10 "MUST SEE" Films - ALL ARE 5 STAR FILMS
The following list is not meant to be a definitive one, only an opinion from someone who believes in the overpowering power of cinema to influence our lives in a most positive and energetic way. While an actor in Los Angeles, I was a Tour Guide at Universal Studios where I was considered to be the most knowledgeable guide in the history of the tour. I estimate that I have seen at least 10,000 films while I currently see between three to five films a week in addition to staying abreast of current New York and Los Angeles stage productions. My intent here is to provide suggestions for film viewings and not to reveal too many plot points so as not to ruin the film going experience of seeing a movie for the first time.
1) A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS – 1966
Fred Zinnemann’s film version of a play by Robert Bolt based on the life of Sir Thomas Moore
(later canonized a saint), details the conflict between Moore and King Henry VIII of England over his decision to break with the Catholic
Church when he cannot obtain a decree of divorce from the Church over his marriage to Catherine of Spain. An exemplary piece
of film making with a compelling and beautifully told story with outstanding performances from Wendy Hiller, Susannah York & Robert
Shaw among others. This film won six Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for Paul Scofield, in a role that he originated both on
the London and New York stages for which he also won the Tony Award.
2) DEPARTURES – 2008
Yojiro Takita’s recent film is the kind of work that is rarely seen anymore and almost never in the United States (BELLA is a recent exception). This is a picture of such beauty and sensitivity that it should be required viewing for every human being alive today. It restores one’s reason for hope in the human race with a story of forgiveness that is almost unparalleled in the history of cinema. This picture won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 2008 and stars Masahiro Motoki in a beautifully modulated performance of both simplicity and complexity.
3) TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
1962 – Robert Mulligan’s film version of Harper Lee’s extraordinary novel one of the few times a film did full justice to its literary roots. Considered by many to be the 20th Century’s finest novel,it is based on the life of Ms. Lee’s father during the Jim Crow south of the 1930’s. Gregory Peck won a well deserved Oscar as Best Actor, in a role that defined him as the perfect father.
4) LAWRENCE OF ARABIA – 1962
David Lean’s film version of the life of T.E. Lawrence based in part on Mr. Lawrence’s autobiography
THE SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM, is truly grand filmmaking in every sense of the word. With a compelling story, there are few films
as visually arresting, fully justifying the multiple Oscar wins including Best Picture of the Year. Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guiness
and a host of the 2oth Century’s best actors round out the cast of this true spectacular in all its 70MM glory.
5) FORBIDDEN GAMES (JEUX INTERDIS) – 1952
Rene Clement’s film of the devastating effect of war on the lives of two children is both heart wrenching and utterly heart breaking in its execution. A must see film with two of the greatest performances given by children in the history of cinema (Georges Poujouly as Michel Dolle and Brigitte Fossey as Paulette). This film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 1952, I believe one of the first times this award was given.
6) THE BICYCLE THIEF (AKA BICYCLE THIEVES) – 1948
Victorio DeSica’s beautiful film of life in post war Italy and the devastating effects of poverty and the very precariousness of life itself, was an arbiter of the Italian new wave of cinema. It stars Enzo Staiola as Bruno Ricci and Lamberto Maggiorani as his small son, Antonio Ricci. This film had a profound effect on me as a child and continues to do so to this day.
7) MY FAIR LADY – 1964
George Cukor’s film adaption of the 1955 Lerner and Lowe musical based on both the 1938 film adaptation of a 1913 play by George Bernard Shaw (which won Shaw an Oscar for Best Screenplay Adaptation in 1938). This is truly extraordinary filmmaking where the incorporation of both music and visuals is so seamless as to have been edited in heaven. Though Jack Warner took much heat for not casting stage original Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, Audrey Hepburn did an exemplary job as did Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins (in a role that won him both the Tony and Academy Awards for Best Actor) and Stanley Holloway reprising his stage role as Alfred P. Doolittle. And kudos to Cecil Beaton for his Oscar winning costume and production design (he won two Oscars that night). This film also won the Oscar for Best Picture, proving perhaps to be the best musical film adaptation in history.
8) THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATHEW – 1964
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film is the best film ever produced on the life of Jesus Christ. He reportedly chose Matthew’s Gospel over the others because he felt that John’s was too mystical, Mark’s too vulgar, and Luke’s too sentimental. It is the retelling of the story of Jesus’ life from the Nativity to the Resurrection with dialogue taken primarily from the Gospel of Matthew as Pasolini felt that images could never reach the poetic heights of the texts. Again, this film had a profound effect on me as a child and continues to do so to this day. Enrique Irazoqui, a college student at the time, was chosen by Pasolini to portray Christ in a beautifully executed and deeply felt performance of total naturalness. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
9) REBECCA – 1940
Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier’s novel of the same name, was again a flawless version of a beautiful book, hitting all of the right notes in its execution. Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. DeWinter and Laurence Olivier as Max DeWinter helped David O. Selznick win his second Oscar in a row for Best Picture of the Year (he won the previous year for GONE WITH THW WIND). It should be noted that this was the only time that a film by Alfred Hitchcock ever won an Academy Award (he also never won an Academy Award himself, not even an honorary Oscar).
10) CASABLANCA – 1942
Michael Curtiz’s classic film adaptation based on an unproduced play by Murray Burnett & Joan Allison with an Oscar winning screenplay by Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein and Howard Koch is what many consider to be the most romantic film of all time. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henried, Claude Rains and Peter Lorre round out one of the most spectacular casts ever assembled in everyone’s favorite espionage, romantic thriller. This film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1942.