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Like most people I have a list of movies and plays which I have a particular fondness for. I wasn't much of a movie person and my love for theater hadn't developed until later in life. I starred in multiple theater productions through school and camp. I could all but be assured of a leading role for anything I tried out for in these typical amateur productions, and maybe I should have pursued this. But the best drama to star in was my personal life, which far exceeded anything a playwright could come up with.

In some ways I was luck with regard to movies. We didn't know it as kids, but we were growing up at the peak time for movies and television. Many of the greatest movies had been produced in the afterglow of the cultural revolution of the 1960's and into the 1970's creativity seemed to be brewing with the new balance of independent studios and the traditional studios. In addition, the movie business seemed to learn how to leverage the new TV medium to its advantage and the age of the blockbuster was upon us. Disaster movies became vague with the Towering Inferno, Earthquake in Senssurround, and the The Poseidon Adventure made millions for a while. There was the trend for ensemble casts with a dozen superstar actors in multiple formats, not just disaster films, but comedies like the Airplane series. The summer blockbuster became a big industry for Hollywood. Horror films and SciFi made memoriable advanced with films like Logans' Run, Planet of the Apes and Jaws. But through the commercialism extraordinary works came to huge audiences and nearly anyone could find a movie to their tastes.

Among these break through films included the The Warriors, The Lords of Flatbush, The Sting, The Natural, 2001, American Graffiti, MASH, The Godfather, Rosemary's Baby, Annie Hall, One flew of the Cuckoo's Nest, Network, Taxi Driver, Blazing Saddles, and Saturday Night Fever. By the end of the 1970's the movie industry had in place a new generation of superstar producers, and directors, which put out the most suffused cinematic works in Western culture. Aside from the Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola, Star Wars, by George Lucus, embedded itself into the very lexicon of conventional English. With the development of Steven Speilberg with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the 1970's closed to set up the 1980's and 1990's with the richest vein special movies in history (cont).

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Post Star Wars brings on a stream of special movies, as CGI effects and great acting drive the media forward. A quick run down of movies from the 1980s include ET, Poltergeist, The Blues Brothers, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Breakfast Club, The Purple Rose of Cario, Ghostbuster, Back to the Future, The Emmpire Strikes Back, The Princess Bride, Rain Man, Top Gun, Batman, St Elmo's Fire, Dirty Dancing, Caddy Shack, Dead Poets Society, Hello Vietnam, Tootsie, When Harry Met Sally, Broadcast News, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Batman, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And that was just the 1980's. The 1990's continued with this rich vein and brought us Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, Total Recall, Dancing with Wolves, Terminator, Beauty and the Beast, Silence of the Lambs, Aladdin, Toy Story, Apollo 13, and Pulp Fiction.

It was a deep vein of classic movies that seeped into the current century. But, when one goes to the movies today, this being 2019 as I write this, one is at a lost to understand were all the movie makers went. You look at the marque now and all you see is big monster movies with cgi smashing and animation ... 1,2,3. Superhero movies are rolling out, one after the next. There is nothing to see. I've been a long fan of independent films, seeing them at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and at the Angelika, and even this stream of talent seems to have died up. Politics has spoiled much of those films. It leaves us with not much to see.


Count Down Top Twenty Movies

  1. Lost in Translation - Sophia Coppola

    The movie that introduced Scarlet Johanson to the world as an adult, but it is Bill Murphy's greatest work. It is so subtle, and emotionally charged, like a fine painting. As it opens, you can painfully feel the jet lag that Bill Murph portrays, and it does so with minimal movement or action. Just Bill taking a cab ride with background music. And from there, you are hooked into the whirlwind emotion haze of this old time action hero actor, and his existential search for meaning in his life. There is no adequate description in words for this movie. It could never be done today, and nothing quite like it will be ever seen again. I takes the time to tell a story. And the story perhaps has no plot. It is a Romance that is impossible. It is a movie that breaks your heart, and still leaves you feeling positive about life. I love every part of this movie. It is unique and perfect.
  2. The Sting - with Robert Redford and Paul Newman

    The Sting is a movie that just has to be experienced. In theory it is a movie about a big con. But it is far more. It is a social commentary on racism in the US, and the brotherhood of the urban street. It is about crime and its fabled place in American culture and American literature. All this is perfectly painted on the canvas of the big silver screen. It has comedy, mystery, and drama. It is probably the greatest movie script ever written and it is acted and directed to perfection. This is Redford and Newman at their Movie Star greatest to produce a movie so shocking, and so entertaining, that nothing compares to it. One can say that all the cinema prior to the Sting tried to do what the Sting did, but missed at various levels. The Sting was not a book adaptation, nor any other form of media, but from its inception was designed as a full feature motion picture, maybe the best one ever done.
  3. Pan's Labyrinth - Guillermo del Toro

    Pan's Labyrinth is a Spanish speaking film with English subtitles, but once it starts you will never notice. To watch it in anything other than the Spanish it was written in would be butchering it. It is a fairy tail built into a nightmare. It feels almost like it came from the pages of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. It has a fantastic sound track, as do most great movies and a sophisticated integration of CGI with live action. It is based on mythological beings, drawn from the archives of western paganism. Two intertwined tales are being told and at the end, one is left with the question of which is the reality (at least as defined in the movie) and which is the myth. It would seem, at least, that the reality is even more brutal that the fairy tail, despite the fairy tails best efforts. Does Offelia yet live? We will never know. How much do you believe in the power of a young girls imagination?
  4. Star Wars - George Lucus

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away ...
    What can one possible add to the discussions on this film other than that it was the single most important movie ever created... Period. But you haven't seen Star Wars until you have seen it in its original ASCII:
    telnet towel.blinkenlights.nl or in a java ascii window?
    Technical Consultant on Star Wars - "George you can't hear sound in space" George - "Too bad man".
    It is sad to know that Star Wars has fallen to Disney.
  5. Pulp Fiction - Quentin Tarantino

    All the great movies have great quotes, and this one is packed with memorable lines from beginning to end. This is the movie, that among other things, showed us that John Travalta is really a fine actors and a big screen giant. One of the weird things about Pulp Fiction is that it has at least 4 huge movie stars who tend to overshadow the screen in Travalta, Jackson, Thurman, and Willis, and they even work together. Yet Tarantino manages to pull them all together into a coherent whole and nobody, regardless of thier screen presence, overshadows the others. They work together to tell this circular story in perfect rhythm. Violent, this movie is for sure. But it works in a way that adds to the story. It is not randomly violent, for the sake of blood letting. It is amazingly well thought out and told out of sequence, which was novel at the time, if not totally inventive. My favorite quote from the film: "Only thing Antoine ever touched of mine was my hand when he shook it … at my wedding. … Truth is, nobody knows why Marsellus threw Tony out of that fourth-story window except Marsellus and Tony. When you little scamps get together, you're worse than a sewing circle."
  6. Breakfast at Tiffany's

    This nearly became Robert Redford's 3rd movie on this list but instead the role of Paul was given to George Peppard, which worked out fine because this adaptation of Truman Capotes novel truly is all about the wonders of Audrey Hepbrun. Since her youth, Audrey Hepbrun was the dutch treat to American cinema, especially for returning GI's from WWII who had experienced Europe. Vaguely international in all her roles, she had break out movies playing European women of grace such as in Roman Holiday in which she was 24 years old. Tiffany's was a different role for Hepburn... more mature and not about her appeal as a European women, but as an American, Midwestern at that, call girl trying to marry big in the big City of New York.

    I once saw this movie on the big screen in Manhattan and despite seeing it multiple times, I was amazed to see that the movie was in color. New York is such a gray city, that it dominates the color for this film. I remembered it as being in black and white. And there I was, watching Mickey Rooney shouting in full color. Watching movies on the big screen is a different experience.

    Breakfast with Tiffany's is remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which that it handles the fact that Holly Golightly is a call girl and friendly with mobsters in such a way that one is barely offended. It handles overt sexual topics gracefully, and allows one to connect with the characters beyond their obvious sexuality. It is a movie about style, and this is a central theme of the film, which in 1961 was in the middle of what might be one of the great cultural moments in the fashion and design industry. But the most memorable part of this movie is the "not to be missed" party scene. It is one of the greatest moments captured in film.

  7. Bridget Jones

    This might seem to be an odd choice for the twenty best movies of all time, but the truth is that Renée Zellweger, with help from Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, put together one of the greatest character movies of all time. I have watched this movie, likely more than any other in my collection. Renée Zellweger completely immersed herself and becomes one with Bridget Jones. Her acting is among the best ever. Her comical timing among the best ever. Her heartstrings acting, among the best ever. Renée Zellweger is one of the few actresses which I will seek out and see anything she ever does. Even flops that she does, end up worth seeing, because Zellweger is such a fine actress. The biggest problem for her is to find roles that are big enough for her. The original Bridget movie fit the bill. The other squeals suffer bad writing and a lack of originality. This film also contains one of the great scenes in cinematic history. The fight scene alone is worth the price of admission. James Callis is quite a ham but it works so well.
  8. Before Sunrise: Before Sunset :Before Midnight - Listed in this order so that you might watch them in correct order

    Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke team up for the most romantic film ever produced with the production of Before Sunrise in 1995 made when Deply was about 25 years old and Hawke about 10 months older. Normally the specific age of the actors wouldn't be so important accept that Before Sunrise was ended on an enormous cliff hanger... would Céline and Jesse ever meet again?

    Well, they did quite unexpectedlyi, 9 years later, when the actors are about 34 years old, in a movie one would think not even possible. A follow up movie is released, even more seductive, more romantic, and more intense than even the first. While the first movie is about young lovers learning about romance, and themselves, this second film is a tour de force with characters who reignite there romance with maturity and experience at the art of seduction. They nearly torture each other in a juicy real life portrayal of the mid-life crisis.


    Both of these films have almost no plot. They are hours of dialogue. They are the all about that moment when a man and a women fall into intense infatuation. All the potent emotion exploration of the possibilities of that moment come forward in these two films, and percolate. People of both genders spend a lifetime dreaming of this kind of love affair, and never acquire it. In this regard, these films reinforce a fantasy about our intimate lives, and marriages. Oh, but what a fantasy this is! This is a film that takes one where Star Wars fears to ever go! One has to root for Jesse and Céline because if they can not bare the fruit of romantic infatuation into mature love, then nobody can, and we are all lost. But at the end, we are completely uncertain if these two lovers can bridge the grind of there lives to live to their potential


    And then 9 years later, the third movie comes out, again without fanfare or press. It is just sprung upon us unexpectedly, released at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. I don't even want to engage in the experience of the third film, because I believe that one needs to experience it fresh. At this point Céline and Jesse are 43 years old, mature adults. See this movie for yourself, but not until you see the first two.

  9. The Natural - Robert Redford and Glenn Close based on a novel by Bernard Malamud

    This is the second Robert Redford movie on this list, after the Sting. This film is a heart breaker every time I see it with an ending that is so cheesy that you wonder how in the world you can be in tears after watching this film for the 30th plus time.... but there you are, with the ending swing of the bat, eyes full of tears.

    This is the greatest sports movie ever done; there is really nothing close. The cast is full of character actors doing their best work with Wilford Brimley playing the warm and comical Pops Fisher, the manager of the Gotham Knights, Robert Duvall playing the arrogant and ambitious newsman, Max Mercy. Kim Basinger plays the femme fatale as Memo. Glenn Close plays Iris, the literary device for motherhood and all things good that is half this films morality play and the counter force to Basinger's Memo. Darren McGavin plays the extraordinary and complex Gus Sands, professional gambler and enabler for Memo, and the Judge who conspires to take the team from Pops. The overall production is as good as any movie you will ever see.. from end to end. The only thing I will say is that the original book ends very differently than the movie and to read it after seeing the film makes for an interesting contrast. You get to see the same body of work from two different angles, like seeing brothers who are close, but very different.

    The only other thing I think I would like to mention about this film is that I find it ironic and sad that Glenn Close, who plays Iris, the character that is the embodiment of motherhood, and the supportive role of womanhood in society in real life despises that role for women and made some very difficult to hear negative statements about her mothers life. Evidently, Glenn Close didn't believe that a lifetime spent raising a child such as Glenn Close amounts to anything significant and that was a wasted life.

  10. Good Morning Vietnam - Robin Willaims

    Coming out of Mork and Mindy, Robin Williams found it difficult to find his footing in the movie business. Hello Vietnam was the movie that launched Robin into a successful movie career. I remember being so bummed with Popeye, and exciting at the previews for Hello Vietnam. Williams was brilliant. The film was brilliant. Laugh until you pass out and then cry over the pain. The scenes with the radio broadcast made this movie historic.

    I miss Robin Williams and his passing makes my life that much harder every day.

  11. Network - I'm mad as Hell - and I am not going to take it anymore

    A positively iconic film that might be slipping from public consciousness, which is too bad because we need Network more now than ever. The message of Network, its comedy, its political satire, its foreshadowing for some of the deepest societal issues that we face as a civilization are more prescient now than even when the film was created. We are all living in a Post-Network world.

    We are living in a world where we are sitting on the edge of our seats with heightened sensitivity waiting for the latest tidbit of urgent news from a media and technology that we barely understand. What can possibly go wrong? Watch Network and find out!

    Diana Christensen: Hi. I'm Diana Christensen, a racist lackey of the imperialist ruling circles.
    Laureen Hobbs: I'm Laureen Hobbs, a badass commie nigger.
    Diana Christensen: Sounds like the basis of a firm friendship.

  12. Manchester By The Sea - 2016 Kenneth Lonergan

    Manchester by the Sea is as intense sideways romantic drama that stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Lucas Hedges. This is a story about the aftermath of a personal tragedy for a couple who loses their children in a house fire after a party. It is about guilt, and loss. But most of all it is about the love between the two main characters, Randi and Lee Chandler, the parents that suffered the loss of their two children. Randi, the mother, is able to move on with her life, through the pain. Lee simply can't. Their meeting on the top of the hill, where they both spit out dialogue, seemingly meaningless words, full of tears, is among the greatest scenes ever filmed. If you can't feel the love and trauma that these two people share in this scene, you need to question your core humanity. No film I know of has ever even remotely captured the emotional spectrum that this one scene does in Manchester.
  13. The Empire Strikes Back

    The consensus best of the Star Wars franchise, this is the movie that introduced Yoda and gave the franchise a mysticism slant.
  14. The Green Mile - Tom Hanks

    Tom Hanks made several films that could easily be on this list, but I've limited this to twenty films, and already cheated. But it is worth noting that Hanks, one of my favorite actors (along with Robin Williams, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Harrison Ford) also acted in Apollo 13, Big, Saving Private Ryan, the Terminal (which very nearly made this list), Forrest Gump (which would have made many peoples list), Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, A League of Their Own, Bonfires, and Charlie Wilson's War. And that is just the top of the list. His B films are better than most peoples A films.

    What separates out the Green Mile is not just Hanks incredible acting, which you almost have to take for granted, with his usual sensitivity and ear he brings to this movie about death row in a southern prison, but that his costar, Michael Clarke Duncan, who plays an idiot with the superpower of healing through empathy, pulls off his role as well, making one believe that indeed, a 300 pound blackman with an IQ of 60 can indeed perform miracles. This film feeds off of so many stereotypes and yet handles them gracefully and in a believable fashion. Once you get into it, you can not stop watching. This film is a serious piece of Americana and delves deeply into the cultural realities of the US during the depression. It handles all issues, head on, and without commentary. The story is allowed to speak for itself with fanfare.

  15. The Devil Wears Prada - Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway

    There was a time in recent history where when one rode the New York City subway in the morning and that you could observe a great number of people, particularly women, reading books on the ride in and out of work. This was often the bread and butter of the New York Times best sellers list in its book review section. Three particular books stood out on the trains longer and more obvious than the hundreds of others. These three were Bridget Jones, 50 Shades of Gray and the biggest one of all, The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. Something about the Devil Wears Prada spoke specifically to the up and coming women in NYC at the turn of the millennium. The movie gets a bit of the Hollywood treatment. Andie, instead of being fired as she is in the book, leaves on her own terms and gains admiration of the protagonist, Miranda Priestly.

    I've watched this movie dozens of time. Anne Hathaway is the modern version of Audrey Hepburn. She is elegant and witty and commands presence on the screen. But it is Meryl Streep that truly makes in a top 20 movie of history. Meryl Streep might be the greatest actress of this generation, and this, in my opinion, is her greatest role.

  16. Ruby Sparks - Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano 2012

    If Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano never do anything significant again, their work in Ruby Sparks will testify for them for eternity. This is a relatively unknown film which brilliantly explores the dark side of emotional development and relationship building. Oddly familiar although patently impossible, this film speaks to the universal experience of many couples. In the end, this is about a relationship that spins into a spiral of abuse and control. In the climatic finish, the male protagonist has to finally decide what he wants more, control, or to risk the relationship and allow his romantic interest to be a free women. In most cases, these things don't work out well, but in the end, in this fantasy, Calvin Weirs, the movies male protagonist, get a do over, a chance to apply his learned lessons to a fresh start. Ruby Sparks is a compelling modern comedy that explores depression and relationships openly and without judgement. It give the hope that romance can outlive the difficulties of real relationships.
  17. The Silver Linings Playbook - Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradly Cooper, Jacki Weaver

    This is one of the great romantic comedies ever done, with an entertaining and enlightening twist and look at mental illness and obsessive compulsive disorder. The movie put Jennifer Lawrence into the public eye for mainstream roles. She had already been famous for the Hunger Games, and I had seen her in a great independent film called Winter's Bone, a biting look at poverty in the Orzarks which Lawrence filmed at age twenty. Lawrence might now be the biggest women movie star in America. And Silver Linings Playbook was the vehicle that made her the world beater.

    The film has more great lines than any other than perhaps Pulp Fiction. And like most great films, it has scenes that are historically important in cinema. In this case, the scene where Tiffany Maxwell is trolling Pat Sr and Ronnie into betting everything on a dance contest parlayed with an Eagles football game lights of the big screen leaving everyone in the theater ready to by into one of the great sleigh rides in theatrical history. Entertaining... for sure. More than that, it is one of the great emotional roller coasters ever put on film.

  18. Ironman and Ironman II - Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow

    This is a great Romantic Comedy disguised as a superhero flick.
  19. Spiderman II - Doc Oc - Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina

    This is the best of all superhero flicks. The Dr Oc battle sequences are the best comic action scenes ever done. Before this movie, cinema was not capable of doing comics realistically. Spider-man II was the movie to prove this wrong.
  20. Tombstone -Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Dana Delany`

    This is movie that takes a page from the Drama's of the 1930s and 1940s but is modernized. The casting for this movie was exception and this is by far the greatest performance by Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, who both put on great theatrical performances in this character driven retelling of the shoot out at the OK Coral.

    This story is subtly one of the great films. It's pacing is pitch perfect, as is the sets, customs and directing. At the end of the day, the film is stolen by Doc Holiday. But you will believe in each of these characters, and they feel as real as your neighbors and friends. They are all imperfect, and morally ambiguit. But you want Wyatt at at your cook out this summer. And the love of these brothers for each others is romantic and genuine. Great great movie..

  21. Dead Poets Society - My Captain, My Captain