Movies are the ultimate escapism. When you sit down to a movie you become an integral part of the story; you’re up close and personal with a time in history, long-gone important people or some other smuck like yourself playing their part in one of life’s many stories. I’m a fan of older movies and will watch almost anything shot before the late 1950s. That’s when movie producers thought that Doris Day and Rock Hudson could fill in for aging Hepburn and Tracy. I have three Humphrey Bogart (pre Day/Hudson) films and two Jack Nicholson (post Day/Hudson) films on this list, what does that tell you?
Everyone has their favorite films, but these are mine:
15. Pulp Fiction –1994- This movie is everything I like about Quentin Tarantino films, comic-books coming to life on the screen. He has comic-book (BAM…POW) style violence, bigger-than-life characters and enough humor to carry an otherwise ho-hum plot. His two lovable hit-men, the bumbling Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and the scripture quoting Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) fumble through one violent scene after another. I still fantasize about doing a burger, a joint and the twist with Uma Thurmond even though I don’t have Travolta’s hand-over-the-eyes move down yet.
Jules: The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.
14. Chinatown – 1974 – Roman Polanski beautifully recreates 1930s Los Angeles through the life of a quintessential, old-school, private-eye, JJ ‘Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) as he looks into the activities of a wayward husband and ends up up to his ass in deceit, murder, incest and municipal corruption. I love two things about his movie: pre-war LA, LA when we all wished we lived there and Nicholson playing a Sam Spade like detective
Jake Gittes: So there's this guy Walsh, do you understand? He's tired of screwin' his wife... So his friend says to him, "Hey, why don't you do it like the Chinese do?" So he says, "How do the Chinese do it?" And the guy says, "Well, the Chinese, first they screw a little bit, then they stop, then they go and read a little Confucius, come back, screw a little bit more, then they stop again, go and they screw a little bit... then they go back and they screw a little bit more and then they go out and they contemplate the moon or something like that. Makes it more exciting." So now, the guy goes home and he starts screwin' his own wife, see. So he screws her for a little bit and then he stops, and he goes out of the room and reads Life Magazine. Then he goes back in, he starts screwin' again. He says, "Excuse me for a minute, honey." He goes out and he smokes a cigarette. Now his wife is gettin' sore as hell. He comes back in the room, he starts screwin' again. He gets up to start to leave again to go look at the moon. She looks at him and says, "Hey, whats the matter with ya. You're screwin' just like a Chinaman!"
13. American Graffiti - 1973 – George Lucas remembers one night in the lives of the high school graduation class of 1962; the last night before they all head off in their separate ways. He artfully portrays the hopes, dreams and, lunacy of my generation (class of ’60) better than it’s ever been shown on the big screen. I love this movie because I lived it. Wolfman Jack, where are you, I really miss you.
John Milner: I don't like that surfin' shit. Rock and roll's been going down hill ever since Buddy Holly died.
12. To Kill a Mockingbird – 1962 – We see this movie through the eyes of "Scout” a feisty six-year-old tomboy played by 10 year-old Mary Badham and earning her an Oscar nomination and a permanent place in our hearts. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), an idealistic, small-town lawyer defends a young black man accused of the rape of an ignorant white woman in rural, depression-era Alabama. This movie beautifully portrays the inequity and racism of 1930s America.
Atticus Finch: If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
11. Rebel Without a Cause –1955- Jim Stark’s (James Dean) family has just moved to a Los Angles suburb and Jim is starting his first day at his new high school. He meets Plato (Sal Mineo) a gay wimp on a motor scooter and Judy (Natalie Wood), a really hot young woman. Not bad for the first day. But, he spends the rest of the film being challenged and hassled by the school’s tough guys, his parents and finally the police. He just wants to show everyone that he’s cool and fit in with this new crowd. James Dean as Jim Stark made such an impression on me that I wore a red wind-breaker, white tee shirt and jeans while I cruised in my custom ’49 Merc just like he did in the movie. James Dean died later in 1955 leaving us this movie as his last work.
Jim Stark: I woke up this morning, you know... and the sun was shining, and it was nice, and all that type of stuff. And the first thing, I saw you, and, uh, I said, "Boy, this is gonna be one terrific day, so you better live it up, because tomorrow you'll be nothing. You see? And I almost was.
10. Body Heat – 1981 – Ned Racine (William Hurt) is a seedy small town lawyer somewhere in sweltering Florida. During a searing heat wave, heat that you can almost feel, he's picked up by a sexy married woman, Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner). During their ensuing affair they plot to murder Matty’s rich husband. Matty has control of the affair and the murder while she plays Ned like a fine instrument.
Matty: [to Ned] You aren't too smart, are you? I like that in a man.
Ned: What else do you like? Lazy? Ugly? Horny? I got 'em all.
Matty: You don't look lazy.
9. Paper Moon – 1973 – Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) and Addie Loggins (Ryan’s daughter Tatum) are a most unlikely couple, he a Midwestern, depression-era con man and she a recently orphaned 10 year old. The movie hints that Moses may be her father but we never really know for sure. These two wander through Peter Bogdanovich’s recreated 1930’s rural Midwest pulling one scam after another in realistic black and white photography. Two more colorful characters emerge after Moses rescues them from a traveling carnival, an exotic dancer, Miss Trixie Delight, and her minion, Imogene.
Moses Pray: And stop standing around here checking on me! You don't have to worry. I ain't about to leave some poor little child stranded in the middle of nowhere. I've got scruples too, ya know. You know what that is... scruples?
8. The Thin Man – 1934 – Nick & Nora Charles, (William Powell & Myrna Loy) along with their dog Asta, (Asta) solve murder cases for the fun of it wedged in among their many social engagements. They live a lavish, penthouse lifestyle and are always drunk, on their way to becoming drunk or mixing drinks for the other, often unsavory, cast members. Throughout the film we meet all of the murder suspects and we think we know who did it. But only Nick can figure it out. He gets everyone together and leads them through his logic finally accusing the murderer, who conveniently confesses.
Nick Charles: The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.
7. Casablanca – 1942 – Set in Morocco during World War II Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), an exiled American and former freedom fighter runs Rick’s Café, the hottest nightspot in Casablanca. Rick’s one-time love, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), shows up one day with her new husband, a famous Czech underground leader. Ilsa quickly rekindles her relationship with Rick hoping to win his help securing valuable letters of transit so they can flee Vichy France. We don’t know whether Ilsa intends to leave Casablanca with Rick or her husband until Rick decides for her. The Germans are hot after her husband, Ilsa will do anything for the papers, Rick doesn’t want to get involved, Sam keeps on playing, the Chief of Police just wants another champagne cocktail, and so it goes.
Ilsa: Play it once, Sam. For old times' sake
6. Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1981 - Finally, George Lucas had the genius to bring us a modern-day version of the nail-biting, weekly serials we grew up with in the late 40s and early 50s. The opening scene with Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) miraculously escaping the giant boulder is straight from the serials of the post-war era. Indiana Jones, an archeology professor and expert in the occult, sets off in search of a biblical artifact called The Ark of the Covenant, which can hold the key to humanly existence. He encounters his archenemy, a band of Nazis, his ex-flame, and a whole lot of poisonous snakes in one hair raising adventure after another. Just like in the serials of old.
Indiana: Yes, the actual 10 Commandments the original stone tablets that Moses came down out of Mount Horeb and smashed if you believe in that sort of thing. Didn't you guys ever go to Sunday School? Look, the Hebrews took the broken pieces and put them into the Ark. When they settled in Cainan they put the Ark in a place called The Temple of Solomon where it stayed for many years. 'Till all of the sudden, whoosh, it was gone.
5. The African Queen – 1951 – After the Germans burn down her brother’s mission snooty Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) leaves 1914 German East Africa the only available way, on the Charlie Allnut’s (Humphrey Bogart) run-down, river steamboat. Charlie’s trying journey is made even more difficult by, impenetrable swamps, his failing steam engine, raging rapids, leeches, the Germans but most of all, his passenger, Miss Sayer. After many rows and endless arguments these unlikely traveling companions, the bible-thumping abolitionist and the libertine, drunken loser, sort of fall in love as their journey drags on.
Charlie Allnut: A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it's only human nature.
Rose Sayer: Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.
4. Star Wars – 1977 – In a galaxy far, far away George Lucas pushed the envelope of special-effects technology to bring us the first awe inspiring science fiction movie since the Flash Gordon serials we saw at the Saturday matinee. In this fight of good versus evil Lucas introduces us to characters that enrapture us for decades to come, folks like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, C-3PO, and everyone’s favorite droid, R2-D2. The Force be with you.
Princess Leia: [in a holo message] General Kenobi: Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars; now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire. I regret that I am unable to present my father's request to you in person; but my ship has fallen under attack and I'm afraid my mission to bring you to Alderaan has failed. I've placed information vital to the survival of the rebellion into the memory systems of this R2 unit. My father will know how to retrieve it. You must see this droid safely delivered to him on Alderaan. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you're my only hope
3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest -1975 – McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) has a scheme to get out of jail by convincing them that he’s crazy enough to need psychiatric care. McMurphy is then confined in a mental ward with a mean nurse and a bunch of loveable crazies. He just might be less crazy than his hospital mates but there is no question he’s their ring leader. His hilarious antics, including unauthorized “field trips”, have a positive effect on the other crazies and drive their mean nurse bonkers. Who does crazy better than Nicholson?
McMurphy: What do you think you are, for Chrissake, crazy or somethin'? Well you're not! You're not! You're no crazier than the average asshole out walkin' around on the streets and that's it.
2. The Last Picture Show – 1971 – This movie could have been shot in the little town I grew up in, in fact I think it was. No, it was shot somewhere in Texas but the time was right, the late 1940s. I identify with every aspect of this film from Hank Williams singing in the background, the wind, the dust, the run-down pool hall, and especially the teenage boys contemplating manhood. I still fantasize about skinny-dipping with Jacy (Cybill Shepard) after seeing her nude on the diving board.
Jacy Farrow: (to Duane, as they're leaving motel room after having sex) Oh, quit prissing. I don't think you done it right, anyway.
1. The Maltese Falcon – 1941 – Humphrey Bogart is Sam Spade of Spade and Archer, a San Francisco detective agency. A sexy babe (Mary Astor) hires the detectives and starts a ball rolling that leaves Archer dead, introduces us to two wonderful characters, Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), who uses gardenia-scented calling cards and the rotund Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) and an unattractive statuette of a bird, the Maltese Falcon.
Spade: When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. And it happens we're in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's-it's bad business to let the killer get away with it, bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere.
©2009 by Bob Rockwell