Action-packed, funny, inspiring, exceptional classics that should be in every man’s media library
Friends are always asking me, “What movies should I show to my men’s group?” Well, here you go. This is the beginning of my list of the top movies that any man who likes movies will enjoy. It includes comedies, westerns, spy thrillers, cop movies, war movies, action-adventures, inspiring sports movies – you name it. They cover seven decades of filmmaking and all are movies that both critics and today’s audiences have picked as their favorites. So you won’t be disappointed.
Women, you’ll also like most of these movies because they’re about good men doing what’s right. What woman doesn’t like that? Most are rated either PG or PG-13. Except for violence in the four that are rated R, a couple of which also have “colorful” language, there should be very little to offend.
For Best Movies for Men – Part 2, go here
True Grit (2010)
This is a remake of the 1969 film starring John Wayne and Glen Campbell. I don’t generally like remakes, but this one is a hoot. The Coen brothers were the perfect filmmakers to take it on, because it’s an edgy, thriller of a western, full of quirky characters and humor, and that is exactly what the Coen brothers do best – thrills, quirky characters and humor. They’re also two of the finest filmmakers living today. So this western couldn’t be any better. And the original’s not bad.
Jeff Bridges is no John Wayne, but he doesn’t need to be. He’s his own version of the crusty old lawman, Rooster Cogburn. And Matt Damon is no Glen Campbell – some would say, “Thank goodness,” although I personally think Campbell did an excellent job as the Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf. Where the original and the remake really part ways is in the role of the girl who pairs up with these two lawmen to find her father’s killer: Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross is terrific.
All the characters use a literary, non-contracted version of the language, which sounds very formal to us today, like they are reading from a book. But that’s the way people spoke back in the 1800’s, so it’s authentic. As a matter of fact, everything in this movie is authentic, including the hanging, in which the prisoners give speeches, some of them out of remorse for their wrongdoings. These kinds of touches really add to the flavor of a film. If there’s one thing a Coen brothers film has it is authentic, period detail and flavor. Which is one reason they’re so good.
One last thing: this film is full of scripture, which is unusual for a film today, but not unusual for people back in the 1890s. Even bad men probably quoted scripture, as that is how most people learned to read. Mattie Ross is the main quoter, and probably a Christian. She shows real vinegar – or grit, as the film is named. It’s what makes Cogburn and LaBoeuf admire her. She is the one that brings out the best in both men.
Most memorable line: “You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.” – Mattie Ross
Casino Royale (2006)
Daniel Craig is the best James Bond since Sean Connery, and this particular Bond thriller is one of the very best in a very long, very successful franchise. Craig has the look, the tenacity and the athleticism required, but he lacks the devil-may-care, twinkle-in-the-eye sense of humor of Connery. But that is a small price to pay for a script that is masterful, with non-stop, edge-of-your-seat action in locations that are to die for: Madagascar, Nassau, Miami, Montenegro, Venice, Lombardia. If watching a good Bond film is like going on a really exciting vacation, this is the trip of a lifetime.
Casino Royale was Ian Fleming’s first novel about Secret Intelligence Service (M16) agent 007. It was made into a disastrous, 1967 film that was actually a parody, starring Peter Sellers and David Niven. But this one is for real. As all good Bond films do, this one has an exciting opening, but a bit different: it’s in grainy black-and-white, because it takes place before he has won “00” status. He has to kill someone to earn that, which he does. But we are soon treated to the typical Bond roller-coaster ride, this time in Madagascar: an on-foot chase scene that includes a construction site, where the building under construction is treated like little more than a jungle gym for some outstanding stunts.
Next we’re in Nassau for some romantic intrigue. Then Miami for more action. Then Royale-les-Eaux in Somme, France, where the casino game of the title takes place. On the train in, Bond meets Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the love interest of the movie, and the money for the game. Their relationship starts out cynically, but ends up – not just in bed, but in love. The bad guy that both the British and American governments are trying to bust in the game is Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) – a man who cries blood instead of tears, and who is selling arms to terrorists. If Bond can beat him at baccarat, it will seriously hinder his enterprise. But, as might be expected, he has different plans.
There are a lot of twists and turns, one of which includes a nude scene with Bond, where he is being tortured by Le Chiffre. The most spectacular scene in the movie takes place in Venice in an abandoned hotel. It literally brings the house down. I don’t get tired of watching this one because Craige is riveting, his bantering with Green is fun, the photography is breathtaking, and the story is intriguing. It was nominated, and won, a ton of awards, but no Oscars or Golden Globes, which is typical. I would rate this with any of the early Bonds, which are considered the best in the series.
Most memorable line:
Vesper Lynd: If the only thing left of you was your smile and your little finger, you’d still be more of a man than anyone I’ve ever known.
James Bond: That’s because you know what I can do with my little finger…
O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Cohen brothers, Joel and Ethan, are known for several things: 1) impeccable recreations, albeit stylized, of various periods and regions; 2) some of the quirkiest characters the screen has ever seen; 3) blood, blood and more blood. However, every once in a while, they will do a film that is just plain charming or just plain funny. They did that with The Hudsucker Proxy – a very charming story about the invention of the hula hoop, set in the 1950s – which is on my Dr. Waitsel’s Comedy Rx list. Now I’m offering you O Brother, Where Art Thou? – an outlandish yarn, supposedly following the storyline of Homer’s Odyssey, but definitely drawing inspiration from a 1930s Preston Sturges classic, Sullivan’s Travels, starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? is set in the deep South, so it’s full of Southern idioms. It involves three escaped convicts from a chain gang (George Clooney as Everett, John Turturro as Pete and Tim Blake Nelson as Delmar) that form a musical band, go on the radio and produce a hit song that has the whole South going wild. The film also stars John Goodman, as the one-eyed Big Dan Teague, and Holly Hunter, as Penny. There’s a klan rally, a riverside baptismal service, corrupt politicians (naturally), a bank robbery with Baby Face Nelson, a black guitarist that claims he’s sold his soul to the devil, and tons and tons of good, old timey bluegrass music. The movie is hilarious and was nominated for Oscars in Screenplay (Ethan and Joel Coen) and Cinematography.
Most memorable line:
Tommy Johnson: I had to be up at that there crossroads last midnight, to sell my soul to the devil.
Ulysses Everett McGill: Well, ain’t it a small world, spiritually speaking. Pete and Delmar just been baptized and saved. I guess I’m the only one that remains unaffiliated.
A lot of guys call this their favorite movie, including me. The rest will probably say that Godfather is their favorite. But I have a real problem with Godfather. It is a movie about mean people doing cruel things to each other, all in the name of revenge. Braveheart, on the other hand, is about real-life Scottish patriot William Wallace who, even though he is a man of peace, comes to the aid of his country when British abuses reach the point of unbearability. Mel Gibson stars and directs, while Wallace’s descendant, Randall Wallace, wrote the screenplay from scratch. This is Gibson’s masterpiece in both acting and directing. It had an incredible impact when it was released in 1995, taking the Best Picture Oscar, along with four others, including Best Director and Best Cinematography. It was nominated for ten total. It won many other awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Director.
Even though I’ve called this movie my favorite since it first came out, I find it difficult to watch, and have only seen it a handful of times. I am a fan of light comedies, and this is a heavy drama with a lot of violent action. So, it’s not a feel good movie. But it is inspirational and important for bringing about more realistic battle scenes as well as the revival of epic costume dramas. It’s also important for its emphasis on “Freedom!” – Wallace’s cry at the end – and the price one must pay to have it. History buffs have criticized the liberties Gibson and Wallace took with the script, but I think they have done what is most important in the retelling of a man’s life – captured the essence of the man.
This, plus The Passion Of The Christ, have given Mel Gibson his legacy.
Most memorable line: “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” – William Wallace
Rated R for violence
Field Of Dreams (1989)
5 Stars – Inspirational Adventure – starring Kevin Costner, Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones; direction and adaptation for the screen, Phil Alden Robinson, from W. P. Kinsella’s book, Shoeless Joe – Cordon Company, Universal Pictures
Field Of Dreams is about lost dreams and the place to find them. And it’s about baseball; but baseball is just a metaphor for something bigger. It’s about an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella who hears a voice that tells him, “If you build it, he will come.” He knows the Voice wants him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield; which, oddly enough, he’s willing to do because he thinks it will keep him from ending up like his dad – a man that “never did one spontaneous thing in his life.” But he thinks the field is for “Shoeless” Joe Jackson – one of the infamous eight “Black Sox” that were barred from baseball for life in 1920 – so he will come and play baseball again… which he does, but that’s not the reason for the field.
Later, Ray gets a second message that tells him, “Ease his pain,” which sends him off on a road trip to pick up Terence Mann – really J. D. Salinger, author of Catcher In The Rye, according to Shoeless Joe, the book by W. P. Kinsella on which the film is based – and a small town doctor named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. Kevin Costner plays Ray, Amy Madigan plays his wife Annie, Ray Liotta plays Shoeless Joe, James Earl Jones plays Terence Mann, and Burt Lancaster plays Moonlight Graham. Together they find their dreams on a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. But, as wonderful as all this is, that is still not why Ray was told to build the field.
I won’t tell you why Ray was told to build the field, I’ll let you discover that for yourself. For my full review, go to Field Of Dreams Movie Review. What I will tell you is that writer-director Phil Alden Robinson took a book that is almost unreadable, got excited about it, and turned it into a film that I believe is one of the finest movies ever made. It was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay by Robinson, and Best Score by James Horner, but didn’t win anything. I love this movie because it speaks to me on so many levels. I hope it does the same for you.
By the way, the cornfield that was used in the movie? It was turned into a tourist attraction with around 65,000 visitors every year. It was sold in 2011 for an undisclosed amount.
Most memorable line: “If you build it, he will come.” – Voice
Back To The Future (1985)
Michael J. Fox is perfect as Marty McFly in this Spielberg-produced film about time travel in a DeLorean sports car, invented by a quirky, over-the-top scientist named Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd). The car runs on electricity, but needs plutonium to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity required to start it. That’s a difficult enough item to come by in 1985, even if you steal it from a group of Lybian terrorists, as Dr. Brown does. But in 1955, where he accidentally sends Marty in the DeLorean, it’s impossible. So Marty is stuck, unless the 1955 version of Brown can come up with an alternative plan.
Meanwhile, Marty has accidentally interacted with his future parents, Lorraine Baines (Lea Thompson) and George McFly (Crispin Glover), jeopardizing his own future existence. On top of that, the school bully, Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) has George under his thumb, Lorraine in his sights, and Marty pegged as a threat. Everything is leading up to the school’s Enchantment Under the Sea dance, where George and Lorraine are supposed to meet and fall in love; but neither of them is moving in that direction, and time is running out. To make matters worse, Lorraine (Marty’s future mom) has the hots for him!
This is one of the cleverest movies ever made. Anachronisms abound, as does the irony. Nostalgia buffs will have a field day. The hot rods are hot, the music is rock-and-roll and soda fountains don’t serve Tab or Pepsi Free. Marty is, of course, a fish-out-of-water; but that doesn’t stop him from using all his 1985 know-how to try to turn things around, including making a getaway on a skateboard, to everyone’s amazement; and playing rock music to an audience that isn’t quite ready for it. Director Bob Zemeckis, who directed Romancing The Stone, and would later direct Forest Gump, was able to convince Steven Spielberg of the merits of this idea, and ended up making one of the defining films of the 1980s.
Most memorable line:
Marty McFly: Whoa. This is heavy.
Dr. Emmett Brown: There’s that word again, “heavy.” Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?
Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)
Indiana Jones is almost an American institution. Well, so is Steven Spielberg. When I first saw this film, I was on the edge of my seat for the first hour, thinking, “Wow! This is the best film ever made!” Then, in the second hour, it got bogged down in all the Nazi negativity. But, that aside, I still think this is an American masterpiece because it opened the door to so many other films that would never have been made otherwise. Raiders Of The Lost Ark redefined the action-adventure movie.
There has been some discussion as to whether Harrison Ford was the best pick for Indie, or if Tom Sellick, who I think was second in line, would have done a better job. There are no doubts in my mind. Like Superman, Indiana Jones has to be a cross between eye-glass-wearing intellectual and muscled man-of-action. Ford fits that perfectly, plus he has little idiosyncrasies, like his nervousness when cornered, that add to the enjoyment of his character.
Raiders is the best in this series, just because it was first; but Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989) is a close second, simply because it brings so many other interesting elements to the table: what Jones was like as a boy, his humorous and volatile relationship with his dad – played by Sean Connery, who spices up any film he’s in – and the whole Holy Grail thing. The second film, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984) is disappointing for various reasons: no strong actors for Ford to play off, as in the first and third movies; the negativity of the kidnapped children subplot; the distasteful nature of some of the scenes; and, quite frankly, a flat storyline. But the opening scene is terrific. Perhaps it gave audiences the impression the movie was going to be one way, and it ended up being something altogether different. The final Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008) should never have been made. The older actors just could not recapture the magic.
Raiders was nominated for eight Oscars and won four, mostly technical, but it left an indelible mark on the Industry. It was just one more successful film that told the old studios, the Independents are here to stay. From that point on, Steven Spielberg has been a household name in America.
Just a word about Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade as far as men are concerned: once Indy finds his father, we get to see the nature of their relationship, which is both interesting and amusing. Henry is overly critical of his son, while Indy is resentful of his dad. In many ways, they seem to be cut from the same cloth, as femme fatale, Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), points out. Still, even though both men are thinkers, Indy is the man of action and Henry is the man of faith. Neither can believe what the other says and does, yet, in the end, they have to join forces to win. And, while they both battle evil in their own way, it is Indy, following his father’s directions to have faith and trust what his eyes cannot see, that finally succeeds.
Most memorable line, Raiders:
Belloq: How odd that it should end this way for us after so many stimulating encounters. I almost regret it. Where shall I find a new adversary so close to my own level?
Indiana: Try the local sewer.
Most memorable line, Last Crusade:
(After Walter Donovan, played by Julian Glover, chooses a cup, then shrivels up and dies.) “He chose poorly.” – Grail Knight
The Sting (1973)
This is pure movie fun, and it’s fun based on, not just fooling a big crime boss named Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) in order to punish him for murdering a harmless grifter; but fun based on our getting fooled as well. It’s the Depression, and everybody is doing what they can to stay alive, including Robert Redford’s character, Johnny Hooker, a small-time grifter whose partner Lonnegan knocked off. In order to get Lonnegan, Hooker travels to Chicago, the stomping ground of big-time con artist Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), and together they plan a sting operation that will set Lonnegan back considerably. To do it, they gather all the con guys in Chicago and set up a horse betting operation that Lonnegan, an avid gambler, won’t be able to resist.
But first, to test the waters, and to get some setup money, Gondorff decides to beat Lonnegan at cards. Lonnegan cheats; but Gondorff cheats better. That scene alone, which takes place on a train, is worth the price of admission. But it gets better, as they add more elements to the sting and more and more characters show up, including a bunko man from Hooker’s hometown out to nab him (Charles Durning), an FBI agent out to nab Gondorff (Dana Elcar), an assassin out to murder the grifter that took Lonnegan’s money, and it goes on. By the end of the movie, somebody is going to get taken, and it’s not just Lonnegan!
The Sting is a very clever film, and a real classic that won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (George Roy Hill), Best Screenplay, Best Musical Score (Marvin Hamlisch), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design and Best Film Editing. It was also nominated for Best Actor (Redford), Best Cinematography and Best Sound. And, it introduced a whole new generation to the ragtime music of Scott Joplin, which is wonderful.
Most memorable line:
Johnny Hooker: He’s not as tough as he thinks.
Henry Gondorff: Neither are we.
This cop movie is nothing but cool. Besides having the greatest car chase scene of all time, Bullit helped to redefine cinema. The look and style are so realistic, it’s almost a documentary. You get a real feel for the time (1960s) and place (San Francisco). The coffee house jazz, as well as the rest of the score by Lalo Schifrin, are cool; but most of the movie is scoreless, which adds to the suspense. Jacqueline Bisset, who plays detective Bullitt’s girlfriend, is hot and the perfect match for Bullitt’s cool. And Robert Vaughn, who plays a politician trying to use Bullitt to help his own career, is the perfect uptight foil for Bullitt’s laid back nature.
They also contrast in their ethics: Bullitt is straight down the line, which gets him in trouble with his superiors, but makes him a hero in the eyes of the public. Vaughn, on the other hand, blows with the wind. As he puts it, “Integrity is something you sell the public.” Bullitt’s response? “Bullshit.” So when Vaughn asks for Bullitt, personally, to guard his state’s witness for a legislative investigation, and that witness gets killed, things blow up and Bullitt’s butt is on the line. Flying under the department’s radar, he decides to find the witness’ killer, not because that will make up for what happened, but because that’s his job.
The final scene takes place at San Francisco International Airport where Bullit and his partner have followed the killer. Just to show you how times have changed, Bullit sends his partner to find “the guard.” One guard in an entire international airport! The whole movie is a reality check. According to Bullitt’s girlfriend, he lives in a sewer and it’s affecting his ability to feel. She may be right; but in his mind, somebody has to do it. In the final scene, when he looks at himself in the mirror while washing his face, you really want to know what he’s thinking. It’s a poignant final shot.
Most memorable line: “Look, you work your side of the street, and I’ll work mine.” – Bullitt
The Searchers (1956)
This is probably the best western both actor John Wayne and director John Ford ever made. Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, an ex-Confederate soldier who visits his brother’s family and, while there, sees them wiped out by Comanches. His niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood), is carried off by the Indians, which sparks Ethan to go on a five-year crusade to find her. He is accompanied by an adopted member of his own family, Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), who is part Cherokee. Martin want’s to save Debbie, but the family worries that Ethan has something else in mind: something dark and vengeful.
This is Wayne’s best role because he covers the gamut in emotions and covers them well. All his relationships are interesting, but especially the one with Martin, who is younger, yet just as determined. The climax of the film is when he finally finds Debbie and realizes his greatest fear: she has become the squaw of a Comanche brave. In Ethan’s mind, that is a fate worse than death. What will he do? Martin has a pretty good idea and is determined to stop him.
This movie is gorgeous, shot in Technicolor and VistaVision in the famous Monument Valley of Utah. As usual, Ford fills it with folksy characters and authentic customs that add to the Western flavor. I think his handling of the Indians is balanced. Ford was anything but a prejudiced man, and still knew men who had lived through the Indian uprisings to reference. But in this day and time, you’re going to get comments about stereotyping and revisionist history. For Ford, that’s an absurd accusation.
The Searchers is not your typical Western because it is some of the finest filmmaking by one of the finest filmmakers in history. It’s based on the novel by Alan Le May and has been called “The Greatest American Western” of all time by the American Film Institute and Entertainment Weekly. It is listed in around tenth spot for the top 100 movies of all time by both the American Film Institute and the British Film Institute. It is, without doubt, Ford’s masterpiece, and that final shot in the doorway is a classic.
Most memorable quote: “That’ll be the day.” – Ethan Edwards
“Ethan Edwards was one of the most compelling characters Ford and Wayne ever created.” – Critic Roger Ebert
Seven Samurai (1954)
This film by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa is not only a masterpiece in its own right, but inspired one of the great American westerns, The Magnificent Seven (1960). Like Magnificent, it’s the story of a village being oppressed by outlaws. So the townspeople decide to hire some samurai warriors to defend them. Each warrior has his own story to tell, and his own reason for joining in the crusade. In spite of some conflicts in personality, they are unstoppable once they get going. How they stop the outlaws is really a hoot.
Kurosawa is one of the great directors in the history of cinema, and this is his masterpiece. Toshiro Mifune, who plays Kikuchiyo, and offers a lot of the comedy in the film, was Japan’s most famous film actor of the twentieth century. He’s terrific.
Most memorable quote: “This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourselves.” – Kambei Shimada
B&W. Not rated.
Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948)
John Huston was a cutting-edge director who liked stark reality in a time when that was just catching on. In American films from the late 1940s and early ’50s, that style is known as Film Noir. It was America’s answer to the starkly real European films that were coming out following World War 2, which changed everyone’s perception of the world and film. This is one of the finest examples of Film Noir ever made.
Two American itinerants, Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt), run into an old-timer named Howard (Walter Huston, John Huston’s brother) who believes he can find gold anywhere. All he needs is a stake (money to buy equipment). The two men give it to him and off they go. And they do find gold; but they find something else as well – greed. Before they finish their prospecting, greed and mistrust have taken over Dobbs. He starts fantasizing and talking to himself about the other two stealing him blind. Bogart is terrific as a guy going nuts.
Curtin, on the other hand, is level-headed and good-natured and wants to give Dobbs the benefit of the doubt, while world-wise Howard is entertained to no end by the naivete of the two younger men, calling them “dumber than dirt,” and then elaborating on just how dumb that is. But before the men can be totally at each other’s throats, they’re joined by a fourth, unwelcome member named Cody (Bruce Bennett), who is out prospecting as well, and senses they’ve found pay dirt, though they won’t admit it. Their problems increase when a group of Mexican outlaws show up, wanting their guns and horses.
Things have a way of working out, though not in the way you would expect. “Fate” – or, better, God – has the last laugh in a very ironic twist. This is an extremely entertaining film that has you guessing right up to the end. Treasure Of The Sierra Madre won Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Walter Huston in the Academy Awards that year. It was also nominated for Best Picture. At the Golden Globes, it won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor.
Most memorable line: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.” – Mexican bandit
B&W. Not rated.
For Best Movies for Men – Part 2, go here
Waitsel Smith, August 20, 2013
For more Movie Reviews, go to my Movies by Decade web site.
Text © 2013 Waitsel Smith. Photos © Various Studios as Indicated. All Rights Reserved.