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FargoThere is not a single shot out of place in Fargo, which is especially impressive since the film rambles. It’s just a purposeful ramble that allows viewers to appreciate the Minnesota setting and truly get to know all the personality quirks of Jerry, Marge and everyone else. It also allows the characters to pause long enough to display the good-natured sensibilities and pleasant conversation that run their lives. That superficial care serves as the perfect contrast to the kidnapping and murder schemes that are taking place in the underbelly, and it’s a big part of why Fargo is beloved enough to warrant a television adaptation almost two decades later.
For A Few Dollars MoreFor A Few Dollars More may not have the same kind of name recognition as some of Sergio Leone’s other spaghetti westerns – including The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon A Time In The West - but that shouldn’t diminish its significance as an absolute stellar entry in the western genre and an amazing installment of the Man With No Name Trilogy. The classic story of bounty hunters searching for a gang of fugitives, the movie’s plot is rather simple, but the execution is epic and it is yet another proving ground where Clint Eastwood puts on a clinic called "How To Be A Movie Legend."
Forrest GumpAlthough it’s one of the most divisive Best Picture winners of all time – having defeated masterpieces like Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption and Quiz Show on its way to the gold – but there’s also no denying the popularity of Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump. The story of a simple man with an extraordinary life paints a fascinating portrait of the 20th century, and is filled with a seemingly endless number of memorable scenes, characters, and dialogue. Life is like a box of chocolates in that you never know what you’re going to get, but with Forrest Gump you know you’re getting a sweet, fun movie and one of the best out there on streaming.
The GeneralWhich titan of the silent age do you prefer: Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton? No matter your answer, you’re sure to marvel as The General, Keaton’s magnificent ode to the railway industry – and to the love of his life (played by Marion Mack). So much has been written about Keaton’s expressive performances, and with good reason. He was a brilliant observer on screen, the calm at the center of a physical hurricane. But watch The General in awe when you realize all of the practical "effects" this filmmaker conjured in 1927… including an actual train plunging off a burning bridge into a gorge.
GladiatorIt's been a while since Ridley Scott was this good, though his film Exodus: Gods And Kings definitely seems to be promising a ride of similar quality. Russell Crowe had been building some steam with his career up to this point, and with a well deserved Best Actor trophy from playing Maximus, his career was cemented in the A-List. In fact, it's hard to find one piece of this film that isn't in tip top shape. It's shot with an eye for beauty and scale, it's got a Hans Zimmer score that everyone can get behind, and if you've ever forgotten why Joaquin Phoenix hit it big in the first place, Gladiator is the movie to remind you.
The Good, The Bad, And The UglyClint Eastwood is in his prime bad ass days as "The Man With No Name", and he has to contend with Lee Van Cleef's "Angel Eyes" and the late Eli Wallach in a show stealing performance as Tuco – each of them good, bad, and ugly respectively. The prize at hand: A bunch of Confederate gold buried in a cemetary. The journey: three hours of shooting, explosions, and absolutely beautiful cinematography. The scene where Ennio Morricone's Ecstacy Of Gold is blaring while the three of them make their way through the climactic cemetery is enough of a reason to throw The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly in your queue.
The GraduateMike Nichols’ The Graduate is arguably the greatest coming-of-age film ever made. At one point in all of our lives, all of us are Ben Braddock – bridging the gap between the teenage years and early adulthood and trying to figure out exactly what that means. The film is biting American satire that is still wholly relevant today, and features performances from Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft that will be remembered until the end of time – and deservedly so. So if I have any piece of advice for you, it would be this: Plastics… I mean, watch this movie.
The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck’s brilliant, Pulitzer-Prize winning novel gets the majority of the Grapes Of Wrath-related attention, but brilliant filmmaker John Ford actually produced an adaptation a year after it came out. It’s quietly great. It was nominated for a slew of Academy Awards and was chosen as one of the first films the United States Government ever preserved in an official capacity, which is an especially good call considering how much different it is from the novel. This film is not a slavish adaptation. It veers off course about half way through and never looks back.
Hachi: A Dog’s TaleGood luck getting through Hachi: A Dog’s Tale without crying. It is the simple story of a man (Richard Gere) and his loyal pup, and the routines they establish. But we will tell you nothing else about this emotional ride, for one needs to experience each bump and turn in the remarkable true story of an animal’s bond to its human companion. Hachi is the less-manipulative cousin to Marley & Me. Again, bring tissues.
His Girl FridayWe often talk of chemistry when discussing romantic-comedy pairings, and few had more than Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in the quick-as-lightning His Girl Friday. The dialogue is rapid fire, and candidly funny, for the time – with Howard Hawks wisely pushing to have actors stumbling over each other with their lines to replicate realistic conversation. The source material for His Girl Friday (the stage play The Front Page) has been adapted several times over the years, but rarely better than when it rested in Grant and Russell’s quick-witted hands.
Hotel RwandaToo few filmmakers give Don Cheadle the spotlight. The gifted character actor frequently plays support (and steals scenes) in Oscar bait (Crash), comic blockbusters (the Iron Man films), and star-studded comedies (the Ocean’s trilogy). We often take him for granted. Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda reminds us how potent Cheadle can be as a leading man, handing him the keys to a politically- and socially-charged international drama that allowed him to show his entire range. It’s Cheadle’s first Oscar-nominated role. It certainly won’t be his last.
The IntouchablesBecause 40 million French people can’t be wrong, right? Co-directors Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano currently hold the record for the second biggest box office hit in their native country, thanks to this gentle and heartwarming story of an unusual friendship between a wealthy quadriplegic (Francois Cluzet) and the man hired as his caretaker (Omar Sy, in his breakout role). Chemistry is everything in a human-relations story such as this. The fact that The Intouchables draws its inspirations from an actual friendship – captured in a documentary – makes this an invaluable watch. See the original before an American studio remakes it.
IP ManThe Hong Kong film scene has been churning out badass martial arts films for years. Some of them are able to branch out and find mainstream success outside the Asian world. IP Man, which is loosely based on the life of Bruce Lee’s mentor Yip Man, wasn’t really able to make a huge dent immediately, but since its 2008 release, it’s been quietly passed around among movie buffs and martial arts fans. Now, it’s most decidedly a cult classic and with good reason. Set in the 1930s, it’s able to show off both a fascinating time in Japanese history and depict just how brilliant Yip Man really was.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1If moviemaking is anything like cooking, Quentin Tarantino might be the Iron Chef. Who else thinks not only to collect previously used ingredients that have no place associating with each other, then throw them together in a way that both comments and improves upon said ingredients? Kill Bill: Volume 1, more frenetic and action-packed than its follow-up, reveals a master at the top of his game, showcasing the fact that his love of music (obscure pop and movie scores) has less to do with mere songs and more to do with the rhythms and beats of an action sequence. The tightening of fingers around a weapon, the sickening crunch of a blow to the head, the savage intimacy of a one-on-one battle. It's all here in the first volume of Tarantino's mash-up classic, which wickedly witnesses The Bride cut a swath through her enemies before leaving us on the most tantalizing of cliffhangers.
The King’s SpeechYou’ll find that a good number of the movies on this list are Academy Award Best Picture winners (big shocker there), and now we’ve come across yet another one of them: Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech. Based on the true story, the film follows King George VI as he struggles to overcome his horrific stammer so that he may properly motivate the people of the United Kingdom to go to war against Nazi Germany and stop the Third Reich’s growing influence through Europe. Colin Firth delivers the best performance of his career so far in the movie as the King, but he is surrounded by amazing supporting turns as well – the highlight being Geoffrey Rush’s Lionel Logue – the king’s speech therapist.
La Strada (The Road)Federico Fellini’s 1954 classic stars Anthony Quinn as a brutish strongman entertaining patrons on the street with the help of reluctant felamel protégé (Giulietta Masina). It’s the story of the making of La Strada that packs more melodrama, as consistent difficulties during production eventually led to the famed Italian director having a nervous breakdown. Still, the movie has Fellini’s fingerprints all over every dour and difficult frame, and students of this Maestro still argue it’s his finest achievement -- perhaps because they never saw La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, Amarcord, and on and on…
Let The Right One InIn Let The Right One In, Tomas Alfredson managed to capture the horror and the tenderness that we’ve come to associate with vampires. Better still, he manages not to sacrifice either for the sake of the other, walking a deftly balanced story of two outsiders whose friendship goes from being one of convenience to one of survival. If you love endings that can be taken either way, sparking intellectual conversation for hours on end, then you shouldn’t hesitate to stream this beauty. Just make sure you have the correct subtitles with your version of the film. There’s an inferior, dumbed down version out there that Magnet corrected after public pressure.
Life Is BeautifulEnough time has passed that Roberto Benigni’s concentration-camp two-hander Life Is Beautiful no longer needs to be blacklisted as the schmaltzy button pusher that robbed a few key contenders of precious Oscars. (I’m not sure that we’d still give the Best Actor Oscar to Benigni over ANY of his fellow nominees, from Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan to Nick Nolte in Affliction or Edward Norton in American History X.) But the lengths a father goes to protect his child from the atrocities of war really are Beautiful, and so is this film, in the end.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking BarrelsLock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, the first directorial effort from filmmaker Guy Ritchie, makes no real efforts to hide the darkly comedic, violent influence of Quentin Tarantino, but unlike most Tarantino knock-offs this is one that actual works incredibly well. A dark, dirty look at the London criminal underworld, the movie is as funny as it is shocking, and is just a well-made, well-told story about bad people doing bad things to other bad people. Let’s also not ignore that this is the movie that introduced Jason Statham to the world, so we can all be grateful of that.
Man On WirePhilippe Petit’s wire walk between the buildings of the Twin Towers in 1974 stands as one of the most remarkable events I’ve ever witnessed. No, I didn’t see it with my own eyes – but director James Marsh’s brilliant documentary capturing Petit’s attempt to cross between the World Trade Center buildings on a razor-thin wire helps me believe I was on the roof of the now-gone buildings, watching Petit dance among the clouds. Structured as a playful heist film, Man On Wire tells an impossible story of bravey and derring-do, told by Petit and his colorful French admirers who still, to this day, can’t believe he pulled the wire-walk off. Now that the Twin Towers are gone, no one will ever pull the feat off again… and I think that’s right.
ManhattanAnnie Hall is the late 1970s Woody Allen movie most people choose to remember, but for the director’s hardcore fans, Manhattan is every bit as beautiful. Shot in black and white, the film follows the relationship between a 42-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl. It’s somehow both naïve and pessimistic, giving audiences both a view of why a relationship like that would be so appealing and why it would also be almost doomed to fail. Look for a slew of good supporting performances from Meryl Streep, Wallace Shawn and Michael O’Donoghue.
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