|The Big Country
|Francis Ford Coppola
|Das Boot (Director's Cut)
|Dog Day Afternoon
|In the Heat of the Night
|Alan J. Pakula
|The Man Who Would Be King
|The Right Stuff
Among the very greatest of action films, made ever much more so thanks to its female protagonist -- elevating what would have otherwise been a finely crafted monster movie into a story of trauma, survival, redemption, resurrection and motherhood, without ever taking its foot off the gas or showing its true hand.
The Big Country
William Wyler’s impeccable study of character, integrity and moral courage in the face of communal cowardice and groupthink. Gregory Peck’s iconoclastic star turn is in many ways the flip side to Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke and the film’s unselfconscious upending of every western trope is sublime.
Between two 'Godfather's Francis Ford Coppola made his lesser renowned and far tighter film about a privacy obsessed surveillance expert played impeccably by the never-not-great Gene Hackman. While its analogue world of the 70s stands in stark contrast to our digitally dominated present, its lesson on the importance of context is one for the ages.
Das Boot (Director's Cut)
Wolfgang Petersen’s astonishing portrait of life on a German U-Boat as the Nazi war machine implodes puts an all-too-human face on history’s go-to enemy -- led by a captain with no illusions about the hopelessness of their cause or the utter madness of their leader. A complex and engrossing study of duty, duality, camaraderie and pressure and an unflinching reminder that war is an entirely human affair.
Dog Day Afternoon
Fast approaching its 50th birthday and still ahead of its time, Sidney Lumet’s sweaty, simmering and remarkably sensitive bank heist movie veers suddenly and seamlessly into a story of sexual identity, the details of which are better left discovered than described.
In the Heat of the Night
Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger collide in Norman Jewison’s slow-burn thriller about a murder in a sleepy Mississippi town. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Poitier is arrested for no reason other than the color of his skin. When it’s discovered he is, in fact, a Philadelphia police detective just passing through, he is released. When it becomes clear he’s the only man equipped to solve the case he was arrested for, his superiors order him to stay and advise. The unlikely pairing of Poitier with Steiger’s gum-chewing, racist Sheriff (wearing shooter’s glasses throughout), represents a major turn for Hollywood in confronting institutionalized racism, culminating in The Man taking a literal -- and satisfying -- slap in the face.
Before they made All the President’s Men and The Parallax View, Director Alan J. Pakula and Cinematographer Gordon Willis crafted this creepy gem -- oddly named after Donald Sutherland’s supporting character instead of the real protagonist: Jane Fonda’s Bree (admittedly not as strong a title). This apparent paranoid thriller is, in fact, an extraordinarily non-judgmental character study of a New York call girl trying and failing to get out of the life, just as she finds herself the only viable lead in a missing person case -- one being investigated by the film’s titular detective. Fonda’s nuanced, career-best performance as the sexually frank, emotionally chaotic Bree is fearsome, fearful and fearless. She and Sutherland’s repressed Klute don’t so much fall in love as slide despite themselves -- all while being stalked by the killer Klute is searching for.
The Man Who Would Be King
John Huston’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s adventure (and an echo of Huston’s equally brilliant Treasure of the Sierra Madre) holds in its beating heart a cautionary tale for the would-be white savior. Michael Caine and Sean Connery star as two unrepentantly Imperialist conmen who cross the Hindu Kush, determined to beguile, dominate and swindle the indigenous populace whose spirit and spirituality they vastly underestimate. Their scheme is made easier when Connery is mistaken for a God. Alas, he is all too human, leading to the duo's inevitable downfall.
John Frankenheimer’s extraordinarily crafted thriller about rail workers of the French resistance in the days before the liberation of Paris. A groundbreaking practical action film decades ahead of its time, with genuine substance and powerfully restrained performances from Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield, it deftly conceals a meditation on the value of art weighed against the value of human life.
The Right Stuff
Director Philip Kaufman’s love letter to the Mercury Space Program is really a love letter to a certain ephemeral essence. It can easily be dismissed as a love letter to American exceptionalism, provided you overlook its constant, subtle and not so subtle reminders that even in its finest hour, America had -- and has -- a long, long way to go. The Right Stuff loves America deeply without ever losing perspective.
Opinions being what they are, I felt increasingly ridiculous as I dared to declare the ten “greatest" movies ever -- particularly when a great many movies I find great -- along with the central purpose of cinema itself -- face a dramatic contemporary reevaluation. I decided instead, with the kind permission of Sight and Sound, to alter the assignment somewhat. These are ten movies I simply think are great. More than that, I think they're great for this particular time. Whether I mean this time in Hollywood or the world, I leave up to you. My choices are in alphabetical order.