This is part-two of a seven part series which will publish daily.
- The Professionals (1966)
Nothing’s harmless in this desert unless it’s dead.
An aging oil tycoon (Ralph Bellamy) goads desperate mercenaries — Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode — deep into Mexico to rescue Claudia Cardinale from revolutionary leader Jack Palance.
Richard Brooks directs.
Need I say more?
See also: Valdez is Coming, 100 Rifles, For a Few Dollars More, Bandolero!, The Scalphunters, Hannie Caulder, Chato’s Land, Jeremiah Johnson, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.
- Grizzly Man (2005)
I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder.
Werner Herzog’s best documentary to date is a hypnotic look at the troubled and ultimately tragic life of environmentalist and animal rights activist Timothy Treadwell. Herzog is belligerently unconcerned with romanticizing his subject or the animal kingdom that tore Treadwell and his girlfriend to bits.
Herzog never lets us forget that animals are called animals for a reason, and no amount of hippy-dippy sweet talk can ever save you from a bear — even if you name it Mr. Chocolate.
Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we’re all dead!
Three years after the punishing disappointment that was Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), the legendary crew of the Starship Enterprise reunited for what might have been the last time had the movie not been so successful. The result is a vengeance-driven space opera that still thrills at the speed of light.
What we also have here is a sequel to Space Seed, an episode of the original television series, that was smart enough to bring back 62 year-old Ricardo Montalban as Khan, a villain whose intellect and physicality has been genetically enhanced, along with his hubris.
As the ever-resourceful Captain Kirk, Williams Shatner still steals the picture. Effectively translating a small screen hero to the big screen is no small feat. At 87 years of age, Shatner is still a superstar, and has been for more than 50 years. Those wondering why need only watch the scene where Kirk drops Kahn’s shields — the greatest single moment in the entire Star Trek universe.
See also: Star Trek II t0 VII.
Do not ever see: Star Trek Beyond, Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: Nemesis.
- Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
You’re trying to get me to be his mother.
Director Roman Polanski might be a degenerate child rapist, but he still crafted a horror film that works on so many levels you find something new with each viewing: The horror of needy neighbors who just won’t go away. The horror of failing at your dreams. The horror of not knowing if you are the only one who is not crazy.
The getting-raped-by-Satan stuff is not what sticks to your ribs the next day; it is Ruth Gordon’s passive-aggressive meddling disguised as concern — her forcing you to choose between being rude and enjoying some peace of mind. We’ve all been there, and it is a nightmare, and Polanski’s genius was his grasp of that everyday truth; and Gordon won her Oscar for bringing that nightmare to life.
Mia Farrow is astonishingly good, and as her duplicitous husband, John Cassavettes remains one of the great casting choices in all of Hollywood history.
See also: The Changeling, The Omen, The Exorcist, The Exorcist III, Repulsion, The Conjuring.
- Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)
Do you know why I talk so funny? Because I’ve been hit a million times.
Luis “Mountain” Rivera (Anthony Quinn) is all punch-drunk innocence and at the mercy of a subculture lousy with mobsters, users, and many-time losers who can’t or won’t let go of what little they have, even if it means lying, cheating, beating, and exploiting it to hold on.
Mountain’s entire emotional life revolves around Maish (Jackie Gleason, who should’ve won the Oscar), a bottom feeder Mountain will do anything for. And when Maish lets him do just that, your heart is broken forever.
Mickey Rooney and Julie Harris round out a perfect cast in one of those rarities that actually improves on what was already a classic: Rod Serling’s award-winning 1956 teleplay. Beautifully filmed in glorious black and white with the added benefit of a Muhammad Ali (still Cassisus Clay) cameo.
See also: Rocky I, II, III, IV, VI, and Creed.
Do not ever see: Rocky V, Over the Top.
The command is wiped out, sir, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Commander John Ford served his country during WWII and came home enamored with the tradition and ritual that have come to define America’s fighting services. Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande all star John Wayne but explore singular themes about marriage, ones place in the world, what it means to be a man, how myths become mythology, and, yes, the American government’s brutal treatment of the American Indian.
Ford is mostly concerned, though, with the majesty of the imperfect and forgotten men who made America possible.
Bonus: All three chapters were shot on-location in majestic Monument Valley, Utah — Ribbon in breathtaking Technicolor.
Also see: Any movie directed by John Ford, especially those starring John Wayne.
- Road to Utopia (1945)
As far as I’m concerned, this picture’s over right now.
With only one stinker in the bunch — 1962’s Road to Hong Kong — between 1940 and 1962, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour made seven “Road” films together. The third in the franchise, 1942’s Road to Morocco, is probably the most popular — and for good reason, for it was in Morocco that the series found the self-aware footing that would launch it into movie history.
Four years later, though, comedic and musical perfection would be firmly achieved in chapter four, Road to Utopia. Disguised as ruffians Sperry and McGurk, our heroes compete for Lamour and hunt for gold in the Klondike while hilarious one-liners fly at the speed of Groucho. Everything leads up to a closing gag so perfect that not even the Production Code could bring itself to say no.
See also: Road to Morocco, Road to Zanzibar, Monsieur Beaucaire, any title that begins with My Favorite, The Lemon Drop Kid, The Ghost Breakers.
- The Killing (1956)
You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.
Stanley Kubrick’s first studio film is a dark and dirty noir centering on a half-dozen desperate lowlifes who conceive and execute (with more than a few complications) a brilliant racetrack heist. What a pleasure it is to see Sterling Hayden in a lead role. The rest of the cast is a who’s who of B-movie stars enjoying a screenplay and director finally worthy of their underrated talents: Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Jay Flippen, and Timothy Carey, among others.
Eighty-three of the tightest minutes you’ll ever see on film, and those final three minutes push you to the edge of your seat before dropping you off an emotional cliff.
See also: The Asphalt Jungle, Rififi, Gun Crazy, Bonnie and Clyde, They Live By Night, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Quicksand, Heist.
See if you can guess what I am now.
Of all the wonderful R-rated snobs-versus-snobs comedies to come out in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Animal House is still the funniest, and dare I say, the most American.
Delta House just wants to be free to be young in America — free to be free before real life closes that window of opportunity forever. The System, uncomfortable with the messiness of freedom, demands rigid conformity.
We might be losing this high-stakes battle in today’s America, but Bluto (the late-great John Belushi) and the boys remain an important reminder that it is still more fun to go down swinging than to submit to The Collective.
See also: Caddyshack, DC Cab, Stripes, Vacation, Porky’s, Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop.
- Command Decision (1948)
Larger than what, sir? The outcome of the war?
Using a true story, Stanley Kubrick blistered a depraved and corrupt French WWI officer class in 1957’s Paths of Glory (#144). Director Sam Wood’s Command Decision explores America’s WWII officer class and comes to a completely different conclusion.
In a world more interested in the instant superiority that comes with pointing an accusing finger, Command Decision dares to look at the Big Picture, dares to explain the seeming inhumane side of war where men are ordered to die for what looks like futile reasons, or worse, vainglorious officers.
Van Johnson is the one doing the pointing until he has his eyes opened by Brigadier General Dennis (a superb Clark Gable), an uncommonly decent man dealing daily with impossible choices and ultimately willing to be cast as the villain if it means doing the moral thing.
- Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Living here in this rest home/asylum – that’s what you want?
In the best performance of his storied career, Jack Nicholson plays an emotionally-troubled son of a bitch willing to use only one of his many skills: the one where he walks in the opposite direction of what others expect from him. Raised as a classically-trained pianist in a wealthy family, Robert now works as a roughneck in the oil fields, chugs beer in bowling alleys on Friday nights, and barely tolerates his ditzy waitress girlfriend (a never better Karen Black).
A family tragedy sends Robert home to confront his past, where he meets Catherine, the kind of woman who might settle an unsettled man. With a script this intelligent, though, things are seldom this simple.
Five Easy Pieces is the 70’s character study to beat all, and the one with the justifiably famous scene where Nicholson tells a waitress to put the chicken between her knees.
Nicholson’s Robert refuses to make peace with a world filled with so many goddamned rules you can’t even get an order of wheat toast…
Maybe it is the rest of us who are doing it wrong.
See also: The Last Detail, Easy Rider, Chinatown, The Pledge.
- Citizen Kane (1941)
It’s the greatest curse that’s ever been inflicted on the human race: memory.
With nine Academy Award nominations — including picture, director (Orson Welles), actor (Welles again), and an actual win for the screenplay — the notion that after daring to take on media-mogul William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane was somehow radioactive in Hollywood, is a bit overstated. What is not overstated is the magnificence of Welles’s film debut or his genius as an actor and director.
One of my favorite half-minutes in all of moviedom: