Something about posting personal "Top Five" lists feels like cheating — but I'm juggling multiple deadlines this week and we only have another four days left on this blog theme, so I'm not ashamed to take the easy way out.
Lists like these are always arbitrary. These are my top five today; ask me tomorrow, and it might be a different list. I'm not even going to try to rank these within the list, so they're in alphabetical order. Leave your own favorites in the comments section.
1. All About Eve (1950). I came late to this movie — in fact, I don't think I saw it until I moved to Los Angeles. It's possible that I wouldn't have appreciated it as much before I lived in L.A., although no one can deny the sheer brilliance of this movie. Bette Davis plays Margo Channing, an aging Broadway star, and Anne Baxter is the oh-so-helpful Eve Harrington, who wants everything Margo has. George Sanders steals the show as gossip columnist Addison DeWitt, who manages to be both slimy and sexy: "I'm Addison DeWitt, and I'm nobody's fool — least of all yours." Hard to choose between this movie and Sunset Boulevard, a very different take on similar themes, but today I'll give Eve the edge.
2. Broadcast News (1987). Holly Hunter plays Jane Craig, a TV news producer struggling against lower standards (represented by handsome new anchor Tom Grunick, played by William Hurt) and oblivious to the devotion of her colleague, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks in the best role of his career). So much of finding a favorite movie is about when you see it; this one came out the year after I left school, when I was first trying to figure out how to be a grown-up and a career woman in Washington, DC. For better or worse, Jane Craig was my role model. I have written about this movie before, more than once. I own it, but will still watch it whenever I find it on the cable TV schedule. I can recite long stretches of its dialogue by heart.
3. The Exorcist (1973). Yeah, I think this has to go on the list. I read the book before I saw the movie, and the book scared me silly. The movie is better. Linda Blair is always the one people mention, but Ellen Burstyn gives an extraordinary performance as Chris MacNeil, a brittle, self-absorbed actress whose daughter is taken over by forces beyond her imagination. Jason Miller is gut-wrenching as Father Karras, whose final triumph over doubt is a Pyrrhic victory. I don't own this movie, because I can only stand to watch it about once a year; it still scares me that much.
4. A Face in the Crowd (1957). I was lucky enough to grow up near one of the nation's great independent movie theaters, the Naro Expanded Cinema in Norfolk, VA. When I was a teenager, the Naro showed double features every night, some thematically-linked combination of old, foreign, and art-house movies that formed my basic education in film. If I ever win the lottery (unlikely, as we know, since I don't play), I want to run a theater just like the old Naro. A Face in the Crowd would make a perfect double feature with Broadcast News. Patricia Neal plays an ambitious small-town radio producer who discovers Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a charismatic grifter whose larger-than-life personality becomes the foundation of a media empire. Mesmerizing, uncannily insightful, and should be required viewing for anyone interested in American politics.
5. Manhattan (1979). Yes, the things we now know about Woody Allen (and wish we didn't) can't help but change the way we watch this movie. But I fell in love with it in 1981, the summer I was 15, and love it the way I still love my high school boyfriend. Woody Allen plays a character who is basically Woody Allen, having a doomed affair with the teenaged Mariel Hemingway and falling in love with Diane Keaton as a neurotic, self-destructive writer. Woody is at least trying to be a grown-up here, without understanding what that means; the ending is both tragic and hopeful, and Mariel Hemingway's last line may be the best final line in any movie, ever.