Finally, the Best Movies of All Time

By Tom Titus

And now (drum roll please) we come to the best movies of all time – at least in the view of yours truly. And, of course, as Clint Eastwood observed in “The Dead Pool,” “Opinions are like (rear ends). Everybody’s got one.”

So, for what it’s worth, here are my selections from over seven decades of moviegoing. The Academy doesn’t agree – only three of my top 10 earned “best picture” Oscars. But, as I said, these are my personal choices.

There were 10 others that also merited inclusion, so I added them as “honorable mention” winners. Some worthy contenders (“Shane,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Dr. Zhivago,” “From Here to Eternity”) have appeared on earlier category-specific lists. As always, we start from the cellar and work our way up to the penthouse. Here goes:

10. “Titanic.” James Cameron’s masterpiece won for best picture and elicited its share of gasps as the big ship plunged to its watery grave. An awesome spectacle, well presented.

9. “The Godfather.” Another “best picture” winner, Francis Ford Coppola’s big screen treatment of the Mario Puzo novel earned Marlon Brando an Oscar he didn’t accept. Premier performances throughout.

8. “Seven Days in May.” Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas teamed up several times in Hollywood, but this was their best joint effort. Rod Serling wrote the gripping script for this thriller of a near-government coup.

7. “Vertigo.” Alfred Hitchcock’s best picture in a career packed with murderous pleasures. James Stewart and Kim Novak starred in this haunting exercise in romantic chicanery.

6. “E.T.” My family and I enjoyed the local premiere of this wonderful Steven Spielberg fantasy as guests of one of the stars (OC’s Robert MacNaughton, who played the older brother). It’s memorable in all respects.

5. “The Manchurian Candidate.” Laurence Harvey was brilliant as a compromised war hero in this scary political drama. Angela Lansbury deserved an Oscar as his chillingly overprotective mother.

4. “Apocalypse Now.” Coppola again, this time sending Martin Sheen up the river to “terminate with extreme prejudice” a rogue U.S. Army officer (Marlon Brando). Look for a young Harrison Ford in a bit role in an early scene.

3. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Mike Nichols made his debut as a movie director with Edward Albee’s masterpiece, eliciting scathing performances from Elizabeth Taylor (who won the Oscar) and Richard Burton (who should have). Brilliant on all counts.

2. “Gone With the Wind.” It’s number one on most critics’ lists, a historic saga of the Civil War and its aftermath, with Vivien Leigh clearly earning her Oscar as Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Gable strongly supporting her as Rhett Butler. Superbly performed and photographed, an all-time classic.

1. “The Last Picture Show.” Beaten out for the “best picture” Oscar (by “The French Connection,” no kidding), this highly involving drama from Larry McMurtry was brilliantly directed by a young Peter Bogdanovich (who helmed two movies on this column’s best comedies list). Oscars to Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson in support. Truly the top movie of all time, in my humble opinion.

Now we come to the honorable mentions, those movies that very nearly made the top 10. They are, in no particular order:

“Citizen Kane,” “On the Waterfront,” “That Championship Season,” “Giant,” “Shindler’s List,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jurassic Park” and “Dr. Strangelove.”

There you have it, a compilation of cinematic classics. There are many mental “best” lists among moviegoers. This just happens to be mine

The Top Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Movies

By Tom Titus

Before we get into the greatest movies of all time, let’s examine another genre – those pictures that gripped you by the throat and kept you on the edge of your seat.

Here are, in this blogger’s opinion, the top 10 mystery-suspense-thrillers starting at the bottom and working up:

10. “Ransom.” Kudos to Gary Sinese as the bad cop who kidnapped Mel Gibson’s son, then squared off with him in a tense city streets climax. Ron Howard directed.

9. “Wait Until Dark.” Audrey Hepburn should have won the Oscar instead of that other Hepburn, who already had three. She’s terrific as a blind woman terrorized by heroin-hunting baddies.

8. “The Thing.:” The original from 1950, not the lame remake. James Arness launched his career in the rose of the nasty E.T. who threatens a group of Arctic researchers.

7. “Them.” Arness again, this time with James Whitmore battling giant ants in the subterranean regions of Los Angeles with Edmund Gwenn on hand to supervise.

6. “Rosemary’s Baby.” Mia Farrow and Satan combine to create a little devil in this thriller from director Roman Polanski, who had troubles of his own.

5. “Psycho.” From the master, Alfred Hitchcock, who directed this classic that rubbed out Janet Leigh early in the picture. Anthony Perkins should have won best actress.

4. “The Omen.” Gregory Peck and Lee Remick raise a little hellion in this creepy tale that inspired two sequels headlined by William Holden and Sam Neill. All three are eminentlywatchable.

3. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” The original, not the so-so remake. Kevin McCarthy watches his neighbors replaced by pods which then come after him. Dana Wynter’s transformation is chilling.

2. “Cape Fear.” This time it’s the remake, not the splendid original. Martin Scorcese helmed this high-voltage thriller pitting a vengeful Robert DiNiro against the lawyer (Nick Nolte) who betrayed him. Watch for a young, scene-stealing Juliette Lewis.

1. “The Exorcist.” The scariest movie of all time. Jason Miller (Pulitzer Prize winning playwright for “That Championship Season”) and Max Von Sydow battle Satan in the body of young Linda Blair as mom Ellen Burstyn and cop Lee J. Cobb try to assist them. Mercedes McCambridge provided Blair’s devilish voice.

Had enough theme lists? Next time out, we’ll examine the top 10 movies of all time, at least in this writer’s opinion.

– tt —

The 10 Best Romantic Movies

By Tom Titus

Ah, romance. It’s what makes the world go around. And it’s also great subject matter for motion pictures. Here are this corner’s choices for the top 10 romantic movies of all time.

10. “An Affair to Remember.” Hollywood remembered it so well that it spun out several similar movies, such as the next one on the list.

9. “Sleepless in Seattle” Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, from opposite sides of the country, finally hook up – guess where? Following in Cary’s and Deborah’s footsteps.

8. “Somewhere in Time.” Christopher Reeve time-traveling, and not as Superman, to fall in love with Jane Seymour from the distant past. One of my personal faves.

7. “Love Story.” Love means never having to say you’re sorry, or so says Ryan O’Neal as he connects with Ali MacGraw in this three-hankie weeper. Check out “What’s Up, Doc?” for O’Neal’s later take on that classic line.

6. “The Last Time I Saw Paris.” Van Johnson’s best flick, romancing Elizabeth Taylor in a post-World War II drama with a sad ending much like the previous story.

5. “The Bridges of Madison County.” Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this movie version of the popular novel, playing a photographer catching itchy housewife Meryl Streep on a conveniently “available” weekend (husband and family away).

4. “Ghost.” Who can ever hear “Unchained Melody” again without thinking of Demi Moore at her pottery wheel with dead hubby Patrick Swayze at her side? A movie with plenty of spirit.

3. “Titanic.” Leonardo DiCaprio picked an inconvenient time to fall for Kate Winslet. They’re both passengers on the doomed luxury liner. A third star is Celine Dion’s voice warbling “My Heart Will Go On.”

2. “Casablanca.” Of all the gin joints in all the world, Ingrid Bergman walks into Humphrey Bogart’s in a classic best picture winner that was written while it was being filmed. More catch phrases than any other movie.

1. “Dr. Zhivago.” Omar Sharif and Julie Christie enjoy forbidden romance as the Russian revolution plays out around them. A soaring epic with terrific support from Geraldine Chaplin, Alec Guinness and especially Rod Steiger. The music isn’t bad, either.

That’s the list and I probably left out some goodies, but that’s show biz. One of these weeks I’ll compile my choices for best movies of all time, so stay tuned.

– tt

The 10 Best at Playing Politics on the Screen

By Tom Titus

Before we lift the curtain on this blogger’s choice for the best movies of all time, let’s turn to a subject most of us have had enough of this year – politics.

Herewith, the top 10 political movies, as chosen by yours truly, starting at number 10 and working our way up.

10. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Jimmy Stewart should have gotten his Oscar for this one rather than for “The Philadelphia Story.” This oldie from director Frank Capra pits a green congressman against the system and he filibusters his way to victory.

9. “The Candidate.” Can outsider Robert Redford campaign his way into Congress? Sure he can in this watchable exercise in political stumping.

8. “Dave.” Could a look-alike citizen replace the president temporarily? Kevin Kline gives us the answer in this light-hearted political comedy.

7. “Nixon.” Anthony Hopkins “cannibalizes” the script of Oliver Stone’s searing account of political bloodshed in the top ranks of government. If Meryl Streep can play Margaret Thatcher, then why not a Brit as Tricky Dick?

6. “The Best Man.” Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson vie for their party’s presidential nomination in Gore Vidal’s literate look at politics. Lee Tracy as the former prez and Shelley Berman as a wild card spice up the roiling brew.

5. “The American President.” Can POTUS (Michael Douglas) enjoy a romantic life while in office with journalist Annette Bening? Martin Sheen is his chief of staff, getting his feet wet in the Oval Office before his own turn comes on TV.

4. “Advise and Consent.” Henry Fonda, Walter Pidgeon, Don Murray and a show-stealing Charles Laughton play politicos at the crossroads over a controversial secretary of State appointment. Watch for George Grizzard’s dogged dissenting voice.

3. “Seven Days in May.” Burt Lancaster is a power-mad general aiming to run the president (Frederic March) out of office by force and Kirk Douglas is his top aide and strong opponent. Of the many pictures Burt and Kirk made together, this is the finest, with a terrific script from Rod Serling.

2. “Lincoln.” Daniel Day-Lewis earned his second Oscar as the 16th president, pushing his Emancipation Proclamation through Congress as the Civil War rages. Another feather in director Steven Spielberg’s war bonnet.

1. “1776.” The founding fathers fight over independence, musically, with John Adams (a great performance by William Daniels) leading the way. This cinematic version of the Broadway hit is first in war, first in peace and first in Intermission’s political poll.

Next up, a look at the top romantic movies before the best flicks of all time are revealed.

– tt

The Best Military Movies of All Time

By Tom Titus

Ten-hut. Here are the top 10 military-themed movies of all time, in this columnist’s humble opinion, starting at the base and ascending to the summit.

10. “Paths of Glory.” Kirk Douglas starred as a French commander in World War I forced to pick three scapegoats from his regiment to be court-martialed and executed.

9. “Take the High Ground.” Richard Widmark at his best as a hardened platoon sergeant preparing young men for a shooting war in Korea. With the solid Karl Malden, the ravishing Elaine Stewart and a young, athletic Russ Tamblyn.

8. “Battleground.” The Battle of the Bulge pits a combat-weary platoon against the nasty Nazis with Van Johnson, John Hodiak and James Whitmore leading the charge.

7. “Stalag 17.” William Holden won his Oscar for this prison camp drama which featured Peter Graves, Don Taylor and Otto Preminger. Powerful doses of drama and comedy (Harvey Lembeck and Robert Strauss).

6. “The Dirty Dozen.” Lee Marvin rounds up a squadron of condemned Gis for a mission behind the lines in World War II. He deserved the Oscar for that one, not for “Cat Ballou.”

5. “The Caine Mutiny.” Herman Wouk’s brilliant novel brought to the screen by a superb cast – Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer, Fred MacMurray and a young, short-lived Robert Francis. Tops also is Dimitri Tiomkin’s musical score.

4. “From Here to Eternity.” The best picture of 1953 stars Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift as soldiers based in Hawaii as World War II approaches. Oscars to Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed in splendid support.

3. “Patton.” This was the Oscar winner in 1970 but George C. Scott turned down his well-deserved “best actor” statuette. Karl Malden lends strong support as General Omar Bradley.

2. “A Few Good Men.” Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson face off in this masterful drama with the latter’s blast (“You can’t handle the truth”) living on in movie trivia annals. Aaron Sorkin’s words cut like a knife when employed by these two.

1. “Saving Private Ryan.” Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece (okay, one of several) about the search for a family’s survivor led by the great Tom Hanks. The first 20 minutes, the D-Day landing, are brilliantly captured. No best picture Oscar here; the award went to (are you ready?) “Shakespeare in Love.”

We’re almost ready to take the wraps off the best movies of all time (at least in my opinion). Stay tuned.

– tt –

The Best of the West – Top 10 Westerns

By Tom Titus

We now turn our attention to that legendary Hollywood staple, the western. While most of the genre belong on the second half of a Saturday afternoon double bill, several have emerged as somewhat memorable.

I was tempted to list “Blazing Saddles,” but that one already finished second in the list of top comedies. Here, in this writer’s opinion, are the 10 greatest western movies of all time, starting at the bottom and working up.

10. “The Shootist.” John Wayne wound up his career, while battling cancer in real life, as a retired gunfighter facing one last shootout. James Stewart was aboard in a cameo as his doctor.

9. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Wayne and Stewart again, but this time it’s Jimmy’s star turn as a mild-mannered lawyer faced with a psychotic gunfighter (Lee Marvin). When the legend becomes truth, print the legend.

8. “High Noon.” Gary Cooper won his second Oscar as a sheriff who chooses to stand his ground (rather than honeymoon with Grace Kelly; go figure) when some old foes arrive. The music makes this movie a cut above the rest.

7. “True Grit.” The Duke again, winning an Oscar as a one-eyed sheriff helping a young girl (Kim Darby) get justice. Glen Campbell is along for the ride.

6. “Duel in the Sun.” Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones are the duelees in this spectacular epic. Joseph Cotten provides solid support, as does the legendary Lionel Barrymore.

5. “The Alamo.” In a list of top westerns you’d expect to find John Wayne more than once. Here he’s in a powerful triumvirate with Richard Widmark and Laurence Harvey defending the famed Texas landmark to the death. Oh yes, Wayne also directed.

4. “Red River.” The ubiquitous John Wayne once more, this time paired with Montgomery Clift as cattlemen disputing the herd’s destination. Probably the Duke’s best, although there are a lot to choose from.

3. “How the West Was Won.” Made for Cinerama, this epic adventure focuses on several pioneers on the road to the Pacific. And, yes, John Wayne was among them, as was Jimmy Stewart.

2. “Broken Lance.” Wayne must have been unavailable, so the great Spencer Tracy played the role of an embittered rancher with four grown sons (Richard Widmark, Robert Wagner, Hugh O’Brien, Earl Holliman) clashing over the right of succession. A truly great, and underrated, movie.

1. “Shane.” By far the best western ever made. Director George Stevens captured the sprawling Wyoming countryside and honed in on the simple drama of a former gunfighter (Alan Ladd in his best role) trying to settle down. Top performances emerge from Van Heflin and Jean Arthur as homesteaders, Brandon DeWilde as their young son, Emile Meyer as a villainous rancher and Jack Palance as his hired gun. The “showdown” between Palance and Elisha Cook Jr. is a classic scene.

There they are, this corner’s choices for the western movie hall of fame. Next time we’ll take a shot at the top military-themed pictures.

– tt –

The Sounds of Music from 10 to 1

By Tom Titus

Let’s strike up the band for the top 10 movie musicals of all time – at least in one columnist’s opinion. We’ll start from the bottom and work our way up to the summit.

10. “The Band Wagon.” Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse lit up this Broadway backstage flick about turning a dismal flop into a megahit production. The extended number near the end is right out of Gene Kelly’s playbook.

9. “Kiss Me, Kate.” Shakespeare gets an assist on this one, Cole Porter’s revitalized version of “The Taming of the Shrew” with Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson headlining. Comic relief abounds with Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore brushing up their Shakespeare.

8. “The Producers.” Broadway-themed shows were never funnier than this musical reworking of a vintage Mel Brooks comedy. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick hit all the right notes in creating “Springtime for Hitler.”

7. “The Sound of Music.” This Oscar-winning story of a young woman who chose marriage and instant motherhood over the convent truly warms the heart. Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer head the cast.

6. “Chicago.” The first musical to win a best picture Oscar in 34 years, it’s a snappy story set mostly in a women’s prison. Catherine Zeta Jones (Oscar for best supporting actress) and Renee Zellweger head the cast along with hotshot lawyer Richard Gere.

5. “An American in Paris.” Also an Oscar winner, this 1951 dazzler celebrates the music of George Gershwin and the prodigious talents of Gene Kelly with a teen-age Leslie Caron making swell screen debut. Kelly choreographed his classic ballet sequence.

4. “My Fair Lady.” Like the last three, also an Oscar winner. Rex Harrison recreated his stage triumph with Audrey Hepburn playing the Cockney flower girl while the actress who created her, Julie Andrews, won that year’s Oscar for “Mary Poppins.”

3. “Singin’ in the Rain.” Hollywood’s transition to sound inspired this outstanding musical comedy with Gene Kelly as the soaked singer, ably assisted by a young Debbie Reynolds and the brilliant comic Donald O’Connor.

2. “West Side Story.” This 1961 adaptation of the 1957 Broadway hit won the Oscar, as did performers Rita Moreno and George Chakiris. The Jets and the Shark duke it out with tragic consequences, while director Robert Wise put his Oscar beside the one for “The Sound of Music.”

1. “Les Miserables.” This cinematic adaptation of the Broadway smash isn’t perfect (Russell Crowe and Sasha Baron Cohen disappoint), but Hugh Jackman’s tremendous Valjean and Anne Hathaway’s wrenching Fantine help to place it on a lofty pedestal.

That’s one moviegoer’s opinion, but the only one that counts in this column. Next we’ll head out west to assess the best of the horse operas.

77 – tt –