If it ain’t broke…

Time for another List (the L vs. l makes it much more effective, yes?). I recently watched Gone with the Wind, which I haven’t seen in years and still sweeps me away. Sure, its somewhat of a soap opera but that was apart of the style then and its still epic in its own right. I was amazed that practically the WHOLE film was underscored, what an achievement that is and certainly a powerful aspect to the genre. So, Gone with the Wind has blown in the Classics List, which examines some of my favorite films that remain iconic.In no specific order…

1. All About Eve, Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Better Davis knew how to play a leading lady and All About Eve displays Davis at her finest. Classic movies have classic characters and sometimes great movies revolve around these magnetic individuals. Classic movies also have wonderful story lines and All About Eve is not exception, it has wit, charm, rich emotions, richer clothing and life to the fullest extent. Let us not forget that the bombshell of all bombshells also makes her appearance in this 1950 film, Miss Marilyn Monroe. The cast is rounded out with Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill and others…large casts, yes…remember Gone with the Wind. Oy vey, extras. As a young actress digs her way into the lives of fellow theatre stars, All About Eve has become a classic tale of the star ambition and cut-throat betrayal executed through superb dialogue and beautiful performances.

2. Some Like it Hot, Directed by Billy Wilder

Alright, I don’t have a think for Marilyn, I swear. Though she does appear one other time on this countdown, I promise I don’t hold any special affinity for her. Yet, its hard not to notice in this film that there was something truly magical and captivating about this woman. One of my favorite scenes, as simple as this may be occurs in the train car. There is something magnificent about the way that Monroe dances up and down the narrow aisle of the train car – she almost floats as she maneuvers drinks in hand.  Monroe’s relationship with her body and the way she used it on film is something mostly foreign to today’s actresses; her control over her body is a staple of the time and her personal bravado. And there were those men in dresses. Who doesn’t love this movie? It is delightfully entertaining and hilarious. While Tony Curtis always incites a certain charm, for me, its Jack Lemmon that steals the show. Lemmon makes acting the lady look challenging yet easy, miserable yet fantastically fun – Lemmon is amazing in this film. When it comes down to it, this movie was wonderfully cast and conceptualizes, its a classic that never manages to disappoint in smiles and laughter.

3. The Godfather, Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

I have a confession. Before I saw The Godfather, I was skeptical. I really thought it as mostly a masculine thing, you know? (This was years ago, for the record) Like Rocky or Scarface? I wasn’t expecting the beautiful master piece that The Godfather is. Francis Ford Coppola – I’m sorry, I was wrong. I’m not sure exactly why I thought this – perhaps because most of the people who speak out about this film are male or perhaps because it features Al Pacino, who seems to be a male favorite? I’m not sure. All I know is, I was wrong and I’m so glad that I saw this film. The Godfather has it all, for me. It has romance, beauty, family, feuding, adventures to foreign lands, violence, blood, corruption, horror and beautiful language. Coppola’s Godfather is a masterpiece and a love-song. I am partial to the first installment because I feel that it is the most far-reaching in its completion – you cannot fit this film into one genre because it contains such diversity. This film was completed in 1972 and I think the cinematography is exceptional for the period (though many highly regard the film products of the 70’s). The Godfather has this beautiful soft glow about it that enables the viewer to more easily digest the brutality within the film. The cast is beyond impressive and completely cohesive; every actor is extremely deserving and delivers outstanding performances. Despite all this, the film belongs to Coppola for what he managed to create and capture with such precision.

4. It’s a Wonderful Life, Directed by Frank Capra

I know this is a seasonal film but I cannot resist adding it to my list. If only for the reason that I return to it every year and it never fails to bring smiles to my face and tears to my eyes. I love this love, I do. I think what has made this movie so timeless, aside from the fact that it is one of the few successful holiday films, is the story. This film is all about the journey for this man, which is pulled off by one of the greatest “every man(s)” of all time, James Stewart. It’s a Wonderful Life is touching, sweet and endlessly classic. This film offers the ultimate feel good carried out in the best way possible, sans the “cheese.”

5. Doctor Zhivago, Directed by David Lean

It would be hard to complete this list without the inclusion of at least one “epic” film and Doctor Zhivago certainly counts as thus. We have a much different bred of the “epic” these days, while the work is certainly impressive and the scale enormous, there is something exclusively extraordinary about the classic epic, especially one that is depicting a timeless romance. And let’s face it, no one knows the struggle and hardships of romance quite like the Russians. Russian literature defined the epic romance with novels like Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago. The two characters in Doctor Zhivago fight so hard and are so tortured by this love, that despite its flaws, we find ourselves desperately caught in their struggle. Another beautifully made film featuring astounding actors who deliver despite the chill of Russia.

6. How to Marry a Millionaire, Directed by Jean Negulesco

Another Marilyn film, yes. But also statuesque Lauren Bacall and the effervescent Betty Grable. This is my go-to for girls’ night because it has all the elements of the perfect “chick-flick” sans the mediocre performances and disappointing storyline. How to Marry a Millionaire is a very witty and cute film, starring some of the most beautiful and talented ladies of the time. These ladies are funny and classy without being crass. This film is entertaining and exploits the best and worst of the sexes without calling for a gender war. Every actress in this film illustrates the best of the female comedian; intellectual, physical and slap-stick humor that keeps its integrity and never gets too out of control. If I’m in the mood for a chuckle and some wine, How to Marry a Millionaire never disappoints.

7. Shanghai Express, Directed by Josef von Sternberg

If I am continually inspired by any actor on this list, Marlene Dietrich would be the one. Dietrich is stylish, classy, sexy, sensual, mysterious, dark, daring and ever-charming, especially in Shanghai Express, where all the action on this infamous train seems to revolve around this woman. Dietrich herself is magnetic in this film and exposes the simplicity of man, as the passengers are more concerned with a woman rather than the civil unrest that threatens the world around them. The politics and the social commentary of the film are carried out with integrity and ease. But really, the star of Shanghai Express is not China, nor the famous railway but rather the timeless Marlene Dietrich. I cannot get enough of the smoke that rises from her cigarette – the camera deliberately captures every breath.

8. The Philadelphia Story, Directed by George Cukor

Carey Grant + Katherine Hepburn + James Stewart = pure entertainment.

The plot of The Philadelphia Story one of the most well-crafted romantic comedies ever made, with a knock-put cast. This film is entertaining, light, endearing and smart. This film had to be smart for Hepburn because it was following several flops and needed to jump start her career again; that it did, with the help of an enormously talented supporting cast. The re-marriage comedies that circulated around this time were unique and The Philadelphia Story is the best of the bred (though we could include Bringing Up Baby, as well). These films are a small glimpse, however exaggerated, of the ideal of marriage, at the time, which is vastly different from today’s every-evolving and controversial definition of the word. The Philadelphia Story is a time traveler, meaning that during/post viewing, the view longs to escape into the world of the 1940’s romantic comedy. The 40’s carry with it a certain realism that was abandoned in the 50’s and replaced with idealism; these films can resonate strongly with modern audiences who are adept to the realism that defines much of today’s film industry (and need I mention reality T.V. – it shall be the ONLY time I do so). I don’t feel the need to go on about the actor’s performances because well, the awards, nominations and reputations speak for themselves. However, I will continue to recommend this film to anyone seeking out that perfect romantic comedy sans the smut.

9. The Great Dictator, Directed by and starring and written by Charlie Chaplin.

Yes, you read that correctly. Chaplin directed, starred in and wrote (and produced) this legendary film.

I hold the deepest respect and most sincere admiration for Charlie Chaplin and this film explains it all. This film was a risk, no doubt, as most comedic satire is. The Great Dictator was surely ahead of its time, revolutionary and extremely daring, but that didn’t stop Chaplin. Its almost hard to evaluate this film because what it does was and is so much larger than just a film, which is what art truly should be. Chaplin was brave and incredibly talented – his risk-taking and motivation crated his legend and legacy, which The Great Dictator plays a starring role in. Chaplin always gives 100% but there is something in this performance that puts it all over the edge and really inspires awe. This film…leaves me speechless in wonder and truly in awe of the amazing Charlie Chaplin.

10. Singin’ in the Rain, Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.

Let’s just put it to rest right now, okay? I have the greatest respect for Fred Astaire but no one can deny the genius of Gene Kelly as a dancer and choreographer which surpasses that of Astaire and others alike. This list is filled with films that I could watch again and again and again and again – Singin’ in the Rain is no exception. 

Singin’ in the Rain is a film with great heart coupled with comedy, beautiful dancing and entertaining musical numbers. And then there’s Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor – they just don’t make ’em like this anymore more, do they? I know Daniel Radcliffe recently performed on Broadway and joined the rankings of Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris but none of them can stand up to the talent of Gene and Donald. Every number in this film is classic and memorable, every song and dance. The storyline is fresh and funny and endlessly entertaining. I cannot think of another film, quite like this one. Singin’ in the Rain may be one of the greatest musical comedy films of all time. Nobody stands in for Gene, Donald or sings for Debbie – its 100% commitment and pure entertainment. Gene’s choreography and dancing is really on point (as it always it) and O’Connor and Reynolds stand up and deliver stunning performances of their own. Wow! What a great way to end the list. I’ve seen Singin’ in the Rain dozens of times and will continue to be swept away by it for years to come.

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One thought on “If it ain’t broke…

  1. It’s not so much Al Pacino the boys like, it’s the gangster lean that appeals to their adolescent power fantasies. And while “The Godfather” nailed that better than any performance by Robinson or Cagney, it’s Coppola direction and not Pacino’s delivery that’s responsible, otherwise “Scarface” wouldn’t be the most overrated film of all time. While we have to give “Scarface” props for its impact on Hip-Hop culture by turning dealers into dynamic credible entertainers, it will always be a cult film and never a classic.

    Monroe was a paradigm changer for the conception of beauty. It’s not her acting, or even her curves, it’s her underlying foundation of self-possession that was so enthralling to watch. I’m not hot on blondes, one can’t deny her alluring way. (Maybe it’s that she’s actually a redhead.)

    Might’ve gone with “Grand Hotel” (totally just me) and “Casablanca” (painfully obvious).
    Agreed on “GWTW”, “Zhivago”, and “Philadelphia”.
    Hepburn-Grant dialogue is so yar.

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