top 100 Movie Review: #38 – Double Indemnity (1944)

The Walls Are Closing In. 

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Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray as Phyllis Dietrichson and Walter Neff

American Film Institute Ranking: #38/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for seven, including best picture, director and actress, but losing all seven.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

The story goes that this was a hard movie to get approved to make — those in charge  felt like the script’s content and story were too maniacal and didn’t pass the Movie Picture Production Code for moral standards. The characters are indeed awful, and there was more than one time that it made my skin crawl. The set up is a a classic reiteration of trying to commit the perfect murder to collect on an insurance policy, but this time it is a scheme between an unhappy spouse (Phyllis Dietrichson) and an insurance agent (Walter Neff) to knock off her husband. Walter Neff knows how other people have gotten caught in fraudulent claims and comes up with the perfect plan: have his death appear as if it happened on the train and collect double on his insurance policy, otherwise known as double indemnity.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #12 – Sunset Blvd. (1950)

“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

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Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, an old washed-up silent movie star.

American Film Institute Ranking: #12/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for eleven, won three including best original screenplay but none of the biggies.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

I really enjoyed this movie. A lot.

There are a lot of different angles, and it’s all packed into a tight presentation: a critique of hollywood; an unintentional period piece; purposeful inside references; old vs. new. The end result is a poignant insight into a time long gone, showing the underbelly of show biz that has been there since the very beginning.

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