#90 The Longest Yard (1974)
It is easy to forget (and I am sure if you are under a certain age you just wouldn’t know) that Burt Reynolds was THE biggest movie star in the 1970’s. Not Pacino, not DeNiro, not Niklaus, not Eastwood (although he had the strongest argument), Burt Reynolds was the star of stars. Some of his stuff hasn’t held up as well, perhaps that’s why the brightness of his star is often forgotten, but The Longest Yard is as good today as it was when I was 8. A perfect example of the right star in the right movie at the right time in his career. The Longest Yard is hysterically funny, oddly moving and has some of the best football scenes ever in movies. The football is so good because (as they did with the remake) they cast a bunch of actual NFL players, but unlike the remake, or really just about any other sports movie, the star could literally hold his own. Burt Reynolds was a college football star at Florida State University who might have gone to the NFL if not for a catastrophic knee injury. His legitimate athleticism is on full display and it really makes a big difference.
#89 Some Like It Hot (1959)
The American Film Institute (AFI) ranks Some Like It Hot as the #1 comedy of all time and is their #22 movie of all time. It would be hard, maybe almost impossible, to find a “greatest movies” list that didn’t have Some Like It Hot. Along with Citizen Kane and Casablanca and The Godfather and a few others, Some Like It Hot is the kind of movie that people reflexively put on their list because not having it on there invalidates the whole thing. It would be like not putting Kareem Abdul Jabbar on a list of greatest NBA players or Stan Musial off your list of baseball greats. But here’s the thing, like Kareem and Stan, Some Like It Hot has earned that honor. It flat out is one of the funniest and best movies ever made, period. Quite frankly, I am surprised how low it ended up on my list, but being in the 80’s says more about my taste and how much I love the other movies than it is any slight to this Billy Wilder classic.
#88 Rebecca (1940)
There are a handful of things Hitchcock simply did better than any director before or since. Near the top of that list is dealing with obsession, particularly a man’s obsession with a woman, and how we should or shouldn’t judge that obsession. Laurence Olivier’s Maxim de Winter is obsessed with his deceased wife. Joan Fontaine, Max’s new, young bride, has to confront Max’s obsession, the reasons for it, and decide how that will change how she feels about her husband. This being Hitchcock it is never that simple and there are murders and mysteries and everything else, but ultimately, like Vertigo and Psycho, Rebecca is about how our obsessions of the past can hinder our present and our future.
#87 The Conversation (1974)
Another 1974 classic! Coppola’s too often forgotten masterpiece The Conversation in a lot of ways in Coppola’s take on Hitchcock (didn’t plan on putting The Conversation next to a Hitchcock movie to make this point but sometimes we get lucky). This isn’t a big, sprawling, epic, it is a little movie about a paranoid surveillance expert who begins to fear the people he has been paid to listen to may be murdered. Gene Hackman is brilliant as the nearly agoraphobic lead who has to decide if he should leave the safety of his tightly constructed life or be a bystander to something awful.
#86 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
“There’s no earthy way of knowing/Which direction they are going … There’s no knowing where they’re rowing … Or which way the river’s flowing … Is it raining is it snowing?/Is a hurricane a blowing? … Not a speck of light is showing/So the danger must be growing … Are the fires of Hell a-glowing?/Is the grisly reaper mowing?/Yes! The danger must be growing/’Cause the rowers keep on rowing/And they certainly are not showing/Any signs that they are slowing!”
A dark horse candidate for the most quoted movie for people over 45 (Caddyshack, Animal House, Airplane, Stripes, Forest Gump, Goodfellas, would be the other nominees off the top of my head) the genius of Gene Wilder is in full display (absurd he wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award or that this movie wasn’t up for best picture) and has become iconic. Umpa Loompas, chocolate rivers, gum that tastes like a multi-course meal, Veruca Salt (“I want it now Daddy!”) the word classic was made to describe a movie like this.
#85 The Dirty Dozen (1967)
A classic scene in Sleepless in Seattle is when Tom Hanks and Victor Graber are listening to Rita Wilson tearfully describe the end of an affair to remember. Their response is to mimic her teary description applying the tone to the of the ending of The Dirty Dozen. The scene works in no small part because for men (and certainly some women) of a certain age The Dirty Dozen is a film shorthand, a movie you can bring up and other guys will just get it (The Godfather is perhaps the king of movie shorthands). Guys know about Jim Brown sprinting away and before getting shot in the back, the image means something to them. Guys know that Aldo the Apache from Inglorious Basterds is an homage to Lee Marvin’s Major Reisman. For many years The Dirty Dozen was simply required viewing for any guy between 1967 and 1987.
#84 Casablanca (1942)
#3 on AFI’s 100 best movies list. #6 all time according to the hollywood reporter. Everything I said about Some Like It Hot holds true x10 for Casablanca. I wonder how many people under the age of 40 have ever seen it? Until the mid 1990’s it would pop up on TV all the time as a Saturday Matinee on ABC or TNT’s movie of the week or on AMC when AMC actually was a network focused on American Movie Classics. But I don’t remember the last time I just happened on Casablanca. Its a shame because, obviously it is great, but it is also a movie you can drop into at any moment after you’ve seen it once. It is just full of classic scenes and moments that make you stop and say “ooh, I love this part”
#83 Out of Sight (1998)
I still can’t quite figure out how Out of Sight wasn’t a huge hit. Clooney at the height of his ER fame. Jennifer Lopez when she young and as likable as Jennifer Lawrence right after The Hunger Games. Soderberg. Elmore Leonard when Elmore Leonard was out of nowhere on fire with Get Shorty and Jackie Brown having reminded the world how cool he was. Albert Brooks, Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames still feeling the heat from Pulp Fiction (and before he became the voice of Arby’s). And, most importantly, its a great movie. Clooney has never seemed more like a movie star (ditto for Jennifer Lopez) the chemistry between the two leads is electric, great dialogue, funny story, Out of Sight should be one of THE movies of the 1990’s, but its not … but it should be!
#82 Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
I swear I did not plan this when I created my list. I did not plan that three of the most iconic movies ever would all be in the 80’s. #5 on the AFI list. #26 on The Hollywood Reporter list. Universally #1 or #2 on any and every all-time musicals list (The Sound of Music is the only movie anyone would ever put above Singin’ in the Rain). As I said about Casablanca and Some Like It Hot, Singin’ in the Rain deserves every accolade it has ever received. It is funny, the songs are great, the dancing is amazing, it is a really interesting “Hollywood” movie revealing a lot about the film industry as it transitioned from silent movies to “talkies”. Just a terrific movie.
#81 It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World (1963)
Spencer Tracy, Ethel Merman, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, Jimmy Durante, Phil Silvers, Dick Shawn, forget the Oceans movies there has never nor will there ever be a movie with the sheer volume of star power that the 1963 comedy classic. I don’t need to explain the plot because you’ve seen people try to remake this movie a million times with a thousand different names and no one has even come close. If you look up “Sheer Silly Joy” you are going to find a picture of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.