The B+ Movie Guide: Part XVIII
In May of 2012, Colin said I should make a list of movies that need to be seen, because he felt there were huge gaps in what he’d seen, and wanted something to do. The idea was that I’d make up a list, as “homework” for him, and he’d use that as things to watch.
So we came up with a giant list of 500 movies that worked, and Colin went about finishing it. And now that it’s finished, we’re gonna write it up. Because you don’t watch a giant list of movies without documenting that you did it.
We’re going through the entire list, little by little, for posterity’s sake. And here’s the next set:
The Killing (1956)
Kubrick. Not his first movie, but his first major movie. This is a straight noir, and it’s great. Classic of the genre, referenced a bunch later on. It’s Kubrick, just see it. Trust me that it’s essential. (3)
I enjoyed this movie because it was the chance to see more of Elisha Cook Jr. I’ve always thought he was underused in movies, and this is the one where he really got to strut his stuff. Or not, because his character isn’t really the type to strut. But it’s an awesome heist movie where everything goes right until it doesn’t, in that classic noir fashion. I’d probably watch Rififi, then this, then Asphalt Jungle. It’s great to watch, and it’s Kubrick before anyone knew about Kubrick.
The Red Balloon (1956)
Some of the greatest 30 minutes of film ever. The only film without dialogue to win Best Screenplay. And probably the only short, too. I don’t always treat shorts as full entries, but this one won a writing Oscar. And there’s no dialogue. We’re counting it.
And as a palate cleanser, because it’s also just amazing, I always watch, after it, the Don Hertzfeldt “Billy’s Balloon” short, which – I’m just gonna watch it again now, because it’s one of the best animated shorts I’ve ever seen. I can’t not laugh at it. (2)
I had the book that they made using screenshots of the movie when I was I kid. Loved it. Hadn’t seen the movie. Watch the movie! It’s happy, it’s sad, it’s 34 minutes long. It watches like a long Pixar short, which is only to say that I think Pixar probably tried to capture some of what was in this movie. A beautiful film, not just visually.
The Searchers (1956)
I’m honestly baffled at how I could have made it to college without seeing this. This is one of the best, most important American movies ever. I don’t know what Mike’s going to rank this, but it should be a (1) because if you haven’t seen this movie, I don’t know how you can make out what the institution of Hollywood is supposed to be, or understand how it simultaneously fought against and allied itself with the evolving social mores of America.
Everything that Americans were dealing with at the time — much of which we’re still dealing with now — like race, bigotry, gender, victim blaming, the meaning of family, the limits of duty, the perversion of heroism or fear of the other, it’s all here in this absolute Masterpiece-with-a-capital-M. Easily the most complex and difficult character that John Wayne ever played, this is also probably the brightest point of John Ford’s career, which says something.
Mike uses the term “perfect film” pretty often on the blog, and I’ve done by best not to echo him. This is a perfect film. You take any single aspect of this movie — the cinematography, the acting, the direction, the plot themes — and you’ve got a properly good Western. This put everything together just right, and even if it’s not the one I’ll put on first, it’s probably the best film in the genre’s history. I could go on and on about individual scenes from this movie, but you’ve either seen it, in which case I’m preaching to the choir, or you haven’t seen it and you should be renting (or buying) this right now.
The Ten Commandments (1956)
That took a turn.
It’s The Ten Commandments, so obviously you’re going to see a lot of Charlton Heston in a lot of sandals and there will be a lot of Biblical stuff. It’s Cecil B. DeMille, so it has that going for it over Ben Hur, but I still prefer that one. The one thing that this REALLY has over the OTHER Charlton Heston Bible epic is Edward G. Robinson. “Where’s your messiah now, see?!”
Written on the Wind (1956)
Sirk. Perhaps his most purely entertaining movie. This one is loaded with sexual overtones. There are images that happen in this movie that will make you burst out laughing. Specifically with a rocking horse and a model oil derrick. Great supporting work by Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack. And Lauren Bacall and Rock Hudson star. Great movie. Looks gorgeous, too. (3)
Sirk really liked Rock Hudson. I like Rock Hudson too, but the selling point here is Lauren Bacall. She hasn’t been on this list enough (or at all, so far, I think), and she’s super great in this. It’s another one of those movies about rich white people with their rich white people problems. Remember the 1950s, when rich white people problems were still the basis of big movies? Who am I kidding? Nothing has changed. But still, it’s a beautiful movie with colors every bit as good as the other two Sirk films we covered.
The Wrong Man (1956)
This is another great Hitchcock. Very underrated. (Scorsese used some of the early scenes for Taxi Driver.) I love this one, because the whole thing is told from Henry Fonda’s perspective. It’s awesome. It’s really, really good. The idea is, he gets picked up for a crime he didn’t do. And they parade him around town to have people identify him. And he doesn’t know what’s going on. It’s terrific. The scene where they bring him around and the scene where he’s in the jail cell are just terrific. Hitchcock was great at getting to the heart of what drama of a film was and twisting that screw. In this case, he puts you in the shoes of the innocent man and makes you feel everything. It’s so good. (3)
This movie made me physically upset. Like, I was really upset at what they do to this poor guy. It’s Henry Fonda, for heaven’s sake. They set him up as the most sympathetic character in the world, who doesn’t have everything going for him necessarily, but totally cherishes what he has and devotes himself heart and soul to his family — and then they put him through hell with this false charge as coincidental evidence stacks up against him. This made me so upset I almost turned it off at one point, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t watch it. It was because the film was that powerful that I had such a hard time watching it. Makes me shake my head even now, just thinking of the injustice of it all.
12 Angry Men (1957)
Why haven’t they made a version of the apostles like this? (2)
This has to be up there in the (1) category, hasn’t it? Or if not, it’s really, really close. I’m pretty sure this is required curriculum in some schools, and again, if it’s not, it should be. You know the story. It’s a jury ready to convict a guy, and then one juror tries to talk them all back, one by one. This is justice. If you’re going to watch The Wrong Man, follow it up with this, in which Henry Fonda is the right man. And don’t forget all the other awesome actors in it, like Martin Balsam, Lee Cobb and Jack Klugman. You’re stuck in a room with them for the whole movie and you watch them get drained the whole time. It’s an uplifting experience, all things considered.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
And the Bridge on the River Kwai! (2)
Mike’s referring to the second Unforgivable video in which a man recalls interrupting a girls’ movie night with some DVDs of his own. I don’t usually explain our references, but this one should be shared. The films he lists in that tone of his…you could call it postmodern.
Anyway, it’s Bridge on the River Kwai. A solid contender for the best POW movie ever. And there are many. I’m not going to talk about it. You know it. William Holden, Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins. And a small mountain of Oscars. Watch it, and spend the rest of your life humming The Colonel Bogey March.
The Cranes are Flying (1957)
Oh no, it’s them.
There’s a story to be told about this one, but it only works if you’ve seen it.
This movie is beautiful, by the way. It’s one of those movies that starts at the high point and goes down from there. We start with a couple blissfully in love. And then bad things happen to them. This is one of those foreign movies that translates really well to all audiences. And trust me. You guys know my opinion on foreign movies most of the time. If I’m all in on one, it’s well worth the effort. (3)
This was one I was sort of looking forward to, but also sort of not. On one hand, Mike has been saying, “Oh no, it’s them” for years, and I hadn’t seen the film in its entirety to know the reference, even though I knew it was from this. On the other hand, it’s a Soviet film about the homefront during WWII. I tend to prefer combat movies that aren’t too heavy on the subtitles. This is a beautiful movie. Sad — tragic is a better word for it — and so much so that you sort of allow the obvious propaganda. That said, not everyone in this movie is perfect, and most of the characters are far from it. There’s valor and dishonor, bravery and cowardice, compassion and callousness. This movie makes that much more sense when you recognize what a sacrifice the USSR laid upon the altar during that war, and how its civilians suffered right along. If you can watch this without your heart going out to the poor female protagonist, congratulations. You’re some sort of medical anomaly.
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
One of the most cynical movies ever made. Elia Kazan. Andy Griffith is amazing here. I can’t even explain this one except to say — this movie is way ahead of its time, and you need to see it. It’s a masterpiece. (2)
Mike didn’t tell me a whole lot about this going in, and I chose not to look into it much. Suffice it to say that anyone who’s ever seen The Andy Griffith Show is in for a surprise with this one, in much the same way you might be shocked at LeVar Burton playing a drug cartel kingpin after growing up on Reading Rainbow. The movie takes a folksy, down-home, carefree man and shows you what happens when he’s twisted by the gift of influence over people. I’ve found myself thinking about this movie countless times since I watched it, probably a year or two ago now, and I honestly think it’s just as good a commentary on corruption in business, entertainment and politics as something like All the King’s Men or something like that. It’s brilliant, and I haven’t spoken to anyone I know of who’s seen it besides Mike! It’s Andy Griffith at his best ever, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, and even a very young Lee Remick in her first film appearance. Trust me when I tell you — the final ten minutes of this movie last an hour.
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I wouldn’t change a thing with this. Not a single thing. The Wrong Man you can say isn’t quite essential, but it’s definitely worth seeing. I’m taking that one for me. Written on the Wind could and should be on the list of Sirk movies, since it’s just such an experience. The rest need to be there.
Ratings: the numbers have become kind of bastardized now because I didn’t think to do them until the day before these articles started and have put zero effort and thought into them. But The Searchers and 12 Angry Man should be considered 1s. Not like, life 1s, but movie 1s. That is to say, if you are someone who likes movies, they are ones you need to see right now or else you are doing movies wrong. If movies aren’t really your thing, I won’t hold you to those standards. (That’s reserved for stuff like The Wizard of Oz. Which is why the ratings have gotten so off track. Whatever. Maybe one of these days — which means never — I’ll try to do them for real.) Doesn’t matter. Nobody should be focusing on the numbers anyway. In fact — no more explaining the numbers unless I have to. Read the blurbs. See the movies. You should be seeing them all. That’s the point of the list.
This is a straightforward list. We’ve already explained Sirk 16 different ways, and the same goes for Hitchcock. Everything else is essential; you think I’m going to waste any more time trying to convince you to watch The Searchers?
If I can evangelize for anything, I want to choose The Cranes are Flying and A Face in the Crowd, which are both movies that I’m not sure anyone’s just putting on for kicks. I hope those are the two that you take out of today’s list, provided you’ve seen everything else. These two should be essential, but I have a feeling they get overlooked.
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More movies tomorrow.