It is January, and we are deep into Covid time. The infection numbers are up, and now, more than ever, is a good time to stay home. Cook, bake, play games, including chess, as my 12 year old granddaughter has just taken on; cribbage, a favourite at home; or scrabble; then there is golf, out in the Covid-free fresh air; and of course, there is TV. I have access to Netflix, more recently to Amazon Prime, and a collection of DVDs, all adding up to hours of mindless (but thankful) diversion.
Hoping to make your lives easier, I thought I would provide a list of my “20 Favourite Movies.” This is not movie criticism, but rather favouritism. What makes a favourite movie you might ask? A great cast helps, as does great writing, and perhaps an idea outside the box. Above all, my favourite movies are those I want to see time after time.
With the various streaming and “on-demand” services, it should not be difficult to latch onto any of the movies listed. Here they are:
“My Man Godfrey”
There is the 1936 version, and then the 1957 re-make. Some movies should never be re-made, and this is the proof. “My Man Godfrey” stars William Powell and Carole Lombard (pictured), supported by a cast of some of Hollywood’s most unforgettable character actors.
According to the reviewer on the Roger Ebert website, (“Godfrey,”) “as one of the treasures of 1930s screwball comedy, doesn’t merely use Lombard and Powell, it loves them. She plays Irene, a petulant kid who wants what she wants when she wants it. (Powell’s) Godfrey employs an attentive posture and a deep, precise voice that bespeaks an exact measurement of the situation he finds himself in. These two actors, who were briefly married (1931-33) before the film was made in 1936, embody personal style in a way that is (to use a cliché that I mean sincerely) effortlessly magical.”
I have sat through “Godfrey” countless times and it never wears. Eugene Palette, Mischa Auer, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Alan Mowbray and Jean Dixon make up the perfect supporting cast.
Sadly, and at the zenith of her acting career, Carole Lombard was killed in a plane crash, five years after “Godfrey.” She was just 33 years old.
I wrote in February, 2018, about the passing of Albert Finney. It was was the movie “Tom Jones” that confirmed Finney as a movie icon. “Tom Jones” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning four, including for best picture and director. The movie was based on an 18th century novel by Henry Fielding.
What is truly entertaining about “Tom Jones” – and it still entertains 57 years later – are the performances, notably by Finney, of course; Hugh Griffiths (who almost steals the movie); Joyce Redman (below, and who together with Albert Finney creates what has to be the most erotic dinner sequence in movie history), and others.
“Tom Jones” was directed by Tony Richardson, who, while briefly married to Vanessa Redgrave, fathered Joely and Natasha Richardson. Natasha, in turn married Liam Neeson, but died in 2009 after a skiing accident in Quebec.
There are critics who opt for “The Godfather Part II” as the better movie, but I will take this one, as it was transformative. Oscars for best picture and best actor (Marlon Brando, who apparently read his lines off cue cards, and who famously rejected his Oscar); and what amounted to a breakthrough role for Al Pacino. Pacino subsequently won an Oscar, two Tony awards and two Emmy awards, one of a handful of performers to win the “Triple Crown” of acting.
“The Godfather” re-vitalized Brando’s movie acting career. He followed with “Last Tango in Paris,” “Superman,” Apocalypse Now,” and a movie, lesser known, “The Freshman.” “The Freshman,” also starring Mathew Broderick, is a personal favourite. Brando, as Vito Corleone, “The Godfather,” below.
”No Country for Old Men”
I am a real fan of the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan), whose movies span comedy (“Raising Arizona”), dark comedy (“Fargo”), farces (“Burn after Reading”), westerns (“True Grit”) and dramas. The brothers produce, write, direct and edit their movies, with hardly a misstep. I recommend all of the preceding, with a special nod to “Fargo,” which spawned the FX/Netflix series of the same name.
My favourite of all the Coen movies is the thriller, “No Country for Old Men.” It is a chilling movie that promises to test one’s nerves, as it follows the movements of the psychopathic killer played by Javier Bardem. The movie won three Oscars – best picture, adapted screenplay, and direction for the Coen brothers – plus an Oscar for Bardem as best supporting actor. Javier Bardem in the following, with a hair-do that is quite unnerving in itself.
It was 1977 when “Star Wars” came out and we went as a family. We were not too far into the movie when our sons, then 3 and 4 years old respectively, climbed onto my lap. I wouldn’t say they were frightened, but maybe feeling a little cautious. “Star Wars” is on the favourites list because it was also transformative, truly creating the genre. Fans of “Star Trek,” which pre-dated “Star Wars” by a decade, might dispute that, but with “Star Trek” you had a guy with pointy ears and William Shatner; while “Star Wars” gave you Chewbacca, Harrison Ford, and special effects that were entirely believable. After watching “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” I opted out, feeling no real need to view the last 6 sequels/prequels.
”Raiders of the Lost Ark”
While on the subject of Harrison Ford, he also starred in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” released in 1981; directed by Steven Spielberg, based on a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Lucas was the main man (writer, director, producer) behind “Star Wars,” and his genius spilled over into “Raiders.” He also wrote and directed “American Graffiti” and THX 1138. In 2012, Lucas sold his company, Lucasfilm, to the Walt Disney Company for a little more than $4 billion.
”Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
Just never seems to get old, even though it came out in 1969. Mr. Newman is no longer with us, while Mr. Redford is, having turned 84. George Roy Hill directed “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” then directed Newman and Redford in 1973’s “The Sting.” Both movies are hugely entertaining, but my preference would be Butch and Sundance. And it was during a visit to Sundance, Utah, where I first noticed this image on a poster of Redford/Newman as Sundance/Butch (which I had referenced in any earlier blogue). And again I say, “how cool are these guys?”
Katherine Ross played Etta Place, Robert Redford’s love interest. You will also remember her from “The Graduate” and “The Stepford Wives.” Ms. Ross will turn 81 early in 2021. She is married to Sam Elliott (both pictured below).
The 1955 version, not the 2004 re-make (with Tom Hanks, regrettably, as he should have known better). The “Ladykillers” featured a killer cast, with Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom (the latter two would re-unite for the “Pink Panther” series), Cecil Parker, and others, not the least of whom was Katie Johnson as the elderly landlady, Mrs. Wilberforce. Katie was 76 at the time, and won the British Film Academy award for best British actress. She pretty much stole the film; quite a feat considering the other cast members. And you could do worse by watching just about anything that Sir Alec Guinness was in – think “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Dr. Zhivago,” the “Star Wars” trilogy, and “Great Expectations,” to name a handful.
”Lawrence of Arabia”
Best picture, best director among other Academy Awards. Probably the most beautifully photographed movie in my memory. In the image below are Anthony Quinn, Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif. Peter O’Toole was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of T. E. Lawrence, and he did not win. He was nominated for performances an additional six times, and did not win. A record.
The movie career of Omar Sharif (born Michel Dimitri Chalhoub) took off after “Lawrence of Arabia.” He was, after all, “Doctor Zhivago.” And to mention, in real life, a world class bridge player. One more note: Alec Guinness appeared in “Lawrence of Arabia” as Prince Faisal. The man was everywhere.
”His Girl Friday”
Cary Grant, possibly at his best ever, stars as newspaper editor Walter Burns in “His Girl Friday,” a re-working of the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur play, “The Front Page.” Rosalind Russell plays Grant’s (Walter’s) ex-wife and reporter Hildy Johnson. In the play, both editor and reporter were men. In a 1974 version of “The Front Page,” Walter and Hildy were played by Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, respectively.
“His Girl Friday” was released in 1940. Remarkably, it received not a single Oscar nomination. Also remarkable, Ms. Russell (pictured above with Mr. Grant) only won the part of Hildy after at least a half dozen actresses – Irene Dunne and Carole Lombard among them – declined to do the movie. Their loss and our gain.
”The Philadelphia Story”
Some things are just better in black and white: “His Girl Friday,” “My Man Godfrey,” Dalmatian dogs, plus “The Philadelphia Story.” Cary Grant again, along with Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey, with Mr. Stewart winning the Oscar for best actor. Donald Ogden Stewart won an Oscar for his screenplay, and in accepting the award, said, “I have no one to thank but myself.”
Brilliant movie, without question. But if I had to choose between “His Girl Friday” and “The Philadelphia Story,” I would go with “Friday,” then make some popcorn and immediately watch “The Philadelphia Story.”
Have you seen “Amelie” yet? I did provide fair warning in a June, 2018 blogue entry, which is paraphrased below.
”There is something about the ladies of France, Audrey Tautou (below) being a case in point. Beauty underscored by a look of innocence, yet with the potential for mischief. Audrey is the heroine of the 2001 film “Amelie.” Nominated for five Academy Awards, winning none, but ranked, at that time, as the greatest box office success in French cinema history.
“Amelie” is one of those movies you sit through with a smile, knowing that you have stumbled upon a gem; not quite knowing what to expect, yet expecting nonetheless to be captivated by Audrey’s portrayal of Amelie. Remarkably, “Amelie” was not screened at the Cannes Film Festival, but was well received pretty much everywhere else. To me, it is a wonderful representation of French cinema. There are lots of layers to this movie – all constructed by Amelie. Most importantly for the viewer, there is Amelie in pursuit of Nino; but more importantly for Amelie, it’s what she does for those around her – whether she is playing cupid for a co-worker; or surreptitiously working to convince her father to travel his way out of his sadness; or gaslighting a store owner to the point where he no longer abuses his employee; and much more.”
I wrote about “The Intouchables” in June of 2018. In the meantime, there have been re-makes in various countries, including the U.S., where the movie was re-named “The Upside” and starred Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart and Nicole Kidman. Not even close to the French version. Here is what I described in 2018:
”Not to be confused with “The Untouchables,” the 1987 movie starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, “The Intouchables” is a French production starring Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy, neither of whom you may know. This is a wonderful movie, with M. Sy as Driss, the care-giver for M. Cluzet, as Phillippe, who is a quadriplegic. The opening scene, with M. Sy driving M. Cluzet at high speeds through the streets of Paris in M. Cluzet’s Maserati, is worthy of any car chase comparison. And the outcome of that scene is a thing of hilarity. M. Sy won the Cesar Award (think French Oscar) for best actor. He seems to me to be an engaging combination of a young Eddie Murphy and Dave Chapelle. M. Cluzet is no slouch either, having won his Cesar in 2007 for the movie “Tell No One.” I was touched by M. Cluzet’s character as he was able to convey so much emotion despite his disability. Above all, he seemed to truly relish the performance of his co-star, M. Sy, who is a dude (below).
Don’t mind the subtitles, as with “Amelie” you will find yourself quickly lost in the charm of the characters. In the image following, Driss takes the wheel of the Maserati, much to the delight of Philippe. I think I want a Maserati.”
”Goodbye Mr. Chips”
There are few movies that actually move me as much as “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” from 1939, with Robert Donat and Green Garson. It tells the story of Chipping, a boarding school teacher who, through a series of events that saw him overcame biases and the passage of time, becomes the school’s headmaster. And it was his love for Ms. Garson’s character, Kathy, in what is surely one of filmdom’s most romantic pairings, that set Chips on a path to reveal his true self, respected and beloved by all. Sadly, Ms. Garson’s character and child die in childbirth, and it is the silent grief expressed by Chips that is so moving. Mr. Donat and Ms. Garson below.
I had seen “Casablanca” countless times, but it wasn’t until I saw it on the big screen, fairly recently, that it finally hit me – that Bergman (Ilsa) truly loved Bogie (Rick)! What had I been thinking? Thinking like a man, obviously. “Casablanca” is my all-time favourite movie. The actors – Bogie, Bergman, Lorre, Rains, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt and Dooley Wilson – formed the most memorable cast. Madeleine Lebeau, who played Rick’s shunned lover, was the last surviving cast member, passing away in 2018 at the age of 92. The whole of “Casablanca” was filmed in southern California. But never mind …
”The Maltese Falcon”
If I had to rank my favourite actors (the guys), I would have Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and William Powell in that order. It is amazing to many that Bogie in fact became a movie star. Not physically imposing (5 feet 8 inches), not particularly handsome, and with a sort of lisp, Bogie nonetheless rose to the top of the Hollywood game. His legacy includes “The African Queen,” “The Caine Mutiny,” The Big Sleep,” and “The Petrified Forest,” among many others. All worth watching, even today. And above all (with the exception of “Casablanca”), I still delight in “The Maltese Falcon,” released in 1941, with John Huston in his directorial debut. Again, great casting, with Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor. The “Maltese Falcon” is to my mind the definitive film noire.
”Midnight In Paris”
If you can get past Woody Allen’s personal life, you may have to admit that the man is a bit of a genius. He writes and directs, and the results are “Annie Hall,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Hannah and her Sisters,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” and more. Woody Allen has been Oscar-nominated 16 times for his original screenplays. Of all his movies, I have most enjoyed “Midnight in Paris,” in which the protagonist is played by Owen Wilson (below), playing a character one would normally expect Woody Allen to play; a screenwriter (imagine that!) slightly neurotic, curious, detached and easily distracted. At the stroke of midnight in Paris, Owen (as Gil) finds himself taken back in time, meeting the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hugely entertaining.
Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were “partners” for a dozen years, and in that time Mia made 11 movies with Woody. The whole thing fell apart when Woody decided to take up with Mia’s daughter (adopted with Andre Previn), married her and they have been together for more than 20 years. Mia, reportedly, was not happy.
”E.T. The Extraterrestrial”
Thank you Steven Spielberg. And Mellisa Mathison. The two co-wrote “E.T.” and Mr. Spielberg directed. The movie won 4 Oscars, mainly of the technical nature, and upon its release in 1982, became the highest grossing movie of all time. I still get a charge out of “E.T.” – a great flick to watch with the grandkids.
Ms. Mathison was married to Harrison Ford until 2004, and she passed away in 2015. E.T. below … somehow lovable.
Tom Hanks has made so many great movies. I loved “Splash,” “Big,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail,” “Cast Away,” “Road to Perdition,” “Saving Private Ryan” (truly one of my favourites, although I find war movies difficult to sit through), “Charlie Wilson’s War” (not necessarily on everyone’s radar, but truly entertaining), and lots more. “Forrest Gump” is a flick that I need to see every few years. And it is Hanks who makes it so watchable. “Forrest Gump” is the story of an intellectually challenged man who, nonetheless finds himself in history-defining situations. Not unlike certain politicians. Six Oscars, including those for acting (Hanks), directing (Robert Zemickis) and best picture. And “Forrest Gump” reminds us that life is indeed like a box of chocolates.
“The Wind and the Lion”
I was having dinner in New York (at the Monkey Bar) and asked the waiter who his favourite celebrity guest was. Without hesitation he said, “Sean Connery.” And my favourite movie starring Sir Sean, is “The Wind and the Lion.” Of the 26 movies featuring 007, only Sean Connery and Daniel Craig truly fit my mind’s image of Jame Bond. “Dr. No,” “Goldfinger” and “From Russia with Love” would be on any number of favourites lists, as might “The Untouchables,” “The Man Who Would Be King,” “Robin and Marian,” and “The Hunt for Red October” the last several offering proof that Sean Connery was much more than a James Bond.
Above, Sean Connery as “the Raisuli” in “The Wind and the Lion.” Oh yes, my waiter’s least favourite celebrity guest? Michael Douglas.
“Schindler’s List” is difficult to view, but it must be viewed. The storyline is familiar to all, and with a stellar cast (Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley), and with director Steven Spielberg’s decision to shoot the film in black and white, the viewer is transported to a truly binary time in history.
Those are my 20 favourites, and I could go on, but will leave it here. Hopefully there will be a gem or two in this list that you may have overlooked or for which you simply needed a reminder; and do not hesitate to send on your own suggestions.