We’re introducing a new feature today. Every now and again the RF staff, with the help of some friends, will be giving short (but sweet) lists on all kinds of movie goodness (and badness). Everybody’s got a DVD collection, though some are better than others. But what are those handful of DVD’s everyone should have on their shelf? I’m glad you asked! Today, with the help of one of our Kansas City Film Critic pals, we’ll take a look and give you some recommendations for DVD’s everyone should own.
A few notes about today’s list. The list includes single movies (that’s why you won’t see the original Star Wars Trilogy showing up on my list) available on DVD. These are not necessarily a list of our favorite films nor a list of what we believe to be the greatest films of all time. This is a list of movies we just can’t seem to stop watching, and think you should be watching too!
Phil Boatwright is our guest-reviewer for today’s list. Phil has been writing film reviews from a Christian perspective for thirteen years, and is a fellow member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle. He is a syndicated film reviewer for such publications as The Christian Single, Living with Teenagers, St. Louis Metro Voice and other periodicals across the country. You can currently read Phil’s reviews and articles here.
For simplicity, and to give you a wider sampling, we haven’t duplicated any film (for example two of Phil’s 5 could fit easily on my list). All the films are arranged alphabetically below. Enjoy!
Phil Boatwright’s Top 5
Casablanca - I have always considered Citizen Kane the one flawless film, but after a recent viewing of Rick & Elsa’s great love story, I’ve capitulated – Casablanca truly reigns as the greatest motion picture of all time. I cannot find a false or ineffective camera angle, line or performance in the entire production. Love, honor and patriotism prevail. It’s a film I never get tired of viewing.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - All-star cast includes Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney…oh, heck, it stars every major comic from the ‘30s to the ‘60s! A non-stop laugh-a-thon as a group of motorists learn of a fortune buried 200 miles away.
The Magnificent Seven - Derived from the Kurosawa “Eastern,” The Seven Samurai, about gunmen defending a poor Mexican village from bandits is perfectly cast, and contains great shootouts. Elmer Bernstein’s music is outstanding. (I’m actually getting a little tired of the film, but it’s taken me near eighty showings to do it.)
The Quiet Man - Most film historians grudgingly accept John Wayne as one of the grandest personas ever to appear on celluloid. Some even take umbrage to the pronouncement that he could not act. From my research over the years, I’ve discovered John Wayne was John Wayne. Bigger than life with a Mount Rushmore identity, Wayne was brave, tough, generous and patriotic, just like the man in played in a 150 movies. Even political foes like Lauren Bacall and Kirk Douglas stand in awe of what he was and what he stood for. True, no one has made more dreadful films (Rio Lobo, The Conqueror, Jet Pilot), but on the other hand, few have given us any more entertaining pictures than The Quiet Man. In it Wayne is indomitable in dealing with Victor McLaglen, humorous with Barry Fitzgerald, and tender with one of the most beautiful women on the movie screen, Maureen O’Hara. John Ford won a deserving Best Director Oscar for this production of a man returning to his roots and discovering that love with an Irish redhead can be as rocky and beautiful as Ireland itself. A loving, sentimental look at the Ireland we all wish existed. Great music, cinematography and story make this one of the Duke’s best. Romance, humor and one of the longest fight scenes ever filmed!
Singin’ in the Rain - There are some very funny lines and sequences in this movie, but it’s the dance numbers that truly stand out. Donald O’Connor’s Make ‘Em Laugh does just that. And I defy you to not feel the joy of found love as Gene Kelly does the classic title song.
Alan’s Top 5
2001: A Space Odyssey - I needed a sci-fi flick and for reasons mentioned above took Star Wars out of the equation. That left me with a quandary. I also needed a Stanley Kubrick film (everybody should own at least one) and although this isn’t my favorite film of his it does fill both categories nicely. It’s influence can still be felt today (remember 2006’s The Fountain, or the look of last year’s Sunshine), and it remains one of the most ambitious projects any director attempted. This space opera of a black monolith, a crazy computer, and an ending I’m still not sure I completely understand, pushed the envelope in every way. It’s one of the few films that you can watch over and over and leave with a slightly different experience each time.
All The President’s Men - Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, who have rarely been better, bring the true story of Watergate to the big screen. The film is based off the book by Woodward and Bernstein which chronicled their investigation into the Watergate scandal and led to the eventual resignation of President Nixon. From production, to acting, to directing, to storytelling, the film works on every conceivable level and presents an important message about journalism which only Good Night and Good Luck (30 years later!, read that review) has come close to. The two-disc special edition includes featurettes on time period, the reporters, journalism, the impact of the film, the real life Deep Throat, and commentary from Redford.
Garden State - This might seem to stand out against the other films on the list, but it’s meant to. We all have movies like this in our collection. Sure there are better films on the shelf but somehow this one keeps finding itself in the DVD player. I’m a big fan of Zach Braff’s (who wrote and directed as well as starred in the film) off-beat love story, and have lost track of the number of times I’ve watched it. This is the film which finally made me like Natalie Portman, and think maybe that Scrubs guy has something afterall (though everything he’s done since has made a strong argument for this being an anomoly rather than a breakthrough). And that soundtrack! Garden State is a supremely watchable, and enjoyable, film. Check out the full review.
Rear Window - James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock. What more could you possibly want. This film has many imitators but no true successor. For more on the beautifully remastered DVD read my full review.
The Third Man - Orson Welles. It was hard to choose a film for this list. I also considered Citizen Kane and A Touch of Evil, but in the end chose this noir thriller about a fool (Joseph Cotten) who stumbles into murder and mayhem in post-WWII Vienna, and solves the murder of his friend Harry Lime (Welles). Aside from having the best reveal of all time, and one of the greatest speeches (about cuckoo clocks, of all things) the film also sports one of the most unique film scores, and a style and atmosphere perfectly suited to the story. The two-disc Criterion Edition is filled to the brim with extras and features including multiple audio commentaries, a Graham Green radio recording, documentaries, featurettes, and more. Like all Criterion discs it’s a bit pricey ($39.99) and almost impossible to find on sale, anywhere, but this one is worth it. There are few films as memorable, and fans of cinema could, and have, spent years dissecting the camera angles, the lighting, and Anton Karas and his zither. Just how good is this film? Both the AFI (American Film Institute) and the BFI (British Film Institute), both claiming ownership to it, rank it among the best films of all time!