Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Five Favorite Movies

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.

9 comments:

AnswerGirl said...

And of course the minute I hit "post" I thought, "But what about House of Games?!" If this list went to six, it would include House of Games, a brilliant David Mamet thriller starring Joe Mantegna and Lindsay Crouse that includes one of my all-time favorite exchanges:

Mental patient: I know there are people who are normal.

Dr. Margaret Ford: Are there?

Mental patient: Yes, there are. But . . .

Dr. Ford: But what?

Mental patient: But I don't know what those people do.

Sue Lin said...

Your list tracks mine. A few years ago, I was a logistics handler for Joe Mangegna when he was co-hosting PBS' annual Memorial Day concernt - we had lots of time to talk about movies. He said the #1 question he always got was about "House of Games" and that it was such a favorite.

I would add to the list - "Great Expectations" (David Lean version), "Lawrence of Arabia."

AnswerGirl said...

Lawrence of Arabia is an amazing film that I was lucky enough to see for the first time at the Uptown, on the big screen. At the time, Peter O'Toole may have been the most beautiful human being on the planet.

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Great list. Yes, All About Eve would make my list (especially the line that I always torment my daughter with when she gives me trouble, which is "you're too short for that gesture"). Probably Double Indemnity, though my favorite final line comes from (gee whiz what a surprise) Wilder's Some Like It Hot. Then I'd add Sweet Smell of Success, and then the film I could never turn off, even if it played a constant loop forever, Hard Day's Night.

Kevin Wignall said...

Funny, Stella Duffy was saying at the weekend that "All About Eve" is her favourite. It's a terrific film, with Davis and Sanders at the top of their game.

Haven't seen No.4, I don't think, though the name is familiar.

Also interesting that none of these would feature in my Top 5 but they're all great films. I agree with Sue, and "Lawrence of Arabia" might. So might "I Know Where I'm Going" and "The Third Man" and "Au Revoir Les Enfants" and... that's the problem with narrowing it down to five (but you've done an incredible job of doing just that this last year).

AnswerGirl said...

I am always surprised by how few people have seen A Face in the Crowd, and it seems almost unknown outside the United States. It is a specifically American film, but I think Europeans would appreciate it for that very reason.

I probably never would have seen I Know Where I'm Going! if not for your recommendation, so thanks for that!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Andy Griffith as you've never seen him. Great list. Yes SOME LIKE IT HOT would make mine. BRINGING UP BABY. MANHATTAN. GODFATHER 2. THE GRADUATE.

Anonymous said...

Five favorite movies is such a tough list. And I support yours, especially "Face in the Crowd" (Haw! Haw! Haw!) Still, I'm sold on my top 3. The fourth and fifth slots could be filled by a rotating cast of about 20 films. As of today, I'll go with:

1. Hoop Dreams
2. Tao of Steve
3. 12 Angry Men
4. The Apostle
5. Tender Mercies

Yep, two Rober Duvall movies.

-- Ed

AnswerGirl said...

Oh, The Tao of Steve is brilliant — it would make a list of "Top Five Genius Movies You've Never Seen," along with Blue Car,Guinevere, The Brothers Bloom, and 25th Hour.